By Jonathan Isaby
There has recently been an influx of new Conservative peers into the House of Lords, and yesterday Baroness Stowell wrote here about her initial experiences on the red benches.
It has been remiss of me not to note their maiden speeches as they have delivered them, but my attention has been drawn to one especially heartfelt maiden, delivered by the newly ennobled Lord Popat at the end of last month in the wake of the Budget:
"I was born in Uganda and came here at the age of 17 under very difficult circumstances. In January 1971, I accompanied my father to drop my sister at Entebbe Airport, from where she was flying to study in the UK. At the stroke of midnight, the army of Idi Amin, the then dictator of Uganda, took control of the airport and ordered all flights to be cancelled.
"Our family knew that our time in Uganda was limited, and in May of that year I moved to Britain, working in a Wimpy bar. The following year, Idi Amin expelled 30,000 Ugandan Asians, ordering them to leave within 90 days. They left behind a prosperous past and walked towards an uncertain future. I would like to thank the Conservative Government then led by the late Sir Edward Heath, who, along with a number of voluntary organisations, helped my fellow Ugandan Asians in our hour of need. We have never forgotten this lifeline that we were given, and I am proud to say today, 39 years on, these very same people are some of the most hard-working and patriotic in the country.
By Jonathan Isaby
Jonathan Lord, who stepped into Humfrey Malins' shoes as MP for Woking, began by explaining that he had hoped to emulate Margaret Thatcher by delivering his maiden speech last Friday during the Second Reading of his own Private Member's Bill (but it was not reached on the Order Paper).
He then paid tribute to his predecessor before going on to talk about his constituency, as is customary:
"My constituency of Woking has an ancient past but a passion to succeed in the present. Although it boasts the ruins of Woking Palace, which was one of Henry VIII’s favourite hunting lodges, it came into being as a modern town by Act of Parliament. In the 1840s, London’s churchyards were running out of burial space, so the Metropolitan Interments Act 1850 forbade any further burials in London and encouraged the building of cemeteries outside the city. A further Act of Parliament in 1852 set up the London Necropolis Company, which went on to purchase 2,000 acres of land at Brookwood in Woking.
"Brookwood cemetery remains a beautiful and tranquil place, a place of truly national significance and importance. I believe that it is worthy of more support both locally and nationally. One of those interred there was Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, an oriental scholar who was reputedly fluent in 50 languages. In 1889, he founded the Woking Shah Jahan mosque, which was the first purpose-built mosque in western Europe. For many years, it was the focus of the development of Islam in this country. I celebrate the fact that Woking has its first Asian mayor, Councillor Mohammed Iqbal. I pledged with him to serve the residents of our borough, and in particular our British Muslim population. It is worth noting that Dr Leitner, the founder of the first mosque in England, was Jewish. That is an interesting and wonderful thing that we should bear in mind as we seek peace and reconciliation in the world.
"H. G. Wells was another famous citizen of Woking. On one of my first home surgery visits, I visited a modest, semi-detached villa in the heart of Woking, only to be told that it was the very house where H. G. Wells had penned “The War of the Worlds”, which envisaged Martians landing on beautiful Horsell common and laying waste to the whole of Woking and, indeed, vast swathes of southern England. We now celebrate H. G. Wells’s imagination with a large, modern, Martian tripod sculpture in the centre of our town.
"While we are proud of our Victorian, literary and cultural heritage, we also look forward to the future. Woking borough council is innovative and has an acknowledged national reputation for leading on green issues and renewable energy. Our businesses strive to succeed—none more so than McLaren, which, building on its success in Formula 1, is now an even larger enterprise that is going to build a sports car for the road. I would very much like to own one of McLaren’s new sports cars, but unfortunately my parliamentary salary and my wife forbid it.
"Woking has a vast panoply of charitable organisations, all of which are willing to make the big society a success. It is a great honour to represent Woking in Parliament, and I hope to do so for many years to come—"
Alas, with a six-minute limit on backbench speeches in place during the Second Reading of the Postal Services Bill, he was at that point cut off in his prime by the Deputy Speaker before he was able to make any remarks about the Bill.
So there you have it - all 147 new Tory MPs have now delivered their maiden speech. Click here to read our reports of them all.
By Jonathan Isaby
Monday this week saw the maiden speech from Julian Smith, the new Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon. He delivered it during the proceedings on the Government's second Finance bill of the session, containing a variety of technical measures that could not be included in the first Finance Bill before the summer.
As is usual, he paid tribute to his predecessor, David Curry, and went on to suggest that his constituents in the vast Yorkshire Dales constituency are a living, breathing epitome of the "Big Society":
"My constituency is also remarkable for the character of those who live in it. They are independent, driven, hard-working and proud of their Yorkshire roots. The big society has been operating here for years. Doctor's surgeries, councils and charities are all working extra hard to deal with the challenges of operating in the most rural county in England. Apart from the Skipton building society and Wolseley, agriculture and small businesses provide the vast majority of employment."
And the thrust of his speech then concentrated on the problems encountered by people wanting to set up those small businesses:
"Skipton and Ripon is not like the south-east, Leeds or Manchester - many people have no choice but to make it on their own. Under the previous Government, the small business owner - the individual - as I was when, aged 27, I set up a business from the front room of my flat, has been given much more than his core business to worry about.
