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5.28 pm

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I speak with a particular sense of humility after so many hon. Members have given such admirable maiden speeches, including that just made by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green).

I have some worthy predecessors. My immediate predecessor was Miss Julie Kirkbride. She was first elected in 1997, and she was a fine constituency MP. I will never forget the spontaneous tributes that people paid to her, when I knocked on their doors during the campaign, for all the work that she had done on their behalf. I should also like to express my gratitude to her two most recent predecessors, Mr Roy Thomason and Sir Hal Miller, who both helped me in my campaign with great advice.

Bromsgrove is a beautiful, traditional beacon of middle England. I know that many hon. Members have described their constituencies as beautiful, but Bromsgrove truly has breathtaking countryside. It is an old market town which was originally a bit of an industrial hub for the west midlands industrial complex. It still has a very active, traditional court-leet, with lovely traditions.

In the east of the constituency we have many beautiful picture-postcard villages, including the glamorously named suburb of Hollywood.

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Over the centuries, we have had many heroes from Bromsgrove. I should like to pay tribute on this occasion to two of the most recent-both teenagers, both soldiers in the 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment. The first, Private Robert Laws, was aged 18 when he lost his life fighting for our country in Helmand province last year. He had passed his training only six months previously. The second, Private Alex Kennedy, also aged 18, earlier this year became the youngest soldier since the second world war to receive the military cross. He fought hard to save the life of his commanding officer during a fierce battle with the Taliban. We must never forget the sacrifices that our soldiers-those who have served and those who are currently serving for us-make on our behalf.

A notable person from Bromsgrove was A. E. Housman, whose stirring prose reflected the rural beauty of the heart of England. In Bromsgrove we have a wonderful heritage in the English countryside, and that is why I want to make sure that it is the people who are most affected by planning decisions who make those decisions. That is why I welcome the recent announcements of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on that issue. They have been most welcomed by my constituents.

Perhaps at this point I should say something about my own background, as hon. Members may be able to tell from my appearance and my name that I can hardly be of traditional Worcestershire stock. My parents were both born in British India. Although my father was just six years old in 1947, he remembers full well the tragedy that occurred upon the partition of India-12 million people were displaced and almost a million lost their lives. If we need an example of how political failure can lead to great human tragedy, surely that is one of the most heart-wrenching, and an example of how politics can really make a difference. That is what I say to people who ask me why I gave up a lucrative career in finance to enter this House.

To the dismay of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), I have to tell him that for 19 years I have been an investment banker. In my case, this is one brain that was sucked up by the City and has now come to serve the people in this Parliament. I worked in London, Singapore and New York. I readily admit that being seen as an investment banker was not the most useful thing on the campaign trail, but it helped prepare me for a profession not well liked by the general public. Let us hope that all of us, on both sides of the House, can work together over the coming years to help restore the nation's respect for our great Parliament.

In view of my background in finance, I am particularly pleased to give my maiden speech during this debate on economic affairs. There are many global economic uncertainties at the moment, and they have potentially grave consequences for our economy. First, the euro is only just beginning to have problems. It was always a political contrivance that had virtually nothing to do with economics. Secondly, the world's largest emerging market economies, which have buttressed global demand since the onset of the credit crisis, are about to go through a period of monetary tightening, and we can no longer rely on them for global growth.

Thirdly, industrialised nations, including our own, that have issued vast amounts of sovereign debt over the past three years in particular can no longer go on
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that way. We have to make sure that when we look at these issues, we never forget the traditional disciplines that have stood Britain in good stead-sound public finances, low and simple taxation, and light and flexible regulation. It is when we forget these disciplines that we put our future prosperity at risk.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity, and thank you to the people of Bromsgrove for allowing me to serve them in this Chamber.

5.35 pm

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for letting me speak in the House for the first time. I would like to say well done to the previous speakers, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid). Both made excellent contributions.

Today I want to talk about three things: some of my predecessors from Blaenau Gwent, my constituency in south Wales; what a visionary place it is; and why the constituency needs a fair deal from the Government, to provide the economic growth that our people deserve.

It is often said that we stand on the shoulders of giants. If you are the MP for Blaenau Gwent, that is definitely the case. It was one of my predecessors, Nye Bevan, the former Labour MP for Ebbw Vale, who set up our national health service. Michael Foot also represented the constituency. Just before he died, I told Michael that I would do my very best to win the constituency back for Labour at the general election. I am proud to have fulfilled that promise. I will do my best to continue the Welsh Labour tradition of Nye and Michael, to serve in my own way with communities for whom they did so much. I also pay tribute to my immediate predecessor in this place, Dai Davies. Mr Davies is a strong trade unionist and a long-standing advocate for modern, high-quality apprenticeships.

I am honoured to be the MP for a wonderful valleys constituency such as Blaenau Gwent. We are Welsh radicals who put our values into action. I was born in Cardiff, and my family are long-standing valleys people who worked in coal and steel. Tredegar, the valleys town where I grew up and went to school, is the cradle of the national health service. The Tredegar Medical Aid Society was Nye's model for the health service. In 1948 he said:

His politics were based on the vision of local men and women-a combination of radical debate and a determination to run things themselves, and provide better services for local people.

