May I first offer my thanks to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to make my first contribution to a debate in this House, and for the kindness that you and other experienced Members of all parties have shown me in recent weeks? I should also like to congratulate the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) on their excellent maiden speeches.
I intend to be brief, but I hope that the House will permit me the time to say a few words about my constituency and the issues that are important there. I considered it a very great honour to have been selected as a candidate to represent the place where I was born, and that I call home. To represent here those with whom I grew up in Wirral South, my family and my oldest friends, is a responsibility that is sincerely humbling, and one that I can barely find the words to describe.
As a Wirral South person, I have had the pleasure of my predecessor's acquaintance for many years. Mr Ben Chapman is a very amiable man, and I have been struck by how many Members of this House have taken the time to speak to me about him in recent weeks. They have stopped me and asked me to take with me to Wirral their best wishes for him. I am sure that that does not happen to every new Member of Parliament, and it is a sign of how highly he is regarded here. He worked hard to foster better relationships between our country and others, most especially China, and his legacy to this House will be in those relationships. Today's debate is about Europe, and I believe that politics is more internationally minded because of Ben's work. In a globalised world, nothing could be more important.
I note that my predecessor made his first contribution to this House during a debate on the National Health Service (Primary Care) Bill. He explained that some of our constituency's most pressing problems related to health services. He spoke of 6,000-more than one in 10-of our residents being on waiting lists, and those in hospital having long waits on trolleys, and not swift effective treatment.
In the coming months, I wonder whether some might attempt to rewrite the history of the recent Labour Government, but I can report that in Wirral South we have achieved a great reduction in clinically unnecessary waiting times, and that in the Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology we have a world-beating treatment centre for those with cancer. Along with our marvellous NHS staff and Ben Chapman's hard endeavour in standing up for local health services, we also have Labour Health Secretaries to thank for that.
I am deeply proud to originate from the constituency that I now represent, but I cannot claim to be the first local resident of Wirral South to become involved in Labour politics. In 1932 a Mr Wilson, an industrial chemist, on being made redundant from his job in Huddersfield, moved to Spital in my constituency. His son joined the local grammar school and became its head boy. Young Harold was clearly made for leadership roles, and, although he went on to represent constituencies over the water in Huyton and in Ormskirk, Wirral has never forgotten him.
Wirral is a geographically wonderful place-especially the southern part, which I represent. From the banks of the Mersey overlooking the Liverpool skyline to the banks of the Dee where one can see the heights of Snowdonia, we Wirralians are thankful for our good fortune to reside in one of the most visually stunning parts of Britain.
However, it is our people, our culture and our heritage that truly makes us. We are an internationally minded and cultured people in Wirral South. We are the traditional home of Unilever, and many of my constituents work for nearby Vauxhall Motors and Airbus, as well as for other international companies in manufacturing and other sectors-companies that trade on the European and world stages and worked with the Labour Government and the trade unions to carry British industry through difficult times over the past year. Britain's role in leading Europe over the past decade has benefited Wirral and north-west England, and I trust that all members of the new Government will be able to maintain our influence.
For us Merseysiders, our culture and heritage is at the heart of who we are. According to Impacts 08, the report on Liverpool's year as European capital of culture, we are more likely than others in the UK to go to a museum or gallery, and I like to think that that is not much of a surprise, given that my constituency boasts the treasures of the Lady Lever art gallery in the Victorian model village of Port Sunlight and a wealth of community organisations dedicated to involving people in music, dance and drama. I, myself, am the granddaughter of local songwriter and folk singer Pete McGovern, and I grew up spending many hours in the Philharmonic hall in Liverpool, wrapped in its peerless acoustics.
As such, I should like to say a few more words, if time permits me, about culture. The passion for culture is especially strong in young people in my constituency, and I cannot imagine that there are any more talented young people in any other constituency. Local schools use children's creative talents on stage in order to build their confidence and, during the recent election, I was lucky enough to visit several schools to see their pupils' performances. That work has a really positive effect on the rest of a child's education, and my constituency, like many others, has seen schools make great strides in educational achievement. We should not forget how far very able head teachers have taken us in the past 13 years.
We also recognise culture as a driver of economic growth. For example, the recent increased promotion of culture in Merseyside resulted in the north-west being seen as a better place to do business. The same is true of other places in the UK, from Folkestone to Newcastle, and at a time when we run the risk of sliding back into recession that lesson can surely be applied more widely.
Our culture is an asset. Although we should never stop celebrating it for its own sake, we should not be blind to the benefits it brings to our economy. In the coalition agreement, the Government made great play of returning to the original four good causes of national lottery funding. We will have a debate in due course about whether that is the right approach, but lottery funding for capital projects is no substitute for core public funds, on which the arts in this country are built. Yes, lottery and private funds play a vital role, but they cannot be sought without the foundation of public funds on which to build. I recall that the first chair of the Arts Council was John Maynard Keynes, a great economist who understood this very well, as do the people of Merseyside.
Wirral South is a constituency whose people, throughout the recent election, showed me and the other candidates very great kindness; especially to me, they showed friendliness as one of their very own seeking to represent them. I hope that I can do so, living up to their expectations, and provide Wirral South with the strongest possible voice in the coming years.
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