Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is a great honour to be able to make my maiden speech during this debate on climate change. This topic is very close to my heart, and I am so pleased to see the importance that is being attached to it here in this House. I stand here today as the newest Member of Parliament, representing my home constituency of Newport West. I feel very proud and privileged to be able to do this, but of course, as colleagues across the House know, I am only here because of the sad passing of my honourable predecessor, Paul Flynn.
Paul was so well known and admired here in this House, but also in Newport West. During the by-election campaign, there would be someone in virtually every street in which we knocked who told us of how Paul had helped them or a member of their family. He was so well known, so respected and so loved by everyone in Newport West. Here in Westminster, fellow Members have taken the time to tell me stories of Paul and what a great man he was. We all know how intelligent and quick-witted he was, but he was also very kind and considerate. I only knew him for the last 15 years or so—hon. Members in this House have known him much longer—but he always took the time to talk to me and others in Newport and, just as importantly, he listened to what people said to him. His sense of humour was legendary and his ability to use a one-line response to close a debate was something to witness.
Paul is one of the main reasons I am here. He inspired people to go further than they thought possible. I will always be indebted to him for his advice and guidance, and yes, of course I have a copy of his book “How to be an MP”, and I am proud that Paul signed it for me. Paul was one of a kind. He had such a great intellect and an ability to speak on a vast range of subjects. I may not have his parliamentary experience, but I will strive to match his qualities. I will maintain an independence of thought and I will be a socialist to my dying day. I want to champion the people of Newport West and make sure their voices are heard clearly here in this House.
Newport West is a relatively new constituency, having been formed only in 1983. Paul was the second Member and he was here for 32 years. I am not sure I can promise the House that I will be here for that long, but I am proud to be the first woman Member for Newport West. I am also only the second woman Member in Gwent and the 20th female MP in Wales ever. Sisters, we are getting there—but slowly!
Newport West is a great constituency, built on the back of the industrial revolution. Initially developed as a port, it quickly developed into a town that welcomed people from all areas and countries who settled and developed their own communities within the town. It has always been a place that welcomed the stranger. Work was mainly based in heavy industrial areas such as steel manufacturing, but in recent years it has developed in high-tech areas such as Proton Partners International, the first proton beam cancer therapy treatment centre in the UK. We also have high profile facilities such as the Celtic Manor resort, which hosted the successful Ryder cup in 2010 and the NATO summit in 2014.
Newport became a city in 2002. It has continued to grow and develop, but it has maintained its sense of community and the people are friendly and welcoming. I am proud to be a Newportonian. It is a city with its own character and quirks. We hold our own with the likes of Cardiff and Bristol—[Interruption.] We do! We have our own identity and we relish our role as the underdog. That was well evidenced during the recent FA cup run of our very own Newport County football club, whose wins over Leicester and Middlesbrough in the third and fourth rounds were watched by thousands of us. We celebrate our successes well!
Newport is also the place where the Chartists marched in 1839 to demand democratic rights and were mown down at the bottom of Stow Hill. The bodies of those killed that day were taken and buried in secret in the grounds of St Woolos Cathedral. Members would all be most welcome to come along on
But the people of Newport West are hurting after years of austerity. The numbers of homeless people are rising, families are suffering and older people are being forced to choose between heating their homes and eating. Yes, we have record employment, but much of it involves low-paid or minimum-wage work or zero-hours contracts. Some people have to take on two jobs just to keep a roof over their head. That is not right, and I am here to speak out on behalf of those people in my constituency. They are not asking for outlandish wage increases or unrealistic improvements in their terms and conditions. They just want a fair crack of the whip. They want job security, a safe place to live, freedom from crime and the fear of crime and to know that their family members can have a good quality of life. That is not unreasonable, and I am here to help them achieve it.
I was born and brought up on the Gaer, an area of Newport West. I went to Duffryn High School, the local comprehensive, and trained as a physiotherapist in Cardiff. I spent 32 happy years in a job that was rewarding and enjoyable. I worked with people with long-term conditions, such as stroke, MS, Parkinson’s and cerebral palsy. It was a real privilege to be able to work with patients and their families to empower and enable them to reach their maximum potential, but I also had to speak out to ensure that people who were unable to speak for themselves got the care and treatment they needed. Physiotherapists are good at understanding what people need and speaking out to ensure that they get it. I plan to continue to speak out in that way in this House.
I am here today to thank my predecessor Paul Flynn for his diligent, untiring work for Newport West over 32 years. I want to pick up his mantle and carry on his good work, speaking up for the people of Newport West and the issues and difficulties they face. With God’s grace and the help of colleagues, family and friends, I will do that. Thank you.