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Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con):
I pay tribute to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley). I know her seat very well and I am tremendously proud that she is in the House. It was interesting to see the
right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) in the Chamber earlier, but Conservative Members would have liked him to stay for the whole of today's debate.
It is a great honour to speak in my first debate as the newly elected Member of Parliament for Hendon. Mr Speaker will know my seat well. He grew up in the neighbouring constituency, so he will know of many of my constituency's attributes. Hendon is famous for many reasons, including the Metropolitan police training college, the Medical Research Institute, the British Library newspaper depositary, Brent Cross shopping centre and the RAF museum, to name but a few. Many people are migrating to Hendon for some of its other attractions, such as our lower than average crime rate, our good schools and our green spaces, all of which are within easy access of central London, so I urge hon. Members to travel on Thameslink or the Northern line to come and visit. I am sure that many Members, certainly those representing northern constituencies, have already visited Hendon, especially if they travel back to their constituencies at the end of the week by car along the A5, A1, A406 or even the M1.
My constituency is also known for many of its former inhabitants or those who were schooled in the area, including Oliver Postgate, the creator of Bagpuss and the Clangers; Garbo, the Spanish spy who fed the Germans false intelligence about the D-day landings 66 years ago; William Wilberforce, a former Member of Parliament and slave trade abolitionist; and Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore. More recent Hendon characters include Henry Cooper, Denis Compton, Joe Beevers and even Lord Mandelson, who attended school in the area. That shows us that my constituency has attracted people who have contributed to a range of activities in our society and national life. It continues to do so, and I hope, as its new MP, that I will make my mark for the people of my constituency.
I pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, Andrew Dismore. He worked hard on many issues, and I intend to continue some of that work for different sections of our community. He set the bar high, but I intend to exceed it. He also prided himself on having made the longest speech in the Chamber in the past decade, but hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I do not wish to emulate that.
The constituency of Hendon is marked by extreme religious and cultural diversity, which is mirrored economically in the contrast between the affluent Hale, Hendon, Mill Hill and Edgware wards and the housing estates of Burnt Oak and Grahame Park, the Perryfields estate and Stonegrove. I am pleased to confirm, however, that the London borough of Barnet has already started work to regenerate the Stonegrove and Grahame Park estates.
One of the most tragic comments I heard during my campaign to be elected to Parliament came from a mother on the Grahame Park estate, who said that too many foreigners were coming into this country and taking social housing away, and asked how her children could have any chance of taking over the tenancy of their home. That illustrates the lack of aspiration that many people have today. I contrast her attitude with that of parents in other parts of the constituency who spoke about their children going to university, buying their first home and eventually getting married. We live
in one of the most prosperous cities in the western world, but there remain yawning chasms between the aspirations of the people I represent.
In that respect, my constituency is probably a microcosm of London. In turn, London represents part of the affluent south that stands in total contrast to the other places where I have lived, such as Barnsley, Carlisle, Bodmin and Leek. The difference for those places is in how they are viewed by us, as law-makers. Without doubt there is an urban-rural dichotomy in this country, which even today is reflected in our politics. That was reinforced by the previous Government when they established the Urban Task Force and the Rural Task Force. However, when more than 80% of us live in areas, such as my constituency, that can be classified as suburban, it is anathema that the suburbs play a secondary role in regeneration and urban policy.
Given the importance of cities to Britain's future economic prosperity, I urge the Government to recognise that suburban constituencies must play a key role in their policies for urban regeneration. Many commentators share my view, recognising that suburbs are the forgotten dimension in our urban policies. There are many initiatives that could overcome that issue. In the past, the former Member for Sedgefield spoke about "Education, education, education", but I think that that was too narrow a focus. I would prefer us to instil in our people a sense of "Aspiration, aspiration, aspiration", which will continue with them throughout their adult lives. But we cannot do that on a national scale. We need to allow local people to implement the right social and economic priorities for themselves on a suburban scale.
When I was deputy leader of Barnet council, I was proud to introduce a scheme whereby we employed our looked-after children, in the same way that any parent would employ one of their children in the family business. It was not a guarantee of employment, but an opportunity of aspiration that could be taken up-one which, I am pleased to say, several young people did take up and so improved their life chances by entering the local economy. Barnet council also led in the promotion of what became known as the Barnet bond-a financial scheme to raise more than £300 million to be invested in schools, transport and other local services that will be needed to provide the infrastructure to cope with the housing growth expected over the next decade in our suburban constituency. If Barnet does not achieve that-if it does not raise the aspirations of the area and the people who live within it-community life will be on a downward trajectory.
Today, I have heard some Labour Members say that Government Members dislike the public sector. I assure them that that is not the case. In fact, we believe that the public sector has a part to play but that there are others who are able to contribute better than the public sector. Unlike the previous Government, we do not believe that throwing money at problems is the way to create a better economy and better living conditions for our people. We believe that there are many other organisations-particularly in the third sector-that are better at deciding what local people's objectives are and introducing action to achieve them.
