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Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The subject of this debate is clearly an important one that I know the Government are working hard to address. We are already amending the law so that from July taxpayers and their advisers will be legally required to report details of certain cross-border arrangements that could be used to avoid or evade tax.
I shall now begin my maiden speech, and I do so with great pleasure as the first Conservative to represent West Bromwich East since 1931. Let me say a little about my background. I was the first in my family to go to university, I went to my local comprehensive and my parents very much taught me the value of hard work. My first job was at Halfords—some would say it was a little taster of a career in what some could call a man’s world. When I began applying for universities, my father helpfully told me that I had to do something different from every other person my age. I somehow found my own path.
I started by doing work experience with the former Member for Dudley South, Chris Kelly. That was the start of a whirlwind of political experiences that led me to this point, because his then office manager, now the leader of Dudley Council, made it his mission to turn me from a shy 16-year-old into a fearless political activist. Councillor Patrick Harley has a lot to answer for. At 19, I stood in my first council election for Dudley Council, and aged 20 I was elected. It was a truly unforgettable experience that I know stands me in good stead in my new job.
I have been honoured to work with other MPs, too, including my hon. Friend Mike Wood, and I am proud to be a vice-chair of the all-party group on beer, of which my hon. Friend is a true champion in every sense of the word. And of course I worked for Margot James, the former Member for Stourbridge—I am pleased that Margot can be here today.
Fast forward to 2019 and I found myself in the most privileged position that I could have only dreamed about: standing for election in West Bromwich East. Throughout the election, it is safe to say that I was kept well fed, whether at Special Spices, Sagar’s on West Bromwich High Street, the Vine, the Red Lion or the Spinney. I had the pleasure of introducing the then Chancellor to small businesses in my constituency and taking him for the Red Lion’s famous mixed grill. I am proud to say that my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid said that it was the best food that he ate during the whole campaign.
Thanks to my friends Guvinder, Senna, Jeet, Sat and Vicki, there was not a day that a samosa did not pass my lips; in fact, I may have to purchase my predecessor’s new fitness book to rectify this. On a serious note, I would like to wish Mr Watson all the best for his future. In his own maiden speech, he spoke about West Bromwich being known as the “Spring Town” for its manufacturing of springs. Although people may not know about that these days, West Bromwich Albion fans still nod to our history when they shout “Boing, boing!” at our matches.
We are our own distinct slice of the Black Country bordering Birmingham, and we are proud of it. Like many other towns in the area, we have a rich industrial history that people are proud of. The future of our industries and their success will be at the forefront of my mind over the years ahead while we negotiate trade deals. We can also lay claim to a number of interesting figures in history, one of whom was John Wesley Westwood, a West Bromwich cellist who played on the Titanic while it was sinking in an attempt to calm passengers. I am not sure how calm that would have made me feel, but it is a nice story anyway.
My constituency voted to leave by 68% in the European referendum. It was an honour to vote for the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement as the first piece of legislation I ever voted on. Brexit has really tested the public’s patience, and trust in politicians in Sandwell as a whole has hit rock bottom. It is the epitome of a place that feels left behind. People in Sandwell have been let down by a council more concerned about party politics than improving things for the better. That is what comes from not having any opposition—a situation we will be putting an end to this May. Although I am a representative of West Bromwich East and every person who lives there, MPs should not have to be the de facto opposition to their local council.
One gentleman who is highly regarded—perhaps because he is not a politician by trade—is our Mayor Andy Street. Andy was on the levelling-up agenda before it became cool to talk about. He is a machine who will not stop until transport in the west midlands is up to the standard we require. He is passionate about solving the issue of homelessness and is working hard to improve our town centres, including West Bromwich. He is helping us to develop housing on brownfield land to ensure that the next generation have access to the housing they need to live and thrive in our region. Every day, everything he does is to champion the very best region in our great country, of which West Bromwich is obviously the best town.
Back to the election. Brexit was not the only issue raised with me on the doorstep. I was amazed, and in some ways reassured, by the number of constituents who mentioned to me the rise in antisemitism in the UK. I have had the immense pleasure of working with organisations such as the Jewish Leadership Council and the Holocaust Educational Trust. The work that Karen Pollock MBE and the team at HET do day in, day out is nothing short of inspirational. Holocaust survivors regularly recite the darkest days of their lives in order to ensure that the next generation become witnesses to the truth. It is astonishing that we still have to defend the fact that the holocaust happened, but we do. It is a dark theory that we have to tackle on the far left and the far right. Although sometimes the scale of the task is overwhelming, we cannot and will not give in. I have met holocaust survivors and I have seen the pain caused by the rise in antisemitism. I am pleased that my constituents share the view that leaders must lead on these issues. On that note, I pay tribute to the first Member of Parliament I ever met: the former member for Dudley North, Ian Austin, who has been a true champion for the Jewish community in some of their most difficult times.
West Bromwich East is one of the most diverse constituencies, and I say that with immense pride. We have gurdwaras, mandirs, mosques and churches. We are a place that prides ourselves on our fantastic Desi pubs, the owners of which started up their businesses when community tensions were high. Through successful entrepreneurship and a love for their community, every single day they bring people together for a pint of beer and a curry. Because of that I am proud and never hungry, and it is the reason you will find me on a Saturday morning at Sandwell Valley Park taking part in the park run.
It is difficult to mention my constituency without talking about our beloved football team, the Baggies. The late Cyrille Regis is a particular hero of our area, and it is difficult to mention his name without talking about the huge impact that he had on football. He joined the club at a crossroads for English football. With fellow black teammates Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Baston, the trio were given the nickname the “Three Degrees” and were targeted with a lot racist abuse. But at a time when football clubs would rarely give opportunities to players of diverse backgrounds, West Bromwich Albion saw great talent in these three men and were keen to showcase them. That is the spirit that I want us to be remembered for.
I know that winning seats like mine will change my party and this Parliament for the better. The average healthy life expectancy in West Bromwich East is poor. It means that my constituents are more likely than most others to spend more of their life in ill health. That can be linked back to people leaving school with no or very few good qualifications. When we talk about levelling up, it means creating the jobs for areas like mine where there have been decades of poor unemployment rates; improving transport infrastructure, which will be boosted by the long-awaited and much-deserved HS2; and doing everything that we can to improve people’s health, including improving air quality.
So much also rides on ensuring that everybody in West Bromwich East has access to a good education. We need an injection of hope for the next generation in West Bromwich. I want people to have access to a good education that shows them the many opportunities that we have available in our great region.
I should like to finish with the words of J. B. Priestley. Although I do not agree with his socialist principles, I do agree with him when he wrote:
“If I were compelled to choose between living in West Bromwich or Florence, I would make straight for West Bromwich.”