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Talking of hard work, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor as the Member of Parliament for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, Sylvia Heal, who was not only a very diligent public servant to the people of Halesowen and Rowley Regis for 13 years-she did a lot of work and
was very popular among constituents-but was, as hon. Members will know, well respected by Members across the House in her post as Deputy Speaker. In particular, she did a lot of fine work in promoting democracy in developing countries, in her capacity as Deputy Speaker. I am proud, therefore, to take over from her, and I will work tirelessly to provide the same service and responsiveness to my constituents.
One of the most famous political radicals, who was born in my constituency, was Thomas Attwood. As a Conservative, I quote a Liberal now merely as a gesture towards our new-found friends in the coalition Government. Thomas Attwood was one of the early campaigners for the reform of the political system in the United Kingdom and was one of the prime movers around the Great Reform Act of 1832. I am not necessarily advocating the need for major constitutional reforms, but in the country today there is an urgency similar to the political and economic situation at that time, which demands that, with this new Parliament sitting and beginning to take decisions, we take responsibility for reviving the House and reconnecting it with the people who sent us here. We have major challenges internationally and domestically, and vital considerations that are relevant to my constituents in Halesowen and Rowley Regis.
The subjects that we are debating today might be taking place in other parts of the world, but they are having a direct impact on our country. In Halesowen and Rowley Regis, where we have had rising unemployment since 1997, there is an urgent need to create new jobs and provide skills for our young people. I have a further education college in my constituency-Halesowen college-that provides courses and training for up to 4,000 students. In Halesowen and Rowley Regis, we need to revive our town centres, including in Old Hill and Blackheath, and we need to concentrate on reviving the manufacturing base, which still exists in my constituency, by promoting exports and new technology.
Another famous gentleman born in my constituency, in the 18th century, was William Shenstone, who was a poet and landscape gardener, and who developed an area in Halesowen called the Leasowes, which has recently been restored to its former glory. William Shenstone was a big believer in the imagination as a source of potential change and good in society. At this moment in history, political leaders and those of us, like me, who are humbled to have been elected to this place need to use our imaginations to revive this place and how it operates, and how people perceive politics; forge new alliances at home and abroad; create innovation in our politics and economy; and forge new partnerships in the House for the good of the nation. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to achieve things for this country, decentralise power from central Government to local government and communities, strengthen democratic institutions and restore trust, and, by doing that, to build a stronger nation that is able to continue to play a positive role in world affairs.
Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab):
I would like to start, as many other Members have, by paying tribute to those who have made their maiden speeches today. I join those who paid tribute to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), particularly in relation to what he said about mental health issues in
the armed forces. I have had occasion to get involved in those issues over the past five years on behalf of constituents. Although we have come a long way-certainly since the early '80s-there is still a long way to go. I acknowledge the support of the new Government on those issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) paid a generous tribute to her predecessor, just as the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) did to his. Indeed, he was particularly generous, given that his predecessor came from a party of another colour. He mentioned the background of his constituency and that of his family, in manufacturing, steel working and enterprise. In many ways that reflects the background of my constituency and that of south Yorkshire in general. However, everyone in my mother's family-a steel working family-lost their job in the early 1980s. Indeed, south Yorkshire is only now recovering from the damage done to its economy in that period.
As we speak, the promised investment in advanced manufacturing for Sheffield Forgemasters, which is one of the big building blocks that we need to ensure the future of manufacturing in south Yorkshire, is under threat. I want to put on record today the fact that we need that investment-a long-term investment that will secure the future of manufacturing in south Yorkshire, which is something I hope the Government will see.
I want to pay tribute to someone who has retired from the House as an MP. I am not a new Member, but I represent a new constituency, 40% of the territory of which comes from the old constituency of Barnsley, West and Penistone, which was represented by Michael Clapham. Everybody in this place who was a Member of the previous Parliament will know what Mick did on behalf of workers whose health had been damaged in the workplace. Everybody knows Mick's record as chair of the all-party occupational safety and health group. They will also know that Mick played an important role in keeping questions of health and safety at the forefront of debate in Parliament.
Mick was instrumental in the establishment of the miners compensation scheme, which was introduced by the Labour Government in 1999 to compensate miners who have suffered chronic lung disease and vibration white finger as a result of working down the pits. He successfully campaigned to get miner's knee added, in 2009, to the list of prescribed diseases, meaning that ex-miners affected could apply for compensation through the industrial injuries disablement benefit. This is not so widely known, but Mick also campaigned for improvements to safety in the construction industry, working closely with UCATT--the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians-as well as working for action to regain compensation rights for those workers who suffered pleural plaques as a result of their exposure to asbestos in the workplace.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) announced earlier this year that those diagnosed before the Law Lords' ruling and whose compensation had been stopped would be entitled to a £5,000 package. However, it is my understanding that the Ministry of Justice is now refusing to give a view on that commitment. Yet again, we on the Labour Benches will be pressing for justice to be given to those workers who have suffered from pleural plaques-and will potentially suffer from asbestosis or cancer in future-as a result of negligence by employers.
