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Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I have been here throughout the debate and there have been some excellent maiden speeches. I congratulate all those who have spoken so far, and there will be more to come. I also thank those who paid tribute to their predecessors. That is appreciated as well.
I will be voting for the Queen's Speech, warts and all, because I think that a Government must have a programme
to take forward. However, I give notice that, when some of those warts come back, I shall need some convincing if I am to vote for them.
In Essex, there is an attraction about getting shot of Essex county council. It is not so much that it has a dead hand on education: as far as Colchester is concerned, it has a warped hand. The council has failed to listen to the people of my constituency even though, in a consultation exercise, in excess of 96% of them said no to the secondary school reorganisation.
If we can persuade the sixth-form college and the Colchester institute to come together with all the local secondary schools in a co-operative-or whatever name we want to give it-my hope is that we can build on what the coalition is putting forward and get shot of Essex county council. As the previous Government well knew, the council is a disaster as an education authority. Indeed, hon. Members who were in the last Parliament will know that I raised the shortcomings of the Essex education authority time and time again.
"the Academies model is unfair in relation to freedoms granted and unsustainable given the way it is centrally run from Westminster.
Liberal Democrats would replace the Academies programme with a new devolved model of Sponsor Managed Schools in which...All schools, including existing Academies (which would become Sponsor Managed Schools) would be under the strategic oversight of local authorities and not Ministers in Whitehall."
Nothing that I have heard or seen in the succeeding year and a bit since has altered my view on that. A letter appeared in last Friday's Liberal Democrat N e ws from Helen Flynn of Skipton and Ripon, and I should like to put it on the record. It said:
"Though much has been achieved in terms of shoehorning in Lib Dem policy in many areas of the Coalition Agreement the Queen's Speech shows how we have dropped the ball on education-massively.
It defies belief that as the party supposedly set apart for its stance on localism in education we have allowed in massive expansion of the Academies Programme, which is at once centralised as opposed to local in its accountability framework, and is divisive as opposed to inclusive in terms of its admission arrangements."
I will delay more comment until the Second Reading of the Academies Bill. We look forward to that with great interest, but I return to the fact that Essex county council has failed the secondary school system in Colchester. I was greatly encouraged by the Secretary of State-and I shall be reading Hansard closely tomorrow-because I think that there is a glimmer of hope in what he said.
It was confirmed only this week that Colchester is the fastest growing borough in the country, yet Essex county council has plans to shut two secondary schools there when all the figures show that they should be retained, and that a new school will be required elsewhere. That is nonsense: shutting schools while expanding others to provide for up to as many as 2,000 pupils is not localism and does not make sense.
I hope that Colchester schools will come together and that we can save Thomas Lord Audley school in Berechurch and Alderman Blaxill school at Shrub End. In one of my interventions in the speech by the Secretary
of State, I drew attention to early-day motion 25 in my name, which relates to the fitness of children. Linked with that is early-day motion 24 on learning outside the classroom, and Ministers may also want to look at early-day motion 65, which raises questions about the results achieved by academy schools.
Lastly, this debate is about education and health. I therefore urge the Secretary of State for Health to draw together health and education in an holistic approach, and bring education about first aid into the school curriculum. All the evidence shows that that would save the NHS tens of millions of pounds a year by reducing the numbers of people going to hospital accident and emergency departments. Lives would be saved in the precious two or three minutes after an incident happens, for example when someone falls down the stairs or is involved in a road crash.
Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to give my maiden speech today. I congratulate my fellow south Londoner, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), and others on their fine maiden speeches. It is a pleasure to be able to make mine in the same debate this evening.
I am deeply humbled to stand here as only the second Labour Member of Parliament for Streatham. Six individuals have represented the constituency since its creation in 1918. I am incredibly proud to succeed my very good friend the right hon. Keith Hill, who in 1992 became the first Labour Member to represent the constituency. Returning Members will know that Keith served in the last Labour Government, from 1997 until 2007, in a variety of roles. Most notably, he was Under-Secretary of State for Transport, as well as being Minister for London and Minister for Housing and Planning. He was also Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Tony Blair, until the latter left office.
Keith is a larger-than-life person. He was, and is still, very respected in this House, and is remembered with great affection on all sides. He made a big contribution to this place and, above all, did so with great humour. In a tribute to Keith earlier this year, Mr Blair told how, at 11.57 am every Wednesday, just before Prime Minister's Questions, Keith would arrive to take him to the Chamber, greeting him with the words, "Prime Minister, a grateful nation awaits your presence." This never failed to bring a smile to Mr Blair's face.
In May 2007, Keith announced that he would retire at the general election that we have just had because he thought that, at the age of 66, it was time to pass the baton on to a new generation. Notwithstanding Keith's age-I do not think age should be a barrier-Keith always went about his work with a certain youthful vigour right up until retirement, and it will come as no surprise to those who know him well for me to tell the House that he is, at this very moment, surfing the waves in Cornwall in a wet suit.
