Orders of the Day — Regional Development Agencies Bill
Mr Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow Govan, Labour)
I start in the name of Allah, who is the most beneficent and the most merciful. I have taken the opportunity to prefix my maiden speech in the traditional Muslim custom by starting in the name of God. This, I believe, is a testament to the fact that Britain is now a multicultural and multi-religious society, of which we are all members.
I begin by paying tribute to the late Jimmy Dunnachie, the former Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Pollok, which includes a substantial part of my new constituency. Jimmy Dunnachie tragically passed away at the beginning of September 1997. He was a popular and well-respected Member of Parliament and will be sadly missed in Glasgow.
I am extremely grateful to the people of Govan for the privilege and honour that they have conferred on me by electing me as their Member of Parliament. They have subsequently stood by me through some difficult times.
Govan is a rainbow state representing Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Chinese, Africans and Caribbeans, who include professionals, academics, the self-employed, employees and employers. Some would say that the political spectrum in Govan is perhaps too awash with colour. We have right-wingers, old lefties, Blairites, liberals, communists, Militant, nationalists, and even the odd Tory can be seen early on a Sunday morning.
The early beginnings of Govan were as a centre of Christianity. During the mid-1800s, Govan grew to become a burgh and by the end of the century had developed into one of the world's industrial powerhouses. Between the war years, heavy engineering industries and the Clydeside shipyards continued to employ thousands of men and women. However, after the second world war the decline of shipbuilding and the consequent reduction in heavy engineering took their toll, and the economy of greater Govan went into decline.
I hope that the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde and the problems faced by Kvaerner Shipbuilding at Govan Cross will be addressed satisfactorily by our Government.
It is interesting to note that even in its darkest days, Govan produced and nurtured people of the highest calibre. Bruce Milian, a successful politician who represented the people of Govan with dedication and diligence, became the Secretary of State for Scotland during the late 1970s and later became the second European Commissioner.
Who in the labour movement could ever forget the world's first work-in, orchestrated by Jimmy Airlie and Jimmy Reid, whose speech inspired the shipyard workers on the Clyde to stand up for their right to work?
Those individuals are well known, but the real heroes are the people of Govan, who have faced the challenges of a steady decline with dignity and passion. Those are the people whom I am proud to represent.
The people of Govan and Glasgow were delighted by the recent decision of the Millennium Commission and the Glasgow development agency to award a grant of more than £50 million towards Scotland's first national science park in my constituency. A further £19 million for the park still requires final approval from the European Commission in Brussels, but I am confident that approval will be granted and that the development can be concluded before the millennium. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and hon. Members will take the opportunity to visit the centre when it is up and running.
The national science park is a perfect example of the role that development agencies can play in attracting inward investment. Development agencies, in conjunction with local government and the private sector in Scotland, have played an extremely important role in tackling economic and social decay.
In Glasgow, for example, Scottish Enterprise and the Glasgow development agency, in partnership with Glasgow city council, Strathclyde regional council and Govan Initiative Ltd., have been successful in tackling the economic and social problems that the city experiences. The regeneration of the merchant city, the development of the Scottish exhibition centre, the Burrell gallery, the royal concert hall and the Kelvin hall all demonstrate the huge difference that development agencies have made in Glasgow, so much so that Glasgow is seen as a prime example of urban regeneration, and only last week was described by The Big Issue as the coolest city in Britain. That is why I believe that the Bill is an important element in the process of democratic renewal and local empowerment.
I believe that the success of our Government will be measured simply by the real actions that we initiate to combat poverty. My constituents look to the Government to deliver practical, real-life solutions. Unemployment in Govan, which stands at 14 per cent., is still far too high. Until last May, too many people had no hope of employment. Too many of our young people are involved in drug misuse and too many leave school without the right skills. Many people are still forced to live in intolerable housing conditions, while many pensioners must still make a choice between heating and food—especially during the cold winter months.
One development that has increased the level of poverty is low pay. The introduction of a national minimum wage is vital if we are to ensure that that level of poverty does not continue. Other countries, not least the United States, have shown that a reasonably set minimum wage helps to improve economic performance and productivity.
My constituents are also expecting significant progress in housing. The Scottish people rely more on public sector housing than those in the rest of Britain. More resources should be made available for building and, in particular, for renovating houses. Renovation is important, as merely concentrating on building further housing will shift attention away from areas such as Govan where demand for housing can be met adequately only by regenerating and renovating the existing stock.
Education is another area which is of great concern to the people of Govan. The schools in Govan do a tremendous job under severe financial pressures, but they need further support from the Government. The July Budget, which gave £2.3 billion for school repairs and raising literacy and numeracy standards, was greatly welcomed in my constituency.
An issue that has come to concern me increasingly over the years, and one which I hear about repeatedly from the Muslim community and her friends in Britain is the growth of Islamaphobia. The Runnymede Trust's report "Islamaphobia, a challenge for us all" is an excellent insight into that prejudice, and I trust that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will take on board the recommendations made in that report.
I should like to draw the attention of hon. Members and of the Government to the poor representation of ethnic minorities—including the total exclusion of Muslims—in the House of Lords. I trust that our Government will change that unacceptable situation.
I look forward to making my own contribution by working fully with the Labour Government and by realising our vision of a new Britain where power and resources are in the hands of the many and not the few.