Like all of my newly elected colleagues of all political persuasions from right across the green Benches, I am incredibly proud to be making my maiden speech here today in this historic Chamber. It is a privilege to have been chosen by the people of Halifax to represent them, to fight for them and, wherever possible, to protect them. Halifax has a proud history of sending tough Labour women from our town to represent us in Westminster. My predecessors worked hard, stood their ground and delivered for Halifax. This is a tradition that I very much intend to continue.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, Linda Riordan. She dedicated herself to the people of Halifax, representing them first in local government before going on to champion our town and its people here in Westminster. She was a fierce advocate of workers’ rights, and offered vital help and support to hundreds of people in Halifax. I wish her all the very best for her retirement.
Halifax has a lot to offer, with a rich industrial heritage. One could say that we have successfully upcycled a number of our mills into new business units, supporting both established and start-up companies alike. There are thriving communities boasting restaurants, cafes, art galleries and enterprise at both the Elsa Whiteley Innovation centre and Dean Clough Mills. We have the National Children’s Museum, Eureka!, which has welcomed more than 6.5 million people through its doors since opening 23 years ago. I still remember Prince Charles making the trip to Halifax to mark its opening. I joined my mum and my younger brother, who was just four at the time, to go to see the prince drive past the bottom of our street on his way to Eureka! As the motorcade drove past and my mum told us both to wave at the prince, my brother instead waved at the police escorts, telling my mum, “I didn’t know Prince Charles would be coming to Halifax on a police motorbike.”
We also have the Piece Hall, which has served as a trading hub in Halifax for more than 230 years. It is currently undergoing a multimillion pound transformation and will once again attract investment and support jobs, just as it did all those years ago for those looking to buy and sell pieces of cloth—hence its name.
Halifax is a great place to live and work. Of course, many Members on the Government Front Bench do not need me to tell them about the charm of my hometown, as they all spent a great deal of time there during the general election campaign. It was rumoured to be the only seat nationally that the Conservatives were campaigning to take from Labour. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those right hon. Members for pledging to fix almost every problem that Halifax has ever had. We were promised the electrification of the Calder Valley line and an enterprise zone. Most importantly, the Prime Minister himself pledged that the accident and emergency department at Calderdale Royal would not close.
Despite the best efforts of hard-working and dedicated staff, the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, which oversees both Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and Calderdale Royal hospital, is facing a budget deficit of £1.6 million for the year 2014-15, partially due to a £4.4 million restructuring bill and an increase in agency staff. The trust runs an A&E department at each hospital, and best practice guidelines suggest that it needs 20 consultants, 10 for each department. The trust is currently coping with just 10 to serve across both departments, and in March last year it was down to just seven. We are now moving towards consultation on the possible downgrade or even closure of the A&E department at Calderdale Royal hospital, meaning that residents right across Halifax and the Calder Valley could face a trip to Huddersfield for their emergency healthcare provision. The Prime Minister’s promise to save A&E has been a great relief to all those served by Calderdale Royal, and voters in my constituency have put the Prime Minister’s word in the bank. I will be asking him at every opportunity just how and when he will be making good on that promise.
I also take this opportunity to echo the sentiments in the maiden speeches of a number of hon. Friends, but in particular in that of my hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer—that we as British citizens have a long and proud history of establishing and promoting human rights both here and around the world. From the Magna Carta to the European convention, human rights have never been something that happen to us or are forced upon us. The origins of human rights in their current manifestation are entwined with our recent history. Having witnessed the brutal possibilities and reach of injustice, we have always sought to take the lead on human rights both here and around the world. Our very own Sir Winston Churchill is often credited with the original idea of the European convention in the aftermath of the second world war; British judges represent us in the European Court; and even the iconic building itself was designed by a British architect, Lord Richard Rogers.
We have been instrumental in the establishment and promotion of modern human rights, but, as we look to the rest of the world, as we take a stand against the atrocities committed by ISIL, as we speak up for Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar, when we strive to lead the world in bringing about an end to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and call for an end to human rights violations in Kashmir and in Palestine, is our credibility not undermined when we are taking a backward step on human rights here on our own shores?
With that in mind, many of my constituents are growing increasingly concerned about our role in the international community, in relation not only to human rights but to our membership of the European Union. After graduating from university, I spent four years working for a dynamic and growing SME called Matrix Technology Solutions in my constituency. We traded right across the world, but it was no coincidence that our biggest trading partners were within the single market. Anyone who has argued that we will simply continue to trade with the rest of the world if we leave the European Union has not struggled as I have to sell products to some of the emerging economies which, for example, have import duties of anything up to 35% on certain products.
I hope to serve my family, my constituents and my party well in my next five years.