Backbench Business — Valedictory Debate

Part of Elections for Positions in the House – in the House of Commons am 3:29 pm ar 26 Mawrth 2015.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Llafur, Stirling 3:29, 26 Mawrth 2015

It is a rare privilege to be allowed to make a valedictory speech, Mr Speaker. I have to admit that this is the first one I have ever had the opportunity to make in leaving a job; normally, there was a wee present and a drink in the local pub, so this certainly is an elevation beyond my expectations.

The people of Stirling paid me the honour of electing me four times and I thank them sincerely for it. Placed at the heart of Scotland, it is a constituency made up of many different and vibrant communities, across an area the size of Luxembourg. It is the most northerly rural Labour seat in the United Kingdom. I am its first woman MP, and there is a little picture of me in the city’s Smith museum, overlooking the marble bust of a previous MP for the city, Campbell-Bannerman, who was against votes for women—I think people going into our Smith museum get the message.

I want to echo the thanks of other hon. Members who have spoken highly of the staff of the Commons. From the moment I entered this place some 18 years ago, they have shown nothing but courtesy and service to me and other Members. Of course, I give a special thanks to my parliamentary staff, Graham, Heather, Aileen, Stephen, Rachel and Gerry, for their support and forbearance during my time in Parliament. I also thank my constituency party members and my trade union, the GMB.

Like you, Mr Speaker, I came into this House in 1997. At that time, pupils in my area were being educated in schools where buckets were needed to catch the rain; we needed a new hospital; our sports facilities were not able to cope with the demands of an increasingly keep-fit society; and the long-held ambition of creating a national park had still not been realised. Yet, within a few years those schools had been replaced or refurbished; new sports halls were built; we had our own new hospital; and one of the most scenic areas in the country, the Trossachs, had become a national park. I make no apology for saying that all those things were completed or commissioned under Labour Administrations.

I am going to pick out two or three highlights in this House for me. The first is the banning of handguns in 1997, and I hope there is never an attempt in this country to weaken that legislation. The second is the passing of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, because for me it was one of the most impressive House of Commons occasions, when people were prepared to put on the public record their own journey to accepting civil partnerships. That made such a contrast with the divisive and harsh debate about section 28 in the 1980s. The third was when, as Minister for Disabled People, I travelled to New York to sign the United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities on behalf of the UK Government, with a young disabled man, Miro Griffiths, at my side. I am sure the Leader of the House, as a former distinguished Minister for Disabled People, will appreciate the significance of that occasion.

My regret about these past five years, however, is that some of the progress on disability rights has been seriously undermined, certainly in the eyes of disabled people themselves, by some of the very “radical”—I use the word advisedly—changes in our benefits system.

I am the eldest of a family of four girls. I, along with my sisters Kathleen, Helen and Frances, and our parents, lived for the first six years of my life up a small Glasgow stair, in a tenement. We had a room and kitchen, and an outside toilet. Down here it would probably be called a “studio apartment with bijou facilities”. Moving to a Glasgow housing scheme, which had a proper bathroom, was an unbelievable step up for my hard-working parents. Their ambition for us as their daughters was that we would take advantage of an education system, and we all did. They left school at 14, whereas we took advantage of the education system, and our children thought that university was the way to improve their own education. It was the ambition of that post-war generation that things would be better for their families.

Finally, I want to say a special thanks to my husband Len and my children Paul and Sarah, all three of whom have given me tremendous support. Mr Speaker, when I came into this House I was a “Blair’s babe”. I am pleased today to take leave of it as Orla and Seumas’s granny.