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2.51 pm

Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham): It is a great privilege to second the motion on the Loyal Address. I stand here today with a sense of humility, knowing that the honour really belongs to the people of Tottenham, who invested their trust in me for a second time.

I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who has distinguished himself over many years in the House. It is not without a degree of trepidation, however, that I join him in commending the Gracious Speech.

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It is wonderful to be no longer the new boy in the House. In today's edition of The Guardian, the former Member for Gloucester refers to this place as something of a public school. I did not go to public school, but I was reminded of school when I was summoned by the Chief Whip yesterday. I felt more than a bit concerned and anxious about why I had to visit her office. What had I done during the past few days?

The feeling of anxiety took me back to the time I moved from infant school to junior school. I was quite a boisterous seven-year-old, and quickly found myself in a fracas with another child. Miss Vaisey, my headmistress, commanded me to go to her office. I remember that long, nervous walk, because I had been told by some of the older boys of the slipper in her office that she often had occasion to use. She told me to take my coat off, and said that she would be back in 10 minutes. Nervous and very scared, I thought that she said, "Take your clothes off"--[Laughter.] To this day, I recall with horror both our faces.

Imagine my great relief when I found out that the Chief Whip had summoned me to ask me to second the motion today. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, who proposed the motion, joined the Labour party when the late Harold Wilson became its leader in 1963, and my hon. Friend has the honour of representing the former Prime Minister's home town as his constituency. Mr. Wilson's famous remark that a week is a long time in politics evidently made a deep impression on my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, who in her wisdom realised that 24 hours was quite long enough for me to prepare for the speech of my life.

It was clear, however, that strict rules governed the tradition of making this speech. Back in the far distant days of May 1997, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) spoke of his pleasure at hearing senior Conservatives on the "Today" programme declare that they would listen to the country, learn from their mistakes and change their policies to make their party more electable again. I am delighted to continue that tradition, and report that I have heard that very same debate just this week. Those days in 1997 were a time when some wondered whether the career of the former Conservative Member for Enfield, Southgate was over: now we know that it is.

It is almost a year and a day since I was elected Member of Parliament for Tottenham. To represent the area where I was born and brought up, and where I now live, is truly a great privilege. It is impossible for me to talk about Tottenham without paying tribute to its most prominent advocate, Bernie Grant. Bernie's understanding of the realities and needs of his constituents earned him the enduring respect of so many people in Tottenham, and it was his determined pursuit of justice and equality for the under-represented that made him a national and international leader for those who needed a voice. I am committed to continuing that pursuit, and I wholeheartedly welcome the legislation to allow increases in the representation of women in public life. I know that that development alone will speed up the modernisation process in this place, and I know that many other younger voters will be grateful for that.

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I hope, too, that the House will join me in working to achieve concrete results in increasing ethnic minority representation in this place and in public life. I am never anonymous in the Palace of Westminster, but I look forward to a day when women and black people will not stand out on these Benches and the House will truly be a House of representatives.

The emphasis on delivery rightly dominated the Gracious Speech. Yes, many of my constituents understand that business confidence, interest rates, tax levels and the economy are an important part of the national picture, but they will not say, "A job well done" until they see excellence in all our schools, the national health service transformed, safer streets and an efficient transport system.

It does not matter whether one is in Tottenham, parts of Glasgow, Toxteth, Moss Side, Oldham or Leeds; we are at a turning point in this country, and our constituents ask the same things of their representatives. Are we to become a ghetto or a gateway? Are we to become isolated or integrated? Are we to become an area of fragmented communities or a successful community of communities? It is the latter of these alternative possible futures that the Labour Government can deliver for my constituents.

In Tottenham we have witnessed significant improvements in our primary schools, with seven failing schools coming out of special measures, but the challenge of improving our secondary schools still lies ahead. I hope that the education Bill will continue to move us in the right direction, treading that difficult tightrope between support and intervention in turning schools and local education authorities around.

