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David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler) on an excellent maiden speech. She and I have something in common. She mentioned that her predecessor was accosted on the streets. Mine also was accosted on the streets, but for different reasons, which we will not discuss today.
Coming from a working-class background and a small village just outside County Armagh I am humbled, honoured and proud to represent the people of Upper Bann. I come to the House as part of a greatly increased number of MPs from my party. In the 2001 election we won five seats; now we have nine. If making gains at elections is a sign of progress, an increase of 80 per cent. is a good day's work.
Upper Bann was created in 1983. I follow Mr. Harold McCusker and Mr. David Trimble, two very different men who did things their own different ways. For my part, I shall do things my way. However David Trimble was thought of back home, and whatever verdict the people of Northern Ireland ultimately delivered on him, I know that there are many here who held him in high esteem. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I can say of David Trimble that while we were at loggerheads for the past four years, when the declaration was made and I was announced as the winner, David Trimble, in his final act as a Member of Parliament and in his first act as a former Member of the House, behaved with dignity, and I have to applaud that. Although I suppose that he must think that me saying something complimentary about him is a bit like the hangman saying, "You have a lovely neck."
Upper Bann nestles right in the heart of Ulster and contains three of Northern Ireland's largest and most important townsBanbridge, Lurgan and Portadown.
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Lurgan and Portadown make up the borough of Craigavon, named after Lord Craigavon, and I have the pleasure of being the mayor of that borough. Recent Government figures inform us that in two council areas that incorporate Upper Bann, unemployment is lower than both the national rate and that of Northern Ireland as a whole. Northern Ireland was once an employment blackspot, and it is to the great credit of local entrepreneurs and the many small businesses that we have emerged from a 35-year nightmare so well.
However, those figures hide some serious issues. The entire Northern Ireland economy competes in export markets against the low-cost manufacturing bases in eastern Europe and the far east, and business in Upper Bann today centres on retail, textiles, construction, pharmaceuticals, food companies, IT and electronics. Manufacturing jobs today have been lost in Upper Bann because of the recent or potential implications of rating revaluation in the Province. We have sought to encourage new high-technology jobs, promote development opportunities and build relationships across the business community.
Today we are debating education. Northern Ireland boasts one of the best education systems anywhere in the United Kingdom. Our educational achievement has always been one of the Province's key selling points. Almost two thirds of people living in Northern Ireland support academic selection, including teachers, parents and the majority of politicians. They value an education system where the doors of grammar schools are open to everyone, not just the rich, or only those whose parents were educated at grammar schools. The new direct rule Minister should set aside the ideas and rhetoric of her predecessor and work with politicians and the education sector to deliver a system that commands support right across the community.
The Democratic Unionist party has highlighted our concerns over proposed education cuts affecting local education and library boards. We recognise the difficulty that boards are experiencing living within the 5 per cent. budget, especially with expanding special needs provision. I will continue to fight for the retention of front-line services and vigorously pursue the issues of school meals, crossing patrols, classroom assistants and safety on school transport.
In my constituency, small rural schools are threatened with closure. Loughbrickland primary school outside Banbridge and Ardmore primary school outside Lurgan face closure, despite the pleas of parents and the clear need to retain them. I urge the Government to take their responsibilities and pledges to the people seriously.
Today we are also debating health, and Craigavon area hospital has struggled to accommodate the large number of new patients following the withdrawal of acute services from south Tyrone. The introduction next year of an extra 20 beds and a new protective elective ward is greatly welcomed, but the £11 million shortfall facing the Southern health board over the next two years must not compromise plans for a cardiac catherisation lab and a 32-bed admissions unit. There is a severe shortage of allied health professionals in the Southern health board, and we seek more speech and occupational therapists, particularly for children with special needs.
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I am pleased that a new mental health Bill has finally been brought forward and I am also aware of the escalating problems of medical negligence and will take a close interest in the NHS redress Bill.
As for education and health in Northern Ireland, the overriding concern is to return these matters to the control of local elected politicians in a devolved Government. Some years ago, the story was told of a new Secretary of Statewe are well used to new Secretaries of State in Northern Irelandwho on his arrival was given a security briefing by senior police and Army personnel. They showed him a map of Northern Ireland, just to make sure that he knew exactly where he was, and they set about giving him all the information about Northern Ireland in an afternoon. In the process, they explained the various shadings on the map to him. Parts of it were shaded orange, which they explained were predominantly loyalist or Unionist areas. "Golly," said the new Minister, in a good Ulster accent. Parts of it were shaded green, which they explained were predominantly nationalist or republican areas. "Well I never," said the Secretary of State. As they were about to finish, he stopped them and pointed at Lough Neagh and said, "Who are the blue chappies in the middle?" That is a true story.
Northern Ireland does not need any more of that inflicted on it. We currently have direct rule because of republicans and their failure to abandon terrorism and criminality. Democratic parties are held back and the entire Province is being punished because of their unwillingness to face reality. When I met the Prime Minister last week, I was heartened to hear that he seemed to be adopting a more realistic position in this regard. We will hold him to account on these solemn issues.
With due respect to hon. Members from every corner of the United Kingdom, Ulster people are the best, kindest and most resilient anywhere on the globe today, and I am deeply humbled to have been given the opportunity to represent them here, and deeply honoured to think that they have entrusted me to do so.
I want, if I may, to leave the House with a verse of scripture. I know that it is not very popular in today's society to quote scripture, but this verse is very poignant, and if everyone would attend to it, we would have a different country today. Chronicles II, chapter 7, verse 14 says:
Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op):
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my first speech to the House. I am very proud to stand here as the Labour and Co-operative party Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch. I was delighted to hear the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James), the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace), my hon. Friend the
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Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper), the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. McGovern), the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) and for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler) and the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson). I particularly commend the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South. She has something to teach all of us new Members and some perhaps of greater experience, and if she carries on like that I am sure that her parliamentary career will be a glittering one.