I helped Keith with his constituency surgeries for half a decade and saw for myself what a fine Member for the constituency he was. He has been a great source of
support to me, for which I am so grateful. I am conscious that I have very big shoes to fill, but I have every intention of living up to his very high standard.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank the good people of my constituency for electing me to succeed Keith as their Member of Parliament. I am the first Member for Streatham who was born and bred in the constituency, and it is such a privilege to represent them. The constituency is officially the centre of my universe. For the benefit of those who have yet to hop on the No. 159 bus just outside on Whitehall to go to Streatham, it is a constituency situated in south-west London and covers Streatham and parts of Balham, Brixton, Clapham and Tulse Hill in the London borough of Lambeth. The A23, which runs directly through the middle of the constituency taking in Brixton hill and Streatham high road, contains the longest piece of continuous high street in Europe.
The constituency is hugely diverse in many ways. With my own mixed English, Irish and Nigerian heritage, I am in many ways typical of the constituency, which is a very multicultural area. More than 35% of the population is, like me, from an ethnic minority, and there is also a big socio-economic mix, with the north of the constituency being quite inner-city in nature, and the south being more suburban. Like much of London, next to pockets of great wealth can be found areas of great deprivation.
Huge strides were made under the last Government in reducing deprivation in my constituency, be it through Sure Start-we have nine children's centres-or through the numerous tax credit innovations that have helped keep people above the poverty line in my area. However, the big outstanding gap between the rich and the poor is there for all to see. This is something that I am determined to work to reduce during my time in the House.
Although there are outstanding problems, there is a terrific sense of community in the constituency. It is not broken in the way that some have described our country as being. "Broken" is a word which I think has been too loosely bandied about to describe our society. The word is often attached in television news reports to images of young people in inner-city areas like mine. That is reinforced by a tabloid media that at times presents young people as nothing but trouble. It is utterly deplorable to demonise our young people in this way.
Take the latest school exam results in our borough. Across Lambeth we saw success last year. Dunraven school in the middle of the constituency has a sixth-form centre that opened in 2003 to address the lack of A-level places. Last year, 70 per cent. of its A-level students got A to C grades. Likewise, the percentage of Lambeth pupils obtaining five or more A* to C GCSE grades soared to 71 per cent., which is well above the national average. These are not the results of a broken society.
There are planned building developments at three of the five secondary schools in my constituency that have not reached the financial close stage of development. We know that we do not see such results unless we invest in our schools. Those developments in my constituency are Building Schools for the Future projects. I hope that the Secretary of State for Education will at some point clarify the Government's intentions in that regard. The hon. Member for Croydon Central
referred to positive comments about BSF. I did not hear them myself, and I want to know what is going to happen about that.
We all understand the need to address the public sector deficit, but that cannot be at the expense of those to whom we are looking to grow our economy in the near future. Ensuring a return to economic growth is surely a key element in ensuring the recovery. The economic recession that we have just lived through was triggered by the global credit crunch that led to the collapse of several major financial institutions. The root causes of the global downturn are complex and varied, but a culture of excess and of recklessness in the banking sector undoubtedly played a role.
At the beginning of my legal career, I worked for just over three and a half years as a corporate employment lawyer in the City of London, and I acted for a number of institutions in the financial services sector on a variety of international transactions. I know from my time working in the City that it makes a big and important contribution to our economy, but a casino culture was allowed to develop there. In all parts of the House, it is acknowledged that the financial services sector needs to be better regulated. To say that things got out of hand is an understatement, so I welcome the continued prominence that the new Government are giving to reform of the financial services sector, and I intend to take a particular interest in how we reform it.
We must never again allow a situation to develop where the hard-working people whom we are elected to represent are left to pick up the tab for a financial crisis that was not of their making, jeopardising continued investment in our schools, hospitals and other public services that we are debating today. It is they whom we are elected to serve and I, for one, will never forget that.
Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): It is a very great pleasure to be here today. It has been quite a couple of weeks for the town of Blackpool. Not only did it elect me as a Member of Parliament, but we now have the delight of playing in the premiership next season, not just against Wolverhampton Wanderers, about whom we heard earlier, but against many other teams that I am sure we all support. I was thinking of buying a tangerine tie, which is our club colour, but I thought that that might push the politics of coalition that bit too far, as I do not own such a thing.
It was with great pleasure that in my acceptance speech on election night I paid tribute to Joan Humble. It was no problem for me at all and I am delighted to do so again. She was always courteous, unfailingly polite and gracious. I note that she is remembered with affection in all parts of the House. She was an excellent member of the Work and Pensions Committee. More important in my view was the work that she did with the all-party group on non-combat deaths in the military, particularly in the aftermath of the Deepcut inquiry. Her work on that group demonstrates to me what can be achieved as a Back Bencher. It is a useful lesson to all of us newer Members that we do not need to hanker after ministerial office to achieve in the House.
