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"a throwback to the Edwardian era"
The Secretary of State, who unfortunately is no longer in his place, revealed on 27 May that he was still looking to the Treasury for an extra £3 billion to reform the benefits system. The coalition agreement states that
"initial investment delivers later savings through lower benefit expenditure...based upon the DEL/AME switch"-
the departmental expenditure limits/annually managed expenditure switch. That is obviously based on the work of the Centre for Social Justice, which we examined in some detail when we took evidence on the Child Poverty Bill. The Secretary of State even seemed to be laying his job on the line later on 27 May when he said that he had not taken the job to be a "cheeseparer", and stated:
"If somebody tells me I have to do something different then I won't be here any longer."
I suspect that the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be telling him to do something different right now, because he says that tackling the deficit is the priority. If Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions can persuade the Treasury that the extra £3 billion is the goose that will lay the golden egg, we shall be extremely surprised.
A further complication in trying to tease out the Government's strategy is that No. 10 has appointed my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). We have not yet seen his terms of reference-I do not know whether they are to think the unthinkable-but there seems to be something strangely familiar about the situation. Last Saturday The Guardian said that he was going to look again at the definition of poverty. That really would be unthinkable. What is the point of it?
Helen Goodman: I will, because I would like my right hon. Friend to answer two questions. Is the purpose of moving away from the definition agreed in the European Union and the OECD to tell poor people that they are not really poor, or to avoid future embarrassing comparisons?
I am disappointed that my hon. Friend does not know the Labour Government's record better. If she examines the last publication that we produced, she will see that we said there was a choice of four definitions of poverty. I shall go into them more if I catch your eye later, Mr Deputy Speaker, but that
document asked for views on the balance among the four and whether we should add others. By all means let us have a go at each other about this on a personal level, but let us also be clear where the Labour Government left the debate.
Helen Goodman: I think my right hon. Friend ignores the fact that it is less than three months since the Child Poverty Act 2010 received Royal Assent. It committed any Government to eradicating child poverty and set out the four measures that will be used to make that judgment, which are of absolute poverty, relative poverty-that is the one agreed in the EU and the OECD-persistent poverty and material deprivation. Everybody in the House supported that Act, and I hope that the Government will not renege on that support.
The main problem with the Government's position is that it is incoherent. They are divided on family policy and welfare strategy. Everyone knows that worklessness is one of the key drivers of poverty, but the proposals that we have heard from the Government so far will increase unemployment and the north-south divide.
Ms Buck: Was my hon. Friend surprised that the Minister made no mention of child care, which is critical to employment levels, particularly of lone parents? Does she share my disappointment that just before the election, the Mayor of London chose that moment to abolish child care from the London Development Agency's work and to start unpicking measures such as the child care affordability programme? Does she agree that affordable child care must be at the heart of the wide range of programmes and policies that we use to tackle poverty?
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I hope that what the Mayor of London has done is not a precursor of what the Government intend to do. The Labour Government increased resources for child care significantly. We provided for three and four-year-olds to have 12 and then 15 hours of free provision, and we provided an element in the tax credits for people to pay for the child care that they found convenient. Our manifesto set out a commitment to extend child care provision to two-year-olds as well, because of the importance of the developmental needs that the Minister talked about so eloquently little more than 15 minutes ago.
The proof of the pudding will be whether the Government commit the policies to match the rhetoric. We fear that that will not be the case, and that there is now a serious risk of a double-dip recession. I urge DWP Ministers to be very careful indeed, lest they frustrate their no doubt good intentions by agreeing to cuts in the coming Budget.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con):
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye so early in this debate. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, and I think that you are the first successful
Labour candidate I have ever voted for. I have to confess that, as I voted for you and for my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), I realised that as a Yorkshireman I had cast my ballot for two Lancastrians. I was consoled by realising later that I have at least silenced two Lancastrian Members for some time- [ Laughter. ]
As the first Back Bencher to speak in this debate, I have no previous maiden speeches to commend, but I have spent the last week and a half in my place, and I hoped to be called in the education debate last week. I heard more and more maiden speeches, and there were some fantastic examples. I only hope that I set the bar sufficiently low that everything that comes after me today is an improvement.
