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Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech this evening. I stand at the far end of the Opposition Benches, but that does not mean that I have fallen out with my colleagues already. I stand here as a tribute to an ex-Member who stood in this place for many years, and that was Sir Teddy Taylor, the Member for Rochford and Southend, East, who brought me into politics about 11 years ago.

I am a former boy soldier and I was a fireman in Essex. I had an unusual incident on going into a second-floor window and coming back out again rather quickly. That terminated my career as a fireman. I wrote to my Member and said, "I don't know what to do. Can you give me some guidance on my future career?" Those who know Teddy Taylor will recognise that he was a fantastic constituency Member. He typed a letter in the most interesting grammatical way. There was a cigarette burn on one corner of the page and a coffee stain on the other. He wrote, "Why don't you come and shadow me here in the House of Commons for a couple of weeks?"

I came to this place and I took Teddy's pass for a couple of weeks. I was proud to hand back Teddy's pass when I walked into the House as the Member for Hemel Hempstead two weeks ago.

Teddy never once asked about my political persuasion. He did not ask about my views on Europe or on the health service. He just genuinely wanted to help. When I said to him, after a few months, "Do you think that I could actually make it into the House of Commons in a political career?" he said, "Why not?" I said, "I left school at 16. There are many great speakers in the House of Commons." We have heard many such
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Members making their maiden speeches today. Teddy said to me, "That does not make any difference. The test is whether you want to serve your community. That is what matters." I hope that I can take that tradition on in Hemel Hempstead.

I will be moving from the place where I speak on the Opposition Benches this evening in the not too distant future, not least because in my 48th year I need glasses. I will in future find it difficult to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair without being a little closer to him or her.

I have replaced a good constituency Member. Tony McWalter was the Labour Member for Hemel Hempstead for eight years. He worked extremely hard for his constituents. He worked hard for the Select Committee on Science and Technology, for example. Tony has a great claim to fame because he asked the Prime Minister what his philosophy was, back in February 2002, during Prime Minister's questions. Those Members who were in the Chamber at the time—I was in a different position—were probably intrigued to hear the Prime Minister's reply. That was nearly two and a half years ago. I do not think that the House has quite worked out what the Prime Minister's philosophy was. Perhaps I will be able to ask him in the not-too-distant future whether he has an answer to Tony's question.

Tony replaced a great constituency Member in Robert Jones, who was also a good Minister. Having listened to so many good speeches, not least that of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), it is interesting to learn about what people believe in. If someone really believes in something, that is what matters.

Hemel Hempstead is commonly known these days as a new town—a new town that was conceived in 1947 as a London overspill town for the bombed-out parts of north London. I was born and bred in north London, in Tottenham. However, Hemel Hempstead goes back, as I am sure right hon. and hon. Members know, to Roman times. It inherits the traditional name Dacorum, which is the name of the borough council. That goes back to the time of Henry VIII, when he gave the royal charter for the borough of Hemel Hempstead.

Hemel Hempstead is not about the new town alone. Really, the constituency should be called East Dacorum because it goes from the south from the village of Kings Langley all the way to the villages of Flamstead and Markyate in the north, by the A5. Even though about 45,000 people live within the town of Hemel Hempstead, with all the problems that a new town which was built in the 1950s has, there are serious rural issues that have to be addressed.

Some new Members have described just how beautiful their constituencies are. I can say that I have a beautiful constituency. One has only to look at the Chilterns, including the Gade Valley, which is one of the most beautiful areas of Hertfordshire. I recommend that right hon. and hon. Members come to the area to spend a day in one of our local rural pubs—or two or three.

In 1947—this is relevant to today's debate— Hemel Hempstead had three public hospitals. They were in place to serve the community. When the new town was built, there was a new general hospital. So for a short
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time there were four public hospitals. That is something to which I shall return. During the election campaign, the greatest issue on the doorsteps—I hope that the Minister is listening intently—was the future of Hemel's hospital. It was built for the people of Hemel Hempstead, a new town. The other hospitals were all closed. We have a full general hospital. There is a maternity unit, an accident and emergency unit and all acute services to meet the needs of the community.