Mick was honoured in 2007 by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health for his lifetime contribution to health and safety. He had a proud record in the House, but I would add that he was also much loved in his old constituency. For my part, I enjoyed the greatest comradeship with and support from Mick as we went through the transition from our old constituencies to the new one of Penistone and Stocksbridge. I want to place on record the warmth and regard that I feel for Mick Clapham as a result of how he worked with me in the new constituency. He is now a constituent of mine, and I am absolutely sure that he will continue to support me in my work in Parliament.
The new constituency of Penistone and Stocksbridge is an old steel working and coal mining constituency. As I said earlier, it is very much in need of further investment. Before I move on to talk about foreign affairs, I want to put it on the record in this Queen's Speech debate that I will be watching very carefully to see how the new Con-Dem coalition Government respond on the key issues of rebuilding schools and the private finance investment arrangements for roads in Sheffield.
I was the only mainstream candidate in the general election in my constituency who did not have their picture taken while pointing to a pothole in the middle of the road. Now that the election is over and done with, however, my party is the only one that remains committed to continuing the funding for refurbishing every road in Sheffield.
On foreign affairs, I want to echo the position on Afghanistan put forward from those on my Front Bench. I, too, will support the Government as long they support the long-term aim of bringing political and social stability to that country. We must ensure that Afghanistan is able, in the long term, to negotiate effectively and play a full part in the affairs of the international community, and to defend itself. We need to be engaged in Afghanistan for as long as that takes, but we must ensure that our troops are properly equipped to do that job. As far as the conflict in the middle east is concerned, I think that the Opposition Front-Bench team must support any attempt to secure successful negotiations and a peaceful outcome.
I heard what the Foreign Secretary said about Russia, and he seemed to hint that further work needed to be done to mend relations with that country. I wish him all the best on that. I think that our Labour former Foreign Secretary worked as hard as he could to ensure that engagement with Russia was as productive and fruitful as possible.
I want to mention the western Balkans very briefly. I visited that region only two years ago, and it was a life-changing experience. I would like the Government to get fully engaged in ensuring that the Balkans, and Bosnia in particular, is supported. Our long-term aim there has to be to secure the human and civil rights not just of the Bosniacs, but of the Croatians and the Serbians.
The new Government must understand that the only way for Bosnia to enjoy a secure and stable future is by ensuring that its economic basis is enabled to develop. We must understand that, above anything else, the people of Bosnia want to build their lives and their economic prosperity and security. That has to be the long-term aim in Bosnia, and I am confident that it is the only way to settle the conflict that has visited that country for so long.
Finally, I want to say that I agree entirely with the comments made from my Front Bench on what the new Con-Dem coalition appears to be missing with regard to Europe. The coalition has no policy on European defence or energy issues, and neither does it appear to have any policy on EU trade with emerging countries.
It would also be good to hear the Government tell us how they propose to introduce a referendum lock, which would trigger a referendum on any transfer of power to the EU. The Liberal Democrat manifesto contained a commitment that any referendum should be a yes-no referendum on the issue of British membership of the EU.
There is a real difference between what the Liberal Democrats have said on the record about holding a referendum in this country on anything relating to the EU, and what the Conservative party has had to say on the matter. It would be really interesting, therefore, to hear the Government say how they will resolve that dilemma. One can only hope that the issue never arises, because if it does the so-called and much-vaunted national interest of which we have heard so much-
Mr Deputy Speaker (Hugh Bayley): Order. We must now move on to Mr Jeremy Lefroy.
Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I am grateful for this opportunity, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am also honoured to follow the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), and the earlier maiden speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris).
Later, I should like to touch on the importance of the Commonwealth, in which I am a great believer. First, however, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, David Kidney. Mr Kidney represented Stafford for 13 years with a great degree of diligence. He is much loved in the constituency for his work there, but he is also widely respected for the work that he did in the House and nationally on sustainable energy, on improvements in care and on the teaching of citizenship, among many other things. I hope that I will, in some small way, be able to build on his achievements.
The constituency of Stafford is centred on the county town. It was granted its charter in 1206 by King John, who I believe to be a slightly underestimated monarch. It also includes Penkridge, which received its charter even earlier, from King Edgar of Mercia in 958. The constituency stretches from Wolseley Bridge in the east and Hixon in the north to Bishops Wood in the south and Weston-under-Lizard on the border with Shropshire. Weston Park is of course home to the well-known V festival, a constituency event that I have not yet had the pleasure to attend. I am probably unlikely to do so, but I receive reports on it from my teenage daughter.
My constituency also includes a church, at Ingestre, that is reputed to be the only parish church outside London to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren. I had the pleasure of visiting it on 6 May, as it was also a polling station. Ingestre was also home to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he fought a valiant campaign for the seat in 1997. He is well remembered in
the constituency. Indeed, I have had the pleasure of visiting one constituent who pointed out a rock in front of her house that she called the Cameron rock, because he had transported it to that place himself. That shows that manual work is not unknown to those on the Front Bench.
