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Stoke-on-Trent City of Culture 2021

Volume 623: debated on Tuesday 21 March 2017

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Stoke on Trent City of Culture 2021.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and it is an honour to have this opportunity to discuss the extraordinary heritage and culture of my great city of Stoke-on-Trent: the centre of our country, the centre of my universe, and the centre of a cultural renaissance that is breathing new life into an industrial heartland that has been overlooked by too many for too long. An oft-forgotten jewel nestled between the larger, gaudier baubles of Birmingham and Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent is a friendly, welcoming city with a rich heritage and an attitude and outlook all of its own. With its upcoming bid for city of culture 2021, Stoke-on-Trent is finally stepping out of the long shadow of its neighbours and showing the world what it is capable of. We are a hidden gem that will be hidden no more.

Our city was one of the launch pads of the industrial revolution and, from the opening of Josiah Wedgwood’s factory in Etruria in 1769 to the present day, the Potteries has quite literally made its name as the birthplace of the modern ceramics industry. Wherever we may be, whether in the furthest corners of the world, in the Minister’s Department, or even in our Tea Room, we are likely to find ourselves dining from tableware made in Stoke-on-Trent—made, in fact, in my constituency.

I was privileged to be present at the maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) only last week, during which he told the House about the turnover club—those loyal ceramic enthusiasts who flip their plate, wherever they might be, to discover its origins. As a proud member of that club, I can tell hon. Members that our excitement upon discovering that all-important back stamp is entirely understandable, because the undeniable truth is that Stoke-on-Trent produces the finest ceramics in the world; we always have and we always will.

Ceramics is not just our history, it is our heritage. It continues to shape our culture and drive our economy in the most creative and innovative ways. Nowhere is that better demonstrated than in Middleport, in the heart of my constituency. The original home of the iconic Burleigh Ware pottery, opened in 1888, the factory has been fully restored thanks to the dedicated work of the Prince’s Regeneration Trust and now stands as a tribute to our industrial past and a driving force for our economic future. Today, it is best known as the location of the BBC’s “Great Pottery Throw Down”; a fabulous showcase for Stoke-on-Trent and the ceramics industry, it is now in its second season, and I am delighted to announce that it is about to be commissioned for a third.

It is wonderful that our city’s extraordinary heritage is being recognised in shows such as that, but let us be clear: as proud as we are of our ceramics industry, there is so much more to us than that. As well as being a fully operational pot bank, Middleport serves as a gallery and exhibition space for local artists, as a community hub and as a development centre for a host of bespoke ceramic and design businesses. From the Clarice Cliff-inspired works of Emma Bailey to the textural experiments of Libby Ward and the photography of Richard Howle—whose Potteries-themed railway posters I have proudly displayed in my living room—Middleport is an incubator for the talent and creativity of Stoke-on-Trent. Elsewhere, we are home to Staffordshire University, a respected higher education institute with an admirable record in art and design.

Thank you for allowing me to speak, Mr Hollobone. My hon. Friend will be aware that there are multiple bids to be the city of culture, including some from Wales. On my two recent visits to her great city of Stoke-on-Trent, I was particularly impressed by the city’s commitment to education—specifically around the infrastructure and investment in both the further and higher education sectors. Does she agree that that reinforces the strength of Stoke-on-Trent’s bid to become the city of culture?

Of course there are other bids, but none so great as that from Stoke-on-Trent; no one will match my constituency. However, I agree that education is at the forefront of our bid, which is to ensure that not only my own constituents, but the entire country are educated about how much Stoke-on-Trent has to offer. We will lead that role from Staffordshire University.

My city is the birthplace of Reginald Mitchell, the inventor of the Spitfire, and Arnold Bennett, the great literary icon of the Potteries. Captain Smith of the Titanic was also born in Stoke-on-Trent, and while his ship’s maiden voyage may not have gone quite according to plan, its name lives on in the form of the award-winning Titanic Brewery. Its plum porter is particularly good; I am not just saying that because they occasionally let me brew it—they also let me taste it.

Our musical heritage is also long and varied. Connoisseurs of northern soul made pilgrimage to the Golden Torch in Tunstall in the early ’70s, while Shelley’s Astrodome was a national hotspot for the acid house scene in the ’80s and ’90s, helping to launch the careers of DJs such as Sasha. Stoke-on-Trent can also lay claim to two rock and roll legends: Slash from Guns N’ Roses was born in Burslem—the mother town of the Potteries—before moving to LA, while Lemmy from Motörhead also hailed from the area. A bronze bust of the bourbon-swilling frontman can be found in our wonderful Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley.

Yes it is—never mind. Our most well-known son in recent years is, of course, Robbie Williams—my former constituent—whose song-writing team continued to ply their trade from Burslem for many years. His mother is well-known for her charitable ventures in the area, supporting schemes such as the incredible Ruff and Ruby project, which supports some of our most vulnerable young people.

This year marks the fourth anniversary of the Stoke-on-Trent literary festival, which will be hosted at the Emma Bridgewater factory in the heart of Stoke-on-Trent, which is also not in my constituency. Our former colleague and “Strictly Come Dancing” star Ed Balls will be attending this year. Ours is a city fizzing with energy and creativity. Every week I meet someone who is breaking new ground and creating something extraordinary.

