Home Affairs and Communities
Sadiq Khan (Tooting, Labour)
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech this evening, so saving me from the torture that we new Members have to go through as we attempt to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair. It is easy to recognise us wherever we sit in the Chamber, clutching our speeches and looking pale and shifty and, as the evening goes on, looking paler and shiftier.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry) and the hon. Members for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) and for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) on their excellent maiden speeches.
I feel both proud and humble to stand in my place today. I am proud that I can join this great debating Chamber and bring my constituency of Tooting to the attention of all hon. Members here. I feel humble to be speaking in a place that has been the home of great and famous orators down the decades and where legislation that has changed the face of Britain for the better has been passed. Much of that legislation has been passed by the Labour party, which has improved the lives of so many working people, including my own family.
I am Tooting, boy and man. I was born in the constituency and I have lived there all my life. I married a Tooting girl, Saadiya, and we are bringing up two beautiful daughters there, Anisah and Ammarah.
When I was selected as the Labour candidate for Tooting, I was able to realise an ambition of mine, which was to represent Tooting in Parliament. I am immensely proud to have been given that honour. I thank Tooting Labour party for its trust and hard work throughout the campaign. Its members will all go to socialist heaven. I hope that, over the coming weeks, months and years, I can repay the confidence that the Tooting community has shown in me.
In 1970, the year in which I was born, my predecessor, Tom Cox, came to Parliament. He represented Wandsworth, Central, which became Tooting after boundary changes. For 35 years, he was our Member of Parliament and we were all extremely proud of him and grateful for his unstinting work for the community. Of course, Tom was the only Member who represented me. We first met when I joined the Labour party as a 15-year-old. We became friends and have remained so ever since.
When I became a councillor, 11 years ago, it was always Tom whom I could talk to about how much the decisions of Parliament affected the people in my ward. I realise that many hon. Members knew Tom well. He was an assistant Government Whip from 1974 to 1977, when he was promoted to Whip and served until 1979. After his experiences, he views our majority of 66 as a luxury. I say that while looking towards the Whips.
Tom Cox served the people of Tooting with distinction in the casework that he undertook, in the Adjournment debates in which he took part, in the early-day motions that he signed, in the all-party groups of which he was a member and in much, much more.
I dug out Tom's maiden speech from July 1970. Its two main themes were education and industrial relations. For most of the first 27 years of Tom's stay in the House of Commons, his preoccupation was with education. I experienced the terrible problems to which underinvestment leads. I have vivid memories of old and tatty books, crumbling buildings, heating that did not work, which meant that we were left shivering through lessons in winter, outside toilets and teachers who were always involved in industrial action against the Government—I could go on.
I have been a governor at Fircroft primary school, which I attended, for the past 11 years, and my elder daughter started there in September. I can honestly tell the House that the changes made there since 1997 have been incredible. Gone are the outside toilets—in fact there is no school with outside toilets in Tooting—gone are the tatty and outdated books and gone are the days when the staff were in constant dispute with the Government. We have free nursery places for three and four-year-olds, and 6,200 children benefited from that in the past year alone. We also have 90 new teachers locally.
Although my secondary education at Ernest Bevin comprehensive was enjoyable, that school also had problems and there was always some sort of funding crisis. Just before Christmas 2004, it received more than £500,000 of investment, with even more improvements in the pipeline. I pay tribute to the hard-working teachers who, despite the problems to which I referred, encouraged me to go to university and become a lawyer. I hope that the hard-working teachers of today see this Government as being 100 per cent. committed on the side of state schools, all staff and all children.
The other main theme in Tom's maiden speech in 1970 was industrial relations. He talked about the need for trade unions and management to change their attitudes. Tom could have been writing a template for the sort of partnership that this Labour Government have helped to foster between businesses and trade unions and between the CBI and the TUC. As a committed trade unionist, I am terribly proud of the improvement to the work-family balance.
As hon. Members might have realised, I am immensely proud of Tooting. It is everything that is great about the new Britain in which I have been brought up. It is multi-ethnic, multi-religious and properly multicultural. Many different cultures live happily side by side and there is a true sense of tolerance. Geographically, Tooting is in south-west London but, metaphorically speaking, it is at the centre of the universe. Tooting is everything that is fantastic about our country and an excellent case study of what makes London the best city in the world.
I have visited several churches in my community over the years and the local Sikh Khalsa centre. We have four excellent mosques. We have the Hindu society on Garratt lane and a Tamil temple. We have a well-run Jewish residential home for the elderly and thriving amenity groups, mother and toddler groups and trade union activity. There are examples of Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews and those without faith living together, and not just being tolerant of each other's faiths and beliefs, but living in positive harmony. Community cohesion is not political jargon, but what Tooting is all about.
Three years ago, my right hon. Friend John Denham, who was then a Home Office Minister, came to Tooting to open the police contact centre at the Tooting Islamic centre. The local mosque and the police are thus working together with the community to provide a service to all. Anyone can come and receive crime prevention advice, have their property marked and meet the local police. The local community sees the police in a positive light and, just as importantly, the centre allows the police to meet the local community in a non-confrontational setting. It is a real example of a partnership and policing by consent. It also shows that the local Muslim community is not insular, but wants to give something back to the rest of the community by offering premises free of charge. That is an example, post 9/11, of the real Islam, where followers of that great faith believe in the well-being of the entire community, charity and partnership All the faiths are part of the wider community in Tooting, so each autumn and winter, the main roads around Tooting and Balham are lit up with the festival of lights celebrating the festivals of Christmas, Eid and Diwali.
It is important that all in our society feel that their Government are looking out for them. Unfortunately, an anomaly has meant that some of our community fail to get the full protection of our laws against hate crimes. Incitement to racial hatred has rightly been outlawed for some years now and it is a good thing that the courts have developed case law that protects Jews and Sikhs. Unfortunately, followers of multi-ethnic faiths, such as Muslims, Christians and Hindus, are not protected. I am afraid that the far right knows about that loophole and has been using it to incite hatred against Muslims, especially, over the past few years. I am pleased that we have a manifesto commitment—the Secretary of State referred to it earlier—to rectify that and give all our citizens equal protection. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber will consider the measure properly and not believe the nonsense that it will endanger the freedom of speech of comedians, theologians, priests and the like.
My father came to this country 40 years ago as an immigrant from Pakistan. Sadly, he passed away recently, but he would have been proud to have one of his children elected as the Member of Parliament for Tooting and to know that we had been accepted fully as part of British society. My father taught me the sayings, or hadiths, of the Prophet Mohammed—peace be upon him. Mohammed taught that, if one sees something wrong, one has the duty to try to change it. If that is not possible, one should at least voice one's support for something that is good, or voice opposition to something that is wrong. If that is not possible, at the very least in one's heart one should know that something is wrong or right. I am proud to say that those values and that ethos are not shared only by Labour Members, because I am sure that we all share that sense of duty and service to our constituents.