I pay tribute to my predecessor in Brigg and Goole, Mr Ian Cawsey, who was indeed my only predecessor, as the constituency was created in 1997. I also wish to apologise to the House, not for ridding the country of a Labour Member of Parliament, which I think was rather a good thing, but for helping to break up the world's only parliamentary band, MP4. Mr Cawsey served the group with some distinction as its lead singer. I have been approached by one or two of the remaining members to take his place, but alas that is not to be. Ian served the constituency incredibly well. He was very decent in the election campaign and in my dealings with him in the past three and a half years. I genuinely wish him and his family, who are extremely loyal to him, all the very best for the future.
As I said, the Brigg and Goole constituency has only existed since 1997, and before then the area was covered by other constituencies and represented by several distinguished Members, including-I am pleased to say-my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who served the Boothferry constituency between 1987 and 1997. The Brigg part of the constituency was served by Michael Brown, who will be remembered on both sides of the House and is still active in public life today. The previous Member for Scunthorpe also served a portion of my constituency for a time.
Since my election, several people have asked me, "Where exactly is Brigg and Goole?" My job today is to enlighten the House about the delights of the constituency. Mine is a difficult task, because I represent one of the few constituencies that cross county boundaries. The constituency is two thirds in North Lincolnshire and a third in the East Riding of Yorkshire, where I was born and bred. Being a Yorkshireman representing a Lincolnshire seat can have its challenges, and I have to tread a careful path. My predecessor had the same problem, especially as Brigg Town football club often play Goole Town football club-a potentially dangerous situation for a Member of Parliament. My predecessor had a clever approach to the problem, courtesy of the communications allowance, and regularly sponsored both clubs' matches-a pleasure that will not be open to me.
The constituency was formed when the dreaded Humberside authority existed, and we are all delighted to have seen the back of that-[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful for support on that point. However, the Humberside name still exists, and I will probably have more to say on that in the weeks and months to come.
The constituency has a long history, going back centuries. Brigg is a small historic market town in north Lincolnshire, with a famous fair that dates all the way back to 1205. Brigg is also the gateway-depending on which way one enters-to the beautiful Lincolnshire wold villages, many of which have played an important role in the history of this country. I also have the pleasure of representing a unique area of the country called the Isle of Axholme-a portion of land bounded on all sides by major rivers that was actually marshland until it was drained by Cornelius Vermuyden in the 17th century. In an early example of English jobs for English workers, Mr Vermuyden was a Dutchman who brought Dutch workers over and came into conflict with the locals. The King had to intervene and ensure that half the work force was English-something that the previous Prime Minister was unable to achieve.
The Isle of Axholme also houses the beautiful market town of Epworth, the birthplace of Charles and John Wesley, the founders of Methodism. It also has one of the world's largest trolleybus museums at Sandtoft. I confess that I have yet to visit it, but I will do so shortly. The area is also home to Britain's oldest traditional tussle, the Haxey hood, which takes place on the 12th night after Christmas. It has various interesting characters, including the lord of the hood, the chief boggin and a fool. As I look round the Chamber, I have allotted some positions for next year, but it would be rude to go into details.
Goole is in the East Riding of Yorkshire and is Britain's biggest inland port. It is a company town, having been formed through the creation of the Aire and Calder canal. Also in the East Riding is the small village in which I live, Airmyn, which has a long history with the Percy family. We-I say we, although I suspect that my links to the Percy family are more illegitimate and feudal than I might like them to be-used to hold the title to Airmyn, and the pub is still called the Percy Arms. Its recent refurbishment finishes today and it will reopen at 7pm tonight. All are welcome.
