Mr Speaker, there has been an Ashton-under-Lyne constituency since 1832.
And although there have been significant boundary changes during the last 183 years, the strength and character of the people of my constituency has not changed.
It is the people of Ashton, Droylsden & Failsworth that are at the start, the heart & the end of my maiden speech. It is to them I owe this tremendous honour & privilege.
They remain proud, warm and welcoming and most of all resilient. I fear that, after listening closely to the Queen’s Speech, these qualities will be severely tested over the next five years.
The Ashton-under-Lyne constituency, is made up of three distinct communities of Ashton, Droylsden and Failsworth. It has been well served by its elected representatives over the years.
I wish to pay tribute to them.
The first MP for Ashton-under-Lyne was a Liberal, George Williams, who was elected in 1832 with a majority of just 13.
It was only in 1928, almost 100 years after the seat was first formed, that Ashton-under-Lyne returned for the first time a Labour politician, Albert Bellamy, at a by-election.
On that occasion, turnout was 89.1 per cent - a British record - and coloured rockets were fired.
Personally, I feel that our last election could have done with a few more of those fireworks as well.
Since 1935, I’m proud to say my constituency has happily returned an unbroken line of Labour MPs.
Members who served in both Houses, include the noble Earl Jowitt, the noble Lord Rhodes of Saddleworth, and the noble Lord Sheldon of Ashton-under-Lyne - Bob Sheldon, who served with great distinction as the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.
Many of my constituents fondly remember Lord Sheldon – indeed a popular public house named after him greets visitors to my constituency from the M60. In local memory and in local geography, he has truly left his mark on Ashton-under-Lyne and many of its people.
He was succeeded by David Heyes, who Members will remember for his 14 years service in this House.
As a former advice worker, and proud fellow member of my trade union UNISON, David was adept at handling constituency casework – I already have a full postbag of cases which he has been working on!
Ashton-under-Lyne has been well-served by distinguished Members throughout its proud history since 1832.
They also have one other thing in common.
They were all men.
Today I stand before you, making my maiden speech, as the first woman in history to be elected to serve Ashton-under-Lyne in the House of Commons.
The first woman MP for 183 years.
It has been a long time coming.
But today, we are making a little bit of history too.
As the first woman Member of Parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne, I promise that I will do all in my power to live up to the example shown by my illustrious predecessors.
Of course, I can never fill their shoes. Mine tend to have three inch heels and be rather more colourful than Victorian country brogues or modern day loafers.
But I walk in their footsteps.
We are different. And I will be different.
But we are equal too.
In this House of democracy.
I hope to bring some different skills too,– some feminine wiles perhaps?
Some knowledge of the real world?
I lay claim to being the only Member of this House to have ever worked as a home care assistant. I have known both the insecurity of zero hours contracts as a worker, and the insecurity of the users who depended on our care. I have also seen how quality care can change lives and make a real difference.
A former care worker becoming a Member of Parliament?
Now that’s real aspiration for you - And another piece of important history being made.
My days as a care worker are an experience I will never forget when I listen to the Prime Minister talking about his party being the ‘workers party’. I will hold him to that test.
Perhaps too, I am the only member of the House, who, at the tender age of 16 with my first baby was told in no uncertain terms, that I would - “never amount to anything”.
If they could see me now...
I am very proud to be in this place.
For my husband and my three sons.
For my Party.
And for my class.
For the people I represent.
And I am proud too for women, the backbone of our society and the rock of our families as they struggle through austerity.
As a mother, I know what it is like to struggle to make ends meet.
I know too how Government’s can change life for the better for working people.
It was my Party in government that founded the National Health Service. Many Members on both sides of this House will have cause to be thankful for the care the NHS has provided.
I want to spend a moment to tell you of my personal debt to the NHS. One of my son’s, Charlie owes his life to our NHS. Born at just 23 weeks gestation, he clung to life for months in the intensive care unit at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester. He finally pulled through thanks to the care and commitment of our NHS staff – and is now a 7-year-old, full of life. At times, rather too full of life!
Members may understand that I will be watching intently how this Government treats our NHS over the next five years, both as an MP - and as a mother. And let me warn you, an angry mother is someone you just don’t want to tangle with.
I take my job – this, my only job – extremely seriously.
Perhaps as a woman, I can bring some influence on proceedings here and help end the ya-boo politics which have brought politicians into such ill-repute over recent years.
I hope to bring skill, determination and commitment to representing my constituents. Again I fear these attributes will be in need now, more than ever. I will always tell it how it is, in my own little Northern way.
I turn finally to my constituency of Ashton-under-Lyne, at the foot of the Pennines in the heart of the metropolitan borough of Tameside and taking in parts of Oldham.
It has journeyed from market town to mill town, to today’s centre for manufacturing, commerce, the retail sector and service industries, supported by excellent transport links by road, canal and tram.
But my constituency also bears the scars of economic change, low investment and lack of opportunity, with high levels of deprivation, unemployment, benefit dependency and poverty.
As the Government implements its £12 billion cuts in our welfare state, it is these people, the people of Ashton-under-Lyne, Droylsden & Failsworth, who will bear the heaviest burden.
With Tameside & Oldham’s local authority budget being cut by more than half in the last five years, there are few places the poorest, most disadvantaged people can now turn to for help.
For those of my constituents who are in work, too many are dependent on benefits to top up their income.
For all the pomp and circumstance of the Queen’s Speech, I heard nothing about tackling the scandal of in-work poverty and ending the public subsidy, amounting to billions, to those employers who fail to pay their workforce a decent Living Wage.
Instead of making the poor pay, this Government would do better to tackle the root causes of worker poverty and child poverty which foster so much ill-health, poor housing, low attainment and waste.
We will be watching this Government closely in Ashton-under-Lyne, Droylsden & Failsworth – and I will be holding them to account.