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6.43 pm

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thank you for calling me in this important debate on the Gracious Speech, and congratulate the hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) on his maiden speech. I am sure you agree that every maiden speech makes the last constituency flit away as we hear of the honours and excitement of the new constituency.

It is an honour and a privilege to speak in this Chamber. Indeed, it is something that very few people in each generation are able to experience. A year ago, I did not anticipate that this would be part of my life-certainly not at such a young age-but the voters of Luton South have bestowed on me this position of service, and I will for ever owe them a debt of thanks.

To me, Luton South is not just a seat; it is my home. I was born in the town, receiving the schooling that saw me into Girton college, Cambridge. I was fortunate enough to receive a bursary to study there, and my student fees were covered by the public purse. Those investments in me are, I hope, being repaid in my desire to serve our society. I worked for a local church, and
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I joined the Labour party. I have always been inspired by the people who choose to serve a place, to commit themselves to it, and to see it change in terms of individual lives and on a regional level. That is the model that I have sought to replicate.

Luton South is a wonderful constituency, and I can honestly say that I would not want to represent any other seat. As well as containing Luton airport, two mainline railway stations, a carnival arts centre, Luton Hoo, the General Motors plant in which my father worked, Stockwood park, many improving schools, and the villages of Caddington, Hyde and Slip End, Luton South is home to a rich and diverse range of communities. Indeed, it has been remarked to me that should it choose to declare itself an independent state, we should have all that we need. Now that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and I are the only two Opposition MPs in the east of England, perhaps that is not such a bad idea.

I love our town, and it fills me with enormous pride that her residents chose one of their own to represent us in Parliament. In her maiden speech, my predecessor Margaret Moran spoke about a pupil of Dallow primary school. In 1997, that pupil was in a class of 37, facing educational challenges that few would recognise today. Our Labour Government faced up to the reality of that time, and moved to act and invest in education.

Margaret Moran served the people of Luton South for 13 years in a position that carries its own unique pressures, and she deserves recognition as someone who, as part of that significant intake of 1997 Labour Members, transformed fundamentally the terms of debate not just in relation to politics, but in relation to education in particular. The legacy of those Members can be seen in the educational achievement of every child who no longer has to sit in an overwhelmed class or a crumbling building. The House has lost many from that landslide year, and we owe them a debt of gratitude.

I have always believed that education cannot simply be reduced to the economic transaction of knowledge and skills in return for time and money. Education is about the investment that we make in each of our young people. Education is about the kind of society that we seek to create. I should like to think that my own comprehensive education provided me not just with knowledge but with values-the values of a mixed society, and of a shared experience beyond income, race or religion.

While the debate of the coming years will inevitably focus on greater diversity of provision, we must ensure that the vast majority who receive a comprehensive education are not left behind. Education remains the most effective and, indeed, the most intuitive route to ensuring social mobility. We recognise it in developing countries all over the world as the silver bullet-the means of tackling both poverty and inequality-and we should recognise it here as well.

The excellent university of Bedfordshire also has its home in Luton South. In the coming Parliament, we will examine the issue of student funding in greater detail; and here the economic argument continues to hold sway. It is often true that graduates earn more, but it may not automatically be true that as a result they should pay more, at the cost of student fees which, despite all the safeguards, can still deter those from disadvantaged backgrounds. When we educate someone,
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be it as a teacher, a doctor or even, dare I say, a social science graduate, we all benefit. That must be an important part of this debate.

Finally, let me speak in the context of the times in which we find ourselves. It has become fashionable to say that markets must have morals, but it is also worth articulating that there are limits to markets altogether. In natural monopolies such as rail, in the provision of education, where they can serve to ration provision, and in other areas in which co-operative ideals best express their form, we are forced to examine the prevailing orthodoxies and expose their weaknesses.

My Christian faith confirms in me the conviction that we are fundamentally designed to operate in co-operation and not merely in competition; that not just some but all have inherent worth and value; that tackling inequality is not merely a political concern, but a moral one; and, also, that there is more to life than politics. I am young, but I am not naive. I am sure that I will humbly need to reacquaint myself with those convictions in the years ahead.

6.49 pm

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for letting me catch your eye when so many hon. Members wish to do the same.

I thank the hon. Members for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) and for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) for their passionate speeches about education. I come to the House with little political experience, but as a doctor and teacher selected through an open primary, the first in the country to give every voter in a constituency the chance to select their candidate. I would also like to thank my predecessor, Anthony Steen. He served this House for an extraordinary 36 years. He is not the sort to retire, and I wish him well in his continuing fight against the evils of human trafficking.

I am very fortunate to represent one of the most spectacular and diverse constituencies in this country. The Totnes constituency stretches from the hill farms of Dartmoor to the most stunning of west country coastlines, which supports a diverse tourist and fishing industry. Many people may not realise this, but more fish are landed at Brixham than at any other port in England-and I hope all Members will join me in recognising the adverse effect of the common fisheries policy on our fishing industry.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Hear, hear; very well said.

Dr Wollaston: Thank you.

