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Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): I praise the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and all those who have made their maiden speeches for their eloquence and endurance. It is customary during a maiden speech to speak in complimentary and glowing terms-indeed, frivolous terms in some cases-about the relevant constituency. However, I hope people do not mind if, as a Bradford councillor, I pass on that and leave it until another occasion.
I love my constituency, I really do, but it does have its problems. I fought it five times over a period of 20 years and I never considered for even one second trying to be an MP anywhere else. I am proud to be an MP, but even prouder to be MP for Bradford East.
I shall get one thing out of the way. I did not know Terry Rooney, my predecessor, too well, although I fought him five times. I do know, however, that he was a colleague of many here and gave 20 years' service to the House. He put in many years' work on the Work and Pensions Committee and chaired it. I pay tribute to him.
I have extensive yet limited experience of education; I shall try to explain what I mean by that. The extensive experience includes working for Leeds Metropolitan university for nearly 25 years. I cannot say that I regret having failed to come here sooner, because that would have meant my missing out on my wonderful memories of working with thousands of bright, funny, infuriating, creative and inspiring young people.
For the past five years, I have been seconded to Bradford City football club. I went there to help it to create a community department to engage with the predominantly Pakistani-Bangladeshi community that surrounds the club in Manningham. It is now host to a positive lifestyle centre, which has run programmes for more than 11,000 school children in the past five years. There is the football in the community scheme, which works with 130 of Bradford's schools. I am probably most proud of all to be associated with my hero, Andy Sykes, who joined the British National party, understood how he had made an error, was going to leave, went undercover and was featured in the BBC documentary "The Secret Agent". Andy was that man, and he now works with Dale Althorp carrying out some really tough work across the country with some really tough young people with extreme racist views.
For 26 years, I was a councillor in a ward in Bradford, where I was a group spokesperson for education. For four years, I held the education portfolio at a very difficult time, with a privatised education service, an Ofsted inspection that was one of the worst in the whole country, a move from a three to a two-tier education system, and the closure of all special schools and the
reopening of new schools with co-located mainstream schools. For nearly 30 years, I have also been a school governor in special, primary and secondary schools, and I am still a governor at two schools in Bradford.
Bradford has one of the fastest growing populations in the country, and one of the youngest. Believe it or not, one in four of the population in Bradford East is under the age of 25. That is scary, because many of those young people are failing quite badly educationally. There is a view-we have heard it tonight-that if one can only improve the educational outcomes of children in deprived communities, that will somehow break the cycle of deprivation. Well, that is not my experience. It is not by raising educational outcomes that we reduce deprivation-it is by reducing deprivation that we raise educational outcomes. This is why I intervened earlier. We need to look at all the possible determinants of educational attainment, including gender, ethnicity, religion, and school structure-we have been through them all: community, foundation, grant maintained, academies, city technology and private. Nothing, but nothing, compares with deprivation as the overwhelming determinant of a pupil's academic success and later, sadly, their prospects for employment, mental health, physical health and life expectancy. In education, class really does matter.
Yes, schools can be improved-I have been there-by better leadership, management, governance, teaching, learning, and freedoms from central Government. However, all head teachers and governors know that the most effective way of improving attainment is to change the intake of a school. I get very angry when I hear people glibly talking about good, bad or failing schools. I was chair of governors at a school branded as a failure-part of the national challenge-because of its attainment levels. At the same time, it was the first secondary school in Bradford to be categorised by Ofsted as outstanding-madness. Schools in the more affluent parts of Bradford district are deemed to be good, but only because of their A to C grade attainment. They are left standing, in terms of contextual value added, by many inner-city schools that are looked down on.
The Queen's Speech-certainly, the agreement-contains many education proposals that I welcome. The slimmed-down national curriculum and flexibility in terms and conditions are necessary if the pupil premium is to work. I am not sure why these freedoms cannot just be made available to all schools, and why that has to be the preserve of academies. The most important freedom is not from overpowering local authorities, which can be controlled-perhaps unlike Essex. That view is out of date. The most important freedom is from the strangulating control of local education and authorities and schools by central Government.
