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Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark). Her constituency looks 20 miles across the Irish sea at another very good constituencymine. Her maiden speech was very interesting, as was the one made earlier by the hon. Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden). However, the hon. Lady has more faith than I, as she said that she would never cross the House. That was what I thought when I sat over there, but then the Government changed and I had to cross the Floor. Of course, I understand that she meant something different.
It is nice to hear about the background of new hon. Members and to see the fruition of seeds sown earlier in their family history. Speaking from the Unionist Benches, I wish the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran well. Ulster and Scotland have much in common, and that applies to me more than most as my mother came from the city of Edinburgh. That means that I have a good Scots streak in meas I am often told when things get hot in Ulster politics. Anyway, I congratulate the hon. Lady and wish her well.
I am not an expert on tax, but I welcome the Bill even though I find many of its paragraphs hard to understand. I shall not go into detail, lest my ignorance be seen. However, it is important for us to strike the right balance and achieve desirable outcomes without endangering other objectives. In tax matters, one needs to consider the policy issues that lie behind proposed changes, and whether the changes will deliver the stated objectives. As the Bill makes its way through the House, I hope that hon. Members of all parties will have a full understanding of the consequences of what is proposed. The parliamentary process can struggle with such technical matters, in which very few hon. Members are expert. We must ensure that our debates have the best possible outcomes and that we listen carefully to what is said.
I am concerned that some provisions in the Bill might harm British industry. In addition, I ask the Paymaster General to confirm that she is absolutely satisfied that the proposed anti-avoidance measures are not so broad that innocent people will fall foul of them.
As always, however, my primary concern is Northern Ireland, and I was surprised when I read clause 67 on page 56 of the Bill. It deals with the reorganisation of Northern Ireland's water and sewerage servicesthe hottest political potato of the moment. Over the past 30 years, we have had Conservative and Labour Governments and direct rule, but nothing has been done
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in that period to ensure that people have acceptable water quality at a reasonable price. In fact, officials at the Northern Ireland Office were very quick to say that some people in Northern Ireland did not pay anything for their water, but that is not so. The fact that there is not a separate tax for water does not mean that that cost is not considered when the level of rates is decided. We have an inferior water service and putting it right will need a big input of finance. However, to ask the people of Northern Ireland to pay for putting it right and then to pay for the water would be totally unfair. It is evident from the Bill, however, that that is what the Government intend to doand that will come as a surprise to most people in Northern Ireland. The Bill will enable the Government to get rid of their responsibility and hand to others the terrible job of repairing the water machinery and supplying water at a reasonable price.
It is hard on the people of Northern Ireland to stick that suggestion in this Bill when it has not been properly debated. The issue is a hot potato and it unites all the political parties in Northern Ireland, which all believe that we need a proper water service. It angers me that the Shaftesbury estate, which owns Lough Neaghthe largest landlocked lough in the British Isles and an immense mass of wateroffered the water from the lough to the Government free of charge, but they refused the offer. Now the water suppliers for Northern Ireland will have to buy the water of Lough Neagh for many millions of pounds and the cost will be passed on to the people.
Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Does my hon. Friend agree that the setting up of this company will be the first step towards privatisation of our water services? This Government's policies have certainly strayed far from socialismnot only new Labour, but new clothes.
Rev. Ian Paisley: My hon. Friend makes a vital point. It disturbs me that the proposal will cause more misery in Northern Ireland. Surely it would have been possible to make the arrangements separately so that the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives in this House could have had a full debate on them. The Bill will go into Committee where the debate will concentrate on its substance, and Northern Ireland matters will be forgotten as appendices to the main debate. The Government owe the people of Northern Ireland an explanation of the haste behind this measure. The Government claim that they have not yet made up their minds, but the Bill contains the structure for handing over the water system in Northern Ireland. They failed to grasp the opportunity offered to them by the Shaftesbury estate to take over the supply of water in Northern Ireland, and I hope that the Paymaster General will be able to tell us how far they will take these proposals. Will the Government move quickly or will we be able to have a proper debate and find a way to give the people of Northern Ireland their water at a price similar to those charged in other parts of the United Kingdom?
Ms Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab):
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today and it is a privilege to follow my hon. Friends the
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Members for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) and for Newport, East (Jessica Morden). I congratulate them on their excellent speeches.
I begin, as is customary, by paying tribute to Jean Corston, my predecessor. Jean served the people of Bristol, East for 13 years and was a dedicated and tireless constituency MP. As Chair of the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights she monitored the implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998, one of the most important pieces of legislation of this Government. As the first woman to chair the parliamentary Labour partyI know that Jean regarded that as an immense honourshe handled relations between the Government and Labour Back Benchers not only with the discretion required of the role, but with great integrity.
Bristol, East has a proud tradition of political activity. Ben Tillett, the dockers' leader and co-founder of the National Transport Workers Federation, was born in Easton in my constituency, and Ernest Bevin, the first general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, started his political career there. He went on, of course, to become Foreign Secretary in a Labour Government.
The constituency was previously represented by Tony Benn and Sir Stafford Cripps, both towering figures in the Labour Party in their time. The two men had much in common. They both came from wealthy, privileged backgrounds. They were both the sons of MPsone the son of a Conservative MP who in later life had the good sense to join the Labour Party and the other the son of a Liberal MP who showed equally good sense in doing the same. Both men embarked on political journeys that at times put them severely at odds with the leadership of their party.
