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10.13 am

Mr. David Heyes (Ashton-under-Lyne): I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), and noted particularly his acknowledgement of the work of the Public Administration Committee. I shall return to that later.

This is my first opportunity to speak in the House, and I am especially pleased to be able to do so on a subject in which I claim a special interest, dry though some may think it.

Before I came to the House, much of my working life was spent with public bodies. I spent more than 25 years in local government, for example. I want to make some comments about the Minister's speech, which I welcomed, but first—according to the tradition of maiden speakers—I want to pay tribute to my predecessors in Ashton-under-Lyne.

That is not as straightforward as it may appear, because the constituency boundaries have been revised in every review that has taken place in modern times. From time to time, parts of the constituency have lain in the former constituencies of Manchester, Openshaw and Oldham, West. Among my illustrious predecessors are Charles Morris and, indeed, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), who represented a third of my constituency for many years.

Since a by-election immediately after the war, however, the core of the Ashton-under-Lyne constituency has been served by just two Members—two men who, while being very different characters, had in common a passionate dedication to their constituents and the communities that they represented. Hervey Rhodes, later Lord Rhodes of Saddleworth, is still remembered with great affection and gratitude by many of my elderly constituents. His political work at local, regional and national level continued for many years after his retirement from the House.

I want to pay special tribute to my immediate predecessor, Robert Sheldon, now Lord Sheldon of Ashton-under-Lyne. Bob Sheldon achieved that distinction so rare among politicians: he was acknowledged as a true statesman. Although he achieved ministerial rank in the 1970s, his true potential, which was to rise to the highest ministerial office, was not to be realised as his prime years were spent in opposition. Nevertheless, his contribution has been enormous, most notably his chairmanship for many years of the Public Accounts Committee. Under his wise leadership, the Committee came to be the most powerful and respected in the House. I understand that in his day a summons from the Committee was enough to strike fear in to the heart of the wiliest Sir Humphrey. Indeed, it still is.

In more recent times, Bob's leadership and wisdom found another valued outlet in the work of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, which he led through some difficult encounters. His resilience and determination were proved again only last year, when he brushed aside the effects of a serious heart attack to make an amazing and rapid recovery after his life was saved in a famous incident. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was provided by none other than Olympic champion Duncan Goodhew. If

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you are going to collapse in the street with a heart attack, you need a very powerful pair of lungs to resuscitate you. Bob was certainly extremely lucky that day.

My fondest memories of Bob, however, will always be memories of his role as a hard-working constituency Member. The support and wise counsel that he has offered me in recent times has stood me in good stead as I have tackled the massive task of trying to emulate his achievements for his constituents.

I still receive letters from my constituents addressed to Bob, usually thanking him for the solving of some past problem and seeking his help with a new one—and, embarrassingly for me, confirming their undying support for him as their Member of Parliament, reassuring him that they voted for him in the last election, and promising to vote for him again in the next. Too often, I have had the unenviable task of explaining that Bob is no longer the MP, and that I am the unworthy replacement. The usual response, in the honest but dour Ashton style, is "Well, lad, if you do half as well as Bob Sheldon you'll do for me."

The fact that he commanded the undying and universal respect of his former constituents is the best tribute that could be paid to Lord Sheldon. He will indeed be a hard act to follow.

The Ashton-under-Lyne constituency has existed in its present form only since 1997, and Ashton-under-Lyne itself does not in fact lie at the heart of my constituency. The core of it, four to six miles from inner-city Manchester, is—surprisingly—open countryside, farmland and country parkland built around the Medlock valley. Historic Daisy Nook was made famous by local dialect poet Ben Brierley, and immortalised by L. S. Lowry in one of his finest paintings, depicting the Easter fair—which is still going strong after many generations.

Daisy Nook is part of Failsworth, my home town where I am proud to have lived for more than 30 years and brought up my family. The town is having something of an identity crisis. For nearly 100 years, it was a proudly independent urban district; then local government reorganisation placed it in the new metropolitan borough of Oldham. Despite that, the GPO has steadfastly refused to change Failsworth's postal address from Manchester. The boundary commission's decision to place Failsworth in the Ashton-under-Lyne constituency added to the confusion, and has caused much consternation locally.

Change is on the way, however. Thanks to a millennium lottery grant, the trans-Pennine Rochdale canal is being restored to full navigation, more than 50 years after falling into disuse. It has the potential to turn Failsworth, with its long-awaited new district centre, into a tourist mecca.

There are many fine schools in my constituency, but I am particularly proud to be associated with Failsworth school, nowadays a sports college and a magnificent community asset. A huge and growing range of sporting facilities are available there, not just for the students but for the benefit of the whole community. In fact, my first public duty as a newly elected MP was to open the college's new tennis courts.

