"nothing happens unless you make it happen".
Although we have areas of significant deprivation, we are not deprived of ambition or community spirit. I have been fortunate over the past few years to work with many of the groups that make our corner of London special, such as the tenants' leaders who set up Phoenix Community Housing, the Friends and Users of Staplehurst Road Shops, and the volunteers at the Rushey Green Time Bank. I could go on. I love living in Lewisham, but I also know that a lot needs to change. During the election, I met mums and dads who were concerned about violent crime and gang culture, commuters fed up with being stuck in someone's armpit on overcrowded trains, and people who were concerned about jobs and housing and were worried about the changes they have seen in their community, but most of all I met people who were anxious about the economy, and I shall now turn to that subject.
My predecessor spoke in her maiden speech in 1992 about the scourge of youth unemployment. She called for quality training schemes and job guarantees for young people who were affected by the recession of the early 1990s. Sadly, 18 years down the line I am in a similar position as a result of the new Government's determination to slash public spending. Axing the future jobs fund beggars belief. In Lewisham, this scheme has
already created 133 jobs, with another 42 positions lined up. These are real people benefiting from real jobs, with real money going into their pockets, real experience of the workplace and real references being secured to help them get their next job. Civil servants in Westminster may tell Ministers that the scheme is not working, but I am not sure that my constituents would say the same.
Ensuring that the next generation have the right skills to access the jobs of the future is critical. Ensuring that the next generation want the jobs of the future, and believe they can get them, is equally important. It never ceases to amaze me that while Canary Wharf is only a 15-minute DLR ride from my constituency, for some kids growing up in Lewisham East it might as well be another world. How we bridge that gap is a big challenge. Excellent schools can expand the horizons of our youngsters, but I cannot help but think that mentoring schemes, such as those run by Urban Synergy in my constituency, may also have some of the answers. By providing accessible role models and giving an insight into different careers, they fire the imagination of the next generation.
If London is to improve its economic competitiveness, the underlying challenge is to tackle the huge inequalities between the haves and the have-nots. Investment in housing and social housing is very important. I look forward to hearing from the new Front-Bench team about its plans for the decent homes programme, and I hope I will soon be in a position to reassure my constituents that much-needed investment in Lewisham homes will be forthcoming.
For as long as I am the Member of Parliament for Lewisham East, I will campaign hard to secure the resources that my part of London deserves. I will fight to reduce the gap between rich and poor and I will work tirelessly to give a voice to those who are least often heard. A friend of mine recently told her three-year-old that my job was to keep everyone in south-east London happy. That is one of the most challenging job descriptions I have ever heard, but I have told her I will do my best.
Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): It is a great honour to be called to deliver my maiden speech. First of all, I want to give hearty thanks to David Wilshire who, amidst difficulties and press distortions, managed to keep up his work as a fine constituency MP. Very often, people would open the door to me and say, "Ah, so you're the new David Wilshire," and I would reply, "Well, sort of, but I want to continue his traditions of service and commitment to the constituency."
People always ask me, "Where is Spelthorne?" A friend of mine said he did not realise it was a constituency; instead he thought someone called David Spelthorne was the MP for Wilshire. It is, however, a well-known constituency, and Spelthorne is a very old name, too. It comes from an old English word of which we have a remnant in the word "spelling". It means speaking, and the "thorne" part of the word "Spelthorne'" referred to a thorn tree on Ashford common where people used to gather and speak. That is where the name comes from, and it also appears in the Domesday Book as the southern hundred of the old county of Middlesex.
Middlesex had a long and illustrious history, which my predecessor was very keen to stress-much to the
annoyance of my Surrey colleagues. Middlesex did have an existence, however, and it had a reputation in this House, because in the old days it had proper elections. Charles James Fox was elected, and thousands of people were involved, whereas in nearby rotten boroughs there might be only half a dozen people. Famously, John Wilkes was elected in Middlesex, and was a distinguished Member of this House. He was described as the "ugliest man in England" but, like many politicians, he was not afraid of boasting and celebrating his own talents and he said that he had such charm that he could "talk away his face" in "half an hour". Hon. Members can imagine my surprise at the fact that we were given only seven minutes to speak in the House today.
