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8 Jun 2010 : Column 246

I am also delighted that the new Secretary of State had his road-to-Damascus moment on the road to Easterhouse in Glasgow. I know the area well as I grew up there and my father represented it as a councillor during some of the worst periods of the Thatcher era, when a large community that was essentially made up of aspirational working-class people found itself in an economic desert. It was a period in which intergenerational unemployment and the poverty that the Secretary of State saw took root, and the aspirations of individuals and communities alike were crushed by the lack of jobs. There are similar examples to that in my constituency, where the mining industry was destroyed. Frankly, these communities started on the road to recovery only as a result of the massive investment in economic renewal by Labour Governments in both Westminster and Holyrood.

The absence of any detail in the Secretary of State's programme so far-apart from the loss of the future jobs fund, which has already been dealt with by others-means that I could refer only to the coalition programme for government to see if any further light could be shed on the new approach. We should have some sort of cross-House consensus on how we move forward on welfare reform. Indeed, one of the new Ministers has strongly promoted a consensual approach, and I will be interested to learn whether he sees that consensus being continued now that he sits on the Government Benches.

The coalition wants to have a single work programme, and I think there is some room for rationalisation, subject to the demands, which have changed over a matter of years. I am not yet convinced, however, that a single work programme is necessarily the way forward. We have also heard much from the coalition about "decentralisation" of decisions and "individualisation" of provision. How will a leviathan single work programme respond to the specific needs of individual unemployed people? How will such a programme respond to someone who has a fluctuating mental health condition or a physical disability, or who is a carer or a recently unemployed bank worker? Some may require minimum support for a short time between jobs, but others will require a significant amount of longer-term help. There is no detail of how the initial assessment for support will be made. I assume that the programme will be cash-limited in spite of the Secretary of State's ambitions, so how will the initial financial decisions about who needs more support and who needs less be made? Will Jobcentre Plus continue to have a significant role to play in this, or will people have to refer themselves to some other local or national organisation? If someone is disabled and needs additional help, will they have to compete with others on the programme?

Where does the access to work programme, which daily supports thousands of disabled workers in employment, fit into the new uniform approach? I know that the coalition has said it will reform access to work and I welcome that, but will the coalition Government commit themselves to doubling the access to work programme as the previous Government did, or will this just be rolled into a single approach that is not ring-fenced and that becomes a victim of cuts? On realigning contracts, will that be 100% output-based? In short, how is the whole thing going to work?

Perhaps the Secretary of State can provide answers to questions on his own sanctions policy. What will the level of sanctions be? Who will enforce them? What will
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happen to children if benefits are taken away from their parents? Where are the safeguards? Will people be forced to take any job, or will there be flexibility within the programme? Will the unemployed people in my constituency be taken off benefit if there are no jobs, or no valid opportunities?

May I briefly comment on the "work doesn't pay" issue, which the Secretary of State repeatedly mentions? I understand and appreciate his sentiments. The coalition document says that it supports the national minimum wage, but I have to ask this question: in terms of the "work doesn't pay" issue, is the Secretary of State proposing to increase individuals' incomes through a mixture of benefits, credits and earnings or, as many of my hon. Friends and constituents fear, to go back to the old tried and tested Tory solution of salami-slicing benefits?

The two Ministers currently sitting on the Government Front Bench-the Exchequer Secretary and the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb)-can smile knowingly to each other if they want to. However, given the history of welfare reform, which causes a shudder through many communities, certainly in Scotland but also in many other parts of the country, these are serious questions and the coalition must answer them before its welfare reform programme will have any credibility among Opposition Members.

7.20 pm

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): It is a privilege to have the opportunity to make my maiden speech in the debate in response to the Gracious Speech, and it is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire). I congratulate the Ministers on their appointments and look forward to supporting them in tackling their challenges between now and the next general election.

I wish to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor as MP for the Vale of Glamorgan, John Smith. His campaigning efforts, which were primarily on tackling deep vein thrombosis and latterly in favour of the defence technical college proposed for St Athan, were recognised by those on both sides of the House. I strongly support his approach on both issues, and he is very much respected in the constituency. I also recognise the contribution of the previous Conservative Member for the constituency, Walter Sweeney, who will be remembered for, among many things, having the smallest majority in the House of Commons following the 1992 general election-it was a majority of 19. Thankfully, I am not in that position, but I do not take any vote for granted and I aim to keep my majority somewhat larger than that.

