Education and Health

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 7:37 pm on 2nd June 2010.

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Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Labour, Streatham 7:37 pm, 2nd June 2010

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to give my maiden speech today. I congratulate my fellow south Londoner, Gavin Barwell, and others on their fine maiden speeches. It is a pleasure to be able to make mine in the same debate this evening.

I am deeply humbled to stand here as only the second Labour Member of Parliament for Streatham. Six individuals have represented the constituency since its creation in 1918. I am incredibly proud to succeed my very good friend the right hon. Keith Hill, who in 1992 became the first Labour Member to represent the constituency. Returning Members will know that Keith served in the last Labour Government, from 1997 until 2007, in a variety of roles. Most notably, he was Under-Secretary of State for Transport, as well as being Minister for London and Minister for Housing and Planning. He was also Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Tony Blair, until the latter left office.

Keith is a larger-than-life person. He was, and is still, very respected in this House, and is remembered with great affection on all sides. He made a big contribution to this place and, above all, did so with great humour. In a tribute to Keith earlier this year, Mr Blair told how, at 11.57 am every Wednesday, just before Prime Minister's Questions, Keith would arrive to take him to the Chamber, greeting him with the words, "Prime Minister, a grateful nation awaits your presence." This never failed to bring a smile to Mr Blair's face.

In May 2007, Keith announced that he would retire at the general election that we have just had because he thought that, at the age of 66, it was time to pass the baton on to a new generation. Notwithstanding Keith's age-I do not think age should be a barrier-Keith always went about his work with a certain youthful vigour right up until retirement, and it will come as no surprise to those who know him well for me to tell the House that he is, at this very moment, surfing the waves in Cornwall in a wet suit.

I helped Keith with his constituency surgeries for half a decade and saw for myself what a fine Member for the constituency he was. He has been a great source of support to me, for which I am so grateful. I am conscious that I have very big shoes to fill, but I have every intention of living up to his very high standard.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank the good people of my constituency for electing me to succeed Keith as their Member of Parliament. I am the first Member for Streatham who was born and bred in the constituency, and it is such a privilege to represent them. The constituency is officially the centre of my universe. For the benefit of those who have yet to hop on the No. 159 bus just outside on Whitehall to go to Streatham, it is a constituency situated in south-west London and covers Streatham and parts of Balham, Brixton, Clapham and Tulse Hill in the London borough of Lambeth. The A23, which runs directly through the middle of the constituency taking in Brixton hill and Streatham high road, contains the longest piece of continuous high street in Europe.

The constituency is hugely diverse in many ways. With my own mixed English, Irish and Nigerian heritage, I am in many ways typical of the constituency, which is a very multicultural area. More than 35% of the population is, like me, from an ethnic minority, and there is also a big socio-economic mix, with the north of the constituency being quite inner-city in nature, and the south being more suburban. Like much of London, next to pockets of great wealth can be found areas of great deprivation.

Huge strides were made under the last Government in reducing deprivation in my constituency, be it through Sure Start-we have nine children's centres-or through the numerous tax credit innovations that have helped keep people above the poverty line in my area. However, the big outstanding gap between the rich and the poor is there for all to see. This is something that I am determined to work to reduce during my time in the House.

Although there are outstanding problems, there is a terrific sense of community in the constituency. It is not broken in the way that some have described our country as being. "Broken" is a word which I think has been too loosely bandied about to describe our society. The word is often attached in television news reports to images of young people in inner-city areas like mine. That is reinforced by a tabloid media that at times presents young people as nothing but trouble. It is utterly deplorable to demonise our young people in this way.

Take the latest school exam results in our borough. Across Lambeth we saw success last year. Dunraven school in the middle of the constituency has a sixth-form centre that opened in 2003 to address the lack of A-level places. Last year, 70 per cent. of its A-level students got A to C grades. Likewise, the percentage of Lambeth pupils obtaining five or more A* to C GCSE grades soared to 71 per cent., which is well above the national average. These are not the results of a broken society.

There are planned building developments at three of the five secondary schools in my constituency that have not reached the financial close stage of development. We know that we do not see such results unless we invest in our schools. Those developments in my constituency are Building Schools for the Future projects. I hope that the Secretary of State for Education will at some point clarify the Government's intentions in that regard. The hon. Member for Croydon Central referred to positive comments about BSF. I did not hear them myself, and I want to know what is going to happen about that.

We all understand the need to address the public sector deficit, but that cannot be at the expense of those to whom we are looking to grow our economy in the near future. Ensuring a return to economic growth is surely a key element in ensuring the recovery. The economic recession that we have just lived through was triggered by the global credit crunch that led to the collapse of several major financial institutions. The root causes of the global downturn are complex and varied, but a culture of excess and of recklessness in the banking sector undoubtedly played a role.

At the beginning of my legal career, I worked for just over three and a half years as a corporate employment lawyer in the City of London, and I acted for a number of institutions in the financial services sector on a variety of international transactions. I know from my time working in the City that it makes a big and important contribution to our economy, but a casino culture was allowed to develop there. In all parts of the House, it is acknowledged that the financial services sector needs to be better regulated. To say that things got out of hand is an understatement, so I welcome the continued prominence that the new Government are giving to reform of the financial services sector, and I intend to take a particular interest in how we reform it.

We must never again allow a situation to develop where the hard-working people whom we are elected to represent are left to pick up the tab for a financial crisis that was not of their making, jeopardising continued investment in our schools, hospitals and other public services that we are debating today. It is they whom we are elected to serve and I, for one, will never forget that.