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Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): It gives me great pleasure to rise to make my maiden speech and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks). I am grateful for this opportunity to make my first contribution to the debates of the House and, in particular, to speak about one of the strengths of my party, the strength of the British economy.
I am proud and privileged to represent the area where I was born and brought up, and where I intend to be a strong local voice for all my constituents, regardless of whom they voted for. I grew up in the 1980s in a one-parent family, surviving on benefits, until I went out to work to earn a living. I can tell you now, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it was not a good time to be poor. I cannot stand here today without paying tribute to my mam, to whom I owe so much. She struggled bravely for many years to bring up my brothers and me, and I know how proud she is of me today, being in this place.
In standing here today I must also speak of the strengths of my predecessor, Joyce Quin, who was MP for Gateshead, East from 1987 to 2001, when it became Gateshead, East and Washington, West. Before 1987 Joyce was the MEP for Tyne and Wear. She was the first Labour woman to represent any part of the north-east for 35 years, so I am proud to be one of now six to follow her in this place. Joyce will be recalled by many here as a staunch advocate of European integration and regional devolution. She served with great distinction on two high-profile Select Committees. She was an Opposition spokesperson, and when Labour
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came to power she served in the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. She is perhaps best known for her work as Minister for Europe in the late 1990s.
Joyce is known as fair-minded, sincere, calm, highly competent and, like so many from the north-east, friendly. As she represented the constituency where once lived Joseph Wilson Swan, the discoverer, along with Thomas Edison, of incandescent electric light, it is appropriate that Joyce became known over 18 years as a luminary, a bright and dynamic force for the north-east and for the people of Gateshead and Washington. She has always steeped herself in the history and culture of the north-east. As well as rightly campaigning for the return of the "Lindisfarne Gospels", Joyce plays the Northumbrian pipes and is a very knowledgeable city tour guide in Newcastle.
I know that it is a custom in speeches like this to be a bit of a tour guide also, and to rattle off a list of the landmarks in the constituency. However, I find myself in a difficult position because Gateshead, East and Washington, West is remarkable for the number of familiar landmarks which are in Gateshead and Washington but not actually in the constituency. For instance, Gateshead central library, Gateshead leisure centre, the Shipley art gallery and Gateshead college are all just outside my patch. The ancestral home of America's first president, Washington Village, is just outside my patch. Gateshead's Baltic arts centre, the Sage conference centre and the Gateshead Millennium bridge are all just outside my patch. The iconic Angel of the North is just outside my patch, but one can get a fantastic view of it if one stands in Chowdene, which I am proud to say is very much inside my patch.
Of course, we do have the famous Gateshead international stadium, put on the map by a great son of the north-east, Brendan Foster. We are proud of our three modern Metro stations, as well as the much older Bowes railway, designed by another great son of the north-east, George Stephenson. Opened in 1826, the Bowes is a proud relic of the industrial revolution, a colliery railway built to carry coal from the pits to the Tyne. The only working preserved standard-gauge rope-hauled railway in the world, it is in Springwell villagein my patch.
Thankfully, these days what I have in my patch is a large number of hard-working people who have invested in a Labour Government. They have not been disappointed by the regeneration of the north-east in the years since 1997, although there is a lot more to do,
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which will form part of my work here, as will doing my best to continue to tackle unemployment. Both Joyce Quin in 1987 and her predecessor Bernard Conlan in 1965 raised concerns about unemployment in their maiden speeches. Bernard Conlan said that the unemployment in his area was
"tragedy that 23 years after he made that speech, unemployment in Gateshead, East is three times higher than it was then and that the hoped-for diversification"[Official Report, 30 June 1987; Vol. 118, c. 441.]
Today, the picture in Gateshead, East and Washington, West is very different. Unemployment is down by 50 per cent. and 2,330 people have got jobs as a result of the new deal since 1997. Over the past eight years, Labour has demonstrated that it is both possible and desirable to harness both social justice and economic prosperity, helping to ensure that we have a fair market, which is the servant of the people, not the other way around. I am a great believer in harnessing the power of the economy to help people in their jobs, in schools and hospitals and in their homes and communities. I know that the Labour Government are doing that. I also know that my job here is to represent families with children going through local schools, such as Kells Lane primary, St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic primary school and George Washington primary school. I will be a strong local voice in this place for people using hospitals such as the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Gateshead, as I did when I gave birth to my two children, Joseph and Emily. It is Labour's investment in the NHS that has given the Queen Elizabeth its new Jubilee wing. There are nearly 1,000 more doctors and 3,000 more nurses in the region. To me, revitalised public services with free and equal access are, and must always be, the social benefits of economic success.