We are also home to "Transition Town Totnes", which is the home of the transition towns movement. As such, it recognises not only the problem of climate change, but problem of the peak oil; it is planning ahead for a time when we no longer have abundant or cheap fossil fuels.

In the South Hams, we also have some of the most spectacular countryside, but I have to inform Members that that countryside is in crisis. We are fast losing our sustainability as more and more dairy farms in particular go out of business because of the problems of bovine tuberculosis. Devon is, in fact, at the very heart of the
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bovine TB epidemic. As a doctor, I have to tell Members that we cannot treat infected badgers by vaccination. Vaccination can only hope to prevent the disease in unaffected individuals. I have been teaching junior doctors evidence-based medicine for 11 years, and I can say that one of the problems we face is that the randomised badger culling trial has for years wrongly been used to justify a policy of inaction. Unless we do something about bovine TB, more and more of our farmers will go out of business. We need to recognise the effect on them and their families, and the very real distress bovine TB causes them.

The main reason why I came to this House is because I feel passionately about our NHS and the patients it treats. I welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech to get rid of top-down bureaucracy in the NHS and to hand power back to clinicians on the front line.

In my constituency, we have four community hospitals, and I would like to pay tribute to their staff, and also their volunteers, for the work that they do. I hope that giving patients a louder voice in our NHS will prove to be the best protection for community hospitals, because people, particularly those in rural constituencies, really value them. I hope Members will support me in this endeavour.

There is another issue I wish to highlight, which affects not only my constituents, but those of all Members. After the tragedy of the Paddington rail disaster in which 31 people lost their lives, we rightly held a public inquiry and that led to the setting up of the Rail Safety and Standards Board, and after 3,000 terrible deaths in the USA, we joined a "Global War on Terror", so what should we say should happen after 15,000 to 20,000 deaths every year in this country as a result of alcohol? I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron), who has chaired the Select Committee on Health. It has recommended minimum-price alcohol as the best way forward. That may not be popular-in fact, in suggesting that we cull diseased badgers and raise the price of alcohol, it is clear that I am going for the popular vote! However, unless we do something about this, our constituents will continue to suffer. Let us look at the statistics: 1.3 million children in this country are directly affected by alcohol, and alcohol is a factor in half of all homicides. Members also need only consider the number of constituents they see in their surgeries who are victims of domestic violence. Alcohol continues to be the number one date-rape drug in this country, too. I ask all Members to look at the evidence, so we can have evidence-based politics.

The evidence is out there, and it is very clear. If we want to do something about the death toll-15,000 to 20,000 people a year in this country-we have to do something about price and availability. This is not about the nanny state; lives are at stake, and I ask the House to look again at the evidence, not only from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence report issued today, but from its own Select Committee. I commend minimum-price alcohol to the House.

There is no such thing as cheap alcohol; we are all paying a very heavy price.

6.55 pm

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on making such an excellent maiden speech, and I also
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congratulate all the other new Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I thank you, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech as the new Member for Wolverhampton North East. It is a privilege and an honour to represent my home town in Parliament.

My predecessor, Ken Purchase, is a giant of a man. Apart from being tall and broad, his booming voice was the envy of many in this House, and many on the Government Benches will remember him well. Ken's lifetime of public service extends over some 40 years: he served for more than 20 years as a local councillor and for 18 years as a Labour MP. His commitment to the constituency was exemplary, in particular his fight for greater equality and fairness. As a tireless campaigner for improved social housing, he touched the lives of thousands of his constituents.

I would also like to pay tribute to the powerful women who have preceded me in Wolverhampton: the journalist and activist, Renée Short, who represented the constituency for more than two decades until her retirement in 1987; and Jennie Lee, who in her second stint in the House of Commons straight after the war, represented the constituency of Cannock, which then stretched south to cover Wednesfield and which now forms a large part of my constituency. Jennie was a firebrand socialist and a passionate defender of the poorest in society. She blazed a trail that many other women would follow-and I, too, hope to follow that trail. Always outspoken on issues that mattered to her, in her maiden speech in 1929 she defied the convention of avoiding controversy and launched a stinging attack on the Government. Never one to pull her punches, she described their Budget as

Years later, she was appointed Arts Minister by Harold Wilson and her lasting legacy was the establishment of the Open university, securing a revolution in education. That was a huge achievement, as relevant and important today as it was back then. Jennie's belief in expanding educational opportunities is one that I share and am passionate about.

Wolverhampton has a long and rich history. While Jennie Lee was the youngest parliamentarian of her time-in fact, she was too young to vote-the Liberal Member, Charles Villiers, was the longest serving MP in parliamentary history; and while Villiers opposed the corn laws in the 19th century, Sir Geoffrey Mander was one of the first MPs to take a strong stand against appeasement a century later.

Wolverhampton has been first in many other areas, too, and I am proud of its achievements. In 1866, Queen Victoria made her first public appearance after her husband's death when she unveiled a statue of Prince Albert in the centre of Wolverhampton to honour his memory. Still standing today, the statue is a busy meeting point and affectionately referred to locally as "the man on the horse".

