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Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) and, indeed, other hon. Members on making their maiden speeches. It is an honour for me to rise to make my maiden speech on industry and the environment, not least because my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent, South has played a central role in our industrial heritage. Stoke-on-Trent continues to be a major player, particularly in ceramics, but in other areas, too. For example, this year sees the 100th anniversary of Michelin in the UK, and "the Mitch", as it is known, is an important employer in my constituency.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr. George Stevenson, who served the people of Stoke-on-Trent for many yearsfor the last 13 years as MP for Stoke-on-Trent, South, for 12 years before that as an MEP and before that as a councillor. Like me, George was not born in the city, but as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) said a few days ago,
A Yorkshire man by birth, George and his family moved to the city. In his time, he worked as a bus driver, miner and at the clay end in the Potts. He is a well-known figure in the city. Indeed, George is so well known that I had some concerns at one point about the size of our local schools, as on one day there must have been hundreds of people who said that they had been at school with George. Wherever one looks across the constituency, whether it be at rebuilding works, improvements or renewal, one can see a lasting testimony to George Stevenson.
It is a delight to live in Stoke-on-Trent, South. There is something almost magical about the place that, once in the heart, never leaves it. I have received kind letters of congratulation from the sons and daughters of the city, who have moved to other parts of the country but for whom Stoke-on-Trent is for ever their true home. My constituency represents many of the challenges and opportunities in Britain today. The skyline was once dominated by bottle kilns and winding gear, but alas those industrieslike many traditional British industriesare no more, or are much reduced. However, the tremendous talent of the people lives on. On election day, I was honoured to share in the 80th birthday celebrations of Vera Leese, a former paintress. Vera embodies a creative talent that now shows itself in her superb fruit pies and cakesthe reason why I must now walk to the House rather than take the tube.
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In the weeks leading up to the election, I was privileged to work with great community servants, such as Derek Bamford, Ian McLaughlan, Denver Tolley, Bagh Ali, Kath Banks, Stan Bate, Mike Tappin, Terry Doughty and Paul Shotton. With the help and support of my agent, Tim Mullen, and the hard work of many dedicated volunteersto whom I will always be gratefulwe visited many places. From the cold, dark, wet nights of winter to the brighter mornings of spring, the volunteers pounded the streets with me, from Caroline street to the Trentham road. Together we visited the Thursday market in Fenton and the indoor market and precinct in Longton, perhaps pausing to buy Eccles cakesor, as they are affectionately known, dead fly pies. We walked many miles around Blurton, from Hollybush to Newstead. We met with the police and local residents at Sandford Hill. We spoke to the residents of the Meir, Coalville and Weston Coyney. We met retirement clubs, such as those at Meir Park community centre, Fenton community centre, and Pauline and the gang at the John Marston retirement club. We walked many miles in Trentham and Hanford and we journeyed around the whole constituency.
Stoke-on-Trent is starting once more to take its rightful place at the heart of Britain. For too many years our city was overlooked, but that is all changing. Unemployment has been slashed by 42 per cent. Brand-new schools are springing up in my constituency. Parents to whom I spoke during the campaign welcome the new investments in schools such as Blurton primary, The Crescent primary and Newstead primaryall brand-new schools. Parents told me of their delight at the new sports hall at Trentham high school, at St. Augustine's new kitchen and classroom, and at Glebe primary's new classroom block.
There is much work in progress. Sandon high is to be rebuilt, starting in September, and Clarice Cliff and Gladstone primary schools are in planning. Ash Green is getting an extension to its nursery and The Crescent is getting a brand new children's centre.
The constituency is also benefiting from new health facilities. The Willow Bank surgery opened in February of last year and patients have told me how they are able to have treatment there which previously would have needed a trip to hospital. Older members of the community have spoken to me about the new step-up, step-down beds at the refurbished Longton cottage hospital, which are making a tremendous difference to their recovery. Residents of Ripon road told me during the campaign about the significantly refurbished Blurton health clinic. That is not to mention the £370 million university hospital in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher)a brand-new hospital to serve the needs of the whole region. A lot has been done, but a lot more remains to do, and I shall press for the new Fenton health centre to be up and running by the end of the year.
As well as improvements in health and education, I shall take up the challenge of pressing for more and better quality jobs in my city. I want to see new employers coming into places such as Trentham Lakes, and our existing employers being helped to expand and take on more staff. Over the next three years, £100 million of regeneration funding is being made
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available. I shall hold the regeneration zone board closely to account to make sure that that money is spent well and fully used for the benefit of my constituents.
Many communities such as the Meir, Coalville, Blurton and Normacott now have the chance of decent housing and community facilities through RENEW's £2.3 billion programme, but many residents have told me that they have concerns about how that programme will affect them. I must declare an interest here as a resident of the Meir. I have already given a commitment to my fellow residents that while we must not pass over the opportunity of a generation that that money affords, the plans must be for the good of the people, not for the good of the architects.
