Economic Affairs and Work and Pensions

Part of Speaker's Statement – in the House of Commons at 5:35 pm on 8th June 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent 5:35 pm, 8th June 2010

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for letting me speak in the House for the first time. I would like to say well done to the previous speakers, my hon. Friend Kate Green and Sajid Javid. Both made excellent contributions.

Today I want to talk about three things: some of my predecessors from Blaenau Gwent, my constituency in south Wales; what a visionary place it is; and why the constituency needs a fair deal from the Government, to provide the economic growth that our people deserve.

It is often said that we stand on the shoulders of giants. If you are the MP for Blaenau Gwent, that is definitely the case. It was one of my predecessors, Nye Bevan, the former Labour MP for Ebbw Vale, who set up our national health service. Michael Foot also represented the constituency. Just before he died, I told Michael that I would do my very best to win the constituency back for Labour at the general election. I am proud to have fulfilled that promise. I will do my best to continue the Welsh Labour tradition of Nye and Michael, to serve in my own way with communities for whom they did so much. I also pay tribute to my immediate predecessor in this place, Dai Davies. Mr Davies is a strong trade unionist and a long-standing advocate for modern, high-quality apprenticeships.

I am honoured to be the MP for a wonderful valleys constituency such as Blaenau Gwent. We are Welsh radicals who put our values into action. I was born in Cardiff, and my family are long-standing valleys people who worked in coal and steel. Tredegar, the valleys town where I grew up and went to school, is the cradle of the national health service. The Tredegar Medical Aid Society was Nye's model for the health service. In 1948 he said:

"All I am doing is extending to the entire population of Britain the benefits we had in Tredegar for a generation or more."

His politics were based on the vision of local men and women-a combination of radical debate and a determination to run things themselves, and provide better services for local people.

Blaenau Gwent also played a vital role in the development of British democracy. It was from the villages and towns of north Gwent that the Chartists marched on Newport in 1831.

Blaenau Gwent is a proud constituency. While not rich in money terms, we have a very rich environment and culture. Our choirs and town bands have won national awards down the years; in a few weeks, the acclaimed blues festival takes place in beautiful Abertillery park; and now, in the digital age, film making has taken off too. Indeed, a recently produced local film called "A Little Bit of Tom Jones" won best picture at the BAFTA Cymru awards. I recommend it. This July, we will celebrate this creative contribution when the Welsh National Eisteddfod comes to Ebbw Vale.

Over the past 13 years the Labour Government did an excellent job rebuilding the local economy and infrastructure in Blaenau Gwent. Transport links have been improved, with the new train line from Cardiff to Ebbw Vale. The foundations of a new, splendid valleys learning campus are in hand, and our brand new hospital, named after Nye Bevan, is about to open.

But no one coming to the constituency can ignore our industrial legacy. There is still much, much to do. Too many of my constituents are unemployed. In Blaenau Gwent, unemployment stands at 11.8%. In Witney, the Prime Minister's constituency, it is 1.9%. Also, life is too short for many. Average male life expectancy in the constituency is just 75.3 years. In Witney, men live nearly five years longer-an average of 79.4 years. In the Queen's Speech there were fine words about fairness and reducing health inequalities. My constituents will be measuring the new Government closely on these policies.

Unfortunately, I believe this Government have got off to a very bad start. The cuts announced for the future jobs fund and child trust funds are not welcome. I deplore the cuts that slash the numbers of young people able to go to university. As I know from personal experience, one of the best routes out of poverty is a good education.

I am a former director of policy for the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists and campaigns manager for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I will use my campaigning skills to stand up for families whose children suffer from communications disability. Our Speaker and the shadow Secretary of State for Education, my right hon. Friend Ed Balls, showed great leadership on that topic in the previous Parliament. I would like to help take forward that important work.

In his maiden speech in 1929, Nye Bevan warned of

"collusion between the Tories and the Liberals".-[ Hansard, 16 July 1929; Vol. 230, c. 338.]

Nothing changes, does it? He called for Labour to have its eyes on the needs of people. Our needs are for more jobs, and a reduction in poverty and health inequalities. There are huge issues of inequality in my constituency. The chronic diseases of the legacy industries of coal and steel must still be overcome; heart disease and lung cancer in particular must be reduced. Public health should be at the centre of our investment and policy changes. Unpopular though it may be with some, I support the campaign for minimum pricing for units of alcohol. Although health is now an issue for the Welsh Assembly, as a local MP I will concentrate on that.

Employment must be another priority. The confidence and aspirations of young people must be supported. The new learning campus in our valleys must be delivered, so that good, well-paid employment is their future. We are a constituency that helped build this country. The railways and factories were made with our steel, and fired with our coal. Now though, we must invest in tomorrow's jobs. Alongside manufacturing, we should nurture green jobs as well as jobs based in science and the digital economy. We must get over the country's massive digital divide. We must have fast internet access in Blaenau Gwent.

To boost the economy of Blaenau Gwent, our generation must build on the vision of my predecessors, learn from the socialist history of Blaenau Gwent and invest in industrial, education and transport infrastructure to boost our economic regeneration. I will pour my energy into that work. I will do it with a smile on my face, as working well with people usually gets the results needed. I will pursue our jobs, health and anti-poverty agendas with tenacity, too. My constituents deserve nothing less. I thank the House for listening to me today.