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At the beginning of my speech I mentioned today's date, 9 June, which has great significance for the people of Tyneside, for it was on 9 June that the people of Tyneside went to Blaydon races, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson). And, in the words of the song by Geordie Ridley, the people took the bus from Balmbra's, a music hall in central Newcastle, and proceeded on their way, meeting many trials and tribulations along the road. I shall return to Blaydon races in due course, but I am here to represent Gateshead.
Yes, it is a town-soon to be a city, I hope-that has had many problems. Having been heavily dependent upon primary industries, heavy engineering and manufacturing, the town suffered all the social and economic problems associated with the decline of those traditional industries, yet the resilience and fortitude of the people of Gateshead simply do not allow for self-indulgent moaning. The former Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, who was spoken about warmly in an earlier speech, once famously described the people of the north-east as "moaning minnies", but I can honestly say that nothing could be further from the truth.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Gateshead suffered from some of the worst unemployment rates on the United Kingdom mainland. Educational attainment was to say the least poor, if not very poor, and in every social and economic indicator or league table, if it was good news Gateshead was near the bottom, and if it was bad news Gateshead was inevitably near the top. However, the renaissance in Gateshead over the past 20 years has been remarkable, and a testament to the support of the previous Government and, more importantly, to the clear strategic leadership of my colleagues on Gateshead council.
One example is the rejuvenation of Gateshead quays. Where once there stood derelict warehouses and empty factories, now there stands the iconic Gateshead Millennium bridge, BALTIC, the centre for contemporary art, and the magnificent Sage Gateshead, designed by Sir Norman Foster. To the south of the town centre, and just over the border into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon, stands Antony Gormley's Angel of the North. We also have, in the ward that I have represented on the council for 27 years, Saltwell park-a shining example of a Victorian municipal park visited by more than 2 million people annually. These are not just glittering buildings and monuments without substance or purpose-no, they are all internationally acclaimed and recognised, part of Gateshead council's vision to transform Gateshead. Indeed, the Sage Gateshead, which I know that many Members have visited for conferences over the past few years, has been acclaimed as one of the most acoustically perfect concert halls in the whole world.
With this transformation we have witnessed an unprecedented reversal of fortunes in comparison with the Gateshead of the '70s and '80s. From being among the areas with the worst educational achievement, Gateshead is now towards the top on many measures. In almost every aspect of life, Gateshead has been transformed. Education, housing, social care and employment-all have been transformed by the support from a supportive Government and with leadership from a truly inspirational council, but most of all by the resilience, fortitude and hard work of the people of Gateshead themselves.
There is still poverty. There is still hardship. There are still too many lives untouched by change. But to anyone who doubts that Britain has got better since we took over from the Tories in 1997, I say this: come to Gateshead and see what the people here have achieved. Those are not my words, but those of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Tony Blair, five years ago at the Labour spring conference. Indeed, our current Prime Minister was gracious enough to acknowledge that his party had been well received on their visit to Gateshead at the same venue-and yes, I truly would welcome him back to my constituency should he take up my offer to return with his party's conference in the future.
As I consider the task of representing the interests of Gateshead, it is that record of achievement that I will be defending. Having been deeply involved, as the former deputy leader of Gateshead council, in Gateshead's renaissance, I know how substantial the changes have been. However, I also know just how fragile this recovery could be. Gateshead's strength is its people-their intelligence, their hard work and, most of all, their caring and deep sense of community. We are, and will always remain, remote from the economic centre of the United Kingdom and from the European and world markets. In a free-market global economy, Gateshead needs governmental support. In the north-east, more than 30% of the work force is employed in the extended public sector; in my borough of Gateshead that figure is probably closer to 40%.
Like many others in the north-east, I remember all too vividly the social unrest and devastation that was the 1980s: soaring unemployment, poverty, frustration, increasing alienation and a crippling sense of hopelessness. Gateshead, and indeed Britain today, is a far better place, and it is my duty to the people of Gateshead to ensure there will be no return to those bad days. I will play my part. I will speak up for Gateshead and its people. I will ensure that the interests of the people I represent will not be forgotten or overlooked. I know that my former colleagues in Gateshead council will also play their part.
As for the new Government: be warned, I will be watching. My colleagues and I will no doubt scrutinise every single proposal that comes out of Government. Our aim will be to ensure that the social costs of deficit reductions caused by a recession that was caused by the greed and incompetence of bankers and speculators are not simply passed on to the poorest in our communities.
I know that the responsibility of governing is great, and the new coalition will meet its tribulations along the way, but if they follow the example of the Tyneside folk on their way to Blaydon races, they may survive, for a time:
"But gannin ower the Railway Bridge
The bus wheel flew off there
The lasses lost their crinolines
And veils that hide their faces
I got two black eyes and a broken nose
In gannin to Blaydon races."