Stoke-on-Trent has given this country many great people, from Reginald Mitchell, designer of the Spitfire, to Clarice Cliff, ceramics artist. In fact, it is time that this country recognised Reginald Mitchell for the national hero that he is. The very least we could do is to honour him with a statue here in our nation's capital.
Stoke-on-Trent has also produced diverse musicians. For those with a classically trained earperhapsthey include Motorhead's Lemmy, Slash from Guns N' Roses and, of course, Robbie Williams. Other famous figures range from the ill-fated Captain E. J. Smith of the Titanic to possibly the greatest English footballer, Sir Stanley Matthews.
Stoke-on-Trent has other heroes. I shall keep with me an enduring imagethat of the Treetops children's hospice run by the Donna Louise trust. In the week before the election, the hospice held an open day and I was shown around by one of the bereavement counsellors. In circumstances in which many people would, I suspect, find it impossible to cope, a dedicated team of staff and volunteers give hope and happiness to young people and their families. The trials and difficulties of an election campaign pale into insignificance when compared with the strength of the users and carers of Treetopsan organisation that depends on charitable donations.
The good people of Stoke-on-Trent, South have an optimistic future and I welcome Members to the city to enjoy its finest hospitality and a warm welcome, perhaps at "The Malt and Hops". They will see for themselves what it is to be truly proud of Stoke-on-Trent.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Queen's Speech debate. It is an honour to follow the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) and for Cambridge (David Howarth) whose maiden speeches we have just heard. Both Members expressed an interest in schooling, which made me prick up my ears as education is an important subject for me. I should be delighted to invite them to Bournemouth so that we can compare notes. I appreciate that Stoke-on-Trent and Cambridge are some distance away, but if the hon. Gentlemen could get to Shropshire, the new high-speed police escort service that is under trial there could make their journey to Bournemouth much quicker. Congratulations to both on their excellent maiden speeches.
It is indeed an honour to be elected to represent Bournemouth, East. I stand here with mixed emotions. I am humbled by the surroundings in which I find
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myself, but enthusiastic to join 54 Conservative Membersfresh horses and keen to hold the Government to account. I am conscious of the responsibility that the people of Bournemouth have bestowed on me and I am committed to working with my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill), who already has much experience in the House. I am grateful to him.
Many Members will be familiar with Bournemouth, as it is a seaside town on the party conference circuit. However, it offers much more than eight miles of glorious beaches and a major conference centre. There is a thriving business sector, with small and large businesses and a focus on financial services. There is also a cultural focus in the form of Shelley manor, built by the family of the poet. It includes a small theatre that is currently being renovated. Bournemouth can also lay claim to one of the best NHS trusts in the south.
There is a vibrant tourism industry but, alas, no donkeys at present. If people want donkeys they still have to go to Blackpool. However, I understand that a new EU working directive will change that and give donkeys better working conditions, so no doubt we shall see many more donkeys at the next party conference.
Bournemouth boasts some of the highest education standards in the country. I do not want to be too controversial in my maiden speech but I made the funding of Bournemouth schools a priority during the election campaign. I visited several schools; for example, Queen's Park infant school, Epiphany primary school, Avonbourne, St. Peter's and Pokesdown. Two themes were common in my visits to all those schools: first, the high standard of education and the commitment shown by teachers and, secondly, the harsh financial conditions that the schools face. I should be grateful for the chance to meet an Education Minister at the earliest opportunity to discuss how Bournemouth's funding settlement can be increased so that we retain the highest standards of teaching and education.
Bournemouth is also home to a great football clubAFC Bournemouth is in the first division and was pipped at the last game by Hartlepool for a place in the play-offs. Like many clubs in the constituencies of other Members, it is a focal point not only for football but many other sporting and community activities. Like other non-premiership clubs, the club's sporting successes are unfortunately marred by the financial constraints that it faces. Clubs such as AFC Bournemouth now look to the FA cup almost as a mini-lottery, hoping to be drawn against a premier league club simply to balance the books. In fact, Bournemouth were drawn against Liverpool in the fourth round, but unfortunately Liverpool, perhaps knowing that they might be confronted with playing Bournemouth, lost their first-round replay match, thereby denying Bournemouth the crucial financial support that they need.
I was not alive when England won the World cup, but I am told that the win in 1966 was a huge boost to British sports, not only football, and that even for non-sports enthusiasts the feel-good factor in England was contagious. I was born a few months afterwards, and it may well be that I have a lot to thank that feel-good factor for. If we are ever to win a World cup again, we must invest in home-grown talent and ensure that we
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support such non-premier league clubs as AFC Bournemouth, especially as they play such an active role in our communities.