"Let us hear from two budding, if older, entrepreneurs, who are into property-let us call them Basil and Sybil, as they want to set up a new hotel in the heart of the dales. They reach Companies House in London, where it is recommended that they set up the company online. They go online, but the forms cannot be downloaded as only dial-up speeds are available in Littondale. They want a waiter, a new Manuel, so they start some interviews, but because of the new equalities legislation they worry about asking candidates how they would cope with the very steep and rickety steps around the property. They read a business book to get up to speed on the new rules, but Basil's eyes glaze over as he learns how to calculate employers' national insurance, employees' NI, pay-as-you-earn, student loan repayments, and maternity and pension payments. And when they need an injection of cash they call the bank, but are told that despite their excellent business plan, the bank is not lending to the hotel sector.
"We have to do better. We are desperate for private sector jobs. Contrary to what the shadow Minister said, the coalition has made a great start on addressing this issue by lowering corporation tax, scrapping the jobs tax and waiving national insurance for new small businesses setting up in Yorkshire. Initiatives such as the venture capital provisions in this Bill are also important steps, but there is more to do to create better conditions for small business - there is more to do beyond finance and, in particular, in the area of employment law.
"There has been an explosion of employment law in the past 10 years, from the previous Government and from Brussels. As a small business owner trying to do the right thing, employment law took hundreds of hours of my time. People should try disciplining an employee with the three-step written process when they share the same tiny room with them - it feels ridiculous. Imagine, having started your business, you hire a graduate and four days in she asks for the free eye tests that she understands are her legal right because she uses a computer. Outrageous EU discrimination laws with limitless liability mean that even the most innocent mistake can leave a business owner broke. Additional paternity leave plans by Labour will be introduced next year and the coalition has plans for further reform, so business will get organised for one change and then have to change again in the near future. In addition, has anyone really worked out the impact on very small businesses of both men and women now being able to take up to six months off after having a baby?
"Other legislation coming down the track in the next year includes the agency workers directive, the pregnancy workers directive, the removal of the default retirement age and a new right to request flexible working and training. Who is representing the challenges faced by the hard-pressed owner-manager as this legislation is developed? For BP or HSBC all of this kind of legislation is manageable, because they can pay for human resources professionals and they can afford their lawyers. People who run small businesses, such as those in Skipton and Ripon or the one that I ran, are their own HR department and they have to manage these things themselves.
"We have to do something now to stop new employment legislation for the next two years - these are two years when we need small business to feel as free as possible to take on staff. In the longer term, we need to consider more exemptions for small business, acknowledging that it cannot cope with the same burdens as bigger firms."
This was the penultimate of the maiden speeches from the 2010 Conservative intake: we await the last, which will be delivered by Jonathan Lord, who was elected MP for Woking in May.
By Paul Goodman
Dr Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) was first off the mark on Monday, speaking during the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill. After paying tribute to Sir Michael Lord, his predecessor, he covered three main issues: the lack of broadband in rural parts of his constituency, transport infrastructure, and - principally - the National Health Service.
On the NHS, he said -
"Members may be aware that before my election to the House I was a front-line NHS hospital doctor. That experience has stood me in good stead in representing my constituents, particularly the health care concerns that they face. In the NHS we have a key battle before us to ensure that we keep front-line services at Ipswich district general hospital. Under the regionalisation agenda of the previous Government, we saw the loss of vital cardiac and cancer care services at the hospital. It is important that we fight to restore Ipswich hospital to its former glory and make sure that once again we provide the vital services that the people of Central Suffolk and North Ipswich need."
He also referred to the loss of Hartismere community hospital under the previous government -
In a predominantly rural constituency, Hartismere is a vital community hospital that unfortunately was closed during the last three and a half years of the previous Government. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and his team when he was shadow Secretary of State for working with me to help reopen the hospital, which provides essential services to the older people, families and pregnant women who live in our rural communities.
Fiona Bruce (Congleton) spoke yesterday on the Equitable Life Payment Bill. Again, she praised the work of her predecessor, Ann Winterton, praising in particular her work as Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group (of which Bruce is now a Vice-Chairman). She said: "I believe that no insignificant person has ever been born.
She said that Congleton was in origin a northern mill town, and that -
"I grew up largely in a terraced house in another northern mill town, Burnley, where my grandmother started weaving in the cotton mill as a girl, my father wore clogs at school and much of the life rawly depicted in William Woodruff's book, "The Road to Nab End", was for them a reality. But education, aspiration and determination, and the support of a loving family and strong local community, all of which I witnessed and benefited from as a child, and which inform my engagement in politics today, were key to my family's circumstances changing for the better. For all that, I am grateful."
After a verbal tour of her constituency, she described the problems facing its towns, but painted an optimistic picture of how local people are "rising to these challenges" -
"Employers, such as Convert2Green, Ideal and Siemens are saying, "If we cannot find the skills, we will train them." East Cheshire chamber of commerce is organising advice on topics as diverse as export licences and shop doctors. Local traders' groups such as STAR-Sandbach Traders and Retailers-and Alsager chamber of trade are developing new ways to promote business and local produce, like farmers markets. The Congleton Partnership and Middlewich Vision are determinedly championing vibrant community life. Enthusiastic residents are giving time in Clean Teams, Milton Gardens, Rotary and Holmes Chapel Village Volunteers. Farmers like the Riddells are investing in technology while also diversifying into hospitality. Cheshire East council members and officers are open to talks with innovative community groups, such as Plus Dane and Crossroads Care, about how best to care for our elderly, whilst recognising that supporting families who care is, where possible, the best solution of all."
