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18 Nov 2009 : Column 8

I have to say that Lena did not let those things distract her attention from the day-to-day needs of her constituents. She used to retell the tale that at her by-election in 1953 she was canvassing the top flat of a block in Camden Town. She launched into the great left-wing issue of the day-German rearmament and the threat it posed to international security. She stopped for breath, and the woman at the door asked, "Did you come up in the lift?", and Lena says, "Yes." "Stinks of pee, doesn't it?", says the woman. "Yes," says Lena. "Can't you stop 'em peeing in our lift?", says the woman. "I don't think I can," says Lena. "Well," says the woman, "if you can't stop 'em peeing in our lift, how can you expect me to believe you can stop the Germans rearming?" A timeless lesson for us all.

The population of Holborn and St. Pancras is the product of centuries of migration. People from all over Britain have moved into our area for centuries and still do, just as I did. Black slaves who had jumped ship congregated in Covent Garden. They were followed by Irish people. Refugees from revolutionary France crowded into Somers Town. Jews fleeing oppression in eastern Europe were followed by others escaping from Hitler's Germany. Italians came to Holborn and Clerkenwell in the 19th and 20th centuries. Waves of Irish came to Camden Town and Kentish Town, followed by Greeks and Turks from Cyprus and people from the Caribbean. In more recent times, large numbers of Bangladeshis have settled in the area, and the most recent arrivals are refugees from the war-torn Horn of Africa.

Over the decades, many of those groups have displayed a remarkable degree of self-help, none more so than the Hopscotch Asian women's centre-once mocked from the platform at a Tory conference, until it was embarrassingly revealed by yours truly that the centre had a large annual grant from the then Tory Government and had Princess Anne as its patron.

The word "multicultural" is inadequate to describe the area and the people I represent, but by and large we manage to rub along together, even in the face of the bomb outrages of 7 July at the underground at Russell square and the bus on Tavistock square. The response of the emergency services, the staff of London underground and local people was quite magnificent. The murderous outrages and the response to them left me both deeply saddened and very proud.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, it is not my job to go through the measures announced in the Queen's Speech, but I would welcome any Bill to clamp down on bankers' pay. Some say that we must not be too hard on the bankers. I agree-it is impossible to be too hard on the bankers. Their industry only exists today because of taxpayers' bail-outs or taxpayers' guarantees-or both-and that should give taxpayers a permanent say in what happens from now on.

Finally, this has been a bad year for the House of Commons, but I remain proud to be a Member. There is no greater honour in politics than to be an elected representative of the people. Sometimes I am asked what is the best thing that has happened to me in my political life. I always say, "Being elected to represent the people who live in Holborn and St. Pancras, to try to further their interests, meet their needs and reflect their concerns." When I say that, I mean it. Being an MP is a demanding and difficult task. It is impossible to
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please everyone. It is hard work. It can be fun, but at other times it is dreary. It can be rewarding, but more often it is frustrating.

It is more than 30 years since I gave up a much better-paid job to stand proudly as the Labour candidate for the area I live in. The people of Holborn and St. Pancras have elected me to represent them in seven successive Parliaments and I am hoping they will do the same for an eighth. We must all always remember who sent us here and why they sent us here. They want us all to tell the truth, to say what we will do and then do what we say. If we stick to that, we cannot go wrong.

2.49 pm

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): It is an honour and a privilege, not only for me but for my constituents in Islington, South and Finsbury, to be asked to second the Loyal Address. I was also delighted to hear that I was to be doing a double act with my good friend and western neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson).

It is very strange to be a Back Bencher and to speak in this Chamber when it is so packed-and when everyone is so well behaved. I am used to being in this Chamber when there are only about half a dozen of us present, and even then, things can get pretty heated. I was fully expecting a parliamentary punch-up when I advocated the rights of lesbian mothers, but I was amazed at the passion I aroused during the fisheries debate. All I said was that the sea belonged to the children of the inner cities, too. I had been visiting Islington schools to talk about the Marine and Coastal Access Bill and some children had written to me about it, so I took some of their work into the Chamber. I took, for example, a new version of the Pink Floyd hit "Another Brick in the Wall", which went like this-do not worry, Mr. Speaker, I am not going sing; I know that, even under the new modernising regime, I am not allowed. It went:

For some reason, it was not a universal hit with the salty old sea dogs in the fisheries debate, but I do not believe that we can complain about kids not engaging in politics if we do not make the effort to listen to them.

I recently asked a group of 10-year-olds how they thought I got my job. "Did you apply for it in writing?" No. "Did you go on a course?" No. "I know, miss, I know-did you marry Tony Blair?" No, that arrangement really would not have suited either of us. However, it was for a school visit to Parliament that I cycled in early on the morning of 7/7, unknowing as I did so that I cycled through Russell square just after the first bomb exploded and just before the second. I had only been elected a few weeks previously, and I will never forget that day. In the next few weeks, I worked closely with my right hon. Friend and leant on him heavily, as I did on my good and hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn); I shall always be grateful to
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them for their help. We visited the sites of the bombings and did our best to hold our communities together-and they did hold together, because in Islington and Camden, our diverse peoples not only get on with living together, but they like it that way.