The pupil premium, which is conspicuous by its absence in the Queen's Speech, offers the real prospect of redressing the disadvantage faced by young people from deprived backgrounds. There is already deprivation funding, but it is a pittance. By and large, the amount of money that a school gets is based on the number of pupils in the school. That cannot be right, because going into an Ilkley primary school on a Monday morning is not the same as going into a school in BD3, the area that I represent.
I said that my experience of education is extensive but limited. It is extensive because of what I have done, but limited because of where it has been-in Bradford. I acknowledge that. However, it is that understanding
of Bradford that I was sent here to voice. In a place such as Bradford, proposals for more faith schools and academies and the rights of parents to set up their own schools threaten social cohesion, strategic planning of school places, co-ordination of admissions and collaborative partnerships. I worry about that.
For many years, my wife has worked in a service providing support for Travellers, Gypsies, Roma, asylum seekers and refugees. My personal test of new academies and free schools will be based not on their standing in a league table showing key stage 2 and 4 results, but on the extent to which they provide a helping hand for the clients my wife represents. We will wait and see.
Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to address the House for the first time. It is a great pleasure to follow the very many hon. Members who have also done so and have spoken so passionately about their constituencies. I will listen with interest over the next few days as many more Members do the same.
Our duty to our constituents is one that we share in all parts of the House, and this debate could not be more relevant to my constituents in Wigan. Even with the much-needed investment over the past 13 years, people in Wigan still get sick earlier and die younger, and too many of their children leave school without good jobs to go to or without the qualifications they need for the jobs that there are. Those facts are a scar on the conscience of this House, and we must not rest until social justice is a reality in Wigan and across the country.
I know that that is a view that I share with my predecessor, Neil Turner. Neil drew on several decades of experience in, and service to, local government when he arrived in the House 11 years ago after the tragic death of his predecessor, Roger Stott. In his leading role in SIGOMA-the special interest group of municipal authorities-which is the campaigning network for local authorities, Neil fought hard for better public services, particularly housing, which was one of his passions. He was proud to be a Parliamentary Private Secretary to a number of Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), who has done such important work in this field. Neil was also a leading light in another of his passions-the all-party rugby league group-and I think it is fair to say that he has taught me literally everything I know about rugby league.
However, it is for his tireless work in redressing inequality in health funding that I think Neil will really be remembered. He fought for, and got, recognition that places such as Wigan were chronically and unfairly underfunded. The results of this change in Wigan have been visible and striking. To suggest that his work has saved lives is not an overstatement: it could not be more important to the people I now represent. It is this perseverance that marks Neil out both as a politician and as a person. It is rooted in a generosity and a kindness from which I have also benefited. His refusal to give up when he was told, firmly, "No", was a beacon of hope to a people who frankly deserved better, and an example that I am determined to follow.
Neil and I are both part of a long line of Labour representatives of Wigan that stretches all the way back to 1918. Many hon. Members will know much of Wigan's
history. It is a town that has endured great hardship, but at great cost. From the great depression to the extreme poverty and deprivation that George Orwell railed against in "The Road to Wigan Pier," Wigan has achieved extraordinary things, too often against the odds.
The scars that still run deepest in my constituency are those that were formed by the decimation of the town's historic mining and industrial base in the 1980s. It was in that divisive and heated decade that my politics were forged. I grew up in the north-west believing that the Government not only did not speak up for people like me, but actively opposed us. My challenge to the new Government is not to repeat that bitter experience.
I address that challenge to both sides of the House. In Wigan, there is pride in what we have achieved, but that is mixed with frustration at what we have not, and fear for the future. I believe we can and must do more. For the past five years, I have worked at the Children's Society with some remarkable children caught up in that situation. It has been devastating to see them living with the consequences of decades of under-investment, and growing up in poverty with inadequate housing. However, it has been equally devastating to work with their classmates, who fled persecution abroad to seek safety in the UK, but who often have been blamed for the problems faced by their peers. We owe it to those children not to play politics with their lives and to challenge the politics of fear and hatred, rather than pander to it.
I believe there is reason to hope for better. I am privileged to come from a family that spans a wide political spectrum from liberalism to Marxism, which gives me the belief that things can be better, that assumptions can be challenged and that those things can be achieved without delay, however difficult the times. Wigan has bucked the national trend through the efforts of its excellent council and many hard-working community groups. We have kept youth unemployment low and attracted new investment, such as from the Tote and Keep Britain Tidy. We have retained important employers, such as Heinz, and have world-class rugby league and football teams, which crucially support a strong network of community sports clubs.