I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for securing the debate. As the Member for Stafford, I support Stoke-on-Trent’s bid to become the city of culture; what is good for Stoke-on-Trent is good for Stafford and the whole of Staffordshire. Does she agree that Stoke-on-Trent is at the centre of a region—Staffordshire—that has many literary figures? Not only was there Samuel Johnson from Lichfield, but there was Izaak Walton, from Stafford; the current poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who went to school in Stafford; Richard Sheridan, the former MP for Stafford; and, indeed, J.R.R. Tolkien, who lived in two places in my constituency. There is a variety of literary talent centred on Stoke-on-Trent to draw from for the city of culture.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for both his intervention and his support for this important bid. I could not agree more. We are blessed with the number of cultural icons across our great county, and I look forward to being able to celebrate them with both the country and the world should we be successful in our bid to be city of culture 2021.

More and more young people are finding the opportunity to harness and shape their creativity, just as their ancestors shaped the clay beneath them. However, one of the great frustrations for me and many others is that that is not the image of Stoke-on-Trent that so many people have, and that it is all too often not the way our great city is portrayed by the national media. Those who watched reports of the recent by-election in Stoke-on-Trent may have been left with the impression of a city in decline. Journalists posed by abandoned shop fronts or derelict bottle kilns, talking down our city and, disgracefully, its people. They did not bother to mention that the abandoned shopping centre they stood in front of is scheduled for demolition, or that it is just yards away from a growing city centre and a thriving cultural centre. If Michael Crick had thrown a stone from the Labour party’s campaign office, he would have had a better than average chance of hitting one of our great theatres.

Given the coverage, is it any wonder that, when people come to Stoke-on-Trent, they always express their surprise at how green a city we are? We have beautiful, award-winning Victorian parks in Burslem, Tunstall and Hanley—and apparently some in the south of the city, too. We have magnificent lakes and gardens, and we have more miles of canals than any city in England. Stoke-on-Trent has its problems. We accept that, and we are working hard to remedy them, but nothing will be fixed by talking down the city or ignoring the progress it has made. In fact, it is precisely our heritage and our culture that hold the key to fixing some of those problems, regenerating our city and inspiring the next generation.

As one of three Members who represent the current city of culture, I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and wish her and her city very well. There is something to say about legacy. In our few short months as the city of culture, we have already seen that things are changing; there is a spring in the air, people are happy and money is being spent. Investment is coming into the city, which is very important for the legacy. I wish my hon. Friend well.

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I look forward to visiting Hull this year to experience his city of culture. I think that is the key point: even at this stage, we have to commit to ensuring that the bidding process leaves a legacy, not just that we manage to secure the award. Hull is an inspiration now and I hope it will also be an inspiration at the end of the year.

Returning to my great city, I will this week be visiting the wonderful Portland Inn Project, which is working to turn a disused public house into a thriving community centre. Such projects do not just regenerate a building—they create the space for communities to come together. It is about improving our physical space, but it is also about creating something more meaningful. Culture is not just about what we do; it is about who we are. At the heart of our city’s ceramic history is not just the objects we produced; a whole community was shaped by shared struggle and fired by shared injustice—a fact highlighted as we commemorate the 175th anniversary of the pottery riots later this year. Those events shaped our industrial and cultural landscape, placing the labour movement at the heart of our community and our culture, and they continue to do so today.

Throughout our history, people have been brought together by pride in their work and the heritage of the city they built together—a city that has so much to offer today. The city of culture bid is an opportunity for people to see the other side of Stoke-on-Trent, and it is already happening. Just a couple of weeks ago, The Times ranked us 11th in its list of the top 20 cultural places to live in the UK.

Matthew Rice, the managing director of Emma Bridgewater, wrote an excellent book titled “The Lost City of Stoke-on-Trent”, exploring the hidden architectural gems of the six towns. It is a fine book, and I am sure everyone in the room has read it; if they have not, I recommend it. I always felt that its title struck a pessimistic note—a lament to a city whose best days are behind it. I hope that this speech and our wider debate will offer Members an insight into the hidden city of Stoke-on-Trent and the marvels that can still be found there, just beneath the surface.

It is a city shaped by 1,000 hands, just like the clay that made its name, and fired by the hopes and passions of its people. It is a place with so much more to offer than it is given credit for. I believe we can demonstrate that to the rest of the country and to the world by making Stoke-on-Trent our next city of culture. I urge the House to support our bid.

The debate can last until 5.30 pm. Two hon. Gentlemen are seeking to catch my eye. While I would normally call the most experienced Member first, I will call Gareth Snell first because he is a recent by-election victor. I am sure Mr Flello will not mind.

Thank you very much, Mr Hollobone. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this debate, as we seek to showcase the very best parts of the city that my hon. Friends and I represent. You will have already seen, though, that parochialism among the three constituencies is very much alive and well.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) on securing this debate. She mentioned, albeit briefly, one of Stoke’s historic sons, Arnold Bennett. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Arnold Bennett’s birth in Hanley, in my constituency. His tales of Turnhill, Bursley, Hanbridge, Knype and Longshaw provide a witty and pithy account of life in the Potteries at the turn of the last century. Whether in stories about Anna of the five towns or the Clayhanger family, he illuminated the real-life problems facing society at the end of the Victorian era through his application of what we would now call the creative industries.