I also take pleasure in referring to the late Sir Raymond Gower, whom many senior hon. Members will recall with great fondness. He served the Vale of Glamorgan's constituents from 1951 until his untimely death in 1989. His reputation for responding to and serving constituents is still recalled affectionately in the constituency, and his prolific letter writing to and on behalf of constituents came long before modern technology made such communication relatively straightforward. His efforts were extraordinary. I hope to be able to follow the principles of Sir Raymond's approach to constituency work with passion and conviction, and to stand up, here
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in the Chamber, for equality of opportunity irrespective of background. It is ironic that Sir Raymond Gower's maiden speech was about devolution to Wales and his call for greater "home rule", as it was referred to then, because a commitment to such a referendum has been made by this Government.

It really is a privilege to represent the Vale of Glamorgan, my home constituency. It contains rich farmland, three main towns, numerous villages and hamlets, and a magical coastline. It has a fantastic history and I am confident that, with the Government's support, it has a great future. It contains areas of prosperity and pockets of deprivation. I am confident that the policies announced in the Gracious Speech will go a long way to help overcome the deprivation, to meet the need for regeneration and to help to protect the fantastic environment.

The constituency's three prime towns are Cowbridge, Llantwit Major and Barry. The Romans built a small fort in Cowbridge in the 1st century. In 1254, Sir Richard de Clare, the Lord of Glamorgan, granted the town its first charter and in 1886 Cowbridge was the last recipient of a royal charter given by Queen Victoria. David Lloyd George and Iolo Morganwg have strong links to the town, which was the birthplace of Sir Leoline Jenkins, who was the principal of Jesus college, Oxford. He endowed the town's grammar school and formed its long-standing association with Jesus college.

Llantwit Major came to prominence with the foundation of a monastery, which was established by St Illtud in the late 5th century. It became a seat of learning and religion, attracting royalty and St David himself. It is the nearest town to St Athan, with its significant RAF base which is the proposed site of the £13 billion defence technical college-I strongly support that policy.

Barry, too, has a great history. The name derives from St Baruc, who was drowned in the Bristol channel and buried on Barry island. The rapid expansion of the town dates back to 1884, when a group of colliery owners built a railway line and a dock, but interestingly the original Barry Dock and Railway Bill was defeated in Parliament in 1883. By 1913, Barry had become the largest coal-exporting port in the world, and the railway line also brought millions of tourists to Barry island to enjoy one of Wales's most spectacular beaches.

Latterly, the town has become well known because of an Essex boy and a Barry girl -Gavin and Stacey. Even a former right hon. Member of this House, John Prescott, has appeared in an episode with Nessa, Smithy and the other characters. Stacey and Uncle Bryn live on the steepest road in my constituency, and the Essex home in the programme is actually located in Dinas Powys, in my constituency. I apologise in advance, Mr Deputy Speaker, should I ever ask, "What's occurring?" or should I thank you by saying, "Tidy". The new interest in the town, combined with the regeneration efforts of the local authority, mean that Barry has an exciting future ahead of it.

Although the Vale of Glamorgan's gross domestic product is at or slightly above the UK average, there are great differences between its communities. The overall headline masks the deprivation, which has its roots in the change from the former industries, and because the GDP of other parts of Wales is lower, areas of deprivation in my constituency are left wanting. I want to fight for equality of opportunity. I was contacted last week by a constituent who had been made unemployed and did
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not qualify for training support to enhance his prospects because he lived in the Vale of Glamorgan. Had he lived in the neighbouring authority area, he would have been eligible for projects that receive European aid.

I wish to conclude my remarks by returning to the issue of the proposed defence technical college, which is the largest private finance initiative scheme. I recognise that the strategic defence review needs to take place and that the Government also face financial challenges, but this project would use money that is already committed and is already being spent by the Ministry of Defence, and it would spend it more efficiently and effectively. We owe this to our armed forces; it is important to Wales and the Welsh economy, but it is most important for our brave men and women who serve in our armed forces, because it will give them the world-class training that they most desperately need and deserve.

7.26 pm

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my first contribution in the House, especially as today's debate has particular resonance for me and my constituency. I shall talk about that shortly, but before doing so I must congratulate all hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today, because they were all excellent and are a hard act to follow. In particular, I am delighted to follow the maiden speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) who, like me, is one of the first Muslim women to be elected to this House. As we are joined in that achievement by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), I can only remark that Muslim women in the Commons are rather like buses: there are none for ages and then three come along at once.

