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The most famous book written about Gloucester is Beatrix Potter's "The Tailor of Gloucester". Some Members will remember the sad moment when the tailor runs out of money and finds that there is "no more twist". In his case, he was bailed out by the mice, who in the dead of night brought both the cloth and the needles and finished his sewing for him, but today we cannot trust entirely to the benevolence of the mice in Gloucester to re-stimulate
our economy, and therefore I welcome the changes that I am sure this Government will make in order to bring about that re-stimulation.
So I promise the constituents of Gloucester, whom I am so proud to serve, that I will work ceaselessly, especially to help business growth that will provide job opportunities and generate tax revenues. To those ends, I intend to create a new all-party parliamentary group on urban regeneration-which links so many of these issues together-and I shall work with Members on both sides of the House to explore new ways of contributing to the solutions in that area. If we can successfully stimulate micro-regeneration on the streets, as well as macro-regeneration through projects and new investment, it will be possible for the people of Gloucester to take greater pride in our city and for hon. Members and people all round the country to see that, like our cathedral and our rugby club, our entire city belongs to the premier league.
Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): I am grateful to you for calling me to make my maiden speech today, Mr Deputy Speaker. I should like to congratulate the hon. Members for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on their excellent maiden speeches, and, especially, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) on his passionate and informative speech.
I believe that a Member of Parliament once described maiden speeches as lasting 10 minutes, beginning with a few nice words about the previous Member-often the most difficult part-followed by a description of the constituency and an indication of the Member's own parliamentary obsessions, and concluding with a passing reference to the subject at hand. I can assure hon. Members that I have no difficulty in paying tribute to my predecessor, Martyn Jones. I have known him for 24 years; indeed, I campaigned for him when he was first elected in 1987, in what was then the parliamentary constituency of Clwyd, South-West. Martyn was rightly proud of serving as Chair of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, and of all the painstaking and detailed work he did to ensure that money left lying in dormant bank accounts found its way to good causes. Many hon. Members who served alongside Martyn will recall his distinctive bow ties. Indeed, one of the first messages I received after my election came from a well-wisher who ended his note with the rather startling comment:
"Long may the tradition of bow tie-wearing Joneses representing Clwyd South continue."
Clwyd South is not one community but many, and that is something that we are very proud of. It has agriculture, industry, tourism-including a world heritage site at Pontcysyllte aqueduct-natural beauty, including the breathtaking Horseshoe pass, and a world-famous international music festival in the Llangollen international eisteddfod. It was also the home of Wales's first ever national Welsh language youth festival, the 1929 Urdd eisteddfod, at Corwen. It is the home of the great centre of the co-operative movement at Cefn, and of the site of the citadel of Welsh music, culture and non-conformity at Rhosllanerchrugog. We also have the historic base of a former iron and steelworks at Brymbo, which was where my father worked. Sadly, the steelworks itself
closed almost 20 years ago, with its blast furnace being shipped off to power the economic revival of China. My constituency also has a history of coal mining, including mines near Chirk, Bersham and Hafod.
There is a history of coal mining in my family, as there is in many families from my area. My paternal grandfather was killed in a major mining accident in Gresford in 1934. My maternal grandfather, also a coal miner, started work at the age of 12. A year or two later, my grandmother had left school and was caring for her parents and siblings. Because of childhood illness, my mother was not allowed to sit the 11-plus examination. She left school and went to work at 15, having to train in her own time to become a medical secretary. All those people, and many others like them from my home community, experienced a poverty of finance and of opportunity in one way or another. It was the kind of poverty that brought together ordinary people in communities across the United Kingdom to seek election to this House to change things for the good. Without such people, many of the opportunities that people of my generation have enjoyed would not have been possible.
That type of poverty-of finance and of opportunity-has been well documented, and rightly so. But there was another type of poverty in my home community that is less well known. It was the poverty of a child going into their local school and not merely being denied the opportunity to be taught in their own language, but in many cases being punished for speaking it. Indeed, in the 19th century, there was the common punishment of the "Welsh Not", a piece of wood worn around the necks of children who spoke Welsh, who would later be caned. It might shock hon. Members to learn that, even after the use of the "Welsh Not" ceased-indeed, as recently as the 1930s and 1940s-children in the communities that now make up Clwyd South and in many other parts of Wales were punished for speaking Welsh at school; and even after those barbaric practices ceased, there was a sharp decline in the use of the Welsh language. It took decades before its use was finally accepted as mainstream.
Today, I rejoice that I can swear my oath as a Member of Parliament in Welsh, but in doing so, I pay tribute to people such as my former head teacher, Mrs Mair Miles Thomas, who fought for the Welsh language at a time when it was not fashionable to do so. They were ordinary people in the mould of Mrs Rosa Parkes, and their commitment and dedication to civil rights deserve wider recognition.