While the wealth of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire was derived from our heavy manufacturing, ceramics and mining, Arnold Bennett also knew the value of arts and culture. He once said:

“Am I to sit still and see other fellows pocketing two guineas apiece for stories which I can do better myself?...If anyone imagines my sole aim is art for art’s sake, they are cruelly deceived.”

That is potentially the benefit that my city can derive from its bid to be the city of culture in 2021. It is not just a financial but a social benefit. We understand the added benefits that can be derived when we go above art for art’s sake, and how it can help to heal some of society’s greatest wounds.

The Potteries is rich in culture. I cannot hope, in the time available to me, to do it justice, but I will do my best. For theatre lovers, we have some of the finest boards that have ever been tread—the Regent, the Victoria Hall, the Mitchell Memorial Theatre and the New Vic, which is a purpose-built theatre in the round. Each not only provides a brilliant night out but works with young people, older people and those who feel left behind to use culture and creativity as a conduit for tackling problems in their communities. Those who wish to eat and drink will find some of the finest breweries and restaurants in the west midlands. For those who wish to continue their festivities, an array of clubs and night-time venues will provide many a happy—if blurry—memory.

Our cultural contributions run deep. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North mentioned the distinguished careers of music legends Slash, Lemmy and Robbie Williams, but I am afraid to say that she neglected to mention that of Jackie Trent, who is well known as the composer of the theme tune to “Neighbours” and can trace her roots to the Potteries.

My hon. Friend, as always, shows his experience in matters that are above me. Given that my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) are present, and that my other neighbour, the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), is the Culture Secretary, it would be remiss of me not to point out that everybody needs good neighbours, and that with a little understanding, you can find the perfect blend.

Stoke-on-Trent’s historic contributions to cultural advancements are not limited to music, food, theatre and ceramics. We have a rich scientific heritage too. Sir Oliver Lodge, born in 1851 in Penkhull, was a physicist and inventor who identified electromagnetic radiation independent of the work being carried out by his contemporary, Hertz. His work gave the world the spark plug. The fact that that is not better known is shocking. Thomas Twyford, born in Hanley in 1849, may have bequeathed to our society one of the greatest cultural advances ever: the single-piece ceramic flush toilet. In doing so, he performed a public duty for public sanitation.

Our city’s industrial heritage is well preserved at the Etruria Industrial Museum. The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North mentioned, is also home to part of the Staffordshire hoard. The Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston has kept a real and tangible link with the historic family, who made their name in Stoke-on-Trent. The Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke-on-Trent South ensures that skills from our past are being passed on to our children for their future.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the name Wedgwood. He may also know that one of the Wedgwood family, Emma Wedgwood, married Charles Darwin, who has an extremely strong connection with our area. I do not think one needs to say more about Charles Darwin, but I am sure that if Stoke-on-Trent were to be city of culture, we would celebrate that connection.

Absolutely. The Wedgwood family are still very much active in civil society in Stoke-on-Trent today, in a number of ways, and I am sure they will lend their support to our bid.

In recent years we have seen Appetite Stoke run public art exhibitions to demonstrate that culture is part of Stoke-on-Trent’s everyday existence and not simply something that happens at weekends. It has been successful in bringing forward plans for young people to be more actively involved in how Stoke-on-Trent celebrates its heritage and past, and it encapsulates what we can do going forward.

Thinking of the past, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Philip Astley was born in 1742 in neighbouring Newcastle-under-Lyme and spent most of his formative years in the Potteries. He, of course, is known as the father of the modern circus. Stoke-on-Trent has another famous adopted son in the form of Neil Baldwin—or Nello the Clown, as he is known to us—who was Stoke City’s kit man but has also been a great advocate for the circus industry; he still performs, even though he is in his early 70s.

I cannot participate in this debate without mentioning Staffordshire University. It is one of the finest universities that can be found—a modern university that has taken all that modernity gives and made the most of it. It has a thriving ceramic art department. It has a world-renowned gaming department that is now at the forefront of developing digital technologies. Its performing arts are well received, and it is difficult to get tickets to some of its events, although I figure I might have a slightly better chance now. The university is also at the cutting edge of scientific advancement, which participates heavily in the cultural identity of Stoke-on-Trent.

Finally, it would be wrong not to mention professional football, which is a great part of our city’s cultural identity. Stoke City is one of the oldest professional football clubs in the world. It has been at the forefront of community work across Stoke-on-Trent, and its current chairman, Peter Coates, does much to help and support the city.

I could not agree more about the role of sport in terms of my city’s culture—or our city; I might share it. As wonderful as Stoke City is, does my hon. Friend agree that the only true football club is Port Vale, in the north of the city, which happens to have the Wembley of the north as its stadium?

I most certainly do not agree. There is but one team in Stoke, and that is Stoke City. My hon. Friend should look at the name, although I appreciate that she has her own loyalties.