Blaenau Gwent also played a vital role in the development of British democracy. It was from the villages and towns of north Gwent that the Chartists marched on Newport in 1831.

Blaenau Gwent is a proud constituency. While not rich in money terms, we have a very rich environment and culture. Our choirs and town bands have won national awards down the years; in a few weeks, the acclaimed blues festival takes place in beautiful Abertillery park; and now, in the digital age, film making has taken off too. Indeed, a recently produced local film called "A
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Little Bit of Tom Jones" won best picture at the BAFTA Cymru awards. I recommend it. This July, we will celebrate this creative contribution when the Welsh National Eisteddfod comes to Ebbw Vale.

Over the past 13 years the Labour Government did an excellent job rebuilding the local economy and infrastructure in Blaenau Gwent. Transport links have been improved, with the new train line from Cardiff to Ebbw Vale. The foundations of a new, splendid valleys learning campus are in hand, and our brand new hospital, named after Nye Bevan, is about to open.

But no one coming to the constituency can ignore our industrial legacy. There is still much, much to do. Too many of my constituents are unemployed. In Blaenau Gwent, unemployment stands at 11.8%. In Witney, the Prime Minister's constituency, it is 1.9%. Also, life is too short for many. Average male life expectancy in the constituency is just 75.3 years. In Witney, men live nearly five years longer-an average of 79.4 years. In the Queen's Speech there were fine words about fairness and reducing health inequalities. My constituents will be measuring the new Government closely on these policies.

Unfortunately, I believe this Government have got off to a very bad start. The cuts announced for the future jobs fund and child trust funds are not welcome. I deplore the cuts that slash the numbers of young people able to go to university. As I know from personal experience, one of the best routes out of poverty is a good education.

I am a former director of policy for the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists and campaigns manager for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I will use my campaigning skills to stand up for families whose children suffer from communications disability. Our Speaker and the shadow Secretary of State for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), showed great leadership on that topic in the previous Parliament. I would like to help take forward that important work.

In his maiden speech in 1929, Nye Bevan warned of

Nothing changes, does it? He called for Labour to have its eyes on the needs of people. Our needs are for more jobs, and a reduction in poverty and health inequalities. There are huge issues of inequality in my constituency. The chronic diseases of the legacy industries of coal and steel must still be overcome; heart disease and lung cancer in particular must be reduced. Public health should be at the centre of our investment and policy changes. Unpopular though it may be with some, I support the campaign for minimum pricing for units of alcohol. Although health is now an issue for the Welsh Assembly, as a local MP I will concentrate on that.

Employment must be another priority. The confidence and aspirations of young people must be supported. The new learning campus in our valleys must be delivered, so that good, well-paid employment is their future. We are a constituency that helped build this country. The railways and factories were made with our steel, and fired with our coal. Now though, we must invest in tomorrow's jobs. Alongside manufacturing, we should nurture green jobs as well as jobs based in science and
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the digital economy. We must get over the country's massive digital divide. We must have fast internet access in Blaenau Gwent.

To boost the economy of Blaenau Gwent, our generation must build on the vision of my predecessors, learn from the socialist history of Blaenau Gwent and invest in industrial, education and transport infrastructure to boost our economic regeneration. I will pour my energy into that work. I will do it with a smile on my face, as working well with people usually gets the results needed. I will pursue our jobs, health and anti-poverty agendas with tenacity, too. My constituents deserve nothing less. I thank the House for listening to me today.

5.42 pm

Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech during this debate, which is addressing a critical part of the new Government's future programme. I congratulate the previous speakers, particularly those who have made their maiden speech and set the bar very high for the rest of us.

It is an honour to speak as the first female Member of Parliament for the Loughborough constituency. I pay tribute to my two immediate predecessors. One, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell), is still a Member of the House. Unsurprisingly, I have been researching previous maiden speeches and it would appear that he made his maiden speech during the Budget debate following the 1979 election. Little did he think that one of his successors, 31 years later, would be speaking as the Conservatives were preparing another emergency Budget after a change of Government.

My immediate predecessor, Andy Reed, worked tirelessly for his constituents following his election in 1997. He was respected as a man of principle and resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary over the Iraq war. He was a committed Christian and-I hope that he will not mind my saying this-a well-known sports fanatic. Several Members on the Government Benches have already asked me whether I am going to take his place on the parliamentary rugby team. For the record, the answer is no. I hope that I will be able to serve the people in the Loughborough constituency as well as he did.

Loughborough is a wonderful mix. It sits, as my two immediate predecessors said in their maiden speeches, between Nottingham, Derby and Leicester, and that has clearly not changed. Loughborough is a town of about 50,000 people but it expands by 12,000 or so during term times thanks to our world-famous university, which is back on the map, as the football to be used at the forthcoming World cup was designed there.

Just across the M1 is the town of Shepshed, which, as I have discovered since the beginning of my candidacy six years ago, feels ignored by every tier of government. I hope that I will be able to put that right during my time as its Member of Parliament.