After naming and praising a number of her constituents, she said: "People are asking, "What is the Big Society?" I say, "Come to Congleton! It is already here!"
A footnote: in relation to the bill, she called for "proper compensation" for those who lost out in the Equitable Life near-collapse. Over 30 Conservative MPs also called for compensation to be as generous as possible; most were critical of the Chadwick Report; many referred to pledges that they'd made to their constituents on the matter.
All in all, another indicator of the difficulty that the Treasury will have in holding the line on public spending.
By Jonathan Isaby
During the adjournment debate before the Commons rose for the summer recess on Tuesday, the new MP for the Essex constituency of Witham, Priti Patel, took the opportunity to deliver her maiden speech.
In paying tribute to the MPs who had hitherto represented the patch, she made the following observation about some of the constituents she has inherited from John Whittingdale:
“I was at one stage considered to be somewhat to the right of the political centre-until, that is, I inherited some of my hon. Friend's local Conservative party activists! My hon. Friend is nothing short of a colossus locally, and his advice and opinions are greatly sought. He has represented the local areas that now fall into my constituency with great gusto, forthright views and conviction, which I look forward to emulating.”
She went on to concentrate her remarks on expressing support for small business and praised the policies of Margaret Thatcher for allowing her parents’s small business to thrive:
“Witham is also a constituency where small businesses, enterprise and traditional high streets matter. Local entrepreneurs and businesses support 83% of jobs in Witham, compared to the national average of 68%, and 25,000 people and their families depend on the prosperity of those businesses. In my view-and as they tell me-those businesses need a fair and flexible labour market and a competitive and low-tax framework to provide jobs and prosperity.
“My own deep and personal interest in what I call the economics of enterprise and small business stems from my family background. My parents arrived in Britain from Uganda with literally nothing, and, like the thousands of British Asians-and also the many Patels-who arrived in Britain in similar circumstances at that time, they relentlessly pursued the path of pure hard work in order to get on in life. By working long hours and by saving their hard-earned money, my parents were able to buy their first business-what else but a newsagent's? As a result, my youth was literally spent sleeping above the shop and playing directly under the till, while watching my family-thanks to the free-market policies of Margaret Thatcher-thrive and grow. Wherever my parents set up shop, they employed local people, contributed to the local community, and made a substantial contribution to the local economy.
“I speak from personal experience when I say that the impact of the last Government's policies on enterprise and small business was simply devastating. I saw at first hand the ever-growing burdens of the state encroach on our livelihood and sap our ability to function as a business, let alone support our local community by providing employment and much-valued local services. The excessive regulation from central Government stifled every ounce of the very entrepreneurial flair that once led Napoleon to describe our great country as a nation of shopkeepers.
“I should like to think that the Witham constituency was a hotbed of Patels, but alas, not yet. None the less, I am proud to represent a constituency of entrepreneurs whose businesses create jobs and prosperity throughout our high streets, villages and towns. The Witham constituency is a place where the unique and unyielding ingenuity of the British people to create opportunities and prosperity is found in abundance. Nowhere is our reputation as a nation of shopkeepers and free-market entrepreneurs more apparent than in Witham, and while I am a Member of this House I will stand by the businesses on which my constituents depend and which, of course, make my constituency such a dynamic place to represent.
“I believe that our country is at its strongest when it promotes the spirit of enterprise, the values of hope and aspiration, and the desire to get on in life. That is why I am certain that this Government's priority of lower corporation tax, providing incentives for small business, abolishing Labour's tax on jobs, and ending the over-zealous bureaucracy that has strangled our small businesses will enable this country to flourish again.”
> ToryRadio is carrying the speech in full as a podcast.
By Jonathan Isaby
“I will be eternally grateful to the good people of South Basildon and East Thurrock for sending me here. They have put great trust in me. I intend to repay that trust by being open and honest with them, and accessible and available. My one aim is to ensure not only that they have a voice, but that that voice is heard.”
Citing that his constituency is “a very industrious area, in which business plays an important role in the community”, he went on to speak in support of the Academies Bill in that context:
“Companies thrive on having a supply of well-educated, enthusiastic and aspirational people. It is our duty as politicians to provide an education framework that delivers that, and I believe that the Bill that we are scrutinising today will do exactly that. It feeds into the need to provide a well-educated work force for the future. It is through our businesses and through innovation that we will get our country back on track.”
“From my experience of discussions with governors, staff and teachers, I know that they are desperate to show that they know what is best for them and their pupils, and that they know how best to serve their local communities. We must give them the opportunity to do that. I fear that the amendment would hinder that process and deprive my constituents of the chance to access academies at the earliest possible opportunity.
“These issues are vitally important to my constituents. Essex attracts many preconceptions: I think that many people misunderstand it. We are a proud county. We have our foibles, but I think that, as well as being proud, we are hard-working, industrious and generous. Those traits-combined with the opportunities that I believe the Bill, unamended, gives us-will help us to emerge from the challenges of the past 13 years.”
Meanwhile, the same debate saw the first speech in the Common chamber itself from Rory Stewart, the new MP for Penrith and the Border.
