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Maiden Speech -the full text

It was a great honour and a privilege to stand in the House of Commons on Tuesday 8th June to speak during the Queens speech debate on Work and Pensions. Maiden speeches cover a specific format, namely a word or two or about your predeccesor, some words about your constituency, and then moving on to talking about the subject to be debated.

The full text of my maiden speech is featured below:   

I congratulate hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches, particularly Joseph Johnson, who should not be so self-deprecating. If it is in fact true that he has no sense of humour, someone has written him a great speech.

It is a great privilege to be only the fifth person to represent the Chesterfield constituency in Parliament in the past 80 years. The most recent of my predecessors was Paul Holmes, and I should like to start my maiden speech by reflecting on some of the strengths that he brought to the House in the nine years during which he served it. He was a diligent constituency Member of Parliament and a determined fighter for council housing, particularly through his membership of the Defend Council Housing group. As a former secondary school teacher, he was also an outspoken advocate of comprehensive schools and the teaching profession. As MP for an area that suffered a great deal from firms that went into liquidation with failed pension schemes, he consistently added his voice to those calling for a fair deal for those pensioners.

As a guide to the history of Chesterfield and as a commentary on the times, I also want to reflect on the maiden speeches of some of my other predecessors. Sir George Benson was a stalwart member of the Government who is still remembered fondly by some of Chesterfield’s most experienced citizens. His first major address to the House was in 1931, when he controversially called for the end of flogging with the cat o’ nine tails. I am pleased to inform the House that on the basis of an informal survey that I conducted during the recent election campaign, Sir George’s stance against corporal punishment still enjoys some support.

In Eric Varley, a local miner’s son who rose to the Cabinet and was posthumously given the freedom of the borough of Chesterfield, my constituency had a famous son who is fondly remembered across the borough. There is also, of course, Tony Benn, one of the greatest political figures of the 20th century, a man who bestrode the politics of his time as few can. I am mindful of those who have trodden this path before me in Chesterfield’s name.

Chesterfield has made its mark in other ways than through political history. Despite the comments of my hon. Friend Chi Onwurah, George Stephenson was actually from Chesterfield. Thanks to the vision of Bill Flanagan, the council leader for 27 years, an innovation centre now stands on the Stephenson’s family’s former estate; new firms grow in new industries, overlooked by the grandfather of innovation.

Football fans will know of the town as the home of goalkeepers, with legends such as Gordon Banks, the England World cup-winning goalkeeper, before him, Samuel Hardy, the England goalkeeper for 14 years at the end of the 19th century, and Bob Wilson, who served Arsenal, Scotland and sports broadcasting with tremendous distinction, all learning their trade in the town. Chesterfield football club, the Spireites, is a useful metaphor for the town, having had its moments in the hearts of the nation, as it did in 1997-a great year-when, as a third division club, it was cruelly denied a place in the FA cup final by a combination of the Old Trafford crossbar and a short-sighted football referee. Now, after a quiet period, the club gets ready to welcome the new season at the sparkling new B2net stadium-a brand new home on the north entrance to the town, and a symbol of the regeneration of Chesterfield.

The campaign that brought me here to represent the people of Chesterfield focused most strongly on jobs. With Junction 29A, or Skinner’s Junction, a huge site open for business as a result of the tireless work of my hon. Friend Mr Skinner, working with Labour party councillors who have fought for the area for so long, such as John Williams, Walter Burrows and John Burrows, Chesterfield and north Derbyshire finally get the investment in jobs that we needed-indeed the biggest investment in the area since the pits were sunk.

As Chesterfield rebuilds its economic prosperity, tourism also plays an increasingly important part, our world-famous crooked spire being just the highlight. While it is true that the number of people drawing the dole is less than a quarter of those who did so at its peak in the ’80s, thanks to the Labour Government‘s steps to save jobs during the recession, the need for skilled work for those who do not go to university, or for graduate and apprenticeship opportunities, is still keenly felt.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has stated that his purpose is to improve the quality of life for the worst-off in society so that they can play a part and, one hopes, pay tax themselves one day. No one on the Labour Benches would oppose that aspiration; indeed, it was that aspiration that led Labour, in the face of Conservative opposition, to introduce the national minimum wage and the tax credits system. The starting point in reducing benefit dependency is not an increase in the rhetoric against the unemployed, but an increase in work opportunities. It is therefore depressing that the coalition should choose the future jobs fund as one of the first examples of waste to be cut.

The Secretary of State is right to say that benefit recipients should be free to try to work their way off sickness-related benefits while retaining some security, as previewed by the previous Labour Government in the pathways to work pilot. No one could object to his intention to make benefits simpler and fairer, but surely one of the key reasons benefits are complicated is that so are the circumstances of people’s lives. The current system at least attempted to reflect logically the complexities of ordinary people’s lives, and the Secretary of State has not yet demonstrated how he can simplify the system without increasing unfairness; until he does, I will remain a sceptic. From my perspective, however, I will provide any support that I can to help him to convince his own party of the need to invest more in jobs, not in cutting them, and to understand that benefit recipients are more often the victims than the architects of their circumstances. Alongside a call for personal responsibility must come governmental responsibility to put job creation before the benefit cuts and to ensure that the most needy are not the victims of the simplification of benefit payments.

Chesterfield has a great deal going for it; under Labour, it improved so much. I came into politics to fight for the next generation of working opportunities for Chesterfield and Staveley-to fight inequality and to protect the public services that our people rely on. As I stand here in this magnificent place, bearing a dual responsibility, sent here to represent the people of Chesterfield and the Labour party, there is not a prouder man alive.

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I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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Tel: 01246 386286
Post: 113 Saltergate, Chesterfield, S40 1NF


I hold regular surgeries for my constituents.
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