Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:06 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central 4:06 pm, 14th March 2017

Yes; I’ll bring some.

We were the beating heart of a ceramic empire that stretched to the four corners of the world and, today, proud members of the “turnover club” can be seen inspecting their tableware for that all important back stamp, hoping to find neatly inscribed on the back of their plate or cup the five greatest words in the English language: “Made in Stoke-on-Trent.” It is a ceremony my own daughter Hannah has taken up with vigour. Indeed, so enthusiastically does she wish to discover the origins of a dinner plate, she has on occasion forgotten to finish its contents before turning it over and depositing her lunch in her lap.

It was with utter joy, when I arrived in this place, that I discovered that my first cup of tea was from a wonderfully crafted cup produced, upon further inspection, by Dudson, from my city, which, although technically in Stoke-on-Trent North, I am sure my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth will not mind sharing for the purposes of this speech—I hope, anyway. But ceramics is not just our history and our heritage; it is our present, and with the right help from this Government, it can be our future, too.

Mr Speaker, in the middle of my constituency, on an otherwise unassuming window in the city centre, you will see a life-sized picture of TV’s Eric Knowles, best known as the ceramics expert on the “Antiques Roadshow”. He proudly proclaims that the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery boasts a greater collection of ceramics than even the Victoria and Albert Museum—a discussion I shall no doubt have with the V&A’s new director.

That allows me to segue neatly to pay tribute to my predecessor, Tristram Hunt. Although he was, like me, not a native son of Stoke-on-Trent, anyone who met Tristram knew that the Potteries had found its way into his heart. He was a fervent champion for Stoke-on-Trent, and never was an opportunity missed to extol the virtues of our six towns. His ability to bring people together and ignite in them a passion for the Potteries will be sorely missed.

But it was our city’s children who most preoccupied Tristram’s efforts. He knew that the best hope for our city’s continuing resurgence was to ensure that every young person had a good education and the best possible start to life. He was a champion of Sure Start—one of Labour’s greatest achievements and, for the doubters on the Conservative Benches, something we will rescue in the next Labour Government. He was a frequent visitor to the many wonderful schools across the constituency. He delivered the maths excellence partnership to improve standards in our local schools and give young people the skills they need to prosper.

Tristram used his talents to promote literacy, because he knew the value of inspiring children to read and to foster a love of books. His enduring legacy in Stoke-on-Trent Central will be a generation of children who, through his work on the now acclaimed Hot Air literary festival, have been able to expand their reading, take up creative writing and explore a world of literature that otherwise would have passed them by. As we speak today of the importance of education and training for post-Brexit Britain, these achievements, and the ongoing challenges, are as important as ever.

Tristram was a thoughtful and forceful voice in this House and beyond, and I know that his contributions will be missed, but he is one of a long line of distinguished parliamentarians to have represented Stoke-on-Trent Central. Whether it was Mark Fisher and his campaigns on local health services and to ensure the sovereignty of Parliament, or Bob Cant as a keen advocate for local government, my constituency has been ably served by dedicated public servants, and I will do my utmost to continue in that tradition. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

My predecessor was a man who loved our movement’s history, but I am a man who has lived it. Growing up with my grandfather, a union rep for the old Transport and General Workers Union, I was taught from a young age that the greatest strength that working people have is our solidarity. It was a lesson that he embodied in his own life, representing his colleagues at the chicken factory where he worked, and representing his friends and neighbours as a Labour councillor.

My childhood taught me always to stand up for what I believe and always to speak my mind. The latter, it must be said, has sometimes brought mixed results. [Interruption.] Yes, 140 characters are coming out later. Nevertheless, that advice has served me well, and my wife Sophia and I will be proud to pass it on to our daughter, Hannah.

I would also like to put on record my thanks to the Labour movement, including friends in the Labour party, the Co-operative party and the trade unions, for their assistance in my election. Particular thanks must go to my hon. Friend Jack Dromey and to my new neighbours, my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello).

Ours is a politics based on comradeship in which the strength of our common endeavour means that we really do achieve more together than we achieve alone. Those same values of fairness, co-operation and social justice run through the history of Stoke-on-Trent and its people. They were on display in 1942 when the north Staffordshire mining community helped rebuild the village of Lidice in the Czech Republic after it was razed by the Nazis. The driving force behind that crusade was another of my predecessors, Sir Barnett Stross, who said at the time:

“The miner’s lamp dispels the shadows on the coal face. It can also send a ray of light across the sea to those who struggle in darkness.”

At its best, that is what the Labour movement has always been—a ray of light for those who struggle in darkness. It is my immense privilege to be part of that movement here in Parliament, and to try in my own small way to help to hold that lamp aloft. It is a responsibility that I will do my best to meet as I strive to give a voice to the people I represent and showcase all that is great about Stoke-on-Trent.