Sandy made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on Tuesday 18 July during a debate on Drugs Policy.
I declare an interest as a Suffolk county councillor.
Like many towns of its size, Ipswich would be seriously improved by society dealing more effectively with the scourge of hard drugs. Ipswich has a low level of crime for its size, but there is too much violent crime, and that crime is rising. Much of the violence in our town has been carried out by drug dealers, targeted against drug dealers, motivated by arguments over drugs, fuelled by drugs or, in the murders of the women on London Road in 2006, targeted against young people whose lives have been dominated by their need to get money to pay for drugs.
One of my most passionate ambitions is to find ways to bring the marginalised in our town back into some sort of social life, to help them end their addictions, to support them to find housing and employment, and ultimately to give them the greatest gift of all—self-respect—so that they no longer need to feel dependent but can hold their head up and say proudly that they are contributing to our town.
I am immensely proud to have been chosen by the people of Ipswich to represent them in the House and, at the same time, humbled by the responsibility that places upon me. Ipswich is an exciting, vibrant yet unpretentious town. Although there was a pre-Roman settlement on the site and it became a substantial town during the Saxon period, winning its royal charter in 1200, we do not dwell on our history.
Ipswich is what it is and where it is because it was the borough that served the rural county around it. It started as a port, exporting agricultural produce. It grew rapidly in the 19th century, building the ploughs, seed drills, reapers and other modern agricultural machinery of the time that transformed the productivity of our farms, not just in Suffolk, but throughout the UK and indeed the empire. We developed artificial fertiliser on the back of our initial base as the centre of the coprolite industry, making a good living out of a load of old squit!
In the late 19th industry, Ipswich’s heavy engineering grew, almost all of which is now gone. The world’s first lawnmower was built in Ipswich in 1832, and Ransomes Jacobsen still builds lawnmowers in Ipswich today, but we have not hung around or tried to revive dead businesses.
In the 1960s and 1970s, roads were reconfigured and areas cleared to enable the building of large office blocks to house the insurance industry, which is still one of the major employers in our town. The BT research and development headquarters just down the road is one of the most important local employers, and the East of England Development Agency invested significant sums in the first decade of this century in providing the accommodation needed for the IT spin-off companies that have grown out of BT.
Ipswich has immense potential. To his credit, I believe my predecessor, Ben Gummer, could see that. We have higher unemployment than the rest of Suffolk but many people with skills just waiting to be called upon. We have the space to expand and adapt, even in the very heart of the town. We have a beautiful and sophisticated focus on the waterfront, and the affordable housing and commercial space for new people and businesses to move in. We are only just over an hour from the City of London by train, but very much not just simply a commuter town. Ben Gummer put a lot of effort into trying to improve the rail link with London and into the regeneration of the waterfront, and I certainly intend to continue that work.
I also want to give credit to the previous MP for Ipswich, Chris Mole, and all that he achieved for Ipswich. Chris has been a good friend of mine for more than 20 years, and I was delighted when he was elected to represent Ipswich in a by-election in 2001. Much was built or started in Ipswich during his time as MP, and I know that a lot of that was due to his championing of our town: a new accident and emergency department at the hospital; a new sixth-form college on the outskirts of the town; a completely new set of buildings for the further education college; and a commitment from the Government to build a complete flood defence system, including a tidal barrier to protect the town from sea level rise—I am glad to say that that commitment is now reaching fulfilment. When he was leader of the county council, he told me that his No. 1 ambition was to achieve a university for Suffolk, and he had already put in place the commitment from the pre-existing further education college, the county council and the borough council necessary to achieve a united bid for a new university. As MP for Ipswich, he was able to steer that to completion, and I do not believe he has ever had the full credit he deserves for that achievement. As a town with a brand new university, as the fulcrum around which our waterfront turns, Ipswich is undergoing a change every bit as radical as occurred in the 19th century when we started building machinery. We are entering a new and exciting phase of our development, where the imagination and intellectual skills of our young people will be the building blocks of our prosperity. Thank you, Chris.
Ipswich is, of course, a unique town, but many of the problems our residents face are national ones, shared with citizens across the UK. I have contributed in my own small way to helping with the governance and funding of voluntary organisations in Ipswich that work with people to help them to avoid marginalisation. I refer to organisations such as the citizens advice bureau; the Ipswich Disabled Advice Bureau; the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, which is now also bidding to set up a law centre; and, recently, The Oak, an independent drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, which is taking people on that final step between renouncing an addiction and actually gaining the personal self-confidence and self-worth needed to want not to relapse. All those organisations are struggling financially because of reductions in local authority funding.
We need to decide what sort of society we want to live in. What possible sense can it make to increase the availability of prison places at enormous cost but not to reduce re-offending rates, not to support preventive measures such as personalised job seeking for people at risk, and not to fully fund drug rehabilitation programmes, alcohol dependency programmes and hospital provision? How can we expect people to take care of what they are doing to themselves if they are unable to get a job, feed themselves properly, get the psychiatric help or counselling they need or even have somewhere safe and private to sleep the night? It is shocking to see increasing numbers of people—women as well as men, young as well as old—sleeping in shop doorways, in underpasses or in cemeteries in what is still the fifth largest economy in the world. How can we as a society say to those people with a straight face, “You must not take hard drugs?” when we are not offering them any way to escape from the half-life that they are leading?
We do need to clamp down on drug deals and to ensure that the supply of hard drugs is curtailed, but, ultimately, we will not build a better society, free from the scourge of hard drugs, unless we can build a society where everyone feels valued and able to contribute. Let us make sure that all our citizens can have the education that they deserve, the counselling and the psychiatric help that they need, when they need it, the employment that makes the best use of their talents, access to a full and vibrant social life, safe, adequate and affordable housing and a healthy environment. People will then have lives that they value, and that they know others value, and will not want to turn to hard drugs to escape from their lives.