As a former trade union official with Unison and a current GMB member, I am particularly keen to see the implementation of the Warwick agreement between the Labour Government and the trade unions. The trade union movement has 7 million members and is one of the biggest voluntary organisations in the country. Warwick is an enormous undertaking that will bring about enormous good in many spheres. Legislation on corporate manslaughter remains a pressing issue deserving bold action in the face of business hostility. Universal child care schemes would be a huge help for many in my constituency. The right for trade unions to bargain on pensions seems obvious, but it will not happen without the Labour Government, nor will the long-term solutions needed to protect and enhance pensions in future. Other issues arising from Warwick include tackling pay inequality, healthy eating in schools, putting cleanliness before cost in hospital cleaning and new help for manufacturing, and all need action in this Parliament.
At the end of this Parliament, we should be able to look back at the commitments made at Warwick and see all of them ticked off. By then, there will be new challenges to be faced with an economy that is strong and an agenda that is clear. We have a greater duty than
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ever to listen to the wisdom of working people and to their trade unions. I believe that that will make all of our patches brighter.
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): I begin by congratulating all maiden speakers today on making excellent speeches. This place will be a better place for their presence. I have already marked a few of them for special services in future, though I will not tell them who they are.
Today, the Opposition parties remind me of Private Frazer in "Dad's Army", who always said, "We're doomed." It is hard to believe that we have done as well as the Government have. I came to this place in 2000, like the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea), in a by-election. I was fortunate enough, unlike the hon. Gentleman, to be returned in the 2001 election, and again in 2005, in my enhanced constituency.
The best way for me to say how the Labour Government have done is to say exactly what has happened in Glasgow. Back in the 1980s, unemployment in Glasgow was rife. In my constituency, it was running at well over 25 per cent. in some quarters. What do we have now? Unemployment is down by 37 per cent. There are now more than 1,100 young people in work. The number of those unemployed for one year or more is down by 64 per cent. Glasgow thrives on a competitive pool of highly trained flexible labour. More than 500,000 people are employed in the metropolitan travel-to-work area. The availability of a highly-skilled work force at competitive rates is due to the strength of the investments made in training and education to improve the skills of the work force. That has been done by a Labour Government.
We saw what happened to shipbuilding on the Clyde. Before or just after the 1997 election we were threatened with the closure of all shipbuilding yards in the Clyde. The industry was saved by my predecessor and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Shipbuilding is now thriving on the Clyde. There are orders that will keep the Clyde in shipbuilding until 2015. If we get more orders, shipbuilding will go on for much longer than that. I look to the Ministry of Defence to supply these orders.
Glasgow has a thriving business community. Most people who have been there recently will have taken a trip down the Clyde to see what has been built. The new Glasgow harbour project is in my constituency, across from the Govan shipyards. I do not know why anyone wants to buy a flat where a ship is being built opposite it, but the flats have been sold for quite a large amount of money. Obviously many people like to see ships being built.
That is a sign of what is happening in Glasgow. The infrastructure, the buildings and the retail sector are rated to be the second best in the United Kingdom. The only city that surpasses Glasgow is London. In my opinion, Glasgow is a great deal better than London because there is a city centre that has precincts that allow people to walk round all the shops. It is certainly seeing increased business.
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We have introduced a Scottish Parliament, and we should be proud of that; it has helped the economy. I thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the work that he has done, along with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in sustaining progress in Scotland. However, we must consider the future. For example, we must examine pensions. We must sort out the issue. I say to the Opposition parties, as I have in the past, that they must come forward with no preconceived notions. If there is to be an all-party solution, we must all discuss the issues. Let us not bring party politics to the table, as the Opposition parties are doing every day.
The Opposition parties find reasons not to support anything. That is good, because we will win again at the next general election for the fourth time. Perhaps we shall even win a fifth term. They have not learned the lessons of the past eight years, but we have. We shall continue to represent the people. The core vote of Labour voters in Glasgow, Anniesland turned out in force in my new constituency. Labour Members in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom will work even harder to ensure that a Labour Government are returned at the next general election.
We will take on everybody, including the Liberals. We will expose them for what they are. They tell untruths all the time. They tell one part of a constituency one thing while telling another thing to another part of that constituency. We will ensure that they return to a party of 11 Members, as they were in the past. We will take on the Tories as well. The economy has been the No. 1 priority for the Government, and I am here to back them. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will continue to do the job that he has undertaken so far.
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