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Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is with great pleasure that I rise to make my maiden speech. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) and all the other hon. Members who spoke before me. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Ed Balls), who shares a boundary with me in Wakefield. I look forward to working with him and with my hon. Friends the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) and for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) in making our district better.
I wish to speak briefly on the welfare reform Bills proposed in the Queen's Speech. Before I do so, I should like to pay tribute to my predecessors and to say a few words about the constituency that they represented so well. David Hinchliffe was Wakefield's MP from 1987 until this election, and will long retain the admiration of the House and the gratitude of his constituents. David was Wakefield born and bred. A Wakefield councillor and social worker, he brought deep, practical knowledge to his work here, first as a shadow health spokesperson and later as a fearless Chairman of the Select Committee on Health. His Committee's reports on elder abuse, childhood obesity and the pharmaceuticals industry are landmark documents that stand as models for the future. In David's maiden speech in 1987, he spoke of his sorrow at the closure of six mines in the constituency, which left 5,000 people out of work. Today, that figure has been reduced by more than 75 per cent.; I salute the Government for that tremendous achievement.
David was also a politician with a hinterland. He loves rugby league and our local team, the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats. He wrote a book on the struggle to get rugby league recognised as equal to the union game, called, bluntly, "Class War". His wife Julia helped him brilliantly throughout his long career. I wish them both every happiness for a long and satisfying retirement.
Walter Harrison, a legendary Whip in James Callaghan's Government, represented Wakefield from 1965 to 1987. In Walter's maiden speech 40 years ago, he railed against the north-south divide. I am glad that the Government have set up the Northern Way taskforce to narrow the gap in prosperity between the regions. I look forward to playing my part in that work.
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Unlike David and Walter, I was not born in Wakefield. My parents came to Coventry from Ireland and Northern Ireland in the 1960s to work. When people criticise economic migration, I take it personally. My parents taught me that education and employment are paths to a better life and that access to them should not depend on colour or country of origin. That passionate belief led me to the House to represent Wakefield.
The Wakefield constituency includes Wakefield city and a large rural area to the south-west. It includes the parishes of Denby Dale, Kirkburton, Crigglestone, Bretton and parts of Sitlington. Denby Dale is known as the pie village, famous since 1788 for its huge celebration pies. At the national coal mining museum in Overton, visitors can take a guided tour underground to hear how children as young as five were exploited by pit owners. The area has a proud industrial history, which is built on mining and weaving. However, I believe that its future lies in tourism, culture and the arts.
Wakefield will soon be known as the home of British sculpture. Dame Barbara Hepworth was our city's most famous daughter and bequeathed much of her work to the city. We hope that the Heritage Lottery Fund will provide the final piece of funding to build a brand new Hepworth gallery on the banks of the River Calder. The constituency is already fortunate to have the internationally acclaimed Yorkshire sculpture park, where sheep graze among sculptures by Hepworth, Henry Moore and Anthony Gormley. I sincerely recommend the tranquillity of the park to Conservative Members, who may need some time to reflect before the exertions of the autumn's leadership campaign.
Wakefield was known in times past as the "merrie city", mainly for its large number of historic pubs and fine local ales. We all know the problems that excessive drinking causes, but I salute Wakefield's police, local council and our local newspaper, the Wakefield Express. Their Streetsafe campaign has begun to tackle drink-related disorder in the city centre, allowing the law-abiding majority to enjoy a great night out.
Wakefield people have experienced great improvements in the past few years but more needs to be done to tackle poverty. In our three city centre wards, more than a quarter of children still live in poverty. We must move further and faster to make child poverty history for the children of Wakefield and this country. During the election campaign, one mother whom I met at the school gates whispered to me that the child tax credit was "the best thing your Government's ever done." I look forward to debating the new work and families Bill, which will give mothers more flexible maternity leave and pay.
