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8 Jun 2010 : Column 284
9.34 pm

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches this evening and have given us thoughtful, elegant and eloquent speeches. We have toured the nation-the hills, the valleys, the coasts and the cities. They have been wise speeches. Given the number of people who have paid tribute to their local newspapers as well as to their constituents, remind me to mention the Pontefract and Castleford Express rather more often.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) began the maiden speeches and was typically modest in not mentioning the impact of the work that she did on child poverty before she was elected. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) gave us an eloquent speech, in which he confessed to having been a banker in a previous life-a brave thing to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) told us about Nye Bevan's warning of collusion between Liberal Democrats and Tories-a rare example of a Nye Bevan understatement, I fear.

The hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) talked about her commitment to new jobs in her constituency. The hon. Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) laid claim to having one of the most beautiful constituencies in the country; I suspect he may be right. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) invited us all to go quad biking in his constituency, and the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) also talked about tourism in his constituency and paid a lovely tribute to Betty Williams, which we would all support. The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) paid a gracious tribute to the changes on lesbian and gay equalities that have taken place in the last few Parliaments. The hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) talked about the importance of investment in jobs in Northern Ireland-so too did the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long)-and the importance of economic development as part of the peace process.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) talked about support for manufacturing. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) raised the subject of energy efficiency and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) drew on her experience and talent as a Bank of England economist to warn powerfully of the risks of a contractionary Japanese experience. The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) talked about social housing. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) paid tribute to the visionaries and social campaigners rooted in London's east end and showed she would be a strong MP in the same tradition.

The hon. Members for Worcester (Mr Walker) and for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) both paid respectful tributes to their fathers, who were both their predecessors, although I must say I thought that Hyacinth Bucket was in "Keeping up Appearances", not "One Foot in the Grave". But we also had scenes from "Gavin and Stacey" from the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), who spoke about the importance of the economy to his constituency. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) told us he was a skydiver and began to dissect global capitalism.

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I missed the speech by the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), but my mum and dad live in his constituency, so I hope he will look after them well. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) shared her concern about long-term unemployment in Birmingham. I cannot quite read my handwriting, but I think it must say that the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) talked about farming-seeing as it is Norfolk. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) talked about the importance of engineering, seeing as it is Stockton North.

We spent quite a lot of time in Edinburgh today. In the course of the day we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), who gave us a funny and witty speech just as we were starting to get tired for the evening; my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), who talked about the festival in her constituency; and the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart), who talked about the zoo in his constituency-very appropriate, now that he has joined us in this place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) talked about defending England against the Scots, and the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) managed to amuse us while pretending not to be amusing at all-in which I detect an echo of his brother, perhaps, after all.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) talked about the importance of local communities. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) gave us a Shakespearean tour, and I think signed up to being the first of the rebels among the new Members on his side. The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) told us a lovely story about his constituency's Domesday roots and my hon. Friends the Members for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) and for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) both talked about the importance of not axing the future jobs fund. I was going to pay tribute to the parents of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East, who sat through the entire debate but decided to leave before the closing speeches began-perhaps wisely.

I congratulate the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), on his appointment. I know it is an appointment that he will relish, because he has a genuine interest in issues concerning poverty and families suffering from deprivation. I welcome too his Front-Bench colleagues, although I think they will be having an interesting time.

The Secretary of State said in his speech last week that he wanted clear and evidence-based policies, but he has in charge of employment statistics the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the man who said that crime was going up when in fact it was going down and was roundly rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority, the police and even the London Mayor for his lack of factual accuracy; so we look forward to those economic statistics debates.

The Secretary of State has also said that he wants to cut poverty, but as part of his team he has the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), whom I very much respect. He told the House last year that

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He also said:

He has also stated:

We thought that the hon. Gentleman might have a few tensions with the Treasury about his plans, but it seems that the real fractious relationships are within his own team. If the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are the happy couple in the rose garden, it seems that the Secretary of State has finally been granted his wish of being put in charge of dealing with dysfunctional families who are at risk of breakdown.

