I congratulate you on your election, Madam Deputy Speaker.
It is a privilege to make my maiden speech, but it is sobering to do so in this debate on Grenfell, which reminds us all of the seriousness of our duties as Members of this House. I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend Ellie Reeves, who also made her maiden speech today.
I begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, Michael Dugher. The son of a railwayman, he has been true to his working class roots and a strong campaigner for Barnsley East on issues such as community pharmacies, Orgreave and brass bands. For all his achievements, he has been awarded the rare accolade of featuring on the wall of Strangers Bar—better the wall than the floor. Music is his passion, and now it is his job, as chief executive of UK Music. I know that family is important to him, and I wish him and Jo well in their new adventure. His predecessor, Jeff Ennis, has served as leader of Barnsley council and MP for Barnsley East, and is now mayor of Barnsley—a unique achievement.
Like Jeff, I was a teacher before entering this place. Working in education, I saw the profound power of learning, and I have learned myself that it is incumbent on all of us to support the next generation. I am particularly proud to be the first female MP for Barnsley East, but I would not be here without the help and encouragement of a former female Member, Sylvia Heal, who sat in your Chair for many years, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you will remember. I am delighted that she is here today, along with my parents. I am the daughter of a midwife and a care worker, and I owe them huge thanks for all their support.
For the past four years, I have been proud to fight for working people as an officer of the GMB trade union. As a Member of this House, I will continue that fight for working people, not least for the many trapped in jobs that are more precarious than ever before. Today’s debate reminds us of what we have fought for over so many years, of how the lessons of the past are still as relevant today, and of how, even now, not all communities are equal and the protection of human life requires our action in this House.
Many people will know about Barnsley’s history, and there is so much to be proud of, but still I have constituents waiting for justice for what happened to them at Orgreave in 1984. We must ensure that the Grenfell victims do not wait as long.
In Barnsley East, our industrial and cultural heritage runs alongside our history of working-class struggle. It is appropriate that the town is home to both the National Union of Mineworkers and the famous Grimethorpe Colliery band. Our communities were built on heavy industry—glass, steel and coal. Mining was a way of life for entire communities. Some 30,000 people worked down the pits, and the impact of their loss is still felt today.
Many of my hon. Friends will know my constituency from the film “Brassed Off”, which showed so powerfully the character, grit, humour, solidarity and struggle faced by honest, decent, hard-working people. No one who has seen the film can forget Danny’s powerful speech when he says that nothing matters like people matter. It is traditional for Members to talk about the great history of their constituencies in a maiden speech, and I am very proud to do so, but nothing matters like people matter.
It is above all the people of Barnsley East who make the constituency what it is. People like the teaching assistant, her pay falling but her bills rising. She looks after our children; we should look after her. People like the insecure worker at a warehouse, labouring on the minimum wage. She works hard for her family; we should work just as hard for her. People like the veteran who served his country, yet is now homeless and jobless. He fought for us; we should fight for him. In Barnsley East we can be proud of our industry and our history. All of it matters, but none of it matters like people matter.
The NUM in Barnsley has a banner embroidered with the words, “The past we inherit, the future we build.” I have spoken about our proud past, but the people of Barnsley East did not send me here to honour our history. They sent me here to build our future, and that is what I intend to do.