On Wednesday 4 March 2020, Mary made her Maiden Speech in Parliament, during an Opposition Day debate on health inequalities.
Mary made her speech in the Opposition Day debate on health inequalities because it is a subject very close to her heart, and an issue that she will be continuing to campaign on as MP for City of Durham.
Mary has first-hand knowledge of the importance of our NHS and health services, having spent much of her life as a carer for her severely disabled daughter, and is dedicated to fighting to protect our health services.
In her Maiden Speech, Mary paid tribute to her predecessor, talked about the heritage of the City of Durham, including that of its mining past – and focused on the inequalities that have such a major impact on the health of her constituents and the wider North East. She also spoke about her own history, the birth of her first daughter and how that formed her politics.
Due to time constraints in Parliament, Mary had to slightly shorten her speech, but you can read the full transcript below, or watch her speech by following this link:
Mary’s Maiden Speech in full:
“Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my Maiden Speech to the House today.
To begin with, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Roberta Blackman Woods. Roberta served the constituency for 14 years and was a tireless advocate for the people of Durham. Most recently, she was Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning. Roberta was passionate about that work and highly respected for it. I want to say, on a personal level, that she has been a great help to me recently and I wish her all the best in the next phase of her life.
It is an enormous privilege to be the Member of Parliament for the wonderful City of Durham and I want to thank the Constituency Labour Party members for their hard work and support in ensuring that I was elected and to the constituents who have placed their trust in me. I must also thank my family, who have supported me throughout my life.
Durham has an incredible heritage. The magnificent Durham Cathedral was built as the burial place of St. Cuthbert. It’s impossible not to inspired when you see the cathedral on the horizon, and it is so central to the life of the city.
It is also the resting place of the Venerable Bede, known as one of the most learned men in Europe. He lived most of his life in Jarrow, the town where I grew up, and if I don’t mention that I will be in trouble from my parents. It’s fitting that the cathedral is now surrounded on all sides by the world-renowned Durham University, providing essential jobs and technology, linking Durham to all parts of the world, and giving our city a real vibrancy.
And Durham has another history that needs to be celebrated, it’s mining heritage. It is a tradition which prides itself on resilience, forged by the trade union movement. All of that is encapsulated in the Durham Miners’ Gala – when banners from the villages that surround the city are proudly paraded through the streets, accompanied by brass bands – and yes, I hope the Honourable Member for Surrey Heath has now learned that it is held in our constituency, which is very much still Labour.
To prepare for this speech I read that of my predecessor, Roberta, and her predecessor Gerry Steinberg. And it was fascinating.
Gerry’s speech was made in 1987. He talked about the devastating levels of unemployment after the closure of the coal mines and the refusal of the Thatcher administration to tackle the resulting insecurity in people’s lives and work. This was a time of de-industrialisation, a widening north south divide, trade unions being crushed, a run-down NHS and the poll tax on the horizon.
In contrast, my immediate predecessor, Roberta, gave her speech in 2005, 8 years into a Labour government. She referred to unemployment being halved, the positive impact of the minimum wage, GCSE results improving, a new state-of-the-art further education college being built, as well as a hospital and secondary schools. It could have been a different country.
I then reflected on my life during those periods – these were the experiences that made me the socialist I am.
In 1987 I had just finished a youth training scheme. I was in insecure work and shortly after, I was made redundant. My dad too, thrown on the scrap heap after Swan Hunters Shipyard closed.
In 1989 my first daughter came into the world, born 10 weeks premature and needing a ventilator before she could breathe on her own. Unfortunately, this basic piece of equipment wasn’t available at the hospital, nor was it available in any of the surrounding hospitals – this was a direct result of deliberately running down the NHS. Eventually a ventilator was located 30 miles away and Maria was born 3 hours later by emergency c section. She had suffered brain damage and lived her life with severe cerebral palsy.
Madam Deputy Speaker, the policies of Governments greatly affect the lives of ordinary people.
The actions of the Conservatives and their former coalition partners have seen the stalling of the increases in life expectancy. This is extraordinary. It has not happened since 1900. Labour has been accused of wanting to take us back to the 1970s. Well, the Conservatives have taken us back to the 19th century!
Last week the Marmot Report on health inequalities showed the impact of austerity, something which I have seen first-hand. In my constituency, a child born on the Sherburn Road estate can expect to live 15 years fewer than a child born in the most affluent parts of the city, just a couple of miles away.
Even more shocking, a recent report in the British Medical Journal showed that inequalities in infant deaths between the most deprived local authorities (which includes County Durham) and the rest, which decreased sharply during the last Labour government, have now started to increase under Conservative austerity. What kind of society is being created?
Madam Deputy Speaker, there are families in the former pit villages of Ushaw Moor, Coxhoe, Brandon and others in my constituency who are trapped in poverty. Children and grandchildren of those miners who built the wealth of this country are now having to use foodbanks and undergo a cruel benefits regime. Is it any wonder that the police have reported that the main issue affecting these communities is male suicide?
Improving health in Britain is not just about refurbishing hospitals. It is about having a good education, a secure and loving home, and a regular source of income. Until we address these social issues, we won’t see any substantial changes in public health.
As Professor Marmot says. ‘Why treat people and send them back to the conditions that make them sick?’
Labour has a strategy – oven ready you might say – to tackle these injustices and build a fairer, more equal society. It was laid out in our manifesto. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to deliver it yet. But that won’t stop us from holding this Government to account, or campaigning for a better society.
Of course, I understand the impact of our election defeat and what it will mean to my constituents, but I haven’t come to this place just to lay out the problems. I and my party will be part of the solution – and I will fight for the residents of the City of Durham constituency and the wider North East, both in our communities and in the House.
That is my pledge to those who will feel the harsh impact of the Tories’ austerity, who will feel these health inequalities hard, because of the heartless policies of this Government.
City of Durham is steeped in history, but it’s the future we fight for. The motto of the Durham Miners may be 150 years old.
It was adopted by people who also suffered defeats and setbacks but who carried on their struggle and – over time – won improvements in their industry and in the lives of entire communities.
And this motto is still very apt and it’s one that I hold close to my heart as I start my Parliamentary journey: ‘The past we inherit – the future we build’.”