The Secretary of State has high ambitions. We will support him where we can. We will, of course, support measures to restore the pensions link with earnings. We will not support ripping up the rest of the Turner consensus, putting future pensions for low and middle-income earners at risk. We will support the Secretary of State where he brings forward genuine proposals that help to reduce poverty and disadvantage, but we will not support plans to water down the child poverty target and we would be extremely concerned by proposals to freeze all benefits below inflation.

The Secretary of State did some serious work on policy options at the Centre for Social Justice-on benefit reform and on measures to help to ensure that people are better off in work. We will look very sympathetically at those and we are interested in the proposals that he made when he was in opposition, but his case would be considerably stronger if he accepted that hundreds of thousands of families throughout the country are thousands of pounds a year better off as a result of the minimum wage and the tax credits that he and his party strongly opposed.

I hope, too, that the Government will continue the implementation of the reforms to sickness benefits and to lone parent benefits that we introduced and were starting to roll out. Those reforms and the investment in support to help the unemployed have already cut the number of people on inactive benefits by more than 350,000 since 1997. The combination of extra investment and support alongside benefit reforms and stronger requirements to take up that help have made a big difference. It is unfortunate that both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats voted against some of our stronger requirements on benefit claimants in the previous Parliament.

I hope that the Secretary of State will recognise the good work that Jobcentre Plus did to respond to the recession. As a result of the extra investment and the hard work of those staff, the claimant count peaked at 5% in this recession, compared with 10% in the 1990s recession and in the 1980s recession. That was possible only because of the extra investment in jobs alongside the tougher conditions on benefits. That is why it is so shocking that his first priority is to cut the future jobs fund. That is up to 80,000 youth jobs gone when the
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Chancellor himself has said that youth unemployment is still too high. I have to ask Government Front Benchers: did they talk to a single young person on the future jobs fund before cutting those jobs? Did they talk to a single voluntary sector provider before they cut the funding used to get people into work? Before the election, they told a very different story. The Prime Minister visited Merseystride, a social enterprise helping the long-term unemployed, during the election. He said to them that the future jobs fund was "a good scheme". I hope that he will remember that visit. Then he said:

What did the then shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, who is not in her place, say at that time? She said:

As for the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate, he said on behalf of the Liberal Democrats:

So there we have it-a breaking of Tory and Liberal election promises. There has been no evidence, and no consultation with the voluntary sector. So much for the big society; this is, in fact, just a big sham. There has been no consultation with young people, and no listening to the thousands of young people who are getting their first chance because of the future jobs fund. These are cuts in help for young people. The Government just don't get it: if they cut help and support for jobs for young people right now, it will cost all of us more for decades to come. Once again, they will be making the mistakes of the '80s and '90s, when they abandoned young people to long-term unemployment. That is not getting people off welfare into work; it is leaving them abandoned on welfare for decades, and we will not support it.

9.45 pm

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): It has been a really interesting debate, and I thank the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) for her kind comments welcoming me back to the Dispatch Box. Her husband is probably away doing whatever one does when one is standing to be Leader of the Opposition. Let me say this to her so that she can quietly say it to him: it is not all that it is cracked up to be. She might whisper that in his ear and hope that he does not get the nominations.

We have had an excellent debate; the right hon. Lady is correct about that. As for all those who made maiden speeches, the degree to which they consider it a real honour to have been elected is a great reminder to all of us who have, over time, become a bit more cynical about the speeches that we make in this place. Almost every one of those speeches reminded me-and, I know, pretty much everyone else in the House-of that fact.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) confessed to being a banker, as the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford said. That is a pretty brave thing to do in this House at the moment. He paid a moving tribute to the two
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soldiers from his constituency who died. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) said that she was happy to be here, and I am happy about that, too, but she replaced a good friend of mine from the other side of the House, Andy Reed, with whom I used to play football. I am rather sorry to see him go-he was a very good MP-but not that sorry, and I am pleased to see my hon. Friend here.

