Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for affording me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this very important debate. Before I start, may I ask Members to join me in expressing sympathy for the fathers in Bradford whose children have disappeared? I am sure that everyone will join me in praying for their children’s safe return.
As I make my maiden speech here today, I reflect on my background and roots. I am a working-class lad from Bradford. My grandfather came to this country from Kashmir in search of an opportunity to better himself and to provide a brighter future for his family. He came from a poor village where there was no electricity, let alone job opportunities. It was the Bradford mills that provided him with that opportunity. He worked there for many years to improve the quality of life for himself and his family.
My father started work at a very young age, in a light bulb factory in Bradford, and then, when the opportunity presented itself, he went on to study part time at college to gain qualifications, thereby enabling him to move on and better himself and his family.
I started work at the age 15, sweeping floors at Morrisons supermarket in Bradford. By the age of 17, I was appointed to the prestigious and much sought after position of head of the toiletries aisle. Members will note that I was even given my very own brush. Bradford afforded me many more opportunities that eventually led me to qualify as a barrister. It is a great honour and privilege to speak here today as the MP for Bradford East, as Bradford the city has given both my family and me so much.
As is customary, I wish to thank my predecessor, David Ward. I did not agree with him very often, and I did not know him very well, but he did have Bradford’s interests at heart. Although David was not from Bradford originally, he became part of Bradford and I wish both him and his staff all the best.
Bradford is a beautiful city. Its hills and panoramic views have inspired generations. Its people demonstrate all that is great about Yorkshire. They are gritty, determined and, above all else, resilient. They are also creative and hard-working. Bradford East mirrors the diversity of the city of Bradford, not just in its people but in its landscape, from the farmlands and leafy suburbs of Idle to the inner-city areas of Little Horton and Bradford Moor. It is a diverse constituency, both ethnically and socially.
More importantly, the Independent Labour Party was also born in Bradford out of the struggles of working people for equality and justice. I salute the courage of those pioneers and pledge to carry on those struggles to address the problems that Bradford continues to face.
Famous Bradfordians of note include the magician Dynamo who walked across the Thames, just outside this Chamber. Members need to note that I have no such plans—certainly not in my first 12 months. Richard Oastler is another famous son, who campaigned to end the use of child labour in the mills. Another pioneering figure who can never be forgotten was Bradford MP W. E. Forster, who was the architect of the Elementary Education Act 1870.
Bradford has a proud industrial heritage. Its wealth came from its position as the wool capital of the world, and the names and landmarks in the city, such as Listers and Salts Mill, for example, pay testimony to that past.
However, that grandeur has now sadly passed. Bradford suffered from de-industrialisation as early as the 1960s, but is still an important manufacturing centre. It is now crying out for a new, modern industrial and manufacturing strategy to challenge the failing low-wage economy.
But the biggest challenge that we face is undoubtedly our educational achievement. Our schools are at the bottom of the league tables, and we have a school places crisis that lies unresolved. That will be a clear priority. One in five adults in my constituency lack any educational qualification and our young people are told that they lack the aspiration they need to go on and succeed. As a young person who was told it was too aspirational for somebody like me—somebody from my background—to be a barrister, I understand only too well how that feels. And it is not that our young people lack this aspiration; it is that the circumstances they find themselves in do not afford them the opportunities they need. It is particularly telling that both my predecessors made reference to education in Bradford as part of their maiden speeches.
We cannot fail our young people any longer. They are the future, and we cannot be in the same place 10 years from now, having failed another generation of young people, having debates about the failure of education in our great city. They have the potential and the talent to make the city a dynamic, forward-looking, wealth-creating city. We just need to unleash it.
I will be working to bring a game-changing intervention to Bradford to solve our education crisis. The benefits and successes of the London Challenge are clear for all to see, and my heartfelt, clear view is that Bradford’s children deserve the same chances and opportunities as young people from everywhere else.
I have fought against injustice my whole life, not just within Bradford but wherever that may be in the world, and I will be a strong voice in this Chamber for the struggle of the sons and daughters of Kashmir, the suffering of the Palestinians and, as we have heard in this Chamber over the last few weeks, the plight of the Rohingya. Indeed, I have tabled an early-day motion this week, No. 121, that highlights the plight of the Rohingyan people in Burma, and I would urge hon. Members from across the Chamber to consider signing it. We are witnessing an absolute human catastrophe and we cannot in these circumstances sit back and watch. We must act in relation to the Rohingyan people, quickly and decisively.
At the beginning of my political career, I made it clear that I am a servant of the people. I want to end here, at the start of this new part of my journey, by saying to all the people of Bradford that I will always remain their humble servant.