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I should like also to congratulate my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State on her appointment. She is a former teacher with a lifelong commitment to education and no need of a belated voyage of discovery.
I am grateful to be called to speak in this debate, because in my constituency we face a challenge in encouraging more of our children simply to remain at school after 16. Two thirds of the high schools have staying-on rates that are well below the county and national averages. That includes my old school, Wolstanton High, where, as a young father knocking on 40, I am still a governor.
That challenge has much to do with the loyal and ancient borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme. For those who are straining to hear a hint of Geordie, a common mistake, may I explain that Newcastle-under-Lyme is indeed in the northnorth Staffordshire? Granted our royal charter in 1173, we can rightfully claim to be the first Newcastle, or, for that matter, Oldcastle. We were overrun by the Romans and the Normans long before they reached the Tyne, although of course they reached Bexhill and Battle long before us. It seems that for our 800 years we have always been fighting somebody or other. For much of the past century we have resisted the imperialist embrace of our Victorian new arrivals next door in the pottery city of Stoke-on-Trent.
Newcastle is historically not a potteries town, but many of our folk have toiled in the bottle kilns and our terraces housed their workers. Newcastle's first Labour Member of Parliament was Josiah Wedgwood, a great-grandson of the founder of the Wedgwood company; we have been represented by Labour ever since 1919. We might have got Luton's motor factory, but the pot bank owners fought itin our area, they did not want to pay car-makers' wages.
Newcastle has always been a market townthe trading centre of north Staffordshire, but above all it has been a pit town: the Staffordshire coalfield is the biggest in the country and the Wolstanton and Silverdale mines were Britain's deepest. In one civil war, Newcastle's roundheads, loyal to Parliament, saw off cavaliers from Cheshire and Derbyshire; sadly, in round two, we lost to the lady from Lincolnshire, so all our pits are now gone. We have lots of parks instead, mind you. Apedale mine is now a beautifully landscaped nature park, Wolstanton a retail park and Holditch a thriving business park thanks to Newcastle's wonderful council, helped now by a Labour Government.
No matter how we fought the industrial challenge, Newcastle's community bears the scars and they continue to show in our schools. I know how hard it is for poorer kids to stay on after the age of 16: my mum left school at 15 and my dad, in Ireland, at 12. I can safely say that I am the only new Labour Member of Parliament to be the grandson of a rabbit trapper from County Meath. I was urged to go to work at 16, but more than a little stubbornness, combined with wiping tables at Keele
I was the first of my family to go to universityto Oxford. I was lucky. My English granddada captain's messenger hopping the trenches in the gunfire of the first world war, a staunch trade unionist all his life and one of the first members of the Labour partyknew the value of education. I am proud to serve Newcastle-under-Lyme for a Labour party that has put at the heart of its second term in government the transformation of secondary education and the expansion of further and higher education for all, not only a privileged few.
Making sure our kids achieve begins in the home, not at school. Labour's family policies are already helping poorer children to break the vicious circle of families surviving on benefit with no incentives, no jobs and no aspirations. We are also giving children a hand directly: my constituency now benefits from the sure start programme, and Stoke-on-Trent is reaping rewards from the education maintenance allowance, which helps poorer children to stay on past 16. I am sure that my hon. Friends from Stoke will understand it when, just this once, I cast my eyes enviously at their patch and urge the Government to extend the EMA to all of Newcastle, north Staffordshire and nationally, so that all our kids benefit from a level playing field. Above all, we must continue to level up education standard spending assessments in areas such as Staffordshire. The Government will, I am sure, continue to do exactly that.
The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) highlighted some of the holes in the Conservatives' manifesto. During the election I noticed that they had already stolen some of Labour's clothes, but not, it would seem, in education. I hope that during their knockabout leadership election, the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) will undertake another voyage of discovery and abandon foolish and dangerous policies such as so-called free schools. They are not free: someone will pay and it will be the least advantaged of our children who face the greatest challenges to staying on beyond 16.
