Previous SectionIndexHome Page

3.58 pm

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): I am grateful for this opportunity. It is with great pride and not a little humility that I rise to make my maiden speech. My pride is not of a selfish kind: it is born of the recognition of the proud history of Labour socialist parliamentarians from Wales, past and present, who have fought for working people, fought injustice in all forms, and fought for a better future for all regardless of chance of birth or of privilege. I feel humility as I take my first few faltering steps as a Member of Parliament, because I know that I have an immense debt to repay to the people of Ogmore who have placed their trust in me. I will strive to serve them to the best of my ability at all times and in all my actions.

Before progressing, may I add my own tribute to those already made today to the late Sir Ray Powell, a loyal servant of the Labour party who represented Ogmore in Parliament from 1979? He championed the rights of grandparents in the Grandparents Rights Bill, which was a major influence on the subsequent Children Act 1989. He championed the rights of shop workers during the Sunday trading debates and was influential, as we have already heard, in the development of Portcullis House. I never met Sir Ray Powell, and I am sure that if I had, we would not have agreed on everything, but his reputation as

28 Feb 2002 : Column 892

an outspoken parliamentarian on behalf of the people of Ogmore and a true champion of his communities is a legacy in which his widow Marion and his daughter Janice Gregory, Assembly Member for Ogmore, can take great pride. Let us honour Sir Ray Powell and all those parliamentarians and advocates of social justice and opportunity for all who have represented Ogmore since 1918, including Walter Padley, Vernon Hartshorn and others.

I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to my uncle, the late Ifor Davies, Member of Parliament for Gower for many years and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales. He spoke many times in the Chamber, and was a man of dignity, intelligence and vision, a thoroughly decent and truly honourable man. He is fondly remembered by his family and all those who knew him; I hope am a credit to him in the House, as well as to my parents, my wife and all those who sent me here.

I have the immense privilege of representing the people of Ogmore, a landlocked community of diverse character; it ranges from the former mining communities of the Garw, Llynfi and Ogmore valleys, not forgetting the communities of Gilfach Goch and Evanstown. It also stretches down, as has been mentioned, to more rural areas and the busy communities of Pencoed, Tondu, Llanharan and Sarn that border the M4. In the hinterland, the communities of Bettws, Llangeinor, Blackmill and Shwt nestle at the base of the three valleys. Ogmore is a diverse community.

Ogmore is also the home of many myths, legends and heroes. In Llangynwyd at new year the skull of a horse with a white shroud—the Mari Llywd—is paraded to fend off evil spirits. My colleagues back in Ogmore have said it has worked politically since 1918. Llangynwyd is also the home of the famous tragedy known as the "Maid of Cefn Ydfa" and the romantic protagonists are buried at Llangynwyd church. Llangeinor was the birthplace, in 1723, of the radical thinker Dr. Richard Price, whose treatises on liberty and the American revolution were influential in the development of the American constitution. He was renowned for walking to London at the age of 18. I will not try to emulate that trek, but I shall travel regularly by train. [Hon. Members: "It will take the same time."] Indeed. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions for attempting to reverse the shameful fiasco of rail privatisation and under-investment over many years.

A fortnight ago, a Welsh Sunday paper curiously speculated that my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith) and I were jointly to coach the Welsh team after the sudden departure of Graham Henry. As we approach Dydd Gwyl Dewi—St. David's day—and the Welsh international against Italy, I hope that the spirit of our local legendary rugby heroes will inspire the Welsh team. J. J. Williams, Chico Hopkins, John Devereaux, Scott Gibbs, Alan Bateman and many others show the formidable talent that we have on the sporting field in Ogmore.

The legacy of song is powerful, as the Welsh national anthem "Hen Wlad fy Nhadau" is thought to have been first sung in public in a chapel in Maesteg in 1856. In addition to our excellent local choirs, it may come as a surprise to hon. Members that we lay claim to Kylie Minogue, whose mother and grandmother reside in the Ogmore constituency. The legacy is continued as new

28 Feb 2002 : Column 893

talent emerges. Big Shiny Cave, a local band of youngsters, are soon to be in the national televised finals of a contest for bands. I wish them the best of luck and look forward to welcoming them to Westminster.

Names of famous collieries are testament to the mining heritage of the area and resonate down the years: Ocean, Wyndham, Western, and others. The seam opened by the Wyndham colliery brought forth coal known as "Best Admiralty Large" which fired the Navy's steamships in world war one; it was regarded as the best seam of such coal in south Wales, if not the world.

As a keen hill walker, I can testify to the rugged beauty of the hills and valleys of Ogmore, and the picturesque settings of the country parks and lowlands. After extensive reclamation after the years of heavy industry and mining, the valleys are returning to their natural beauty. With my background as a lecturer in tourism, I cannot fail to see the potential for tourism and recreation in Ogmore, which is rich in natural beauty, industrial heritage, culture and folklore. Tourism is not the only way forward, but it adds a vital spark to the regeneration of an area, and can transform the image of a region.

