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10 Jun 2010 : Column 537

By taking away a scheme that guarantees a real and lasting paid job for young people who would otherwise not have one, we store up trouble for future generations. If we are not careful, we will leave a legacy every bit as devastating for future generations as the one that continues to blight so many children's lives now. We must not repeat the legacy that was created in the 1980s and 1990s. I urge the Minister to think again.

3.50 pm

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): Guess what? I, too, would like to congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your new role. I also congratulate those who have made their maiden speeches. They show that there are some very good new Members in this Parliament. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me today, although it is, inevitably, rather a daunting moment, not only because so many Members from the 2010 intake have spoken so well, but because we follow in the footsteps of many wonderful orators who have made history in the House.

In a maiden speech it is customary to pay tribute to one's predecessors. In my case, it is a little difficult because Mid Derbyshire has been made up of four different constituencies, and I am the first Member to be elected for the new constituency. However, a constituency called Mid Derbyshire was created in the general election of 1885, when Sir James Alfred Jacoby was elected as the Liberal Member of Parliament. He held the seat until his death in 1909, when he was succeeded, after a by-election, by John George Hancock, also a British Liberal party politician, until 1918, when the seat was abolished. He was one of a group of trade union-sponsored Liberals who were instructed by their union to join the Labour party. He held his seat as a Labour Member, without Liberal opposition, in both 1910 elections.

Relations between the Labour and Liberal parties deteriorated after that, and they were expected to field candidates against each other at the next general election, which was anticipated to be in 1915. Hancock decided that he would rather be defined as a Liberal, so he crossed the Floor in 1915 to rejoin the Liberals. He held the seat until the constituency was abolished for the 1918 general election. He was then returned unopposed for the new Belper constituency, also once held by the well known politician Lord George Brown. Belper is in the new Mid Derbyshire constituency.

My constituency comprises part of West Derbyshire, now Derbyshire Dales, part of Amber Valley, part of Erewash and part of Derby North. Hon. Members now representing two of those seats have already paid great tribute to their predecessors in their maiden speeches, and my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee) is sitting right behind me-I hope she will be called today. The three Members who preceded me and left at the election worked hard for their constituents and were well known by them. I will try to be as diligent and hard-working in my duties in the years to come. The fourth Member is, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Mr McLoughlin), who is a long way from retirement. He remains a very successful Member and is part of the new coalition Government.

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Before saying more about my right hon. Friend, I want to say how delighted I am to represent the people of the new constituency of Mid Derbyshire. It is a wonderful mixture of urban and rural, and at its heart is part of a world heritage site-the Derwent Valley Mills, birthplace of the factory system. The Derwent Valley Mills and the industrial revolution influenced north America, Europe and, indeed, the world. There are some beautiful areas, including Dale abbey where a hermit lived in a cave. Some of Derby's suburbs are very pleasant, as is the village of Little Eaton where I have lived for many years.

Mid Derbyshire is on the edge of the beautiful Peak district, part of the soft landscape of the southern Derbyshire dales. Derbyshire building society was one of the major employers, although as I said yesterday it is about to close; but we do have the relatively new Derby university.

I am fortunate to have known my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales since just after his narrow by-election win in 1986, when the then Labour Derbyshire county council decided to abolish, not for educational reasons but from political spite, the sixth form at the school that my children attended. As chairman of the school parent teacher association, it was left to me to lead the campaign to save the sixth form of what was, and is, the most successful comprehensive in the county. We even had an Adjournment debate in this place. It did not start until after 3 o'clock in the morning but it was attended by more than 150 parents, staff and children. The campaign was successful and the sixth form was saved.

Since those times my interest in international development has grown through starting a project in Uganda with students from two of the four secondary schools in Mid Derbyshire. We have been to Uganda to see what it is like for children to be brought up in a developing poor country. The project links very well with my interest in education, because we help schools over there. The students pay most of the cost of the trip, but we all fundraise to pay for the rest and for the aid that we take to the two schools that we support. Last year, £12,000 was shared between the schools. It is a good way for students from relatively comfortable backgrounds to see that others can be as successful as them. Just because the Ugandan students are poor does not mean that they cannot succeed.

Students from Ecclesbourne school in Duffield and Woodlands school in Allestree spend many of their weekends fundraising, which has included bag-packing in supermarkets, washing cars, running stalls at fairs and baking cakes for sale. The students have learned to speak in public, either at school to inspire other students to help or in local churches to explain why we have a cake stall after the service. They have also learned that fundraising is hard work.

