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I cannot begin to explain what an honour and privilege it is to be making my maiden speech as the new MP for Bolton West. Of course, I follow in some august footsteps. William Tyson Wilson was elected as the Member of Parliament for Westhoughton in 1906, as one of the first 29 Labour MPs. Do not worry, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not going to talk about every one of my predecessors, although it would be good just to mention Baroness Ann Taylor, who came from Johnson Fold, one of the big estates in my constituency and was the Member of Parliament for Bolton West for nine years from 1974.
Anyway, back to William, who, like me, came from the trade union movement and was particularly passionate about education. One of his greatest achievements was the introduction of school meals, because he recognised that children could not learn and flourish if they were hungry or undernourished. My immediate predecessor, Ruth Kelly, also made a real difference to education. She was involved in schools throughout the constituency, but it was as Secretary of State for Education that she made real changes. She oversaw the healthy eating agenda and introduced the extended schools programme, now often known as "Kelly hours".
Ruth represented Bolton West at the highest level of Government for much of her career, including a long stint in the Treasury, and as Communities Secretary and, latterly, Transport Secretary. She was the youngest woman ever to sit in Cabinet and somehow found time to become mother to four children. Ruth championed the cause of hard-working families and I wish her well in her new career.
The constituency of Bolton West has had many boundary changes over the years, but I am delighted with the last one, which has brought the town of Atherton, which has been my home for the past 24 years, into Bolton West. The constituency also has the town of Westhoughton, where the residents are called "keawyeds"-I had better translate that; it means "cow heads". Legend has it that a cow got its head stuck in a five-bar gate and because the farmer could not get the cow out, he sawed its head off. People thought that that was just because he was stupid, but it was not at all-it was because the gate was worth more than the cow. The cow now has pride of place on the badge of Westhoughton high school. The town has also just been named as one of the best shopping centres in the county.
Atherton and Westhoughton share a piece of tragic history. In December 1910, 343 men and boys perished in the Pretoria pit, which was situated between the two towns. The centenary of this disaster will be commemorated this year with the installation of a monument.
We also have the village of Blackrod in Bolton West. I hoped to find out that that was the ancestral home of Parliament's Black Rod, but no such luck. Wikipedia does not have too much to say about the village of Blackrod, except that it has a dialect
"very far removed from Standard English."
We have the town of Horwich, which was once a major centre of train building at the loco works-sadly gone-but is now the home of the Reebok stadium and Bolton Wanderers. We also have several parts of Bolton itself: Smithills, the home of the haunted coaching house; and Heaton and Lostock, probably the most affluent part of the borough and home to many footballers.
The whole of Bolton West has a proud industrial heritage, particularly in coal mining and textiles: the pits and the mills, which were largely destroyed during the last Tory regime. However, we have companies that have managed to change and develop and to be part of a diverse local economy, including companies such as the Richard Threlfall Group, a family firm which has been trading for 175 years. The firm started making machinery for the textile industry and continues to supply valves-although now to the oil industry-and manufactures silicon products. Companies such as Web Dynamics, which manufactures technical textiles, are able to succeed and thrive due to the support from the regional development agency and Government grants. It has become a world leader in the development of insulation.
We have Watson Steel Structures, which is providing the steelwork for the Olympic stadium and has also given birth to Wenlock and Mandeville, the two mascots for the Olympic games. Two of our local companies recently won regional apprenticeship awards-the Green Team and MBDA. MBDA is a shining example of a company dedicated to work force development. All employees are encouraged to undertake training to fulfil their potential and it has the most amazing apprenticeship programme. The company really concentrates on the personal development of its apprentices as well as their industrial skills. This means that it has young people who are a real credit not only to themselves but to MBDA-they are confident and capable. Half the apprentices are female and as part of their programme they go into schools to encourage other girls to make a career in engineering. MBDA has received widespread recognition, not least from the previous Labour Government, for its outstanding record and I only wish that every company could follow its example.
Companies like those and others in my constituency have developed and thrived because of the support they have received from the Labour Government, the Labour council and the regional development agency. Work-based learning through apprenticeships, the union learning fund and graduate training programmes have made a real difference to their ability to compete in these challenging economic times. I am disappointed that the Government are cutting the future jobs fund but I hope that they will continue to support the union learning fund, a fund that enables trade unions and employers to work in partnership to increase the skills of the work force and that is particularly effective at getting to hard-to-reach groups. Cuts to the future jobs fund, cuts to the regional development agency and cuts to Government support for industries in Bolton West will not help the budget deficit. They will simply mean that there are more people out of work and more businesses closing.
I was a youth worker during the last Tory Government. I worked with unemployed young people in the '80s and '90s when we had generations of them with no jobs, no hope and no future-young people whose lives were so damaged that some of them never recovered. I hope that the Government have learned from the past and that they do not let this situation happen again.
I am ambitious for my constituency. I believe it is a tragedy that young people who live on my estate of Hag Fold do not believe they can become brain surgeons, solicitors or teachers. If only we could overcome the poverty of aspiration, it would make a huge difference to the lives of many people in Bolton West.
I have spent the majority of my working life as a youth and community worker and as a trade union activist. Six years ago I went to work for the trade union movement. My last job was for TSSA-the Transport Salaried Staffs Association-the union for people in travel and transport. So hon. Members can see that I have spent all of my adult life fighting for people with disadvantage or in difficulty. I shall continue that fight and hope I can be a real champion for the people of Bolton West. I hope that I can do justice to the faith placed in me by them.
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