Finally, a number of smaller villages make up the constituency, including Hathern, Sileby, Quorn, Barrow upon Soar, Mountsorrel Castle, and some picturesque Wolds villages. The fact that I have villages in my constituency raises interesting rural issues that I hope to be able to take further forward in the House.

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We have a sizeable ethnic community, and it has been my pleasure, in my six years as a candidate in the constituency, to meet and learn more about them, and to visit the Shree Ram Krishna centre, the gurdwara, the Geeta Bhawan and our two mosques.

At one time, Loughborough was renowned for its textiles and hosiery manufacturing. Now, we are known for pharmaceuticals, research and engineering, and for manufacturing bells-Taylor's is one of the last remaining bell foundries in the country. The bells have been exported worldwide, and even hang in St Paul's cathedral here in London.

I want to touch on the importance of supporting the manufacturing sector, as other Members have done. Much has already been said-and, I am sure, will continue to be said-about spending cuts and tax rises, but more needs to be said about supporting private sector businesses, which are the backbone of our economy. We rely on our private sector businesses to provide employment, to train apprentices, to give people skills and, of course, to supply exports.

In March in Loughborough, just before the election campaign started, we received the devastating news that AstraZeneca is to close its Charnwood site, with the loss of at least 1,200 jobs locally. I hope that I will have the opportunity in future debates to raise a number of issues relating to the closure. I am proud to be part of the taskforce, of which my predecessor Andy Reed was a vital part, that is working to fill the site and plug the gap. I hope that we will end up not with a black hole in the middle of Charnwood, but with a site that new businesses and many other industries can use, so that we can still have a full manufacturing sector in the town.

We need to support strong manufacturing businesses, particularly with regard to research and development. Although manufacturing accounts for only about 20% of our economy, it accounts for about 75% of research and development in this country. The services sector is important, but manufacturers take on apprentices and give people new skills in a way that the services sector does not necessarily do. We need both. I am delighted to see that, in the coalition agreement, the Government mentioned the need for a more balanced economy; in fact, that was mentioned earlier today, too.

With a background as a solicitor advising companies large and small on raising finance both in the City of London and outside, I hope that I will be able to use my time in the House to ensure that we have a truly business-friendly environment in Britain. That would be good for my constituents, for Loughborough, for the east midlands, for Leicestershire and for the country. I hope that we can replace the jobs that have been lost, and can ensure a burgeoning manufacturing sector by the time that this Government leave office.

5.47 pm

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): We have heard some wonderful speeches; there have been four very good maiden speeches today from my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), and from the hon. Members for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), and for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan). I congratulate them, and I am sure that we were all impressed by the rich quality, the powerful confidence, and the wit and
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humour of all their contributions. I am sure that we will hear a great deal more from all of them.

More than once in his speech, the Chancellor threw down a challenge on how the deficit issue should be handled, and in seven short minutes I want to try to take up that challenge. The Prime Minister, in a speech yesterday, said that the whole way of life of Britain's entire population would be drastically disrupted by the most severe spending cuts for a generation, but the Government have also made it clear that they want to have a debate on how the matter should be handled. I welcome that, because I do not believe that the issue of spending cuts-or the alternatives-has yet been systematically explored.

Nobody doubts that a budget deficit of £156 billion is far too high, and of course it has to be reduced, but that still leaves open three fundamental questions: the timing, who should pay and, most importantly, the mechanisms for reducing the deficit. On timing, as has been repeatedly said, and as was said again today, making drastic cuts this year, when the economic recovery is so extremely fragile, is surely taking far too great a risk of precipitating a second collapse-a double-dip recession. Nothing that the Chancellor said today gives me much confidence that that will be avoided. That was exactly the experience of Japan in the 1990s, and of the US in the 1930s. We should learn from historical experience, not repeat it.

As for the question of who should pay, it is monstrous for any Government to shift the burden of the financial crash away from the perpetrators-the banks-on to its victims: public services and public sector jobs, perhaps 100,000, or even, as the papers have said, 300,000. It is outrageous that the banks whose greed and recklessness caused the crash-I do not think that anyone doubts that-should be let off virtually scot-free. They are not subject to a levy to pay back all the bail-out moneys, nor have they been made to restore bank lending to small businesses and homeowners to pre-2007 levels, which was the ostensible reason for the bail-outs in the first place.

The really big question is why so much emphasis has been put exclusively on public spending cuts, when there are alternative ways of cutting the deficit, which would be much fairer, as well as economically more productive. Those alternative mechanisms are economic growth and taxation. The Government's latest growth forecast for the next year is a modest 2%, although it is expected to rise slightly in future. However, even Sir Alan Budd, the new head of the Office for Budget Responsibility, has said that he expects growth in the next year to be at least 2%. On that basis, as Britain's gross domestic product is about £1.5 trillion, a minimum 2 per cent. growth over the next four years would increase the country's income by about £120 billion. If, as usual, Government tax revenues take 40 per cent. of that, the Government will have available an extra £50 billion over that period, without any cuts or increases in taxation.

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