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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Meg’s 'Maiden Speech' - 21st June 2001

Thursday, November 29, 2001

The website was not in operation when Meg gave her ‘maiden speech’ in the House of Commons. The speech was given on the 26th June 2001 - shortly after she was elected as MP for Sheffield Heeley.

As I represent part of the city of Sheffield, hon. Members may be surprised to see me speaking in a debate on the Queen's Speech that is focused on rural issues. Hon. Members who have not visited the constituency of Sheffield, Heeley may not appreciate how green it is and how many of my constituents take a keen interest in rural affairs. However, I am sure that hon. Members will know that Sheffield, like Rome, is built on seven hills and that Heeley has its fair share of them. They afford residents some of the most magnificent views of the city and of the beautiful Derbyshire borders that are at the southern boundary of my constituency.

The constituency also boasts a farm, Heeley city farm, which not only has animals, but which offers work training, education and various community enterprises, all of which are seeking to work in an environmentally friendly manner.

It is a particular privilege for me to represent Sheffield, Heeley, as it is the area where I grew up and where I first joined the Labour party. I am only the third Labour Member for the constituency and have the distinction of knowing both previous Labour Members. The seat was first won for Labour in 1966, when my father was the election agent. I know that many people still remember the then Member, whose name made him an ideal candidate. In these more cynical days, it would perhaps be thought of as a deliberate ploy to select Frank Hooley, with "Hooley for Heeley" providing an easy and memorable slogan.

By the time of the 1970 election, with a father and uncle as councillors in Sheffield, I had already developed an interest in politics and took to debating the case for Labour with my school friends. A permanent reminder is my school photo of that year, in which I can be seen proudly wearing my "Hooley for Heeley" sticker. It was, however, to be an early lesson in losing; the Conservative candidate won that year, with a narrow majority of 713. Four years later, Frank Hooley was re-elected and served the people of Heeley as an excellent constituency Member until 1983.

In that year Bill Michie was elected, continuing as Member of Parliament until his retirement at this general election. I also first knew Bill when I was a child. My earliest memory is from a time when he was standing for the local council when I spent a morning with my sister making red rosettes in the campaign room. However, I cannot claim to have made the rosette which he stills wears to this day, prominently sporting an "Old Labour and proud of it" sticker.

In his maiden speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) highlighted the physical differences between himself and his predecessor. I, too, claim differences from mine, and not just differences of gender. Robert Waller and Byron Criddle, in their Almanac of British Politics, described Bill Michie as follows:

"With a style of beard and intensity of manner redolent of the English Civil War, he is one of the PLP's irreducible hard left core."

In a national newspaper during the election, I was described as

"strapping with a pleasant toothy smile." It could have been worse. They have yet to pronounce on my political views.

Since my selection as Labour candidate for Sheffield, Heeley in July last year, I have been involved in campaigns in the constituency. On many occasions, people have told me of the work that Bill Michie did for them. Organisations have spoken highly of his contribution in supporting their aims and assisting them wherever possible. I pay tribute to his 18 years as the representative for the constituency.

Not only am I the third Labour Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Heeley, I am also the third Labour Co-operative Member for a constituency in Sheffield. The first was A. V. Alexander, subsequently Lord Alexander, who represented the constituency of Sheffield, Hillsborough. He was first elected in the early 1920s and had a distinguished political career, serving in government as First Lord of Admiralty and Minister of Defence. In May 1929, he said:

"There will be many cries raised at the General Election, but the overriding issue will be the cure of poverty and unemployment."

These are still issues for us today and I am proud to be a member of a party that has these goals. However, we should not be content that, over 70 years on from that speech, we are still grappling with the same problems. Nevertheless, that we find ourselves in a position where these are realistic goals is a tribute to the Labour Government of the past four years and to the measures set out in the legislation proposed in the Queen's Speech. There is also recognition that we should not be content with tackling such issues only within our borders, but that the reduction of poverty should be a central aim of United Kingdom international development assistance.

The second Labour Co-operative Member for Parliament--also for Sheffield, Hillsborough--was George Darling, who was first elected in 1966 and served until 1974, when he was made a life peer.

I am sure that, like me, many new Members have received letters congratulating them on their victory; some from old friends or, as in my case, former bosses. One, however, was particularly unexpected. Richard Corbett, Member of the European Parliament for Yorkshire and the Humber, wrote as follows:

 "Dear Meg, I am writing to say how sorry I am that you were not elected. I know how terribly disappointing it must have been for you."

I hope that he does not know something that I do not; disappointment would hardly cover it.

Finally, I wish to comment briefly on the adoption and children Bill. I want to associate myself with the comments of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who urged us to scrutinise the Bill properly as it will affect the lives of many children. Over the past five years, I have had experience of, and significant responsibility for, making decisions on adoptions. The importance of these decisions cannot be underestimated; they demand considerable care and expertise. Adoption cannot be viewed merely as substituting one set of parents for another for a child who needs a new family. Adoption has lifelong implications for all three sides of the adoption triangle--the birth family, the child and the adoptive family.

I welcome proposals to speed up adoption for the many children who are currently awaiting adoptive families. Setting up a national register will help to ensure that children are matched as soon as possible with approved adoptive parents.

I particularly welcome the proposal to place a duty on local authorities to provide adoption support services. Most of the children who are adopted today have been in the care of the local authority. Their experiences will mean that they will demand more care and support than other children. A child who settles happily into a family at the age of three may experience extreme difficulties when a teenager, with which she or her family are ill prepared to cope. The continuing availability of support for those involved in adoption can be crucial if a family is to avoid further breakdown. I make a particular plea that such support is properly funded and that consideration is also given to putting funding for adoption allowances on a firmer footing.

In my work, time and again, I was amazed to see what the love and dedication of families could do for children who had experienced neglect and abuse. Adoption is so often about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

There are many children waiting for more ordinary people to come forward and care for them. The Bill will, I believe, help to achieve that goal.

I am pleased to support the Queen's Speech.

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