Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Britain in the World

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 13th January 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Imran Ahmad Khan Imran Ahmad Khan Conservative, Wakefield 7:14 pm, 13th January 2020

It is with great pleasure and some humility that I rise to make this, my maiden speech. I have found the House to be a welcoming place that I am proud to be part of. Over the past month, I have at times been awestruck by the kindness, helpfulness and near encyclopaedic knowledge of the wonderful staff who serve this place and whom I find to be this Palace’s greatest treasure trove.

I especially wish to thank my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Mrs Jenkyns, and her team, who have been a great support to me over the past two months. I wish to say what a pleasure it is to be part of such a vibrant and dynamic pack of Yorkshire MPs. Indeed my neighbour, my right hon. Friend Alec Shelbrooke, came and helped me a great deal. He contested Wakefield in his infancy, and he gave me a lot of advice and, indeed, shoe leather.

Speaking of shoe leather, I am mindful of all those who have graced this green leather, and have confidence that we will step up and meet the challenges promised by this privilege of public service. I am also aware of the energy and emotion that this House and the people whom it serves have invested in the Brexit debate. The underlying theme of unleashing our United Kingdom’s potential to innovate, adapt, overcome and triumph is not lost in the character of my constituency of Wakefield.

As Britain does indeed renew and consolidate her place in the world, I cannot think of anywhere else more important to be than here, helping that happen now. Britain has still to

“Play up! play up! and play the game!”,

improving the world and enhancing our place in it.

As an Ahmadi Muslim belonging to a peace-loving minority community that suffers vicious persecution, discrimination and oppression in many parts of the world, I see perhaps more clearly than most the deep and enduring importance of core British values such as compassion, tolerance and fairness, especially at a time when those values are perceived as under threat in many parts of our world. We must continue to be a beacon of thoughtful, respected and innovative thinking born of years of accumulated learning and practice.

Before I launch into the rich history of Wakefield, one with which my own family story is intertwined, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor. In 2005 Mary Creagh became the first woman elected to represent Wakefield, a tenure that was to last for 14 years. I am not sure if the House is aware, but before Mary and I first met, she propelled me to new heights—approximately 13,000 feet. On a bright November morning last year, after reading Mary’s comments in The Yorkshire Post about her incoming Tory opponent being parachuted in, I put the protestations of my friends and family aside and performed a parachute jump. This had not been on any bucket list of mine, but it definitely got the adrenalin flowing, so thank you, Mary.

Later that day, with my feet firmly on the ground, I met Mary for the first time. We were both appearing on a BBC Radio Leeds drivetime debate, and I turned up still resplendent in my true blue jumpsuit. Mary accepted it with good grace, and during this first encounter set out her stall as a calm, concise and experienced advocate.

That first meeting was in one of Wakefield’s many good schools: Queen Elizabeth Grammar School. It was QEGS where my eldest brother went to school, and it is the arch rival of my own alma mater, Silcoates. QEGS is an independent school that has actively championed and supported its local state sector rivals, including the outstanding Pontefract College, and was a willing participant in the assisted places scheme. As the radio programme came to an end, the pupils in the audience immediately gravitated towards Mary. This was an example of the interest and affection that many constituents in Wakefield have for her.

I, like Mary, contend with a hearing impairment, something she referenced in her own maiden speech. Wakefield has within its dynamic business community a company that is currently accessing research funding to investigate tinnitus, a hearing condition for which there are more than a million GP referrals each year. This project has multiple international partners, including industry, government and academia.

I would also like to pay special tribute to Mary’s time and contribution while working on overseas aid and development. This resonates with me a lot owing to my previous work at the United Nations and elsewhere abroad. Our overseas aid and development is testament to British compassion, and it can be leveraged as a powerful agent for, and a real measure of, Britain’s reach and influence around the world. Mary was a public servant, and I hope she is able to continue her work in other places. Wakefield is fortunate to have had such a worthy Member of Parliament.

Having concluded my comments about my predecessor, may I direct the thoughts of the House to the sad news of the death of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos of Oman? Through the Sultan, Oman has been an ally of Britain since 1970. In a part of the world where there are definite fault lines, his kingdom looked to us for guidance and friendship. In return, Oman has been a friend to Britain, and I hope it will continue to represent the greater aspects of the United Kingdom’s place in the world.

