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Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): May I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker? It is a privilege to speak in this important debate on poverty and to follow such outstanding maiden speeches from the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy).
I pay tribute to my predecessor, who is soon to be ennobled as Lord Spicer of Cropthorne in the county of Worcestershire, for his years of service to the West Worcestershire and, prior to that, the South Worcestershire constituencies. He was elected to Parliament nine times during his 36 years of service to Worcestershire residents, and during my almost four years as parliamentary
candidate, I met so many people on the doorstep who paid tribute to his service as a constituency MP and to his energetic pursuit of his casework. He set a standard that I shall strive to maintain. For three decades he championed the case for a new community hospital for Malvern. I am delighted that, after 30 years, my constituents and I will welcome the opening of its doors this coming October.
Here in Westminster, Sir Michael had a stellar career as well, serving as a Minister under Margaret Thatcher and being known latterly to Conservative Back Benchers as the chairman of the 1922 committee, a position for which he stood for many years unopposed. He was clearly admired by colleagues here every bit as much as he was by his constituents. I will not presume to match his achievements, but merely work hard on behalf of the constituents of West Worcestershire and try every day to serve their interests to the best of my ability.
I would also like to reassure all my neighbouring hon. Friends that, unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), I need not aspire to any neighbouring territory in any future boundary review. That is because the Baldwin ward is already part of the West Worcestershire constituency, and is named, of course, after Britain's three-time Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, who lived at Astley. Stanley Baldwin's Bewdley constituency contained much of the same beautiful scenery as the current West Worcestershire constituency, and I have often been asked on the doorstep whether I am his granddaughter; in fact, more often than not, people say, "I hear you are Stanley Baldwin's granddaughter."
I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to put the record straight in Hansard. My maiden name was Eggleston, and my husband was christened James Stanley Baldwin-obviously my mother-in-law was a big fan-but so far we have not been able to find any family linkage beyond the name. Indeed, I was so concerned about possibly being elected on false pretences, with an overestimation of both my ability and my ambition, that I even answered the question in my election address. Nevertheless, I am proud to be called Baldwin, which is a very good and widespread surname in West Worcestershire.
I hope that hon. Members will indulge me if I paint a picture of the main attractive aspects of the West Worcestershire constituency. It is the heart of England, and from the fertile plains of the Severn valley rises the solitary, final western hill of the Cotswolds, Bredon hill, which was an inspiration to A. E. Housman, the great English poet. The River Avon meanders around the beautiful Georgian town of Pershore, on its way to join up with the River Severn, creating flood plains and fields that are famous for being able to grow the most succulent asparagus. On the west of the River Severn, across more fine fields, pasture, orchards and common land, the Malvern hills rise up suddenly, to a great height. It is said that someone standing on the top of the Malvern hills and looking due east will not see a higher hill until they get to the Urals. [Hon. Members: "Ah?"] It is true.
The county border runs along the summit, but the West Worcestershire constituency, which stretches to the north and west of the hills, runs up the River Teme valley to the town of Tenbury Wells, and then as far north as villages such as Bayton and Mamble, which
have Dudley postcodes. The four main towns of Malvern, Pershore, Upton upon Severn and Tenbury Wells are complemented by more than 70 different parishes, all with their own charms. It is particularly worth noting that the great English composer Elgar was born at Lower Broadheath. Throughout his life he drew musical inspiration from the scenery and landscape of the Malvern hills.
Food production is important locally. I have mentioned the asparagus crop, but visitors can also eat delicious local cherries, apples and pears, and enjoy locally raised chickens, eggs, turkeys, geese, beef, pork and lamb. To drink with that, they can enjoy the pure Malvern water, or beer, cider or locally produced wine. I am sure that other hon. Members will want to join me in my efforts in this place to promote our wonderful local food.
Visitors can buy locally produced milk and honey as well, but in this afternoon's debate on poverty, I want to use this opportunity to highlight some of the causes of poverty in West Worcestershire. I was delighted to hear the Minister mention drug use, which is not unknown in my constituency, particularly in some of the more deprived parts. I do not need to remind hon. Members of how badly drug use can ruin lives. I am particularly keen to use my time in the House to work with local residents, the police, charities and social enterprises to help people to tackle addiction and ensure that those who deal in drugs are shown no tolerance.
The population of West Worcestershire has one of the older demographic profiles in this country, and I want to raise some of the challenges of poverty among the elderly. I am keen for the Government to make progress on the issue of paying for long-term residential care. Many of my constituents worry about having to pay for their care or sell their homes in old age. I hope that we can support them with a voluntary insurance scheme and that the coalition Government come forward with other proposals that will help us all to afford the increasing cost of looking after our elderly citizens with dignity and respect.
Before coming into Parliament, I was a pension fund manager. One of the many scandalous legacies of the outgoing Government is the way in which they destroyed our private pension system, which used to be the envy of the world. However, the unfunded liability of the public pension system has increased enormously. We are all living longer, so the current situation is completely unsustainable. A pensioner in my constituency on modest savings who has lived responsibly and within her means all her life has to face an annual increase in her council tax, which is often due to the need for the local council and local police to make an ever greater provision for their future pension entitlements.
