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It is an honour to follow Sarah Newton, with whom I worked well when she was a Minister. She has a strong interest in Durham. Although he is not in his place, I wish to pay tribute to Alistair Burt, who was a brilliant and dedicated Minister, and this House will really feel his loss. I wish at the beginning to put on record my congratulations to the new Speaker and to pay tribute to former Speaker Bercow for all he has done in recent years to uphold the principle of parliamentary sovereignty.
Without doubt the greatest privilege of my life has been to serve as the MP for the beautiful City of Durham, and I want to thank all the House of Commons staff, including the Library staff, for the huge help they have given me over the years—they are definitely the unsung heroes of our democracy. My life here has also been hugely helped by my friends, those in the Chamber today, colleagues in the north-east and, in particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), for West Ham (Lyn Brown), for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne). I have made long-lasting friendships that will endure beyond Parliament.
Of course, I also want to thank my fantastic staff over the years. I thank those in Westminster—Richard, Emma, Georgie, Rafi and Robyn. I also thank those in Durham—Paul, Nick and especially Christine, who has been with me since the beginning. I simply could not have done the job without them. In an age of increased automation, they are the kind, helpful voice on the end of the telephone, and they have done so much to sort out the problems for my constituents over the years.
I also want to thank my family—Tim, Maeve, Tom and Albie, and my many brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and extended family—for their help and encouragement over the past 14 years. I intend to have more time to see them now, and I just hope they think that that is a good idea.
In Parliament, I have worked closely with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the all-party group on the United Nations to improve our development policies and ensure that the world, not just this country, is better governed. Again, I think that the work of the staff in the CPA and IPU often goes unrecognised, and we should thank them. In here, I have relentlessly raised a number of issues that emerge from my Durham constituency: the need for more money for education; the need for universal free school meals—I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West for all the work she has done and will continue to do on that; the need for better licensing and planning policies; the need for prison reform and to look at how the penal system affects women; and the need for a greater recognition of the value that universities bring to our society and economy. I hope to continue that work beyond Parliament.