The Corus steel site still employs more than 2,000 people in steel processing, but we were all devastated in February when the blast furnace closed, ending 150 years of steel making on the River Tees. We are hopeful that the blast
furnace will be sold to a new owner and that steel making can be resumed. My constituency also contains the UK's biggest chemical manufacturing site at Wilton, another powerhouse of the national economy, where I worked for many years.
To the west of the port, steel and chemical complex lies an area that, to the uninformed visitor, looks like a continuous area of housing-casually referred to as Greater Eston by Redcar and Cleveland council. People who live there know that it actually comprises a number of separate places: the historic villages of Normanby, Nunthorpe and Ormesby; the proud former ironstone mining village of Eston; and the struggling industrial settlements of South Bank and Grangetown. They all have their own distinct centres and unique stories.
I must pay tribute to my learned predecessor, Vera Baird, QC. Vera has a tremendous capacity for work and is a formidable campaigner for women's rights in particular, fighting on behalf of women who are the victims of violence and abuse. She was a notable parliamentarian, having won The Spectator Back Bencher of the year award in 2004 and then rising to ministerial level as Solicitor-General in the previous Government.
I cannot represent Redcar without mentioning Vera's predecessor, the late Marjorie Mowlam. Had her health remained good, I am sure that she would still be in Parliament today. As well as her towering achievements in government, particularly on the Northern Ireland Good Friday agreement, she was, and still is, much loved in the constituency. She must have had a prodigious ability to consume tea, judging by the number of houses that I canvassed where they all said, "We all loved Mo, and she was always popping in for a cuppa."
The No. 1 issue in my area is jobs. The headline unemployment figure is about 9%, but that does not tell the whole story. There is a lot of hidden unemployment, a lot of people on incapacity benefit and many other people are out of work. A Financial Times reporter visited during the general election and had no trouble finding a woman who had just lost out as one of 490 applicants for a job cleaning the local supermarket. I hope that when this Government carry out the much-needed review of benefits policy, they will not unjustly penalise those who desperately want to work but simply cannot find a job.
There have been numerous job losses in our area: 98,000 manufacturing jobs have gone since 1971-particularly under the previous Government, during whose period in office manufacturing declined from 22% of the national economy to just 11%. I am very pleased that the new Government recognise the value of manufacturing and, in particular, want to stimulate the green manufacturing economy. Teesside is a great place to do that.
Before leaving jobs, I must mention Government jobs. After recent remarks by the Prime Minister, people might have got the impression that any cutbacks in the civil service would somehow be in the north-east of England. In fact, of well over 520,000 civil servants, only 36,000 are in the north-east, and of those very few are in the Teesside area. I shall constantly press the case for the Tees valley to be the new location of a Government agency. Indeed, the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) and I have already written to our Cabinet colleagues, suggesting Teesside as a good location for the administrative centre of the new green investment
bank. I welcome the Government's commitment to localism on planning laws and hope to see more local control over schools, rather than the central diktats that went with the Building Schools for the Future programme. Many of my constituents know how important that is.
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech, and I congratulate Members from all parts of the House on their excellent maiden speeches.
It is an immense privilege to have been elected to serve as the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South. I have lived and worked in Sunderland all my life, and I am especially honoured to serve my local area. I should like to thank the party members and voters who put their trust in me, and I sincerely hope that I can repay them. Houghton and Sunderland South is a new constituency that was formed from the former constituencies of Houghton and Washington East and Sunderland South. I therefore intend to pay tribute to the former Members for both constituencies.
Fraser Kemp was elected in 1997 as the Member for Houghton and Washington East but had worked as an organiser for the Labour party since his late teens. He played a pivotal role in making the Labour party electable once again and secured a reputation as a fierce opponent whose success as an organiser and an election strategist was unparalleled. Fraser is a very modest man who never sought accolades or recognition for his achievements, but many of us know the debt that we owe to him. I pay tribute to Fraser not simply because he is my predecessor, but because of his values, integrity and decency. He fought many cases on behalf of vulnerable and desperate constituents whom he always treated with the utmost sensitivity and compassion.
Fraser dedicated his life to the Labour movement, and I wish him every success in his life away from front-line politics. I know that Fraser felt it was a huge privilege to serve his home seat. I very much share that sentiment, and I hope that I can show the same dedication and commitment in fighting for the people of Houghton and Sunderland South.
I also pay tribute to Chris Mullin, who represented Sunderland, South from 1987. He was never afraid to champion unpopular causes and often found himself ostracised in the process. I am sure that there is a lesson there for us all-that we should never be afraid to speak out, even if the cause appears at the time to be an unpopular or a difficult one.