Those young people see students in Uganda who have nothing but who are getting on with a good education without books or equipment. They study the same syllabus but without a textbook in sight, relying only on the teacher's knowledge to learn, often by rote, from the blackboard. Their schools are in poor rural communities and it has been useful for our students to realise that from an early age Ugandan students have to fetch water from the well before walking up to seven miles to school. They do not have iPods, computers,
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mobile phones or the internet-luxuries that our students take for granted. The fundraising has transformed the life chances of the children we have helped in Uganda, as well as giving our students an insight into what real poverty is. I have also been to Rwanda with a Conservative party project, so I am delighted that we are committed to work towards our 0.7% international development goal.

Of course we have poverty in this country. Derbyshire does not have inner-city poverty, but there is poverty. Much of the money going to schools follows free school meal take-up, and I have been told regularly by head teachers that in a relatively affluent area, the problem is that people who suffer poverty are frightened and nervous about asking for free school meals. I would like our Government to look at how we can encourage take-up in schools where relatively fewer people are in poverty.

We need to remember that there are pockets of poverty in rural areas and in certain suburbs. I am delighted that our Government will give local authorities the freedom to spend money as best they think fit. We must ensure that hidden deprivation is not one of those things that is missed, so that the students in our schools get the best educational chance that they can.

I want to represent all the constituents of Mid Derbyshire, from whatever part of the social spectrum, and I am particularly concerned, as I said yesterday, about the problems that we will face with unemployment, given the impending closure of the head office of the Derbyshire building society. I have written to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to ask him to consider how he can help those people to get back into work.

4 pm

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): I, too, congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your elevation to your new role. I am sure that you are probably getting tired of hearing such congratulations, but I wanted to add mine.

I also congratulate hon. Members on their maiden speeches. Having made mine a couple of weeks ago, I know what a daunting prospect it is. I particularly welcome the contribution by the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham). We were colleagues on Derby city council before we were elected to the House at the general election, so it is especially fitting to address the House directly after her.

Poverty is an incredibly important issue, and a recognition of its importance is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. In many ways it defines the sort of society in which we live. I welcome the coalition Government's commitment to the previous Labour Government's commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020. The big question is, of course, how we will get there under the new regime.

I and other Labour Members strongly believe that work is indeed one of the best pathways out of poverty, but to ensure that it is a genuine pathway out of poverty, it is vital not only that we continue to support measures such as the national minimum wage and move towards a living wage, but that we recognise that we must also support initiatives such as child tax credits. Child trust funds have also made a big contribution by encouraging people to save. I very much regret that the Government have decided to do away with those funds. Particularly
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for families from low-income backgrounds, not to have that start in life or that incentive to continue to save and to build up a nest egg for when they reach the age of 18 is a very big mistake.

On work as a pathway out of poverty and the importance of the measures that I have identified, we must acknowledge-I used to work in welfare rights, so I have some knowledge of this-that the work disincentives that used to exist have now been addressed in large measure. Although I accept that more probably needs to be done, work has become a genuine pathway out of poverty. I stress that I am very concerned about the Conservative party's proposals. The precise detail of some of them remains to be seen, but I would be concerned about any attempt to reduce support for things such as tax credits, which are so vital to the process of helping people into the labour market.

Of course, ensuring that employment pays is one of the most important methods of addressing poverty, but we should also acknowledge the measures that are vital in relation to tackling pensioner poverty and the fact that many disabled people also experience poverty. Again, that is why I would be concerned if measures were proposed to undermine some of the support mechanisms that we put in place. For example, concessionary travel has liberated whole swathes of older people in our country who were previously imprisoned essentially in their own homes, unable to travel beyond their immediate neighbourhoods. The pension credit system has also made a big contribution to tackling poverty, as have the cold weather payments. I remember that many elderly people simply could not afford to heat their homes in the 1980s, but those sorts of things are no longer among the concerns of many elderly people in our country because of the measures put in place by the previous Labour Government.

In the end, growth is the key to tackling poverty, so the big question is how we deliver growth in our economy so that we make the welfare payments that are so important to addressing poverty a reality. Labour Members believe that it is vital that the state and public spending play a role in ensuring that the economy continues to grow. Conservative Members say that they are sick of hearing history lessons from us, but if we do not learn the lessons from history, we will make the same mistakes. It is therefore essential that we acknowledge the role of the state in ensuring that the economy continues to grow.

For example, Bombardier, a company in my constituency, is bidding for the Thameslink contract. We hope that the announcement will come shortly and that it is in favour of Bombardier, because that will secure 2,600 jobs directly in the company, as well as a further 5,000, 6,000 or even 7,000 jobs in the supply chain. If we cut public spending and such programmes, however, that would throw 7,000, 8,000 or perhaps 9,000 people out of work, which would put more pressure on the state, because of increased unemployment benefit, and lead to the downward spiral of having to make cuts to people's welfare provision to accommodate the diminishing tax revenue resulting from a declining economy. I therefore urge Conservative Members to learn the lessons of history because they are otherwise destined to repeat the same mistakes, and it will not be they or many Labour Members who will pay the price of those mistakes, but ordinary working-class people in my constituency
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and throughout the country. They will pay the price for a failed economic prospectus that was tried in the 1980s and the 1930s but proven not to work. For goodness' sake, people need to look at their history books and learn these vital lessons.