I was born in Wakefield. I attended school in Wakefield. My late father, a dermatologist, practised medicine in Wakefield, spending his entire working life in the NHS. That led to him meeting my mother, a nurse at Wakefield’s Pinderfields Hospital. My nana was a night sister there. It is fair to say that I quite literally owe my entire existence to the NHS and to Wakefield. I feel the warm glow of history when I tell the House that, according to my mother, my grandfather Wilfred Benjamin Reynolds was the Boys’ Brigade leader for the father of Jon Trickett. I look forward to working with my constituency neighbour and having meetings with him, although I do not expect that we will be wearing shorts, playing conkers or drinking cocoa around the campfire.

Since gaining city status in 1888, Wakefield has many claims to fame. The cruise-ship loving singer Jane McDonald and the 1980s band Black Lace hail from Wakefield. Many Members may have danced to one of their memorable singalong songs such as “Agadoo” at a wedding party. [Laughter.] Clearly, I have.

Edward the Confessor had an estate in Wakefield, hundreds of years after it was first settled by the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. In J. S. Fletcher’s “Nooks & Corners of Yorkshire”—a very good read—he describes Wakefield as the principal town along the banks of the Calder, and it has figured in history to no small extent. Indeed, it is just over 560 years ago to the day, on 30 December 1460, that Richard Neville, Duke of York, and his son Thomas met their deaths at the battle of Wakefield. The Lancastrians, led by Lord Clifford, defeated the Yorkists, only to suffer a major reverse months later in Britain’s bloodiest battle, at Towton, a site just down the road. Wakefield became yet another battlefield almost 200 years later, during the English civil war, when the parliamentarian forces fought an engagement with the royalists. Although I now find myself a parliamentarian, Madam Deputy Speaker, I confess to you to always having sympathised, in the round, with Cavaliers.

According to an old English ballad, Wakefield can claim fame as the location for some of Robin Hood’s shenanigans. It was at Stanley, later part of Wakefield’s deep historical roots in the coalmining industry, that Robin and his band of freebooters had their infamous encounter with the pinder of Wakefield. The pinder was a nominated townsman of Wakefield who went toe to toe with Robin and his merry men after they goaded him by trespassing with stray animals on Wakefield land. Robin was so impressed by the pinder’s nerve and prowess that he invited him to join his outlaw band. This may be a legend, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it aptly captures some of the characteristics of the proud, honest and plain-speaking constituents of Wakefield, and their continued willingness to fight for their rights. I humbly submit that when you come to visit our city, Madam Deputy Speaker, you keep your flock of geese under control—or perhaps even consider leaving them at home.

The Wakefield area is the traditional home of the headquarters of West Yorkshire police, one of Britain’s largest police forces. West Yorkshire police, with their regional, national and international partners, have played a major role in counter-terrorism policing since the 7/7 attacks of 2005. The former assistant chief constable, John Parkinson, was an early leader of the then North East Counter Terrorism Unit and a thought leader in formulating and codifying the Contest strategy, a key framework in UK counter-terrorism practice, keeping our communities safe and countering the radicalisation of the vulnerable. For the United Kingdom and her status in the world, in terms of capability, those police represent the very best, alongside our gallant armed forces, superb intelligence agencies and our universally admired diplomats. These capabilities are respected and studied by a broad base of our international partners involved in the evolving, ongoing fight against terrorism and organised crime.

Other famous people from Wakefield include John Radcliffe, founder of the Radcliffe library in Oxford, and Richard Fleming, founder of Lincoln College, Oxford, so Wakefield has a link to education. It is at this point that I wish to highlight a large number of young people in my constituency for whom equality of opportunity needs to be made real—more than just fine-sounding words. There are still too many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are not in employment, education or training. I look forward to working with Her Majesty’s dynamic Government and, whenever they are willing, those on the Opposition Benches to support the creation of new jobs and opportunities to improve the lives of people who deserve more attention and greater fairness than they have had in the past. This will not come just by saturating our northern towns and cities facing similar circumstances with concrete, cranes and portakabins, but by delivering excellent education and training. The self-esteem that comes from earning the contents of a pay packet lifts people up and in turn brings the aspiration of owning a home.