The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford is right to say that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) comes to this House with a strong record on the subjects that we are considering. I look forward to hearing her speak informatively, and to her bringing her great knowledge to debates. Most of us will consider her a real asset to this House.

The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) said that he stood on the shoulders of giants, and I must say that they do not come any bigger than the two to whom he referred-Nye Bevan and Michael Foot, probably two of the greatest orators to have sat in this place-so he has huge shoes to fill. He spoke about benefit dependency, a huge issue, and one to which I shall refer in a second; it is at a ridiculous level.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) challenged anyone in this House to match his constituency for natural beauty. I can with Chingford. We do not have a lot of countryside, but we have a lot of people who work very hard-and who pretty well tell their MP that MPs do not.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about high unemployment in Northern Ireland; it is, of course, staggeringly high there-higher than in most other places. We know that there is a historical issue there, but there is also much more that we have to do about it. I hope that he will play a full part in that when the time comes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), who spoke very well, talked about his constituency. He said that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House told him, when he arrived here, not to get too used to this place because his constituency would soon be abolished. That threat has been given to all of us throughout the years; it is either our constituency or we who should be abolished. One way or another, one can fit oneself around that. In my case, it was more me than the constituency that was to be abolished.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) spoke about her direct predecessor, George Galloway, who stirs emotions on both sides of the House-not necessarily very constructive ones among Labour Members. Her predecessor but one, Oona King, was highly respected on both sides of the House. If she was in another party, I would wish her the best of luck with any chance that she has to be Mayor, but in the meantime, she will be a great adornment to the campaign.

May I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), who mentioned his father, that those are a big pair of shoes to fill? I knew the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) incredibly well. Jim Pawsey was well regarded by Conservative Members and well liked, so my hon. Friend will have a big act to follow, as his father was always direct in telling people what he thought, regardless of whether it cost him a job: it did. The hon. Member for Labour-rather,
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the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves); I apologise, I did not quite hear some of the speeches, and I did not write all these notes. However, I gather that she made an extremely good speech, and spoke about her predecessor, John Battle, who was well liked in the House. She also quoted the Japanese advice to lead, and not to reduce borrowing quickly. I am an eighth Japanese, and the Japanese are not always right about everything.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) praised his predecessor, Patrick Cormack- [ Interruption. ] Yes. Many of us remember him fondly. The one thing that we do remember about him is his incredible ability to speak about this place in 17th-century terminology as "Parliament assembled". He will be much missed, and I hope that my hon. Friend fills his shoes very well indeed. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), who is a member of Plaid Cymru, spoke about fuel poverty-something to which we shall definitely return-and benefit complexity. I welcome him to the House if he shows interest in those subjects.

The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) spoke about being got rid of as a result of a boundary review affecting his constituency. Again, I suggest that he fight that if he can: he may be here longer than he thinks. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) spoke very well, and referred to "Gavin and Stacey". I am not quite sure what the connection is, except that Gavin came from Essex-near Chingford-and Stacey came from Wales, which shows that on this side of the House, we can unite the party yet again. It is a fairly tenuous link, I grant.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) has very big shoes to fill. Clare Short ended her parliamentary career in some measure of dispute with her party, but I can hardly think of anyone who has left the House, whether in government or opposition who was more well respected- [ Interruption. ] Well, she spoke passionately, but people did not always agree with her. However, if someone's fault is that they are passionate in the House, it is a fault with which everyone will agree.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) spoke well about his support for preventing poverty. The hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) was keen on the poverty agenda, and spoke about living in the same house as St Patrick. Any attempt to be deified in the House will end in tears. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) spoke about the importance of skills, in another very good speech. The hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) spoke about credit unions and loan sharks. I am with him on that: we need to do a lot more to try to break the stranglehold of doorstep lenders and, more particularly, of the very bad elements among loan sharks. I am very strong on seeing what we can do about credit unions.

May I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) that his seat is a Conservative gain, although it was Conservative before? His predecessor remains a friend of mine. It was always difficult to know quite where Quentin was going to be standing at any one time.

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