"Now when we got the wheel back on"-
"Away we went again
But them that had their noses broke
They went back ower hyem
Some went to the dispensary
And some to Doctor Gibbs
And some to the infirmary
To mend their broken ribs."
Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): Thank you for calling me to make my maiden speech, Mr Deputy Speaker, especially on the day when you take the Chair for the first time. May I say how personally pleased I am to see you in the role?
I should like to start, as is customary, by referring to my predecessor in what was then the constituency of Elmet. Mr Colin Burgon was a Labour MP from 1997 until he retired at the election just gone. It would probably be fair to say to anybody who knew Mr Burgon that our politics probably could not have been further apart if we had tried. This was a man who was well and truly on the left of the Labour party and indeed had a passionate interest, and I believe still does to this day, in Venezuela and Hugo Chávez. However, although we were so diametrically opposed in our politics, I always found him to be courteous and an honourable Member of Parliament who looked after his constituents. During my time as the candidate for the new Elmet and Rothwell constituency, he was more than willing to pick up the phone, discuss constituency matters that may have come my way and return calls-an honourable man indeed.
I was looking through Mr Burgon's maiden speech and noticed it to be full of historical references to the Elmet constituency, which does not surprise me because he was a scholar of history. Being an engineer, I am little able to emulate such a speech, but I can tell Members that the Elmet and Rothwell seat, as it now is, has had many boundary changes, starting with the Great Reform Act in 1832. I am the first ever Conservative MP to represent the town of Rothwell, which was its own constituency between 1917 and 1950, and I am very proud indeed to do so.
As I said, the constituency started to get some of its boundaries in the Great Reform Act of 1832, and there have been no fewer than 10 boundary changes bringing us up to the recent election. However, many people have stopped me in this place and asked, "Where is Elmet and Rothwell?" The Rothwell bit gives it away, but the Elmet bit does not. It is actually a Leeds constituency, and I like to describe it as the piece of countryside between Leeds and North Yorkshire. Members may be interested to know that Elmet was actually the last Celtic kingdom in England, and I shall draw on that fact later.
It is interesting that I am classed as a Leeds MP, and that is why I felt it appropriate to stand up in this debate to make my maiden speech. We are talking about the abolition of the Identity Cards Act 2006. If identity cards had been in place, they would not have stopped the 7/7 bombings in 2005 in any shape or form. Of course, the people involved came from Leeds, which took a very hard hit, not least in the international press, which described the north of England as some derelict wasteland and asked whether it was any surprise that
terrorists came from it. It was described as some sort of third-world country. However, I can assure Members that Leeds is one of the most vibrant cities in this country, and one for which I was very proud to be a councillor for six years while we were governing the city. I am now exceptionally proud to be a Member of Parliament within it.
My predecessor, and his predecessor, my former Conservative colleague Spencer Batiste, who was the MP from 1983 to 1997, were both honourable gentlemen. After what went on in the previous Parliament, we all need to be honourable Members and bring faith back to politics.
As I have said, my constituency is the slice of countryside between Leeds and North Yorkshire. I will probably send my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) into apoplexy by saying that after the boundary changes, the old kingdom of Elmet actually stretches across into North Yorkshire. That causes some concern, because people say to me, "Oh, you must represent me in Sherburn-in-Elmet", but I do not, because that is a North Yorkshire village and is part of my hon. Friend's seat. I therefore lay down a marker at this early stage that that may be something to consider.
Many colleagues have offered advice on making a maiden speech and said, "This will be one of the most important speeches that you ever make in this House. It will be the one that is read for time immemorial by every successor you have in the seat, and people might look it up if you go on to greater things." Nobody reads the third speech made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but they do read his maiden speech, so I am putting down a marker for anybody who might come along to research my maiden speech: if you go and have a look at my third or fourth speech, you might have a slightly better idea of who I am as a politician, because the maiden speech is a somewhat daunting process, and hopefully, MPs relax as they grow into their role.
I should like to outline to the House two priorities for me in this Parliament, the first of which-increasing job security and job numbers-I hope will be a successful policy of this Government. I am lucky in that although my constituency suffers unemployment, it is not massively affected by it. However, my constituents are very worried about the jobs they are in, which I heard time and again, and about securing the economic recovery and job security.
There are great areas of regeneration in my constituency, and there are some innovative, technological companies, some of which, including the LNT Group in the town of Garforth in my constituency, have excellent apprenticeship schemes. The LNT Group is an excellent company, and gives people real opportunities. Recently, it hired people who had unsuccessfully tried their hand at private business, in small enterprises. Those people were able to find employment with that well-regarded local employer. That is just one story about the companies in my constituency. I very much hope that I can work closely with the Government to ensure that the policies we introduce will benefit all my constituents, as well as the country.
