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Coal, lace and heavy engineering are at the heart of Erewashs industrial heritage. At one time, Stanton Ironworks employed 12,500 people. One of its products are manhole covers, which can be found all over the world, even on my walk into the Commons. In fact, last week, in preparation for this speech, I was crouching down in the middle of Horseferry road, forensically examining one of those engineering masterpieces, when a certain Leo Beckett, the husband of the Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), suddenly appeared. I did not explain my strange behaviour, and he was certainly far too polite to ask what I was doing. However, I did catch
him looking at me rather oddly as we walked along. He was clearly thinking, What is this woman on?
The old industries in my constituency have now all gone, but niche engineering and light manufacturing are holding their own. Members three-piece suitesperhaps from John Lewis; perhaps notcould well have been made in Erewash. The area has seen other changes, too. There have been vast improvements in health and education, and there is a vibrant voluntary sector. There is a newly formed credit union to protect people from doorstep lenders, and more people are in work. One thing that we need, however, and which we do not have, is a station at Ilkeston. With that in mind, I am currently stalking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I remind him about the need for the station every time our paths crosswhich, funnily enough, I find happening less and less often.
Given the industrial background of my constituency, Members will not be surprised to learn that the people there are pretty blunt. In 2005, the perma-tanned leader of a political party called Veritas put himself up as a candidate for the constituency in the general election. A local radio station conducted a vox pop, seeking peoples reactions. The broadcast ended rather abruptly when a woman said, Kilroy-Silk, my MP? Kilroy-Silk, my ar. At that precise moment, the producer pressed the silent button, so the s never arrived, but the womans sentiments certainly did.
It takes a lot to impress the youngsters in my constituency, too. Have you met the Queen? asked one small child. Yes, I replied. Ooh! Have you met the Prime Minister? Yes. Wow! Have you met David Beckham? No. Oh. I dropped right down in his estimation after that, and never recovered.
The best thing about the people I represent is that they give me advice, and plenty of it, without charge, wherever I go. They tell me when they are happy, and they tell me when they are not. They are good, hard-working, decent people with a strong sense of community.
The subjects that I have concerned myself with in the House have mainly been rooted in the constituency that I represent, but I was honoured to be the chair of the all-party group on autism for several years. The group pushed the agenda on, but the provision of better services for adults with autism is still work in progress. The great strength of an all-party group is that it does exactly what it says on the tin: it puts party politics to one side in the interests of progress.
Putting party politics to one side was not the mantra of the Whips Office, but I enjoyed my time there, too. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my former east midlands group for being so approachable, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for enriching my vocabulary, and the wider membership for the innovative reasons that they gave for being unable to do statutory instrument Committees on a one-line Whip on Thursdays. Echoes of my teaching past flooded back at such times. The dog ate my homework, Mrs. Blackman. My mam says I cant stop cos Ive to be home early. Colleagues offered those traditional excuses in a modern setting. However, even my dad was proud when I became Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majestys Household. So was I. It was an honour that I will never forget.
I must now return to the people whom I represent. It is these same communities of these people who are
looking to this Government and this House at this time for all the support that we can give them. It is a particular pleasure to second the Address as so much of it is relevant to what most concerns my constituents. They want to know that the financial system is as robust and responsive as we can make it and that their hard-earned savings are totally safe. The banking Bill will help here. Poorer people want more for their children and a safety blanket of knowing that there is a little put by, so the child poverty Bill and the savings Bill will respond to them. They want to be able to take advantage of opportunities wherever and whenever they arise. Measures in the children, schools and learning Bill will develop and improve their skills, and the welfare reform Bill will offer more support to those on benefit, those with mental health problems and those with disabilities. My constituents will also welcome the measures in the policing and crime Bill that clamp down on the pockets of mind-numbing, alcohol-fuelled yobbish behaviour that ruin their neighbourhoods. We live in tough times and I believe that all these measures will make a difference.
To conclude, I have now come full circle and back to education, my first love, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Schools and Learnersand I am loving it. However, as a born-again Back Bencher, I feel that I must warn my Whip that on a distant Thursday on a one-line Whip where a statutory instrument is on offer, I may have to say to her, The dog ate the notification and, anyway, I cant stop cos Ive to be home early.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Let me start by congratulating the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) gave a moving speech about his constituency and about his family. If I may repay the compliment he paid my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the right hon. Gentleman, with his excellent work on disability and international development, is indeed admired on both sides of the House.
I have done my homework and I gather that the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is a Brownite; I also gather that he paid the ultimate price when he was, of course, sacked by Tony Blair. I understand that from 1997 to 1998, the right hon. Gentleman was the Minister with responsibility for film. It is said that on the day he was caught up in the Blair-Brown blood feud and fired, he was actually having drinks on the terrace with Liz Hurley and Hugh Grantearly membership of the Notting Hill set, perhaps. The next day, the right hon. Gentleman was back in the Tea Room with his mates, so we could say that one minute he was hobnobbing with the stars and the next minute he was starring with the Hobnobs.
I feel sure that the Prime Minister will offer the right hon. Gentleman another job, and I think I know what it will be. As film Minister, he met the Spice Girls, I believe, on the eve of their break-up and he described the departure of Geri Halliwell as
a little local difficulty that they are perfectly capable of sorting out.
The hon. Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman), who seconded the Loyal Address, also did a great job. I thought she made a wonderful speech: it was witty, human and personal, while also powerful about what matters most in politics to her. She reminded us of the vital service she provided at the last election when she served all parties, everyone in the House and, indeed, the entire nation when she defeated Robert Kilroy-Silk.
The hon. Lady did not tell us very much about her time in the Whips Office, but she did tell us about her important work as a schoolteacher. I think I have the key to what went wrong. She once gave an interview to a bunch of schoolchildren and, when asked what Whips did, explained:
Whips listen a lot to what other MPs think.
