On Monday the 8th June Vicky gave her maiden speech to the House of Commons. During her speech within the Scotland Bill debate Vicky pledged to use her upcoming Private Member's Bill to lower the voting age to 16.
Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): It is an honour to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I spent some time in Scotland on the referendum campaign and one of my lasting memories is how engaged 16 and 17-year-olds were, which is a point that I will come back to.
On the campaign trail, one of the things that came up on the doorstep was that politicians too often use language that people do not relate to. In my maiden speech and in future contributions to the House, I will ensure that I use language that the people of Lewisham, Deptford can relate to—not policy speak, buzz words or jargon, but plain, simple language.
I am not normally one for following convention, and I have to be honest that my short time here as an MP has shown me that Parliament has a lot of conventions, but one that is easy for me to follow is paying tribute to my predecessor. Joan Ruddock was a hard-working MP for Lewisham, Deptford for more than 28 years. She also worked extremely hard to reform this House. She was quoted as saying that this place had some of the worst working conditions that she had ever encountered. Some Members will remember the days when 40% of Parliament’s sittings were beyond midnight, allowing little time in their constituencies. She rightly felt that that was not what people expected of their MP. Through her work with Members in all parties she got friendlier sitting hours, although I know she would say that things are still not ideal.
The people of Lewisham, Deptford were important to Joan, and they are important to me. Locally, we have a strong sense of community, which we are proud of. That can be seen in our successful campaign to save Lewisham hospital. Thousands of people took to the streets, signed petitions, put up posters and did whatever it took to save our local hospital. Ultimately, under the previous Government, we had to take the Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), to court, where we won. I hope that
we do not have to do the same again, but if we do, I know that we have the strength, the resolve and the passion to fight again to protect our local hospital and our community.
We are not only fighters in Lewisham, Deptford, we are creators as well. We have a vibrant community arts base: the Albany; the Brockley Jack Theatre; Midi Music; the Laban; the Second Wave; Goldsmiths, University of London; Crofton Park and New Cross community libraries; Lewisham Arthouse; and street festivals, such as Hither Green, Deptford X and Brockley Max, to mention a few. There is much, much more.
The creative side is important to the community and to me. I studied performing arts at college; I did not get any A to Cs in my GCSEs when I was at school, but further education was my second chance. Further education must be properly supported and properly funded. Lewisham and Southwark College is my local college and I want it to thrive. I want it to receive the support that it had under a Labour Government.
Some might say that learning drama and performing arts was a perfect training ground to be an MP, but if anyone had said to me when I was 17 that I would be an MP, I would not have believed them because, quite honestly, politics was just not for the likes of me. That is still the opinion of too many young people, and it has to change. We need every young person—every person—to recognise that politics is not only for a political class, but for everyone. That is why I will continue to meet with young people from our schools, colleges and youth groups to get them involved in politics. Their voice matters; they are the future.
For that reason, I want to use the opportunity afforded to me by winning a place in the ballot for private Member’s Bills on a Bill calling for votes for 16 and 17-year-olds. I only secured 16th place in the ballot, but my voice must be heard, just as 16-year-olds should have their voices heard and their votes counted. They were rightly given the opportunity to vote in the referendum in Scotland. The future of their country was at stake and they turned out to vote. Is it right that they can fight and die for their country, pay tax, contribute to the economy and get married, but that they cannot have their views reflected at the ballot box?
In Lewisham we have a Young Mayor, Liam Islam, from Deptford Green school. I will work with him, his team and advisers, and any other groups that wish to join our campaign. I would love the Government to work with us to deliver it, but if they do not work with us, we will not be quiet about seeking to ensure that 16 and 17-year-olds have their voices heard in the EU referendum and beyond.
I am deeply concerned about the next five years and the detrimental impact that the Government will have on the people of Lewisham, Deptford and the country as a whole. I will, however, do everything that I can to protect the most vulnerable in our society from the Government. I will fight tooth and nail against whatever attacks fall on our public services, our housing and the people of Lewisham, Deptford.
As someone famous once wrote on a train to New Cross in 1889:
“So raise the scarlet standard high
Beneath its shade we’ll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.”
Some Members may recognise those words from Jim Connell’s song, “The Red Flag”. I invite any of the Government Members to come on a train to New Cross; bring pen and paper, and you never know what might happen.