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Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I am very aware that, in making a maiden speech, the tradition in the House is to avoid all matters of controversy but, after the remarks of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) about the recent election result, I think that it is perhaps one tradition that I will need to tweak a little. In the face of a result that gives an overall majority to the Labour party with a share of the vote that is the lowest for any governing party since 1832, defenders of the electoral system must say to what share of the vote they are prepared to see Government support sink before they finally admit that it is not a legitimate mandate from the British people. Defenders of the system must answer that question now that the evidence is clear that we have a three-party system.
Let me try to get back on track and return to matters of less controversy by paying tribute to my predecessor, David Chidgey, as the Member of Parliament for Eastleigh. I am only the fourth Member of Parliament for Eastleigh since the creation of the constituency in 1955, and I hope that I am not indulging in wishful
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thinking in pointing out that the longest-serving Member for my constituency, Sir David Price, was elected in 1955 with a majority even more slender than my own23 votes fewer than my munificent majority of 568. The MPs for Eastleigh who were elected with large majorities unfortunately had the shortest tenure. I give notice to anyone suggesting that they might retake the seat that that will only be after a fight from me.
My immediate predecessor, David Chidgey, whose contribution to the House and service to his constituents is soon to be recognised in ennoblement and transfer to another place, also retained his by-election win at the 1997 election with a slender majority and then won substantially more comfortably in 2001. Indeed, the fall in the majority at the last election is testimony to the affection in which he was held by his constituents. I will do my best to live up to that reputation and to maintain standards as an excellent constituency MP.
Eastleigh constituency is a varied part of Hampshire. It contains the town of the same name and many settlements to the east of Southampton. The town was created when the railway works of the London and South Western Railway were moved from Nine Elms in London in 1891, and that is why the recent announcement of the closure of the Alstom railway worksthe last remaining connection with the great days of Eastleigh railway engineeringis such a shock to our community. For the third of the constituency that is Eastleigh town, Eastleigh still means the railway and all the skills and dedication that are necessary to make the railways work. We now face the challenge of finding new jobs to take the place not just of those at Alstom but at Manor Bakeries, which is most famous for the production of Mr. Kipling's exceedingly fine cakes. I see that a number of Members have clearly enjoyed them in their time.
On the plus side, Eastleigh has continued to grow as a logistic centre, thanks in part to its ideal position near the junction of the M3 and M27, and with Southampton airport, which is really Eastleigh airport. It is now the biggest single site employer in the borough.The engineering tradition is maintained in the south of the constituency at Hamble by Aerostructures, a subsidiary of Smiths Industries that makes key components for the aviation industry, including leading wing edges for both Boeing and Airbus aircraft. That is playing both sides for a clear win. The history of the aviation industry has long been intertwined with our area, and a notable event was the maiden flight from Eastleigh airport of the prototype for the Spitfire. Other important engineering names include CooperVision for contact lenses and, of course, the VT Group of defence shipbuilders and repairers, whose headquarters are in the middle of the constituency at Hedge End.
Hedge End has become a thriving population centre, with its origins as a distinct village like so many other centres in the constituency. Bishopstoke traces its origins to before the Domesday Book, while Fair Oak, West End and Botley are long-standing settlements to the east of Southampton. Botley was home to William Cobbett of the "Rural Rides" and was therefore an early exponent of rural radicalism. Further south along the Hamble river is Bursledon, which once launched one of Nelson's key flagships, and Hamble-le-Rice itself, which is now the headquarters of the Royal Yachting Association and the proud home of no fewer than three
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sailing clubs. Finally, Netley Abbey boasts a castle that has long stood guard against intruders along the Solent while the abbey itself is a ruined but picturesque reminder of the unorthodox means employed by one of our former monarchs to balance the public Exchequer.
All these areas have distinct and important identities as successful communities, with so much to offer in terms of quality of life. That is why one important political issue for me will remain how to balance the need for affordable homes for young local people with the enormous development pressures in what the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), the previous Minister for Housing and Planning, has called the "Solent gateway". Maintaining those communities and their identities is an important priority that suggests that development should be limited to brownfield sites and existing urban areas.
Another important political issue is the current state of the health service across Hampshire, whose trusts are now running a cumulative deficit of more than £50 million. Although there has been substantial increases in funding for which the Government deserve due credit, the increases have not kept up with the equally substantial increases in costs due, for example, to the junior doctors new contract. As a result, both the finances and other stress indicators, such as accident and emergency waiting times, ward closures and the need to fill nursing vacancies temporarily through agency nurses, all suggest that there is a lot of pain to come in the local health service. I, for one, will seek proper justification for the Government's plans to spend a fifth less per head on health in the Eastleigh and Test Valley South primary care trust than the national average and 40 per cent. less than the funding per head in the north-east.