Stafford is well connected with the rest of the country. Many Members might, on occasion, have been able to appreciate its beauty while stationary on the M6. The constituency encompasses three of the motorway's junctions, which provide excellent access. That is welcome, although sometimes that access is too good, and much of the traffic is diverted through the town when the junctions become blocked. The people of Stafford are extremely welcoming, but their patience is sometimes sorely tested. My predecessor-and indeed his predecessor, now my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who I am glad to see in his place-fought a campaign for an eastern distributor road. I understand that the campaign has gone on for more than 40 years. I am a great believer in long-term planning, but no issue should go on for that long.
I rarely drive to London. Instead, I use the excellent train service. I pay tribute to the Labour Government, under whom the journey time improved; it now takes a mere 80 minutes in standard class. I believe that it takes the same time in first class, although the Chancellor and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority will be relieved to hear that I have no recent experience of that. My constituency also contains fine canals, and I most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for frequently singing their praises in this place.
Stafford also has strong literary connections, first with Richard Sheridan, who was a Member of this House for many years. He spent much of that time in a place nearby impeaching Warren Hastings-unsuccessfully, I am glad to say. In fact, he spent seven years doing that, and I wonder whether people might have wished for fixed-term Parliaments in those days. I am more attracted to another literary giant: Izaak Walton, the author of "The Compleat Angler", which has remained in print constantly since the 17th century. That is not because I fish, but more because of sympathy towards, and quiet support of, those who are oppressed for their beliefs, as Izaak Walton was. It is a cause that many people in this House champion, as was expressed earlier by the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), and I would be honoured to join them.
Stafford also has a strong tradition of engineering. It was once dominated by English Electric, later General Electric, but manufacturing for the energy industry is now carried out by Alstom, AREVA, Perkins Diesel and Talbott's Biomass, among others. Our expertise in power engineering is valued worldwide and it contributes to exports, which are so sorely needed to restore this country's economic health. I started my own working life in manufacturing, so I am proud to represent a constituency in which manufacturing is so significant.
Our international reputation is also enhanced by the university, which we share with the fine city of Stoke-on-Trent. We have strong connections with universities on the Pacific rim, and this House should never underestimate the role that universities play both in enhancing Britain's international reputation and for the development of high technology.
Many hon. Members will have an iPhone. I confess I do not, but this, the iPod and many other devices were designed under the leadership of Apple's chief designer, Jonathan Ive, CBE, a former student of Walton high school in my constituency. Our schools will continue to provide a high-quality education, but they need fair funding.
We are also proud to host the Ministry of Defence, home to 22nd Signal Regiment and the Tactical Support Wing of the RAF. We await with eager anticipation the arrival of 1st Signal Brigade in a few years' time. It will indeed receive a warm welcome from the people of Stafford and the county of Staffordshire. The county town is home to many county-wide organisations in the public, voluntary and community sectors. I have had the pleasure of visiting some of them and of seeing the tremendous commitment that their people show.
Last year, however, was very troubling for my constituency. We received various reports on Stafford hospital, which did not make comfortable reading. I pay tribute to the campaigners, to Julie Bailey who highlighted the hospital's problems, and to hospital staff who are working so hard to restore public confidence. It is a task to which I am committed, and I will contribute in whatever way I can. I also wish to place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone for raising the matter so eloquently in this House from time to time.
I am fortunate to represent a constituency in which farming and rural businesses are strong. Food security is so important for this world and for this country, and we can be sure that Stafford will play its part.
The Gracious Speech referred to pursuing
"an enhanced partnership in India",
which I welcome. India is, of course, the largest country in the Commonwealth. My experience of living and working in Tanzania, which is a stalwart member, for 11 years, shows that the bonds are strong-indeed, far stronger than many in this country believe. There are great opportunities for us to trade with the Commonwealth. At the moment, it accounts only for 8% of our exports and imports, so there is the potential for far more. If we do not do that, other nations such as China will-and they already are. Economic growth depends on exports, and I am sure that the Government will be looking at every possible avenue to improve this country's export growth. Political, educational and cultural ties are also important. As a previous speaker mentioned, soft power and strong relationships with Commonwealth countries need to be nurtured.
I have spoken of the importance of higher education for the Stafford constituency. There is a thirst for higher education among the people of the Commonwealth, which presents great opportunities for UK universities to take their expertise across the globe. At a time when the temptation is to turn in on ourselves and our problems, the Gracious Speech reminds us that it is more in tune with the nature of this country to reach out.
I had the privilege of serving my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) in his globalisation and global poverty group, and I am delighted that the Government have supported its conclusion, especially the commitment to spending 0.7% of gross domestic product on international aid.
I have always admired our constituency-based parliamentary system, and it is a great honour to stand here. I believe that Parliament, for all its shortcomings, should represent the conscience of the nation, as it has done today, as has been shown in so many speeches. I leave my last words to the great man, Izaak Walton of Stafford, who said:
"The person that loses their conscience has nothing left worth keeping."
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