NEW Midlothian Labour MP Danielle Rowley dispensed with the tradition of using her maiden speech to wax lyrical on the attractions of her constituency and instead launched an attack on the “absolute disgrace” of people in the area being forced to rely on food banks.
And she promised she would spend her time at Westminster fighting for those who found themselves hard up – “because it can happen to any of us”.
Ms Rowley, who won Midlothian from the SNP at last month’s general election, paid tribute to her predecessor Owen Thompson, who had been the first non-miner to represent the seat since the Second World War.
She said: “I have another first: I am the first woman to be elected to serve Midlothian, and of that I am very proud indeed.” And she said both her grandfathers had worked down the mine.
Ms Rowley continued: “It is traditional to talk about the history of one’s constituency in a maiden speech, but I feel that those who have come before me have done a fantastic job of highlighting our rich history of Gladstone, of our once proud industry, of Dolly the sheep, of Dalkeith Palace and of Rosslyn Chapel, so I would like to talk about the people of Midlothian and what I hope to do for our future.”
She said the day after her election she had visited local food bank, the Food Facts Friends Project in Penicuik.
It is essential that we give people the tools they need to live their lives to the fullDanielle Rowley, MP for Midlothian
“I talked to Mark, who told me that when he found himself having to rely on a food bank, it did not just give him the food he needed, but gave him friendship and support and helped him to develop a network. He then helped set up and run the Penicuik food bank himself.”
She said his story reminded her of an ethos central to the idea behind food banks – that people in need were looking for a hand up, not a handout.
“It is essential that we give people the tools that they need to live their lives to the full. When I have worked with people in various jobs who are receiving benefits or support from charity, that is what they want. They want support to do things for themselves, not a handout, as some might have us believe.
“I am sad to say that Mark had to report last week that demand for the food bank had gone up again, with more than 20 families a week using the service.
“He said that people who come to the food bank because they cannot afford to feed their families may have been sanctioned or suffered from the benefit cap and welfare reform. Others simply cannot feed their family on the income of low wages and inadequate help from the government.
“That is an absolute disgrace and something I will spend my time here fighting. I will fight for good jobs, for good wages, for support for our young, our elderly and people with disabilities, and for a hand up for those who fall on hard times, because it can happen to any of us.”
Ms Rowley ended by quoting the “wise words” of former Midlothian MPs Eric Clarke and Sir David Hamilton about the importance of standing up for vulnerable people.