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John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my first speech. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander)—I hope that I managed to pronounce those names right—and also the hon. Members for Burnley (Kitty Ussher), for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove), for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) and for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), and my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (David Howarth) and for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy). I especially congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South as today's was his second maiden speech, his first being as councillor for the Longbridge ward of Birmingham city council, which includes the Rover plant, an office he held until June last year.

I have been told that one of the challenges I face in this speech is not to be controversial and I shall try to manage that. It is not controversial to say that Estelle Morris was well liked, courteous and hard-working. As was said on "Woman's Hour" on Radio 4 on 25 October 2002:

I fought Estelle Morris in 1992, 1997 and 2001, and now she has been sent to the other place. There is no doubt that she was always very courteous and worked hard on behalf of all the residents of Yardley.

I am not the first person to fight Yardley three times before winning. Archibald Gosling fought it three times in the 1920s, before winning on the fourth occasion. I also wish to pay tribute to David Gilroy Bevan, who sadly died recently. He was educated at King Edward's school, as I was, and was also a Birmingham city councillor. There is a tradition of Birmingham city councillors representing Yardley.

Yardley is part of Birmingham, which is a difficult place to understand for people from outside. An "A to Z" would be one way to learn about it, but there are other mechanisms. People who live outside London first learn about Mayfair and Park lane, through the Monopoly board. So I bought a Birmingham Monopoly set, which I shall place in the Library, and anyone who wishes to learn more about the city can play a game. Park lane and Mayfair are replaced by Hurst street and Victoria square. Victoria square is the location of the Council House, but Hurst street is also important as part of Birmingham's history. The city is based on migration—both immigration and emigration. Most people have heard of Birmingham, Alabama, but there are more than 20 other Birminghams around the world, some of which are very small. They include a New Birmingham in Ireland. Immigration to Birmingham came substantially from Ireland, the new Commonwealth and other areas, but initially it came from Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire, the three counties that make up Birmingham.

In the 1800s, Birmingham was very small and densely populated. Industry developed in Birmingham for several reasons. There was less regulation in the area and also a critical mass of scientific developments. For example, the Lunar Society and others worked together
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to develop new industries. As a consequence, Birmingham became the city of a thousand trades. Indeed, in Hurst street one can still see the back-to-back properties in which people lived. By our standards today, such properties would not be highly regarded, but they were then seen as being of better quality than other existing properties. The courtyard design led to dense population and was not very sanitary, so people wanted to move away. Although the population of Birmingham in the early 1800s was about a million, living in a very small space, the population doubled every 15 years. In an attempt to improve the quality of life, especially in housing terms, Birmingham expanded to take in neighbouring areas.

In 1912, Yardley came into Birmingham from Worcestershire, along with Handsworth, Small Heath, Kings Norton, Aston and Moseley, from Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire. That is why although a lot of people in Yardley work in manufacturing industry there are not many factories in Yardley itself, apart from in Tyseley and Garretts Green.

That brings me to a point about roundabouts—to refer to the hon. Member for South Swindon who was talking about a Swindon roundabout earlier. At the junction of Garretts Green lane and Sheldon Heath road, there is a roundabout with seven exits and I challenge any Member to find a roundabout with more than that. Of course, the Swindon roundabout may be a strange one, but the Garretts Green roundabout is straightforward.

Like the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), I come from a family of immigrants, but we invaded—as Vikings in the year 600. Everyone knows about King Offa, but he was a descendant of the Danish king, Hemming, as we can see from "Beowulf". Sadly, as a result of the Norman conquest many historical records were destroyed, but in chapter 27 of Beowulf, at around line 1,950, we read:

That means that Offa was a descendant of King Hemming of Denmark. So although there are many Hemmings in Warwickshire and Worcestershire, our origin is Danish.

Back in 699, there were of course no railways although there were a few roads. The main boundaries were rivers and the River Cole, in the Yardley constituency, was the boundary between Mercia and Hwicca. Mercia gradually expanded to colonise London. If that situation had been maintained, this place would be in Tamworth and we should have much better parties. In Birmingham, we know how to party. At our VE day celebrations, for instance, there were about 10,000 people. We had a street party and a massive celebration but I believe that in London things were relatively mild.

We celebrate all sorts of things. We celebrate St. George's day, St. Patrick's day—about 100,000 people turn up for that—Christmas, Vaisakhi, various Eids and the international carnival. Birmingham is definitely a city that knows how to party.