That results in real poverty for pensioners who have a small amount of savings and are thus unable to claim pension credit. These days, very few people in the private sector are saving enough for their greater longevity either. We are storing up terrible pensioner poverty for the future in this country. The Government have made a welcome start on tackling the fiscal deficit, but I hope that they and this Parliament can also begin to address the long-term pensions savings deficit in this country.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that you have given me to make my maiden speech in this important debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I look forward to using my time in this House to serve the good people of West
Worcestershire, both here at Westminster and in the local community, as the Government take on some of those long-term challenges.
Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): May I add my congratulations on your election, Mr Deputy Speaker? I noticed that you have the "Directory of Members" to hand. I hope that you will agree that I do not look quite as bad in the flesh as I do in that truly horrific photo.
I come to this House from Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East-a constituency served with great distinction by my predecessor, Rosemary McKenna. Rosemary's 13 years in Parliament were the culmination of a lifetime of public service. As teacher, councillor, council leader, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and, latterly, Member of this House, Rosemary served the public with distinction for more than 40 years. Rosemary's distinctions are many, but I would like to emphasise her temperament and character. Rosemary's generous nature, her good humour, and, especially, her serenity served her well. To keep one's head when all around are losing theirs is an asset in every walk of life, but especially, I suspect, in this place. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing Rosemary well in her retirement.
For those who do not know the geography of my constituency-and I suspect that there are a few-Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East sits at the heart of Scotland, roughly at the centre of a triangle formed by Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling. This central location, along with a work force well educated in our excellent local comprehensive schools and colleges, is attractive to employers both private and public. Indeed, Members unlucky enough to receive a call from the Inland Revenue will, I am sure, take some comfort in the knowledge that they are likely being called from my constituency, home to one of the largest Inland Revenue offices in the country.
The economy of my constituency is, I think, much like the economy of the country: it reflects a symbiotic relationship between the private and the public sectors. That is why I disagree with some of the speeches I have heard-not today, but in previous debates-from Conservative Members, who repeatedly draw a stark distinction between the public and the private. To me, that is rather artificial. Our economy depends on interaction between these two sectors. No man is an island, and neither is any private sector enterprise. In my view, the private sector could not flourish without a public infrastructure of roads, rail, sanitation, telecoms or, indeed, a people well educated in our public, by which I mean our state, schools.
That is the perspective that underpins the views of Labour Members on the Government's deficit reduction plan, with all its implications for poverty reduction. Yes, reducing the deficit is important; yes, it is a priority; but cutting before the recovery is established and before confidence is restored is to flirt with disaster. Badly timed public sector cuts of the kind proposed by the Government will not, in my judgment, damage only the public sector, but the private sector, too, as they will reduce demand in the whole economy.
I urge Members on both sides of the House to read the report released today by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, whose chief economist has revised his forecasts. Looking at the proposed Government cuts, he now believes that unemployment will reach 2.95 million by 2012 and remain close to 3 million until 2015. That would be a disaster for the poor: when the economy retracts, it is the poor who suffer most. Substantial reductions in poverty depend on economic growth, because in the end substantial poverty reduction depends on the creation of jobs. I am sure we all agree that the single best poverty reduction programme is creating well-paid, secure jobs.
That is the context in which I raise my concern about how the Government are approaching the deficit, with all its implications for poverty in this country. I recognise, of course, that it is entirely consistent for the Conservatives to advance deflationary economic policies. As a historian, I can see them having been put forward in different guises for 100 years, whether it be by Bonar Law in the 1920s, Mr Baldwin in the 1930s, Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s or the new Prime Minister in 2010. The object is generally the same-to reduce the financial burden on those who tend to vote Conservative. That is understandable.
More depressing, from my point of view, is the Liberal Democrat embrace of this deflationary strategy. One hundred years ago, the Liberal party broke with that kind of economics. In his "People's Budget", Lloyd George rejected as inadequate and likely to increase poverty exactly the kind of approach that underpins the new Government's strategy. I wonder what Lloyd George, Beveridge, and, above all, Keynes would make of the Liberal Democrat position. I suspect that those great social Liberals would see the Government's so-called anti-poverty measures-whether they be fractional tax advantages for a minority of married couples, or appeals to the "Big Society"-for what they are. In my judgment, these are measures designed to ease the consciences of those who wish to feel that something is being done about poverty, while the actual priority is that that "something" to be done is of minimal cost.
More positively, I hope the Government can be persuaded that poverty reduction depends, as I say, on well-paid secure jobs. I believe that the minimum wage and tax credits are excellent measures that reward work and have done something significant to reduce poverty in this country. I urge the Government, if I may say so, to embrace them with the zeal of a convert.
I also ask the Government to consider the issue of work that pays not too badly, but too well. I welcome the Government's commitment to ending excessive salaries in the public sector, but I think that we have to look at the private sector, too. Excess public sector pay is not fair and should be curbed, but it is not actively dangerous, whereas inappropriate incentives in the private sector-excessive and poorly calibrated bonuses in particular-have put our entire economy in jeopardy.