It is right and proper that, as is the custom, I now pay tribute to my predecessor. Children have been the lifelong passion of Llin Golding, who represented Newcastle for 15 years. Despite Llin's many other onerous commitments, such as the Commons fly fishing club, the Back-Bench horse racing committee and the foxy Middle Way, she always led the parliamentary children's group. She served as a Front-Bench spokesman on education and agriculture. Her creativity in combining her passions has been truly remarkable: for example, she remains a patron of Second Chance, a charity for less advantaged children who need special helpto spend weekends fishing, of course.
No mention of Newcastle-under-Lyme would be complete without praising the late, great John Golding. Many of my older colleagues will have mixed feelings about my old friend, Labour's witchfinder general and the well named "hammer of the left", but I am sure that everyone recognises John's outstanding contribution to Labour's historic electoral success under my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). John was a tireless champion of the underprivileged and one of the earliest campaigners for the minimum wage. Locally, he was a passionate advocate for Newcastle further education college, which now offers our over-16s a wonderful array of academic and vocational qualifications. He, and we, will not tolerate an education system that acts merely as a sieve of failure at different stages for our children.
In remembering John, I commend the especially dear obituary written by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the Father of the House, whom I wish a speedy recovery. John holds the record for the longest ever parliamentary speech: 11 hours and 15 minutes speaking to a single amendment to delay the privatisation of British Telecom in 1983. With his much missed twinkle in the eye, John once told me that eight minutes was the ideal length for a speech. The House will be glad that, on my maiden outing, I have followed John's advice and not his custom and practice. I commend the Government's record, our manifesto, and the amendment to the House.
Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to make my maiden speech today, a little later and a little hoarserthanks to a bout of tonsillitisthan I had intended.
The hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) have set an exacting standard with their excellent speeches. In particular, I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme for a thought-provoking and well informed contribution. He spoke from the heart and I have no doubt that he will be a credit to his party, his constituency and the House.
I, too, pay tribute to my predecessor. Dr. Alan Williams was a most assiduous advocate on behalf of his constituents. A chemist, he brought to the House valuable expertise, a keen interest in scientific and environmental policy and a reasoned and logical approach to every issue that came to his attention. I wish him every success in future. Dr. Williams had the honour to be the longest serving Member of Parliament for a constituency renowned for febrile campaigning and unpredictability. Among my more colourful predecessors was William Paxton, who in his first attempt to capture the seat in 1802 kept the polls open for 15 days and bribed the electorate with 11,000 breakfasts, 36,000 dinners, 25,000 gallons of ale, 11,000 bottles of spiritsthe list goes onspending £18.18 for milk punch, whatever that is, and £786 for ribbons. He might have had a little difficulty explaining his actions to today's Electoral Commission.
The political history of the Carmarthen constituency was especially interesting in the 20th century. Carmarthen was the only Labour-held seatapart from Mile End in London, which went communistthat the party lost in the 1945 election. It was the only Labour-held seat that the party lost in the second 1974 election. I am pleased to say that on 7 June this year it became the only Labour-held seat lost by Labour in Wales.
Above all, Carmarthen was the first seat won by Plaid Cymruthe party of Walesin 1966. I pay special tribute to my predecessor Gwynfor Evans, the founder of modern Welsh nationalism. His integrity, eloquence and commitment to the cause of Wales set an example to which I can but hope to aspire. He continues to be an inspiration to everyone in my party.
It is no exaggeration to say that the communities of East Carmarthen and Dinefwr have a unique, historic character. They stand on the cusp of rural and industrial Wales, and are the gateway to both. Four main valleys make up the constituency: the post-industrial Amman and Gwendraeth valleys of the anthracite coalfield and the agricultural heartlands of the Teifi and Tywi valleys. The constituency has the only anthracite coalfield in Britain and produces more milk than any other county in the UK.
The interplay and interconnection of the two communitiesthe coalfield and the milkfieldlie at the heart of the special character of my constituency. The markets of the south Wales coalfield helped to build up the dairy sector. Welsh-speaking peasants and farmers, including my grandfather, huddled into the terraced cottages of the pit villages of Amman and Gwendraeth. Where others try to drive a wedge between town and country, we in Carmarthenshire have a bond of solidarity between village and valley, miner and farmerfrom the free milk supplied by the farmers of Carmarthenshire to miners' families during the great strike of 1984, to the enormous concern shared by everyone in my constituency at the human cost of the deepening rural depression.