By Jonathan Isaby
Last night saw an historic moment in the Commons – the first debate initiated by the newly-created Backbench Business Committee. The motion commended the Speaker for reasserting that Ministers should make important statements first to the Commons chamber and reiterated the importance of Ministers doing so if backbenchers are to properly hold the Government to account.
In rising to deliver his maiden speech, Glyn Davies began by explaining why he is one of the last few of the new Conservative MPs to make his maiden speech (by my calculation, six of the 146 are still to do so - Fiona Bruce, Jonathan Lord, Stephen Metcalfe, Priti Patel, Dan Poulter and Julian Smith).
“First, I must say that I am very relieved that I managed to arrive here to make my maiden speech without incurring any serious injury. The first time I sought to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, was during the Queen’s Speech debate. I moved on quickly, however, because my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) had secured a debate in Westminster Hall on an issue of interest to me, and I quickly wrote to tell you, Mr Speaker, that I would like to speak in it, but then, unfortunately, my hon. Friend had to go to hospital for a couple of weeks. I hope that that was not a result of my desire to speak, but I suspect that it might have been because a fortnight later I asked if I could speak in the debate on the emergency Budget only then to finish up in hospital myself for a week. I am relieved to arrive here undamaged on this occasion, therefore.”
He paid tribute to a number of his predecessors as MP for his home seat of Montgomeryshire in mid Wales, not least his immediate predecessor, Lembit Öpik:
“He was a man of great talent in many, many areas of activity—and I must say that in some areas he achieved a level of excellence that I am sure I will not be able to match. He served his constituents very well, however, and I wish him well in his new chosen careers.”
And on the topic of the debate in question, he enlarged upon the “great thrill” of being part of what happens in the Chamber and its importance in British democracy:
“Since I have been here, we have seen some amazing things happen. We have seen two of the great parties of Britain come together to form a dynamic coalition, rising phoenix-like from the ashes and smouldering embers of the Labour party—I am sure that it will be able to recover. It was a dramatic event to have been here in the presence of and to have witnessed.
“I sat at the back of this Chamber watching and listening to the statement on the Saville inquiry. I was in some sort of enrapture, because it was a most wonderful occasion. I am certain that it was the sheer power of the words and the speeches that brought that hugely damaging issue to a conclusion that is to the benefit of us all. The reputation and presence of this House, and its historical context in which we speak, helped to solve what was a dreadful scar on our history.
“This is a very special place, and I think we probably all know that. Several Members, including the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who spoke before me, have made reference to the issue of where we go from here. Dealing with that is the next step, because there is general agreement across the whole House that there is an issue that we need to address. I must say that I think it is a matter for the Procedure Committee. We must await its response and take what it says seriously, because dealing with this matter is complex.
“There is a temptation for us to move into the realms of various punishments, but I am not going to do that. What I will say—this is the only comment that I wish to make on this matter—is that to be asked to apologise in this House for committing something that we all consider to be a serious misdemeanour is a serious punishment. If I ever became a Minister and such a punishment was visited on me, I would consider that to be a huge blow. All the other punishments would be small in comparison with the damage I would feel to my reputation if that happened. So I do not think that we should underplay this.
“I have come to this House to represent the people of Montgomeryshire and my constituency, and to represent Wales, the nation that I love. I have come here to do what I can to protect and enhance the reputation of this House. Contributing to this debate and supporting the intention espoused so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) at its outset is what I really want to do.”
By Jonathan Isaby
He outlined his concern at the lack of support for long-term share ownership:
“What concerns me most is the lack of support for long-term share ownership that is eminently displayed by the current capital gains tax regime, which, ironically, now seems to be based on principles that are at odds with how we are to treat banker bonuses whereby an increasing proportion of their compensation is compulsorily taken in shares of their employing parent company. That has the quite admirable aim of encouraging actions that have at their centre the long-term interests of the companies for which they work. This is commendable.
“Less commendable is the loss of taper relief, which encourages long-term share ownership and investment. Surely many on both sides of the House see the retention of taper relief as desirable. Also less commendable is the loss of indexation relief. Following a change introduced by the previous Government, payers of capital gains tax will continue to be taxed on illusory gains. A simple example might help to explain my concern. Let us say that the average price for a pint of beer is £2.50. Instead of buying a pint, one could invest that £2.50. If inflation averages 7% per annum for five years and the investment keeps pace, the beer will have risen in price to £3.50, as will the value of the investment. The investor would therefore expect that the investment would still buy a pint, except that it would not, because 28% capital gains tax would have to be paid and the investment would therefore be worth only £2.50 net of tax. That is clearly inequitable. Given the widespread acceptance that short-termism from investors is a problem faced by businesses up and down the country that are trying to attract capital for start-up funding, working capital and expansion, surely that is short-sighted.
“I know that this matter is important to a number of people who are resident and work in the city of Lincoln. My fellow constituents are industrious and hard-working, and many of them either own their own business, want to start their own business or work for a small family-owned business. They know the importance of access to capital as an owner, a manager or an employee. Enabling measures that encourage investment is surely what this House should be about. What we have in place now enjoys the invidious merit of achieving the exact opposite and I hope that my senior colleagues will rethink these issues at the earliest opportunity. I know that we are where we are because of the utter mess bequeathed to us by Labour in the last Government, so I hope that as soon we have rebalanced the nation’s finances, we can reverse these measures, if we cannot do so now.”
