I congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your election to your post, and I am grateful to you for calling me to make my first speech to the House. I also warmly congratulate all Members, on both sides of the House, who have made their maiden speeches today on enlightening us about the many delights of their constituencies.
I am greatly honoured and humbled that the voters of Bury North have placed their trust and confidence in me to represent them. It is a great privilege. Like my hon. Friend Mary Macleod, I first stood for Parliament in 1997, and I had to stand four times before being elected, which is testament to the fact that perseverance pays off. My predecessor as MP for Bury North was Mr David Chaytor, who while holding very different political views from my own, always treated me with the greatest courtesy and respect. I am sure that my constituents whom he helped during the 13 years he represented the constituency would want me to thank him publicly for the work he did on their behalf. Mr Chaytor made frequent contributions in the House, particularly on education and energy.
Prior to Mr Chaytor, Bury North constituency was represented by my hon. Friend Alistair Burt. He is still fondly remembered in Bury from the 14 years he represented the constituency, and I congratulate him on his ministerial promotion to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Bury North constituency has changed little geographically since the days when it was represented by him. The latest boundary review transferred voters in three of the four polling districts in the redrawn Unsworth ward from Bury North into Bury South. The name "Bury North" reflects the fact that the constituency covers the northern part of the borough of Bury, which was formed in the 1974 local government reorganisation, when the six townships of Prestwich, Whitefield, Radcliffe, Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington were combined to form a single metropolitan district within the Greater Manchester conurbation. It is the last three of those-Bury, Tottington and Ramsbottom-that together now comprise the current constituency of Bury North. It is, if I may say so, archetypal Lancashire territory, where the people have a strong sense of local pride, identity and community.
Bury grew quickly during the industrial revolution, on the strength of its textile and paper industries. Although those industries are now largely absent from 21st century Bury, there is much to commend it to would-be visitors. Indeed, if there are any hon. Members who have not yet booked their summer holidays, may I suggest that they need look no further than Bury? The list of attractions is wide and varied, starting with the world-famous Bury markets, where people have the chance to purchase the local delicacy, Bury black pudding. Then there is the regimental museum of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the east Lancashire railway and the wild splendour of the moors of east Lancashire, along with the Peel tower and the Peel statue, which stands in the square in front of the great parish church, commemorating one of Bury's most famous sons, Sir Robert Peel.
Much has been said of the changes that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made to the Conservative party, particularly with regard to increasing the number of women and the number of Members from an ethnic minority background in the parliamentary party. However, surely none of those changes is as noteworthy or striking as the fact that I, as a Yorkshireman from a working-class background, was selected to fight a seat in Lancashire. Although I was born in Sheffield, in common with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, I attended a comprehensive school in Rotherham. It must be something of a record, but this is the second time in less than half an hour that Rotherham has been mentioned, as it was by my hon. Friend Craig Whittaker. In those days, Rotherham was-and it probably still is-referred to as the "Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire". [Hon. Members: "It still is."] Indeed. I am sure that there was no attempt at political indoctrination, but if there was, it clearly failed.
Let me turn to the topic of today's debate. I note that nowadays poverty comes in all sorts of technical categories. We have "severe" poverty, "relative" poverty, "absolute" poverty and "persistent" poverty, but it seems to me that, with our welfare system and the vast amounts that we spend on welfare in Britain today, there is no reason why any of our fellow citizens should be categorised as living in poverty. It is incumbent on us all to look at how we are spending our welfare budget. It is the poverty of aspiration and ambition, which is so pervasive and widespread among many in the lower socio-economic groups, that is the real problem. In that regard, I hope that perhaps my achievements can be an inspiration to others.
Finally, let me say that I intend to be a strong and independent advocate for my constituents in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington, speaking up for them with straightforward common sense. I believe in small government, freedom for the individual, less bureaucracy and red tape, an end to political correctness and restoring the full sovereignty of this Parliament, free from control by the European Union. It is for those causes that I will be fighting during my time in this House.
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