Islington is home to people from all over the world and from all backgrounds. We are not just cappuccino bars and Georgian squares, awash with the chattering classes and the birthplace of new Labour; we are more than that. At my recent surgery, people from 17 countries came along. We have a large gay population and gay weddings are held at the town hall every Saturday. We are a tolerant community. We tolerate the bankers living among us; we tolerate the journalists living among us; and my constituents even put up with the large number of the biggest social pariahs of all: Members of Parliament. Believe it or not, there was a time when four Labour women MPs lived in my ward, and famously, for a few hours in 1997, the new Prime Minister lived there too.

Of course, it is not just MPs on the Labour side of the House who live there. I see a number of Opposition Members looking slightly uncomfortable at the turn my speech has taken, but they can be assured: I am discreet and I will not out them as members of my constituency. However, I say to them, "The next time you are invited to a coffee morning, please come-you're very welcome and you can be assured that the coffee will be fair trade."

Alongside those from a range of backgrounds, we have extremes of rich and poor. My constituency is the poorer half of the eighth most deprived borough in Britain. That is why areas such as mine need a Labour Government on their side. All the social housing has been done up under the decent homes programme; all my secondary schools are new or have been rebuilt; we have new buildings for the best sixth-form centre in London; and we have world-class hospitals-several of them-looking after my constituents.

The assumptions made about Islington, South are only part of its story, and sometimes the assumptions made about its MP are only part of her story, too. They say that I am posh, and to a certain extent, I am. I worked for 20 years as a barrister, I am married to another barrister and, of course, I am an MP. Quentin Letts says that I am "magnificently county" and has even called me "scrumptious", but I was pleased to be Lettsed, because you have not really made it as a Labour woman MP if you have not had Quentin Letts be really rude about you in the Daily Mail.

It could be said that I am county, but it is true only insofar as the large council estate on which I was brought up was 4 miles outside Guildford. Having been thrown out of our house by the bailiffs in their bowler hats, we were homeless and destitute, and we were saved by social housing. My mum was a single parent who was caught in a poverty trap. She struggled on benefits, bringing up my brothers and me when we were little. It still would have been hard, but without doubt, the minimum wage, tax credits, nursery provision and flexible hours would have really helped my mum get out of the trap that she was in. Of all the things that Labour has done, that is what I am most proud of.

Later in life, my mum became a Labour councillor-one of the few in Guildford-and the Tory council kindly named a road in her ward after her: Thornberry way. It
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runs from the sewage works to the dump, but we were chuffed. The two secondary schools I went to have both had fresh starts as academies. The first-a secondary modern-never really expected a lot of us 11-plus failures. I remember asking my careers teacher what he thought I would do with my life. He said that he was not really sure, but perhaps I would spend some time visiting people in prison. Whatever he meant, I am sure that he did not expect that I would become a criminal barrister and do an awful lot of prison visiting that way. I qualified as a barrister during the miners' strike, and I found myself going up and down on the train to the coalfields. I represented good men and women who were criminalised by the strike. I read a lot about solidarity as an earnest young radical, but it was my experience of the miners' strike that taught me what solidarity really means.

My early life informed my politics, and I have always been driven by a desire to make life fairer. The only party I could ever have joined was Labour, so here I am-posh or not-proud to serve my community as a Back-Bench MP of a Labour Government. The MPs who represented Islington, South and Finsbury before me have been as remarkable and varied as the constituency itself. Finsbury elected the first Asian MP 117 years ago: Dadabhai Naoroji, who was elected with a majority of just five. In Parliament, MPs found "Naoroji" too difficult to pronounce, so they called him "Mr. Narrow Majority". I think I have a bit of an affinity with him, and although he was a Liberal, I forgive him, because the Labour party had not been invented then. More recently, Chris Smith was the first openly gay MP-he was our MP-who later became a Cabinet Minister: the first out Cabinet Minister in the world.

Although I am the constituency's first woman MP, there is an eastern corner of my patch where that is nothing new. In the 1920s and '30s, Islington, East elected three women in a row. They liked their women representatives so much that the third one-Thelma Cazalet-was even a Tory. I do not think that she was a real Tory, however, because she was a member of the Fabian Society and, during the war, she successfully amended a clause of Butler's Education Bill, so that women teachers could be given equal pay. Churchill was so furious that he got rid of the whole clause, so the House can see that she was not really a Tory. In fact, these days, she would probably be on our side, being attacked by Quentin Letts as one of Harriet's harpies.