I cannot claim such a distinguished background, and who knows where my political journey in this House will lead me, but I do share at least two traits with both men, in that they were both vegetarians and both teetotalthe hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) may be happy to hear the latter. Indeed, Churchill said of Cripps, in disgust:
My constituency office is above the St. George labour club, a building bought for the local party by Cripps on the strict condition that no alcohol was to be served there. I am afraid that I must report that his legacy is now more honoured in the breach than in the observance. I would, I suspect, make myself extremely unpopular with my constituents should I ever try to enforce his wishes.
Sir Stafford Cripps was of course Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1947 to 1950, and it is therefore fitting that I make this, my first speech to the House, in the Finance Bill debate. Cripps became Chancellor after Hugh Dalton was forced to resign, having leaked Budget secrets to a journalist on his way to the House. I am sure that no modern-day Chancellor would dream of doing such a thing. Cripps was said to have been responsible for Labour's dramatically reduced majority in the 1950 election, by insisting it be held in February as he thought it morally wrong to hold an election just after a Budget, in case he should be accused of bribing the voters. Times have changed.
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Having mentioned Hugh Dalton, I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to his biographer, Professor Ben Pimlott, who, until his sad and untimely death last year, was my PhD supervisor. He was a kind and inspirational tutor. Although I suspect that now I have been elected to this place, my thesis will go the way of other great unfinished masterpieces, I am sure that many hon. Members will continue to enjoy Ben's works of political biography for many years to come.
I am, if not unique, certainly unusual on this side of the House in having spent much of my professional life working in the City, in the world of banking and the financial markets. I worked there throughout most of the 1990s, a time when the Tories' economic credibility plunged faster than the sterling exchange rate on Black Wednesday, and a period during which Labour began to nurture the reputation for sound stewardship of our economy that it boasts to this day.
The Chancellor's nine Budgets are the bedrockthe foundationof all that we have achieved in government. The benefits can be seen across my constituency, in the increased prosperity in the suburbs of St. George, Eastville, Brislington and Stockwood, and in the regeneration of the inner-city wards of Easton and Lawrence Hill. I pay tribute to the community activists, the voluntary sector workers and the public sector workers who have done so much to help Labour deliver its programme of social justice and economic renewal in Bristol, East.
Unfortunately time allows me to cite only one example. I was fortunate enough the other week to visit our new city academy. In the heart of the most deprived area of Bristol, what would have been dubbed a failing school has been turned round because the head teacher, Ray Priest, had the vision and the dedication to lobby for city academy status, even though it meant putting his own job on the line. The school was successful in its bid to become a specialist sports academy and with the support of its sponsors, Bristol City football club, the university of the West of England, Bristol chamber of commerce and, in particular, its chair of governors, John Laycock, it has become the biggest employer in my constituency, employing 600 people.
The school reflects the diversity of that part of Bristol; more than 60 per cent. of the pupils come from a visible ethnic minority community and 31 languages are spoken there. Some of the pupils came to the UK as asylum seekers and in some cases their right to remain still hangs in the balance, but I have no doubt that each child is capable of making a real contribution to this country if only they are given the opportunity and life chances to do so.
I was privileged to spend some time talking to a handful of sixth-form students who are benefiting from the Government's £30 a week education maintenance allowance. With continued Government support and with teachers who are dedicated to the task of lifting the aspirations and nurturing the ambitions of children from humble backgrounds, I am sure that the academy will go on to produce a generation of winners, both on the playing field and off.
It is important that the school does not simply benefit the pupils who are lucky enough to be enrolled there. The capital investment has brought a deprived inner-
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city area truly first-class sports facilities, a theatre, a professionally equipped kitchen for catering students and computer suites that would certainly be the envy of the new Members who have spent the past few weeks fighting over the one PC in our room on the Upper Committee Corridor. The school wants to open its door to the community and indeed is obliged by its funding agreement to do so, and I shall be speaking to Ministers about what I can do to assist it in achieving that objective.
I am proud to become an MP at a time when the issues of trade justice, debt cancellation and overseas aid have come to the political forefront as never before. The people of Bristol have shown overwhelming support for the Make Poverty History campaign, and on Saturday I shall be joining them as they form a giant human white band around College Green in the city centre.
It is particularly poignant that the city of Bristol has taken that cause to its heart. Bristol's wealth was built on the 18th-century slave trade. More than 2,100 ships set sail from Bristol on slaving voyages, carrying about 500,000 Africans to slavery in the Americas. Bristol's wealth was built on trade in Africans and in slave-produced commodities such as sugar, chocolate, coffee, cotton and tobacco. Too few people questioned the moral legitimacy of that trade at the time. It was reported that, when William Wilberforce's Bill to abolish the slave trade was defeated in the House in 1791, the bells of St. Mary Redcliffe church in my constituency were rung amid general civic celebrations.
The city has put its past behind it. Today, Bristol is home to many Africans and African Caribbeans, who along with Asians and other ethnic minorities play an important role in the civic and cultural life of the city.
Bristol also has a growing reputation as a centre for environmentally and ethically sound trading, and I am proud to say that in March it achieved fair trade city status. It would be fitting if we could celebrate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007 by genuinely embracing the fair trade ethos, not just in Bristol and not just across Britain but by using our presidencies of the G8 and the European Union to instil such values on an international scale. From the slave trade to fair tradethat would be a legacy of which we could be truly proud.
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