We may, indeed, in the south of the country be relatively affluent, but we also face higher costs. The business of government is not merely to provide redistribution to the least well-off, important though that is, but to provide public goods for all thoserich and poorwho need them. We should no more run down the health service in the south than cut street lighting in prosperous areas on the ground that their needs are less than those in deprived ones.
Finally, let me say something about arriving in the House with a background of six years in the European Parliament. There is an enormous sense of relief that whatever one says is likely to be subject to the normal distortions of one's opponents rather than the random contortions of the interpreters. However, I am also surprised at the nervousness in the House about the encroachments on its power by the institutions of the European Union. It is obvious to me, as Member of the European Parliament for six years, that that Parliament deals with important but largely technical legislation that matters hugely certainly to business, the single market and our prosperity, but that the concerns of voters on the doorstep about health, education, crime, pensions, tax and the economy remain squarely and rightly in the national domain. Far from being a federal superstate, the European Union institutions employ fewer people in total than Hampshire county council, they have been repealing more legislation than they have put on the statute book for the past 10 years and they account for just one fortieth of total public spending by all levels of government. That is one of the reasons why
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it is such a signal honour for me to be returned by the people of Eastleigh to represent them in the House. This is still the cockpit of our democracy, and long may it remain so.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): May I begin by congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your return as Chairman of Ways and Means, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Ms Barlow) on her excellent maiden speech. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) made a fine maiden speech and I am sure that he will make a valuable contribution to our debates. He certainly has a hard act to follow in his predecessor, who was well respected here, which is evidenced by his imminent accession to the other place. I was going to congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, on her new appointment, but unfortunately she has just left the Chamber. I intend to refer directly to her responsibilities.
I welcome the Queen's Speech, especially the references to creating safe and secure communities and fostering a culture of respect. Such policies will be greatly welcomed throughout the country, not least in my constituency. At the forefront of such policies will be our elected local authorities. They are not mentioned directly in the Queen's Speech, so I hope that that points to a period of stability and a lack of interference by central Government, although I somehow doubt it. However, I have a great deal of respect for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Communities and Local Government and I know that he will have the strength of character to overcome the prejudices of the civil service when dealing with local government.
Thinking about democratic mandates brings me neatly to House of Lords reform. Unlike the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I do not believe that the effectiveness of the House of Lords is measured by how well it frustrates the mandate of the elected Governmentwhatever political colour they might be. If he believes that people in the country at large want another 500 elected politicians, with their salaries and expenses, he has not been watching events very closely.
I was pleased by the reference in the Queen's Speech to continuing the reform of the House of Lords. Although I must admit that that was not a prime topic of conversation raised with me on the doorstep, it remains a fundamental plank of the constitutional bridge by which we have brought the governance of the United Kingdom into the 21st century. Great steps have already been made in the direction of reform, and although the hereditary principle has been consigned to the political dustbin for all but the remaining few, the breezes of reform are yet to blow away the last vestiges of power held by a wealthy, privileged class. However, I am sure that many hon. Members share my amusement at the irony that the only democratic element in the upper House is the remaining hereditary peers, who recently had to hold a democratic ballot to select a replacement for a deceased peer.
There must be further reform to make the second chamber more representative and accountable. The status quo is not sustainable, and when the remaining
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hereditaries are goneI hope that that will happen soonit will be totally unacceptable for the entire House to be appointed by the Prime Minister, whoever that might be. On the other hand, an elected, or partly elected, second chamber would seriously threaten the primacy of the House of Commons and destabilise our system of government.
Before we enter into a debate on how representatives in the other place should be selected, it is important to decide what the functions of the second chamber should be. It has long been my view that the second chamber's role should be deliberative, revising and advisory. The job of holding the Executive to account is for the Opposition and Back Benchers in this place, not for the House of Lords. It should be a function of the second chamber that it can suggest, but not make, amendments to legislation. Such amendments could be deposited in the Vote Office of the House of Commons, but would have to be tabled by a Member of the House of Commons and debated and voted on here. There would be no more ping-pong or deliberate attempts to frustrate the will of the democratically elected House of Commons. Amendments would thus be more likely to be well considered and genuinely helpful, instead of being the politically motivated decisions that emanated from the Lords during the last Parliament.
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