In the limited time available to me, I wish to make some points about the subject of today's debate. Spelthorne is a seat in the south-east that relies almost exclusively on infrastructure and economic expansion, and in that context self-starting business men are very important. A gentleman from Shepperton, in my constituency, who has been in the breakage business for 30 years said to me, "Kwasi, it is very difficult. I am getting strangled by red tape and bureaucracy." A Government quango, whose name I shall not mention, had been bombarding him with forms that he had to fill in, so he had been spending all his time filling in forms and none of his time attending to the business. My thought was that it was precisely those small business people who will drive us out of recession and into recovery.
I have to say-even though this is a maiden speech, I will be controversial-that to hear Labour Members in many of these debates is to be in never-never land; they have not once accepted any blame for what happened and they seem to think that we can just sail on as before. In many of their eloquent speeches it appears that they have forgotten that wealth creation is the most important element in getting us out of this recession. I heard the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher), who I believe has been in the House for 40 years, say that he was going to tax those in The Sunday Times rich list. Of course, one of the results of their being rich is that they can leave the country in about half an hour, so if he were to go down that route, a lot of them would leave and he would not bring in any more money to the Exchequer.
One of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks reminded me of the story of the man who, when leaving a gentlemen's club-it might have been the Carlton Club-in 1970 gave the footman sixpence. The footman looked at him and said, "That is only sixpence," to which he replied, "Ah, it is sixpence to you, but it is a pound to me." That was because income tax was at 95% or 97%. We cannot go down the road that the right hon. Gentleman suggests, and the Conservatives have stressed again and again that the only way to get out of this difficulty is to try to let business grow.
I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) refer to the Scottish enlightenment. He will recall that one of its most prominent figures was Adam Smith, rather than the previous Prime Minister, who did not take an enlightened Scottish approach. Adam Smith made it very clear in "The Wealth of Nations", a book that many hon. Members will know, how societies grow rich and how they can become very poor. I am sorry to say that the past 13 years have been an exercise that Adam Smith and the university of
Edinburgh would probably have awarded a flat D grade for performance-although perhaps he would have awarded a B grade for effort, who knows?
I am pleased at this juncture to refer to the compelling speech made by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), in which she mentioned George Stephenson. There was some controversy as to whether he came from Newcastle upon Tyne Central or from Chesterfield, but I shall not comment on that as that is a matter for Labour Members. What she did say was that he made a fortune through industry, enterprise and innovation, and those are exactly the kind of things that this coalition Government will look to promote in the months and years ahead.
To sum up, I should say that the truest words said in this debate were uttered by someone making a maiden speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), who said that the private sector is the "backbone of our economy". In my few weeks in the House, I have not heard any truer words uttered in it. That is something that we have to be absolutely focused on, in terms of getting out of the recession. I hate to say this, but I find it staggering that Labour Members have not had the good grace to come to the House to apologise and to show some recognition of the very real problems that we face and the solutions that we need to get out of this situation. I thank the House for giving me such a good and warm reception for my maiden speech.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make what I understand will be the final maiden speech of the day. I congratulate all those who have gone before me. There have been some excellent speeches and some fascinating stories. I am pleased to welcome so many women to the House, alongside myself, because it is extremely important to have them here. New Members learn a lot when they come to this place, such as learning to sit for several hours to make their maiden speech. Another slightly bizarre tradition is that of jumping up and down, which I have decided must be to keep us fit in what would otherwise be a very sedentary day.