I like to think that Thelma Cazalet and Dadabhai Naoroji would have voted with us to tackle bankers' bonuses, to look after our elderly, with social care for the most vulnerable, and to right international wrongs, compensating British citizens injured in terror attacks overseas, and banning cluster munitions. These are bold and optimistic plans in the Queen's Speech, and I welcome them. Above all, however, we must safeguard our world from climate change, yes, with support for new ways of tackling the problem such as carbon capture and storage, but the most serious work in the next six months that the Government can do will not be in Parliament but in Copenhagen. It will be a challenge to broker a deal-and we may not get what we hope for immediately-but our children will never forgive us if we do not fight for it.
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I am sure that the whole House will wish the Prime Minister a successful outcome to the summit this December. We must face these challenges with courage and optimism, and we will do so. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.

2.59 pm

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Let me start by congratulating the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address. It is traditional for the mover of the Loyal Address to be serious, wise and loyal. At any one time, we can always count on the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) to be at least two of those three. I think that today, he was all three and, into the bargain, extremely amusing. I was always told that his jokes were the sort of thing that could never be told until long after the watershed, but today he proved us wrong. I particularly enjoyed his reference to the former Member of Parliament, Bellingham, whose ancestor sits on the Conservative Benches-[Hon. Members: "Ancestor?"] Sorry. When it comes to assassinating sitting Prime Ministers, he had a much better aim than the current Foreign Secretary.

The right hon. Gentleman demonstrated a passion for politics and a love of his constituency. He was once briefly tempted to give up representing that one part of London, and instead to try to represent all of it. We all know what happened next. It was a two-horse race and the right hon. Gentleman came third. I gather that once Ken Livingstone announced that he was to become a candidate, it was a very tense time for new Labour. I have done my research about what happened. Apparently, there was a desperate search for

They approached Joanna Lumley. She turned them down, so naturally the next choice was the right hon. Gentleman And so it was that Labour went from absolutely fabulous to absolutely disastrous.

To give the right hon. Gentleman credit-I thought his speech today was great-he has never let anyone change his image. Labour spin doctors tried to get him to shave off his beard, and with characteristic modesty he said, "If it was good enough for Abraham Lincoln, it is good enough for me." He may not have given us the Gettysburg address this afternoon, but I thought it was pretty good stuff.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) also did an excellent job. The Schools Secretary, even in the friendly bit of her speech, had to chunter all the way through. It is a good example which, I am sure, will be in his educational guarantees.

The hon. Lady, seconding the address, showed her passion for the issues that really matter to her in politics. I have done my research, and she has always had a keen sense of timing. As she indicated, she saw Tony Blair heading to Islington and she moved into the same street. Just as Tony Blair's star was fading, she switched to the Prime Minister. More recently, I thought I had started to notice something different. I saw her in New Palace Yard, cycling to work. More than that, I gather that she has been to the Arctic circle and taken a sledge ride with huskies. The move to Notting Hill can only be months away, though given what she said, I know that I will be extremely pushed to get her to second the Loyal Address next year.

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However, the hon. Lady needs to brush up on her geography. I did my homework and I found this on a BBC website: she spent the day campaigning in the Norwich, North by-election, rushed on to the television and said how much she had enjoyed canvassing in Ipswich.

Both the proposer and the seconder of the Loyal Address rightly mentioned the 7/7 atrocities. They paid tribute to the emergency services, and we should all pay tribute to the incredible resilience that their constituents showed. We should never forget what happened. The politics of the hon. Lady's constituency is, I understand, a vicious dogfight between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. I understand that she was so fed up with what many of us have had to put up with-the inaccurate leaflets, the false claims, the bitter attacks-that she took legal action, forced them to apologise and received a four-figure sum in compensation. For that result-[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I was about to say that for that result she would have the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The hon. Lady will need some of that steel as she defends that wafer-thin majority, given that her appearance at a recent climate change concert may not have been wise. It was a very good idea to go; it might not have been such a good idea to sing. I thought she was about to sing again this afternoon. The choice of song at the concert was John Denver's-this is at a climate change concert-"Leaving on a Jet Plane". It gets slightly worse, as the opening lyrics of the song are, "All my bags are packed I'm ready to go". But whatever happens, we all wish her well following her great speech today.

I take the opportunity to welcome to the House the new hon. Member for Glasgow, North-East (William Bain) and to congratulate him on his election success. I remember asking the wizards in Conservative central office what our prospects were in Glasgow, North-East. They consulted one of those Experian databases and found that the sum total of people in Glasgow, North-East who share the Conservative outlook was 97, so I was rather pleased that we got 1,000 votes. I expect that we will see the hon. Gentleman back in the House after the next election. I am sure there are many things that we will disagree about, but one thing on which I hope we will always agree is that we should never do anything to break up our United Kingdom.

Before turning to the Queen's Speech, let me turn to two international matters: Afghanistan and Copenhagen. Last weekend, we had two further reminders of the sacrifices that our armed forces are making on our behalf, and we will all want to pay tribute to Rifleman Andrew Fentiman, from 7th Battalion the Rifles. He was a member of the Territorial Army who volunteered to serve in Afghanistan. We should also pay tribute to Corporal Loren Marlton-Thomas, from 33 Engineer Regiment. They both died serving our country; we should honour their memory; we should look after their families; we should never forget what they have done for all of us.

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