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Chloe Smith MP delivers her maiden speech in the Commons

Picture 7 Rarely do we reprint a speech in its entirety, but in the case of the maiden speech of the new MP for Norwich North, I am making an exception. Having taken her seat on Monday, she confidently delivered the speech to the Commons this afternoon during an Opposition Day debate on Higher Education.

This is what she told the chamber:

"Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to take part in this Opposition Day debate to make my maiden speech. As this is my first speech I would like to pay tribute to Dr Ian Gibson, the previous Member for Norwich North.  He was a dedicated constituency member whose tradition of independence and plain speaking I hope to emulate. He was known locally for his work on science as, I understand, he also was here in the House, and for sticking up for the people.  Although I don’t enter this place as a scientist, I certainly intend to stick up for all of my constituents.

There has been a Norwich North seat since 1950 but the city of Norwich has been represented in Parliament since 1298.  I am proud of Norwich North, with its one foot in the city of Norwich and its other foot in surrounding parishes and beautiful Broadland.  We have a history stretching back to Roman times, and colleagues in this House may already be familiar with Norwich’s trading prominence in the intervening centuries.  We are known for industries that have included chocolate and mustard, wool and shoes, financial services and now modern technologies including biotechnology and engineering.  We have a high proportion of small and medium sized firms and I applaud all those in Norwich who choose to take a risk and build their own business.

Norwich also has cultural prominence.  Underpinning our current vibrant arts scene, we can also claim the writing in English – Middle English to be more specific for any other students of literature in the House – of the first book by a woman. On the political side, movements have often gathered on Mousehold Heath in my constituency, including the Chartists 170 years ago and Robert Kett’s followers before that.

We may also be known for the Canaries’ best efforts to stay up the leagues.  Norwich City Football Club is currently prospering in Division One.  Given that the last full match I saw in person resulted in Norwich losing 7-1 at home to Colchester I think that in the interests of the club it may be wise for me to stay away until promotion is well and truly secured.  Of course, for any real aficionados of Norfolk’s footballing heritage, I draw hope from a reputed draw with Arsenal by the village Football Club of Thorpe St Andrew – only as recently as 1894. It remains a shame to this day that the Parish could not afford to pay the travel costs for the match replay in London.

Thorpe St Andrew is but one of the parishes which, in addition to its fine urban history, give present day Norwich North so much of its character. Sprowston, according to local sources, is the largest parish in Norfolk.  I look forward to receiving letters claiming otherwise which I shall happily forward to the parish council.  Old Catton can claim further cultural merit.  It has, in Catton Hall, the location of the first commission for landscaping by Humphrey Repton.  Old Catton’s history exemplifies the tradition of independence in the people of Norfolk, amongst whom I count myself.  The parish had, according to local historians, I quote: “a high proportion of freemen in the Domesday record which is typical of Norfolk”.

 The Domesday Book also lists other parishes in Norwich North including Hellesdon and Taverham, where a paper mill, in its Victorian heyday, produced half of all the paper used to print The Times, as well as serving the Bank of England and the Oxford English Dictionary. The final parish in Norwich North, Drayton, has another literary claim to fame.  The village was in the possession during the 15th Century of Sir John Fastolf, a prominent soldier who, it is claimed, gave his name to Shakespeare's character Falstaff.

Picture 8In researching this speech, I have found that some of the things that trouble the people of Norwich North have not changed in decades.  My postbag over the summer – although I was not sworn in as a new MP until this week – has, for example, contained a wealth of letters complaining about a sewage farm, located just outside Norwich North but nonetheless pungent for that.  I have found references to residents complaining bitterly as early as 1933 about the very same sewage works.  I sincerely hope that other problems that may be raised with me may take less than seventy years to be resolved.  For example, I look forward to working over the next nine months on NHS facilities, transport, housing and more.

I am already working on behalf of those constituents who face problems with social housing.  My predecessor as the member for Norwich North talked eloquently about Norwich’s housing during his maiden speech in 1997 and the problems have not diminished since.  It is a personal priority for me to focus on the improvement of the stock and service for local council tenants. But finally, the backdrop to my first few months as the Member for Norwich North is a bleak one for many of my constituents, for their jobs and their businesses. My constituents in Norwich North are struggling in this recession.

In this Opposition Day debate on Higher Education, I must highlight the importance of the educational sector to the local economy in Norwich and Norfolk. Not only as a local MP, but as a Norfolk girl who might be said to have made good, I look forward to addressing the graduation ceremony of City College Norwich on Saturday.  I shall applaud the many young people who have gained qualifications, and praise the work of the tutors and others who enable their success. 

However, I also sympathise greatly with the college for the deep confusion it has experienced through the Learning and Skills Council capital crisis.  Many of my constituents are already losing out in the chaos, and we all may lose further if the college cannot recoup £3m already sunk in plans encouraged by this government.

Finishing on today’s Higher Education topic, I would like to pay tribute to the University of East Anglia – indeed, the former home of my predecessor, although in the constituency of the right honourable member for Norwich South.  It is notable for working with local partners, the city and the county.  The Norwich Research Park is taking on today’s great environmental challenges, and Professor Tim O’Riordan of the School of Environmental Sciences is our fine city’s Sheriff this year. 

Local employers, many of whom I have sought to meet since election this summer, want to work with local institutions such as UEA and the City College to ensure that the education offered reflects the needs of people and business in Norwich and Norfolk.  That requires clarity and honesty on finance.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I look forward to working with all involved back at home to realise that contribution to economic recovery and growth, as I look forward to working with colleagues in this House to see the many good ideas expressed in this debate brought to fruition for my constituents and theirs."

Congratulations to Chloe on a fluent and very well-received first speech in the Commons. We look forward to many more in the months and years to come!

Jonathan Isaby


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