There was a big debate during the run-up to the 1997 election on the future of the hospital. The debate was won by the people of Hemel Hempstead and the Dacorum hospital action group which fought so hard for the hospital, and £60 million of investment went into the hospital. Shortly after the 1997 election—it was a big issue—the maternity unit closed. It took the intensive care baby cots with it. They went to Watford. In the run-up to the election, I was contacted by two families. The mother and the baby needed intensive care baby cot provision. That was found for them in Yarmouth and in Nottingham. No intensive care baby cots are available for the families of Hemel Hempstead in Hemel Hempstead because they were taken away from the hospital.

This is sad. We have a birthing unit in Hemel. That is all right, we think, because we have a children's ward, so that paediatricians are around. That will help if there is a problem. Unfortunately, the children's ward will open only from 8 am to 8 pm. That is a new decision, which was implemented in the past couple of weeks. The result is that paediatricians are not available at night.

All right, we have an accident and emergency department, which will have specialists for acute services. They will be available if babies, children and elderly people have problems. Well, the House will have guessed it, the A and E is to close. It is going to Watford. All the acute services in Hemel, including the fantastic new stroke unit, which was opened with 18 beds—it is down to 12 already—will close and be moved to Watford. On the doorstep in Hemel Hempstead, people are saying to me, "All this money is coming into the health service but where on earth is it going for the people of Hemel?"

It is true that we shall have a new day stay centre, and there will be facilities there for minor injuries and minor care. Many people will come in from other areas around Hemel for this provision. However, that does not help the people of Hemel Hempstead.

I do not want to be too controversial this evening, but these things matter to the people whom we represent. Violent crime in Hemel Hempstead has risen by nearly 150 per cent. in the last two years. In 2002–03, there were 739 violent assaults. On the figures available for 2004–05, 1,824 lives were damaged by violent crime.I do not blame our police force in Hemel Hempstead, which is stretched to the limit. There are no extra police in Hertfordshire this year. We do not have a single extra policeman on our streets. For every one coming in, another is leaving to join the Met. Other hon. Members have raised the matter in debates in the past few days. We must remedy the situation whereby Hertfordshire taxpayers are paying for the training of the Metropolitan police force. That was a major issue on the doorstep.
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The voluntary sector in Hemel is a vital part of the community. Without it, our community, like many others throughout the country, would not survive. I shall speak briefly about an aspect which I am sure is close to the Minister's heart—the hospice movement. We need to look urgently at the funding streams for the hospice movement. It does not want to be taken over by the public sector, but it needs help.

I conclude as I began, by referring to Sir Teddy Taylor. He was known as a great constituency MP who worked for every man, woman and child in his constituency. That is what I hope to be known for when the time comes for me to leave the House at some time in the distant future.

6.30 pm

Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): It is with great pleasure that I rise to make my maiden speech, days after being presented to the House. I congratulate all who have made and will be making their maiden speech during the debate on the Queen's Speech. I speak with pride at being elected in an historic third Labour term.

I made a promise to my constituents that if elected, I would be a strong ambassador for Brent, South, speaking out on local and national issues. I cannot do that by sitting quietly on the Benches, so I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity. I am grateful to the ever helpful and friendly staff of the Serjeant at Arms, without whom many new Members would never find their way to the House.

I am particularly proud and privileged to be a Member of Parliament for the youngest and most diverse and vibrant constituency in Europe—Brent, South, home to Wembley stadium. I have the honour of succeeding the right hon. Paul Boateng, who put Brent, South on the political map and raised the expectation of more than 66 per cent. of his constituents as the first black Cabinet Minister. It was even more reassuring that the first black Minister was Labour. There are many stories about my predecessor on which I could elaborate, but I have only 10 minutes. He made his maiden speech on 26 June 1987 and since then Brent has benefited from many changes under the fantastic Labour Government, although there is still much more to do.

Campaigning with Paul Boateng was a testament to how much he engaged with his constituency. When walking down Harlesden high street with him, one would think that one was walking with the No. 1 pop idol. He would be randomly accosted in the street, hugged so tight that he would become short of breath, kissed erratically all over and have sweet nothings whispered in his ears—and that was just by male constituents.