The classic film "The Proud Valley" was filmed in the Garw valley and starred Paul Robeson, the famous African-American athlete, singer and actor, and a keen advocate of civil rights. He rightly regarded the film as his finest. More recently "Very Annie Mary" was filmed in the Garw valley in 1999, featuring one of our best local choirs, the Ogmore Valley male voice choir.

There is a link to the future too. Paul Robeson and the film industry are relevant as we look and hope for the development in the near future of a major film complex on the site of a former opencast mine. I will lend my full support to the relevant Labour Member in the Welsh Assembly in that endeavour, and invite my fellow Welsh MPs to do so. Not only would the complex lead to direct job creation: it would transform the image of a region and a country through the powerful medium of movies. The impact on tourism is well understood.

One of the most exciting aspects of community life in Ogmore is the role that voluntary groups and regeneration partnerships play in holding communities together, particularly as they go through transformations, with an ageing and declining population, the relocation of jobs and the challenges of leisure provision for youngsters and the aged. Grassroots organisations often best understand local demands, and need our encouragement and moreover our practical support. The Blaengarw Workmen's hall and the Berwyn centre in Nantymoel, and all the activities that take place there, epitomise the success story of community regeneration that is seen throughout Ogmore.

Volunteers and dedicated staff on limited funds are pulling together to make a real difference to their communities. There are drop-in centres in Llanharran and Maesteg, the latter achieving excellent results with youngsters who dropped out of the education system and the establishment. The youth group in Nantyffyllon repairs vandalised benches and bus shelters. At the Boys and Girls Club in Nantymoel, which I have visited, 80 youngsters meet four times a week; I saw them hanging from the rafters and engaged in a range of activities. Much valuable work goes on and deserves praise and credit.

28 Feb 2002 : Column 894

I appeal to the Secretary of State for Wales to liaise with our colleagues in the National Assembly and relevant agencies further to develop the funding mechanisms that would reward the success stories of the voluntary and charitable sectors, especially those that work in our poorest communities, by encouraging the streamlining of applications for lottery funding and other grants and building on the generational funding that is such a success in the Communities First programme.

Ogmore is diverse, not only in landscape and people, but in prosperity and life chances. Some parts have experienced inward investment, infrastructure development and population growth; it is vital to continue that growth, as it benefits the whole constituency. However, we also have pockets of multiple deprivation, with more children living in poverty, lower levels of educational attainment, lower pay, poor-quality housing and higher numbers of people on income replacement benefits. Those factors combine to give a lower quality of life, a lower life expectancy, and a higher rate of mortality. It does not have to be that way; it should not be that way. I am determined that that will not continue, and I know that my Labour colleagues are equally determined.

I am proud to represent the Labour party, which has established a national minimum wage that some Opposition parties could not find time to support. That, combined with the working families tax credit, has put £30 per week on average into the purses of the poorest families in Ogmore. It is not a fortune, but it makes it pay to work, and it puts more food on the table.

I am proud to represent the Labour party that has delivered an above-inflation and above-earnings increase in pensions, and provided the £200 winter fuel payment for all pensioner households and free television licences for over-75-year-olds.

I am proud to represent the party that has agreed the largest ever compensation settlement in western European history in respect of miners' compensation, after years of prevarication and denial of liability from the Tories. Let me assure hon. Members present that I shall be working with fellow Labour Members of Parliament representing mining communities throughout the UK to ensure that full and final payment is made as swiftly as possible and in every single case.

As a GMB member, I am proud to represent the party that has a long tradition of co-operation with the unions and promotion of the public sector. Long may it continue, and long may we continue to work together with the unions to promote the best interests of the public who receive our services, and the workers who play such a crucial role in delivering those vital services.

On these and many other issues, I am proud to represent a party that delivers social justice in a real and pragmatic way, but there is more to be done. Nye Bevan described himself as a pragmatic idealist. He believed in getting things done to improve the lot of other people, and that meant dealing in reality, not in utopian visions. I will strive to work with the Labour Government in Westminster, and in close liaison with the National Assembly and local authority, and with all the agencies and the voluntary sector to bring real improvements to the lives of the people of Ogmore.

28 Feb 2002 : Column 895

Let me finish by thanking again the people of Ogmore for their trust, and acknowledging the supreme efforts of my team, who fought a positive campaign and worked hard to present a positive message for the future of Ogmore, and the future of our children and grandchildren.

The Ogmore by-election was the 10th since Labour's massive mandate in the general election in 1997. It was the 10th to take place, and the 10th that Labour has won, and won decisively. I make these simple observations in closing: there are still no Tory MPs in Wales, and apart from the special circumstances surrounding the by-election caused by the death of our late right hon. Friend Donald Dewar, this was the worst result of any nationalist challenge since 1997. That is echoing so loudly through the valleys of south Wales that it can be heard in Scotland as well.

I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to address the House with my maiden speech, particularly on the occasion of the Welsh day debate. I look forward to many other occasions when I may catch the Speaker's eye, and further the concerns of my constituents and the cause of social justice in Wales, the United Kingdom, and worldwide. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr.

Next Section

IndexHome Page