Anneliese made her maiden speech to the House of Commons today. You can read the speech in its entirety below:
"Thank you very much indeed, Mr Speaker. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for securing this debate.
As the new MP for Oxford East, I must say that it is a shame to me that it was the Oxford haemophilia centre that produced blood products which resulted in many people contracting blood-borne diseases, and further, that guidance from the centre in the early 1980s advocated the use of humans to test infectivity. I will repeat that—the use of humans to test infectivity. However, I am very proud of the people from Oxford who have campaigned for so many years for justice, along with many others mentioned by my hon. Friends. Their fight, as we have heard, has been simply for truth and for accountability so that events like these can never happen again. As I start my maiden speech, I would like to dedicate my words to them and to all the other people in Oxford who fought for justice against all the odds—not least, also, the survivors of the Bullfinch sexual abuse scandal, whose bravery has been remarkable and an inspiration.
I am enormously grateful to the people of Oxford East for electing me as their representative. As such, I of course take over from Andrew Smith, who served us for three decades as our MP and who many people in all parts of this House knew very well. Like many people, Andrew came initially to Oxford unsure of whether it would become his home, but quickly recognised the potential of our great city, not least because as a student he met, very quickly, his wonderful wife Val, who was also known by many people in this House. Val was an incredibly powerful advocate for the community of Blackbird Leys, which she served as a county and city councillor for many years. Her wisdom and her kindness is still very sadly missed by many of us.
Andrew is undoubtedly best known in Oxford East as a diligent constituency MP who cares passionately about our city and all its people, including of course those living in his home community of Blackbird Leys. But Andrew also had a very distinguished career in Parliament, including serving in the Cabinet as Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 1999 to 2002, and then as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions from 2002 to 2004. Andrew’s work, with others, lifted more than a million pensioners and half a million children out of poverty, helped restore the national finances—a piece of history often ignored or, sadly, distorted in this House—and brought in some of the biggest increases in health and overseas aid spending our country has ever seen. Andrew also presided over groundbreaking disability rights legislation, set up the pension protection fund, and helped bring in the pension credit, among many, many more transformative initiatives.
Andrew is none the less an incredibly humble man. He always stressed how his achievements came about through working with others, either in this House or in Oxford. In fact, Andrew is so humble that when he was in the Cabinet running Britain’s welfare state, his own television was so dilapidated that it had to be whacked many times before it would actually work. He is very intelligent but also very straightforward, without any airs or graces, and is immensely respected for it. I am sure that Members in all parts of this House will wish him very well for a long and very happy retirement.
Oxford East could be imagined as a constituency filled only with gleaming spires, detectives driving Aston Martins, and mysterious university dons. But while Oxford East boasts two excellent universities and bustles with students during term time, Oxford also has an impressive industrial heritage, and enormous further industrial potential, with the right infrastructure investment and support. What was the Pressed Steel Company plant, now BMW Cowley, produces nearly a quarter of a million Mini cars every year. Its engineers, technicians and apprentices are among the best in the world. Oxford as a city voted to remain in the EU, although some areas in the city had a majority to leave. Whether people voted to leave or to remain, no one voted to deny our city its potential. It is essential that European markets remain open to businesses like BMW Cowley, and that we retain Oxford’s many and various links with European and global science, as well as protecting the EU citizens who have made their home in our city.
In fact, Oxford is a city that has always looked outwards, as the first ever Oxfam shop on Broad Street reminds us. People with roots from all over the world call Oxford East their home. I am very proud that in my constituency we have five mosques, many different Christian churches, and substantial Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish populations. But I feel that the potential of many people from all of our communities in Oxford East is currently being held back.
Yesterday I attended the funeral of Bill Buckingham, who had been a Labour councillor and campaigner in Oxford East for 70 years; he died at the age of 96. Bill was among many who came back after serving our country in the second world war, determined that Lloyd George’s promise after the first world war now had to be turned into a socially inclusive reality, with homes built for heroes as part of mixed communities to be proud of. As Bevan put it at the time, we needed high-quality housing where the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer could all be neighbours, without social distinction.
What of that ambitious vision survives now? House prices and rents in Oxford are the least affordable in Britain outside London. Renters of homes have fewer rights than if they were renting a sofa or a fridge. The rules for housing benefit have been changed so people whose families have lived in Oxford for generations are being forced out of their city for the crime of merely earning an average, not above-average, wage; and, to pay for the right to buy in housing association properties, up to a third of Oxford’s remaining council stock could vanish.
For me, people doing their best to bring up their children on low incomes in Oxford are today’s heroes and heroines. Often running between more than one job to make ends meet, I must say that it comes as a slap in the face to them when they hear politicians refusing to admit that there is such a thing as in-work poverty. I was disturbed to hear that repeatedly in this House last week. Britain, and especially Oxford, urgently needs more genuinely affordable homes, with affordability not covering homes worth £400,000, as is currently the case. Renters need stronger rights, and they need, above all, a system that recognises houses as homes—as places to live and not merely investment opportunities. We also, of course, need to unlock the potential of our communities and not allow them to be asset-stripped.
I live on the Rose Hill estate in Oxford with my family—I am very pleased that some of them are here today. It is a wonderful, friendly place, albeit one where almost half the children on the estate grow up in poverty. Bill Buckingham, along with many other local people, kept Rose Hill’s community centre going through thick and thin, even when it burned down, and now we have a new centre on my estate, but other community facilities have been run down in recent years. I loved meeting other parents during baby sessions at the children’s centre when I had my first child four years ago. As you can see, he is quite grown-up now, albeit a little bit tired. But by the time my daughter arrived 18 months ago, there were no more baby sessions available. Instead, the children’s centre is only available for supervised contact sessions and for two—that is two—hours a week of supervised play. Community spaces such as children’s centres may not grab the headlines, but for many people they mean the difference between loneliness and friendship, between ill-health and wellbeing, and between division and neighbourliness.
Oxford East and its incredible people have so much potential, but too often, I feel, they are being held back. As their MP, I am ambitious for our city and its people, and I will devote the time they have given me in this place to ensure a better, brighter and fairer future for them, and for people like them, across this country."
Notes for editors
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