Perhaps I can cool things down a bit. To be serious, is it not true that Stoke City is a fine example of a local family—local investors—putting money into their local club and taking a long-term view? Would that most other premiership teams followed that model.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. This is not even about the football club. Peter Coates and Stoke City have demonstrated that there is a role in communities for professional football clubs that wish to make an investment with their fans. It is not simply about providing a game mid-week or at weekends. There are multiple examples across Stoke-on-Trent of families, young people and schools benefiting as a direct result of the commitment that the Coates family and Stoke City have shown to Stoke-on-Trent. Without them, our city would be all the poorer.

Stoke-on-Trent is a city where people can eat and drink, laugh, dance and sing, learn, love and live. We are artists, educators, innovators, engineers, potters, miners, toilers and industrialists. Ours is a city of culture born out of labour, and a city that has contributed so much to so many. It is a privilege to support the motion this afternoon.

It is, as ever, a delight to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate—although my colleagues have stolen most of my lines—because for me, no city is more suitable than Stoke-on-Trent to be the UK city of culture 2021.

I am proud to call Stoke-on-Trent my home and to serve as one of the three ambassadors from within the city—there are also ambassadors more widely—here in Westminster. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) on securing this debate on our behalf.

As has been mentioned, during January and February this year we saw Stoke-on-Trent subjected to an unprecedented level of media and public attention as a result of the by-election. We should have seen a showcase for the progress that has been made. Let me pause here and just note that much of that progress started under previous, Labour-run councils over the past decade. The by-election should have been a showcase for the progress in our city by the high-tech industries that have sprung up and for the incredible work ethic, industriousness and, above all, creativity of the people of Stoke-on-Trent. Sadly, tragically, what we saw was anything but.

My colleagues and I have spoken time and again of our disappointment with the way that Stoke-on-Trent was portrayed by the media, who were more interested in a good story than a true one. We saw images of disused bottle kilns, crumbling derelict buildings and expanses of disused land. The latter two are the sort of thing that any city possesses, and the reason for the former, in many cases, is that the kilns are protected as a symbol of our city’s rich heritage. In Stoke-on-Trent, those images in particular were used to feed into the UK Independence party’s narrative of a city on its knees—a false narrative.

Is not the real message from the by-election a tribute to the people of Stoke, the vast majority of whom voted for parties other than UKIP?

Absolutely. I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because his point leads nicely to the next paragraph of my speech.

We saw off UKIP last month because of a fantastic campaign, the excellent candidate we had and that positive message, as my hon. Friend has just noted, but also, I think, and as he also said, because the people of Stoke-on-Trent know deep down that our city is better than we were told we were. They are proud of where they live, and if people had taken the opportunity to find the true Stoke-on-Trent, they would have known exactly why. Yes, of course Stoke-on-Trent has its problems, and we could debate for hours where they stem from, but there is a responsibility on journalists, commentators and politicians to paint a fair picture, not one that matches their agenda or preconceptions. Long after they have returned home, the hard-working people of Stoke-on-Trent are doing all they can—all we can—to make our city a better place.

Culture can mean many different things to different people. In many ways, it is what you make it. It is easy for people to compare their city with another and see what it lacks. We are pretty good at self-deprecation in Stoke-on-Trent, but it is less easy to wax lyrical about the things that perhaps we see every day. We have the immediately obvious cultural examples that have been mentioned. We have fantastic museums, such as the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Longton, as well as less well known but equally superb things such as Appetite Stoke, the small art galleries across the city and groups such as B Arts. As has been mentioned, we have theatres attracting some of the biggest names in music, comedy and theatre, as well as smaller productions put on by amateur groups as varied as Five Towns theatre, North Staffs Operatic Society, the All Woman choir and Trentham brass band, to name just a few. There are dance groups such as Steelworks in Fenton and the Kaytelles in Blurton. Their sessions are attended by hundreds of youngsters every week.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North mentioned Titanic Brewery, but there are microbreweries across our city producing, quite frankly, Mr Hollobone, the sort of brew that would make you not want to set foot out of Stoke-on-Trent and travel down to London—they are that good.

We have wonderful parks and fabulous green spaces. In my own area, we have Longton’s Queen’s Park, and Fenton boasts both Fenton Park and Smithpool. There is also a huge array of residents’ associations doing sterling work on behalf of the communities that they represent. There are the fabulous waters in and around the city, which are looked after by groups of volunteers who give their time freely and happily to cherish the areas that we have.

As has been mentioned, Stoke-on-Trent has the fantastic premiership club Stoke City and the wonderful bet365 stadium. We do tease our hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North about Port Vale. I remember that when I first spoke to someone in Stoke-on-Trent about football—which seems like many hundreds of years ago—they said to me, “Of course, there are two teams in Stoke-on-Trent: Stoke City A and Stoke City B.” But we will move quickly on from that.

As wonderful as Stoke City are, and they do wear the right colour strip, it is fair to say that Port Vale have done so much for our city, not least in bringing back one of our cultural icons, Robbie Williams, at every opportunity, and therefore they will be a core part of our bid, not least by building on our city of sport status, which we had such great success with last year.