Yesterday saw two maiden speeches delivered during the debate about anonymity for those accused of rape, which I covered here this morning.
Earlier in the week we covered Aidan Burley’s famous victory in Cannock Chase at the general election. Yesterday, he spoke in the debate as a newly elected member of the home affairs select committee:
“Let us not beat about the bush here: a false allegation of rape can ruin a man’s life. Even if he is tried in a court of law and found not guilty, he will still remain suspect in many people’s eyes. It is human nature to say that there is no smoke without fire, especially, it would seem, when it comes to the thorny issue of rape. It is virtually impossible for a man to survive an accusation of rape without a stain remaining on his character. There will always be whispers and rumours and slurs.
“To me, what this debate is about is very simple: it is about avoiding punishment before, and sometimes without, trial. That is why I welcome this debate on the Government’s proposals to grant anonymity to defendants in rape cases. For me, anonymity only until trial is not enough, because the principle of no smoke without fire still applies. Surely all hon. Members will accept the principles of equality before the law and equality between men and women. Surely all hon. Members also believe that people are innocent until they are proven guilty.
“The legal situation that exists now protects women in rape trials, but it does not protect men. It gives women anonymity, but not men. A special legal exemption has been made in the case of rape, but why has it been made just for those making the accusation? Why does that same protection not apply to those who are being accused? If we are singling out this particular area of the criminal justice system for special treatment, why should it not apply equally to both men and women? Male defendants should be afforded the same protections as women making the accusations because every man is innocent until he is proven guilty. If women need anonymity for this particular type of case, so do men.
“We would all agree that men who are convicted of rape should have their names made public. Convicted rapists should be known and should face the consequences of their actions in respect of public opinion towards them. All that the Government’s proposals mean is simply that a man will face those social penalties after he has been convicted of the offence rather than facing advanced trial by others who will always think that there is no smoke without fire. In high-profile cases, this will also avoid trial by media in advance of trial by court.”
“The effect on those falsely accused of serious sexual offences by the publication of their names and the revelation of their identities in the media can have long-term and far-reaching disastrous unintended consequences. In April, a taxi driver who worked for a firm in my constituency was cleared of rape at Maidstone Crown court. The story had been reported on the front page of the Medway Messenger , the largest circulating local newspaper in the area. It was only on the day of the trial—months later—with the defendant waiting in anguish, that the two supposed victims admitted that they had made up and falsely invented the serious allegation in order to avoid having to pay a taxi fare. They were later jailed for two years. The consequences for the wrongly accused defendant have been nothing short of disastrous as a result of the publication of his identity in the media. The concept of “mud sticks” is alive and kicking. He and others like him in the future deserve some measure of protection, as I believe we still have a system of justice in this country, of which we are justly proud, in which the accused is innocent until proved guilty on conviction by his peers. If safeguards are required to re-enforce that in sexual offences cases until conviction, in order to balance these competing interests, they should be put in place as a matter of urgency.
“I immediately acknowledge the arguments in favour of the publication of the identities of those accused of serious sexual offences, such as that that might encourage others to come forward. However, that approach does fly in the face of the presumption of innocence and presumes that anyone accused has done this before. We should examine the statistics carefully in trying to balance these crucial and diametrically opposed interests. Neither should be sacrificed in the interests of the other without the most careful consideration.
“Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 has served us well in relation to the publication of the name, address or any other particulars calculated to lead to the identification of any child or young person who is involved in criminal proceedings, including those on sexual offences. A court has complete discretion to hear anybody in support of or in opposition to an application pursuant to the section and consideration should be given to the extension of it automatically to include all those accused of serious sexual offences, allowing a judge to lift such a restriction in appropriate cases until conviction. A restriction until charge does not go far enough, as the test for charging is a “reasonable prospect of conviction” and thus far lower than the standard required for conviction by a jury.
“In other words, we should trust our judiciary to maintain the balance in any case, having carefully considered the competing arguments. We must also do everything we can to bring to justice those who commit such serious crimes.”
He began, as is customary, by giving a whistle-stop tour of his constituency which, he noted, he conducted himself during his three years as parliamentary candidate by bike - “following the instruction of the former Member for Chingford (Lord Tebbit), and more recently the example of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister — perhaps the only time that they have agreed”.
He then proceeded to express his frustration at how his rural constituency has been failed by the statist model of recent years:
“My constituency has come of late to feel increasingly marginalised, however. Tackling that sense of marginalisation in order to unlock the talents and aspirations of its people are, and will remain, the central theme of my work as its MP. The people of Mid Norfolk feel marginalised by the decision-making process and too often forced to change in ways that they have neither chosen nor like. The small, local, voluntary and rural is all too often crowded out by the big, national, professional and urban. As reported this week, rural Britain has been especially hard hit by unemployment during this recession, and my constituency has pockets of rural deprivation which are often hidden and invisible to the passer-by. Pensioner poverty can be especially invisible.
“Post offices, pubs and village shops close, while more and more people are forced to commute increasing distances from the mass housing estates that have been forced on our market towns and councils. In my three-year candidacy I insisted on another way. Opposition Members might call it a third way, but we call it the Norfolk way: a vision of a vibrant rural society based on a renaissance of rural enterprise; smaller pockets of mixed housing spread more fairly and sustainably; fast-growing small businesses and jobs back in our villages and towns; less commuting; a richer mix of ages; and blue and white-collar jobs in active communities.
