Eddie made his maiden speech to the House of Commons on the evening of Monday 3rd July. He thanked David Winnick for his service to Parliament and Walsall North and raised the importance of delivering Brexit for Walsall North. Here is the text of his speech:
It is difficult to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), as I stumble my way through my maiden speech. The best thing is, though, that he and I will be sharing an office for the next five years, so I will have the opportunity to polish my public speaking with the benefit of his advice.
It is interesting that this Bill is the first one that we are discussing. People are talking about the problems air travellers might have, but according to the 2011 census, nearly one in four of my constituents do not even own a passport. The Bill is clearly very important for those who do have a passport and manage to undertake overseas travel, so that their money is protected. For some people, air travel is not something they do every week or every year—it represents a one-off opportunity. It would clearly be the worst thing that could happen to them if their funds were in any way threatened by companies going out of business, so the Bill is incredibly important.
Some Members might not have been present when the Minister opened the debate, but I firmly endorse his sartorial standpoint of not taking interventions from male Members who are not wearing ties. I bought this suit at the weekend specifically to wear when making my first speech in this Chamber—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I will obviously be wearing exactly the same suit for the rest of the week, but at least for today I am looking my best.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me in today’s debate, because the good people of Walsall North, which includes Willenhall, Bloxwich, Leamore, Blakenall and Short Heath, have had to wait 41 years to hear a maiden speech from their Member of Parliament. You can only imagine how disappointed they will be when they see that the seven people who made speeches immediately before me were funny, erudite, clever and interesting—they will think, “What the hell did we wait 41 years for this nonsense for?”
In preparing for my maiden speech, I sought advice from experienced orators from both sides of the Chamber, but I think that the best advice I received came from Brendan Fisher, one of our ever-present, ever-helpful Doorkeepers. I have made a freefall parachute jump with my wife Clare and my two children, Sam and Corrine, and Brendan suggested that making a maiden speech was like doing a freefall parachute jump: there is the nervous anticipation while boarding the plane and ascending to the required altitude, before leaping, screaming, through the doors, only to find that the sensation of racing towards the ground at 100 mph is actually a pleasurable one—something that you want to repeat as soon as your feet hit the ground.
Hitting the ground running was what I needed to do to stand any chance of beating my entrenched predecessor, David Winnick. Many Members will be familiar with David as a tenacious parliamentarian. If I remember correctly, it was David’s amendment to legislation on the detention of terror suspects that led to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, losing his first whipped vote in this Chamber in 2005. When I knocked doors during the campaign, I realised just how assiduously David had worked on behalf of his constituents. I found many people who were not minded to vote for the Labour party—at least not under its current leadership—but were prepared to vote for David because of the good deeds he had done for them, their friends or their family. It was David’s 84th birthday last Monday and I wish to extend my best wishes to him for his birthday and his retirement.
I grew up in a house with six brothers. My dad was an Irish bus driver, and we did not have a lot of money to celebrate birthdays. There was not much money for presents, but with six lads there was quite a lot of fun and quite a lot of fighting. My parents were delighted—and, I guess, relieved—that I went to grammar school. I then went on to university—I was the first in my family to do so—and it was at university that I developed an interest in politics. As soon as I graduated, I went back to night school to do A-levels in politics and economics to give me a bit of a basic grounding. Although, unfortunately, I voted Labour the first time I voted—[Hon. Members: “Boo!”] I know, but I was actually a closet Conservative—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] It was then a quick journey from joining the party as an enthusiastic activist to standing for the council, and I have served on Walsall Council for the past 18 years.
What a privilege it is now to be the MP for Walsall North. I will be building on some bostin’ work that is already going on in my constituency. For example, I recently met Peter Shirley—the irrepressible Peter—who started the Midland Food Group in 1976 on his own. Today, that business turns over in excess of £50 million a year and employs more than 250 people. It sources quality meats and cheeses locally, and its export market includes the Falkland Islands. Similarly, Walsall Housing Group—I am proud to chair the board—recently signed a deal for a joint venture to build 400 new houses in the Goscote Lane corridor. Indeed, according to a recent edition of Inside Housing, within the next two years, Walsall Housing Group will complete just over 1,100 new houses. That is what is going on under the Government: creating high-quality affordable houses and the jobs that go with their construction.
To get a job, people need a good education, so what better place to start that education than Beacon primary school in New Invention? Two years ago, the school was rated by Ofsted as requiring improvement. Boy, did that improvement come in the shape of Paul Drew, the innovative headmaster, who has raised standards not just for staff but for students. Ofsted has recently rated Beacon as a good school. It does not take money to persuade the admin staff at the school that they should be trained to help children with reading practice. That just takes forward thinking—the type that we need to see. Better education is not always about throwing money at it: it is about employing inspirational leaders.
And so to my inevitable Brexit peroration. Sixty-eight per cent. of people in Walsall North who voted in the referendum voted to leave the EU. They want a good deal for themselves and a good deal for the country, but they do not want a deal that is good just for the 68%—they want a deal that is good for the 100%. They want to know that there are local entrepreneurs who are going to create jobs and find new and exciting export markets around the world. They want to control immigration while ensuring that we have the skills to maintain a strong economy and a strong public sector. They want low-cost affordable housing for every stage of their life, and they want inspirational headteachers to give their children the best start in life. It is a privilege to speak this evening, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I hope that you will call me many times in future to advocate on behalf of my constituents.