It is customary to comment on one's predecessor. My predecessor served Hackney, South and Shoreditch for 22 years. At some time I will pass on to the Liberal Democrats some of his comments about their party to various Labour party meetings during that time. But I can reassure hon. Members that I shall not be following his example. I am here, and I am here to stay, as a Labour Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch.
Hackney, South and Shoreditch is a very diverse constituency, stretching from Broadgate in the City up to Dalston via the trendy bars and squares of Hoxton and through De Beauvoir town, and from Old street in the east through to Hackney Wick on the edge of the Olympic village area, via the beautiful areas north of Victoria park and Homerton, which boasts one of London's best hospitals, which takes the same name, and an Elizabethan National Trust property.
Hackney has one claim to fame in terms of the tube map, as Hackney, South and Shoreditch has one staircase at Old Street station; my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Ms Thornberry) is welcome to pass the other over in the next boundary review. That is one reason why residents of Hackney, South and Shoreditch are supportive of the East London line extension and why I support the 2012 Olympic bid, which will improve transport links, particularly on the North London line, more quickly than otherwise might have happened.
Hackney is a wonderfully diverse area, with well over 60 languages spoken by people from all continents. We have large communities from Africa, both west and east, Turkey, Cyprus, Kurdistan, Pakistan and India, and many people from the nations of eastern Europe, including those within and outside the EU. That lends itself to a range of cuisine that I enjoy eating, as hon. Members can perhaps tell from my figure. I was heartened to read in some literature from the House that there is a Members' weight watchers group; perhaps I shall join it in a year or so. [Hon. Members: "No!"] Hon. Members are too kindperhaps just this once, anyway.
Hackney is a young borough with a higher than average birth rate, and it is packed full of hard-working families of all backgrounds. It has benefited enormously from a Labour Government who have introduced Sure Start, the working families tax credit and tangible improvements to many of the council homes that make up more than 50 per cent. of the homes of people living in my constituency. However, in a borough that has been one of London's poorest for more than 100 years, there are still challenges in housing, health and education. In health, we see starkly the impacts of poverty, with higher than average levels of heart disease, cancer and tuberculosis. Infant mortality is higher than the national average, and something that we need to
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address. HIV and AIDS are also important issues, but contrasting with those problems, we have some of the best health services working on those challenges. The Homerton hospital is a foundation hospital that is rigorous in its management of finance and patient care, and the primary care trust is at the cutting edge in tackling those problems.
Hon. Members in all parts of the House have mentioned NHS dentists. In Hackney, there is no shortage of NHS dentists, but only about a quarter of Hackney residents are registered with a dentist. But the primary care trust is making a difference. Already, eight surgeries are taking up the new dental contract promoted by this Government to focus on preventive and proactive dental health care, and the trust is promoting registration. I urge the Secretary of State to visit Hackney to see how well that is working.
Hackney may be a borough of poverty in areas, but there is no poverty of aspiration there. That is one of the reasons why I welcome the three city academies that are being or have been built in the constituency. There was a need to restore confidence in Hackney's secondary school system. The combined force of a local Labour council and a Labour Government is making a difference.
Hackney faces other challenges. The population turnover is about 20 per cent. a year. I visited a primary school in my constituency just last week. In year 6, only about a fifth of pupils had been at the school since their reception class. These are big challenges, but in Hackney we are blessed with top professionals in our schools who are already solving them. I am delighted that already in this third term of a Labour Government we have hosted a ministerial visit. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has a problem in education, I urge her to look for the solution in Hackney, for she is sure to find it there. I applaud the Government's focus on the 14 to 19-year-old agenda. For many young people in Hackney, there is a gap between their education and the skills that they need to take on jobs in the locality.
I was the first woman in my family to go to university. My mother was the second, after she had had 10 children. There are many women and men in Hackney, South and Shoreditch who are similar, as they have had careers and families and are going back into adult education. We must not lose sight of the needs of adults while we are debating the 14 to 19 agenda. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to look closely at how further education for adults is funded, so that in east London in particular, where there is still a very great need, people do not lose out.
One of the themes of this Labour Government in their first two terms has been Sure Start. We all know about Sure Start for under-fives and the support for children and their parents. We have seen huge support and funding for primary schools, and more funding is going into secondary schools. Sure Start is there at five and at 11. We also see it in the 14 to 19 agenda, and we should see a Sure Start for adults as welladults who need to upskill to contribute to the economic success of this country.
I am delighted to be the first woman to represent Hackney, South and Shoreditch. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke
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Newington (Ms Abbott) is here supporting me today. Ours is the only borough in London represented solely by women. The women are taking over in Hackney, and I look forward to a similar turn of events over the years in this House. I remind hon. Members that there are still more men in this Parliament than there have ever been women in Parliament in this country.
One of the other inspirations to me has been my mother-in-law. Sadly, she died aged 88 last December. She arrived in this country as a poor Irish immigrant in 1932, aged just 16. She suffered then the discrimination that many Irish migrants have suffered then and since. As she lay dying on a London pavement last December, the hands that came to help her were those of Africans, Indians and Europeans, London's new migrants, who have contributed so much to this country. The Hackney that I know, where I travel on the bus and walk down the street, is the London where I live and the London that I see, but the world that I work in, unfortunately especially in this House, does not reflect that. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South made the point very well. We need an improvement and a greater reflection in the House of different minority groups, so that people can see for themselves that their Government reflect them.
I grew up under Mrs. Thatcher's Government. My children are growing up under a Labour Government, and they are seeing the direct benefits. I am proud and honoured to represent the constituents of Hackney, South and Shoreditch in a historic third-term Labour Government.
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