Perhaps more importantly, through testing times Wigan has always fought against the politics of hate with the politics of hope. The story of Wigan is the story of a community that has refused to be characterised by poverty, despair or fear throughout its history. No group could better embody that than Wigan and Leigh United Against Racism, whose thriving and energetic presence I am proud to be associated with.
It is with that sense of energy and ambition that I approach this Parliament. I am ambitious for positive new solutions where they are so badly needed, but I am also ambitious for respect for those policies that have served us so well. We must continue to invest in social housing, including council housing, and we must strive for a level playing field in education if we want a society in which the choices we make are more important than what we are born into. Decent workplace rights and strong trade unions will always be the most fundamentally effective way to tackle fear about immigration. If we are serious about showing people that we are on their side, we should back the living wage and the minimum income guarantee. We must lift people up, not drive others down.
We face a clear choice in this Parliament: a fairer, more equal society or a return to the inequality and despair of the 1980s. My promise to this House is to work tirelessly, fairly and constructively to achieve the former, but my promise to the people of Wigan is to fight every inch of the way if they face the latter. There is a generation of children and young people in my constituency who are expecting us to succeed, and there are older generations who have worked tirelessly for just that. We must do the same in this House, because we cannot afford to fail.
Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): I stand to make my maiden speech, which is a daunting task not least because my seat has been represented by such colourful MPs in the past. This is the seat that was looked after by George Brown and Edwina Currie. The lady has been mentioned twice tonight-what a night for her. My immediate predecessor, Mark Todd, was a diligent constituency MP-indeed, having had Brown and Currie, such a quiet and thoughtful man looking after us for 13 years was definitely a time of respite and calm from the spotlight that the earlier incumbents drew to the area. I wish him well with his new job as chairman of Derby City primary care trust.
South Derbyshire is a great place to live, work and visit. We are a semi-rural constituency made up of 84,000 acres and 98,000 people, so the idea of a 100,000-person constituency in two years' time is perfect. We are the fifth fastest growing district in the country and at the centre of the constituency is our largest employer, Toyota. I particularly wanted to speak in today's debate on the Gracious Speech because education and the provision of schools and apprenticeships are crucial to the future success of my residents. I have already had a request for the Minister to visit to discuss the setting up of a new free school by parents who run Dame Catherine Harpur school in Ticknall. We also desperately need a new secondary school near Melbourne and that initiative will help with that too. I have held meetings with other colleagues who are in the House tonight who have also met with the unions at Rolls-Royce. We have been working on some innovative ideas for apprenticeships that I hope we will be able to take further. One glaring omission from the services that we have in South Derbyshire is a college. All our residents have to travel for full-time further education, and there is an opportunity for us to do better for my residents.
South Derbyshire has a great history. Indeed, it is the resting place of the Mercian Kings, was invaded by Vikings and has a diverse economy, with a split of 27% based on manufacturing and 27% on tourism. We have a strong heritage, from market gardening to coal mining and clay pots. We have the largest inland marina, and our canals are a major attraction in the area.
I am even more proud that we are at the heart of the national forest, with Rosliston forestry centre receiving thousands of visitors every year. South Derbyshire is always reinventing itself and being host to new ideas. Right now, a new golf academy is being built, which will have apprenticeships for the next generation to learn to excel. At one end of Swadlincote is a dry ski centre and at the other a golf course. When people visit, they are not bored.
My aims for the future are to build on the great reputation that we have for hard workers. We are at the heart of the country and our inward investment plans will lead to even more companies from Japan, China, Sweden and all over basing themselves in South Derbyshire. That will happen because we intend to get the future education of our children right, and I intend to play my part in working with Ministers to make that happen. I am proud to represent the area in which I live, and I look forward to encouraging the Minister to visit us shortly.
Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) on her speech. It is a wonderful part of the country to visit, as I do regularly from Sheffield. I also share the hon. Lady's passion for manufacturing.
