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Tower Hamlets (City Status)

October 17, 2011

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative): I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on introducing this important debate. As he pointed out, I, rather greedily, have two cities in my constituency just to the west of his own. They are also rich in history, and I suspect I could bore Members for some hours by going into the details of that history. It was a great pleasure to listen to the hon. Gentleman’s speech, in which he described, with understandable pride, the great achievements of Tower Hamlets. Although he spoke about its great history, he also had a firm eye on the future.

In light of the previous debate, it might be relevant to mention that one thing Tower Hamlets lacks is a league football club. We might, perhaps, hope that returns to its historical roots at some point by crossing the river again—although I suspect the local constabulary might not be too keen on that idea, particularly on derby days when Millwall plays West Ham United.

However, although the hon. Gentleman made relevant points about Tower Hamlets, I hope we will consider granting city status to other candidates too, so that we do not give the nod to just one new city next year. Reading is my home town, and that is one of the other places in the running, and I also think there is a strong case for Croydon. If it were a self-standing entity rather than a London borough, it would be the ninth largest settlement in the UK.

The case for Tower Hamlets is strong. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the financial district that has grown up from nothing over the past 20 years makes a great case for its having city status, and so does its great history. For those purists who want there to be a cathedral, there are the three Hawksmoor churches. St George-in-the-East and the others would all happily fit the bill.

However, the hon. Gentleman’s most important statement in promoting Tower Hamlets was that we should look to the future. The great multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-racial mix that is Tower Hamlets, with the great change we are seeing in that part of our capital city, deserves to be recognised as an example of how our cities should be.

The hon. Gentleman referred to some of the political controversies and difficulties of the 1920s and 1930s, when Poplar was one of the constituent borough councils of Tower Hamlets. Tower Hamlets has also had more recent political problems, and I hope that the prospect of city status will unite all political people in Tower Hamlets over the next year or so. I hope they will focus on that, rather than on some of the high profile difficulties of the recent past.

I wish the hon. Gentleman Godspeed with his campaign and look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to what has been an excellent short debate.