My constituency also played a major role in the second world war, with parts of the Mulberry harbour being completed in Goole. We also housed several airfields, including RAF Sandtoft, RAF Elsham Wolds and RAF Snaith. The latter has a fantastic memorial team, which I am involved in supporting.
Before becoming a Member, I was a schoolteacher, and I intend to champion the issues of school funding, deprivation and exclusions. I am delighted to have been called to speak in the debate on poverty because although I represent a large rural constituency I was brought up in a neighbouring constituency of Hull as a proud comprehensive boy, and I am pleased to say that there are two comprehensive boys now in Parliament, one on each side- [ Interruption. ] I meant two Hull comprehensive boys. I have taught in some of the most deprived schools in Hull, so the issues of child poverty and deprivation are dear to me.
In my time in Parliament I wish to champion the cause of excluded children, who under the last two Governments-and perhaps also under previous Governments-have not received the attention that they deserve. In particular, children who receive free school meals are three times more likely to be excluded from school. As a practitioner in the last few years, I know that we had fine words from the previous Government,
but we were hamstrung in schools by a commitment to social inclusion. The social inclusion agenda was introduced for good reasons, but it had the opposite effect to that intended in secondary schools, because it tied the hands of schoolteachers who wanted to deal with discipline, which is at the core of many of the problems we face in schools today. I do not have time to go into great detail today, but I intend to champion the cause of excluded children in the future. We are moving in the right direction with the pupil premium, but we must accept that dealing with excluded children is expensive. We need to follow the examples of excellent practice around the country and make progress on this issue.
I would have liked to talk for longer on this subject, but that is not possible. So I shall end by saying that I intend to be an independently minded local champion for the fantastic people of Brigg and Goole.
Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab): I welcome you to your new position, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech during this important debate on poverty, following the excellent maiden speech by the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy).
It is a great honour to serve as the Member of Parliament for Leicester West. My constituency has a proud history, as part of an open and diverse city that has welcomed people, commerce and ideas. In Roman times, Fosse Way, which still runs through Leicester West, was one of the main routes across Britain. This road helped to bring trade to my constituency in wool and leather during the middle ages, and later in textiles, hosiery and shoemaking-industries for which Leicester was long and rightly famed.
These industries gave birth to the co-operative movement, which still has a strong presence in my constituency today. In 1936, Leicester's co-operative society hosted the Jarrow marchers on their way to London, providing them with a much-needed change of boots from one of the city's many shoemaking factories. I am proud to be a member of the Co-operative party and, I might add, a frequent customer at my local Co-op on the Narborough road. Co-operative principles of mutuality and solidarity are at the heart of the Labour movement and my constituency.
Since helping the Jarrow marchers, my constituency has continued to welcome people from throughout the UK, many of whom come to study at Leicester's excellent universities, and from across the world. Leicester West has been enriched by our Asian communities, from east Africa, Gujarat, Punjab, Pakistan and Bangladesh, by our African-Caribbean community, by people from eastern Europe, including Poland and Ukraine, and more recently by people from Turkey and our new African communities, including those of Somalia, Sierra Leone and Cameroon. All the different communities in Leicester-white, black and Asian, Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim-are what make us a great city and country. As the MP for Leicester West, I will always champion and celebrate the strength that this diversity brings.
As is customary in maiden speeches, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Patricia Hewitt. She was a dedicated local MP, passionately committed to serving her constituents. She worked tirelessly, not only for Leicester
West, but for the Labour party and Government. As Britain's longest serving Trade and Industry Secretary and Cabinet Minister for Women, she pioneered family-friendly employment, including the right to request flexible working, alongside improvements in international trade, equality and human rights. As Health Secretary, she was responsible for Labour's ban on smoking at work and in public places. The ban was very controversial at the time, not least in some of the working men's clubs in my constituency, but I believe that in years to come, it will be remembered as one of the most important achievements of the Labour Government.
