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Debate on the Address

[First Day]

Mr. Speaker: Before I call the mover and seconder of the humble Address, I should announce to the House the proposed subjects for debate on subsequent days, which will be as follows:

Thursday 21 June--public services; Friday 22 June--foreign affairs and defence; Monday 25 June--economy, trade and industry; Tuesday 26 June--rural communities and transport; Wednesday 27 June--home affairs and constitution.

I call Mr. Barry Sheerman to move the humble Address, after which I shall call Mr. David Lammy to second it.

2.36 pm

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): I beg to move,

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be asked to move the motion today. When the Chief Whip first contacted to me, I was a little surprised, and I reacted with a proper degree of caution. As comrades and colleagues know--[Interruption.] That is a continuing joke, to which I shall return. As I was saying, I chair the cross-party group on preparations for the euro, which the Conservatives have never joined, so I subjected the invitation to five rigorous tests, and then decided that the time was right to move the motion.

I am especially relieved to see my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his rightful place, after various unconfirmed news stories during the recent election campaign. We all heard that shadow Ministers and Ministers seemed to be missing or very elusive, but I can report that although the Prime Minister spent a great deal of time in my area, he eluded me in my constituency, Huddersfield. That was rather a blessing, because if I had suddenly seen the battle bus at the end of my road I would have wondered what was happening to my majority.

There were many rumours and a great deal of speculation about close sightings of the Prime Minister, and someone resembling him was seen apparently enjoying fish and chips at the Happy Haddock--or was it the Contented Plaice?--in Brighouse in nearby Calder Valley. The Prime Minister was also rumoured to have downed half a pint of something alcoholic in Lindley in neighbouring Colne Valley. That was an unconfirmed rumour, but there was a pretty substantial report of a close encounter with the Huddersfield Daily Examiner photographer in either Shipley or Keighley.

In Huddersfield, however, there was no sign of the Prime Minister. My constituents were vigilant, as always, but wherever my right hon. Friend was, he could not be spotted in my patch. If we had tracked him down, he would have been very welcome. He has been a regular visitor to the town. On the most recent occasion, he came to unveil the statue to Harold Wilson, the only other Labour Prime Minister to win two consecutive victories.

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If we had tracked the Prime Minister down, this time we would have wanted to show him a little of Huddersfield. We would have liked to take him to the McAlpine stadium, where Huddersfield Town plays--a team denied its rightful place in the premiership by a wicked international conspiracy. Within two years, we hope to be in the premier league. If the Prime Minister had been feeling a little generous, we could have fitted him up with some fine worsted suits, as Huddersfield is still a great textile, chemical and engineering manufacturing and exporting town.

We would also like to have shown the Prime Minister the dynamic new enterprises and to have introduced him to some of the people behind them, many of whom came to this country not so long ago with nothing but their raw talent and ambition. They are making their way and are progressing and prospering in a harmonious town, where all people live peacefully together.

My right hon. Friend would have been particularly impressed by our biggest wealth creator and employer. What is that? It is not a great chemical company or textile empire but the university of Huddersfield, which dominates the town with its 2,500 staff and 17,000 students and its outstanding academic achievements.

To be fair, we would have told the Prime Minister about some of our problems, worries and concerns. We are a prosperous town, but we have had our share of deprivation and under-resourced public services. Although we have seen much improvement in the past four years, my constituents are impatient for the next delivery phase that is promised in today's Queen's Speech. That will start to make a dramatic difference in health, education and transport and in services for the elderly, the disabled and those who are in need of special assistance.

Huddersfield folk have a reputation for being fair minded and generous, so they give credit where credit is due. We are delighted with the progress that has already been made, not only in health and education but in properly training people and getting them back into work with a guaranteed minimum wage.

Huddersfield is a superb town and it is a lovely town to represent here in Westminster. They say that the art of politics is a mixture of good timing, excellent judgment and a fair measure of luck: those of my generation who came here in 1979 obviously had a wonderful combination of all three! Although my timing was a little unfortunate, my choice of constituency was not. There is no better place in the land to represent. It is set in one of the most beautiful valleys of Yorkshire and is populated by the most industrious and resourceful people in the world. It is a town with a brilliant future and a rich past.

People who have managed to find their way to this paragon among towns have sometimes been rather frightened by the experience. The famous Methodist, John Wesley, wrote after riding through the town in 1757:

Fortunately, I never encountered any of that type of person during my recent election campaign. Had I done so, I would immediately have turned to the Deputy Prime Minister--a fellow Yorkshire Member of Parliament--for some protection.

