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Let me return to the main industry in Burton, which is brewing. Burton has a proud history of brewing, and I hope that it is an important part of our bright future. Hon. Members may be surprised to learn that, as well as being a brewing town, Burton has a wonderful rehabilitation centre for people addicted to drugs and alcohol, the Burton addiction centre, BAC O'Connor.
I had the honour of bringing my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) to visit the facility.
We politicians often say that we want to improve people's lives. The BAC is giving people back their lives. I met a gentleman there who had been on heroin and methadone for 30 years; the BAC had got him clean for two years. He said that he had spent his life in state-induced dependency. I hope that the coalition Government will take that issue into consideration, and will develop policies to tackle addiction.
We desperately need to support the brewing industry that is so vital to Burton. We have seen a haemorrhaging of pubs, and of the strength of the brewing community, as a result of 13 years of the last Government. I hope that the new coalition will act to right that wrong as well. Tony Blair told us that the late-licensing laws would usher in a café culture, but that is certainly not what we are finding in Burton, where in just a few weeks there have been a fatal stabbing and two brutal beatings-all as a result of people spilling out of late-night drinking establishments.
I hope that the new coalition Government will do something for the brewing industry and the people of Burton, and tackle our late-licensing problem. I also hope that they will introduce measures to prevent below-cost selling in supermarkets. We are seeing too many young people drinking in parks, and going out to drink when they have already consumed too much alcohol.
Finally, I hope that the Government will introduce the "smart taxes" that were proposed in our manifesto. The last Government, with a Scottish Chancellor, did very well for the Scottish whisky industry. I believe that our proposals to tax the bad and reduce the taxation on low-strength alcohol will help to tackle binge-drinking, and also to support the brewing industry in Burton.
Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you will note, according to today's Order Paper there is supposed to be a written ministerial statement on special advisers. I have just been to the Library and it was not there, but two media companies have telephoned me to tell me that Mr Andy Coulson is paid more than the Deputy Prime Minister, and that there has been a significant increase in the number of spin doctors at No. 10. Is it possible for a Minister to come to the House to apologise for the discourtesy, and to explain the seeming anomaly whereby a hired hand is paid more than an elected Deputy Prime Minister?
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab):
Let me begin, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by welcoming you to your new position in the Chair. I noticed a glint in your eye when two maiden speakers, the hon. Members for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), managed to mention, respectively, the opening of a pub and the brewing industry in their constituencies.
I am sure that both those things are very dear to your heart, and I hope that you will enjoy yourself in your new role.
As the first Back-Bench non-maiden speaker to speak today, I think it only fair, before I turn to the matters in hand, to pay tribute to the five maiden speakers whom we have heard this afternoon. I am very impressed: all the maiden speeches that I have heard over the last few weeks have been superb, and I think that that augurs very well for the future of the House of Commons and its importance in the life of Parliament.
The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole spoke in a very easy style, with plenty of humour. I suspect that that is because he was once a teacher. As a former secondary school teacher myself, I can tell him that the behaviour in the House of Commons is probably far, far worse than that of his worst secondary school class.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), a fellow Co-operative, paid tribute to her predecessor, Patricia Hewitt. I hope that she will continue the work that Patricia did, particularly in regard to the equalities agenda. Patricia certainly caused a stir when she was Business Secretary, because she was the first woman to fill the post. I clearly remember her coming to Aberdeen to open one of the offshore oil and gas fields in a very male-dominated industry. She was a breath of fresh air, but I am sure that the new Member for Leicester West will be as well, and I welcome her to the House.
The hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) waxed lyrical about the beauty of her constituency. If hon. Members do not appreciate their own constituencies, no one else will, and it was clear from her speech that she loves the area.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont) has inherited what I believe is the second-longest constituency name in the House. I think that the longest belongs to the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander), but I have not counted the letters. I know that the right hon. Gentleman and Rosemary McKenna, my hon. Friend's predecessor, had some arguments as to whose constituency name was the most difficult to pronounce. I was glad that my hon. Friend paid such a warm tribute to Rosemary, because she was one of my close friends in the House and I miss her very much. I hope that he will pass my best wishes on to her in her retirement. Unfortunately, I will not be able to make her retirement dinner, as it is on the one weekend that I have off in the next two months, but I would have loved to have been there. My hon. Friend might not remember his predecessor but one, Norman Hogg, who came from Aberdeen. He returned to Aberdeen to retire and played an important part in my election campaign, particularly in 2005. Unfortunately, he has since died, and we missed him during this election.
My hon. Friend was not shy in stating his views in his maiden speech. He was clear in the way that he argued his case-certainly in what he said about there not being a false divide between the private and the public sector. I imagine that he will add a great deal of intellect to future debates in the House.