For me, education was the gateway to opportunity. I went to a primary school in Tottenham, as I have said. It had the unfortunate name of Downhills, but it was teachers at that school and later schools who pushed me uphill, improving my prospects and self-belief. I value those teachers because, academically, I never found things particularly easy. Right through school, I was in the second to bottom teaching set, and my mock exams predicted just two GCSEs.

My mother dug out my old school report recently, and my year 11 report says:

I would not have the self-assurance to speak in the House of Commons were it not for those teachers and adults who invested in me as a child.

Hon. Members have heard me describe my constituency as the most multi-ethnic in Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), who is now the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, and I represent constituencies in which 160 languages are spoken--a most diverse corner of the busiest capital in the world--so Members on both sides of the House will be surprised to hear of my recent conversion to Euroscepticism. Yes, I have decided that I must declare myself very much against the free movement of goods and people across Europe if the reports that Sol Campbell is to move from Spurs to Barcelona are true.

May I seek your indulgence for a few more moments, Mr. Speaker? I was in a surgery the other day, when an old Jamaican lady came up to me and told me a story

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about travelling on a train in Jamaica. The train was moving rather slowly, and an American passenger became increasingly agitated. He stormed down the aisle of the train and asked the driver, "Can't you go any faster?" The driver replied, "I can go faster, but I've got to stay with the train." [Laughter.] This House has not always appeared to be at pace with the people outside, but I stay with this House, because it is the only vehicle for delivering change in our country. Under this Government, a second term offers the only opportunity for thousands of British children and for transforming public services. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.

3.3 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): It is the custom of the House for the Leader of the Opposition to congratulate the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address on their speeches and to comment on them, and it is a great pleasure to do so this afternoon. I should like to begin by sincerely congratulating the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) on his entertaining, enlightening and charming speech. I have a lot in common with him--I did not go to public school either. At the beginning of his speech, he referred to reading The Guardian. I do not know whether he knows that, next to the words "sitting MP", the pre-election profile of his constituency, supplied very authoritatively by The Guardian, stated:

I hope that he will join me in my resolve in saying, "The Guardian 2001: Not Reading."

The hon. Gentleman and I have other things in common. We were both elected to the House at by-elections, and at the time of our elections we were the youngest Members sitting on the Government Benches--so he had better be careful; strange things can happen to him. I shall give him some advice. Following his victory in the Tottenham by-election, he was quoted as saying that the Prime Minister tried to speak to him to congratulate him, but he had been too busy to return the Prime Minister's call. He had been elected for only a matter of minutes and was already behaving like the Chancellor. That is not a good idea. Given that we enjoyed his speech and that he started out as a chorister at Peterborough cathedral, I hope, as he speaks so well and straightforwardly, that he will not merely sing other people's tunes in the coming years.

It is also a pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). He is the author of a book, a fact that is not widely known. It is quite substantial. Indeed, I was torn between his speech and his book. He is co-author of a biography of Harold Laski. No doubt he will be flattered to know that I went to the Library last night and took out the book. However, he will not be too flattered to know that according to the inside cover, I am the first Member in eight and half years to do that. I got well advanced into it last night and reached the end of the acknowledgements, where it says:

He wrote the book in the sense that Her Majesty wrote the Queen's Speech.

I shall be a bit nicer about the hon. Gentleman now. He has many other achievements to his name, one of which was to windsurf from Majorca to France. However,

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he sailed closest to the wind when he urged restrictions on drinking in the Palace of Westminster. His career never really recovered from that. He also said other things that he might regret. In 1999, he said that the

The hon. Gentleman referred to Huddersfield Town. I know that he will be deeply distressed--as we are in Yorkshire--at the current performance of the Huddersfield Giants rugby league team, especially as they have the longest run of defeats in English rugby league, including all of the first 14 games this season. Will he tell the players from me that I know how they feel?