I thank my hon. Friend. There is nothing I can add to what she has said, but I will just say that I am a trustee of the community fund of Stoke City and never cease to be impressed by the outreach work done by the club. I, too, pay tribute to the Coates family and the investment that they have made in our city.

What I have not mentioned but cannot be ignored is the ceramics industry. Stoke-on-Trent is much more than ceramics, but the area is still known as the Potteries for a very good reason. Yes, the industry was decimated, but it is on the up. Gone are the days of a skyline dominated by bottle kilns, but now the industry is at the cutting edge of technology, supplying a mind-boggling array of sectors as well as supplying more traditional products. The work done by small independent potters, such as one of my favourites, Anita Harris Art Pottery, is of the highest quality, and similar-quality producers seem to be springing up all the time. It is amazing, Mr Hollobone, that you can go and speak to someone and in their back kitchen they will have a kiln, where they will be producing work of the finest quality.

Middleport Pottery has become the face of “The Great Pottery Throw Down”, but the mighty Wedgwood, perhaps the biggest name of all, still has its factory in my constituency. It has recently undergone major renovations to improve its facilities and expand its shopping and, of course, its museum offering. Tristram Hunt, the previous Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, described the Wedgwood collection as

“perhaps the most compelling account of British industrial, social and design history anywhere in the world”—

anywhere in the world.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is not just about the history, vital though that is? Even today, the ceramics industry is a net contributor to our trade balance: we export far more than we import. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) said previously, the products can be found all over the world, even in the European Parliament and the World Bank.

Indeed, and long may that continue, and long may I continue to be a member of the pot turners club as well. I say this just as an aside: we need to ensure that that industry gets the best possible deal out of Brexit.

The fact that the campaign to save the Wedgwood collection was the fastest fundraising campaign in the 111-year history of the Art Fund tells us everything we need to know about its importance. Josiah Wedgwood was the pioneer of so much that has shaped modern Britain, from marketing to distribution and the division of labour. He was one of the fathers of the industrial revolution, not to mention a prominent abolitionist, and is yet another reason to be proud of our city.

It should not simply be the volume that decides which city is successful in its bid to be capital of culture, as the guidance for the bid acknowledges; it should be the quality and diversity of the offer. If it was about sheer volume, London would be capital every time. However, if we want to see a wide range of projects covering a multitude of different categories, engaging all ages and ethnic groups and being truly and properly inclusive, there is nowhere better than Stoke-on-Trent. We have a truly ambitious and wide-ranging series of projects that will absolutely do justice to the honour of the title.

I believe that Stoke-on-Trent City Council was right to bid for city of culture 2021. If I may delicately suggest, those in power now may have been a little slow to back the previous Labour Administration’s plans for the city, but I am delighted to provide my support now and to give the bid truly cross-party support. When it comes to improving our city, there is no place for party politics.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. It is worth noting—I am sure he was going to get to this point—that every local authority in Staffordshire, irrespective of political hue, backs this bid, which has got genuine cross-party consideration locally across Staffordshire and across the Members of Parliament as well.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It is important that the bid has that backing from across parties and across Staffordshire. City of culture status for Stoke-on-Trent has the potential to inspire, to build pride in our city and to showcase our true face, not the impression that has been built up through decades of cheap shots and uninformed criticism.

I want to intervene on my hon. Friend before he finishes, because I have been waiting throughout all the speeches for some mention of one of the greatest things I discovered on my recent trip to Stoke: the Staffordshire oatcake. After an evening in one of the lovely pubs that have been mentioned, there is nothing greater than having a cheese and bacon oatcake to finish the evening.

Absolutely—I have a feeling that my hon. Friend will be receiving a packet of oatcakes before too long.

I can absolutely guarantee that no other city that has bid for city of culture 2021 will embrace it like Stoke-on-Trent will. Residents of our great city have always embraced the opportunity to highlight all that makes Stoke-on-Trent a fantastic place to live and, as many of my colleagues will testify, anyone who has ever visited will say that there are no friendlier people anyone could possibly meet. They are warm, they are generous, they are proud and they deserve the opportunity that city of culture status can bring. Liverpool, Derry/Londonderry and now Hull have enhanced the title of city of culture and been enhanced by it, and we will do the same.

To finish, I want to mention my, sadly now deceased, mother-in-law June Clarke. She was a paintress, like so many others, at Spode. She was walking past a shop a couple of years ago and stopped and said, “I painted that,” as she pointed through the window. Of course, as might be imagined, her comment was met with a little hilarity at the time, because she was pointing at a plate high up on a shelf in the shop. She described that, on the back of the plate, there would be a unique mark—her mark—that she had put on it many decades earlier. After going into the shop, lifting the plate down from that high shelf and turning it over, we saw that there was indeed her mark on the back. The level of skill involved meant that she could still recognise her own brushwork on that plate, which she had painted more than 40 years before. In many ways, that for me is the culture of Stoke-on-Trent: huge quality with a humble modesty—cultural excellence then, and cultural excellence now.

Stoke-on-Trent city of culture 2021 will be a perfect marriage of the historical excellence of our city and 21st-century creative genius. I am backing my city.

