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8.6 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Today's maiden speeches--not least that made by the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Ms Mallaber), who made an extremely interesting and amusing speech--have given us some interesting tours around the country. We all welcome the hon. Lady to the House, although we are sad to see not only Phillip Oppenheim but his dog depart. The hon. Lady paid a fair tribute to Phillip Oppenheim and referred to his great contribution to the House and on the rugger pitch, where I am glad that I did not encounter him or Vom.

We had a fine maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). He was extremely assured and self-confident and was a great tribute to his constituents. His reference to the Government's acceptance of the nuclear deterrent owes

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something in part to his personal commitment and crusade to bring about a public understanding of the need for an independent British nuclear deterrent, through his work for the Coalition for Peace through Security. I am sure that all hon. Members will have been impressed.

I want to add only one discordant note on the maiden speeches. In his maiden speech, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) was unfairly ungracious to his predecessor, Neil Hamilton. I am sure that many hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that Neil Hamilton, as well as introducing a degree of colour and wit, made a significant contribution to the quality of our debates. He was The Spectator parliamentary wit of the year and it was unfortunate that that was not mentioned.

I agree with most hon. Members that the hon. Member for Tatton has made a contribution on our television screens and we look forward to his contribution here. I hope that he will follow professional journalistic principles, which he did not do during the campaign--I am sorry that he is not in his place to hear this. The hon. Gentleman should have examined the evidence as he was invited to do and awaited the report of the Downey committee. Having said that, I shall pass on, because we have enjoyed some other interesting speeches.

I am tempted to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) who, on his return as a retread, began his resumed career with the words, "As I was saying before I was interrupted". I am delighted to be back but my pleasure is tempered by the novel experience of occupying the unfamiliar Opposition Benches and by the loss of so many able men and women who contributed so much to making socialism in Britain unelectable.

The Tea Room atmosphere last week was as sombre as I imagine it must have been at those wartime bomber command bases as surviving crews surveyed the empty seats of those who failed to return from their missions. I shall not press the analogy too far because, while politics may be war by other means, unlike war, it does at least carry the prospect of reincarnation. I await with enthusiasm the reincarnation of some of my right hon. Friends, former giants of our party in the House, such as Michael Portillo, Michael Forsyth, Malcolm Rifkind, Ian Lang and a host of others who have made such an enormous contribution during the past 18 years to restoring this country's place in the world.

Although other parts of Britain may have decided to risk a five-year flirt with new Labour, I am delighted to say that Aldershot has remained true. I am immensely privileged to continue the constituency's record of Conservative representation, which has been unbroken since its creation in 1918. I am, moreover, only the fifth hon. Member to have the privilege of serving Aldershot since 1918.

As hon. Members may know, my immediate predecessor was Sir Julian Critchley, who served in the House for 27 years. It may not necessarily be a compliment, but he was described by Andrew Marr as

Sir Julian was renowned for his wit--which was sometimes more acid than was good for him--and provided some very welcome colour to the House. I shall

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be cautious in my remarks about him because, although he may have retired from the House, his pen shows no sign of running out of ink.

Sir Julian--whose distaste for Baroness Thatcher was as intense as is my admiration for her--and I are testimony that the Tory party is a broad church. For the past five years, he has borne an illness with characteristic courage and good humour, and I am sure that the House wishes him well.

I shall spare the House a Cook's tour of Aldershot. Since 1954, however, there have been only two other maiden speeches--all of which have been made by retreads--by Aldershot Members, and I should therefore like to remind the House of the contribution to our national life that has been made by the constituency's two principal towns: Aldershot and Farnborough.

In 1855, Aldershot was only a retired and scattered village of 900 souls. By 1860, however, the barren heathland between Aldershot and Farnborough had been transformed into a major military area, providing space for 20,000 troops to exercise. Today, signs on the A325 proclaim that Aldershot remains the home of the British Army--to the Parachute Regiment, which I know has a very special place in the heart of the Minister for the Armed Forces, and to the headquarters of 5 Airborne Brigade. Some hon. Members may remember that Aldershot was also the home of John Betjeman's beloved Joan Hunter Dunn,

Farnborough comprises the other part of the constituency. Its name is synonymous with aviation and is renowned around the world. Farnborough is the birthplace of British aviation, for it was from Laffan's plain that, on 16 October 1908, Samuel Cody became the first man to fly in the United Kingdom. Its splendid Royal Aircraft Establishment--which has now been rather unattractively renamed the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency--is renowned as a centre of excellence for research into aerodynamics and control, structures, power plants, radio, and in navigation, flight and weapon systems. The Department of Transport's air accidents investigation branch enjoys international acclaim for its work to promote air safety, particularly in dealing with terrorism. Farnborough also provides the headquarters for one of the world's leading companies, British Aerospace.