We should also today record the passing of some very dedicated Members of this House. John MacDougall was a popular MP and a dedicated servant of the people of Fife. Gwyneth Dunwoody was the very model of an independent Member of this place: she would stick to her guns and challenge authority and she is, I believe, missed on both sides of the House.
Others have also left Parliament, not least Boris Johnson following his election as Mayor of London. I know how much the Prime Minister enjoys working with him and following him as he waves the flag for Britain. Perhaps I can say that I hope one day to be upstaged in exactly the same way.
There has of course been one spectacular return to Parliament: I refer, of course, to the Business Secretary, or, to give him his full title, Baron Mandelson of Foy in the County of Herefordshire and of Hartlepool in the County of Durhamit is good to know he is not taken with the trappings of office. On Saturday, the Business Secretary said that the Prime Minister was like Moses, and was going to lead people
away from this economic mess to the promised land."
The Peter Mandelson who on Saturday described the Prime Minister as Moses cannot possibly be the same Peter Mandelson who was reported on Sunday in the following way: we read that the late Hugo Young, after long lunches with Peter Mandelson, would write in his diary that senior Labour figures had described the Prime Minister as
niggardly, brooding, credit-grasping, impossible to work with and fatally flawed.
As well as those who have left us and those who have returned, there is of course one person who is here despite the best efforts of the Government, and that is my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green). [ Interruption. ] I hope there is something [ Interruption. ]
Mr. Cameron: I mentioned the Whips spread about the Chamber, and they have already started their shouting. Labour MPs used to shout for free; they now have to be paid to do it. I hope there is something we can all agree on: Parliament is here to call the Government to account, to question, to challenge and to publish information that is in the public interest. That is why we are here. Is not that what the ceremony this morning is all about? When we slam the door in the face of the Queens representative and assert the right of the public to challenge the Government and to know the truth about the country we live in, that is Parliament doing its job.
Mr. Cameron: What I have explained over and over again is that the information published by my hon. Friend has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with revealing the fact that the Government have tried to cover up information. Let me invite the hon. Gentleman to intervene again if he can tell me which of the stories put into the public domain the public do not have a right to know. Do we not have a right to know that the security industry is riddled with illegal immigration? Do we not have a right to know that the Home Office is looking at voting figures for Labour MPs that should be in the Whips Office? Do we not have a right to know that this House has been employing people who should not be here? Those are things the public have a right to know and my hon. Friend was entirely right to publish them.
I want to focus on one question that I think is being asked up and down the country: where does the Prime Minister stand on this issue? [Interruption.] Does he think it is right for a Member of Parliament to be arrested and held for nine hours, to have his offices searched by anti-terrorism police, and to have his house raided and his daughter reduced to tears?
Mr. Cameron: This is quite extraordinary. The approach that the hon. Gentleman is taking, and that some Labour Front-Bench Members seem to be taking, is that Members of Parliament should not release information that is in the public interest and that they should be pursued and arrested for doing so. If that approach had been taken when the Prime Minister was in opposition, he would have spent most of his life in prison. [Interruption.] Well, he laughs about it now, but he produced leak after leak after leak, all of which he claimed were in the public interest.
Mr. Cameron: Let me just make the following point to the Prime Minister, and then I will give way to all the Members who are standing. It is no good the Prime Minister hiding behind the defence of I didnt know and I support the operational independence of the police. People want to know [Interruption.] People know what I believe; what people want to know is what the Prime Minister believes. He has told us endlessly about the independence of the police; what about the independence of this place and its Members? People want to know whether our democracy, and our right to challenge and to question and oppose, are safe under this Government and this Prime Minister, and I hope that when he speaks he will have the courage to get off the fence and tell us what he believes.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman has made a great deal of the control of information and how people should handle information. Will he tell us when it is appropriate for the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority to ring someone who is under investigation by the Metropolitan police?
Mr. Cameron: What the chairman of the police authority, the Mayor of London, did when the police told him about their plans was give them the trenchant view that that was a mistake, and I happen to agree with him; I think it was a mistake. What I find so staggering is that Members of Parliament, who should be thinking about how we defend the publics right to know and how we defend challenging the Government, are quite happy to say, Come and get me. That seems to be the hon. Gentlemans attitude.
Mr. Cameron: Let us see if we can get a bit more sense out of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound); he normally stands up for Parliament, so let us find out if he will stand up for Parliament now.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Like everybody in this Chamber, I will, of course, stand up for Parliament. Have the right hon. Gentleman or the party he leads taken any legal advice on the difference between receiving a leak and inducing one?
Mr. Cameron: Let me explain to the hon. Gentleman the approach that we take. What my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford has done is publish information the public have a right to knowabout cover-ups in the Home Office, about maladministration and about illegal immigration, all subjects that the Government are not clear about. He has not done anything that is to do with national security; that is the judgment that the Opposition have to make, and I am very confident we made the right judgment. It is exactly the same judgment the Prime Minister made when he was in opposition and lived off a diet of leaks, some of which did concern national security.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman would like to become Prime Minister one day. Is he really telling the House that as Prime Minister he would be perfectly relaxed about a civil servant committed to impartiality entering into an arrangement with an Opposition spokesman to release information on a continuing basis in breach of the civil service code?
Mr. Cameron: Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what I am not relaxed about. I am not relaxed about a Member of Parliament being arrested for doing his job. I am not relaxed and, incidentally, neither is Mr. Speaker, about the police coming and searching offices in Parliament. I am not relaxed about nine anti-terrorism officers going into the house of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford and reducing his family to tears. I used to think that the hon. Gentleman believed in standing up for Parliament. I must say that yes, I do have ambitions to be Prime Minister, and I hope to take his seat in the process.
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