Growing up in the new town of Cumbernauld in the 1980s, I saw with my own eyes the harm done by deflationary political economy. It took over a decade of Labour Government to begin to heal the scars left in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, and, indeed, in many other parts of the country. We ask not to be targeted again by a new round of deflationary cuts,
particularly when the recession was inspired by the financial services sector. What I ask is that the burden is fairly shared.
In the end, I repeat, it is growth that will reduce the deficit in a way that enables the economy to prosper, thus allowing further reductions in poverty to take place. The best way to reduce poverty is to create work with a decent wage, which depends on economic growth. By cutting too fast, too soon, the Government risk a slump in demand across the economy: the result will be even higher unemployment than at present and thus greater poverty too. For me-and, I am sure, for many Members-that is a grim prospect indeed.
As with a lot of new Members, this is not the first time that I have tried to give my maiden speech. Given that this was the third time that I tried to get elected, it was a wait that I was prepared to sit out just a little bit longer. Originally, I stood in the European elections for the west midlands, unsuccessfully, and then in my home town, for Dudley, North, where my father was a councillor for 30 years. To coin a phrase used by a close friend, "Andrew fought Dudley, and Dudley fought back."
I am honoured to represent the people of Burton and Uttoxeter in today's debate, because the subject is a hugely important one for those people. Like many making their maiden speeches, I went to the Library and looked at the contributions that previous MPs for Burton had made to the House, and I have to say that there were some impressive people, particularly Mr John Jennings, who, as well as being an ex-headmaster and making a massive contribution as an MP, rose to the illustrious role of Deputy Speaker.
Then, of course, there was the great Sir Ivan Lawrence, the previous Conservative MP for Burton, who was a well-renowned barrister before he came to this House. Sir Ivan famously defended the Kray twins before moving here, where he defended the Governments of Mrs Thatcher and Mr Major. Sir Ivan is famous for having made the longest speech in this House in modern times. He spoke for some four hours 27 minutes on the vital issue of water fluoridation. Although Sir Ivan was a marvellous constituency MP, defending the interests of the people of Burton and Uttoxeter, and playing a massive role here, my hon. Friends will be delighted to know that I intend to try to fill his shoes, but with just a little more brevity.
Another famous incident involving Sir Ivan occurred when, having been invited to address a dinner of local charities and bigwigs, the time got to 11.45, and after numerous speakers, numerous courses and numerous glasses of wine, he had still not been called. The toastmaster stood up and said, "I now call on Sir Ivan Lawrence to give his address," to which Sir Ivan stood up and said, "267 Newton road. That is where I am going now-goodbye," and left the room.
A wonderful lady called Janet Dean preceded me. She was elected to the House in 1997, having moved to Uttoxeter in 1968. She was a hardworking champion of the people of Burton and Uttoxeter, and was greatly
loved and respected. She did an incredible amount of work in representing people in my constituency on important issues, and she is revered and much loved.
When I was selected as candidate for Burton in an open primary-I know that the Government are keen to promote those further-I was interviewed by a reporter from the Burton Mail. I said to him afterwards, "Tell me a little about Janet. What do you think of her?" He replied, "It is a little bit like sending your mum to Parliament." It was with that maternal love, and that maternal respect for her constituents, that Janet Dean presided over my constituency for the 13 years of her reign, and I know that she will be greatly missed.
Burton-or Burton and Uttoxeter, as it is known by many people living there-is a wonderful constituency. I believe that it is one of most diverse constituencies in the country. Of course it is famous for its brewing town and its long brewing history, but if you will allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will give you a thumbnail sketch of it.
Outside Burton are some beautiful villages such as Tutbury, which is famous for its castle; Marchington, which is famous for its marvellous pub The Dog and Partridge; and Rolleston, which has rightly earned its title as the most friendly village in Staffordshire. My constituency is a beautiful place in which to live and to work, and I am honoured to represent it. Of course, in the middle of my constituency is Uttoxeter, a famous market town. Although it has now lost its cattle market, it is still heavily influenced by the agriculture that surrounds it, but over the years it has developed and grown as a commuter town for nearby Derby and Burton.
I hope that the coalition Government's proposal to reduce the number of Members in the House by 10% will allow a wrong to be righted and enable the Boundary Commission, for the first time, properly to recognise the importance of Uttoxeter by including it in the name of any future constituency following a boundary review.
The people of Uttoxeter are nothing if not plain-speaking. During the election campaign I was walking around the wonderful Kirk House, a care home for the elderly, and I went into a room where three of the elderly ladies were having their hair done. They greeted me, and were pleased to see me. The hairdresser said, "Are you the gentleman whose pictures I have seen on all the posters around the town?" "Yes," I replied, rather proudly. She looked at me and said, "It is a very flattering photograph." [Laughter.]
The constituency also contains Rocester, home of the world-famous JCB, the yellow digger, which is a British icon and a champion of the engineering industry. I applaud the work that is being done in the JCB academy to try to motivate young people to become involved in engineering and develop our engineers in the future. I intend to use my time in the House to promote engineering, and to promote the good work that is done at the academy.
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