It is an honour to follow Malcolm Wicks. I very much shared some of the sentiments that he expressed. His speech contained a good deal of common sense. I would not expect anything else from a fellow Wolverhampton Wanderers fan; that is the least I would expect from him. I do not think I am the third Blairite in a row to speak, but I will endeavour to add some thoughts, particularly from a personal perspective. Six minutes is not long enough to do justice to my full thoughts on the Bill, but I shall be brief. Hon. Members may be happy to hear that I do not intend to use all of my allowance.
This piece of legislation is a seminal Bill. It is one of the reasons that I hold the politics that I do. I am a Wolverhampton Member and Wolverhampton South West is a no-nonsense constituency, full of decent, hard-working folk who say it as it is and always wear their heart on their sleeve. The sentiment that has been repeatedly expressed to me is that the Bill has been a long time coming. Its central ethos is that work always pays. I shall sum it up by recalling my personal experience of my father.
My father came to this country with less than £5 in his pocket and no idea where he would sleep that night. He took that risk not only because he wanted to live in a country that had choice, freedom and opportunity, but because he wanted to work. Within 48 hours of his arrival, someone tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Do you know you can actually claim benefits?” That was anathema to him; it was not even in his mind. He came with the ethos of working, and working is what he has always done. That story has been replicated by those of scores of my relatives, who came over to work and had the ethos of working hard at their core.
I have actually been poor. I was brought up in poverty. I say this to Opposition Members—to all Members, actually: there is no nobility in poverty. It is something one strives to escape from. I went to a state school. My friends divided into two camps: those who had the ambition to move on, and those who, even then, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, would tell me to my face that they envisaged that the rest of their life would be on benefits, and that they were quite happy to live that way. The Bill, through its ethos of making work pay, tackles that problem head-on.
The right hon. Member for Croydon North said that a lot of people had the stuffing knocked out of them in the 1980s. I will use a personal example. Many of the uncles that I referred to earlier lost their jobs because they worked in industries in the midlands in that period, but almost all went on to establish their own businesses. They were driven by ambition and the ethos of trying to better their lives.
I have spoken a lot from an historical perspective, but I want to bring my remarks up to date with a personal story that I heard from one of my closest friends just after Christmas. He had run a motor salvage firm, which, through a bit of bad luck and for other reasons, had gone downhill and eventually folded. People said to him, “How about claiming? You’ve contributed enough in your life,” but he said, “No. I’ve worked for myself and that’s what I’m going to do.” He set up a new business—a cleaning business. He has worked hard, but whenever he tries to employ staff—this frequently comes up—people approach him and say, “I’m happy to work for you if you give me a bit of cash on the side.” What they are saying is that work does not pay in those circumstances.
I am glad, and absolutely proud, to be part of the Government who are introducing the Bill. To make a non-partisan point, this has been a long time coming. It should have been done, not just in the past 13 years, but very many years ago. I shall sum up briefly by paraphrasing a saying that was used by my hon. Friend Andrew Bridgen: there is never a wrong time to do the right thing. As the Chinese always say, the first step of any journey is a long journey, and the most difficult step. I am happy to put my shoulder to the wheel and support the Bill, and push it through its very important journey.