I recently visited the Lupset Sure Start centre to hear how it and its return-to-work courses were transforming the lives of local families. I look forward to visiting the Castle children's centre in June where I will discuss with parents and staff the Government's plans to increase flexibility and choice in child care.
Our children and young people are our most precious asset. I am glad that Sir Michael Bichard's recommendations to protect vulnerable groups will
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soon become law. Michael and I served together as trustees of Rathbone, a national charity that provides training for the most disadvantaged young peoplethose who are not in education, employment or training. At Rathbone's Wakefield centre, I saw the impact of poverty on those young people. I know how the skilled and loving care of staff and the patience of employers will restore their connection to society through the dignity of work.
We must do more to help the working poorthose without children on low incomes who struggle each month to make ends meet. I met several people during the election campaign who wondered aloud whether they would be better off on benefit. I passionately believe that work must pay. I welcome the work of the GMB, Unison and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers in tacking low pay with the Government through the minimum wage. Now we must make it truly a living wage.
As someone who has suffered severe hearing loss, I want to do more for disabled people. We must do more to help the disabled to keep their jobs and provide better advice when they are unable to work. I welcome the reform of incapacity benefit if it will allow those disabled people whom society has forgotten the dignity, comradeship and prosperity that work brings.
Last weekend, I had dinner with a constituent, who, like my parents, is an economic migrant. He is a man in his 50s with little English and he told me that he wants to train as a gas engineer. He has already built his house extension and he wants to work in the wider community. Wakefield needs his skills; this country needs his skills. As we look to increase access to work, I hope that we can examine the specific needs of carers, disabled people and those for whom English is a second language.
I thank hon. Members for listening. I thank the people of Wakefield for the great trust that they have put in me and I look forward to working with my right hon. and hon. Friends in Government to deliver greater prosperity for them and a brighter future for their children.
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the honour of making my maiden speech during the debate on the Queen's Speech. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and all the other hon. Members who have made their maiden speech today.
During my short time as the Member for Manchester, Withington, I have been careful to pay heed to the advice that has been offered by family, friends and colleagues, not to mention by opponents. The first piece of advice that I received was that I should not allow this place to change me. I have always believed that speeches should be short and to the point and, given the Speaker's advice, the House can be reassured that I shall not allow this place to change my view on that, regardless of any desire to emulate certain hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I should like to begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, Keith Bradley. He was always forthright in his opinions, as all Members from the north-west should be. This was ably demonstrated in his maiden speech, in
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which he challenged the former Conservative Government's Finance Bill. Setting aside political differences and intense political rivalry, I am in no doubt that Keith Bradley represented his constituents with great determination and gave them 100 per cent. of his support. I want to thank him for helpfully encouraging people to contact me since the election. I am sure that the people of Manchester, Withington will wish him well for the future, as do I.
Manchester, Withington is the vibrant heart of south Manchester, with an increasing population as more and more people choose to live and socialise in its south Manchester towns. People take pride in the area and play an active role in the numerous civic societies, residents' groups and tenants' associations. The constituency is also home to part of the Mersey valley, with its numerous open spaces and parks; it is a real green lung for south Manchester. The area is also home to several conservation areas that protect our heritage and architecture, and to the famous Christie hospital.
The election on 5 May marked a turning point for Manchester. It is no longer represented only by Labour Members of Parliament, and now has its first Liberal Democrat or Liberal MP since before the second world war. The people of Manchester, Withington rejected the increasingly authoritarian and illiberal Government agenda in favour of policies based on fairness and trust. It is therefore disappointing that plans remain for the introduction of identity cards. I strongly believe that the residents of my constituency would prefer to see that money being better spent on putting more police officers on the streets of Chorlton, Didsbury, Withington, Burnage, Ladybarn and Fallowfield.
The people of south Manchester are equally dismayed to have heard no mention of light rail transport in the Queen's Speech. Manchester's Metrolink has been a resounding success in tackling congestion on the roads that it serves. The over-development of certain parts of south Manchester has placed an unacceptable burden on our roads, causing serious congestion and pollution problems. Metrolink is the key to tackling that congestion, and it must be a top priority.