The last maiden speech up to now, by the hon. Member for Burton, was very impressive. He spoke without any notes, which will stand him in good stead, as one of the worst things that can happen when a Member speaks is when Members from the opposing side shout "Reading!" at them. Perhaps it is just as well that the rules of the House have changed and that Members can no longer make four-hour speeches such as the one by his predecessor that he mentioned. The hon. Gentleman will also be a credit to his constituency and we welcome him, as we do all the others. I, too, was very friendly with his predecessor, Janet Dean, and his description of her as a mother figure was all too accurate.
I, too, have a new job this afternoon, Mr Deputy Speaker, as the new Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, and I thank those hon. Members who voted for me. Let me also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), who was a formidable opponent. It was a very close fight, and she would have made an excellent Chair of the Committee. We worked well together in the 2001-05 Parliament. This afternoon, she showed her talent for holding the Executive to account in questioning the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). I would have liked to welcome him to his job, but unfortunately he is no longer in his place. Such questioning is clearly the role of Select Committees, which are the workhorses of the House. They play an important role and I hope that the Work and Pensions Committee does its job well in holding this Executive to account. Shadow Ministers all say that Select Committees are very important when they are in opposition, but they might change their mind when they get into government.
I was a little disappointed by the way in which the Minister of State handled the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North, because he managed to avoid answering it. I hope that he was not setting the tone for the future. He failed to answer what she was clearly asking, which was what this Conservative Government, albeit a coalition Government, would do differently from the previous Conservative Government, after whom there was an increasing level of poverty, particularly child poverty, an increasing divide between the rich and poor and an increasing dislocation in many communities. As he did not answer that question, I, too, would like to put it to the Government.
As far as I can gather from what the Minister of State said, the Government will do what the Labour Government did, but a lot better with a lot less money. I did not hear what I expected to hear-new ideas and what will be different. For example, what will be different about the way in which the Government deal with mental health issues? I asked about that in my intervention, but his answer could have come from a Minister in the previous Government, because it was about what the previous Government were doing. So, what they were doing must have been working, if the new Government are not saying that they would do anything different that will work better.
We know that these issues are difficult and need to be tackled, but let me say what the Labour Government did. We introduced the minimum wage, tax credits, child care credits, the child trust fund and pension credits. They were all introduced through practical legislation that tackled the issue of poverty. They were not just
warm words or aspirations-they were things that made a difference. On top of all that, we introduced a number of universal benefits to make sure that everyone benefited from the welfare state, not just those at the bottom end. For example, we made sure that there was an increase in child benefit. I do not whether the new Government intend to tax child benefit or whether it will continue to rise at the rate it was rising under the previous Government. Those were all important, practical measures that tackled poverty.
The last Government did other important things such as introducing Sure Start, which we have not seen the results of yet as the first generation of Sure Start children are only just leaving primary school. My worry is that the longitudinal, intergenerational, changing measures that we put in place will be undermined by the new Government, and I seek assurances that they will not, because we know that early intervention works. Indeed, it is one of the few ways in which to tackle the intergenerational poverty that has blighted our society. I hope that the new Government will do more than just say the warm words that we have heard this afternoon. I hope that they will do practical things to make sure that those of our citizens who still live in poverty soon no longer will.
Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech during this very important debate on poverty. I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Miss Begg) on her election as Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, and I congratulate all other hon. Members who have made their maiden speech in this debate. May I also take the opportunity to congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your election to the Chair? I might be new, but I know that you have been a stalwart of this Chamber and that you will continue to champion its importance.
It is a real honour and a privilege to be speaking in the Chamber today. It was in the early 1990s that I first visited the Palace of Westminster with my sixth-form colleagues, and ever since that day I have wanted to represent a Kent constituency on these green Benches. With that in mind, I am proud to say that I am the first Conservative MP to represent Chatham and Aylesford. The seat was formed in 1997 from the old Rochester and Chatham, Mid Kent and Tonbridge and Malling seats, so I benefit from the mixed parentage of some excellent Conservative parliamentarians, such as Peggy Fenner, Andrew Rowe, Julian Critchley and, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley).
It is traditional to pay one's immediate predecessor a tribute. I am told that that is occasionally done through gritted teeth, but I have nothing but genuine respect for Jonathan Shaw, who represented the constituency since 1997. Members from both sides of the House have praised Jonathan, who entered the House at an even younger age than I, and fought many battles on behalf of his constituents. He is highly regarded locally and has been kind enough to answer a few queries since the election, for which I am very grateful. I hope that I will serve my constituents as well as he did.