My predecessor, Gavin Strang, was the MP for Edinburgh East for 40 years. I know that many Members will join me in paying tribute to his service to the House, his constituents and the country. He served in government under Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan and Tony Blair, and it is not just the length of his service that stands out. He is a man of principle and conviction, so much so that in his maiden speech in 1970 he eschewed the tradition of paying tribute to his predecessor and his constituency and launched into an attack on the Government of the day about selling weapons to apartheid-era South Africa. Gavin did not mellow with age. In recent years, he spoke against the Iraq war and the replacement of Trident. He won the respect of his colleagues and constituents by resisting the temptation to become a knee-jerk rebel, and that made his arguments all the stronger. I fear that it will be difficult for me to achieve Gavin's length of service in this place, unless there are some advances in medicine, in relation to ageing, in the next 40 years, but I aspire to emulate his principled approach.
Edinburgh is a beautiful city, and I have the honour and privilege of representing many of its gems. Right at
the heart of the constituency is Holyrood park with our very own volcano, Arthur's Seat, but I assure any Transport Ministers present that it is safely extinct. On the coast lies Portobello beach, which featured recently in The Guardian supplement Travel as one of Europe's best urban beaches. I should also mention Easter Road, the home of Hibernian football club, one of Edinburgh's two Scottish premier league teams, but perhaps I should declare an interest as my husband is a season ticket holder. Other sporting venues include Scotland's only swimming pool capable of hosting diving competitions, which is currently being refurbished for use in the 2014 Commonwealth games in Scotland.
In Edinburgh's historic centre lies the royal mile, which has an abbey and a palace at its foot and Edinburgh castle at its head. Less well known is my constituency's second castle, Craigmillar, which is reckoned much the superior by most children because they can run about and have so much fun in it. Edinburgh East also plays host to many Edinburgh festival venues. Places such as the Pleasance courtyard may be known to many here, as it seems to become an outpost of London for the month of August.
Appropriately for someone who is a lawyer, my patch includes all three levels of Edinburgh's law courts, as well as Edinburgh university, which is one of the oldest universities not just in Scotland but in the UK. Neither is the constituency short of politicians as it houses both the city council buildings and the Scottish Parliament. Carrying out our 1997 manifesto commitment to establish a Scottish Parliament is something of which Labour can be proud.
East Edinburgh is not just a place of history and tourist attractions, but is home to many people who work hard in minimum wage jobs, or who have retired on little more than the basic state pension. In previous economic recessions, with the decline in the area's traditional industries such as brewing and brick making, too many people became unemployed and sidelined on to incapacity benefit.
I supported the previous Government's attempts to prevent people from being condemned to such low-income existences and to help them advance out of them. However, as I was knocking on doors in the last year, I became aware of the gulf that can exist between the theory of a policy initiative and its implementation. When it comes down to real people, things are rarely straightforward. One woman in her 50s, suffering from cancer and still receiving treatment, had been declared fit for work. She was far from being a long-term claimant-as she said herself, she had worked all her life and it felt like a slap in the face to be treated in that way.
We also have to be aware that there are people whose conditions fluctuate. They can be very well one day but hardly able to get out of bed the next. That is the story of one of my constituents: she had ME-myalgic encephalomyelitis-but she too was declared fit for work.
The introduction of the new employment and support allowance was expected to lead to around 50% of applicants being deemed unfit for work. In practice, only 32% have been so assessed and thus in need of support. Either there has been a great improvement in health, or there is something very wrong with the assessment process. The
fact that so many appeals succeed suggests that there is something wrong. I regret to say that all that was happening on my party's watch. In my campaign, I said that this would be one of the issues I would take up, regardless of who formed the Government. I believe that it is one of the primary roles of an elected Member to monitor where policy is not quite working out as we might hope.
It is worrying to have heard that the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions wishes to accelerate the roll-out of the employment and support allowance, despite one of its architects admitting that the pilot has severe problems. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will temper his zeal with mercy.
My politics was formed and forged by my father, and I am particularly proud to represent the area in which he was born and brought up. In conclusion, I want to thank all the voters of Edinburgh East for giving me the opportunity to represent them in this place.
Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like congratulate all those who have made their maiden speeches, especially my good Friends the hon. Members for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) and for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng).