I know that, for many Members, part of the art of a maiden speech is naming every single community in their constituency, but for Clwyd South that would not be possible, such is the profusion of villages and small towns spread over a vast terrain of 240 square miles. In today's debate, we have heard much about the protection of the rights of the few, and I have found much of that debate interesting and informative. When one considers the nature of constituencies such as Clwyd South, one is indeed considering the rights of the few. It is not difficult to understand why, over the years, local campaigners have spoken out against proposals drawn up in metropolitan areas, apparently with our best interests at heart, whether for the deregulation of the bus services in the 1980s, for a rural school, for a post office, or for a game plan drawn up by metropolitan policy wonks to "equalise" us all into communities of 70,000 people, regardless of
sparseness, terrain, or other local factors. Those of us who care about our rural communities will not be railroaded in that way.
That is why I also hope that those who have to make undoubtedly difficult decisions will not consider the rate of value added tax as a mere statistic to be increased at will. In many areas such as Clwyd South, where small businesses form the backbone of the local economy, the net result of high rates of VAT would be an intense struggle in many cases, and bankruptcy for the local builder, the plumber, and the small business person in others.
Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): May I add my congratulations on your recent election, Mr Deputy Speaker, and thank you for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech? It is a great honour to serve Finchley and Golders Green, and I have found the trust placed in me quite humbling as I walk around this building. I should also like to thank the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) for telling the House of the interesting and emotional journey that has led her here, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) for his passionate support for Birmingham and for the manufacturing industry that he seeks to recreate. I should also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for his evocative description of that fair city.
First of all, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor. Dr Rudi Vis was not of my party, but I do regard him as a friend of over 20 years. He served this House for 13 years before retiring a few weeks ago, but he sadly died less than a week ago. He will be a sad loss to public service. He was a diligent public servant, in this House and also in the London borough of Barnet, where we both served together. Sadly, he leaves a wife and teenage children, but I know that they can be proud of his record of public service. He served his community of Finchley as a local councillor, and represented the wider community of Finchley and Golders Green in this House.
I should like to comment on another of my predecessors. Those hon. Members in the Chamber a couple of days ago will have heard my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) claiming that his constituency gave the country the first king of England. I cannot claim that for Finchley and Golders Green, but perhaps I can claim that we gave the country the latter-day Boadicea-in one Margaret Hilda Thatcher. In my view, my noble Friend is the best peacetime Prime Minister that we have had. In this current economic climate, we could learn much from her resolve in addressing the economic crisis that she inherited. Then, unemployment and inflation were rising, and our public sector spending was out of control.
Perhaps the task ahead for our Government today is slightly greater, as Baroness Thatcher never managed to cut public spending. She was able only to slow its growth, yet we have laid out plans to cut public expenditure-something of a daunting task. Like her, however, I believe that we must return to sound money and good housekeeping, and to protecting our cherished
freedoms. Throughout her premiership, she remained an active and effective constituency MP, and I shall be fortunate if I achieve a fraction of what she achieved through my campaigns to improve breast cancer screening for local women, to promote infrastructure investments on the north circular road, and for the free schools programme, which are so wanted and deserved by my local population.
Finchley and Golders Green is no longer the suburban seat that Margaret Thatcher knew. It is now metropolitan London. We have huge pockets of wealth and pockets of deprivation. We have the Hampstead Garden suburb, the largest conservation area in Europe where houses can cost from £80 million downwards. Within miles, however, we come to pockets of deprivation on our estates that need regenerating. We also have Brent Cross Cricklewood, which is the largest regeneration scheme in the UK. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will soon give the green light to it.
We also have the finest schools in the country. Barnet council is a net importer of pupils from our neighbouring boroughs, which clamour to send their children to our local schools. If I may, I should like to mention one fine school: Christ's College, which produced my noble Friend Lord Sachs, the Chief Rabbi, and of course our own Mr Speaker Bercow.
Finchley and Golders Green is not known for manufacturing or farming, and neither does it have a fabulous cathedral about which I could wax lyrical. However, it does have the highest level of graduates in London and we rely on, and contribute to, the knowledge-based economy.
Perhaps it was always thus. Those colleagues who still use fountain pens might be pleased to know that, in 1832, Dr Henry Stephens invented blue-black ink, and that he was based in Finchley. I am pleased to say that he went on to become the Conservative Member of Parliament for the neighbouring seat of Hornsey, which is now held by our coalition partners in Hornsey and Wood Green.
We are also home to the European headquarters of McDonald's, which I am sure hon. Members will have heard of, and to the Pentland Group, of which they may not have heard. However, I am sure that they will have heard of some of their brands, such as Berghaus, Ted Baker, Lacoste, Red or Dead and Speedo. The latter brand is quite prominent in the popular press this week. The Pentland Group is also the greenest and most innovative company in the UK. The way that it turns goods produced by local manufacturing companies into global brands is quite remarkable.
