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Peter Law (Blaenau Gwent) (Ind): I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech this afternoon. I apologise for the fact that I arrived somewhat late because of a hospital appointment and a train delay.
It is a great honour for me to speak in this Chamber as the Member for Blaenau Gwent, and to be able to say that I am here as an independent Member but also as a socialist. I place on the record my sincere thanks to the Speaker for the warmth of the welcome that he gave me on the day that I first came to this Chamber, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), who has been so encouraging and supportive to me since I came here.
For me to come here is a great honour indeedto represent the people of a great constituency like Blaenau Gwent, a constituency where we still have the great socialist and trade union values, values that some people in new Labour do not understand these days but I am very proud to represent. We believe in our fellow human beings, we believe in a sense of community and we have a warmth that extends to all about us. I will be pleased to represent those values here on behalf of my constituents while I am a Member of the House.
So, being the Member for Blaenau Gwent, one has to ask, why and how could the safest Labour seat in Wales, with a 19,500 majority, disappear overnight to become an independent socialist seat with a 9,200 majority? That is a question that many people in new Labour should answer, because it is a question that many people have asked in my constituency. The explanation for that, of course, was the way in which new Labour decided to select a parliamentary candidate in Blaenau Gwent.
It was unfortunate, to say the least, that good people who had done nothing but support successive Labour Governments for decade after decade were compromised and had their integrity stripped from them by the party. It
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was very sad to see what was happening. Despite the representations that were made time and again to new Labour, we were ignored, and despite the fact that people stood up and wrote letters, asked for meetings and sent petitionsnot just in the Labour party but in the community in generalnobody listened. That, I thought, was a very sad reflection, because people in this great constituency, who had always been there for Labour, were forgottentreated with indifferenceand when we asked for help there was nobody there to deal with us.
It was never about women or men; it was about the right of choice. It was about the right of democracy, which is very precious to us all, because our integrity in Blaenau Gwent is as valuable to us as it is to anyone else throughout the realm, and that was the message that came from Blaenau Gwent on 5 May. It was so unfortunate that we came to that situation because nobody was prepared to listen on the new Labour party side.
But we went forward and decided that we were not prepared to be taken for granted because no one has the right to manipulate 60,000 electors, no one has the right to tell us what to do, and no one has the right to use us for a social experiment, which is what was being done in Blaenau Gwent. I was reminded at the time of that great quotation:
So today I stand here very humbly, and I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) is not in the Chamber, because he needs to reflect very seriously on the Blaenau Gwent result, and the 20 people who, disgracefully, have actually been expelled from the Labour party since that time because they stood up for the integrity of their own kith and kinthey stood up for the people of Blaenau Gwent and will always be respected and remembered by the people. I find it strange that people in new Labour, instead of thinking carefully about that, have gone on to add insult to injury, to make sure that they cause more damage in my constituency.
I am pleased to represent a very historic constituency. We go back a long way, steeped in great political tradition. My predecessor is Aneurin Bevan, the man who actually designed the health service. We are very proud of that. The design for the health service was based on the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, which was in a little town in my constituency, and of which he was a member. He was a great socialist and a great statesman. He took that blueprint and designed the NHS, his legacy for the whole of Britain and the envy of the world. It still works well; indeed, I am benefiting from it at present. The name of Aneurin Bevan is held in great respect. We are grateful for his work for the good of all the people of Britain. He is the greatest son of Blaenau Gwent.
Aneurin Bevan was followed by another statesmanhis biographer, Michael Foot, another great socialist, greatly respected and highly revered in our constituency. More recently, my immediate predecessor was Llew Smith, a good socialist and a man with values who cared for the people of Blaenau Gwent. On behalf of the people of Blaenau Gwent, I am pleased to express our
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great thanks and appreciation to Llew Smith for all that he did during the 12 years that he was our Member of Parliament through his work in the constituency and in this honourable House to improve the quality of life for his constituents. He is my good friend and comrade, and a man I greatly respect. He will always have a very special place of affection in the constituency of Blaenau Gwent, and I am delighted to wish him and his wife Pam every happiness and health in their retirement.
I want to refer to the make-up of my constituency and its background. Obviously it is a working-class area and an industrial constituencymining and steel. Sadly, the mines disappeared in the 1980s, due to Conservative Governments, who smashed up part of our community, as many people, particularly in south Wales, will remember; but they did not smash our community spirit, which still exists. The warmth of that spirit can be found throughout my constituency.