I mentioned regeneration in the constituency. It is a strange constituency, in the sense that the northern part of it is very affluent and has a lot of farming history,
and as we move south through the constituency, we move into former mining areas. I will not shy away from the fact that those mining areas were affected, not least in 1994 by the closure of the last colliery, at Allerton Bywater. However, Allerton Bywater as a village is now starting to move forward, and already I am involved in casework with Business Link in Yorkshire that could help to secure 10 jobs in that small village and regenerate it. Such regeneration is important, and those are my key priorities in this first term.
However, I have a long-term aim, and I made it quite clear to my constituents in the election that although it is a promise and something I want to move forward, they will not see any results for a very long time. Indeed, by the time they see results, I may well not even be the Member of Parliament for the area. I am talking about rail links. More than 30,000 people in my constituency, in a major metropolitan city, have absolutely no rail links whatever, after the branch lines were removed in the Beeching review. The town of Wetherby serves a huge number of people in the commuter belt to Leeds who must all travel down the A58 and, latterly, the A1 link road.
However, rail links are not just about allowing those people to travel to Leeds more efficiently and effectively; they will also ease-up the congestion that blights everyone in constituencies on the east side of the city. Therefore, I am laying down that marker. I will be working with Network Rail and taking a keen interest in the high speed rail policy as it moves through the House. Let us be honest, in the economic circumstances, the chances of us getting a branch line rail link built to Wetherby and surrounding villages, just to serve them, are pretty slim. However, high speed rail is a major national project, and there would appear to be opportunities to branch off that line to serve people in my constituency much more effectively and efficiently.
I shall close by drawing on what I said earlier. We need to restore faith in politics, and I think we are making a good start with such a great intake of new MPs, and with returning hon. Members realising that much work needs to be done to improve this place. I just hope that as we move forward in this Parliament, my constituents will be very proud to call me their Member of Parliament.
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): To avoid any misunderstanding, I make it clear that I am not making my maiden speech-I did that quite a few years ago! I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) for his fine speech, and to everyone else who has spoken today, including my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) and for Gateshead (Ian Mearns). They will I am sure all make valuable contributions to the House and the parliamentary party.
I have opposed identity cards from the start, and I dispute with the Home Secretary, who gave the impression that the Conservatives hold the high ground, that they-and they alone-have stood against identity cards from the beginning. That is not the position. Inevitably, if we are frank, there have been divisions within the two main parties over identity cards-some being for, some opposed. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary
referred to a ten-minute Bill put forward by a Conservative Member, but I shall go back further. In July 1988, a ten-minute Bill was proposed by another Conservative Member, who is no longer in the House, with the purpose of bringing in identity cards. It is interesting to note that the Bill was defeated, even though the Conservatives had a majority, and that not one Labour Member voted in favour. Everyone who voted for the unsuccessful Bill was Conservative, so no high-ground propaganda please, because it serves no purpose. Incidentally, taking part in that Division 22 years ago, in the No Lobby of course, was someone we all know-Tony Blair. I think his views somewhat changed later on.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said, in August 1996, when Michael Howard was Home Secretary, it was announced that the Conservative Government intended to introduce an ID cards scheme. So, again, there is clear evidence that the Conservative party, at one stage, considered ID cards to be essential. The Conservatives thought that not for dubious reasons, but for the same reasons my party concluded-wrongly, in my view-that ID cards were necessary. My opposition persisted when the Labour Government decided to bring in the cards. Moreover, under a Labour majority, a comprehensive inquiry was conducted by the Home Affairs Committee, and I was the only person on that Committee who voted against the scheme. Conservative Members voted with Labour Members in favour of ID cards in 2004.
I have always taken the view that my opposition is absolutely firm, except for one factor: if I could be persuaded that ID cards would help in the fight against terrorism, I would change my mind, because I believe-I am sure the same applies to all Members of the House-that the security and safety of our country and people must come first. Were there such evidence, I would reluctantly support ID cards. However, as has been said enough times today, there is no evidence that terrorism would be prevented by ID cards. The atrocities on 7 July 2005 would not have been prevented. Reference has been made already to the atrocity a year earlier in Madrid, where more than 100 people were murdered by al-Qaeda, and there is no evidence that ID cards in Spain could have prevented, or did prevent, such atrocities.
As to the argument sometimes put forward that, although identity cards would not and did not prevent such atrocities-I only wish they could have done-they nevertheless helped to bring the culprits to justice, I have to say that there is very little evidence for that. We need to bear in mind, of course, that for years, Spain faced a different terrorist campaign from ETA, but again identity cards have hardly helped in any way.
The police remain in favour of identity cards, but no one is surprised by that. In making his maiden speech earlier today, the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) made a valid point about what happened in 1952, I believe, when a person refused to show his identity card to a police constable. What happened to the person was upheld by the courts and identity cards were abolished.
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