My constituency has many organisations that provide benefits for civic and local life-my Seahorse sailing club on the Welsh harp; the Community Security Trust,
which plays a great role in our Jewish community; the Mill Hill Preservation Society and the Larches Trust, to name but a few. Particularly when we talk about green energy and climate change, we must create the aspiration for those organisations and new ones to emerge and allow them to play their part. We must not let the budget deficit become an excuse for inertia.
Under the previous Government there was an increase in violent crime. More than 40 years ago Robert Kennedy told an audience that there is another kind of violence besides physical violence-one that is slower, but just as deadly and just as destructive-and that is the violence of institutions, particularly when they become indifferent, show inaction and produce slow decay. That is, in essence, a neglect of aspirations by politicians and policy makers. Because we do not have any money, we must look at alternative ways of reducing our deficit and improving our country.
Because of the massive economic deficit we must win the argument, particularly Conservative Members and with our colleagues the Liberal Democrats, that it is the opportunity of aspiration that will create private sector employment and pull us out of the state that we are in. It will not happen as a result of some of the objectives proposed by Opposition Members. We need to recognise that different communities work in different ways, be they rural, urban or suburban, and we have to give our constituents the ways and means to address the problems that they face and to introduce the right conditions for themselves. As the Member of Parliament for Hendon, I intend to play my part to achieve that.
Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): I start by welcoming you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to your position. One of the first tasks that I undertook when I came into this place was to put my cross against your name, so welcome. I also congratulate hon. Members on their maiden speeches. Members will share with me the sense of privilege and much pride that comes with entering this magnificent Chamber. That pride brings with it a real sense of responsibility, which I will keep to the forefront of my mind throughout.
However, the happiness of the occasion is tinged for me with some sadness and real fear: sadness because I do not take my seat on the Government Benches where the important decisions that affect my constituents will be made, and fear for the constituents whom I represent, and worry that the choices already made by the coalition will severely damage the good that has come from 13 years of a Labour Government. Those choices are driven by pure ideology, with consequences that are likely to be far-reaching and long-lasting. My constituency has benefited tremendously from a Labour Government, and I fear the clock being turned back to Tory time.
Hull East, or East Hull, as it is known to those of us who were born and bred there, is a fantastic place. Its greatest asset is its people. East Hull folk have a reputation for straight talking, and I hope that I bring with me to the House that special quality. East Hull people are
enriched by many excellent qualities, among which are their good sense and sound judgment. I am delighted that they employ those when they vote Labour, which is why I am here.
To that end, I have the benefit in my constituency of the hard work and tireless commitment of many excellent Labour councillors, led by the leader of the Labour group, Councillor Steve Brady, and I thank them for their service. I can also tell the House that in the past few days we have had a new councillor on the Labour benches in the chamber in Hull-Councillor Maureen Bristow. She crossed the floor from the Lib Dems because, in her words, she did not come into politics to implement Tory policy that hit the hard-working and the poorest people the hardest. That sentiment is shared by people in Hull and throughout the country who have previously voted Lib Dem but will never make that mistake again.
I am often reminded that I have very big boots to fill, and I acknowledge that in paying tribute to my predecessor, John Prescott. It was 40 years ago on the 18th of this month that John was elected to the House. In that time he has been credited with many achievements, perhaps too many to mention in the short time that I am permitted to speak. Throughout his time here, he was blessed with the loyalty of his agent, Harry Woodford, who still attends Labour party meetings at the age of 93. I know that I can rely on the same loyalty from my agent, Howard Flitton. He is much younger than Harry, but, if I stay in the House as long as John, by then he will be about the same age.
While John was a Member, some say that he delivered many knockout blows. He was very faithful to his constituents and to the Labour party, and I hope to emulate that. Hon. Members might recall that in the 2001 general election, while on the campaign trail, John was involved in an incident in Wales. When his then boss, Tony Blair, asked him, "John, for heaven's sake, what were you doing?" I am told that John replied, "Well you told me to go out there and connect with the electorate, so don't blame me now." He was straight talking, and he had a very good left jab.
John Prescott has a lot to be proud of. He rose from being a seafaring steward to the dizzy heights of Deputy Prime Minister, following the Labour party's magnificent election success in 1997. I feel compelled to mention that, unlike the incumbent Deputy Prime Minister, John gained his place in government through the electorate and the then leader of his own party. It was not gained through the desire for power, whereby 22 Government jobs, with gold-plated pensions, have been traded for many thousands of public sector jobs-a desire for power that I predict will not come without a great cost to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) and his party.
