Tackling Poverty in the UK
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole, Conservative)
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye so early in this debate. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, and I think that you are the first successful Labour candidate I have ever voted for. I have to confess that, as I voted for you and for my hon. Friend Mr Evans, I realised that as a Yorkshireman I had cast my ballot for two Lancastrians. I was consoled by realising later that I have at least silenced two Lancastrian Members for some time- [ Laughter. ]
As the first Back Bencher to speak in this debate, I have no previous maiden speeches to commend, but I have spent the last week and a half in my place, and I hoped to be called in the education debate last week. I heard more and more maiden speeches, and there were some fantastic examples. I only hope that I set the bar sufficiently low that everything that comes after me today is an improvement.
I pay tribute to my predecessor in Brigg and Goole, Mr Ian Cawsey, who was indeed my only predecessor, as the constituency was created in 1997. I also wish to apologise to the House, not for ridding the country of a Labour Member of Parliament, which I think was rather a good thing, but for helping to break up the world's only parliamentary band, MP4. Mr Cawsey served the group with some distinction as its lead singer. I have been approached by one or two of the remaining members to take his place, but alas that is not to be. Ian served the constituency incredibly well. He was very decent in the election campaign and in my dealings with him in the past three and a half years. I genuinely wish him and his family, who are extremely loyal to him, all the very best for the future.
As I said, the Brigg and Goole constituency has only existed since 1997, and before then the area was covered by other constituencies and represented by several distinguished Members, including-I am pleased to say-my right hon. Friend Mr Davis, who served the Boothferry constituency between 1987 and 1997. The Brigg part of the constituency was served by Michael Brown, who will be remembered on both sides of the House and is still active in public life today. The previous Member for Scunthorpe also served a portion of my constituency for a time.
Since my election, several people have asked me, "Where exactly is Brigg and Goole?" My job today is to enlighten the House about the delights of the constituency. Mine is a difficult task, because I represent one of the few constituencies that cross county boundaries. The constituency is two thirds in North Lincolnshire and a third in the East Riding of Yorkshire, where I was born and bred. Being a Yorkshireman representing a Lincolnshire seat can have its challenges, and I have to tread a careful path. My predecessor had the same problem, especially as Brigg Town football club often play Goole Town football club-a potentially dangerous situation for a Member of Parliament. My predecessor had a clever approach to the problem, courtesy of the communications allowance, and regularly sponsored both clubs' matches-a pleasure that will not be open to me.
The constituency was formed when the dreaded Humberside authority existed, and we are all delighted to have seen the back of that-[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful for support on that point. However, the Humberside name still exists, and I will probably have more to say on that in the weeks and months to come.
The constituency has a long history, going back centuries. Brigg is a small historic market town in north Lincolnshire, with a famous fair that dates all the way back to 1205. Brigg is also the gateway-depending on which way one enters-to the beautiful Lincolnshire wold villages, many of which have played an important role in the history of this country. I also have the pleasure of representing a unique area of the country called the Isle of Axholme-a portion of land bounded on all sides by major rivers that was actually marshland until it was drained by Cornelius Vermuyden in the 17th century. In an early example of English jobs for English workers, Mr Vermuyden was a Dutchman who brought Dutch workers over and came into conflict with the locals. The King had to intervene and ensure that half the work force was English-something that the previous Prime Minister was unable to achieve.
The Isle of Axholme also houses the beautiful market town of Epworth, the birthplace of Charles and John Wesley, the founders of Methodism. It also has one of the world's largest trolleybus museums at Sandtoft. I confess that I have yet to visit it, but I will do so shortly. The area is also home to Britain's oldest traditional tussle, the Haxey hood, which takes place on the 12th night after Christmas. It has various interesting characters, including the lord of the hood, the chief boggin and a fool. As I look round the Chamber, I have allotted some positions for next year, but it would be rude to go into details.
Goole is in the East Riding of Yorkshire and is Britain's biggest inland port. It is a company town, having been formed through the creation of the Aire and Calder canal. Also in the East Riding is the small village in which I live, Airmyn, which has a long history with the Percy family. We-I say we, although I suspect that my links to the Percy family are more illegitimate and feudal than I might like them to be-used to hold the title to Airmyn, and the pub is still called the Percy Arms. Its recent refurbishment finishes today and it will reopen at 7pm tonight. All are welcome.
My constituency also played a major role in the second world war, with parts of the Mulberry harbour being completed in Goole. We also housed several airfields, including RAF Sandtoft, RAF Elsham Wolds and RAF Snaith. The latter has a fantastic memorial team, which I am involved in supporting.
Before becoming a Member, I was a schoolteacher, and I intend to champion the issues of school funding, deprivation and exclusions. I am delighted to have been called to speak in the debate on poverty because although I represent a large rural constituency I was brought up in a neighbouring constituency of Hull as a proud comprehensive boy, and I am pleased to say that there are two comprehensive boys now in Parliament, one on each side- [ Interruption. ] I meant two Hull comprehensive boys. I have taught in some of the most deprived schools in Hull, so the issues of child poverty and deprivation are dear to me.
In my time in Parliament I wish to champion the cause of excluded children, who under the last two Governments-and perhaps also under previous Governments-have not received the attention that they deserve. In particular, children who receive free school meals are three times more likely to be excluded from school. As a practitioner in the last few years, I know that we had fine words from the previous Government, but we were hamstrung in schools by a commitment to social inclusion. The social inclusion agenda was introduced for good reasons, but it had the opposite effect to that intended in secondary schools, because it tied the hands of schoolteachers who wanted to deal with discipline, which is at the core of many of the problems we face in schools today. I do not have time to go into great detail today, but I intend to champion the cause of excluded children in the future. We are moving in the right direction with the pupil premium, but we must accept that dealing with excluded children is expensive. We need to follow the examples of excellent practice around the country and make progress on this issue.
I would have liked to talk for longer on this subject, but that is not possible. So I shall end by saying that I intend to be an independently minded local champion for the fantastic people of Brigg and Goole.