Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the time to make my maiden speech. I, too, congratulate the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), and Julian Sturdy on their excellent contributions. However, I beg to differ with Simon Hughes: I was not aware that the north-east had a capital city, and coming from Sunderland, the largest city in the north-east, I disagree with his comments.
It is a great honour to be here today, having been elected a few weeks ago by the people of the community that I have lived in and around all my life-Sunderland. Sunderland Central, the constituency that I represent, is a new constituency, taking in parts of three previous constituencies. The first was Sunderland North, which was represented from 1992 by Billy Etherington, who served at the Council of Europe for many years. I wish him a long and happy retirement. The second constituency was Houghton and Washington East, which was represented from 1997 by Fraser Kemp. Fraser is someone with whom I worked before he entered the House and for whom I have the greatest respect. A more shrewd political brain I have not come across. He was a tenacious advocate for his constituency and the north-east region, and will, I am sure, be missed in this place.
The third constituency was Sunderland South, which was represented from 1987 by Chris Mullin. Before announcing his intention to retire, Chris was selected as the candidate for the constituency that I now represent. Although not from Sunderland, Chris has made it his home. He had a long and distinguished career in Parliament, as a Back Bencher, a Minister and the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, a role that I know he found particularly rewarding. I am sure that he will continue to contribute to debate outside this place through his writing. He has also given me enormous support and advice since I was selected, something invaluable, and for which I thank him.
Sunderland is a city on the north-east coast of England. Its industrial history is one to be proud of. At one point in the previous century, Sunderland was home to the most productive shipyards not just in Europe, but in the world. Ships were built on the River Wear that sailed the world, thanks to the work of men dedicated to their craft-skilled men who took huge pride in the ships that they produced. Sadly, in the late 1980s the major shipyards on the Wear closed, with the loss of many thousands of jobs.
Coal mining was the other major industry to dominate Sunderland in the previous century. Part of the Durham coalfield, the area produced good quality coal for many years. The last deep coal mine in Sunderland, Wearmouth colliery, closed in 1993 with the loss of many jobs, bringing to an end an industry that still had life left in it.
For me, those two events were tragedies for my city, the result of what I firmly believe were political decisions by Governments of the day, not economic decisions. Although I was already involved in local politics, living through the demise of those two industries-industries that I feel passionately should have continued-and witnessing the impact that that had on Sunderland and the communities in which I lived was an experience that galvanised my increasing involvement in politics. I felt that I had to try to fight injustice where I saw it and do whatever I could to ensure that my city was never hit like that again.
We have come a long way in Sunderland since those dark days of the late '80s and early '90s. There has been regeneration in Sunderland, but there is still much more to do. New jobs have been created, but more are needed. We still have relatively high unemployment and too many areas of deprivation-things that I am totally committed to trying to improve.
Sunderland is a city of contrasts. It has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country. Whatever the weather, the beaches of Roker and Seaburn are always beautiful. We also have the National Glass Centre on the banks of the Wear, a fitting place for it to be, for Sunderland has a long history of glass production. Next door to the National Glass Centre is the St Peter's campus of Sunderland university. The university is a real good-news story, employing many people and attracting students not just from Sunderland and the north-east, but from all over the country and around the world.
We also have-how could I not mention it?-the magnificent Stadium of Light, the home of Sunderland football club and one of the most important places, probably in the world, to fans of the team and to my city. Built on the site of the former Wearmouth colliery, a miner's lamp at its entrance, the stadium is a celebration of our past and our future. Hon. Members should never underestimate the impact that the football club doing well will have on the people of Sunderland.
Looking forward, Sunderland has a huge opportunity to take advantage of the jobs being created through the green jobs programme. We have the Nissan plant in Sunderland, although it is not in my constituency. It employs thousands of people directly, and many more indirectly. It is excellent news that the battery plant and the recently announced production of the Leaf electric car will be coming to Sunderland. These are forward-looking developments that will benefit Sunderland, the north-east and the country. I am concerned, however, by the Prime Minister's refusal yesterday to confirm that the £21.7 million grant already promised to Nissan by the last Government to enable these developments to happen will still be available. That is very worrying, and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills also refused to confirm it this morning. That money is essential to secure Sunderland as the plant of choice for Nissan in Europe. The consequences of its not coming are unthinkable.
In Sunderland, we also have a huge opportunity to play our part in the development of offshore wind farm production. The skills needed to develop this area of work are the same as those required in our historic industries. Turbines and offshore windmills are going to be built somewhere. There is a huge market for them, not only in the UK but throughout Europe. In areas such as Sunderland, where jobs are needed, it is important that we attract new industries such as these. They will sustain economic growth in my city in the years ahead. We have the natural resources of a port, a river and direct access to the North sea, and I genuinely believe that if we are to start to tackle climate change through the supply of our energy, offshore wind farms have a part to play.
The opportunity for the north-east to become the centre of excellence for this industry-not just in this country but in Europe-is real and there to be taken advantage of, with Sunderland playing its part. We already have a testing facility at Blyth, which has benefited from European funding. For Sunderland and the north-east to become the centre of excellence, we need the Government to support the development of this industry.
I should like to say what an honour it is for me to be given the opportunity to serve in this House. It is something that very few people have the opportunity to do. I want to thank the voters of Sunderland Central for giving me this opportunity. As I said throughout my campaign, I will stand up for Sunderland with determination and vigour. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak today.
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