I have already mentioned the company that is investigating a treatment framework for tinnitus, but my constituency and the wider business community has within it other companies involved heavily in fields that may surprise some Members. There is a company working on supercomputer-generated models for predicting adverse weather patterns. After the recent flooding in our region, my constituency neighbours Edward Miliband, my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) and Dan Jarvis may well welcome the positive outcomes of this work. There are also companies that are pioneering and improving new methods of high-tech manufacturing and recycling harmful plastics. I want to see these companies thrive, not only with their spirit of innovation but by employing skilled young people born and educated in the local area. Throughout my campaign, I heard the voices of hard-working parents who want the best for the most important thing in their lives: their children. I want to help to carry the torch, already lit by the individuals and organisations in my constituency, to foster confidence, aspiration and achievement.

When Members of this House have need of a tranquil place for quiet reflection in which to think about their choices—maybe for leadership—and decide, I would recommend a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a real gem not only of my constituency but of God’s own country. There they may find peace of mind and enhanced perspective while appreciating the beautiful sculptures of Barbara Hepworth, Antony Gormley and Henry Moore.

There is one further individual I would like to mention—a great patriotic son of Yorkshire and a true servant of Wakefield who, when asked in this place to speak for England, lent his voice and vote to the fight against tyranny: the right hon. Arthur Greenwood. Until the recent election, the last Conservative to be returned to this place by the people of Wakefield was a surgeon called George Hillman, in 1931. Sadly, Hillman died that same year, and in the ensuing election of ’32, Arthur Greenwood was elected. That started a continuous chain of Labour representation for Wakefield here, broken only one month ago today.

My predecessor Arthur was the MP for Wakefield during the second world war. He served in the war Cabinet, where he played a decisive role. In 1940, when Europe and east Asia were smouldering and the only guns left sounding in defiant support of freedom were British, there existed a plurality of voices in this Cabinet of five: those with Churchill and the continued prosecution of the war, and others who thought that Britain was too weak and diminished to go it alone in the world. It was this camp, which wished to sue Hitler’s inhuman project for peace, that seemed to have the numbers in Cabinet. Faced with surrendering to the most villainous and malevolent powers, it was the deciding vote from Greenwood—and, indeed, therefore Wakefield—that sided with Churchill and informed the nation and our enemies that Britain would never surrender.

The rest, as they say, is history. However, history sometimes provides parallels, and when faced again with the prospect of capitulation, in the spirit of Arthur Greenwood much of what had been taken for granted as the traditional Labour vote up and down the country came out and entrusted a Conservative Prime Minister once again not to bend, bow or buckle. I will do my best, as will, I am certain, my newly elected hon. Friends, not only from across Yorkshire and the north but from all parts of our United Kingdom, to vindicate and honour all those who have lent us their vote.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not drawing a direct connection with the past, if you will excuse a brief comment on the substantial subject of this debate. For too long now, Britain’s role in the world has trended towards reactive and indecisive. I am sad to say that in too many corners of the world that I have visited or have lived in, there is greater esteem for the UK than sits within some of this country’s own commentariat and policymakers. With a governmental majority and the confidence of the British people behind us, we must now turn our attention to restoring pride and purpose in our foreign policy. As my predecessor Greenwood knew, it is sometimes necessary to take decisive action and then summon all the strength of purpose the nation can muster to deliver that decision. We will not always please every country and every court of opinion, but we should recall that in this country’s rich history of foreign affairs runs a proud theme of making the world a better place. We should take heart and be emboldened by this overwhelmingly positive legacy and continue to fight for the freedom of people everywhere to live and worship as they please. We can only realise this if we are strong, confident and outgoing. To succeed, we must take wise and informed decisions and have the vision and dynamism to lead. That is what the people of Wakefield and, indeed, the majority of all the nations of this great country expect of us. I know that we can rise to that once again.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank you and Members present for listening to this maiden speech of mine. I owe my sincere thanks to the people of Wakefield, whom I am proud to serve. I seek a purposeful and confident future for our United Kingdom wherein people’s hopes and aspirations are realised and great achievements recorded—a future as brilliant as our past is glorious.