Not far from there is our fantastic football stadium, the Molineux, which is home to our great football team, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolves were the first English team to play in the Soviet Union and were hailed by the press at the time as "the unofficial world champions" after one of their most famous victories, against Budapest.
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This year, as a proud Wolves fan I am happy to be able to say that we are still in the premier league at the end of a tough season.

Wolverhampton also boasts the headquarters of the UK's most successful regional newspaper, the Express & Star, which has a circulation of more than 130,000 a night, six nights a week. Never shy of embracing new technology, the Express & Star blazed a trail when it was the first daily newspaper to publish colour photographs.

Since its foundation in 985, Wolverhampton has always been a place of trade and commerce, starting as a market town famous for its mediaeval wool trade and developing into the beating heart of the industrial revolution. Household names such as Sunbeam cars, Chubb locks, Boulton Paul aircraft and Norton motorbikes were famous worldwide and symbolised British manufacturing at its very best. Manufacturing continues to play a crucial role in the city's economy; it is more important to Wolverhampton North East than to the west midlands region as a whole, with 18% of its work force employed in manufacturing jobs compared with the regional average of 13%. Leading aerospace companies, such as Goodrich, HS Marston and Moog, as well as companies such as Goodyear, Carillion and Banks's brewery, are all major local employers.

Of course, our service sector has also developed strongly and the largest private employer is the headquarters of Birmingham Midshires. However, the recent recession has demonstrated clearly the dangers of relying too heavily on financial services. The UK remains the sixth largest manufacturing nation in the world, and we need to build on our expertise and take full advantage of the low-carbon revolution to secure a strong and sustainable economy in the wake of the global financial crisis.

We must look to the future as well as learn from the past, and I am optimistic about Wolverhampton's future. During my election campaign, I promised to champion local jobs and industry, and I am already working with local businesses and Advantage West Midlands to ensure that projects such as the new i54 business park are a success. On that point, I am deeply concerned about the new Government's planned cuts to regional development agencies, including Advantage West Midlands, which brings a return of more than £7 to the regional economy for every pound spent. This Government's plans to cut its budget dramatically will put local businesses and jobs at risk, and I urge the Government to think again.

Public services are central to a strong economy and a strong society. I am proud of the previous Labour Government's achievements in health and education. New Cross hospital is at the heart of my constituency, and the previous Government's investment has resulted in a massive increase in the number of front-line staff, lower waiting times and a state-of-the-art heart and lung centre. Educational standards have also risen, and the university of Wolverhampton is the sixth largest in the country and has a proud record of tackling social exclusion.

My journey to stand here today as the newly elected MP for Wolverhampton North East has been a very personal one. I grew up in Wolverhampton and memories of my formative years lie in our great city. It has long been my home and it has given me the opportunities that I have taken. I now hope to give something back to the good people of Wolverhampton, who are our city's
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biggest asset. They are friendly, hard-working and fair-minded, and I promise to fight their corner to the very best of my abilities in Parliament, championing local industry and speaking up for greater equality and fairness.

7.3 pm

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech. I shall keep it short, given that there are so many maidens-in-waiting. I cannot let this opportunity pass without congratulating all the new Members, including my new hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames), who is just leaving the Chamber, and my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). My father works in the NHS, so I am delighted that we have her kind of expertise on these Benches, because it is of great benefit to the whole House.

I stand here as a newcomer to the House who is slightly intimidated by the formalities-I beg your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, should I mess up any of these formalities while making this speech-and sometimes the Chamber can seem a very long way from the streets of my constituency, where I have spent the past three years campaigning. My predecessors in Bristol North West have campaigned to ensure that this place is not a distant Chamber, removed from places such as the streets of Bristol North West, but is a Chamber that serves the people of Bristol North West and, indeed, of the entire country. On that note, I should like to pay tribute to my direct predecessor, Dr Doug Naysmith, who will be known to many hon. Members and who brought a tremendous amount of expertise, wisdom and integrity to the House. I am not following formalities when I say that he will be a very hard act to follow.

I should like to focus the majority of my remarks on education, which is the subject of today's debate. Bristol North West is a fantastic and incredibly diverse constituency. It contains areas ranging from the fantastically successful Bristol port, which is undergoing expansion, to the rolling downs in Stoke Bishop. That diversity also means that Bristol North West is a tale of two cities, whereby extreme poverty and deprivation exist side by side with some of the richest wards in the country. Nowhere is that inequality seen more starkly than in education, because in my constituency some of the best-performing schools in the country can be found just hundreds of metres away from some of the most challenged schools in the country, and I am privileged to be able to address the Chamber today on education and to discuss some of the measures in the Gracious Speech.

Breaking down the terrible and invisible barriers that divide the haves from the have-nots will not be easy, but I am delighted that one thing on which the coalition rests is the pupil premium. Quite a long time ago, back in 2005, I was lucky enough to work with my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) and James O'Shaughnessy on the pupil premium, and little did we know then that it would be a raft for such a friendly and successful coalition. The financial incentive directed to those most in need is just the beginning of eradicating the educational inequality that exists in my community and it will help schools such as Henbury school, Orchard school and the Oasis academy Brightstowe.

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