Today Anna gave her first speech in the House of Commons, paying tribute to her predecessors and those who fought to save the steel industry as well as reminding the government of Teesside’s role as the original ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
Watch or read the speech below:
Speaking on the floor of the House, Anna said:
"I am most grateful to the House and to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech in this Gracious Speech debate, which has important implications for my constituency, in which I live and which it is the greatest honour of my life to represent. The Redcar constituency lies at the mouth of the River Tees, where the North sea brings its cargo from around the world and ships queue to bring their goods to the third largest port in the UK. From the port, steel forged in the blast furnaces of Redcar has sailed forth to build the world. In 1924, Dorman Long won the contract to build the Sydney harbour bridge. Since then, the Birmingham Bullring, Heathrow Terminal 5, Canary Wharf and the new Wembley stadium have all been built by Teesside steel. Steel from our beam mills will also be building the Freedom Tower in New York on the site of the World Trade Centre. Just around the corner from this place, Lambeth bridge was built by Redcar steel in 1932.
The steelworks are the beating heart of my constituency. When the blast furnace was threatened with closure in 2010, local people came together to take up the fight for its future and to save the steelworks from permanent closure by finding a buyer in SSI. I want to take a moment to thank SSI and to mention the role of the Community union and its members, particularly one individual, Geoff Waterfield, who it could be said gave his life to the struggle for Redcar steelworks. His legacy is a strong future for steel on Teesside, with the plant now in profit, having reopened in April 2012.
The industrial economy of Redcar constituency is also powered by Wilton International, a world-class manufacturing and chemical processing site. The complex provides employment for approximately 8,000 people and is one of the largest research and development facilities in Europe. The site has huge potential to drive our local economy and create jobs. When I organised a jobs fair with the local council and businesses earlier this year, 774 people came through the doors in one day, looking for construction work on the site. It is vital that the opportunities on industrial sites such as this one are accessible to our fantastic local workforce, and that decent pay and nationally agreed terms and conditions are not undercut by recruitment from overseas.
As we continue the debate this afternoon on devolution and growth across the UK, I remind this Conservative Government, whose Prime Minister does not seem to know his Tees from his Tyne, that we already have a northern powerhouse in this country—it is called Teesside. I will do my bit in the House to put us once more at the beating heart of the UK’s industrial economy.
The impetus for the development of the proud industrial communities of Grangetown, Eston and South Bank was the discovery of ironstone in the Eston hills in 1840, and the subsequent development of the iron and steel industry along the river banks. These industrial communities are proud and resilient. South Bank has a rich history. It was once home of what could be the oldest football club in the north-east, for whom the great Wilf Mannion once played. It now heralds a lively and diverse community. The residents of Eston have a fantastic record in the Britain in Bloom flower contest. In Grangetown, the youth and community centre provides hope and aspiration for young people from the most deprived backgrounds.
Of course, the Redcar constituency is not just an industrial powerhouse. Redcar is a lively seaside town, with miles of golden sanded beaches, donkey rides, amusement arcades, a boating lake, our fabulous racecourse, the world’s oldest-surviving lifeboat, kitesurfing championships, the love-it-or-hate-it Redcar Beacon, and of course the finest lemon tops in the world.
Just down the coast is the lovely village of Marske, with its quaint fishing boats. It was once home to Captain W. E. Johns, the author of the Biggles books, who was based at Marske during the first world war, when the Royal Flying Corps had a landing strip there. We also have the historic communities of Dormanstown, Coatham, Kirkleatham, Normanby, Yearby and Ormesby, all with unique histories and identities, whom I am deeply humbled to represent and serve.
I am looking forward to working with Labour-controlled Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, for the benefit of the vulnerable, and for the economic and social development of our communities. Those communities, which built Britain’s industrial glory around the world, are still struggling from the destruction and decline that the last majority Conservative Government unleashed. The coalition Government were little better. The bedroom tax has scarred street upon street with rows of empty properties in those communities, driving people out of family homes in which they had brought up their children or lost loved ones.
The much feted economic success has not reached the streets of many of my communities. A quarter of children live in poverty, and unemployment is more than double the national average. My priority will be to bring much needed employment to those areas, particularly for our young people, who deserve the very best opportunities to get on. However, they must be decent and secure jobs. Too often, people have told me on their doorsteps that they are struggling to get by on zero-hours contracts, low pay, and insecure and part-time work.
It is at this point that I want to mention one of my predecessors, as is conventional in a maiden speech. In 1925, Ellen Wilkinson—“Red Ellen”—Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough East, as the constituency was then called, said:
“If only the Minister would realise the battle of a man’s self-respect when he is insulted at every works gate when he tries to get some evidence to prove that he is genuinely seeking work! What legacy are we piling up for the future of these men who have tried, and who at every turn are met with some Clause or some way of forcing them down still lower.”
Those battles continue. With zero-hours contracts, we are back to the days of people turning up at the gates hoping for work, only now they sit at home the night before waiting for a text message. Others lose their financial support despite genuinely seeking work. Today’s sanction traps are Ellen’s clauses, forcing people down still lower. Our fight continues.
I pay tribute to others whom I am honoured to follow. Ian Swales made a big contribution both to the constituents of Redcar as a diligent and hard-working constituency MP, and in the House, most notably in his role on the Public Accounts Committee, where he led the corporate tax avoidance hearings involving Starbucks, Amazon and Google.
I thank the people of every corner of my constituency who put their faith so decisively in me to stand up and fight for them in this place. I sincerely hope I can repay that faith. I hope I can make the people of Redcar as proud of me as I am of them."