For most people, however, Farnborough is most famous as the venue for the Society of British Aerospace Companies airshow, which is the prestigious show window for Britain's most successful manufacturing industry. As the holder of a pilot's licence since I was 17, I am very proud to be the first pilot to represent Farnborough--the birthplace of British aviation--in the House.

It will be clear to the House that my constituency has strong connections with Her Majesty's services. The peace dividend has already incurred a cost to Aldershot, which is now the subject of a major regeneration--spearheaded by Rushmore borough council and English Partnerships--in which I hope that we can expect support from the Government, to ensure that the rundown and service reductions that have occurred as part of the peace dividend are made good.

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It will come as no surprise that I shall be monitoring extremely careful the Government's defence review, which was foreshadowed in the general election campaign and contained in the Gracious Speech. I shall also be asking for a reaffirmation of Aldershot's continuing military importance and of the commitment given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), to ensure that, in the sale of Farnborough aerodrome, any new owner will have to guarantee a secure future for the airshow. I am pleased to note that the shadow spokesman, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), turned around at that point in my speech. He was once the Secretary of State for Transport, and was only too familiar with the problems of sustaining the airshow.

In a defeat of the magnitude of that suffered by the Conservatives this month, it behoves Conservative Members to exercise some humility and to wish the new Administration well. They won the general election partly by claiming to adopt all those Conservative policies that they have opposed tooth and nail on the Floor of the House. "Keep the show, just change the cast" was the essence of that part of their message. Now that they are in government, however, they can no longer soothe the public with fine-sounding rhetoric, because they will have to take decisions. They are now, however, on unfamiliar territory, as was only too apparent during the general election campaign, when the Treasury's "black hole" was to be filled by selling National Air Traffic Services. That scheme was then said to be off, but then it was on again.

New Labour may have its adherents on the Treasury Bench, but--as we heard on Friday, in the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer)--red-blooded socialism is alive and well and sitting right behind Ministers. Labour's long march to embracing capitalism has only begun, and it will be sorely tested in office.

Mr. Skinner: And here.

Mr. Howarth: As the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) rightly says, full-blooded socialism is alive and beating below the Gangway, too.

In the mid-1980s, Labour accused Conservatives of arrogance, but already some new Ministers have shown signs of a chilling arrogance. Despite today's presentation by the Chancellor on his proposals for the Bank of England, there is a general feeling among hon. Members that those proposals should have been presented first in the House and not announced in the immediate aftermath of the election. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said, the Government have gained absolutely nothing by making that pronouncement before presenting it to the House. The major powers that are being handed to the Governor of the Bank should first have been announced in the House.

The Prime Minister has demonstrated a rather cavalier attitude in rearranging Question Time, which is one of the key mechanisms by which the House can hold the Executive to account. Even more ominous was the reaction of the Minister without Portfolio--who clearly is much dreaded among Labour Members--to a legal challenge to the windfall profits tax that may be mounted by British Telecom and BAA. Telling those companies to hand over the money, especially if the Government have

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no lawful authority to demand them to do so, amounts to highway robbery, or to what Professor David Myddelton called the rule of the threat of law.

Such behaviour, and disgraceful warnings to Labour Back Benchers that they risk expulsion if they campaign against breaking up the United Kingdom, will fuel the public's fear that Labour cannot be trusted to act in a responsible fashion. It was marvellous to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster)--whom I had not heard speak before, because, when I was previously an hon. Member, he was a Whip and had taken a Trappist vow of silence. He was absolutely right. Hon. Members must have the freedom to speak their minds. It is no good having a Minister without Portfolio telling Labour Members that they will be silenced and cannot speak their mind, because their duty when elected is to speak their mind.

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