I would like to welcome the proposals to encourage greater participation in elections. Unfortunately, however, I remain unconvinced that the Government's proposals are what is required. Turnout in Manchester, Withington during the election was up five percentage points, mainly due to the intense competition there. However, many people chose not to vote. They felt that their vote would be wasted because their party of choice had no chance of winning. Surely the most effective way of increasing participation is to introduce not voting gimmicks but a system in which every vote counts.
I warmly welcome the Government's assurances that they will use the presidency of the G8 to secure progress on tackling poverty in Africa and on climate change. The many thousands of pounds raised in Manchester, Withington for the tsunami appeal show the generosity of Manchester people and their commitment to helping to alleviate poverty. The Government must seize this opportunity and lead the way for other countries to follow, both on poverty and climate change.
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When I was preparing my maiden speech, I took the opportunity to check on what my predecessors had had to say. I was initially alarmed to find that Mr. Fred Silvester, who represented the constituency from 1974 to 1987, had made not a maiden speech but a reincarnation speech. However, I am informedreliably, I trustthat he had not come into Parliament from beyond the grave; he had previously been the Member of Parliament for Walthamstow. In any event, Mr. Silvester spoke in the rate support grant debate, highlighting the inequities of local government taxation for residents of Manchester, Withington. Some things clearly never change.
There are many losers under the current council tax system, especially pensioners and low earners, who continue to spend a much greater proportion of their incomes on council tax than the most well off. Many people in Manchester, Withington would have liked council tax to be abolished and replaced by a local income tax based on ability to pay.
For the last 18 years, the constituency has been ably represented by Keith Bradley. In his maiden speech, he rightly highlighted the plight of the health service in Manchester, Withington and what he described as the crisis in our hospitals, the closure of the accident and emergency department at Withington hospital at weekends and the threats to cancer services at Christie hospital. It is amazing what a difference a period in government has made. Despite the closure of Withington as a full general hospital, the new community hospital is described as a success for the Labour Government. But although I look forward to taking up an invitation to visit the excellent new Withington community hospital facilities in the next few weeks, the people of Manchester, Withington have not forgotten that their hospital was closed under the Labour Government.
Back in 1987, Mr. Bradley told the House of the threats to cancer services at Christie hospital. Just before this election, 60 doctors from the hospital expressed concern in our excellent local newspaper, the Manchester Evening News, that a review of cancer services by the strategic health authority could result in the removal of services from the hospital, and that that could threaten its future. This time, Labour described it as scaremongering.
Christie hospital has a clear vision for the future: to transform itself from a regional centre of excellence to a world-class facility. That vision is backed by Manchester university, and by Cancer Research UK. I share it, and as Withington's Member of Parliament I will try to help make it a reality. I am delighted to learn that the green light has been given for the critical care unit, but we must ensure that the strategic health authority supports the hospital's plans in its review.
I welcome the assurance that education remains a top priority. In Manchester, Withington we are fortunate enough to have some of the best schools in Manchester, and over the last nine years I have been fortunate enough to see at first hand the success of two of those schools, as a school governor at Cavendish and Chorlton Park primary schools. Their success is a testament to the hard work of teachers and non-teaching staff, supported by strong governing bodies. Over the next Parliament I hope to forge strong links
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with all schools in the constituency. I have already visited one, Brookburn school: it was my first official visit as a Member of Parliament.
The biggest challenge for education in south Manchester is the lack of available places for an expanding population. In some parts of the constituency, parents cannot send their children to the schools of their choice because they live too far away to receive a place according to the distance criteria. That emphasises the problem of choice in schools. In fact, for most people in my constituency there is no choice. The lack of available places is a big challenge facing south Manchester, and one of the many challenges that I will face as Member of Parliament for Manchester, Withington. I hope that I will rise to the challenge, and I thank the people of Manchester, Withington for giving me the opportunity.
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