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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I warmly congratulate Dr Lee and my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and for North West Durham (Pat Glass) on their excellent contributions to the debate today.
Barnsley East is a new constituency, albeit one with an old name. It is made up of wards in the old constituency of Barnsley East and Mexborough and in the old Barnsley West and Penistone seat, so it is my privilege today to pay tribute to not one but two predecessors. Jeff Ennis served the people of Barnsley for three decades, first as a local councillor, rising to become leader of Barnsley council, then as the Member of Parliament for Barnsley East and Mexborough. Born and bred in Grimethorpe, he still regards himself as a "Grimey" lad. He was not merely from that community; he was always part of it.
Jeff Ennis was well known in this House, not least as an animal lover, particularly those animals of the four-legged variety that can be seen at events such as the 2.15 at Newmarket, the 3 o'clock at Cheltenham and the 3.30 at Sandown-votes permitting, of course. Hon. Members might know that Grimethorpe is the home of the world-famous Grimethorpe colliery band. The band featured in the film "Brassed Off", which was set in my constituency. Indeed, Jeff Ennis helped to set up the all-party group on brass bands. He understood as much as anyone that the elites who run the world of culture do not always properly reflect and support the culture and entertainment of working-class communities, and in a small but important way, this highlights the insight that Jeff Ennis was able to bring to the House. He was always a powerful and authentic voice for working-class people.
I mentioned that I also had the privilege of representing wards that were part of the Barnsley West and Penistone seat, which was represented with great distinction for the better part of 20 years by Michael Clapham-better known to us all as Mick Clapham. It is fair to say that, in the brief time that I worked in the Labour Whips Office, Mick's name would occasionally appear on the lists of hon. Members who might require extra assistance in finding their way through the appropriate voting Lobby. I know that he opposed ID cards, tuition fees and the Iraq war, which puts him on broadly the same platform as all the candidates for the Labour leadership. I am sure that that will amuse him, and slightly surprise him.
I was privileged to be present at the unveiling of a memorial by the steps of the town hall in Barnsley to mark all the men and boys who were killed or injured while working in the pits in and around Barnsley. Mick Clapham spoke movingly, and without notes. In this place, he was able to use his tremendous experience to considerable effect, especially in helping to secure much-needed compensation for former miners. I know that he will continue to use his experience in his capacity as chair of the Government's important review committee on the regeneration of the coalfield communities.
Mick embodied one of the finest traditions of this House in being one of the large number of former miners who have served here. My hon. Friend Mr Skinner represents this tradition extremely well, as do others, including my fellow new Member, my hon. Friend Ian Lavery. The number of former miners in the House is, sadly, reducing and it is my view that the House of Commons is the poorer for it.
The area I represent remains a community built on coal. I myself grew up in Edlington, the site of the main Yorkshire colliery, and the house I grew up in overlooked the pit. My brother and his family still live in the same house. In not-too-distant history, coal mining in Barnsley accounted for more than 30,000 jobs, with many more dependent on that employment. My constituency has had more than a dozen pits at one time or another. Today, the number is zero, and we are still dealing today with the consequence of the closure of those pits.
My constituents are proud-very proud-of their industrial heritage. They remember the jobs of the past, but they want the jobs of the future. The question today, then, is how we continue to give people the opportunities they need and how we can continue to transform lives and life chances. The context was set out very well by the leader of Barnsley council, Stephen Houghton, in the "Tackling Worklessness Review" of March last year. How we use the power of Government, working with the private sector and with local government to promote employment in areas like my own is extremely important.
I have to say that the policies of the new coalition Government are not encouraging. There seems to be complete hostility towards the public sector, and complete hostility towards the role of Government: it is always the Government who are the problem, and they can never be a force for good. That was certainly the Prime Minister's and the Chancellor's rhetoric. We heard, I thought, a slightly different tone from the Secretary of State in his rather baffling performance today, but I am sure that we will get to the bottom of where he is coming from.
The abolition of the future jobs fund, which was pioneered in Barnsley, was a major blow and a matter of profound regret for me and my constituents. We are also seeing the beginning of the hidden cuts in education that are affecting schools across Barnsley right now. This is not new politics, but old economics. The mistakes of the 1920s are being repeated today-the sort of deflationary policies that we are now seeing repeated nearly a century later. By itself, the private sector cannot possibly deliver all the decent jobs in areas like mine that have fundamental structural problems.
"A Yorkshireman in the South will always take care to let you know that he regards you as an inferior. If you ask him why, he will explain... The Northerner has 'grit', he is... 'dour', plucky, warm-hearted, and democratic; the Southerner is snobbish, effeminate, and lazy".
That might be slightly uncharitable towards southerners- [Interruption.] I emphasise the word "slightly". Despite the serious threats we in Barnsley face from the new Government and despite the challenges that lie ahead, I am convinced that the greatest asset we have in Barnsley are the people of Barnsley. It is their talent, their skills, their hard work, their ingenuity, and their pride in themselves and their compassion for others that make me so very proud to represent them here today.
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