I know that both Opposition spokesmen are going to exemplify quality and humble modesty as well. The guideline limit for Opposition speeches in a one-hour debate is five minutes. I call John Nicolson.

Thank you very much indeed, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) on securing this debate.

The role that the city of culture competition can play in re-energising and regenerating a city should never be underestimated. Back in 1990, Glasgow became the first UK city to be named European capital of culture, and it relaunched our city to an international audience. Glasgow is now known for its creativity and dynamism throughout Scotland, Europe and the world.

It was after the success of Liverpool’s year as European capital of culture 2008 that the UK city of culture competition was established. In a short period, it has captured the imagination of cities throughout the UK, with 14 applying for the inaugural award. Hull fought off competition from 10 other candidates to be named UK capital of culture 2017. Stoke-on-Trent also faces stiff competition, not least from both Paisley and Perth north of the border, but today’s debate has illustrated just how strong a bid Stoke’s will be.

Last September, I was delighted to visit Stoke-on-Trent with the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, as part of our inquiry into “Countries of Culture”. While there, we were given a fascinating tour of the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. My personal highlights were the national ceramics collection, which included famous frog cups and dinner plates made for Catherine the Great, and the extraordinary 7th-century Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire hoard. Other attractions included the Spitfire that we have heard about. During a roundtable discussion with local representatives from the arts and heritage sector, it was clear that Stoke has so much to offer.

Yet despite that, and as we have heard, Stoke is often characterised as a rundown, post-industrial city. During the recent by-election, it was referred to as the “capital of Brexit”—an image that conjures up angry provincialism. Stoke does not deserve such a moniker. My image of Stoke is very different. Its cultural offerings are not limited to museums and fine old buildings. It has a track record of delivering world-class art events through the Appetite arts programme. Since 2013, it has brought vibrant and varied events to the city, from large outdoor circus spectacles in parks to intimate folk gigs in bus stations.

It is clear that Stoke-on-Trent might have had all the qualities to be named the UK city of culture 2021 were it not for two words: Perth and Dundee. My hon. Friends the Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) would not forgive me if I endorsed Stoke-on-Trent’s bid, so alas I cannot—Paisley and Perth are two other able contenders in the competition. After Derry/Londonderry in 2013 and Hull this year, it is surely only fair that the UK capital of culture now comes to Scotland, since we are still in the UK, at least in the short term.

As the Prime Minister embarks on her tour of the nations in an attempt to turn us all into born-again Brexiteers ahead of triggering article 50, and as the love-bombing of Scotland begins ahead of our next referendum on independence, maybe those who wish to show just how much the UK cares about Scotland can show some appreciation for Paisley or Perth and name one of them the city of culture as a farewell present.

For that I am very grateful, but does he agree that being part of the Union means celebrating everything that makes up the Union? Surely he would not want to be bribed to stay in the Union in order to get this. In fact, if he wants the city of culture 2021, he should stop campaigning to leave the Union.

I cannot believe the hon. Lady managed to shoehorn a bit of British Unionism into a question when I was giving such a politically neutral speech. We are proud members of the European Union and intend to stay a European country.

It might just be a coincidence, but in November 2013 the city of Dundee lost out to Hull in its bid to be named UK capital of culture. Less than a year later, Dundee recorded the strongest vote in favour of Scottish independence in the country. Dundee, always one step ahead when it comes to trends in Scottish politics, has now set its sights on becoming the European capital of culture in 2023—perhaps an indication of where it believes its future to lie.

Applying to be named city of culture is an important opportunity for many towns and cities throughout the UK. The competition allows people to rediscover and better understand the culture and heritage of the place that they call home. It inspires self-confidence and a sense of pride in community. It provides a platform to showcase the best of any given city to the rest of the country.

All of us who have listened to and participated in this debate will have learnt something new about Stoke-on-Trent. Each of us will also have taken something away from the debates we have had on the other applicant cities— Paisley, Perth, Sunderland and Swansea. I take this opportunity to wish all the applicants for UK’s city of culture in 2021 the best in the months and years ahead.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am afraid that the shadow Minister for culture, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), is otherwise detained, so you are stuck with me, his far-less cultured colleague, responding from the Front Bench today. I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) and to my other hon. Friends on their contributions. Stoke could hardly ask for better advocates for the city or for its bid. With the breadth of support, ranging from Charles Darwin to “Neighbours” via the circus industry, it is hard to see how the bid can fail.

In January 2009, the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport—my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham)—announced that the Labour Government would commission a working group to report on the feasibility of establishing a UK capital of culture competition. The aim was to build on the success of Glasgow and Liverpool as European capitals of culture in 1990 and 2008 respectively. In both cases, those post-industrial cities demonstrated huge talent and initiative, which helped to regenerate communities and solidified a lasting legacy. To this day, both cities retain an excellent reputation for the arts, enhanced by that year in the spotlight.

The Labour Government—working with Phil Redmond, who first proposed the competition and went on to chair the working group—created a UK city of culture programme that recognises, in the words of my right hon. Friend, that

“culture and creativity should be viewed as part of the answer to tough economic times and not as a distraction or a luxury”.

