Health and Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 24th May 2005.

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Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Labour, Brent South 6:30 pm, 24th May 2005

It is with great pleasure that I rise to make my maiden speech, days after being presented to the House. I congratulate all who have made and will be making their maiden speech during the debate on the Queen's Speech. I speak with pride at being elected in an historic third Labour term.

I made a promise to my constituents that if elected, I would be a strong ambassador for Brent, South, speaking out on local and national issues. I cannot do that by sitting quietly on the Benches, so I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity. I am grateful to the ever helpful and friendly staff of the Serjeant at Arms, without whom many new Members would never find their way to the House.

I am particularly proud and privileged to be a Member of Parliament for the youngest and most diverse and vibrant constituency in Europe—Brent, South, home to Wembley stadium. I have the honour of succeeding the right hon. Paul Boateng, who put Brent, South on the political map and raised the expectation of more than 66 per cent. of his constituents as the first black Cabinet Minister. It was even more reassuring that the first black Minister was Labour. There are many stories about my predecessor on which I could elaborate, but I have only 10 minutes. He made his maiden speech on 26 June 1987 and since then Brent has benefited from many changes under the fantastic Labour Government, although there is still much more to do.

Campaigning with Paul Boateng was a testament to how much he engaged with his constituency. When walking down Harlesden high street with him, one would think that one was walking with the No. 1 pop idol. He would be randomly accosted in the street, hugged so tight that he would become short of breath, kissed erratically all over and have sweet nothings whispered in his ears—and that was just by male constituents.

I wish Paul Boateng well as the UK's ambassador to South Africa, and I salute him and thank him for his leadership and the doors that he helped open, along with the late Bernie Grant, Oona King, my hon. Friend Ms Abbott, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Mr. Lammy and my hon. Friend Keith Vaz. These former and current MPs—not all were mentioned—played a crucial role in extending the representation of our democracy and in encouraging me as the first black female MP for Brent, South and the third black woman in Parliament. There will be many more to follow.

My first priority is to be a conscientious and diligent MP, accessible and open to my constituents. I will ensure that issues and problems brought to me by my constituents are heard and debated in the House to achieve change, as I believe that Brent, South is a shining example of integration at its best. Brent, South deserves a chance to prosper, a chance to benefit from opportunities and a chance for my constituents to live independently.

Brent, South is diverse, vibrant and buzzing, but that comes with inherent problems. Wembley and Harlesden are our main town centres and regeneration is key to bridging the poverty gap. We need highly paid jobs for local people and education to match the skills gap. Brent, South has an unemployment rate of 9 per cent., compared with 7 per cent. London-wide. However, our Labour Government have ensured that that figure has improved, with new deal helping almost 2,000 Brent, South youth into employment.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the London divide. Brent residents, like many other London constituents, suffer from a high cost of living. Labour has ensured that one in five residents have enjoyed a pay rise through the minimum wage. Returning a Labour Government has ensured that for the first time my constituents will earn more than £5 an hour, but we need to investigate the London element so that my constituents can continue to live out of poverty, with the hope of becoming home owners some day.

I am proud to represent the Labour party, which established the minimum wage, which some Opposition parties could not find time to support. The minimum wage, combined with the working families tax credit, has put on average an extra £50 per week in the pocket of the poorest families in Brent, South, ensuring that work pays and work pays the bills.

I am proud to represent the Labour party, which has pledged to end the equal pay gap. My constituency has more women living in it than men—52 per cent.—and equal pay has a direct effect on economic stability and business prosperity, and a direct correlation with child poverty. If we are serious about tackling those issues, the gap must be closed, and soon. I am confident that I will be working hard with my Government to ensure that that will be achieved.

I, like my fellow hon. Members, am encouraged by the fact that in the 2005 intake of new Labour MPs, 66 per cent. are female and 7 per cent. are black and minority ethnic. As my leader said, these are no Blair babes, as he pointed to our two expectant mothers. This is modern, progressive politics reflecting our society.

I am proud to be a GMB member and a former officer. I strive to ensure that my contributions continue to aid the historic constructive working relations between the Labour party and the trade union movement. The Warwick agreement, which was referred to in our manifesto, is another historic agreement which only the Labour party could achieve.

I end by thanking again my constituents in Brent, South for their trust in me and the Labour party. Brent, South spoke clearly on 5 May. The electorate there told the Conservatives that they were not thinking what they were thinking. With the country's largest concentration of West Indians, they told the Lib Dems that dey nah warnt dem. What they wanted was a Labour party which would deliver on its promises of equality and justice for the many, not the few.

It is my job as Brent, South's ambassador to ensure that we deliver on the Labour promises. With only 33 per cent. of my constituents in high-paid jobs compared with 50 per cent. for London as a whole, and with 24 per cent. having no qualifications compared with 15 per cent. for London, it is important that as Brent, South's MP I lobby hard to ensure that initiatives are developed and that they work in Brent, so that my constituents have a fighting chance to achieve their full potential.

I promised the youth that they would have a voice through me. We must encourage our youth, listen to them and help them to resolve youth issues. After all, they are our future. Guess what—not all youth are yobs, and not all yobs are youth. Furthermore, youths are victims of antisocial behaviour, more than any other group in our society. I will campaign and lobby extremely hard for my constituents in Brent, South to further their concerns and to put forward the case for social justice in Brent, South, the UK and worldwide.

I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to address the House with my maiden speech and I look forward to many other occasions when I might catch the Speaker's eye and further the aforementioned issues.