I wish Paul Boateng well as the UK's ambassador to South Africa, and I salute him and thank him for his leadership and the doors that he helped open, along with the late Bernie Grant, Oona King, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). These former and current MPs—not all were mentioned—played a crucial role in extending the representation of our
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democracy and in encouraging me as the first black female MP for Brent, South and the third black woman in Parliament. There will be many more to follow.

My first priority is to be a conscientious and diligent MP, accessible and open to my constituents. I will ensure that issues and problems brought to me by my constituents are heard and debated in the House to achieve change, as I believe that Brent, South is a shining example of integration at its best. Brent, South deserves a chance to prosper, a chance to benefit from opportunities and a chance for my constituents to live independently.

Brent, South is diverse, vibrant and buzzing, but that comes with inherent problems. Wembley and Harlesden are our main town centres and regeneration is key to bridging the poverty gap. We need highly paid jobs for local people and education to match the skills gap. Brent, South has an unemployment rate of 9 per cent., compared with 7 per cent. London-wide. However, our Labour Government have ensured that that figure has improved, with new deal helping almost 2,000 Brent, South youth into employment.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the London divide. Brent residents, like many other London constituents, suffer from a high cost of living. Labour has ensured that one in five residents have enjoyed a pay rise through the minimum wage. Returning a Labour Government has ensured that for the first time my constituents will earn more than £5 an hour, but we need to investigate the London element so that my constituents can continue to live out of poverty, with the hope of becoming home owners some day.

I am proud to represent the Labour party, which established the minimum wage, which some Opposition parties could not find time to support. The minimum wage, combined with the working families tax credit, has put on average an extra £50 per week in the pocket of the poorest families in Brent, South, ensuring that work pays and work pays the bills.

I am proud to represent the Labour party, which has pledged to end the equal pay gap. My constituency has more women living in it than men—52 per cent.—and equal pay has a direct effect on economic stability and business prosperity, and a direct correlation with child poverty. If we are serious about tackling those issues, the gap must be closed, and soon. I am confident that I will be working hard with my Government to ensure that that will be achieved.

I, like my fellow hon. Members, am encouraged by the fact that in the 2005 intake of new Labour MPs, 66 per cent. are female and 7 per cent. are black and minority ethnic. As my leader said, these are no Blair babes, as he pointed to our two expectant mothers. This is modern, progressive politics reflecting our society.

I am proud to be a GMB member and a former officer. I strive to ensure that my contributions continue to aid the historic constructive working relations between the Labour party and the trade union movement. The Warwick agreement, which was referred to in our manifesto, is another historic agreement which only the Labour party could achieve.

I end by thanking again my constituents in Brent, South for their trust in me and the Labour party. Brent, South spoke clearly on 5 May. The electorate there told the Conservatives that they were not thinking what they
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were thinking. With the country's largest concentration of West Indians, they told the Lib Dems that dey nah warnt dem. What they wanted was a Labour party which would deliver on its promises of equality and justice for the many, not the few.

It is my job as Brent, South's ambassador to ensure that we deliver on the Labour promises. With only 33 per cent. of my constituents in high-paid jobs compared with 50 per cent. for London as a whole, and with 24 per cent. having no qualifications compared with 15 per cent. for London, it is important that as Brent, South's MP I lobby hard to ensure that initiatives are developed and that they work in Brent, so that my constituents have a fighting chance to achieve their full potential.

I promised the youth that they would have a voice through me. We must encourage our youth, listen to them and help them to resolve youth issues. After all, they are our future. Guess what—not all youth are yobs, and not all yobs are youth. Furthermore, youths are victims of antisocial behaviour, more than any other group in our society. I will campaign and lobby extremely hard for my constituents in Brent, South to further their concerns and to put forward the case for social justice in Brent, South, the UK and worldwide.

I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to address the House with my maiden speech and I look forward to many other occasions when I might catch the Speaker's eye and further the aforementioned issues.

6.38 pm

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