I am very proud of my constituency. Although I was born and bred in another part of Kent, I have now made the area my home. It is steeped in history. Chatham
was first recorded as a settlement in the 9th century and was home to the Romans, the Saxons and then the Normans. Its significance has always been related to its position on the banks of the River Medway, which has been a harbour for warships since the 16th century. The town formed around the dockyard, which, although not in the boundaries of my constituency, has always been of critical significance to the town. Raids by the Dutch on the north Kent coast in 1667, which wrecked the flagship of the fleet harboured in Chatham, recorded by Pepys and remembered by Kipling, led to the proper fortification of the Medway. That massive rebuilding saw the expansion of Chatham into the large town that it is today. The historic dockyard was closed as a shipbuilding yard in 1984, and sadly many jobs were lost. However, it has evolved into a heritage site and parts have been regenerated into housing and tourist attractions, which range from warships to Dickens World.
Beyond politics, my passion is football and I was therefore delighted to learn that Chatham was one of the founding clubs in the southern England league in the 19th century. However, as a lifelong Tottenham fan, I was less pleased to learn that Spurs crashed to successive league defeats at the hands of Chatham in January 1899, losing 5-0 and 4-0 in the space of eight days. A few days later, the Spurs manager was sacked. A man with the surname of Cameron was appointed and the following season, they won the southern league title. It sounds reassuringly familiar.
Although Chatham is now the largest part of my constituency, the history of other parts goes back much further. Aylesford and the surrounding villages of Burham, Eccles, Wouldham, Ditton, Larkfield and Snodland can be traced back to neolithic times. There have been many finds of archaeological interest, including bronze age swords, an iron age settlement and a Roman villa. Now the area is dotted with numerous listed buildings, industrial estates, a vineyard, quarries, playing fields and picturesque oast houses.
Nearby is Blue Bell hill, well known to many motorists in Kent as a key intersection between the M20 and M2. However, I mention Blue Bell hill today not for its historical or transportation value, but for its supernatural element. The ghost stories are legendary, and sightings have been reported in the local papers on numerous occasions-including, I was amused to see, by a current member of the Press Gallery, Mr Nigel Nelson, whose article, which was written for the local paper before I was born, is still cited by today's paranormal investigators.
The newspaper industry is hugely significant in my constituency. Not only have many who worked at the Kent Messenger group, based in Larkfield, gone on to trade in political journalism, including the Prime Minister's press secretary, but the UK's largest paper mill is based in Aylesford, providing 400,000 tonnes of newsprint per annum-the equivalent of 1% of the world's total newsprint, and all from recycled and recovered materials.
There are many more wonderful things that I am sure I should mention about my constituency, but with time being short, I want to say a few words about today's debate. Parts of my constituency are reasonably well off. Many residents have solid family relationships, comfortable jobs and a decent wage. However, other parts are not. Across Medway, poverty affects nearly 12,000 children-a shocking 22%. Two wards in my constituency are the most severely affected, and sadly,
one features in the top 10% of most deprived areas nationally. That is not a league table in which any area wants to be included, but it highlights the fact that there are huge challenges locally. Inadequate health and housing, low standards of living and high unemployment continue to characterise parts of Chatham, which for many years have been left behind.
There is no easy answer. It is not just one thing that needs to change. Low income, family breakdown, addiction, mental health problems and criminal behaviour contribute to a lack of expectation that, in turn, leads to inactivity. Charities find themselves too small to help; agencies find it too difficult and authorities find it too expensive. Complex problems may require multiple solutions, but unless we invest our time, energy and support, deprivation in parts of one of the most advanced countries in the world will continue to blight our nation.
I have heard many maiden speeches over the past few weeks, and the one thing all new Members share is the desire to make a difference. While I am in Parliament, I want to accomplish many things on behalf of all my constituents, but I hope that improving the plight of the poorest will be my greatest achievement. The Government must of course cut the deficit, but our legacy must be to reduce the dreadful levels of poverty and give every person in my constituency and throughout the country the standard of living they deserve.
Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I am pleased that you were in the Chair when I rose to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker, even though you are about to leave the Chamber, because I can add my congratulations to those of others. It is a particular pleasure to see someone from the north-west in the Chair.
As the debate is rightly dominated by maiden speeches, I wanted to comment on how I felt more than three decades ago when I made my maiden speech, but from what I have experienced in this debate, my recollections will be irrelevant. For days, my insides were chewed up with nerves because I was worrying about making that maiden speech. The good news that I thought I would be bringing to Members making their maiden speech today is that it does not get any better. However, I can see from their performance that their confidence and the quality of their contributions far exceeds that of the intake of 1979.
I am grateful for the chance to contribute to this wide-ranging debate on poverty. I hope the House will forgive me if I focus narrowly on part of the canvas rather than addressing some of the wider aspects that Members have already touched on. A starting point for me is our debate on the Child Poverty Bill before the last election, when I expressed both admiration for what the Government had done and a sense of worry about where we would go from that position of relative success.
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