To return to the Mercia of several millennia ago, it may surprise Members to learn that there was an early currency union. Offa minted dinars in this country.
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There is one of those coins in the British Museum; a mixture of Arabic and Latin is written on it. The idea was to have the same currency as Spain so that trade would be easier. There is only one of those coins left.

Mr. Morley: A single currency.

John Hemming: Exactly. A single currency in 800 rather than in 2000.

Members may not be aware of another interesting Anglo-Saxon aspect. Tolkien, who wrote "The Lord of the Rings", was also educated at the King Edward VI school in Birmingham, as was the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), although not at the same time. "The Lord of the Rings" was based on Birmingham locations, which may seem strange to people who have seen the films because they were made in New Zealand. However, the ideas developed in Birmingham.

Yardley has existed as an entity since 699. It was known as Gerlei in the Domesday book, which means a clearing in a forest. It has been a clearly identifiable community for a long time, and although it has been brought within Birmingham, Birmingham is not an homogenous city. As I explained, the city expanded, especially in 1912, to take in several villages around the industrialised centre. The villages of Yardley, Stechford, Hay Mills, Acocks Green and Sheldon are the main ones in the Yardley constituency. They are easily identified because they all have an old church.

Industrial philanthropy is another interesting feature. In the 1800s, companies such as Webster and Horsfall, Latch and Batchelor built houses for their work force, like the Cadburys at the Bournville village trust in the Selly Oak constituency.

That very clear local identity has, sadly, been challenged by the Boundary Commission's proposals to divide up Yardley and Sheldon, which have been together since 1912 in the constituency of Yardley and prior to that in the constituency of East Worcester. Those communities have been there for millennia, yet the Boundary Commission apparently—although there is a report coming out on 28 June—do not think that important.

Among the local issues that worry local residents is the proposal to have a second runway at the airport. We are greatly concerned about that not only because of the local impact but because it is not sustainable to have massive increases in air flight all the time.

Another issue is that of the challenges that face the manufacturing sector. Most of the things that I would like to say about MG Rover are far too controversial for a maiden speech, so they will have to be left for another time. However, I should like to quote from Estelle Morris's maiden speech of 12 May 1992, in which she said of Yardley:

In essence, there is agreement across the House that manufacturing is important. I shall return to the contentious issues at a later stage as I cannot raise them now.
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Among other local issues is the 99 bus. It may sound relatively trivial, but the closing down of a bus service that takes people to the hospital is not very good in an environment in which one would prefer people to use buses rather than their cars. That is a consequence of the Transport Act 1985, which should have made a change to sector tendering. That still needs to be done. However, we are where we are and the argument will continue.

As for the Queen's Speech, I was a little concerned about the idea of legislating to ensure that hospitals are clean, as one would presume that a mop would do a better job, but it remains an important issue however it is dealt with. In terms of MRSA, we should really consider over-prescription and inappropriate prescription of antibiotics and whether antibiotics are fed to farm animals outside this country, creating a bacteriological resistance to antibiotics that causes great hazards to human beings. If the relevant Bill moves down that route instead of setting simplistic targets on mops, alcohol washes and the like, we have some hope that it will be useful.

On MG Rover, I should raise an issue that fits into the environmental and industrial subject matter. One of the projects that has been going on at Powertrain has been the hybrid engine, which is a combination of a generator and an internal combustion engine. It is a good, useful mechanism for the efficient generation of power, but it still relies on fossil fuels, which remain a problem in themselves. Fusion was mentioned earlier. We already rely to a very great extent on fusion power—the power plant is known colloquially as "the sun" and is fortunately at a very safe distance. I am happy to continue using the power of the sun, which is generally the main source of energy in biodiesel and other sustainable systems. In fact the only source that does not come from the sun is nuclear fission, as opposed to nuclear fusion.

I want to end by paying tribute to the work of my predecessors in the Yardley constituency: Estelle Morris; David Gilroy Bevan; Syd Tierney; Derek Coombs, who also represented Wyre Forest; Ioan Evans, who also represented Aberdare; Leonard Cleaver; Henry Usborne, who also represented Acocks Green; Wesley Perrins; Sir Edward Salt; Archibald Gosling; and Alfred Jephcott.

I am proud to represent my constituents and a seat with which my family has been associated for a very long time, and my party in the House. It is important that we recognise that we are all working, as we see it, in the best interests of those whom we represent. I only ask that over time my record shows that I am at least as hard-working and loyal to Yardley as those who have gone before me.

4.44 pm

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