The hon. Gentleman proved even more far sighted than in his other predictions by keeping his seat. Despite the huge majority that he mentioned, the House will be surprised to hear that in one way he held on only by the skin of his teeth. As the New Statesman reported in May this year:

May we congratulate the hon. Gentleman on resisting all the considerable temptations that were no doubt placed in his way?

It is a delight to congratulate both hon. Members on their speeches, all the more so because they have refused to use the script set out in the wonderful "New Labour, new Britain" briefing on the Queen's Speech for Labour Members that was so helpfully faxed to my office earlier today. It has an extremely useful model speech insert for hon. Members to use. We all look forward to seeing who makes that speech. I am happy to place a copy of it in the Library for my hon. Friends to judge speeches as the debate progresses in the next week. The speech does, however, require hon. Members to insert the right name of their constituency--so look out for that pitfall. It also refers to

Finally, it says:

That could have been the briefing for the Queen's Speech or the selection speech of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward) as he went around the country. There may have been a mistake.

Obviously, there are measures in the Queen's Speech that we welcome, such as those to reform our adoption laws. We welcome the commitment to give legislative backing to the conclusions on rail safety that Lord Cullen is likely to reach in the second part of his report. It is time to learn the lessons of the Paddington rail crash and to make travelling by rail as safe as travelling by any other form of transport. We support an early, comprehensive world trade round, which was mentioned in the Queen's Speech. We strongly back the commitment to the observance of human rights, including throughout the Commonwealth, which we hope will lead to stronger action to put pressure on the Government of Zimbabwe.

We would have given a general welcome to other measures that are not in the Queen's Speech had they been included. Only this morning, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), sacked as a Minister after the election, accused the Government of breaking their

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promise to every pub-goer in the country--a group with whom I am happy to declare a joint interest. It is no wonder that young people are so disillusioned when at 10 pm on the Saturday before the election, they receive a text message on their mobile phones, saying,

only to discover a week on Wednesday that the Bill is not included in the Queen's Speech.

Of course, there are other aspects of the Queen's Speech that Conservative Members and, I hope, Members of other parties can support. We welcome especially the commitment to build on the progress made by successive Governments in Northern Ireland. We continue to believe that the Belfast agreement offers the best hope for a peaceful, secure and stable Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, and we wish the current negotiations well. However, as the elections have shown, among mainstream moderate Unionists confidence in the agreement is in dangerously short supply.

The terrorists have been released; their political allies are now in government; the RUC has undergone painful change; yet not a single gun or ounce of Semtex has been given up. If the agreement is to realise the hopes that so many of us throughout the House have invested in it, it must be implemented in full and by all sides. I believe that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and his party have been stretched as far as they can go, and it is now up to others to deliver. Unless that process begins shortly, we will face another serious crisis and the Government will face the first major test of their second term. I wish them well in dealing with it.

More generally, the Prime Minister always regarded winning a second term as the most important goal of his first term, and it would be churlish of me if I did not now congratulate him on achieving his prized objective. He has taken the opportunity to carry out a large reorganisation of the Government, including Ministers who days earlier were said to be doing a fantastic job. I, too, have been doing a bit of reorganising. In fact, since I announced my resignation even the Prime Minister has been nice about me. The experience of resigning has been so pleasant that I am thinking of recommending it more widely. The trouble is that for members of the Government, praise comes immediately before they leave their job, rather than immediately afterwards as in my case.

When we said that the former Foreign Secretary was not doing his job properly, the Prime Minister said that he had every confidence in him and that he

When we called for the former Minister for Europe to be sacked, the Prime Minister said that

while his official spokesman said that he had

So when the Deputy Prime Minister hears the Prime Minister describe him as "loyal, true and decent", he ought to regard it as a deeply worrying development.

The Deputy Prime Minister has now been promoted to what was the first rung on the ministerial ladder occupied by his very close friend the right hon. Member for

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Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). After three failed attempts to appoint a Cabinet enforcer, the Government finally settled on a Cabinet bouncer. However, we congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on the fact that whatever the Prime Minister does to him, he will always be one of the Cabinet's big hitters.

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