I wonder how the new Home Secretary, even with the Deputy Prime Minister's assistance, would have dealt with Ned Ludd and his luddite followers. More-educated

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Members will know that the luddites came from Huddersfield. Sometimes, as the Member representing the constituency, I resent the rather loose use of the term "luddite" in this Chamber. The fact of the matter is that Ned Ludd and his supporters roamed the country, for some reason dressed as women as a disguise, destroying mills and manufacturing plant and machinery. It was an attempt to hold back the progress of industrialisation that threatened their lives and livelihoods. It was partly as a result of such wide-scale protest in the 19th century that an enlightened system of universal franchise was created.

Elections are, of course, a thing that we professional politicians all love but also hate. How many of us share that awful dread of going out on a cold, miserable evening, with the sleet falling and the wind blowing--this is, after all, in June--to lead a canvassing team in a particularly unresponsive part of the constituency? On the way there it feels like the last thing in the world that one has ever wanted to do, but with the first knock on the door and the first encounter, when someone says, "Eh, lad, you must be joking. I wouldn't vote for you and your lot if hell froze over", the adrenalin starts to flow and the excitement returns.

Something happens in the heart of the true politician during the next few hours of meeting people whom one wants to represent. Those are the best of all times, and I am sure that I speak for many Members when I express that emotion. The patter and the repartee flow and only on a rare occasion is one left speechless on a doorstep.

In the recent election--this is a true story--I knocked on the door of a rather fine house. A lovely Huddersfield woman explained that she wanted to vote Labour very badly, but she had severe reservations about the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I pressed her about the matter. I said, "What is the problem? Is it his management of the economy?" She said, "No, I am happy with that." I said, "Is it his stance on the euro?" "No, I am happy with that," she said. "Is it the fact that he is a Scot?", I said rather nervously. She said, "No, I can just about cope with that." So I asked why she could not vote for us, and she answered, "I cannot bring myself to vote for a man who bought his wife cheap champagne." [Laughter.]

If I may continue the champagne theme, I have always believed, like my old friend John Smith, that politics must be fun at the same time as being deeply serious--a belief that he brought to politics and to this Chamber. I loved the fact that when John was interviewed on "Desert Island Discs" when he was shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, the luxury that he chose without hesitation was an inexhaustible case of champagne. Similarly, I remember that when I was first a councillor on a brand new council and we were looking for a motto we decided--this may sound a little old fashioned now--after much deliberation that we should go with "Nothing but the best is good enough for the workers."

Labour Members should remember that we are able to move this Queen's Speech motion today because of the dedication and determined struggle of a host not only of our party leaders past and present but of party workers who have striven and will continue to strive to ensure that nothing but the very best is good enough for the people of our country.

To be a politician is such a privilege; to be a parliamentarian is a great calling. There is a great joy in politics that many of us do not share openly enough.

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I know that there are many books about the joys of other things, but the joy of politics is one that perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) should start to write. There is a lot of joy in politics and we do not celebrate it; there is also a lot of pain. Looking at this Queen's Speech, I can see a great deal of pleasure for my constituents.

As Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Employment for the past two years, I find the strong emphasis on education in the Queen's Speech particularly welcome. More generally, its commitment to delivering significant improvements across the range of public services should be applauded, and I commend it to the House.

I shall finish on a very serious note. I hope that in this Parliament we will have the opportunity seriously to address two other issues. They are not general issues but House issues. I hope that we shall have the time and the patience to take seriously a discussion of what a modern representative Parliament should be like in the 21st century and our changing role as parliamentarians in that 21st century Parliament. In my two years as Chairman of the Select Committee, that is something on which a lead has been given and on which we have to spend time as a House. There are no easy and quick solutions, but if we do not examine the future of our House and our Parliament in the 21st century we shall be neglecting our jobs as politicians. We neglect both of those at our peril, and we owe it to ourselves and to the future of parliamentary democracy and our constituents to meet that challenge.

I am delighted with the massive majority that the country gave to our party, but we should all worry about the decline in turnout and apply our minds to it. I say to the Prime Minister and to the Government, in the most helpful spirit, that just as there is no conflict between a strong, well-managed economy and an excellent set of public services--I strongly applaud everything that we said on the stump and on television about that balance--there is also no reason for not having a good, vigorous, re-energised Parliament that holds the Executive to account but at the same time allows the Government to deliver on their vision and on their manifesto commitments.

I have kept the House too long--[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I gave hon. Members that one. The measures contained in the Gracious Speech will be fiercely debated--and rightly--in coming days. It is lovely to see the Chamber full for a change. However, the fact of the matter is that this is the speech of a Government who are determined to quicken the pace of the radical changes that this country has long needed to make it a prosperous, peaceful and inclusive place to live. I commend the speech wholeheartedly to the House--comrades and colleagues together.

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