My predecessor, Clare Short, was very well known for being unafraid to speak her mind. When making her maiden speech in 1983, Clare said:

That was a sign of things to come, but it was also indicative of her honesty. Clare had a distinguished career as a Labour MP but following differences over the Iraq war she ultimately resigned the Labour Whip in October 2006, choosing to sit as an independent MP. She was not the first Labour MP from Birmingham, Ladywood to have disagreed with the Labour party over policy, because our predecessor, Victor Yates, who held the seat from 1945 to 1969, had the Whip withdrawn from him twice. That meant that he, too, sat as an independent in this House for a period of time. This is not a Ladywood tradition that I hope to continue, but I will strive to emulate the passion and fearlessness of my predecessors in standing up for the people of my constituency. In every part of Ladywood, Clare is remembered with pride, warmth and gratitude for her hard work, and that is the best and most fitting tribute that I can give to this most outspoken of MPs.

I am a Brummie born and bred, so the fact that I now represent a constituency that is the heart of Birmingham is a source of great honour and it is a privilege. My
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constituency consists of four extremely diverse and different wards: Aston, Ladywood, Nechells, and Soho. Between them, they are home to the Grade I-listed Aston hall, the historic Jewellery quarter, the Star City entertainment complex and the Grade II-listed Soho house, home of the manufacturer Matthew Boulton. I am also lucky to have both Aston Villa and Birmingham City football clubs in my constituency, but as both are in the premier league I will have to learn new skills of football diplomacy when the two sides play each other.

Birmingham, Ladywood is one of the most multicultural areas in the country. More than 50% of our population is non-white and we have a proud multicultural tradition. I have been privileged to meet many people from all race and faith backgrounds during my time as a candidate and now as a Member of Parliament. Each such meeting has reiterated to me that while the people of my constituency might have come from different places, the destination they seek is the same-a place of greater opportunity and the same chance as everyone else to succeed.

That brings me to why it is so important to me to begin my parliamentary career by speaking in this debate and focusing on the labour market. My constituency has the devastating and unwanted distinction of having the highest rate of unemployment in the country. Our figures for unemployment have been too high for many decades. In researching my maiden speech, I noted with dismay that unemployment was a theme in the maiden speeches of many of my recent predecessors. My constituency is particularly blighted by long-term intergenerational worklessness, which is the legacy of previous recessions which devastated my constituency so much that it has never really recovered. I was pleased, therefore, when the Labour Government announced in December 2007 that £1.5 billion would be provided through the working neighbourhoods fund specifically to tackle the problem of long-term worklessness, and allocated more than £100 million of that money to Birmingham.

I wish that action had been taken earlier in our term in office. However, I have real concerns about the effectiveness of the working neighbourhoods fund in Birmingham, where the partnership tasked with delivering the fund is controlled by Birmingham city council, which has been run by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in coalition since 2004. To date, the fund has not been adequately used for the express purpose for which it was created by the Labour Government-to help to reduce unemployment in Birmingham's most deprived communities such as my own. Two facts are evidence of that. First, mid-way through the three-year programme, of the £30 million that had been spent, only £2.5 million had actually been spent on projects to tackle worklessness. Secondly, and just as controversially, £14 million of working neighbourhoods fund money was diverted to help to bail out the Tory-Lib Dem council's budget overspend on social services. I believe that cash for jobs should be spent on jobs, and I hope that what is left of that money is spent in the way intended by the Labour Government-to support the long-term unemployed in areas such as mine in getting the skills and confidence that they need in order to get and retain a job so that they can transform their lives.

I wish to make a related point on youth unemployment. In 1983, Clare Short warned that school leavers in Ladywood in the 1980s faced unemployment not only in
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ever greater numbers, but for ever greater periods of time. In 2010, I find myself warning that the children of that generation might be in the same boat, because of the new Government's plans to cut the future jobs fund. That fund created 200,000 jobs and arose from our guarantee of a job, or training or a work placement, for anyone who was under 25 and out of work for six months. I am disappointed that the new Government are getting rid of the fund. Once again, a Conservative Government-this time helped by the Liberal Democrats-are walking away from the young unemployed in our country. I implore them to change course. When we damage our young people, we damage us all, because they are our future. If the Government walk away from them and break their hearts and spirits, they truly will create a broken Britain.