My constituency contains a series of mining villages in the former Durham coalfields, and also areas of the city that were built following the post-war expansion, such as Grindon, Thorney Close and Farringdon. Shiney Row is home to the Penshaw monument. It was erected in tribute to the first Earl of Durham, known locally as Radical Jack because of his support for the extension of the franchise in the Reform Act 1832. There has been much debate today about the Great Reform Act, and I am sure that my constituents will follow developments with great interest. On the issue of voting, I am delighted
to note that Sunderland city council once again delivered the first and fastest result in returning me as the Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South.
In Hetton-le-Hole, George Stephenson, one of the founding fathers of the railway industry, designed a line to serve the colliery before designing the more famous Stockton and Darlington route. I am also proud that the tongue of Big Ben, which we hear every time the bell sounds, was forged in the historic town of Houghton-le-Spring in my constituency.
We have made tremendous progress in Houghton and Sunderland South. Our area has adapted remarkably to significant economic, industrial and social change, much of it not of our choosing during the 1980s and 1990s. We are resilient and faced adversity in the past; I am confident that we can now show the same kind of determination again in meeting new challenges.
I will be unafraid to speak out where I see injustice that will damage the lives and living standards of my constituents, which have improved so greatly in the past 13 years. I will resist any measure that will damage our economy, our families, and the services on which we all rely. I remain committed to tackling inequality in all its forms. We have seen significant advances in my constituency in the past 13 years, not least in terms of the provision and resources in our schools, but it is still all too often the case that children born in my constituency are held back because of their backgrounds and unable to achieve all that they are capable of.
The north-east led the world during the industrial revolution, and I am confident that we can do so again in being at the forefront of developing new green technologies and industries. I was therefore concerned by the Prime Minister's refusal to confirm whether the Government would honour the £20.7 million grant awarded to Nissan to develop the next generation of electric cars. The plant is not in my constituency, but many of my constituents are employed by Nissan or indirectly in supply chain jobs. I will continue to press for answers, not only on the Nissan grant but on the vital, ongoing investment that is necessary to protect the north-east economy. I know that I will have the full support of my local newspaper, the Sunderland Echo, in fighting Sunderland's corner and championing local business. It remains of deep and lasting concern to me that unemployment remains higher than is acceptable in my constituency and that there are areas of continuing deprivation. The people of Houghton and Sunderland South need a Government who will support business and enterprise, not tip us into a second recession.
I am particularly grateful to be called to make my maiden speech during the debate on home affairs. Prior to my election, I worked managing a women's refuge based in my constituency for families fleeing domestic violence. It is through my work with victims of sexual violence that I have such deep reservations about proposals to introduce anonymity for defendants in rape cases. I ask the Government to look carefully at prioritising measures that will increase the number of rape convictions instead of deterring vulnerable women from coming forward.
I give my pledge that I will try to speak often in the House to raise the concerns of my constituents. I intend to be a strong and tireless voice here; the people of Houghton and Sunderland South deserve no less.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I do not intend to alter the time limit, as that would be unfair, particularly to those who are waiting to make their maiden speeches, but anyone who can clip a minute or so off their speech will certainly gain the gratitude of some of those we might otherwise find it very difficult to fit in.
Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Let me begin by saying that that was an outstanding maiden speech by the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson). It was full of interesting content and probably gives us an idea of where she will concentrate her interests. I was particularly interested in some of the things that she said about the area she represents, because I contested the old seat of Houghton and Washington, as it was then known, in 1992, and I know well many of the places that she mentioned-the Penshaw monument, Shiney Row community college, and much else. I very much take her point about the Nissan plant and the effect that any Government decisions will have on the whole region if things do not go well. I was touched by her commitment to speak up on behalf of the most vulnerable in her constituency. Having got to know it quite well, I know what she is talking about as regards those former mining villages.
It is clear that the two great themes in the Queen's Speech are the economy and the constitution: they loom large, and they are closely connected. Constitutional reform is needed, among other things, to restore confidence in our institutions, particularly Parliament and political parties. Without some progress on that, the coalition Government will struggle to secure legitimacy for the tough economic measures that are now needed. Without some public trust in politicians, leadership on the economy will be impossible. I think that that is what the Prime Minister was trying to make a start with in his speech today.
Despite appearances, there is, on both the constitution and the economy, a great deal of common ground across the House about the overall direction of policy and the importance of acting. However, before I get on to the areas of agreement, let me start with a controversial measure-the attempt to entrench fixed parliamentary terms with a 55% threshold. That certainly will not be a consensus measure; the controversy has been evident today. We have not seen the proposal written down, so it might be premature to judge it, but I have to say that I do not like what I have heard so far. How could I put it? Let me just say that it could be misconstrued as, or as looking very much like, an arbitrary fix to bolster this particular coalition with a constitutional change. After all, why 55%, not 60% or some other number? At least, that is how the other place will see it. Nor does it benefit from any protection under the Salisbury convention, and I therefore expect that their lordships might carve it up. To sugar the pill for them, I have already asked those on my Front Bench to give it pre-legislative scrutiny. If it survives that, their lordships may be more accommodating.
