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Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. As I am the first to do so today, I commend all those who went before me yesterday and the day before.
I was recently elected as the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, replacing Jonathan Sayeed. Jonathan was an extremely courteous man who helped countless constituents with individual problems during his time as their MP. On my recent arrival at the House, one hon. Member informed me that every Member of this House had visited my constituency on many occasions. That left me rather perplexed until I realised that he was referring to the M1, which runs through my constituency from junctions 12 to 13. On that basis, most of the population has visited my constituency without having any idea of what Mid-Bedfordshire is like.
My constituency resembles a gently rolling patchwork quilt of arable green and yellow, and in the folds lie Norman churches, market towns and small villages. Late summer nights will see the combine harvesters working by their headlights and early mornings will see market gardeners packing up their produce and heading to London to the various markets. On his way, the market gardener would pass Ampthill, an historic town, and Woburn abbey, the seat of the Duke of Bedford. The traditional heart of the constituency is largely rural, yet in recent years it has become a recognised centre for high-tech research and development, IT and distributionobviously due to its easy access to the M1. We are also home to the prestigious Cranfield university.
One noteworthy resident of Mid-Bedfordshire was John Bunyan, who was born in Elstow. Unfortunately, as a young man he found himself on the wrong side of the law. He was arrested while hiding up an oak tree in Harlington and dispatched to Bedford jail. Jails in those days held some very inspiring characters, because it was there that he wrote "Pilgrim's Progress". If the hon. Member for Bedford (Patrick Hall), who sits on the Labour Benches, ever finds himself across the border in my constituency, I can assure him that the same fate will not await himas long as I know that he is coming beforehand, anyway.
People in Mid-Bedfordshire have an extraordinary capacity for acceptance and change. They accepted me into this idyllic rural constituency, yet I have spent the largest part of my life on a Liverpool council estate. Until now, my only claim to fame has been that my grandfather was one of the founders of Everton football club. In my family, supporting the blue team runs in the genes. However, I am afraid that that applies only to politics. As many of my constituents know, I am an avid Liverpool supporterI have company on a number of Benchesand cannot make my maiden speech today without wishing the team well tonight.
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One could be forgiven for thinking that all is well in Mid-Bedfordshire, because I have painted a fairly idyllic picture, but I am afraid that that is not the case. Many of the residents who accepted me did so because they too came from large towns such as Newcastle, Manchester, London and Liverpool. They chose to live there, as I have, because they wanted to wake up to the sound of birdsong rather than the incessant hum of traffic or, unfortunately, the sound of the bulldozer. Therein lies the rub. The face of my constituency is under threat from over-development. I fail to see why, in a country with a population as large and static, we need to develop green fields rather than existing urban areas that need regeneration. In fact, only this morning the residents of Islington were asking on television for new houses to be built in Islington, not 50 miles away in Mid-Bedfordshire.
A great challenge faces the Government, and it requires brave decisions from them. They should encourage economic activity in areas where there is surplus housing or where housing demands are less intense, and develop those areas. I am reminded of Liverpool, the city of my birth. It is bit like a size 8 woman in a size 12 frock because so many people have left over the years. Developing greenfield sites means that such towns and cities are not getting the urban regeneration that they need, and if we meet that ambition, we will be preserving the countryside. There is certainly no need to impoverish the environment and amenity of people in Mid-Bedfordshire and other rural counties for the sake of short-sighted and short-term policies. The price of indiscriminate development on the green fields of Mid-Bedfordshire is to leave much of urban Britain unregenerated.
Children with special needs also have a tough time in my constituency. Mid-Bedfordshire has a high number of exclusions and, on closer examination of the figures, many of them are of children with special needshigh-level autism and Asperger's syndrome. Those children are labelled as disruptive because they cannot swim in the slipstream of the national curriculum. They do not have the necessary social and interpersonal skills to communicate, learn, concentrate or even belong, and, unfortunately, the existing policy of inclusion exacerbates the situation. Because there are few specialist schools, many of those children's most serious problems are compounded and their parents are on the edge of despair.
During my time as the MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, I will, with Mr. Speaker's indulgence, use the House to highlight the concerns of my constituents and what matters to them most. My family's route from the council estate on which we lived was the right-to-buy programme, which was introduced by Margaret Thatcher. The policy brought hope, inspiration and achievement to a generation of people to whom social progress had been a distant dream. During weeks of campaigning, I made promises to my constituents to speak up for those who want to buy their own council houses and follow their dreams for their children. It is a great sadness to me that my father is not alive to witness today.
I promise to be a voice for the family and to stand up for mothers who wish to stay at home and raise their children but feel voiceless and unworthy in such a
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career-oriented society, when raising the children of tomorrow's society is the most worthy job of all. I promise to speak up for the large farming community in Mid-Bedfordshire, which is battling to come to terms with legislation being heaped upon it. Most of all, I promise to do my best and to base everything that I do on integrity. I know that people will be able to judge my actions and performance in that light, and I hope that, with the help of the House and my colleagues, I will succeed. I will always do my best for the people of Mid-Bedfordshire, the place that I now call home.
Ms Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) on an excellent maiden speech. I also wish to express my gratitude to established Members of Parliament of all parties and to the staff of the House, whose advice and kindness is helping me and other new Members to find our feet.