“Some may ask, “Where are those new jobs and businesses to come from?” Let me tell the House. Situated between Norwich and Cambridge are two of the world’s leading centres of scientific research and innovation in food, biomedicine and the clean technologies of which my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) spoke earlier, all of which are so vital to the global challenges that we face, Mid Norfolk is perfectly positioned to become a hub of entrepreneurial activity and new jobs. With the world-leading John Innes centre, the Institute of Food Research, world-class agriculture and high-tech engineering along the A11 corridor, we can lead those new economic sectors on which we will increasingly depend.
“As someone who came to politics after a 15-year career in creating new technology businesses, I hope to be able to put my experience to good use in that area. However, that revolution cannot happen without two essential things: new models of investment in infrastructure, including the A11, rural broadband and rail links; and some local leadership.
“The stale post-war model of statist centralisation and dependence on the Whitehall handout has failed Norfolk and needs replacing if we are to have a sustainable recovery. The benefits of this empowerment and liberalism will not just be economic. Rural Britain is, I believe, the repository of some important virtues that our modern culture has neglected: a deep belief in self-help and responsibility; an insistence that everybody in a community has a role, and the rejection of a shallow media culture’s obsession with celebrity; and a love of the small, the different, and the local. These are qualities that are deeply rooted in the English character.
“The people of Mid Norfolk sent me here to speak up for them, so I shall. My constituents, proud of those values, have found themselves increasingly powerless in the face of a tidal wave of legislation and “big government” from Europe, Whitehall, and unaccountable regional quangos. Many worry that our culture has been hijacked by an increasingly intolerant, politically correct “anything goes” multiculturalism which seems to have too little respect for the longer traditions of tolerance, personal freedom and responsibility embedded in our traditional heritage. By pumping the bellows of local empowerment, I believe that we can reignite the embers of a culture which can and should be allowed to coexist with metropolitan Britain, to mutual benefit.
“At the heart of this manifesto is a big idea: that citizenship is not forged through the dependence on the state as espoused by new Labour and its philosopher king, Anthony Giddens, but through the empowering act of the state granting responsibility to its citizens. That is the central idea which has brought me into politics as a Conservative, and which I am delighted is once again the idea at the heart of modern Conservatism and this coalition.”
In his maiden speech yesterday he noted that there are areas of severe deprivation in his constituency where only 8.1% of pupils achieve 5 GCSEs – and that those pupils can expect to live for nearly 10 years less and to earn an average of £30,000 a year less than those in the more prosperous parts of the seats:
“After 13 years of a Labour Government, this is quite simply a disgrace and should act as a constant reminder to those on the Labour Benches, who have already begun looking back on their time in government as some sort of golden age in which poverty and inequality were abolished. Sadly, the truth is that, under Labour, the poor got poorer while the debt grew bigger. Labour Members will almost certainly be spending the next few years in hysterical opposition, attacking the Government for fixing the mess they created, completely oblivious to the reality that we cannot help the most vulnerable in society by basing the economy on debt. Without wealth creation, we cannot achieve the social justice that we all want.”
He also touched on his own long personal journey to Parliament:
“I was born on a council estate in Cheshire, as the youngest of four children. My father was a wages clerk, but he died when I was young, and my mother worked in a series of local shops and pubs to make ends meet. I left my local comprehensive school with few qualifications and got a job stacking shelves at the local supermarket, but I was fortunate to have the chance to study business at night school, and went on to have a successful manufacturing career working in sales. I should like to think that I was one of those slick salesmen whom the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Gordon Brown) liked to attack on such a regular basis in the last Parliament.
“I have always enjoyed serving my local community, spending four years as a special constable in the Cheshire police and 10 years as a local councillor. I have no idea how long I will serve in the House—that will be up to the people of Weaver Vale—but I hope that if I am to leave this place sooner rather than later, I will be able to help, in a small way, to put the “great” back into Great Britain.”
It should also be noted that the sole Conservative retread of the 2010 intake -Jonathan Evans, who regained Cardiff North for the Tories after a decade in the European Parliament – made his first speech to the House for 13 years in the early hours of this morning, after the late finish of the Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
He secured an adjournment debate to highlight an constituency-related issue: namely, how the methods of enforcement of the Reservoirs Act 1975 are being abused to undermine safety in the case of Llanishen reservoir in Cardiff, which he said “threatens to bring about the destruction of the reservoir itself”.
Indeed, during his maiden speech in yesterday’s debate on the Finance Bill he recalled that one biographer of John Neilson Gladstone – a Liberal Conservative predecessor as MP for Ipswich an done of the William Gladstone’s brothers – wrote of him that “he took no strong independent line such as would anger his father but accepted his minor role in the scheme of things.”
Gummer assured the Commons:
“On the former point it should have no fear whatsoever, and on the latter point, I believe that all of us will succeed only if we show the independence and courage of our convictions—something that the coalition must show in abundance.”
During his speech, he spoke about his interest in the topical political issue that is prisons policy:
“We have heard much over many previous years of the tough decisions that face us, but now is the time to take them, and no issue is more important, pressing or necessary than penal reform. The Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ken Clarke) outlined brilliantly and bravely last week a vision for sentencing and for the prison system that I, and many on both sides of the House, would wish to endorse.