Mr Deputy Speaker, I would love to be able to tell the House that generations of Zahawis have lived and worked in Stratford for hundreds of years, but I suspect you just might spot that I would be stretching the truth a little. What I can tell the House is that I have had the most incredibly warm welcome from all the thousands of people I met through the campaign, and that Stratfordians are truly special people-a rightly proud people. It was humbling for me to achieve 51% of the vote in an eight-horse race, and I will never forget who put me in this place.
My predecessor was a first-class Member of Parliament and I am not surprised that he has been elevated to the other place. I did not know him well, as I have spent the past 11 years concentrating on building up a business rather than around the candidates department, but I very quickly learned that there is an enormous amount of affection and huge respect for him among the people of my constituency. Coupled with that achievement is his hard work for his country and his party. He held the posts of shadow Health, Defence and Foreign Secretaries, and he was also deputy chairman of the party twice. I am thrilled that he has chosen to be known as the Lord Maples of Stratford-upon-Avon.
My constituency covers some 465 square miles. It contains some of England's most attractive market towns and some 120 stunning villages, ranging from Long Compton in the south to Earlswood in the north. Stratford town itself awaits the re-opening of the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre in November; under the great leadership of Vicky Hayward, it is undergoing a £112 million makeover that will deliver a whole new experience for those coming to see the works of the great bard. My wife Lana and I were honoured to be part of the procession for his 446th birthday celebrations in April, when we walked from his birthplace in Henley street to his place of rest at Holy Trinity church.
My constituency is not without its problems, some very local and others inflicted on it by the policies of the
previous Government. The town of Stratford is suffering from overdevelopment, and the top-down targets set by central Government have clearly done a lot of damage. All our towns have problems with antisocial behaviour and thuggery, which stem from a combination of the 24-hour drinking laws and a police force who are hampered by bureaucracy. The farmers are suffering too, with too much red tape, the single farm payments being delayed for months, and the problem with badgers, which I highlighted in the House last week. I will continue my predecessor's campaign for better flood defences and to save our fire stations in Alcester, Bidford and Studley.
The biggest problem in Stratford-on-Avon is the economy. We have too many closed shops and too many burdens on business. We need to help small and medium-sized businesses to do better and get back on their feet. They, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has identified, are the future and the solution to our economic woes. I am very pleased to have seen my right hon. Friend make the Government's first ministerial visit to China and play such a central role at the G20 in South Korea. I am pleased to see in the Gracious Speech special emphasis on balancing the books, getting rid of the tax on jobs and giving a one-year national insurance holiday to start-ups. I strongly believe that that will be a catalyst to kick-start the enterprise economy.
I now utter my only word of caution. I am someone with first-hand experience of a start-up. We must be careful what we do on capital gains tax. Of course I understand the need to raise some taxes and to help to create a fairer tax system. It must be right to relieve the lowest earners of the tax burden. I would go as far as labelling it a moral tax cut. However, it is important to remember the job creators, those who back them and those who join them and work for them. It would be counter-productive to penalise people who invest in start-ups-in itself a high-risk thing-by increasing CGT on their investment. It would also be wrong to penalise employees who join a risky start-up from possibly a safer occupation and, of course, to penalise entrepreneurs themselves.
In the Gracious Speech there was a strong focus on freedom, fairness and responsibility. It would be unfair and wrong to penalise people who have acted and saved responsibly with a further tax at a time when we are introducing incentives to act responsibly in marriage and partnership. Penalising responsible investment would send a contradictory and unhealthy message to the country.
No maiden speech from the Member for Stratford-on-Avon would be complete without a quote from our country's greatest poet and playwright. I thought long and hard about which of his works would be most appropriate, and I settled on the Scottish play, that great tale of human ambition, conspiracy and tragedy. It is from the witches scene in act I, which must surely be read as a warning to the three largest parties in this House:
"When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
When the hurly-burly's done,
When the battle's lost and won.
That will be ere the set of sun."
Our country faces a dark economic storm, and the people will be watching us and how we behave in this House. Let us not be tempted by self-interest or party interest but let us instead put our country first.