Finchley and Golders Green is now a vibrant metropolitan area, with one of the most diverse communities in the UK. I have the largest Jewish population of any constituency in the UK, at some 25% of my electorate. However, living harmoniously alongside that very large Jewish community is a large and growing Muslim and Hindu community. Historically, those communities have not always seen eye to eye, yet our area enjoys beacon status for community cohesion.
It is that community cohesion that has led those communities to cherish their historic rights and freedoms. Many of our faith communities oppose ID cards, albeit
for different reasons. The Jewish community opposes them because of their history and experience in Nazi Germany, and the Muslim community does so because of their experience post-7/7 and post-11 September 2001.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) once commented that ID cards had been touted around from Minister to Minister until one was found who was gullible enough to accept the idea. The ID cards were a solution looking for a problem: they were meant to combat under-age drinking first of all, then identity theft, fraud and illegal immigration, and now terrorism. However, they would do little to reduce the numbers of those who work or employ illegally. Employers are already required to check documentation. Illegal employment is due to weak enforcement and poor compliance by both the agencies involved and employers.
As a former banker-and I have to confess that my family are somewhat confused as to whether going from banker to full-time politician is a move up or down-I can tell the House that I have seen at first hand how organised crime can produce counterfeit documents that not even the Government could produce through their official agencies. I have seen instances of identity theft and fraud that have been based on such counterfeit documentation, and that leads me to believe that no ID card would counter those crimes, as organised crime will beat the system.
Moreover, the use of ID cards in Madrid did not prevent terrorism there, and it would not have stopped the bombers on 7/7. In my view, we are right to abolish ID cards, as they shift the balance away from citizen to the state and give the Government access to data that we do not know will be kept secure-and neither do we know how that data might be used.
Sixty years ago, Finchley played a role in abolishing the last ID card system, which was introduced during the second world war. On 7 December 1950, one Clarence Willcock was driving down Ballards lane in Finchley-the very road where my constituency office is based-when he was stopped by the police and asked to produce his identity papers. He refused. He was then prosecuted and convicted. He appealed, and the Lord Chief Justice hearing his appeal said that ID cards were intrusive and undermined the relationship between law enforcement and the people. He was right then, and he is right today. The result was that ID cards were scrapped.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I congratulate you on your appointment, Mr Deputy Speaker. I can already sense you melting into that Chair, and I wish you many years in the role. I can also see the other Mr Deputy Speaker bursting to get on to that Chair, dressed in what can only be described as the best of Deputy Speaker finery.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) on a fine maiden speech. He had some remarkable predecessors and he paid a fitting tribute to Rudi Vis, who was very much respected and liked across the Chamber. We have heard some
other fantastic maiden speeches, including a fine and passionate one from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). He brings vast experience to the Chamber and I look forward to hearing many more robust and meaningful contributions from him as this Parliament progresses. The hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) gave a passionate defence of the Welsh language, and my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) and I are similarly passionate about the Gaelic language. We hope to hear many more speeches on that theme as she makes her contributions in Parliament.
I enjoy the maiden speech season. It is great because we hear all these fine tributes to former colleagues and are given an encyclopaedic tour of the UK's constituencies. We have several more maiden speeches to hear and I must say that I could hear one every day for the next Parliament if so many are as fine as the ones that we have heard in the past few days; all the speeches have been excellent, and I look forward to hearing some more this afternoon.
I congratulate the coalition Government because they have been as good as their word. The Con Dems have condemned Labour's hated identity cards to the scrap bin of history and I say well done to the coalition Government. Is it not bizarre, even in these days of political cross-dressing, that it has taken a right-wing Conservative Home Secretary to scrap perhaps the most anti-civil libertarian measure of recent times, which was proposed and introduced by a Labour Government?
David T. C. Davies: I hate to give the hon. Gentleman a politics lesson, but he ought to know that right-wing Members of Parliament have always been supporters of liberty and that we have had to defend our liberties from the authoritarians on the left.
Pete Wishart: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. I observed with great interest the Conservatives' new interest in civil liberties when they were in opposition. We must hope that they maintain it in government and do not go back to form, because the Conservatives have not got a great track record on these issues.
Pete Wishart: I shall leave it to the Labour party to decide how it wants to describe itself, but what on earth were Labour Members were thinking about? What were they trying to do with ID cards? What was a left- of-centre, notionally socialist, party doing introducing ID cards? ID cards were the low water mark of Labour's anti-civil libertarian agenda and the high water mark of Labour's attempt to usher in a new surveillance society. Thank goodness the cards have been stopped and Labour has not got away with it.
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