First Day

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:41 pm on 6th May 1992.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts , Sheffield, Attercliffe 4:41 pm, 6th May 1992

First, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I congratulate you on your election to your new office and thank you for letting me catch your eye and be the first Member to make his maiden speech in this Parliament.

Secondly, I give my thanks and those of my constituents to my predecessor, Sir Patrick Duffy, who as Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe from 1970 was recognised for his diligence on behalf of his constituents and for his expertise, in particular, on defence matters. He was an Under-Secretary of State for Defence for three years during the 1970s, and afterwards he was the President of the North Atlantic Assembly where he did an excellent job ably. During my time as a candidate in the constituency I learned from many of my now constituents of the work that Sir Patrick did on their behalf, and the respect and esteem in which he was held. I am sure that it is right for me today to place that firmly on the record.

Thirdly, I thank my constituents for placing their confidence in me by electing me as their Member of Parliament. I want to serve all their individual interests, but there are also matters of particular and general concern to my constituency to which I shall refer this afternoon and which I hope to pursue in my time in the House.

My constituency is a diverse one. The name Attercliffe comes from the old, industrial part of the constituency, which was the heart of our nation's steel and engineering industry. Unfortunately, that heart is a little smaller than it was and beats a little more slowly than it did; yet it remains an important part of British industry. Unfortunately, unemployment in the constituency has risen two and a half times in the past 20 years. That is of considerable concern. I am determined to direct my efforts towards working with the city council and local industry, which have formed a partnership, to address in particular the twin problems of long-term and youth unemployment.

Workers in Sheffield are proud of their skills, traditions and good industrial relations. It is a tragedy that people who for years and generations used their skills to turn the scrap of this nation into steel and engineering products now see themselves consigned to the industrial scrap heap through unemployment. That cannot be tolerated. It is ironic that, as I begin a new life and career in this House at the age of 42, some of my constituents of the same age fear that they will never work again.

In addition to the old industrial part of my constituency, there are new areas of growth which almost comprise a new town in themselves. There are areas of new housing and young families where education is a key priority. My constituents desire an education service that is comprehensive, integrated and free at the point of delivery. If equality of opportunity and an equal start in life for the children of my constituents are to be a reality, educational opportunity must be available from the age of three, not five. I shall strive to achieve the development and advancement of comprehensive nursery education provision for all who want it.

The growth in new housing by and large is in housing for sale. It is right that people who choose and can afford to have a home of their own should be able to buy, but many people cannot afford to buy or choose not to buy and for them there must be the opportunity of a home for rent. In Sheffield we have a unique partnership scheme with private developers, housing associations and the local authority working together. I hope that I can continue to support and help that development which provides homes for rent for those who cannot afford any other form of home, while recognising the right of everyone, whatever his or her circumstances, to a decent home.

The issues of housing and education are important elements in local government and with my background I must recognise that. Local government is not just a provider of a whole variety of important services. From time to time, I shall undoubtedly draw attention in the House to the poor revenue support grant that the city of Sheffield gets. Opposition to the low amount of grant has come from all political parties on Sheffield city council together with the chamber of commerce. No doubt I shall return to that in future.

Just as I believe that local government services are important, I believe in the principle of local democracy, local accountability and subsidiarity. The best government for our people is conducted as close as possible to those who are governed. We in this House should recognise that the principle and value of local democracy is an important counterforce to the extremes of centralisation. I hope to argue that case in future.

In addition, the work of our local councils is of value and importance. People do not simply make a sacrifice on a voluntary basis for nothing. Many of our local councillors give up their time and that of their families on behalf of their constituencies and councils in the furtherance of local democracy and the pursuance of services. Often that effort and contribution goes unrewarded and unrecognised. I hope to return to that issue, which is of great importance.

Finally, I turn to two different issues which affect different members of my constituency. The first is Kashmir. Many of my constituents and their families originated in Kashmir. It is right that the House should place on record its concern about the atrocities, violence and confusion in countries such as Yugoslavia and the various states into which in the past few months it has broken up. It is right that we have condemned the atrocities and supported the principle of self-determination. Many of my constituents have relatives in Kashmir who fear for their lives. My constituents are worried about the atrocities and the abuses of civil rights there. I hope that we can have a debate on how to deal with that, so that we can place on the record our concern about those problems, and I hope that we can eventually return to the United Nations resolution passed more than 40 years ago that Kashmir should also have the right to self-determination.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may not know that I am a member of the most exclusive club in the House of Commons. Its president is my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley); the chief supporters are my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie); and the team manager is my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton). I refer to the House of Commons Sheffield Wednesday supporters club and wish to be the first hon. Member to place on record my congratulations to Sheffield Wednesday on bringing European football to Sheffield for the first time in 20 years.

As I wish to offend neither my constituents nor my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), may I also place on record my appreciation of Sheffield United's rapid rise up the table in the second half of the season. I look forward to renewed duals between the teams in the Premier League next season.

On a more serious note, I was unfortunately present on that terrible day when the disaster occurred at Hillsborough. I recognise the important work carried out and proposals made by the Taylor inquiry. I also recognise that in football, as in so many other matters that will come before the House in the next few years, we must have regard to proposals that are made in Europe. Nevertheless, if we are serious about taking account of consumers' views, the views of football supporters must also be considered when the House looks at the final proposals for football ground safety.

I was pleased that the new Secretary of State for National Heritage said the other day that he was willing to listen again to arguments, especially on all-seater stadiums, about which I have serious doubts. I shall wish to return to that issue in the future.

I conclude my first contribution in the House with those comments, as that issue consumes most of my time outside the House. I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for letting me catch your eye, and hon. Members for their courtesy in listening to me.