New Peterborough MP raises homelessness, education, health and Middle East in maiden Commons speech

Fiona Onasanya
Fiona Onasanya

The new MP for Peterborough used her maiden speech in the House of Commons yesterday to raise concerns about homelessness, education and health in Peterborough, as she praised the city’s diversity and “gem” of a cathedral.

Labour’s Fiona Onasanya also lavished praise on her Conservative predecessor Stewart Jackson, said there are “rural parts of the constituency that serve as our own gardens of Eden,” and described famous companies Perkins Engines and Peter Brotherhood as “world class.”

Ms Onasanya also spoke about her strong faith, adding: “As we look at the issues facing Palestine and Israel, there is the temptation to see religion as something that divides rather than unites people.”

She told the Commons that she refers to herself as “MP FI” because she endeavours to “Make People Feel Inspired.”

She added that her acronym for faith is: “For All In This House.”

Highlights of her speech included:

. “I will never forget the grace, kindness and authentic good wishes that Mr Jackson expressed to me on the night of the election. I hope that his life beyond Parliament is as fulfilling as he intends.”

. “One can say that Peterborough attracts its share of powerful women.”

. “My presence here may be a symbol of this increasing diversity: I am the first black female MP ever elected by my constituency.”

. “Our local newspaper, the Telegraph, is dynamic and well read.”

. “We must also help those who don’t have a home. Peterborough is not immune. According to Shelter, in December 2016, some 600 people in Peterborough were without a place to live.”

. “Peterborough had amongst the lowest SATS results in the country. Our schools are trying very hard to make do with ever shrinking resources; resources that have been tied up in experiments like ‘free schools’.”

. “Cuts to the health service have left my constituents facing long waiting times for appointments.”

. “Austerity is expensive. Contrary to what some may think, cutting budgets doesn’t always save money, let alone lives.”

Ms Onasanya added: “It’s a thrill for any new MP to give their maiden speech at the House of Commons. I am very honoured to represent this constituency.

“I am looking forward to bringing the views of the people of Peterborough to the chamber, and putting the case for change to the Government.”

The full text

It is with both a humble heart and abiding pride that I stand to make my first speech in the House of Commons. Every day that I cross the threshold into this esteemed House, I am mindful of the traditions that this chamber represents.

As is customary, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor.

There is nothing that highlights a person’s character more than when they are faced with adversity. I will never forget the grace, kindness and authentic good wishes that Mr. Jackson expressed to me on the night of the election. I hope that his life beyond Parliament is as fulfilling as he intends.

Also, I would like to speak briefly about my home constituency of Peterborough.

It is rich in history: I highly recommend that everyone comes to Peterborough and visits!

Its Cathedral is a true gem, it was a temporary resting place for Mary Queen of Scots, it’s also where Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, is buried. One can say that Peterborough attracts its share of powerful women.

But when I look at Peterborough, my home, I see so much more than the legacies and treasures of its past; we never forget, but we keep our eyes fixed on the future.

I see a city that cherishes its diversity. People have come to Peterborough from every corner of the globe: for example, did you know we have a thriving community of people from East Timor? Poland, Afghanistan, and many other nations are also represented.

My presence here may be a symbol of this increasing diversity: I am the first black female MP ever elected by my constituency.

I see a place that has much to be proud of: our major employers, like Perkins Engines and Peter Brotherhood, are world class.

We also have entrepreneurs, that are cutting edge and our local newspaper, the Telegraph, is dynamic and well read.

Peterborough is also notable for its beauty; there are rural parts of the constituency that serve as our own gardens of Eden.

Peterborough has a bright future and so much going for it: but my constituency and our country also have their share of challenges, which I intend to help address as a Member of Parliament.

Mr Speaker, when I began my campaign, one of the very first issues I said I wanted to tackle was housing. I said that we all need a decent place to live.

Never in my darkest nightmares did I expect this proposition to be so starkly illustrated as it was by the Grenfell Tower fire. It still seems incredible that such a disaster could happen in one of the richest parts of one of the richest cities in one of the richest countries in the world.

It is incumbent upon the Government and Members of this House to do their utmost to ensure that such a tragedy can never happen again.

With this in mind the Government must ensure adequate funding is provided to those councils requiring the same: fine words and opaque promises of support are insufficient.

We must also help those who don’t have a home. Peterborough is not immune. According to Shelter, in December 2016, some 600 people in Peterborough were without a place to live. Homelessness is an increasing problem for the country as a whole: Shelter estimates that 150 British families become homeless every day. Far from any stereotype, these are often people who work or are willing to work.

Some are veterans, who served our country with distinction. Some have physical and mental health problems. All deserve decent treatment.

I’m also very concerned about education. Peterborough had amongst the lowest SATS results in the country. Our schools are trying very hard to make do with ever shrinking resources; resources that have been tied up in experiments like “free schools”.

I would remind the Government that Sweden tried this before we did, and found their world education rankings fell sharply.

Beyond improvements in primary and secondary education, Peterborough needs a university: so many bright and talented young people in my city feel they have to leave home to achieve their dreams. Which is why I’m pleased to note that there has already been progress in this area.

The NHS is also one of my key concerns. Cuts to the health service have left my constituents facing long waiting times for appointments; the health care “reforms” as implemented by this government led to the fiasco of the Uniting Care Partnership, which collapsed in 2015 after only 8 months in operation.

The attempt to marry up public service and private profit has tended to favour the latter over the former Which leads me on to a final observation:

We need balance in our policies, placing people at the centre.

We need to acknowledge that there is a role for government and regulation, as markets we create are not necessarily compassionate, understanding or even humane.

Mr. Speaker, we need to not only hear but listen to the voices of those we were elected to serve and we need to look around us.

Those at the top continue to get wealthier, while those at the bottom are seeing their living standards erode.

Austerity is expensive.

Contrary to what some may think, cutting budgets doesn’t always save money, let alone lives.

You cannot make a rich country out of one that makes the majority of its people poorer.

Mr. Speaker, I am motivated in all that do by my abiding faith in God. As we look at the issues facing Palestine and Israel, there is the temptation to see religion as something that divides rather than unites people.

I believe it is mankind’s frailties that cause conflict and strife, not one’s faith.

I sincerely hope for a future in which the peoples of the Middle East live in the harmony that God intends for them.

It is on a note of faith that I would like to conclude my address.

For those honourable members who have encountered my acronym’s, they will know I refer to myself as “MP FI” because I endeavour to Make People Feel Inspired. My acronym for “faith” is: “For All In This House” - and as stated in central lobby: “Except the Lord build the House, they labour in vain that build it.”

With His help, Mr. Speaker, I intend to do right.

Thank you.