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Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): I rise to second the motion on the Gracious Speech with a warning from the Chief Whip ringing in my ears that I should speak for only 10 minutes. I love deadlines—it is the whooshing noise that they make as I pass them by. I am very pleased to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). He mentioned his distinguished role as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, but he also did this party great service in Opposition as a spokesperson on energy, employment and then health. He continues to serve Parliament with distinction, in particular on the Intelligence and Security Committee, and well merits his status as a Privy Councillor.
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My right hon. Friend clearly had a great destiny, as he was born in Redcar. I know the school that he used to attend. It is a very good school—now. [Laughter.] It was somewhat ahead of its time, because in his days there, children were searched for guns and knives on the way in. If they did not have any, they were given some. [Laughter.] I would not say that it was a tough school, but it was appointed its own coroner. [Laughter.] I should point out to my constituents from New Marske that those were jokes.

I have paid tribute to my right hon. Friend, but I do not want to leave tributes behind without mentioning the person who made this speech in 2002, the former Member for Bethnal Green and Bow. She is a delightful woman. She was a dedicated constituency Member and a talented parliamentarian. It is tragic that she lost her seat, and it is dreadful that she suffered the treatment that she did in the campaign of her successor.

The election campaign in Redcar was better humoured. On the bank holiday, we walked around at the seaside, carrying tall sticks with posters of me at the top. They reminded me uncomfortably of the way in which, in mediaeval times, people who had been executed had their heads put on poles for display. However, there was no one to behead me in Redcar at the election. The Tory candidate, the London-based chief of staff of a Front Bencher, did not find Redcar until the third Saturday in April, and then he seemed to lose it again until election night, when he came back and lost second place in the poll as well. None the less, we worked very hard and I thank my Labour party and other friends for that—but I note the Tory disregard for the people of a northern electorate. People in constituencies such as mine know which party cares about them, and I thank Redcar people for marking that out with their votes.

Redcar is a sandy seaside town, with New Marske, where my right hon. Friend was born, close by. Then a long road runs inland with the steelworks on one side and the chemical plant on the other, where nobody lives, until it reaches three former steel towns inland, which have—in varying degrees—the problems of inner urban, post-industrial deprivation. I am very fond of my constituency. After only four years, I have a high recognition factor. In fact, I think that I had it on the first day. I am, by a considerable margin, the tallest woman in Redcar, and the local paper further marked me out when I was first elected by headlining, "It's the Redhead for Redcar".

I am equally well known not to be local. I come from Oldham, but people who are converts to a place or faith often become more strongly committed than those born into them. I am of that school.

After I had spent half a lifetime working in a middle-class profession, Redcar—or rather, Redcar people—took me back four years ago to how I lived in my childhood. My father worked in labouring jobs. He was in and out of employment, although he was a hard worker, and indeed a good and Christian man. People were taken on and laid off in those days. There were no contracts of employment or redundancy payments Acts to give working families security.

My father got a job as a maintenance painter in a cotton mill. The mill took one line of spinning machinery out of operation each year and he
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spray-painted it so that it would not rust. That was his job. His employer did not give him or anyone else a mask, and at 55 he developed pneumonia in his paint-congested lungs and he died. I was 10. He was gone.

My mother went to work in a raincoat factory—no minimum wage then. I passed an exam to go to Manchester high school with a scholarship for the fees and uniform, but we could not pay the bus fares. To be honest, I am not sure that I would have had the confidence to go there. However, I went to the local school and did well. I went to Northumbria university to read law, transferring my roots to the north-east.

When I started to read more widely than my school books, I understood from my experiences in childhood the point of Labour politics. In Eston, Grangetown and South Bank—those three steel towns in my constituency—I can see children from backgrounds such as mine who still do not have the confidence to take up their opportunities. In my view, it was an amazing piece of luck that with under-educated parents in a struggling household I got so far as to be a lawyer and then Redcar's MP.

I do not want Redcar's children to get on only by being lucky. Those children need early years investment, giving them social skills and making them outgoing. That is why I applaud the emphasis in the Queen's Speech on child care, Sure Start, children's centres and the promise of 8 am to 6 pm wrap-around care for three to 14-year-olds. I welcome, too, the commitment that every child will have a tailored education and learning package and a detailed pupil profile.

My lucky rise from 95 Coalshaw Green road, Oldham, Lancashire was partly due to my parents' values. They were Methodists, and although I was not confident in the outside world I felt secure at home, reflecting their values. We all knew where we were. It is hard to feel secure unless we have values, and very hard to feel confident unless we can rely on other people living up to recognisable values, so I applaud the aim in the Queen's Speech of restoring respect to society. That is important not only to give the current victims of disrespect and antisocial behaviour their freedom again, but to give antisocial people the chance to look for satisfaction in their lives, rather than living as nuisances.

Although we need to restore respect, Redcar is nevertheless enjoying an upturn in prosperity after eight years of new Labour economic stability. The steelworks has a 10-year contract to export, through the river, all the slab it can produce. For the first time that anyone can remember, it is recruiting staff. That success has made Teesport, in turn, ambitious to develop a deep-sea container terminal to catch some of the rising container market and save thousands of lorry miles, delivering boxes up north from ports down south. Meanwhile, our petrochemical industry at Wilton flourishes, thanks to a Department of Trade and Industry grant that brought us huge US investment and turned the industry around. How would those companies—steel, chemicals and the port—have such ambition and such success if they were still living with the Government who brought them 15 per cent. interest rates, high inflation and boom and bust?
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Some political parties might tell people to get on their bikes. We support viable local industries that can boost regional economic performance. That might mean that public spending in the north is higher for a while, but only as part of the understanding that every region has to be brought on to perform to its optimum to resource the top-class public services that we seek. I applaud the commitment in the Queen's Speech to reform those public services.

Lastly, I want to welcome the equalities Bill, establishing the commission for equalities and human rights. Discrimination too holds people back, whether it is against women, ethnic minorities, disabled, gay and lesbian people, or on the grounds of age or religion. It will not be ended by legal cases, by the accident of someone happening to discriminate against somebody who happens to have the courage or the cash to go to court and get a one-off ruling that no one else then knows about. That requires a change of culture, which will be driven positively by the commission.

I could talk more. I could talk about our ambition, consistent with the charity's motto to "Make poverty history". I could talk about a lot in the 45 Bills and five draft Bills in the Queen's Speech, all of which will bring opportunity for all and fairness much closer. But, despite the fact that I dislike deadlines, it is possible to talk too much. Once a judge commented to a jury:

He later added:

very much

[Laughter.] So before I revert to type, I will commend the Gracious Speech to the House, and I will sit down.

3.11 pm

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