Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to deliver my maiden speech during today's debate on Europe. I congratulate the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), my hon. Friend Alison McGovern, Julian Sturdy, my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) and for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), and Dan Byles on their fine speeches.
It is an honour and a privilege to be in this Chamber representing the people of Nottingham South. I am particularly proud to be the first woman to represent our city in Parliament. When I was a little girl, my dad often talked about his mother, whom I never met but whose name I share. He told me that although she was bright and won a place at grammar school, she was unable to take up the place because my great-grandfather thought that education was wasted on girls. A generation later, my own mother, the daughter of a Lancashire clog-maker, also had limited educational opportunities. Her teachers at secondary school asked her to help with the younger pupils, but there was no opportunity for her to take public exams, and she left school without a single qualification.
The fact that the abilities of those two women had been squandered or ignored on the basis of their sex or their class infuriated and inspired me as a child. It made me determined to grasp every opportunity I had, but it also made me want to fight to ensure that every girl and young woman-many of whom did not have the support and encouragement that my parents gave me-could fulfil their potential. I am therefore delighted to be here to speak for the men and the women of Nottingham South.
I hope that many hon. Members have already had an opportunity to visit the queen of the midlands, as Nottingham is sometimes known. If they have, they will know that it is a fine city with a long and fascinating history, but as it is represented by three Members of Parliament, they may be wondering which of its delights are in my own constituency. I hope that my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and for Nottingham East (Christopher Leslie) will forgive me if I claim to have more than my share of the best bits, particularly those that demonstrate the innovation on which our city prides itself.
Nottingham South is home to the oldest inn in England, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, carved into the sandstone caves at the base of Castle Rock. The camellia house at Wollaton Hall is the oldest cast-iron glasshouse in Europe, and we have, in Notts County, the world's oldest professional association football club. But Nottingham is not just a historic place; it is an industrial city. While the lace workshops may have disappeared, as sadly has the factory producing thousands of Raleigh bicycles, Nottingham has shown its resilience, and other enterprises have sprung up to take their place. We are a modern European city, home to many thriving businesses employing cutting-edge science and technology to produce products and services for the 21st century. Our employers include Boots, Experian and Speedo. Moreover, it is no coincidence that Nottingham is developing as a science city, given that it has not one but two world-class universities.
My immediate predecessor, Alan Simpson, is a graduate of Nottingham Trent university, and was a student at a time when the cost of study was borne by the public purse. I know that the taxpayers of Nottingham have had great value for money from Alan, because he has been an outstanding representative of our city. Everyone who I have spoken to in the past few weeks, whether Members or staff in the House, has told me how much they liked Alan and how much he will be missed. I say "everyone", but I must confess that when I visited the Whips Office I did detect some relief, for Alan was fiercely independent and never afraid to stand up for the things he believed in, even when that incurred the wrath of his colleagues. Perhaps his greatest achievement has been to secure recognition that climate change poses an immense and immediate threat to our planet and that we must take action urgently to address it. Although Alan has retired from Parliament, I know that he will continue to enjoy being a thorn in the side of any Government or Opposition who fail to grasp the importance of protecting the environment for future generations.
I have never asked Alan why he decided to stand for Parliament, but I had only one reason for becoming an MP: to make a difference. I know that sounds rather grand, but let me explain. I have spent my whole working life representing working people, many of them low paid or part time and most of them women, and 18 of those years have been spent in Nottingham as a trade union organiser for Unison. My first few years were depressing times for anyone seeking to defend public services and the people who provide them-hard-working, committed and caring people who have often sacrificed pay and perks to do those jobs, which are not just socially useful, but vital to every one of us.
In the early 1990s when I started, local government, the health service and higher education lacked the investment they required-but what a difference a Labour Government made! For many low-paid workers in Nottingham, from care workers to bar staff, the introduction of the national minimum wage meant a pay rise. For my own children, and those of many constituents, Labour's investment in education meant that they were taught in brand-new classrooms, with state-of-the-art IT facilities, rather than in leaky portakabins. For young people with little prospect of work or an education, a Labour Government brought new jobs, apprenticeships and university places, and the winter fuel allowance meant that thousands of Nottingham's pensioners no longer had to worry about switching on the heating in the colder months.
I am proud of Labour's achievements, but I want more, and so do the people I represent. As we begin a period in opposition, I will stand up for the people of Nottingham South, for their families and for our city, to ensure that the things that have changed their lives for the better are preserved and built upon, to fight for effective action to free them from poverty and inequality, and to strive for a better future for every one of them.
Unfortunately, I fear that the so-called new politics that Members on the Government Benches are so keen to talk about may provide a pleasing soundbite but be of no use to the people I seek to represent. I fear that the drive for efficiencies and cutting waste that the Chancellor's team is so intent upon will actually take us back to a time as bad as the one that I remember in the 1980s-a time when millions faced the misery of unemployment with no prospect of real help or support, when public housing was either sold off or allowed to deteriorate so that only those in desperate need would want to live there, and when it was normal to wait for months, and even years, for hospital treatment. My constituents do not want a return to those times, and it is my duty and responsibility to ensure that their voice is heard, their questions are answered, and their hopes and aspirations are met.
Among the most pressing of my constituents' concerns is the future of several capital investment projects planned for the city, such as the widening of the A453, a vital link between Nottingham and the M1, which is of huge importance to the local economy, to local businesses and to local people coping with the danger and inconvenience that heavy congestion brings. They want to know why this has been deferred, and for how long, and whether the new Government appreciate the cost of delay.
My constituents are also concerned about phase 2 of Nottingham's tram network. Last summer, the previous Government committed £530 million to help build two additional lines. This development will regenerate parts of the city, further develop our excellent public transport infrastructure, and encourage more people to leave their cars at home, choosing instead this clean green alternative. It will also provide between 4,000 and 10,000 new jobs-but is the funding secure?
During the election I was asked about the new school building for Farnborough school in Clifton, and whether it would go ahead if Labour was re-elected. I was happy to be able to assure the chair of governors that it would, but what shall I tell him now? And what can I tell the other heads, governors, parents and pupils whose schools were due to be rebuilt or refurbished under Building Schools for the Future? What, too, can I tell council tenants waiting for new kitchens, bathrooms, windows and doors under the decent homes programme?
Over the coming months I shall be raising those concerns, and I apologise now if Members tire of them, but I am here to press the Government on the issues that matter to my constituents.
I am delighted to conclude my first speech to the House, and pleased that in a while I can head back to my constituency and my family. It is a journey that I will make often, so hon. Members should not be surprised when I press the Government on the electrification of the line to Nottingham, and on a high-speed rail link to bring our city closer to the heart of Europe. I will do so not just because I understand the need for great transport links and the vital importance of staying close to those whom I represent, but because I must always try to get home before my three daughters' bedtime on a Thursday night.
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