The 55% proposal is so clearly born of the particular circumstances of this coalition that I cannot see why it should remain on the statute book beyond this Parliament, and I therefore ask my Front-Bench colleagues to consider
adding a sunset clause. Of course, we have not heard all the arguments on the proposal-as I say, it has not been published-and I am not going to rush to take a view on something that I have not even seen, but my instinct would be to try to entrench fixed terms with something less radical. Better, for example, to legislate a requirement that the Prime Minister can ask the Queen for a Dissolution only if he has been defeated in a vote of no confidence. Of course, he could still manufacture a defeat, but at least the electorate would see that ploy for what it was and could judge it accordingly at the polls.
I said that I would start with some disagreement, but I ought to refer to the large measure of agreement across the House on all sorts of things. The principle of fixed-term Parliaments is pretty much agreed across the House. During the last election, Labour was more supportive of fixed-term Parliaments than the Conservatives; likewise on the idea of a vote on a Dissolution. On the House of Lords, there is now a huge amount of cross-party agreement. All three parties are agreed on the need for a largely or fully elected House of Lords. I have to say, as there are a lot of new Members present, that when I was first elected 13 years ago it seemed to me that in the 21st century only those who have received some sort of democratic mandate should have the right to make our laws. These days, that is the majority view right across the House, and in my party too. I strongly welcome that.
The main opponent of change, of course, will be the biggest vested interest in our constitution, by which I mean the life peers. They are deeply opposed to any meaningful change and may even threaten to wreck the coalition's legislative programme if the elected House were to force the issue. At the moment, with the coalition facing the biggest economic crisis since the second world war, this House may decide that it has other priorities. Much depends on the arithmetic of coalition politics in the Lords and whether a measure could be whipped through the other place, but I am not optimistic. I cannot see the coalition risking a massive row and using the Parliament Act with so much other vital legislation to get through. It would be a bloody battle and a rerun of another Lords-Commons clash exactly a century ago.
In the few seconds remaining to me I add one more crucial matter. We must clean up party funding. The stench in the electorate's nostrils about the apparent purchase of access, influence and honours is serious and knocks into a cocked hat what we have had on expenses. The problem can be solved only if all parties are prepared to bring the big donor culture to an end, whether the source is corporate, institutional, trade union or individual. We must find ways to protect parties that will be adversely affected by that change and ensure that democratic politics can remain fair. We cannot leave things as they are, and I hope very much that the coalition Government will have further talks to try to secure agreement. I find the Queen's Speech very exciting, but there is a lot of work to be done and debate to be had on it.
Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches. They have been very interesting and have paid tribute to the Members who have gone before them.
When I listened to the Deputy Prime Minister's speech, I was very disappointed that he showed a lack of respect for the smaller parties in the House. I suggest to him that he should give minority parties more respect, because he could find himself on the Back Benches shortly. One should never allow power to go to one's head. We will put today's episode down to inexperience, and I look forward to meaningful exchanges with him in the days to come.
"Measures will be brought forward to introduce fixed term Parliaments of five years."
That would command support from my right hon. and hon. Friends from Northern Ireland and is probably one of the few examples of the coalition making changes that are not designed to improve its own chances in a future election. The governing party-or parties, in this case-has always had the ability to use a snap general election to its own advantage, and the date selected has had much more to do with the political fortunes of the Government than the national interest.
However, there are practical implications to be thought through. In Northern Ireland, we already face an election practically every year, and the dates involved mean that it could be possible to have a general election, an election to the Northern Ireland Assembly and a local government election on the same day. One can imagine what that would mean to the voters. We are not opposed to fixed-term Parliaments and see many benefits to them, but it will be necessary to consider the practical implications and the problems that could arise from attempting to organise up to three elections on one day.
We have major concerns about the introduction of the 55% rule. We wish to put a clear marker down on that, and I do that in the House tonight. We must do nothing that diminishes the authority of Parliament or its right to hold the Government to account. Parliament must have the ability to give the Government a vote of confidence when they are worthy of it, or a vote of no confidence if they have lost the confidence of the country and the House.
"A Bill will be introduced for a referendum on the Alternative Vote system for the House of Commons and to create fewer and more equal sized constituencies."
The problems that have been mentioned today in the case of certain constituencies in the United Kingdom must genuinely be taken into account. Simply to divide the country up and say that every constituency must have the same number of electors would not be to take in the reality of the vast geographical areas of some constituencies. Constituencies need to be given appropriate and proper service. We represent not land but people, who have a right to the most appropriate and best possible representation.
"to restore freedoms and civil liberties, through the abolition of Identity Cards and the repeal of unnecessary laws."
I can say on behalf of my colleagues that we support the proposal to abolish identity cards, which were introduced in probably the most ridiculed piece of legislation that the previous Government brought forward. It will be good to see the end of them.