Joan was, of course, the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood. There are people out there, beyond the Chamber, who take great interest in the
nomenclature that attaches to constituencies. Cleveleys is a debutante in having a constituency named after it. It is an interesting town, partly because it does not really exist. There is another group of anoraks out there who know all about postcodes; they are obsessed with postal towns. Cleveleys is part of what is called Thornton Cleveleys. No one is quite sure where Thornton stops and Cleveleys starts or where the two merge.
Cleveleys has a distinct identity. It is attractive to day-trippers from across the north-west and beyond, as far south as Stoke, but it faces a number of challenges. I shall highlight one today that affects education and health: long-term care for the elderly and long-term medical conditions. At the time of the last census the Blackpool, North and Fleetwood constituency had the highest number of people living in a household where somebody had a long-term medical condition-some 42 per cent.
So I urge those on my Front Bench to bear in mind that what matters in health care is not just what occurs in an acute hospital. It is not just about what can be measured and put on a website as an indicator. It is about things such as quality, and perhaps most importantly-a word that I never hear often enough in political discourse-dignity. We cannot measure a patient's dignity, but we know when they have lost it. Once again, I urge my Front-Bench team to put dignity at the heart of all they do in health care.
I pay tribute to Cleveleys first because I would hate it to feel overshadowed by its big brother to the south, Blackpool. I am sure all hon. Members know Blackpool. Many of them will have propped up the bar in the Imperial hotel in my constituency at many a conference. Everybody loves Blackpool, but I wonder whether they know much about the real Blackpool, the Blackpool behind the headlines. There are some extremely deprived parts of my constituency, and there are some real public health issues that we have to deal with as a Government. It is of great satisfaction to me that, as a party, the Conservatives started almost seven years ago working on improving public health policy. I pay tribute to the work that the Secretary of State has done in delivering an excellent public health document while in opposition. I hope we can build on that.
The other key issue that affects Blackpool, or the part that I represent, is educational aspiration. Sadly, we have some fairly underperforming schools that still have national challenge status. It is not easy running an education system in Blackpool. Deprivation does not make for easy pupils, and the staff in Blackpool do a tremendous job. Yes, results are slowly beginning to improve, but there is a poverty of aspiration within the town. Too many generations have not felt that education had any purpose for them; that there was any point in investing time in their studies so that they could build lives for themselves.
I feel passionately as a new Member that I want to introduce or try to reintroduce that culture of aspiration, because educational aspiration matters to me personally. As far as we can tell, I am the first Member of Parliament to be elected who attended a special school, and I particularly ask those on the Front Bench to pay special attention to needs of special schools, because they do matter. Had I not gone to that special school for the
first few years of my education, I would not have been able to transfer to mainstream education. Without the speech therapy that I got at primary school, I might not have been able to stand here today and make a speech, so special needs education does matter.
Once again, as far as we can tell, I am also the first Member of Parliament to be elected who has cerebral palsy. I do not claim that that marks me out as anything special at all. I have never let it define my politics. Those who know me know that my interests are wide-ranging and far-reaching, and I will not let it define what I do in this Chamber-certainly not. I do not see myself as a role model for anyone. I have too many frailties, weaknesses and imperfections for that. I am but a weak and humble man after all.
None the less, I hope that I can be a role model to the many people out there who might feel that they want to play a role in public life, but may not quite have the confidence to do so. I know from experience that one needs a bit of courage, yes; a bit of self-deprecation, yes; and the humility to accept that sadly, yes, the bar is still that bit higher for some of us. I found that during my campaign, when my cerebral palsy was used against me by some. It surprised and shocked me, but on 29 April I picked up The Economist and read in an article about Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget crisis in California that people with cerebral palsy and epilepsy-the combination I have-had "mental disabilities". If a publication as august as The Economist cannot get it right, it shows that there is an awful lot of work to do.
Just last week, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Lord Morris's Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which introduced the basic concept of rights for disabled people, an Act without which I would not be here in the public sphere today, and I pay tribute to that. But it is abundantly clear to me that no matter how much we legislate, no matter how many laws we pass, we cannot legislate for what occurs in people's minds. I hope, by my presence in the House over the coming years, not so much by what I say but by the very fact of being here, that I can challenge some of the misconceptions, prejudices, fears and suspicions that go with my conditions.
Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to be given the opportunity to make my maiden speech in the House in such an important debate. I start by paying tribute to the excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). I think that we would all agree that his maiden speech will be read time and again, and I hope that people will take account of it. It was very eloquent and I am sure that we will all have much to learn from his experiences in future.
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