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It is a pleasure to follow Peter Heaton-Jones. I will start, if I may, by thanking everyone with whom I have had the honour to work in this place. In particular, I wish to put on record my thanks to my amazing staff both in the constituency and here in Parliament.
I had the privilege to serve for eight years the constituency in which I grew up and where most of my close family still live—Enfield, Southgate. That result in Enfield, Southgate in 1997 was once voted the third greatest television moment ever. This was in a survey in 1998, so it was fresh in people’s minds. In that poll, the greatest television moment ever was the first man on the moon, the second was the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the third was my defeat of Michael Portillo in that election. I have told this story once or twice over the past two decades, and I should point out that it was a poll of The Observer readers and Channel 4 viewers, so was not necessarily a cross-section of the public as a whole.
When I lost in 2005, I sought refuge in Liverpool, and I am immensely grateful to my local Labour party and to the people of the great constituency of West Derby in the city of Liverpool for electing me three times since 2010. Liverpool is a city with a truly amazing spirit, and that spirit is embodied by the campaign for justice for those who lost their lives at Hillsborough 30 years ago. I pay tribute to the families and campaigners who did so much to ensure that that injustice was properly addressed. It is a city with a very vibrant community and voluntary sector. One of the things I have done is to volunteer at a local food bank at St John’s church in Tuebrook in my constituency. I think there is something profoundly wrong when people in this day and age are relying on food banks, but I pay tribute to those who work in them.
Education has long been my No. 1 passion, and I served for three years as Minister for Schools. In that role, I set up and led the London Challenge programme to improve schools here in the capital city. In Liverpool, I have run the Liverpool to Oxbridge Collaborative to encourage more state school students to consider Oxford or Cambridge. I also chair the all-party parliamentary group on global education.
Since 2015, it has been an honour to chair the Select Committee on International Development. I thank its staff and all its Members, past and present—in particular, my friend Jeremy Lefroy. It is so important that the UK remains engaged globally, and one of the ways in which we do that is through our commitment to development and humanitarian relief. We can be proud of our 0.7% commitment and that we have an independent Department—the Department for International Development—that leads in the delivery of those programmes. We face huge challenges of climate change, conflict, poverty and inequality, and we have the tool of the sustainable development goals to address these crises, but we also need to maintain our focus on some appalling humanitarian situations in places such as Yemen and Syria, as well as the Rohingya crisis covering the people of Burma and Bangladesh. I hope that whoever takes over from me as Chair of the Committee will pick up those challenges.
In 1997, my right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw and I were the first ever Members of Parliament who were openly LGBT at the time of our first election. I pay tribute to our friend Lord Smith of Finsbury, who for a long period was the only openly gay Member of Parliament. I am very proud that there are now 45 Members in this House who are openly LGBT and that we have seen huge legal progress in this country, although we still have a long way to go to achieve full equality across the world. Thanks to civil partnerships, I was able to marry Mark 13 years ago. We always called our civil partnership a marriage, but I was then very proud to vote with others across the House for equal marriage. I really thank Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, all of whom showed great commitment to the cause of equality for people who are LGBT. As we move forward, I hope that we will address some of the very big challenges that LGBT people face around the world and ensure that part of our soft power and our approach to global human rights is about addressing those injustices, wherever they rear their heads.
I conclude by echoing comments made by a number of Members, particularly my hon. Friend Helen Jones, who talked about the importance of appealing to the best instincts of the British people, and Norman Lamb, who spoke very powerfully about how we need to bring people together. We have seen a growth of a particular strand of authoritarian populism across our continent and in the United States, Brazil and other parts of the world. It poses a huge challenge for our politics. Here in the UK, Brexit is in a sense both a consequence and a cause of some very fundamental divisions and inequalities that scar our society.
Against that backdrop, I hope that the new Parliament will be able to do its best to bring people back together. I have never liked the adversarialism in this place. I did not like it when I was a Government Member with a majority of almost 200; I certainly do not like it in opposition. I think we do really have a lot in common with each other. We need to be more open about the need to address the evidence that is available on the policy challenges that we face. One of the reasons I have enjoyed chairing a Select Committee is that it is cross-party working and it is based on the best available evidence, not the best available slogan for carrying the headlines that day. I hope that is something that we can all reflect on in the weeks, months and years ahead.
I want to finish by quoting the late Jo Cox. I stand here in front of the shield in Jo’s memory. I only got to know Jo in that very brief period from her election in 2015 to her murder a year later. Jo said that
“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 596, c. 675.]
That message is one that I hope we can all take forward in this election campaign but also into the next Parliament.