“Yet to achieve that, we need to find common cause on two things: the first is on the budget for the Ministry of Justice and prisons. It goes without saying that it is clearly a gross and offensive waste of public money to be warehousing prisoners in buildings of little utility save for the security they afford the public in incarcerating criminals, which in the end produce men and women who come out with a staggeringly low possibility of finding a job, succeeding in a relationship, building a family or contributing to society, and a staggeringly high probability—the highest in Europe—of going on to reoffend and contribute once again to the crime rate.
“Opponents of reform must consider carefully whether it is right to continue with a system in which half of prisoners cannot read at the level expected of an 11-year-old, 65% cannot count at that level, and 82% cannot write at that level. I do not understand how they can possibly contribute to their communities, build relationships and sustain their families with that level of underachievement. Future generations will look upon our treatment of prisoners in much the same way as we now look upon how the Victorians established workhouses—as a near barbaric mechanism to deal quietly with one of society’s problems without facing up to the real issues that it presents.
“We can, I hope, overcome that problem in two ways. The first is to protect in the Ministry of Justice’s budget the excellent plans, which we on the Conservative Benches have had for some years, for the complete restructuring of the prison estate. Hon. Members might wish to know that 16 prisons in the prison estate predate the reign of Queen Victoria, and there are many others that were built in her reign. Those prisons are not only completely unsuitable for rehabilitation, but consume massive amounts of manpower, which reinforces my earlier point about the unnecessary waste of money that goes on revenue spending, rather than on capital expenditure, which actually produces results.
“The second thing that I would ask of hon. Members—and of the media—is to accept that it would be a good thing if we were to enjoy the kind of consensus that I have praised in the coalition, on the matter of penal reform across the House. Too often the sentiments expressed by the Secretary of State for Justice last week have been uttered by Members in all parts of the House, but they have fallen prey—because they are perennially vulnerable—to cheap political point scoring of a short-termist nature, which has done us enormous damage. I hope that those who wish to oppose the reforms that are necessary understand that to do so would be to condemn families, victims, perpetrators and communities to the repeated misery that we now have a golden opportunity to prise ourselves away from.”
“If hon. Members googled my name as a new MP, the first website they would find is that of Steve Barclay, the comedian and cabaret entertainer. I can assure the House that that is not me in an unregistered second job. My speech sadly lacks the zany comedy and musical backing that his performances offer, and the current headline on his website, “Barclay storms the cabaret floor” is one that my local paper—the Cambs Times—will never ascribe to my performance in the House.”
Having talked about the drainage of the fens in the mid-17th century, he went on to talk about “a second drainage that is taking place in the fens”:
“This drainage leaves not fertile land, but barren areas, as more and more assets are centralised in our cities, paradoxically as houses are being built in rural communities. There is a misconception that all rural areas are rich. Eighteen of the 25 most deprived wards in Cambridgeshire are in fenland, and one in 10 people in my constituency have used the excellent services of the citizens advice bureau in the past 12 months alone, 43% of whom did so for advice on personal debt—the manager, Linda Hutchinson, does a formidable job. Prosperous areas mask pockets of deprivation in rural communities, and often float us above the aggregate score on which national funding is usually targeted.
“The drainage of our amenities continues at a frightening pace: we recently lost our driving test centre even though it cost only £11,000 a year in rent; our new further education college was scrapped a month before building work was due to begin; and local pubs are closing. There is a battle on to save them, not least Claire Hammond’s fight to save the Nag’s Head in Eastrea. We now face the risk of the closure of our magistrates court, adjacent to which is our police station, the cells of which have already been closed. I will discuss this closure with Ministers in the weeks ahead. As a community, we pay twice as much to the Exchequer in business rates as we receive back in the local settlement grant. It is time that the funding imbalance between the rural shires in England and elsewhere in the United Kingdom is looked at again.
“I want to resist the temptation today to focus on the previous Government’s legacy. Anyone in any doubt can look at that temple of waste, the regional fire headquarters in Cambridgeshire, which was built at a cost of £23 million and stands empty because the emergency phone lines cannot be made to work. Instead of large regional projects, we need to focus spending much more effectively to deliver the jobs and services that we need in rural communities such as mine.”
He concluded by addressing matters pertaining more closely to the Finance Bill:
Thursday's debate on global poverty saw maiden speeches from two more members of the 2010 Conservative intake.
Esther McVey, who won Wirral West at th election at her second attempt, said that she was moved to speak in this debate after receiving letters from the 20 members of a class at Hayfield primary school in her constituency:
"Class P has signed up to the 1GOAL campaign to help global poverty through education. The campaign is trying to use the profile of the 2010 World cup in South Africa, bringing together footballers and fans of all ages with charities and local and world leaders, to make education a reality for 72 million primary school children worldwide by 2015. I asked Class P to explain what poverty meant to them. They said it was about not being able to go to school to learn and make friends, about being sick but not having a doctor and about living in fear. Most of all, poverty is about living with no hope and dying with no one caring. According to UNICEF, 24,000 children die that way each day, and 10.6 million children die before the age of five—that is the same total as all the children of France, Germany, Greece and Italy added together. So today I bring the message of the next generation to the attention of the current generation—beat poverty through education.
