I start by welcoming you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to your position. One of the first tasks that I undertook when I came into this place was to put my cross against your name, so welcome. I also congratulate hon. Members on their maiden speeches. Members will share with me the sense of privilege and much pride that comes with entering this magnificent Chamber. That pride brings with it a real sense of responsibility, which I will keep to the forefront of my mind throughout.
However, the happiness of the occasion is tinged for me with some sadness and real fear: sadness because I do not take my seat on the Government Benches where the important decisions that affect my constituents will be made, and fear for the constituents who I represent, and worry that the choices already made by the coalition will severely damage the good that has come from 13 years of a Labour Government. Those choices are driven by pure ideology, with consequences that are likely to be far-reaching and long-lasting. My constituency has benefited tremendously from a Labour Government, and I fear the clock being turned back to Tory time.
Hull East, or East Hull, as it is known to those of us who were born and bred there, is a fantastic place. Its greatest asset is its people. East Hull folk have a reputation for straight talking, and I hope that I bring with me to the House that special quality. East Hull people are enriched by many excellent qualities, among which are their good sense and sound judgment. I am delighted that they employ those when they vote Labour, which is why I am here.
To that end, I have the benefit in my constituency of the hard work and tireless commitment of many excellent Labour councillors, led by the leader of the Labour group, Councillor Steve Brady, and I thank them for their service. I can also tell the House that in the past few days we have had a new councillor on the Labour benches in the chamber in Hull-Councillor Maureen Bristow. She crossed the floor from the Lib-Dems because, in her words, she did not come into politics to implement Tory policy that hit the hard-working and the poorest people the hardest. That sentiment is shared by people in Hull and throughout the country who have previously voted Lib-Dem but will never make that mistake again.
I am often reminded that I have very big boots to fill, and I acknowledge that in paying tribute to my predecessor, John Prescott. It was 40 years ago on the 18th of this month that John was elected to the House. In that time he has been credited with many achievements, perhaps too many to mention in the short time that I am permitted to speak. Throughout his time here, he was blessed with the loyalty of his agent, Harry Woodford, who still attends Labour party meetings at the age of 93. I know that I can rely on the same loyalty from my agent, Howard Flitton. He is much younger than Harry, but, if I stay in the House as long as John, by then he will be about the same age.
While John was a Member, some say that he delivered many knockout blows. He was very faithful to his constituents and to the Labour party, and I hope to emulate that. Hon. Members might recall that in the 2001 general election, while on the campaign trail, John was involved in an incident in Wales. When his then boss, Tony Blair, asked him, "John, for heaven's sake, what were you doing?" I am told that John replied, "Well you told me to go out there and connect with the electorate, so don't blame me now." He was straight talking, and he had a very good left jab.
John Prescott has a lot to be proud of. He rose from being a seafaring steward to the dizzy heights of Deputy Prime Minister, following the Labour party's magnificent election success in 1997. I feel compelled to mention that, unlike the incumbent Deputy Prime Minister, John gained his place in government through the electorate and the then leader of his own party. It was not gained through the desire for power, whereby 22 Government jobs, with gold-plated pensions, have been traded for many thousands of public sector jobs-a desire for power that I predict will not come without a great cost to Mr Clegg and his party.
My predecessor is very different from the right hon. Gentleman, but there are some comparisons. I say that with some apprehension, because I am clearly at risk of offending my predecessor, and I do not suggest for even a second that John has, or will ever, utter the words, "I agree with Nick," but interestingly enough at the general election he and the right hon. Gentleman asked the electorate to vote for their respective parties in order to stop the Tories ruining the economic recovery that was set in train by the previous Labour Government. Like the electorate, I have no recollection of the current Deputy Prime Minister saying, "I agree with Dave." While making comparisons, however, I seem to share the Prime Minister's sense of humour, because like him, I and many other Opposition Members have a new favourite joke. The former Deputy Prime Minister-the one whom the electorate wanted-will soon continue in the other place with his tireless commitment to his interests, and I wish him well there.
Indeed, I do have big boots to fill. The last Hull-born MP to represent the area was the great William Wilberforce, who began his political career in 1780 when he became the independent MP for Yorkshire, which at the time covered some parts of my constituency. He was a truly honourable man, who led the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade, and after some 26 years the Slave Trade Act 1807 was passed. When Wilberforce left the House in 1826, he continued his campaign, and just three days before he died he learned of the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.
East Hull has a record of electing Members with seagoing experience. In 1945, the area elected Harry Pursey, a former naval commander, and of course my predecessor was a merchant seaman. Although I have no seafaring experience, I am the son of a former seaman, so to that end the tradition continues.
I am very proud of my roots. I was educated in a state comprehensive, and my school suffered from some shameful under-investment during the previous, 18-year-long Tory Government. I left school without having achieved much academic success, but after the first term of the previous Labour Government and their agenda for lifelong learning I had the opportunity and confidence to study law at the excellent university of Hull. I was eventually called to the Bar in 2005.
Hull has many things to be proud of, not least the excellent quality of its rugby league. In the east we have Hull Kingston Rovers and in the west Hull FC, both of which rival each other in the super league. We also have Hull City football club. Not unlike another team that are extremely close to my heart, we suffered last season what I hope turns out to be a short-lived demotion. The team were led by, I often argued, an excellent leader in Mr Brown-that is, Phil Brown.
Despite the coalition Government's attempts to convince each other and the wider electorate that we got it wrong, Labour Members sit on this side of the House proudly and with our heads held high. We have an excellent record to defend. I am particularly proud of the national minimum wage; our investment in the NHS, with 85,000 more nurses and 32,000 more doctors, and cancer care that is again becoming the envy of the world; record numbers of students from normal backgrounds like my own going off to university; Sure Start; the winter fuel allowance; equality legislation set in train by the Labour party in government; the historic Good Friday agreement and the peace in Northern Ireland that it brought; tackling pensioner poverty; child tax credits; the abolition of section 28; the introduction of civil partnerships; massive investment in social housing; free bus passes for over-60s; free swimming for under-16s and over-60s; free nursery places for three and four-year-olds; and Building Schools for the Future.
On the economy, I am proud that we took decisive action when the global economic crisis hit. I am proud, too, that we saved the banks from inevitable collapse and invested in the economy, leaving the new coalition with an economy that is in growth. Make no mistake about it-we did mend the roof when the sun was shining. The vast majority of those policies were opposed by the new Government; some have already gone in the short time that they have held office.
I vow to hold this Government to account while I sit on this side of the Chamber, but in doing so I remember the responsibility that I have to my constituents. If the Con-Dem coalition gets it right, I will support it, but when the policy is wrong, when it is for ideological reasons, and when it adversely affects my constituents, I shall challenge it at each and every opportunity.
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