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House of Commons, 19 July 2017

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to give my maiden speech in this important debate on education fees. Many young people are facing this increased burden more often.It is with great pride that I rise to speak representing a constituency in my home city of Manchester. In May, the city I love was the victim of a terrible attack – 22 adults and children were killed and more than 100 people were injured attending a concert at Manchester Arena. It was an act of pure evil. Faced with this tragedy, the people of Manchester responded in the only way they know: with solidarity, with compassion, and with the determination that those who seek to endanger our way of life will not succeed.

When such events happen there is always a danger that some people will try to use them to divide us, and unfortunately we witnessed an increase in hate crimes in the wake of the attack, yet just a few weeks later the people of Manchester elected me, a Muslim,  as the city’s first ever BME MP. I cannot think of a more powerful message to the terrorists and bigots that their attempts to divide us will never succeed.

I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of my predecessor, the late Sir Gerald Kaufman. Sir Gerald was a legend in this place and he will be missed by Members on all sides. He brought colour to proceedings here sometimes literally through his keen sense of style, and at other times through his sharp wit. He served in this House for almost 47 years, until he passed away earlier this year. He served in many roles: as an Environment Minister, a senior shadow Cabinet member, Chair of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, and later Father of the House. But above all, Sir Gerald was a tireless champion for his constituents and in return he was loved by them. I worked with him for 20 years on issues such as peace in south Asia and the middle east and standing up for oppressed people in general work that I will try to continue in this House. I was always grateful for his support, advice and, above all, his friendship. I know he will be a hard act to follow, and although I cannot promise to match his dress sense I will try my best to at least fill his shoes. Most of all, I will never forget the people of Manchester Gorton, who have given me the privilege of representing them here.

The Gorton constituency is a wonderfully diverse and vibrant place, taking in Fallowfield, Gorton, Levenshulme, Longsight, Rusholme and Whalley Range. It has thriving local businesses, such as Belle Vue speedway and dog track; wonderful green spaces such as Platt Fields, Debdale, Alexandra and Crowcroft parks; and, of course, the famous curry mile. It is also a spiritual place, home to a huge number of places of worship, with beautiful historic buildings such as Gorton monastery and Victoria Park mosque, the first mosque in Manchester.

But it is not without its challenges: seven years of austerity have hit my constituents hard; more than one in three children live in poverty, the average wage is £100 less than the national average; £300 million has been cut from Manchester City Council’s budget; and there are 2,000 fewer police on our streets.

During my election campaign, I promised I would always put Manchester, Gorton first; that is exactly what I intend to do during my time in this place. Manchester is a thriving, world-class city and a great place to live. The people in my constituency are decent and hard-working. They play by the rules and do the right thing, but they have not always felt the benefits of our city’s success and they have not had a fair deal from this Government. So I will stand against the cuts and further austerity, and I will fight for the extra investment in housing, schools, NHS and local businesses that Manchester, Gorton needs and deserves.

My own journey to this place has not been a typical one. I was born in Pakistan and came to the UK when I was adopted out of poverty as a child. Since then Manchester has been my home for nearly 40 years. I often tell people that although I was born in Pakistan, I was made in Manchester. I left school with no qualifications and, at 16, went straight into work as a labourer in a cotton mill. Later I became a bus driver and then a police officer, one of Manchester’s very few BME officers in the 1980s. That caught up with me during my election campaign when a voter approached me and said he would not vote for me. Like any candidate, I was a little hurt and wanted to know why. He said, “Twenty years ago, you arrested me.” Even after a brief chat, I was not able to change his mind.

I always felt that I had missed out on an education. I was supporting my wife and young children, but I also went to night school, got my O-levels, A-levels and eventually a law degree. I became a solicitor because I wanted to defend those most in need. I worked my way up to become a partner at my own law firm in Gorton. Over the past 17 years, I have been a Manchester councillor and Lord Mayor, and latterly an MEP.

I entered politics because I believe in the power of social justice to transform lives, to bring hope and to deliver opportunity. I believe in a world in which someone’s prospects should be determined by the content of their character and not by their circumstances at birth or the colour of their skin. Although progress has been made, it is clear from the recent increase in inequality that more is still to be done.

As a father, I can see society’s unfairness clearly when I look at my children – I have three, two daughters and a son. I see them equally, but society does not. It is more than 45 years since the Equal Pay Act 1970, but women still earn less than men. I do not want to have to wait for another 45 years for my great-great-granddaughter to be treated equally.

In the House, I will always be a champion of equality; I will stand against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all other forms of discrimination. I look forward to the upcoming release of the race audit so that we can better ensure that our public services do not fail the most vulnerable in our society. I will no doubt touch more on such issues in future debate. I also hope to bring my experience from my time in the European Parliament to bear on the important discussions to come on Brexit.

For now, I thank the House for indulging me while I made my maiden speech. I look forward to making the voice of Manchester, Gorton heard loud and clear during my time in this House.

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-07-19/debates/EEE5DFC1-B34A-451C-91FE-FCBACFC86114/TuitionFees#contribution-97BC383C-C914-42A5-9BAB-F2BD40C0EF0E

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