On Wednesday 12 July our new MP, Alex Sobel, made his maiden speech – in the debate concerning the Grenfell Tower tragedy. He celebrated the diverse and great area which is Leeds North West Constituency. He promised to ‘speak truth to power and be an advocate for this one issue [climate change], which will define and shape our future more than any other.’ He pledged to be a ‘strong voice in this House as well as a powerful advocate for my constituency’
This is how the BBC reported it.
The full text [available also on Hansard https://goo.gl/CLrPPZ ] is given below.
“I congratulate you on your election, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my first contribution to this honourable House by participating in today’s debate, following the witty and on-point maiden speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) and the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) and for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock). Before I do so, however, I want to speak briefly about my constituency. As anyone who has visited it could tell you, it is a place that defies easy description. Other Members have previously claimed to have the most varied constituencies, but I want to stake a claim myself.
My constituency starts in inner-city Hyde Park, where we have a vibrant cultural and music scene including the legendary Brudenell Social Club, where only a few weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) gave a speech to 5,000 people—people who climbed trees and stood on rooftops to feel part of our movement. We then move on to Headlingley, with its world-renowned sporting pedigree. The legendary stadium and cricket ground, home of Yorkshire County cricket club, is to this day the most successful county championship team, and it is also a place where I have spent many happy afternoons since my days as a student.
Weetwood ward, where I make my home, has a fine literary tradition. Once the home of Tolkien—in a towered residence in West Park reminiscent of Minas Tirith—it is now home to many other creative figures, including the award-winning television writer Kay Mellor. Across the ring road, Adel is the setting for the grade I listed church of St John the Baptist, one of the best and most complete Norman churches in the country. My constituency also boasts Yorkshire’s international airport in Yeadon, and Otley, with its amazing breadth of events hosting hundreds every year—from the fabulous Otley show to the authentic Victorian fayre. Between the market towns of Yeadon and Otley lies the beautiful upland Chevin, from which the foundation stones of this very House were hewn, so Leeds North West provides the very foundation of our parliamentary democracy.
My first experience of this place was 20 years ago, when I came here as an executive officer of Leeds University union to lobby Leeds MPs about the retention of student grants and opposing the introduction of tuition fees, an issue I intend to pursue in this Parliament. I met Harold Best, the only other Labour MP to represent Leeds North West, who not only agreed with me on the issues of fees, but spent the afternoon showing me the Palace of Westminster. That reflected his great generosity of spirit, a generosity of spirit which he and his family continue to show me to this day, and one, having a family of my own, that I now wish to replicate in this place.
My immediate predecessor served in this place for 12 years. During that time, he became champion of a number of causes, not the least of which was his support for rugby league and his role as chair of the all-party rugby league group, championing a sport which is of great importance to our local area. Greg Mulholland was also a strong advocate for pubs, not just locally, but across the country, and for local breweries, serving as chair of the all-party save the pub group and as an executive member of the all-party beer group. Greg was a hard-working local MP, fulfilling the intentions made in his own maiden speech to this House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), my namesake seat, rightfully claimed to be the first Darren in this place. I can with great certainty say I am the first Sobel to be elected to Parliament. My own parents arrived in this country in 1972, and could not imagine that their son, born at the Leeds Maternity Hospital, would one day enter the mother of Parliaments.
My own history in Leeds North West started, like that of so many of my fellow constituents, as a student in one of the city’s fine universities. It was at university that my interest in fighting for justice and equality began, as staff-student representative for the School of Computing at the University of Leeds, first advocating for my fellow students, before going on to campaign on issues such as student funding and against racism on campus. I am still an elected member of Leeds City Council, and prior to my election here, I was the lead for climate change and chair of the affordable warmth partnership—two topics that are close to my heart and to which I will return shortly.
I turn now to the substantive issue of the debate. In doing so, I first want to echo the words of hon. Friends and other hon. Members who have already spoken on this devastating event in expressing my heartfelt condolences and sincere sympathies to the victims of the Grenfell fire, their families and the people of Kensington. I pay tribute to the emergency services who responded so rapidly and bravely, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) and all the volunteers who supported families in the aftermath of the fire. That so many lives should have been lost was a tragedy that defies description.
On the Sunday following the fire, I visited the only tower block in my constituency and ensured that tenants felt safe in their homes. Leeds City Council has confirmed to me that no aluminium composite material cladding has been used on council-owned blocks of flats in Leeds. However, I have been approached by constituents who live or work in other types of clad buildings. I hope the Minister will be taking action to ensure that testing is done on all cladding in this country—working with and compelling the sector representative bodies and building owners to undertake the testing—and that the testing of cladding is fully addressed in the inquiry.
I am sure that all Members of the House agree with me on the need for urgent action on safety, but I would like to address the use of cladding as part of our wider aims to reduce carbon emissions and to reduce fuel bills, tackling fuel poverty. In my constituency, a wholesale programme of external wall insulation started, but then stalled due to cuts in energy company obligation funding, leaving one side of the road with clad buildings and the other side without. External wall insulation—whether using mineral wool, phenolic resin or other materials that meet building regulations and have a U-value of 0.3—contributes to eradicating fuel poverty and to meeting our obligations under the Paris climate change agreement. We must ensure that this work is completed, alongside other measures not just in housing but in transport, energy and manufacturing, to ensure that runaway climate change does not occur. The safety of our citizens is paramount, so we must also ensure that our standards and inspection regimes are among the best in the world.
In the words of President Obama:
“No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”
This Chamber is a stage where the world can hear our voice. It is incumbent on me to use that voice to ensure that while I sit on these Benches, I will speak truth to power and be an advocate for this one issue, which will define and shape our future more than any other. Action to combat climate change will give us the best possible chance to save this planet, because it is the only hope that we have got. If we do not ensure that we take every step towards a carbon-free future, we will be judged as having failed future generations, and I am sure nobody came into this House to be a failure.
There will be many other local and national issues that I will raise in the House, concerning our market towns, universities, sporting and cultural institutions, transport links and technology, but for today, I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech. I pledge to my constituents and to hon. Members to be a strong voice in this House as well as a powerful advocate for my constituency.”
You can watch the speech here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv1SN_N0VnQ