I was born and brought up in the industrial half of the constituency. My forefathers lived and worked in grim conditions, but they succeeded in sustaining a remarkably vibrant culture, which was characterised by a love of two languages, of religion and of all aspects of popular culture. That is certainly true of sport; the two valleys of Amman and Gwendraeth can boast the likes of Carwyn James, Barry John, Gareth Davies and Jonathan Daviesto name but a few of the greats of the Welsh gameas well as the emerging present-day talents of Shane Williams and Dwayne Peel. In snooker, we have in my constituency Matthew Stevens and Dominic Dale. In soccer, we have the former Welsh international goalkeeper, Dai Davies. Last but not least, my father was a former Welsh middleweight champion and, if I may say so, a formidable canvasser on the election trail.
In an archive in Ammanford, there is a letter written by Jim Griffiths to a Labour party colleague shortly after a Carmarthen by-election, stating baldly that all Labour seats in Wales were vulnerable. Jim Griffiths' particular concern was that the Labour party had lost the support of young people. The cause was clear then as it is now. As Gwynfor Evans declared in his maiden speech 35 years ago, the Labour party boasts of prosperity but the people of Carmarthen
The Labour party has never really recaptured the energies of young people in Wales. That is why I stand here a Plaid Member, a miner's son and the youngest Member representing a Wales constituency. When hubris threatens to overwhelm some of my fellow Welshmen on the Government Benches, whom I am glad to see present, perhaps they should ask themselves why people of my generation and background have turned their backs on Labour.
The issue of post-16 education possibly offers some clues. There are few issues that for me define more precisely the essence of social justice in an advanced society than access to education. Further and higher education were to me, as to so many hon. Members, the key that unlocked the door to the favoured position that we now enjoy.
Education involves not only individual benefit but social and economic gain for society as a whole. Indeed, according to the recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, almost half a percentage point of the annual average growth rate in the UK in the 1990s was due to educational attainment. More sobering was the finding in the report that, in 1998, the UK spent only 4.9 per cent. of gross domestic product on education compared with an OECD average of
Alongside questions of funding lies the issue of student financial support, on which the Opposition motion is curiously silent. Like many an hon. Member, my training ground for political engagement was the National Union of Students. I particularly remember the presidential term of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg) and the great lobby of Westminster against student loans, which ended in deadlockunfortunatelyon Westminster bridge.
Our policy in the NUS was to defend and extend the principle of the maintenance grant to embrace all those in full-time post-16 education. Our fears then about the effects of the abolition of the maintenance grant have been borne out by a string of recent reports. The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales last year published research showing that, following the introduction of student fees, prospective students from the deprived communities of south Wales were up to three times less likely to attend university.
Earlier this year, the Rees report on student hardship, commissioned by the Lib-Lab coalition in the National Assembly, echoed the Cubie report in calling for the abolition of tuition fees and went further in calling for a statutory entitlement to maintenance support for all those in HE and FE. That was the very same policy that many of us were advocating back in the 1980s while in the NUS.
As the youngest of three working-class children to go to university, and one of the last to receive a full maintenance grant, I am passionately committed to ensuring that the same opportunities are afforded to today's generation of young people. Passion in politics, it seems, is no bad thingeven, if the House will forgive me, in a maiden speech.
It is often said that the difference between a Llanelli and a Swansea supporterthose two great rivals of west Wales rugbyis that Swansea supporters wear gloves and Llanelli supporters cannot afford them. I am a Llanelli supporter through and through and I assure the House that my gloves will be off in many of our debatesnot out of any enmity for Labour Members, but because I care so deeply about a special place that I love and a special people whom I love. Their demands over the 20th century were modest, but their contribution was immense. They deserve a future that is better than the past. It is our collective duty to ensure that it is delivered.