The other part of the industrial equation was steel. For 200 years, the Ebbw Vale steelworks was well known. It was in a valley 30 miles from the coastal area and was so important to the community that the town was built around it. It was a tragic day for us when on 5 July 2002 the Corus steel companyexecutioners and axe men, as I described themclosed that steelworks in our constituency. It had a devastating effect on us. The last 500 jobsquality jobsat the steelworks were taken away and immediately the community plummeted into another era of handouts and soup kitchens. Five hundred families lost their quality of life with the loss of those jobs and the local economy was devastated beyond belief. That was only three years ago. It has been a long haul and our local economy has still not recovered; the effect on the towns in my constituency has been devastating.
It was difficult for us to deal with that situation. Those great steelworkers at Ebbw Vale had only ever been guilty of productivity, quality and loyaltycharacteristics that had been stamped across the world during the years that the steelworks was in being. So, we lost our steelmaking industry.
It is a sad reflection that, despite the fact that the Corus cuts were known about nationally, no Minister came to Ebbw Vale to see usnot one. I wrote to the Prime Minister at the time to ask him to come to Blaenau Gwent to see us to boost our morale and to say that the Government were concerned about us. Nobody came, and perhaps that is another reason why I am standing here today as the independent Member for Blaenau Gwent.
We have tried to find new industries for the future, but those industries have been very slow in coming along. They have not brought the quality jobs that we need, and I mean the quality jobs that everyone should be able to look forward to. From quality jobs cascades down a quality of life for everybody. Although I believe that the national minimum wage is a wonderful social development and that other measures have been very helpful, we must have decent jobs in the valley communities such as the one that I represent in Blaenau Gwent to provide that quality of life and to let people know that they have a place to take advantage of in the way that other people have always been able to.
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How we deal with that issue in the future is important. Regional aid is active in Blaenau Gwent and it is very useful, but it does not provide enough new jobs and opportunity for the people. I hope that, in my work as a Member of the House, I can pursue the need for the direction of industry to places such as Blaenau Gwent. There is a need for the direction of industry if an area does not have the employment and quality of life that other people take for granted. Everyone is entitled to be able to expect a place in the sun, if that is what we believe in.
If a constituency does not have the industry and quality jobs that we need, large areas of it will be what people refer to today as "socially excluded" and "deprived". "Social exclusion" and "deprivation" are modern-day terms and euphemisms for what hides beneath themit is called "poverty". I am sure that poverty is totally unacceptable to any Member of the House, but there is a lot in my constituency and I believe that more must be done to combat it.
For what are we about here if we are not able to reach out to lift these good people out of the poverty that they are captured and contained in and if we are not able to focus the Government on the need for strategies that will do something positive to fight poverty and to give people the opportunity to have a future and a quality of life that is not there and escaping at present? In my work in the House, I hope to join other Members in focusing on such initiatives and persuading the Government to take more action to deal with the domestic poverty problem that exists, I am sure, not just in Blaenau Gwent but in many other parts of Britain.
In the 10 weeks since I had a personal health crisis, I have been very grateful to my constituents in Blaenau Gwent for all the wonderful support, messages, prayers and blessings that they have sent me. I cannot thank them enough. That has made a great difference to me in the time that I have not been well. I have also had the great service and support of the national health service, and I was pleased to be able to refer earlier to Aneurin Bevan's creation. It has made such a difference to me and to making sure that, since 5 May, I have been able to pursue my role on behalf of my constituents in the House, in the other place that I work and in my constituency. I am grateful to my constituents in Blaenau Gwent for that wonderful support and their care and concern. I particularly express my thanks to them, and I am greatly humbled to be here as their Member in this honourable House.
I conclude by saying that I am delighted to have been called to speak in the debate on the Second Reading of the Wales (Transport) Bill. It is a very good Bill that is in the interests of the people of Wales and those who travel to and from Wales. Once again, it offers to give further devolved powers to the National Assembly for Wales in the interests of our people. The measure is positive and follows on well from the Secretary of State's White Paper announcement yesterday, which I warmly welcome because it is in the interest of the people of Wales to devolve further powers. I have a lot of hope for the White Paper.
The people of Blaenau Gwent will be of the utmost concern to me throughout my work in the House and I will pursue their needs and interests at every opportunity. I know that I come here with their great expectations, hopes and beliefs in me, so I say today, as
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the proud standard bearer for the great constituency of Blaenau Gwent, that I will not fail them. I will be here to work for them and will be totally committed to fighting to ensure that today's and subsequent generations in my constituency have the opportunities that we have perhaps never seen, although other people have taken them for granted. I hope that that will eventually lead to we in Blaenau Gwent having the opportunity to see the place in the sun that we all want. I give that commitment today to the people whom I represent and I am proud to be here as their Member of Parliament.
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