"Yes, and I believe in the goodness of human beings and the thread of humanity that touches the core of every one of us. It is here in this Chamber, on all sides of the House, and it is in class P at Hayfield school.
"All of us come here with the desire to help others and, ultimately, to enable them to help themselves, but different times—and we are living in different times—require different solutions. We are living in a financial downturn and at a time of financial restraint. We have inherited a record deficit, so we have to do things differently. We have to have a different strategy but, that said, we must work together and use and acknowledge the successes of past Parliaments.
"So I welcome the new coalition Government’s commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income as aid by 2013, helping the poorest in the world. I hope that that is welcomed by all Members of the House, and I am sure that it will be—just as it will be welcomed by the children at Hayfield school."
Later in the same debate, Stevenage's new MP, Stephen McPartland, called on the Government to "target our resources both at home and abroad to focus on activities that deliver results and will make a real impact on the lives of millions of people":
"I will take two examples of where significant progress can be made quickly. The first is the millennium development goal to reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under the age of five. There is concern that this, like many of the other goals, will not be achieved by 2015, but if we take targeted action we can make real progress. At the moment, around the world, one child dies every 15 seconds from pneumonia, which is the leading killer of children under the age of five. The majority of those deaths are preventable because there are effective vaccines that can protect against the majority of strains of the disease and effective treatments such as antibiotics.
"Increasing evidence shows that pneumonia is linked to global poverty, and 98% of these deaths occur in the developing world, mostly in marginalised communities. Yet pneumonia is a disease that can be managed relatively simply if the resources are available. I am proud of the leading role that GlaxoSmithKline, a major employer in my constituency, has taken to try to save the lives of millions of children in the world’s poorest countries. GSK is one of the first manufacturers to sign an advanced market commitment, which, by guaranteeing an affordable long-term price, will support the sustained use of vaccines. GSK has worked closely with GAVI and IVAC—the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, and the International Vaccine Access Centre—the leading NGOs in trying to sort the problem out, and whose work I commend.
"Turning closer to home, we know that here in the UK, it is possible to help a child out of poverty and improve their chances in life if they receive a good education. However, we are not doing enough; we are not lifting enough people out of poverty. In my constituency, like in so many others across the UK, there are children who have tried so hard in school. There is a cadre of dedicated and professional staff who have helped them along the way and invested so much of themselves in helping those children try to improve their life chances, but the system does not seem to work. Those children are being forced through an education system that pushes them out the other end with little chance of getting a job, as they do not have the skills that local employers want.
"We need to encourage employers to work with local schools and colleges, to get fully involved in education, to highlight the skills that are missing and even perhaps to take preventive action, possibly by designing some of the more vocational courses. Perhaps the prize at the end of the course should be a job or an apprenticeship with the employer. We need to be innovative and flexible, so that courses can reflect the skills gap locally and more local people can get local jobs. Only by focusing on results here and abroad will we be able to help people lift themselves out of poverty."
Delivering his maiden speech on Wednesday, former soldier and journalist Richard Drax – who gained Dorset South from Labour – said that he had entered public life because he could no longer “sit on my hands and watch our beloved country lose her pride.”
He explained that he is by no means the first Drax to sit in the Commons:
“My foray into politics ends a slight drought of Draxes here in the Commons. In an earlier deluge, six ancestors graced this place between 1679 and 1880—all representing the long-lost seat of Wareham. One, John Sawbridge Erle-Drax MP, spoke only once during the entire 32 years of his parliamentary career, and that was to ask the Speaker of the House to open the window. Unsurprisingly, he was known as the “Silent MP”. After his death, he arranged for The Times to be delivered daily to his mausoleum through a specially built-in letterbox; mine is under construction. In view of his Trappist tendencies, for his descendent to be making his maiden speech a mere eight weeks into the parliamentary Session must seem like indecent haste.”
He went on to speak up for Britain’s prison officers:
“We have two prisons in South Dorset, HMP The Verne and the young offenders institution. I have visited both on several occasions and work closely with the governors and the Prison Officers Association. The POA’s plight has been ignored for too long. As in so many other areas, the pendulum has swung too far in one direction. Today, officers feel powerless to do their job effectively as the prisoners appear to have more rights than they do. With 50% remission as the norm, it is difficult to apply meaningful sanctions to prisoners who do not toe the line. It is important to remember, in my humble opinion, that the Prison Service is just that—a service. Without proper support, officers will continue to feel, as they repeatedly describe themselves, a “forgotten army”.
“I have often heard colleagues in this House refer to Cornwall as part of the Celtic fringe; no doubt that is intended in a humorous way. While I am very proud of the Celtic culture, sports and traditions of Cornwall, there is absolutely nothing “fringe” about Cornwall or its people. Cornwall throughout the ages has been, and will continue to be, at the cutting edge of important national developments, as well as being at the centre of key moments of our history. The industrial revolution started in Cornwall, and Cornwall is leading the new industrial revolution—that of delivering the renewable and sustainable energy that our future economic security and growth will depend upon. Cornwall’s pioneering and inventive people and enterprises are ready to rise to the challenge of delivering a low-carbon economy and secure energy supplies. They need a Government who understand how to create the right market conditions for enterprise to succeed. I believe that this coalition Government have the determination to do this, and so to unlock potential in Cornwall.”