I am proud of Labour's record in Leicester West. The new deal for communities has helped to transform Braunstone, which was one of the most neglected parts of my constituency in 1997. The new Brite centre, skills centre, health and leisure centres and Business Box are helping local residents get the training, jobs and services they need to build a better life for themselves and their families. As a former director of the Maternity Alliance charity, I know that the very earliest years of life are critical in determining children's later life chances. Sure Start children's centres are providing help and support to families with young children in Beaumont Leys and Stocking Farm, Braunstone, Braunstone Frith, New Parks, Rowley Fields and the west end.
The dedication and hard work of NHS staff, alongside Labour's investment, mean that patients in my constituency now wait a maximum of 18 weeks for their operations, which is down from 18 months in 1997. Our investment has also built brand-new schools, such as the award-winning Beaumont Leys. This has helped transform not only the physical environment of the school, but the attitude, self-esteem and motivation of pupils and staff. That is why I am extremely concerned about the Government's plans for Building Schools for the Future and why I will fight to ensure that our proposals to rebuild or refurbish the remaining secondary schools in Leicester West will now go ahead.
Despite these improvements, poverty and inequality still blight the lives of too many families and communities in my constituency. More than a third of children in Leicester West are still growing up in workless families. Children born into poverty in Braunstone or New Parks are more likely than children in better-off families to die before they are five, more likely to leave school without qualifications, less likely to go to university and get a well-paid job, and more likely to die before their time. This is simply unacceptable in the 21st century in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. That is what I came into politics to help change, and that is what I intend to do as Leicester West's MP.
Improving education is the key to tackling poverty and inequality in my constituency. Real progress is now being made. We have seen improvements in maths and English results, and our GCSE results are improving faster than the national average. My No. 1 priority is helping to build on this progress to achieve a step change in education, skills, training and aspiration in Leicester West, starting with young children, and continuing through school and on into adult life.
I will also champion local businesses and jobs. One third of jobs in Leicester are now in the public sector, but we cannot rely on public services to create the majority of new jobs over the next 10 years, as they have done in the previous decade. Leicester has the potential
to be a leading centre of modern manufacturing in this country, if we continue to invest in our transport infrastructure and skills, and to combine the entrepreneurial zeal of our local businesses with our experience in design and technology and the knowledge in our universities.
Making life easier and fairer for every community in my constituency means increasing the amount of affordable housing, particularly social housing, tackling crime and antisocial behaviour, and giving young people more things to do, particularly in the evenings and at weekends. Fantastic services are available in some parts of my constituency, and we now need them in every local area-services like Street Vibe's dance teams, the Mashed-up's DJ van and our community boxing gyms in New Parks and Home Farm.
I am pleased that the Government have matched Labour's commitment to restoring the link between earnings and pensions. We also need radical change in the way we care for our ageing population. This issue is one that our society has barely begun to address in areas such as social care, dementia services, and end-of-life care.
My job as a Back-Bench MP is to stand up for my constituents. I will play my part in providing a strong and effective Opposition. I will not oppose the Government for the sake of it, but I will judge them on whether their policies boost jobs and growth, and increase fairness and opportunity for people in Leicester West. So if the Government go ahead with their plans to scrap the future jobs fund, which is helping young people in my constituency to get work and new skills, and to reduce benefit bills, I will oppose them. However, if their pupil premium gives more money for children in deprived areas in Leicester West, without cutting funding for other vital programmes, I will support them.
But the improvements we need cannot be achieved by the Government alone. Change must come from within communities by empowering people to take more control over their own lives. This is already happening in many parts of Leicester West, through the tireless work of our community organisations, public services, local businesses, and voluntary and faith groups. However, they rightly expect, and need, more support. I cannot promise to address all the challenges we face in Leicester West-and my constituents would not believe me if I did-but I can promise I will continue to listen and do everything I can to serve the people who have given me the greatest privilege, by electing me as their MP.
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