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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Meg Seconds the Queens Speech

Friday, November 26, 2004

After the Queen has read the programme of Government Bills in the House of Lords the Commons traditionally starts its examination of this programme with 2 speeches given by members of the Governing party. The first, to ‘move the Queens Speech’ is given by a longstanding MP, the other, to ‘second the Queens Speech’, is given by a recent MP. Both speeches are expected to be humourous, mention their respective constituencies and make general points about forthcoming Bills. On Tuesday 23rd November Meg gave the second of the 2 speeches.  

It is a great honour to second the Queen's Speech, although that was not the only emotion that I felt when I was asked to do it. Equal amounts of honour and trepidation came over me after I said yes, which I tend to say too readily. My confidence did not increase when I told my husband. After a shocked pause, he said, "But you have to be funny." With such support, how can I fail?

When I received the pager message to ring the Chief Whip, I was just about to give a speech in place of the Minister for Children, Young People and Families, who was otherwise tied up. I have advised her to keep her hands in her pockets in future.

I am very pleased to follow my hon. Friend the   Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), who has given such service to the House and to his constituents. I pay tribute to his work as a Northern Ireland Minister in pursuing the peace process. However, I most admire him for managing, despite his misfortune of living on the wrong side of the Pennines, to make something of his life.

I share one important bond with my hon. Friend: our involvement with the co-operative movement. The co-operative movement has long been important to the people of his region and mine. My noble Friend Lord Graham often jokes, "it's not very co-operative, nor does it move a lot". In recent years, however, it has had an upswing in its fortunes, with ideas of co-operation and mutuality enjoying a renaissance. I have been delighted to support three private Member's Bills in the House to modernise co-operatives and social enterprises, and I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development and my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) and for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) for their hard work in that regard.
 
As much as it is an honour for me and my constituents to be asked to second the Queen's Speech, the greatest privilege is to be a Member of the House, and for me, to represent the area where I grew up. I am sure that all Members will know that Sheffield, like Rome, is built on seven hills. It also has five rivers, and gets its name from the Sheaf, which forms one boundary of my constituency

I feel particularly fortunate to be the MP at a time of transformation for Heeley. Unemployment is down, school achievement is up, many children now go to new or refurbished schools, and there are more improvements to come. It is always a pleasure to meet children in the constituency and to get a glimpse of their view of the world. However, I am not always prepared for some of their questions. One year, St. Peter's Brownies troop were given the task of designing my Christmas card. After judging the drawings, and handing out the prizes, I chatted to them. Katie, aged 7, came up to me and with great seriousness asked, "Were you in the Houses of Parliament when Guy Fawkes tried to blow it up?" 

It has been a pleasure for me to work with local community groups, business organisations and faith groups, including churches and my local mosque. They provide support through educational opportunities and social activities. My constituents benefit from living in a thriving city, with its two universities, theatres, cinemas and modern tram system. South Yorkshire has been one of the poorest regions in the European Union, but with the support of objective 1 funding, there is substantial progress. I urge the Government to ensure that economically disadvantaged regions continue to receive extra help.

Before coming to Westminster, I had little idea of the day-to-day life of an MP. It was drilled into me that whatever else an MP does, they are expected to vote. To miss a vote is a dreadful thing. The punishment for such a heinous crime is cruel and unusual, and at the discretion of the right hon. Member for Glasgow Rutherglen (a Government Whip). However else I organised my day, it was my responsibility to arrange things so that I got to the vote in the magical eight minutes allowed.

Various ways to fill my day poured in. I was asked several times whether I wanted to join the tap dancers. I wondered whether it was code for something interesting, so I decided to find out. Intrigued, I ventured to my first class and discovered great company, exhilarating exercise and a new way to relax. After the first lesson, I entered the shower in a relaxed frame of mind. I turned on the water and then?horror of horrors?the Division bell rang. There was a great kerfuffle as tap dancers grabbed their clothing. I was the only new member; the others seemed remarkably practised. Thinking of my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen and what might happen if I missed the vote, I lunged out of the shower, grabbed a towel and discovered to my horror that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) had grabbed my locker key and disappeared. I was left with a stark choice?my reputation for modesty and decorum or my reputation with Tommy. He lost. I followed the advice of the great Nye Bevan and decided not to go naked into the Chamber.

I persevered with the tap group, known as the "Division Belles", particularly enjoying our public offering at the annual charity event, where the professional presentation of many hon. Members present is a wonder to behold. Tap dancing does not seem to be to the detriment of a parliamentary career, with two Home Office Ministers and the chair of the parliamentary Labour party being part of the troupe. Sadly, the most talented tap dancer in the House is not a Division Belle?I wonder whether it is fear for his reputation that keeps the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope), away.

I am aware that one of my faults is getting involved in too many things. So far, that has led to my playing hockey, taking part in the tug of war, running, cycling and becoming a founder member of the women's parliamentary football team, which sadly still only has sufficient players for five-a-side. I seem to get selected for everything, except for the tennis team?my greatest love?where our captain, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer), has failed to select me.

I wonder whether that is because of the company that I keep at practice sessions. The most regular attendees are the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) and the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). The right hon. Member for Bracknell is a forgiving gentleman?he seems to bear me no malice for casting a vote for his Labour opponent in 1983, when I briefly lived in his constituency. However, I wonder whether the Conservative party has a dress code, because on the tennis court he always has his shirt firmly tucked into his shorts?at least.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will join me in expressing appreciation for the service of the hon. Member for New Forest, West in Iraq. I shall resist the temptation to move from his gallant service with the forces to discuss his service on the tennis court. I was delighted for him when he was appointed to his current post, although as one of my more unkind hon. Friends said, "It seems somewhat extraordinary that a vampire should choose a werewolf as his PPS." Personally, I have always found the right hon. Member for Bracknell and the hon. Member for New Forest, West perfectly charming.

I know that the Leader of the Opposition appears in daylight, because we met recently outside our offices during a fire alarm. He has conducted extensive research in his quest for interesting information?nay gossip?about me, even sending a young emissary into the wilds of Yorkshire this weekend. Unfortunately for him, his emissary came across a member of my staff, whom he tried to quiz. The member of my staff replied in true Yorkshire style, "You're getting nowt out of me!"
 
Before I arrived at the House, I was described by one commentator as "strapping with a pleasant toothy smile". I do not know how familiar you are, Mr. Speaker, with some of the websites that provide information on MPs, but a quick look at one profile of me reveals that "This MP hardly ever rebels." I think that that is what The Times meant in calling me an "arch Blairite loyalist".

I am not sure about "arch", but as a Blairite loyalist I welcome the range of measures in the Queen's Speech, particularly proposals for financial support for those in education aged between 16 and 19. Sheffield has an excellent education strategy for that age group, and when it is coupled with that additional financial support, more young people than ever before will be in education or training.

I have had many letters praising the success of the fireworks legislation, and my constituents will be pleased to hear that the Government intend to legislate further on antisocial behaviour. My right hon. Friend?and fellow Sheffielder?the Home Secretary has rightly identified the importance to many of our constituents of tackling antisocial behaviour and its appalling impact on communities.

Many constituents also write to me about their concerns regarding Africa and the need for trade justice for the developing world. They will be pleased to hear of the Government's commitments as Britain takes on presidency of the G8 and of the EU. Too little progress has been made internationally on the millennium development goals. Tackling poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa needs to be a priority for the developed world.

Renewed effort on the middle east peace process will be widely welcomed. Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live free from the fear of violence and from the dreadful poverty that blights too many lives. Identifying how a two-state solution can be achieved could not be more important.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I second the Queen's Speech.


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