Town of Culture Award DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Gavin NewlandsMain Page: Gavin Newlands (Scottish National Party - Paisley and Renfrewshire North)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing the debate. Sir Walter Scott sat in the Boat Inn pub in the village where I live and drafted his novel “Ivanhoe”, inspired by Conisbrough castle. Ted Hughes lived in Mexborough, did his newspaper round through Old Denaby, and went on to write his famous poems. Of course there are others, such as Diana Rigg and Lesley Garrett, and let us not forget Brian Blessed—all home-grown in Doncaster.
Today’s debate is about having a showcase to celebrate our heritage and what we have achieved over the centuries in our towns and villages, but I would not like the Minister to think that this is all about the past. It is about the future as well; it is about creating new art, new music, new plays, new novels and new poems, as well as enriching a sense of aspiration within our communities. A person does not have to go to London or our cities to get a job as an actor, musician or artist, or to work in the creative sector. We can grow those sectors in the towns and villages of the UK. I hope the Minister will act quickly to establish the town of culture award.
There is not a lot of time left, but I remind the Minister that he will not need long to say, “Yes,” in response to this debate. I endorse the proposal by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) and other hon. Friends. I congratulate the Labour Towns group on turning up en masse and coming up with such compelling arguments, as well as the other hon. Members who spoke. My right hon. Friend rightly said that there was an opportunity to do something on a UK basis and involve the devolved Administrations; I thought his proposals were very good. He also took some very good interventions, including those of my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), who are no longer in their places, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). He mentioned Richard II and Flint castle; as he may know, my brother Patrick is an actor who once played a small part in promoting Flint indirectly—he starred in “Richard II” at the Globe theatre.
My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) spoke passionately about his constituency, putting to bed the reputation that it was perhaps unfairly given by John Betjeman. My hon. Friend quite rightly said that arts funding tends to be higher in cities than in towns—we really need to look at how to redistribute resources much more effectively through the arts budget.
It is always very comforting when the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) speaks in a debate—when he turns up, we know that things are normal in the world. He made his constituency sound like the garden of Eden, although I remind him that that is where original sin was invented. I look forward to playing crazy golf with him in Strangford some day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) referred to Richard III—another king who met a dodgy end. I look forward to a long weekend in Bishop Auckland, which sounds like a wonderful place.
In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), may I take the opportunity to mention Rhosllanerchrugog? She took an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), who is no longer in his place. My mother was born in his constituency—in Nantyglo, another town that would really benefit from the sort of initiative we are debating.
As ever, my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) spoke passionately about her community. So did my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), who made the important remark: “If you don’t see it, you can’t be it.” I know that her constituency work is very much based on that idea. She took an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George), who mentioned Buxton and the importance of cultural and artistic activities to health and wellbeing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) spoke passionately about Rhyl. I remind him of Cerys Matthews’s song “International Velvet”, in which she sang, “Darganfyddais gwir baradwys Rhyl”—“I discovered true paradise in Rhyl.” My hon. Friend reminded us to “tap into the passion”, and his speech certainly did that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) spoke brilliantly, rightly pointing out that the judging panel will have a difficult job. He also pointed out Scunthorpe’s steel heritage, which he knows that I share in my background.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) mentioned clotted cream and the question whether the jam or the cream should come first. What I say to the Minister is that we do not mind which it is—as long as it is not “jam tomorrow.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones) spoke, and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) spoke brilliantly about the welcome investment in the arts in her community. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) promoted her constituency, as ever, and gave us a remarkable list of people from it who have risen to prominence—they have a very prominent MP as well. The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) spoke for the Scottish National party.
I represent a city seat, but I was born and brought up in Cwmbran, a new town. Every time I drive back to see my 89-year-old mother, a song comes into my head: Simon and Garfunkel’s “My Little Town”. One of the lyrics is:
“And after it rains there’s a rainbow, and all of the colors are black.
It’s not that the colors aren’t there—it’s just imagination they lack.”
If we have the imagination and the investment, we can do wonderful things. We all know what has happened to our towns through the evisceration of local government funding, the removal of services from our high streets and the loss of banks, libraries and museums. Those institutions are very important. Let us have a renaissance in our towns, let us have a town of culture, and let us hear the Minister say yes.