Labour’s new MP for Workington constituency, Sue Hayman made history last night, making the first speech to the House of Commons from a woman MP from Cumbria.
Speaking in the second reading of The Scotland Bill, Sue made her maiden speech to parliament; paying tribute to her predecessor Sir Tony Cunningham and describing the many attractions of her constituency to fellow members. Sue also outlined the importance of devolution of powers to West Cumbria and working across the border with Scotland for economic prosperity.
In her speech, Sue Hayman said:
“It is an honour to give my maiden speech after so many excellent maiden speeches in this debate. I am only the fifth Member of Parliament for Workington since the constituency was established in 1918, but I am the first woman to be elected to represent the constituency, and in fact the first woman ever elected to Parliament in Cumbria. It is an honour and a privilege, and I intend to serve my constituency diligently.
As this is my maiden speech, before I come to the subject of the debate, I shall follow the tradition of the House by paying tribute to my predecessor, Sir Tony Cunningham, who represented the Workington constituency for 14 years. I am sure that hon. Members from all parties will join me in wishing him well in his retirement. Sir Tony began his career as a teacher before being elected to represent Cumbria and Lancashire North in the European Parliament. He then worked for human rights organisations until his election to this House in 2001. His passion for that work made him the ideal choice to join the Front Bench as shadow Minister for International Development.
Sir Tony took his constituency responsibilities seriously, working hard for Workington and for individual constituents. In retirement, he continues to champion local charities. Throughout his career, he stood up for the poor and vulnerable both at home and overseas, and his commitment to helping others, some of them in truly desperate circumstances, will always define him and provide a humbling reminder to us all.
Sir Tony has said that his proudest achievement was saving Cumbria’s cottage hospitals when they were under threat of closure. At that time, the Health Secretary was my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), who listened to and understood Cumbria’s particular needs. I hope that this Government will do the same over people’s concerns for West Cumberland hospital and the services that are under threat today.
Sir Tony’s predecessor, Dale Campbell-Savours, continues to serve the public, now from the other place. He remains greatly admired and respected in the Workington constituency, for both his fight and his intellect. No cause was too large or too small. If people needed help, he was there for them.
Many hon. Members have told us in their maiden speeches how beautiful their constituencies are. Mine runs from the summit of Skiddaw in the Lake District national park to the sparkling sea and spectacular sunsets of the Solway coast, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a wildlife habitat of international importance.
In addition to the country’s most dramatic and beautiful landscape and coastline, the constituency has a strong and proud industrial heritage—from mining and steelworks and the flourishing port at Workington, to the fishing boats of Maryport, the large farming community and the thriving tourism industry. It is also part of Britain’s energy coast, which is bringing thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of investment to west Cumbria through nuclear, tidal and other energy projects.
The Solway forms the western border between England and Scotland and over the centuries, part of my constituency, like other areas of the borders, have been subject to Scottish raiding parties. I must say to hon. Members from north of the border how relieved I am that the famous Scottish national uprising of 2015 stopped short of Cumbria for once. They might also be interested to know that Mary Queen of Scots spent her last night of freedom in Workington hall, because we are renowned for our hospitality.
To go even further back in history, fortifications associated with Hadrian’s wall were built in west Cumbria by the Romans as a defence against the Scots—and the native Cumbrians, too, for that matter. At Maryport’s famous Senhouse Roman Museum, it is still possible to see the remains of the fort and many artefacts, which illustrate the importance of west Cumbria in the defence of the realm—a role the county continues to fulfil today through the vital Trident submarines in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock).
The gem town of Cockermouth is also in my constituency. The childhood home of William Wordsworth, Wordsworth house, has been opened to the public by the National Trust. Another famous—or should I say infamous?—local lad is Fletcher Christian, who led the mutiny on the Bounty. He now has a pub named after him on Main Street. Talking of pubs, Cockermouth’s most famous export, the legendary Jennings beer, is still brewed at the old Castle brewery in the town centre.
More recently, Cockermouth became famous for the floods that devastated homes and businesses in November 2009 when the River Derwent swept through the town centre. Those same floods claimed the life of policeman Bill Barker in Workington when a bridge collapsed. Both towns showed extraordinary courage and resilience in rebuilding after the floods, and PC Barker’s bravery that night will never be forgotten. The new footbridge over the river in Workington is named Barker’s Crossing in his memory.
Sir Tony worked with the local communities to fight back after the floods, but the work is not yet finished and I have pledged to carry on campaigning for proper flood defences wherever they are needed, to try to ensure that such a tragedy never again happens in Workington or Cockermouth.
To finish the tour of my constituency, I must mention the beautiful seaside town of Silloth, with its famous golf course, and Aspatria, the old mining and market town, which shares a passion for rugby—both league and union—with its larger neighbours.
I would have thought that the grit, passion and heritage I have spoken of would mark out west Cumbria as a key part of the northern powerhouse. I am pleased that the Chancellor has recognised that the north of England can contribute positively to the UK, but I would like to take this opportunity to remind him that the north-west extends considerably beyond Manchester. The northern powerhouse is focused on cities more than 100 miles south of west Cumbria. We have been shouldering heavy cuts to local government and public services, and the energy coast investment that I referred to earlier is still a few years away. Cumbria must not be left out. We need to see a proper devolution of powers across the region, not just to the big cities, so we can deliver our potential. We cannot allow areas such as west Cumbria to be left behind just because we are beyond the M6 corridor and the west coast main line.
As well as looking south to contribute to the northern powerhouse, we should also support the devolution of further powers to Scotland, because the time for rivalry has long since gone. Much of Dumfries and Galloway, for example, is as far from Glasgow and Edinburgh as west Cumbria is from Manchester or Leeds. We must forge cross-border alliances to bring investment in areas such as transport, energy, tourism, education and rural development that benefit the border communities on either side of the national boundary. There are already significant connections between people living in the borders region, whether on the English or the Scottish side. Many jobs depend on the business transacted daily across the border. Many families have members living on both sides of the border, and every day many commuters see the M74 turn into the M6 and back again.
We have a huge opportunity before us now to build social and economic prosperity that embraces both the diversity and the common interest of everyone in the border regions. We owe it to future generations to work together, rather than move apart, and I want the devolution of powers and resources to benefit everyone, not just those who live on one side of Gretna Green and not the other.”