My Maiden Speech in Parliament

An honour to deliver my maiden speech in Parliament on behalf of Colne Valley, in reply to a discussion about education.

I spoke of the beautiful Pennine landscape, and our creativity, passion, and dry wit. My experience of education and how a culture of targets and tests does not result in a happy, clever or creative child.

We have a vision for not just a northern power-house, but a Colne Valley power-house, leading in technology, culture, and the arts.

The full text of my speech is as follows:

I am so honoured to be here to deliver my maiden speech as the Member of Parliament for Colne Valley. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my predecessor, Jason McCartney, for his work for the constituency over the past seven years and I wish him well for the future.

The beautiful valleys that are my home hold an important place in Labour’s radical history and are closely associated with the luddites, chartists and suffragettes. Colne Valley is in fact the oldest Labour constituency in the country, and celebrates its 126th birthday next month. One of our greatest and wisest Prime Ministers, Harold Wilson, was raised less than a mile from my home and attended local schools. His words when he spoke about Labour: “This party is a moral crusade or it is nothing”,​ ring so true for me now as a newly elected Labour MP. More recently, the honourable Lord David Clark and Kali Mountford have served as outstanding representatives of my community.

The beautiful Pennine landscape that many Members saw as the Tour de France cyclists scaled the heights is something to be proud of, but it is not just the place but the people who make Colne Valley so distinctive. It is about their creativity, compassion and dry wit. My constituency has a rich diversity, with a vibrant Asian community. Since the second world war, such diversity has enriched our economy and our culture. As a former teacher and headteacher, I took part in the Kirklees schools twinning projects, where black Muslim children and white working-class children shared lessons, food and play. Those children saw no difference in colour or faith but just enjoyed friendship and the joy of one another’s company. Such an experience reminds me of Wordsworth’s words: “The Child is father of the Man”. In these testing times of terrorism and radicalisation, young children can give many adults the lessons of forgiveness, tolerance and compassion.

Within the discussion and debate about what is a “good” school, my experience of education and of how children learn and thrive tells me that a culture of targets and tests does not result in a happy, clever or creative child. A whole child approach that cares for their emotional, physical and intellectual wellbeing is needed. Our own head of Ofsted has recently spoken about the need for an education that meets the child’s needs, not the school’s targets.

Colne Valley has some of the best schools and sixth form colleges in the country. The professionals who work there deserve to be supported through adequate funding and ownership of a broad and balanced curriculum. Huddersfield University has just been awarded a gold standard for teaching and leads our areas economic and cultural success. We are well proud of our flagship university.

As a country our media and creative arts are the envy of the world, and in our own Colne Valley, we have hosted filming for “Last Tango in Halifax”, “Happy Valley” and other peak-time popular programmes. Our valleys are vibrant with creativity and we have a vision for not just a northern powerhouse but, more specifically, a Colne Valley powerhouse, leading in technology, culture and arts initiatives. The vision for the valleys is real, but the cuts to our local services are impacting on the most vulnerable in our communities and will make the vision harder to achieve.

Having taught in one of the most deprived areas of the country, I know the impact of poverty on a child’s physical, intellectual and emotional wellbeing. I know the child who will not let go of my hand at the end of the day because there is no heating on at home or food in the fridge. Cuts to our local frontline services are hurting our children and devastating the most vulnerable in our communities. I am committed to campaigning for appropriate funding for our schools, our hospitals and our local services. Such services are the people of Colne Valley’s right and not a privilege.

On a personal note, I am glad to see the increased number of women MPs seated in this Chamber. I do hope, however, that when my granddaughter, Iris, who ​is four years old, reaches maturity, she will not view it as unusual for there to be a majority of women MPs fairly representing the population of our country.

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