Andrew Percy: We are hearing a lot about history from the hon. Gentleman, but the Labour party does not seem to have learned one lesson from history: whenever it has left government, the country has been more bankrupt, more in debt and with unemployment higher than when it came in. Interesting as it is to hear history lessons from the hon. Gentleman, he should perhaps look to his colleagues before he starts lecturing Conservative Members.

Chris Williamson: The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that we have just experienced the most significant worldwide recession for 80 years. Worldwide opinion acknowledges that the previous Government's leadership, particularly under the auspices of the former Prime Minister, is getting the world's economy back on its feet. It is somewhat unfair for the hon. Gentleman to talk in such terms about the economic situation that the coalition Government have inherited.

As independent commentators have said on a number of occasions, without the measures put in place by the previous Government, at least 500,000 more people in this country would be out of work. The largest proportion of this country's deficit is a direct consequence of unemployment. If the Government parties' policies are put in place, however, I fear that unemployment will continue to grow, which will put further pressure on the public finances and mean that we will not get the growth that we desperately require.

I know that the Government parties are set on a course, but we will scrutinise very closely and expose all their shortcomings to ensure that, at the next general election, they are held to account for the actions they take.

4.10 pm

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech. Although we are not quite neighbouring MPs, we share an excellent motorway, the M4, which connects our two constituencies.

I congratulate all those who have made some first-class maiden speeches today, two of which I shall highlight. My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) spoke passionately about her love of football-a love that I share but, the House will be delighted to know, not of the same team, Tottenham Hotspur. My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) championed the sampling of the fine traditions of Burton's brewing industry. I am sure that all of us suffering greatly from nerves as we headed towards making our maiden speech would have formed an orderly queue to take up his suggestion.

Following tradition, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Michael Wills, who served the North Swindon constituency for 13 years. He had a reputation for meticulous attention to detail and worked extremely hard for my fellow local residents. On my first meeting with Michael, he assured me that one day we would both be in Parliament
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together. How right he was. I am sure that the whole House joins me in congratulating him on his elevation to the House of Lords, where he can continue to represent the people of Swindon in a different role.

I am a local resident of North Swindon and was a councillor for 10 years, up to the day of the general election. I am grateful that the local residents did not give me a huge amount of free time in allowing me to change roles. Earlier this week, on Monday, my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) made an enlightening speech in which he set out the proud history of our town, covering its beginning as a small Saxon market town and its development through our proud railway heritage. Now, Swindon is one of the fastest growing towns in the country. In the spirit of teamwork that we show in having joint staff and joint offices, I shall not repeat the summary of history that he gave; instead, I shall focus on some of the more quirky and light-hearted facts that make our wonderful and unique town of Swindon so proud.

All maiden speakers champion the towns they represent, but I am delighted to say that I have some evidence that Swindon is as good as we all claim. In 2008, The Times said that it was the best place to buy a house-I welcome any Member who wishes to visit one of our local estate agents. We had the first example of a lending library, and I am pleased to say that two years ago we built a new £10 million central library on time and to budget-an aspiration for many Government Departments. I must say, however, that despite the fact that ours was the first lending library, it took us 40 years to replace a temporary set of portakabins, much to the annoyance of local residents. In addition, the much loved mechanics' institute was the first example of the basis of the NHS.

When I say that I am from Swindon, many people mention roundabouts, and we are indeed famous for "the magic roundabout". I assure those who have never embarked on the magic roundabout-a series of five roundabouts-that doing so is as daunting as making one's maiden speech. Those who know the music industry will know that, allegedly, the famous band Oasis named themselves after our very popular local Oasis leisure centre. I am proud that Swindon is twinned with cities such as Salzgitter, Ocatal, Torun, and Murcia. In addition, thanks to the endeavours and creative skills of local resident Rebecca Warren, we now have a formal twinning arrangement with Disneyland, so the magic of Disney is now being sprinkled across Swindon and our local paper finally has some colourful coverage.

In my role as a councillor, one of my main focuses was on leisure. I played a small part in addressing the subject of this debate-poverty-because I see how sport and leisure can play a big role in raising aspirations and providing opportunities for people. As a result of the excellent work of the sports forum that we set up, we now have more than 60 voluntary sporting groups that come together to share best practice, network and work together to create greater opportunities, as well as to leverage extra funding from external organisations and the council for that work.

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