The adjacent township of Hollinwood has suffered greatly in the past 20 years from the effects of blight, as the community awaited the go-ahead for the construction of the Manchester outer ring road. Despite that, Hollinwood has seen much innovation, with the huge

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Limehurst estate being one of the first in the country to be placed in the hands of a tenant-led management team. Investment in refurbishing homes and the rest of the built environment has transformed the quality of people's lives.

Limehurst school, re-built on a new site thanks to an imaginative local authority initiative, has been transformed and has now achieved beacon status. It is giving local youngsters a sound start in life. The area is also benefiting from a thriving sure start scheme, and the single regeneration budget has enabled the building of a new district centre. Hopes are high that a new community centre is on the way, too.

A metrolink—a light rapid transit line—is due to pass through Failsworth and Hollinwood, and construction should get under way in the next couple of years. That will boost the quality of our public transport and holds the promise of our achieving a truly integrated local transport network.

Above all else, we have the M60—the Manchester outer ring road—which was completed just over a year ago. Completion was at least 20 years behind schedule, but the motorway for the first time links disparate parts of my constituency. Failsworth and Hollinwood are now within easy reach of Droylsden and Ashton-under-Lyne. Although there has been a slow start, hopes are high locally that that vital link to the national motorway network will bring with it the industry, jobs and economic prosperity for which local people have waited for far too long. Local authorities, the business community and development agencies are making a tremendous effort to ensure that we seize such opportunities.

Droylsden, too, is to benefit from a metrolink line, which will run from Manchester to Ashton-under-Lyne. Droylsden is another proudly independent community, sitting astride the Ashton canal, with a bustling shopping centre and market. The township is to benefit soon from a new sports and leisure centre, which should give a new focus for youth activity. Droylsden is blessed with many excellent voluntary youth organisations. For example, only last week, I was privileged to attend the annual meeting of the Droylsden branch of the Air Cadets to present awards to some high-achieving young people. Such representatives of that generation give me great hope for the future.

This Cook's tour of my constituency ends with Ashton-under-Lyne itself. The heart of the town surrounds the famous traditional marketplace, with its daily indoor and outdoor markets drawing visitors from across the north-west. The newly extended shopping precinct makes Ashton the key retail destination in Tameside and east Manchester.

Ashton has also felt the benefits of canal restoration. Ashton canal, with its link to the Peak forest, has formed a section of the Cheshire ring for many years. With the restored Huddersfield narrow canal and one of the finest and most successful museums at the Portland basin where the canals converge, we have a fine resource, where young people can learn about a proud but often harsh industrial history and older folk can enjoy a nostalgic day out.

Some tremendous work is being carried out by the Ashton renewal team—a fine example of partnership that is helping to revitalise the urban core of the town. At one extreme, there is some ambitious house clearance and rebuilding, although some of the most impressive work is on a much smaller scale. For example, the alley gating

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scheme is transforming the quality of people's lives by creating a secure environment around their homes. Such work has revived a once flagging community spirit.

As a Member whose constituency straddles the adjacent boroughs of Oldham and Tameside, I cannot avoid mention of the violent events that have troubled us in recent times. I do not want to go into detail, but the outcome of the independent review is awaited with interest. It will be vital that its recommendations are given serious consideration by local, regional and national agencies and Government. Above all else, it is vital that all people of good will give a clear lead in rejecting and countering the malignant efforts of extremist groups and individuals wherever they try to stoke the fires of race hatred.

My constituency has a rich ethnic mix. For many generations, people from all over the world have put down roots in Oldham and Tameside. The Muslim people of Ashton are here to stay, and their contribution to a culturally and socially diverse community is to be celebrated and valued. Those in the Indian community of Ashton have worked hard to play an active and constructive role in civic life. It was a great pleasure to play a small part in opening their magnificent new community centre recently.

I hope that it is apparent that I am very proud of my constituency. We stand on the brink of real opportunities to boost the life chances of local people. Much has been done in recent years, but we still need better housing, better education, better health care, better transport and less crime and disorder. The people of my constituency need good-quality, well-paid jobs and a decent income in retirement. Working towards those goals will be my priority in the years ahead.

I should like to turn briefly to the subject under debate. In the spirit of a maiden speech, I shall avoid controversial comment. I should declare an interest as a new and still greenhorn member of the Public Administration Committee. I am a member by choice; public administration is something I know a little of, if only as a result of many years' employment and active trade unionism in the public sector.

I know that the matter of quangos and public bodies has occupied the Committee greatly in recent years, and has resulted in comprehensive recommendations on their composition, scrutiny and accountability. I am pleased that reference has been made to the work of the Committee and its important role and contribution. I particularly look forward to reading the report on the work of the taskforces. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will share my wish and that of the Chairman and members of the Select Committee that its recommendations should continue to inform and help to shape Government policy in this important area.


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