I conclude on a personal note and with a pledge to the people of Birmingham, Ladywood. My grandfather came to this country from Pakistan in the 1960s. He worked long hours on a low wage and made sacrifices so that his family could access greater opportunity. He died when I was six years old and did not live to enjoy the fruits of his labour. He could not have known that his decisions and his hard work would one day lead to his granddaughter being elected to this House. I pay tribute to him and to the successes of the Labour party and the Labour Government, who created the opportunities that made my family's journey and that of so many ordinary hard-working families possible. I believe that opportunity and the chance to fulfil one's aspirations is the birthright of every one of our citizens, and I pledge to the people of Birmingham, Ladywood that I will devote myself to eradicating the misery, hopelessness and sheer waste of long-term unemployment so that my constituents can have what they deserve-the same chance to succeed in life as everyone else. For however long I am their Member of Parliament, I will never settle for anything less. I thank the House for listening.

7.34 pm

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): Thank you for allowing me to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is an enormous privilege to address the House for the first time. The trepidation that I had already has been greatly enhanced by having to follow so many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members.

I begin by expressing my appreciation for my predecessor, the right hon. Michael Mates. On his election in 1974, as MP for the then Petersfield constituency, he was about the age that I am now, but he had already served Queen and country for 20 years in the Army. He went on to serve in the House for a further 36 years. His well deserved reputation as a champion of the people of East Hampshire and his service as a Minister of the Crown and as a Select Committee Chairman cast a very long shadow, in the penumbra of which I stand rather hesitantly today. If ever, in this House, I can be half as good as he was, I shall be not half bad.

I very much hope to emulate Michael Mates's long and close relationship with the people of East Hampshire, and there are many people whom I have the privilege to represent now who have been transported into my constituency, courtesy of the Boundary Commission, having taken no decision of their own to do so. They have been served well by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot).
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The House will be familiar with his exemplary service and so I shall not affront his modesty now. Suffice it to say that I aim to ensure that the residents of Bordon, Liphook, Grayshott, Selborne, Headley and Headley Down will not be found gazing wistfully across the constituency boundary. I shall do my best to serve them as well as they have rightly come to expect.

The constituency of East Hampshire is England at its very best, with its varied and enchanting landscape, historic market towns and many beautiful villages. One such village is Chawton, where Jane Austen found such inspiration and created most memorable characters and images that show our country at its most cherished. But that tranquillity has at times been rather violently disrupted. Should I ever require a reminder of the need to remain in harmony with my constituents, it is there in the bullet holes in the door of St Lawrence's church, close to our family home in Alton, for that was the site of the civil war battle of Alton. On that occasion, it took 5,000 parliamentarians to match up to the local men.

Today, East Hampshire is, I am pleased to say, once again a harmonious place, but challenges still exist. We need houses that local people can afford, but we need to resist the sort of overdevelopment that can spoil the character of an area. It is vital to provide jobs locally and to keep the micro-economies of our towns and villages vibrant for our local heart and soul. Looking forward, the opening of the Hindhead tunnel, the various options for the future of Bordon and the advent of the South Downs national park all present both new opportunities and new challenges.

In my constituency, particularly in Bordon, we are proud to be home to so many who serve in our armed forces. They are a constant credit to our nation and our commitment to them in this House must measure up to their commitment to serve our country. I welcome the Government's pledge to renew the military covenant and I look forward to seeing that as a priority in the business of the House.

After the defence of our country and our security, perhaps the biggest battle we face is ensuring that we further define and bolster Britain's place in the new world economy. As the new powerhouses of China, India, Russia and Brazil loom ever larger, we must rise to the challenge they set. Fundamental to that must be ensuring the very best education for every child to enable them all, regardless of background, to fulfil their potential. That is a theme that many hon. Members have touched on already. Striving for excellence is not just about bringing all up to scratch or setting the bar at an acceptable standard. It must be about encouraging all to stretch themselves, from wherever they start, to be all that they can. That should be true both for schools and for the students in their care. In education, as in industry, when people feel ownership, empowerment and responsibility, they are much more likely to go the extra mile and make a success of their venture-hence the great attraction of the academy model, even for schools that are already very successful.

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