It is an honour and a privilege, not only for me but for my constituents in Brent, that I have been asked to second the Loyal Address. I must admit that, when I got the message to call the Chief Whip, my first reaction was, “Uh-oh, what have I done now? He’s caught me.” Then, when I was told that this honour was to be bestowed upon me, I thought, “Uh-oh, he has caught me!” However, my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip has such a nice way of putting things that, even if he asked me to sit on the Crossrail Bill, I would probably be inclined to say yes—[Laughter.] Oh dear! I fear that I have made a rod for my own back.

It is truly an honour to be asked to speak today. It is also an honour to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn). Like me, he is a former trade union official, and we have an awful lot in common. We have also shared great moments cheering and shouting at football matches at the amazing new Butler stadium, also known on the streets as Wembley stadium. One of my most surreal moments was when I was travelling on the Jubilee line from Westminster to Wembley with him and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. When we got on to the train, I was so caught up in my own excitement that I thought everyone was looking at me. This really cute guy started to walk towards me, and my heart started to beat a little faster. Then he pushed me to one side and asked for the PM’s autograph.

Many hon. Members may know that Brent has one of the new modern wonders of the world. It is not Dollis Hill house, which is used as a hospital for world war one and world war two soldiers; nor is it the largest temple outside India, which is also in my constituency, or the multicultural mosque, or even the house where Bob Marley used to live. Amazing though all those buildings are, it is, in fact, Butler stadium. Hon. Members might want to visit my constituency to see the many wonders that are scattered all around, and I hope that they will do so—but please do not ask me for football tickets, as refusal often offends. For anybody wanting football tickets, their best bet is probably to ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central—he is our ambassador for the 2018 World Cup, after all. I am sure that he will have fond memories of the times that we shared at Wembley, and that he shares my hope that someone in my constituency will help to bring football home for GB—the country and the Prime Minister.

I like to think that I am a fairly modern chick, so when the opportunity arose to sit on the Modernisation Committee, I jumped at the chance. I am not quite sure whether the Committee helps with modernisation that much, but it has helped me to understand some universal truths: men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and

some Members of Parliament are from a planet not yet discovered. The modernisation measures set out in the Queen’s Speech have given me new hope. The Queen often awards OBEs and MBEs regardless of colour, creed, religion or class. As we are on the theme of modernising, perhaps we could have a word change. “Order of British Excellence” or “Merit of British Excellence” would sum up the people around the country and in my constituency beautifully.

Brent, South is one of the most diverse constituencies in the UK, and, although I might have some of the poorest wards in the country, I can testify that the constituency is full of richness and ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things every day. I am glad that the Queen has acknowledged in her speech the rising aspirations of the many, and not the few, through the education and skills Bill and the new housing and regeneration Bill.

I was elected to the House in 2005, and it was one of the proudest moments for me and my family. I promised, at my first meeting in the school hall, that I would be the voice of young people and that, when I stood in this place, I would make sure that their voices were heard. That is why I am really proud that the Government have announced that unclaimed assets can be used to improve young people’s services across the UK. More than 700 places will be created—more than one for every constituency—so we shall all have something to look forward to. That will ensure that young people in every constituency will have a place to go and something to do.

I remember addressing a group of young people, and one of them saying to me, “Why are you so interested in youth issues?” Before I could answer, a young guy jumped up and said, “Because she used to be young once.” I think it was at that same school that I wore a bright orange suit, and a young girl with tears in her eyes said, “Miss, do all MPs have to dress like that?” I might have been offended—after all, it was quite an expensive suit—but it is time that we stopped demonising young people.

There is constant talk about gangs. I witnessed a gang mentality just a month ago, when a group of mainly white men heckled and jeered—at times in unison—and its leader started stabbing his middle finger in the direction of the other side. He went on angrily to goad the other side, which duly responded with insults and jeers to match. I felt inclined to join in: after all, this was Prime Minister’s questions! We should be careful how we label people. Youth week, as outlined in “Aim high for young people: a ten year strategy”, will help the media, the public and politicians to gain greater understanding of young people and their culture.

We need people to understand that politics matters. When our Prime Minister took action to secure debt relief, it was a question not of some figures on a balance sheet but of shifting the balance on the scales of justice. He moved the balance in favour of the poorest, but some debt cannot so easily be written off. One such debt is the enslavement of 13 million Africans. As we approach the end of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade legislation, I know that our legacy will be to teach an objective history as part of the curriculum. I hope that we will commemorate slavery each year, as we do the holocaust.

The national armed forces memorial in Staffordshire, which the Prime Minister visited to pay his respects to all who lost their lives in past and present wars, makes this year’s remembrance very special. I wear my poppy with pride, as all hon. Members do.

We must also remember all our young people who have needlessly lost their lives to gun and knife crime. The proposals outlined today will have an impact and help to make our communities safer. I have seen the youth opportunity fund and the youth capital fund work in Brent. I have seen the difference that they make and I believe that my constituents would want me to take this opportunity to bring to the House’s attention the energy and creativity of Brent’s young people. I have seen the work commitment, the dedication and the pride on young people’s faces when their projects have been completed.

I have spoken to many kids on the streets, who say that they want things to do, places to go and an education that will give them a good job. Imagine my surprise when the Youth Parliament, which I helped to set up, came to Westminster and voted to stay on at school beyond 16. When I was at school, it was not so much me wanting to leave as the teachers hoping that I would! They could not think of a profession for someone so mouthy and argumentative. Well, here I am!

For the first time, we have had a pre-legislative draft, which has helped us to prepare for today. It means that we can quickly progress to implementation of the health and social care Bill; it means that we can commit to continued investment in the NHS, which is 60 next year; and it shows that we have real belief in the aspirations of all the people of this country.

We have so much to do and we must not shy away from the great work that Labour has done for our country. We have lifted 600,000 children out of poverty—19,700 of them in Brent alone. The minimum wage now stands at more than £5 an hour, the winter fuel benefit in Brent is £11,600—and I could go on and on. [Interruption.] Tempting as it is to go on, I would like to end.

Ten years ago, as a trade union official, I had colleagues who travelled in car boots just to get here to speak to Members and to recruit new ones. I witnessed first hand how a Labour Government changed people’s lives for the better. We stopped riding in car boots and finally walked in through the front door. It is a memory that will stay with me for ever. My members, some of whom were earning only £2.50 an hour, felt empowered by having their trade union official by their side. I was a young idealistic activist trying to change the world. Although I hope I have not changed that much in 10 years—beyond a few grey hairs and a dodgy orange suit, perhaps—I am very grateful that this country has changed.

I am one of the youngest Members in the House and I hope that young people watching our proceedings today are inspired not just by our democracy, but by the sense that they, too, can be part of it. If anyone hearing our speeches today or reading about them tomorrow questions whether politics works or whether it matters, I say to them that cynicism did not create the welfare state, indifference did not introduce the minimum wage or bring peace to Northern Ireland, and apathy did not end debt slavery for the world’s

 

poorest people or give our most valuable pensioners dignity in their retirement. It was politics that did all that. That is the difference that politics makes. The strength of self-belief, the dignity of truth and the engagement of politics can turn slaves into free people. I dedicate this speech to my ancestors and all those who gave their tomorrows for our todays. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.

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