Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): We in Shrewsbury have a bit of a record already. We have a town cryer who is 7 ft 2 in tall, and at 6 ft 8½ in I am the tallest ever Member of Parliament, so I hope that that height will enable me to catch your eye in future debates, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In addition, my surname, which is of Polish origin, is very difficult to pronounce, but you did so splendidly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I was in business, many of my colleagues said that I must be mad to think that I would get into the House of Commons with such a name, and that I should change it to an English name, but I refused to do that simply because I am very proud of my beloved grandfather, who is no longer alive. He was a great Polish patriot and he and many other Poles fought with the British during the war. Before he died, I promised him that I would never change my name. If I had done so, I would have sacrificed something special.
I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, the Labour Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury, then Liberal Democrat Member, then Labour, Paul Marsden. I gave a great deal of thought to what I could say about him. But I can genuinely say that I always found him to be extremely polite and friendly, and the handover of files has been done professionally. I wish him well in whatever he chooses to do next.
Shrewsbury is the county town of Shropshire. It is an extremely beautiful and historical town, with 600 listed buildings, a Norman abbey, a medieval castle and a Georgian crescent. We are also very much a town of flowers. Percy Thrower was the parks superintendent in Shrewsbury for 28 years, and he has certainly left an imprint on our town. We take the Britain in Bloom competition extremely seriously, and I pay tribute to all the members of the committee who work tirelessly to ensure that Shrewsbury puts on such a good display every year. We also have one of the most famous flower shows, the Shrewsbury flower show, which is renowned not just throughout the midlands, but throughout the country.
Shrewsbury is surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in England, with the Shropshire hills, and it is very agricultural. The West Mid show takes place in Shrewsbury every year and we also have the Minsterley show. We even have the Wroxeter vineyard, which produces lovely Shropshire wines, and I hope to convince the Catering Committee to stock some of them in the near future. Representing such a rural seat, farming is a key priority for me, and I shall be scrutinising the Government on their future agricultural plans.
The Royal Shrewsbury hospital is also very important to me. The League of Friends, a local charity, has written to me to highlight its concerns. It raises millions of pounds every year to buy necessary equipment for our hospital. Its volunteers work extremely hard and provide a lot for our hospital, but they are concerned about the hospital's £19 million debt. It fears that, if not addressed, that could lead to cuts in services or staff. The Government have focused greatly on the reduction of debt to third-world countries, and I applaud them for that, but I hope that they can show the same generosity to my hospital, writing off its debt so that it can progress without such a millstone round its neck.
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I recently asked the chairman of the Royal Shrewsbury Hospitals NHS Trust what was the one thing that would benefit the hospital over the next four years, and he said unequivocally "Payment by results." He said that the hospital was efficient and that if the Government introduced payment by results more quickly, it would benefit by millions of pounds every year, so that is a matter that I shall raise.
The Government have given autonomy to Wales, so the Welsh Assembly, just across the border, has very different policies from those of England. Therefore the Powys health authority pays a different charge for every patient who crosses the border to use our Royal Shrewsbury hospital. That difference means a £2 million deficit for the hospital every year. We welcome Welsh patients who come across the border to use our hospital, but I shall be urging the Secretary of State for Health and others on the Treasury Bench to make the Welsh Assembly look again at its policy of paying different rates for its patients, because that adversely affects English hospitals all along the border, not just the Royal Shrewsbury hospital. Those debts have led to car parking charges, and we now have to pay each time we visit the hospital. Senior citizens who frequently visit relatives there have to pay £2 each time they leave their car there. That is something that I want to get rid of.
I am very keen on getting a direct rail link to London. Shrewsbury is the only county town in England that does not have a direct rail link to our capital city. Such a link would be extremely important to both tourism and business investment, and I shall be pressing the Secretary of State for Transport to help me to achieve that.
Shropshire is a relatively prosperous area where house prices are going through the roof, making it difficult for young people to get on to the property ladder, and that is a huge issue in Shrewsbury. The Government have set a target for my council to build 500 affordable homes in the borough in the foreseeable future. Today I spoke not to Peter Nutting, the leader of the council, because he like me is a Conservative politician, but to one of the key officers on the council to obtain an independent view. I asked him what he needed to help him to provide affordable housing, and he said that in April 2003 the Labour Government took away the local authority social housing grant. That is the single measure that has made it more and more difficult to provide affordable housing. I shall be asking why that grant has been taken away and I shall be fighting to have it reintroduced.
Shrewsbury is situated on the River Severn and so experiences terrible flooding. In 2000, the Prime Minister came to Shrewsbury and promised us lots of extra money for flood defences. I am sorry to have to inform the House that very little progress has been made on that front, so I shall be pressing the Prime Minister on that. However, I do have one ally who is a constituent and close friend of mine. I have had tea with him on a number of occasions and my wife and I have been invited to dinner soon. His name is Leo Blair, and he is the Prime Minister's father. I hope that during the next four years Leo Blair will help me to ensure that the Prime Minister always remembers Shrewsbury and helps me to do the best for our beautiful town.
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I congratulate all hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches this afternoon. In particular, I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on his excellent maiden speechno pressure there then!
Tony Banks is a hard act to follow. He is flamboyant, funny, quick-witted, scathing and unique. Before he entered this House, he was a prominent member of the Greater London councilhe was its chairman when it was abolished. In 1983, he was elected MP for Newham, North-West, which subsequently became West Ham. He and I are both immensely proud to have inherited the seat of Keir Hardie, the first Labour MP.