My predecessor is very different from the right hon. Gentleman, but there are some comparisons. I say that with some apprehension, because I am clearly at risk of offending my predecessor, and I do not suggest for even a second that John has, or will ever, utter the words, "I agree with Nick," but interestingly enough at the general election he and the right hon. Gentleman asked the electorate to vote for their respective parties in order to stop the Tories ruining the economic recovery that was set in train by the previous Labour Government. Like the electorate, I have no recollection of the current Deputy Prime Minister saying, "I agree with Dave."
While making comparisons, however, I seem to share the Prime Minister's sense of humour, because like him, I and many other Opposition Members have a new favourite joke. The former Deputy Prime Minister-the one whom the electorate wanted-will soon continue in the other place with his tireless commitment to his interests, and I wish him well there.
Indeed, I do have big boots to fill. The last Hull-born MP to represent the area was the great William Wilberforce, who began his political career in 1780 when he became the independent MP for Yorkshire, which at the time covered some parts of my constituency. He was a truly honourable man, who led the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade, and after some 26 years the Slave Trade Act 1807 was passed. When Wilberforce left the House in 1826, he continued his campaign, and just three days before he died he learned of the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.
East Hull has a record of electing Members with seagoing experience. In 1945, the area elected Harry Pursey, a former naval commander, and of course my predecessor was a merchant seaman. Although I have no seafaring experience, I am the son of a former seaman, so to that end the tradition continues.
I am very proud of my roots. I was educated in a state comprehensive, and my school suffered from some shameful under-investment during the previous, 18-year-long Tory Government. I left school without having achieved much academic success, but after the first term of the previous Labour Government and their agenda for lifelong learning I had the opportunity and confidence to study law at the excellent university of Hull. I was eventually called to the Bar in 2005.
Hull has many things to be proud of, not least the excellent quality of its rugby league. In the east we have Hull Kingston Rovers and in the west Hull FC, both of which rival each other in the super league. We also have Hull City football club. Not unlike another team that are extremely close to my heart, we suffered last season what I hope turns out to be a short-lived demotion. The team were led by, I often argued, an excellent leader in Mr Brown-that is, Phil Brown.
Despite the coalition Government's attempts to convince each other and the wider electorate that we got it wrong, Labour Members sit on this side of the House proudly and with our heads held high. We have an excellent record to defend. I am particularly proud of the national minimum wage; our investment in the NHS, with 85,000 more nurses and 32,000 more doctors, and cancer care that is again becoming the envy of the world; record numbers of students from normal backgrounds like my own going off to university; Sure Start; the winter fuel allowance; equality legislation set in train by the Labour party in government; the historic Good Friday agreement and the peace in Northern Ireland that it brought; tackling pensioner poverty; child tax credits; the abolition of section 28; the introduction of civil partnerships; massive investment in social housing; free bus passes for over-60s; free swimming for under-16s and over-60s; free nursery places for three and four-year-olds; and Building Schools for the Future.
On the economy, I am proud that we took decisive action when the global economic crisis hit. I am proud, too, that we saved the banks from inevitable collapse and invested in the economy, leaving the new coalition with an economy that is in growth. Make no mistake
about it-we did mend the roof when the sun was shining. The vast majority of those policies were opposed by the new Government; some have already gone in the short time that they have held office.
I vow to hold this Government to account while I sit on this side of the Chamber, but in doing so I remember the responsibility that I have to my constituents. If the Con-Dem coalition gets it right, I will support it, but when the policy is wrong, when it is for ideological reasons, and when it adversely affects my constituents, I shall challenge it at each and every opportunity.
Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Let me start by congratulating the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) and my hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and for Hendon (Mr Offord) on their excellent maiden speeches. I am sure that they will all make great contributions to this House over the years to come.
I cannot imagine that many of us who sat in the Chamber on Tuesday to hear the Chancellor's emergency Budget statement will have found it exactly an enjoyable experience. Theatrical, yes; dramatic, yes; enjoyable, no. It was a bleak Budget statement drawn from a grim economic landscape bequeathed to us by the previous Labour Administration. We will all now be thinking about getting back to our constituencies this weekend and discussing with our constituents how we can face these tough measures together. Yet I suspect, judging by the Leader of the Opposition's response, that many of those on the Labour Benches will be blaming everyone and everything but themselves for the situation in which we find ourselves. That is neither wise nor credible. I hope that at least some of them will recognise that under their governance this country was living way beyond its means for far too long. As the well-worn but true saying goes, all good things come to an end-only on this occasion, not just an end, but a juddering halt that has shaken the whole country violently.
I would like to put on record how much I abhor the manner in which the previous Labour Government, in their last few months, went round dangling all sorts of promises-this project, that programme-to dazzle the electorate, all of them knowingly unfunded, so that they were inevitably withdrawn when reality kicked in with the new Government. Another Labour Government-heaven forfend-would have been in no position to do any different from what we are having to do.
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