Like many seaside towns, Bournemouth must now compete with holiday destinations abroad because the cost of travel has dropped. Low-cost airlines are making places such as Bournemouth compete with the likes of Berlin and Barcelona. Bookings for weekend holidays, let alone holidays for an entire week, have reduced as it is so much cheaper to travel abroad. Tourism is Bournemouth's biggest industry. The town has so much potential but is unfortunately denied the ability to explore new ways to deal with that competition and to pursue its own strategy to pursue visitors. I am afraid that the reason why it is held back, again without being too controversial in my maiden speech, is the growth in the power base of the South West regional assembly, which has taken power away from councils and given it to Taunton, denying councils the ability to decide their own strategy for the future. The biggest example is the threat to the green belt area around Bournemouth, where 13,000 more homes are being planned. I am not a supporter of the South West regional assembly. Bournemouth deliberately became a unitary authority in 1997 so that it could control its own future. I should like more power to be given to councils instead of having larger local government outside the area.
As in other town centres around the country, pubs and clubs have sprung up in Bournemouth at a rate that is altering the character of the town. In Bournemouth's case, this is deterring families from visiting the area in the evenings. I am not saying that we should not have any pubs or clubsfar from itbut the local council needs to have more control over how the character of the town develops. Pubs and clubs generally lead to the development of a yob culture and the drinking that occurs on Friday and Saturday nights, and I am afraid that Bournemouth is no exception. On a Friday night, half the police are forced to focus on the quarter of a square mile where all the nightclubs are based.
One idea that came up during the election campaign is that of imposing a levy on pubs and clubs to pay for the extra policing that is needed, so freeing up the police to cover the rest of the town. The concept is not newit is already used at football matches, where the extra policing that one sees is not paid for by taxpayers who are not necessarily there but out of ticket sales. That idea could be explored for Bournemouth, and I would very much welcome the opportunity to work with the council in order to pursue this.
When the Prime Minister opened the Queen's Speech debate, he mentioned the role of the police community support officer. I have spent time with many agencies in Bournemouth, including the police and CSOs, but have yet to meet a CSO who would not jump at the opportunity of ditching that uniform and wearing the uniform of a special constableif special constables were paid a salary. In Bournemouth, only one third of the quota for specials is met. Were we to pay them a salary, we would benefit from their better training, their power to make arrests, and meet the policing needs in Bournemouth.
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Before I end and pay tribute to my predecessor, I want to make a comment about the identity cards Bill, similar to that which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) made. We await the detail of the Government's proposals, but having served in the armed forces and, sadly, having lost a brother in the Bali bomb, I take a great interest in any legislation that aims to deal with the threat of terrorism. I am trying to keep an open mind on the issue, but I have yet to be convinced that a Bali-style attack in the UK could be prevented by the introduction of ID cards.
My predecessor, David Atkinson, was a loyal and dedicated MP for Bournemouth, East for 28 years. His commitment to Bournemouth was reflected in almost every street I visited during the election. It was impossible not to bump into someone who sang his praises or said that in one way or another he had helped them during his 28 years' tenure. He introduced a number of private Member's Bills, including a fireworks Bill, and spent 25 of those 28 years as a member of the Council of Europe.
It is interesting to note that during his time as an MP, David Atkinson never owned a mobile phone, a computer or a Blackberrythose new devices with which we all seem to be issued these days. It is therefore surprising to learn that it was he who made the announcement in the House about the threat of the Y2K bugthe big issue leading up to the year 2000, when it was feared that all our computers would crash. How on earth he came upon that information, I do not know, but his reluctance to harness IT never prevented him from dealing with constituency matters. Perhaps the lesson for us all is that we should not be so reliant on the IT equipment that we are given.
It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword. I might add that the pen is also mightier than the Blackberry, because if one loses one's pen, one simply loses one's train of thought. If one loses one's Blackberry, one loses one's lifetemporarily, at leastas I found out the hard way, and I am grateful to the staff of the Members' Tea Room for reuniting me with my Blackberry and making sure that I did not get into trouble with the Whips. Despite all the high-tech gadgetry that MPs are now armed with, David Atkinson proved that what is important is not so much the speed with which constituency matters are dealt with, or the turnover, but the quality of the response and the pursuit of a solution. I hope hon. Members will join me in wishing David Atkinson well in his retirement. I am pleased that he has chosen to retire in Bournemouth, as he will not be too far away if I have any questions or advice to seek.
I conclude by underlining my opening words. It is an honour to be elected as the Member for Bournemouth, East. I believe that good politics is about the accountability of power. I am encouraged by Mr. Speaker's opening remarks earlier this week about the role that this place plays in our democratic process. It is here that announcements of state should be made, it is here where those debates should take place, and it is here that Government should be held to account.
Good politics is about the accountability of power and how that power is wisely distributed, exercised and maintained. I hope to be guided by these words as I undertake the responsibility of Member of Parliament for Bournemouth, East. I am grateful to the people of
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Bournemouth, East for giving me this opportunity to work with and represent them to the high standard that they expect and deserve, as Bournemouth meets the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
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