During his time in Parliament, Tony was appointed Minister for Sport and the Prime Minister's envoy for the bid to host the 2006 World cupwe all know that those subjects are close to his heart. Tony is not afraid of controversy: he is warm, generous and often humorous; he is vegetarian, a republican and a Chelsea supporter; he is one of Parliament's staunchest supporters of animal rights; and he is a proponent of the anti-fox hunting and anti-vivisection movements. Tony's friends are only too aware of the problem that he faces when his cat brings something in from the gardenwhich furry animal should he support?
Tony has not been lost to Parliament. On 13 May, it was announced that he is to be made a life peer, and I hope that he will be as effective an advocate of social justice in the other place as he has been here. Perhaps his elevation is an omen for West Ham United football club, which will hopefully also be elevated to another placethe premier leaguenext Monday. Tony undoubtedly put West Ham on the map, and I hope to emulate his passion and his energy, because my constituents deserve no less than that.
The West Ham constituency is in London's east end. It consists of Stratford, Plaistow, Canning Town, Forest Gate and Upton Park. It has good transport links and, given the imminent arrival of the channel tunnel rail link, it is a gateway to central London and the rest of Europe. During the second world war, my constituency suffered as a prime target for bombing, and, on the 60th anniversary of the end of that terrible conflict, I think it appropriate to remember the losses and contributions made by the people of the east end.
West Ham is now a wonderfully youthful, vibrant and diverse areapossibly the most diverse area on the planet. In the past 20 years, however, it has consistently been in the top five most deprived areas in England and Wales. In the short journey of six stops on the Jubilee line from here to my constituency, life expectancy for children living in those particular areas decreases by six years. Simply put, my local authority and health authority do not get sufficient funding to deal with the problems. We have inner-London problems, but we do not get inner-London money. We lose out by some £60 million a year because of an arbitrary historical boundary. It is indefensible. I have pledged to campaign hard for that money, and I will respectfully approach my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see whether we can bring that long campaign to a successful end.
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West Ham is not financially rich, but it is rich in talent and ability. It remains a place with many needs, but it presents massive opportunities. Many, I hope, are about to be realised. Before I look to the future, I want to highlight one clear regeneration success story in my constituency, which, I suggest, is due to the use of a bottom-up regeneration process rather than a top-down approach. Twenty years ago, Green street, Upton Park, was dying on its feetthe two exceptions were West Ham United, which had its best ever league season in 1986, and, sadly, the local jobcentre. Then a few local traders, who were mainly Asian and African, spotted an opportunity and took a risk. At first, the trade was in food products or fabrics that retail chains did not stock. That has gradually changed, and now the main business in the street is in high-value designer fashions and jewellery. Green street is a one-stop wedding shop, and people come from miles around to shop there. A supportive council and an aspiring, energetic community saw the potential and drove that project forward.
Partnerships with communities are essential for sustained social and economic prosperity. Stratford is about to undergo a major transformation. Stratford City, the largest urban development in the country, will create an additional 5,000 homes, thousands of retail and office jobs and new health and education facilities. It is essential that local people benefit from that huge and welcome regeneration. That is why I am grateful that a Labour Government are leading at this exciting but pivotal time. The Government have demonstrated that they both understand and are committed to a sustainable communities agenda, affordable homes for our residents, real jobs for our people, health centres, schools, parks, libraries and leisure centres for our families and children. How different from the market-first, people-last strategies of the '80s, when the wealth from regeneration was expected to trickle downthe trickle-down was too paltry to create a puddle in my area.
In order for many of my neighbours to share in the wealth created in London, we must recognise how the special circumstances in the capital militate against poorer communities. The introduction of the minimum wage by this Labour Government has been crucial, and it was an historic achievement, but given that London is one of the most expensive cities in the world, a minimum wage is not a living wage, and I would be grateful if the Low Pay Commission were to explore that issue.
I am pleased to see that the Queen's Speech contains a housing benefit Bill. A specific London factor works against my constituents who want to work and to keep a roof over their heads. With rising house prices, come higher rents, and when that factor is coupled with the housing benefit taper, which is currently set at 65 per cent., a poverty trap is created. For every extra £1 that a person earns, they lose 65p in benefit, and I respectfully request a review to explore alternatives to that very steep taper to ensure that work pays in my constituency.
I cannot make my maiden speech without referring to the Olympic and Paralympic games. I think that West Ham is already the centre of the universe, but it may be the centre of an amazing drama of extraordinary human endeavour in 2012. Our bid is like Kelly Holmespoised on the final bend; striving; victorious; and first over the finishing line. The Olympics will bring
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opportunity in the form of billions of pounds of national, regional and local business over the next eight years and more. The Olympics will see the creation of thousands of new jobs in construction, IT, media, retail, health, hospitality, sport and the creative industriesreal jobs. A visionary and aspirational Government made the bid for the Olympics, and the fact that the London Olympics Bill will come before the House after the decision in Singapore demonstrates their commitment to making the London 2012 Olympics the best ever games.
The transforming nature of the Olympic flame provides an historic opportunity to invigorate the UK and radically transform east London and my constituency, which I am honoured to serve. As with the regeneration of Green street, and all other Green streets up and down the land, the opportunity will be fully realised, deep-rooted and sustained only if the community is engaged and involved with the physical and social changes. Local authorities are uniquely charged with that responsibility and are uniquely positioned to discharge it. I ask Ministers to ensure that the legislation fully recognises the essential role of local government in the planning, delivery and legacy phases of the London 2012 games.
The regeneration of communities is a partnership between the different tiers of government, their agencies and the communities that they serve. The Government have consistently provided my constituents with the tools that they need to contribute to and benefit from the wealth of this nation such as the minimum wage, tax credits, neighbourhood renewal funds, the new deal for communities, Sure Start and children's centres, to name but a few. I am asking for that partnership to grow to meet the real needs of my constituents.