It is an extraordinary privilege for new Members to address the House for the first time. For me, Sheffield Central is an extraordinary constituency to represent. Significantly redrawn in the last boundary review, stretching from Hillsborough Corner to Manor Top, from Kelham Island to Carterknowle, it is the heart of Sheffield. It is also a special privilege to represent the city that is my home, although my son would be the first to point out that I do not really count as a Sheffielder because, unlike him, I was not born and bred there. He would say that I am an incomer because I first moved to the city at the age of nine.
Hugely diverse, Sheffield Central includes both Victorian Broomhill, which was once described by John Betjeman as the "prettiest suburb in England" and the Park Hill flats, which opened in 1961 to international acclaim, as an innovative replacement by the Labour council of the time for tenements and back-to-back slum housing. Now the largest grade 2 listed building in the UK, Park Hill is currently being refurbished in a major regeneration project, combining social housing, owner occupation, and business units. I hope that the project will be supported by this Government as strongly as it was by the last.
Among the neighbouring constituencies is Sheffield, Hallam, which is of course represented by the Deputy Prime Minister. A consistent message in his election literature, of which I saw a great deal, was "If you don't want the Conservatives, vote Liberal Democrat here". I wonder whether he is now reflecting on that message, because I can assure him that many Sheffield voters are doing so.
The constituency was previously represented by Richard Caborn, and I pay a deep and genuine tribute to his work here over 27 years. In considering my maiden speech today, I looked up Richard's from 1983. Having not spoken in the House until November of that year, he referred to an article in The Sunday Times, which had described him as a "tight-lipped Member of Parliament". Now I have heard Richard described as many things, but those who knew him in this House and in Sheffield would never call him "'tight-lipped". He is someone who has always been quick to share his views, and to do so robustly. But he is someone who has the special talent of provoking argument, respect and affection at the same time and he is recognised across Sheffield as a relentless champion of the city he loves.
Richard's roots are in the steel industry. One of the things that he was proudest of was his role over the past three years in helping to secure an £80 million loan for Sheffield Forgemasters, which is facilitating an investment of £140 million to enable the purchase of a major new forging press, the largest in the world outside Japan and Korea. I am deeply concerned that the new Government are reviewing that loan. Speaking in Yorkshire last week, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to encourage manufacturing, particularly outside the south-east and particularly in high-tech engineering and low-carbon technology industries. If that statement is to have any meaning, the Government need to act quickly to end the uncertainty and confirm the loan facility for Sheffield Forgemasters.
Future jobs and prosperity in Sheffield will be built not only on the skills of our traditional industries, but on the research and innovation of our two universities. Both are located in my constituency. I have spent most of my working life in one-the university of Sheffield-and several years as a governor in the other, Sheffield Hallam university. They play a key role in supporting economic development in the region. Sheffield Hallam university has worked with local companies in pioneering product development. The university of Sheffield has used its research collaboration to apply specialist engineering expertise to real-world manufacturing problems, most notably in the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, established in partnership with Boeing.
Both universities are leaders in their sectors, and they make Sheffield an increasingly popular destination for students. Together, their students account for 10% of the city's population, and the direct economic benefit is more than £1 billion. I therefore speak for many people in Sheffield when I express concern that the new Government have chosen to target universities in the first wave of cuts. Reducing funding and university places will damage economic development and crush the hopes of thousands of young people. Funding the nation's universities must be a priority for this Parliament. When we consider the Browne review, we should ensure that it considers all the options and does not limit itself to a debate about the level of tuition fees.
The city of Sheffield is constantly seeking new opportunities. As chair of the city trust for 11 years, I had responsibility for many of our sports and cultural facilities, and I have seen the economic benefits of the international events that we have hosted. I am proud that we were recognised as the UK's first city of sport and, with our thriving cultural industries sector, that we have been shortlisted as a candidate to be the UK city of culture in 2013.
We also have a great radical tradition in Sheffield. We were the first major city in the country to elect a Labour council, replacing-perhaps presciently-a Liberal-Conservative coalition. That early Labour administration did away with slum housing, through a radical programme of house building, tackled childhood disease and led the way with innovative environmental policies. That tradition continues today. We are the UK's first "City of Sanctuary", having welcomed refugees from throughout the world-people who have added to the rich range of cultures that form the constituency of Sheffield Central.
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