The constituency of Worsley contains wards in both Salford and Wigan metropolitan boroughs. Although covering two local authority areas is a complex matter, I am grateful for the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends in neighbouring constituencies in those two boroughsI want to represent the people of Worsley as well as I know that they represent their constituents.
I pay tribute to the 22 years of service in this House of my predecessor Terry Lewis. Many hon. Members have told me that they liked and respected Terry, and I understand that a typical picture is of him sitting on the Benches below the Gangway vying with his hon. Friends to intervene during debates with Conservatives. I wish Terry well in his retirement after so many years as Worsley's Member of Parliament.
Manufacturing, mining, cotton and weaving were historically Worsley's key industries. That industrial heritage is still evident in our canals and landmark buildings. An important event in Worsley's history was the building of the Bridgewater canal in the 18th century by the third Duke of Bridgewaterthe famous canal duke. It was built to take coal from Worsley to Manchester and was later extended to the River Mersey at Runcorn, linking Manchester and Liverpool by waterway. The canal was regarded as an 18th century masterpiece. Nowadays it is an attraction for visitors, particularly the canal basin with its distinctive orange-coloured water.
Coal mining started in the Worsley area in the 14th century, initially from open-cast mines. Deep mining of coal developed in a number of local pits, but production ceased more than 30 years ago. At Astley Green, the pit winding gear acts as a local landmarkthe only surviving pithead in Lancashire. It is being developed by volunteers as a museum and heritage centre. However, mining is in Worsley's future as well as its past. UK Coal has plans for new open-cast mining at the Cutacre site. Having researched the effects of open-cast mining on local communities in Yorkshire and Scotland, I have many concerns about that development, and I will campaign to ensure that people in Little Hulton, Walkden, Shakerley and Tyldesley do not suffer unduly from mining activity over the next few years.
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Worsley has always played a key part in providing important transport links between the region's cities and towns, including the Roman road that linked the forts at Manchester and Wigan, the Bridgewater canal, Stephenson's Manchester to Liverpool railway, and now the M60 and the east Lancashire road. Such transport links are vital, but my constituents suffer traffic congestion and noise pollution from them. Indeed, traffic congestion at the Worsley interchange is so bad that there are daily traffic reports about it on local radio. The accident rate on the east Lancashire road also causes concern. Therefore, I pledge to make highway safety, traffic congestion and the need for improved public transport some of the key priorities on which I will campaign for change.
Worsley is a constituency of great contrasts. Although the Worsley ward has many properties selling at over a million pounds, a few miles away, Little Hulton ward is the second most deprived ward in Salford, and the 138th most deprived in the UK. The ward suffered greatly under 18 Tory years, and measures by the Labour Government of the past eight years are at last starting to make a difference. I hope that my career experience will help me to represent such a diverse area.
Worsley no longer has the mining jobs or a large number of the manufacturing jobs that it had in earlier decades. However, we have a large number of public sector staff, because the national health service and the two local authorities are the biggest local employers. We also have many jobs in service industries and small businesses. My background in some ways mirrors that mix. In my early career, I worked in the IT industry as a systems engineering manager working with the type of small businesses that we have in Worsley, and which I am sure will be assisted by the extra help for small businesses mentioned earlier by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I decided that my heart was more with the values of the public and voluntary sectors, and I became a self-employed adviser working on community regeneration projects. I learned a great deal about the need for partnership working and how to listen to people from community organisations.
I hope to use that experience to support community regeneration initiatives in my constituency, for example, in communities such as Higher Folds, where the community centre and the tenants' and residents' association have an understanding of what local people need. Government funding channelled through the Coalfields Regeneration Trust can help to develop that former coalfield community, but people such as Jackie Farrington and Eileen Waldron from such local organisations can point to what the community needs.
I also want new sport and leisure facilities to develop, particularly for young people. However, even the best facilities need the commitment of people such as Mavis Bent and Gwyn Pierce, who run the Tyldesley swimming and water polo club, which was established in 1876 and now has scores of volunteer coaches and 400 young members. Such voluntary organisations are vital because our communities need to be brought together. I want the towns and estates in Worsley to have the best shared community life we can develop, as well as improved services and facilities.
Since 2001, I have worked nationally on policy issues related to carers. Although my work commitments have changed, carers' issues will always remain important to
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me. There are many thousands of unpaid carers in my constituency, including some 2,000 people who care for more than 50 hours a week. Our health and social care services benefit greatly from the work of those unpaid carers. I hope that understanding the national policy issues for carers will help me to improve support for carers in my constituency. Carers week starts on 13 June, and the carers centres in Wigan and Salford will work to ensure that many more people understand the issues experienced by carers and help to improve the quality of their lives.
As we heard earlier, most new Members' speeches have touched on the success or strengths of a local sports team, but doing that would be hazardous for me. Some of my constituents support Manchester United, others support Bolton Wanderers, while some even support Manchester City, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins). Many people support Salford City Reds or Leigh or Wigan's rugby league teams. However, rather than siding with any one local club, I wish all the very best to the England women's football squad, which will soon embark on the UEFA European women's championship, which kicks off in Manchester on 5 June. Kay Hawke, a member of the England under-21 squad, comes from Walkden in my constituency and has done a great deal for sports development with young people. I wish the England women's team all the best in that championship and I hope that Kay continues her progress to the senior squad.
I am exceedingly proud to be the first woman MP to represent Worsley constituency and part of the Wigan borough. I thank the people of Worsley for the trust that they have shown in me, and I also thank the House for listening to me today.
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