We are certainly still experiencing tough, if not tougher, economic times, and the Government have been too slow to recognise the role of arts and culture in economic regeneration, so I am pleased to see that the UK city of culture programme continues to thrive and to demonstrate that creativity and culture are central to the economic and social successes of our communities.

At the heart of the UK city of culture venture is, to paraphrase the working group’s report, the desire for culture to act as a catalyst for social, economic and civic agendas. Rather than imposing a prescriptive checklist, the programme gives a platform to local identities and promotes existing talent and initiative for all the world to see. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said in 2009:

“excellence and innovation in the arts does not begin and end inside the M25”.

Given all that, it is obvious why so many UK cities are keen to bid for the 2021 title. As convincing as my hon. Friends have been, I hope they understand that I cannot back a particular bid from the Front Bench. However, it is clear that Stoke-on-Trent is an excellent candidate for city of culture, not least because that programme is built on recognition of the economic importance of the arts. That connection is particularly clear in Stoke, where ceramics are unquestionably both an art and industry that remain at the heart of that community. Stoke’s bottle ovens are testament to the intersections between technology, science, art and aesthetics. We must learn to harness that force to regenerate our economy.

As we have heard, there is so much more to Stoke than the potteries. Museums, theatres, breweries and businesses all contribute to the city’s cultural identity and pride, and to the cultural renaissance that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North spoke so passionately about. Regardless of the outcome of the next round of bids, Stoke is an excellent example of a creative community, and its bid alone will show those who rarely look beyond the M25 exactly what they are missing. The city of culture programme has been extremely successful and I hope that that will continue with whichever city wins next.

When Derry/Londonderry was the first UK city of culture, it was plain for all to see how that city had changed. On the day that we have heard the news of the death of Martin McGuinness, it is appropriate to acknowledge how his home city changed from being the crucible of the troubles a few decades previously to being a venue for the peace process to flourish and for subsequent regeneration. The title drew attention to a side of the city that was already thriving, but was previously seldom seen.

Likewise, Hull—the current title holder—is enjoying widespread media coverage and public engagement. The regeneration has already begun, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) made clear. The online media outlet, Insider Media Ltd, reports that the restaurant industry in Hull is already benefiting from the city’s cultural status. With events ranging from Comic Con to film screenings, the hard work and commitment of the people of Hull to their city and their culture is getting the praise and attention it deserves. It is also fitting to pay tribute to the work of Councillor Stephen Brady, Labour leader of Hull Council, for championing culture as an agent of change for economic regeneration.

Stoke, or any other bidding city, does not need a title to be a city of culture. Culture is already central to Stoke. However, the city of culture programme’s importance is in increasing national attention and giving credit to work that is already going on. I hope that the competition continues to thrive; that the next city to win the title enjoys the same success as its predecessors; and that the Government continue to support this excellent initiative of the last Labour Government.

If the Minister would be kind enough to conclude his remarks at 5.27 pm—perhaps his Parliamentary Private Secretary could prod him with 30 seconds to go—that would allow Ruth Smeeth a couple of minutes to sum up the debate.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your excellent chairmanship again, Mr Hollobone, and to congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) on securing the debate. Rarely has a more harmonious debate taken place in this Chamber. The hon. Lady is a passionate advocate for her city, and we have also seen that from Members on both sides of the House who support the bid. There is clearly strong cross-party support. From hearing the hon. Lady, I am sure that Stoke will make strong proposals in April, as, no doubt, will the 10 other cities that are bidding for this prestigious title.

Only last week, The Times named Stoke in 11th place on its list of the top arts hotspots in Britain—one place behind Hull, the current UK city of culture. That is the first of many facts in my speech that have already been mentioned—just wait till I get on to the oatcakes. The council, which is strongly behind the bid, has brought together a wide array of partners and has incredibly exciting plans to revitalise the area. My opposite number, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), is an absolutely brilliant shadow Minister—her saying that she is not cultured is modesty beyond anything that is reasonable—and I was struck by her saying that the city of culture accolade finds a city where culture is already thriving but is hitherto not enough seen. That description of the impact of being city of culture was incredibly well put.

Stoke has a great history and a global reputation. Most people know it for its ceramics. People can visit the most complete coal-fired Victorian pottery in the UK at the Gladstone Pottery Museum, and they can decorate their own pottery during an Emma Bridgewater factory tour, both of which have been mentioned. I am the proud owner of Emma Bridgewater mugs, both at home and at work, where I have one with my ministerial title on it. It is extremely exciting and sits on my desk at work. There is also the Wedgwood Museum—funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund—which contains the stunning Wedgwood collection, reflecting centuries of cultural innovation.

When it comes to the impact of culture on the economy, I strongly agree that culture and creativity are central to social, economic and civic renewal. We talk about the impact of culture on an economy a lot now, but we can see that through the ages in the potteries of Stoke. The Wedgwood collection has been managed by the Victoria and Albert Museum since December 2014, following fundraising efforts by the Art Fund and others and with the help of the former Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, who is now the excellent new director of the V&A. The connection between the V&A and Stoke is one that I only expect to strengthen under his astute directorship.

Middleport Pottery, a major regeneration project funded by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, hosts the BBC’s “The Great Pottery Throw Down”, which I am told is hugely popular but I have not seen. I will have to watch it. If it is anything like the other great pottery throwdowns in film that I have seen in my time, it will be extremely exciting. Stoke-on-Trent also has almost 200 listed buildings—there is a fact nobody has mentioned yet—many of which are connected with the ceramics industry.

It is not just about ceramics and pottery; the city has a lot of other cultural assets too, including Trentham gardens, the Regent theatre, the Victoria Hall, the New Vic and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. We have heard about Titanic Brewery, Appetite Stoke, the Five Towns theatre, Trentham brass band, Steelworks at Fenton and many others. In recent years, the area has enjoyed significant investment from Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund. For instance, Hanley Park, one of the largest Victorian parks in the UK, was awarded £4.5 million for refurbishment by the HLF in 2015. Then, of course, there is the football, and finally, Stoke’s contribution to fast food, the oatcake. Stoke-on-Trent clearly has a lot to be proud of, but why is it worth bidding for UK city of culture status?

The Minister is right to point out the investment in culture by organisations, but it is also important to highlight investment by businesses. For example, although I know my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) will be upset by this, Valentine Clays Ltd is about to open a fantastic brand-new facility in a big, marvellous building in Fenton. It shows that businesses are also investing in and getting to grips with our city.

With so much local knowledge on display in this debate, added to the contribution made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) about the impact that city of culture status can have on a town, I am really a bit part in this debate. All the arguments have already been made, and most of the facts deployed.

UK city of culture is about naming a city, getting the attention of the whole country and putting on a pedestal that city’s cultural assets and value in order to lift it and showcase it to the rest of the country and the world. I saw that for myself in Hull, where I spent a lot of time growing up because I had family there. The impact has been incredibly exciting, including the regeneration in the town centre, such as the opening of the completely refurbished and absolutely brilliant Ferens Art Gallery. It has brought to Hull people who might otherwise not have considered it and asked people in the rest of the country and worldwide, as well as the people of Hull themselves, to look again at the city, see it in a positive, vibrant light, as it has been seen for much of its history, and lift it on its path of urban renewal. It is incredibly exciting. Walking through parts of Hull that I had not been to for 10 or 15 years and seeing them renewed and rejuvenated has been a pleasure, and I look forward to doing so in the city of culture 2021.

To put some hard facts on the issue, we estimate that being the city of culture 2017 will deliver a £60 million boost to the local economy. Hull has already had investments of more than £1 billion, creating thousands of jobs, since winning UK city of culture status in 2013. It has been named by Rough Guides as one of the top 10 cities to visit in the world this year; similarly, Londonderry saw 1 million visitors during its year as UK city of culture. I love the fact that the fans at Hull City now chant, “You’re only here for the culture!” I am sure that that can happen at both Stoke City and Port Vale, should Stoke win for 2021. The city of culture project builds on the European capital of culture project and next year’s great exhibition of the north in Newcastle and Gateshead.

No matter how far each of the 11 cities reaches in the competition, I hope that the galvanising effect of bidding will already have had a small impact. Much of it is about bringing people together, breaking down boundaries and encouraging a mixed economy of business, philanthropy and public sector funding to come together to lift a city. I hope that in the bidding process, Stoke and its surrounding area—we have heard support from my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy)—has been able to lift its eyes to the horizon and make the argument locally that culture and creativity are not something to be scaled back; rather, they are critical to the investment that people want in a sense of place and belonging.

Before I leave a couple of minutes for the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North to respond to the debate, I know what the people of Stoke watching this want me to do, but sadly, as I am sure she knows, it is the one thing I cannot do: grant her wish that Stoke will definitely become the city of culture. However, I commend her efforts and offer good luck to her and all the people of Stoke as the competition goes on.

It has been a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, in this debate on an important issue that is close to my heart. Before moving on, I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), and my neighbours and hon. Friends, the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello), for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for Redcar (Anna Turley) for contributing to this debate; it has been a diverse range. I also thank the Front-Bench speakers, especially the Minister, for celebrating my great city and how much we have to contribute. The Minister has not given me the answer I want, but I did not expect him to—yet.

I was remiss in not mentioning earlier that the oatcake has been the break-out star of the recent by-election, in addition to my new colleague.

Yes. Not only has the oatcake been mentioned in this debate, it made it into The Guardian’s food pages last month, a clear sign of the culinary zeitgeist if ever there was one.

My colleagues and I truly believe that the city of culture bid is important because it will help our children dream. It will show them how much we have already achieved and what we can achieve together in future. There is nothing more important for us. We have also seen in this debate how much Stoke-on-Trent has to offer. I hope that hon. Members have seen a little snippet of how brilliant our city is. If they did not visit this year during the by-election, although I think most colleagues did, I urge them to come and see how special we are.

It is a testament to how much we have to offer that so many of my colleagues have come to this debate, but how much more can we achieve if we are awarded city of culture status for 2021? I thank everyone for their support, and I look forward to welcoming them to the city in 2021 when we have city of culture status.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Stoke on Trent City of Culture 2021.

Sitting adjourned.