Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I add my congratulations to all the new Members who are making their maiden speeches. I wish them every success in this Parliament, working for their constituents.

Falmouth and Camborne is my birthplace. It is my home and it is now the constituency that I have the privilege of representing. While I am looking forward to raising the concerns of my constituents here, some particularly hard taskmasters are already pushing me
19 May 2005 : Column 361
for progress. I refer, of course, to my mum, dad and two sisters—I never expected that my toughest constituency surgery would be the Sunday family lunch.

The past half-century has seen some idiosyncratic Cornish voices here. A distinguished predecessor, David Mudd—rather curiously, he was one of the opponents whom I defeated—comes to mind. So too does Candy Atherton, a doughty and courteous opponent. However, Cornwall has produced one genuine political superstar, a strong voice for the county and a man who became a national treasure. I refer, of course, to David Penhaligon, our late, great Liberal Member of Parliament. I was just eight years old when he was tragically killed but, every day that I have campaigned in Cornwall, his name has been mentioned and his spirit evoked. His work, not just for Truro and his constituents but for everyone in Cornwall, earned him admiration, love and respect from people all over the county—actually, all over the country—regardless of their personal political persuasions. Just a few days here has reinforced that respect in which he was held by all parties. Every Member representing any part of Cornwall has had a tough act to follow and a high standard to meet. I shall do my best to look significantly less crumpled than David Penhaligon did but, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you may be assured that I will follow his lead, which has been followed by a growing body of Liberal Democrats in Cornwall, to put the needs and demands of my county above everything else.

In preparing this maiden speech I looked back to that of David Penhaligon to see what issues were important to him and to people in Cornwall in 1974. I was shocked at how many of the problems that he raised then remain problems today. Before I was even born, before this Labour Government or the last Conservative Government, Cornwall already suffered from spiralling house prices, low wages and lower-than-average funding for our hospitals, schools and police. Today we can add to the list the fact that we have the highest water bills in the country and, like many other parts, face the increasing burden of the unfair council tax.

In the 31 years since Mr. Penhaligon was elected, successive Governments have hardly recognised, let alone addressed, many of those problems. We have lived too long with the assumption that beautiful beaches, a sunny climate and an extraordinary landscape must mean a wealthy population. The truth is quite to the contrary: we are still the poorest county in the country. Indeed, many problems are getting worse. Since 1998, house prices in my constituency have increased by 144 per cent. While that may be caused by the desirability of many areas as locations for second homes, a recent report by Shelter states that Cornwall is the least affordable place to live in the UK, including London.

In Cornwall, doctors, nurses and teachers are struggling to afford to live where they work. It is even worse for people on local wages. Low and often seasonal incomes put home ownership far beyond the reach of many people who live and work there. Wages remain about 20 per cent. below the national average. Action is desperately needed to build the economic capacity of the county and to develop a stock of skilled, permanent and well-paid jobs.

In Scotland and Wales, there has been detailed investigation into the cost of public service provision in rural areas, whereas in England there has been no such
19 May 2005 : Column 362
adequate investigation into, or account taken of, how deprivation manifests itself in rural areas. NHS funding illustrates the illogicality of the existing situation. Funding is tied to low local wage rates, which will hit Cornwall's hospitals for years to come. Instead, they should be used as evidence to justify increased investment.

People in Cornwall do not demand more funding for public services than anyone else, but they reasonably deserve levels of funding and support that reflect their needs. The Queen's Speech sadly shows that the Government are still not listening to the concerns of the Cornish people. I am determined that the voice of the people of Falmouth and Camborne will not be ignored in this Parliament.

I do not wish to dwell entirely on problems. Progress has also been made, due in most part to hard work and cross-party consensus from politicians, for whom putting Cornwall first has been their No. 1 goal. Objective 1 status for the county was secured through the hard work of all of Cornwall's MPs, through the efforts of our then MEP, Robin Teverson, and with the support of this Government. Our qualification for objective 1 is long overdue recognition of the fact that Cornwall is the poorest county in England, and I hope that the Government will support the next phase of the programme so that Cornwall's economic growth can continue to build.

The scheme has helped to develop the county's economy through its work with small businesses and its support of important strategic projects, such as the Combined University in Cornwall at Tremough in Penryn. It is an ambitious project, which has finally provided access to higher education in Cornwall. For the first time, young people who could not otherwise afford to go away to university have the opportunity to study at home, although sadly now only if they can afford the tuition and top-up fees. For those achievements I pay tribute to my colleagues as well as my predecessors, Candy Atherton, Seb Coe and David Mudd, for their hard work. I hope that this spirit, working across party and political boundaries to achieve what is best for the constituency and for Cornwall, will continue.

For the first time since 1923, the entire county is represented by Liberal Democrat MPs. That is even more remarkable given that the seat of Falmouth and Camborne, since it was created in 1950, has never previously been represented by a Liberal or Liberal Democrat and was won at this election from third place. This will help provide a united voice for the county, but I want to make something very clear: the ambition of all Cornwall's Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament is to put the interests of the county first. That includes making sure that we work with people of all political persuasions, including locally elected representatives from Labour, the Conservatives, Mebyon Kernow and especially Cornwall's many independent councillors, to make the case for Cornwall. People of all parties and none can make a real contribution to winning the case for a fair deal for Cornwall, and as Liberal Democrats our ambition is to make sure that that voice is heard.

Falmouth and Camborne is also the first seat that David Penhaligon sought to fight, and he was told by the selection committee that at 24 he was far too young. Times have changed since then. My hon. Friend the
19 May 2005 : Column 363
Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) was elected at the age of 24 and, now two years older than he was then, I feel quite old.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you know that it is difficult not to be overawed by the responsibility now placed on me by each and every one of my constituents. It is easy to be overawed by this building and by the national political figures whom I see all around me. But, as Mr. Penhaligon said to himself when he was newly elected, and I say to myself now, "Hang on, I got elected as well as they did. Let's get on with it."

4.20 pm

Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this House today. I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend—sorry, my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy). I was going to say that Cornwall had maybe discovered another star of the future, but perhaps I have promoted her somewhat too quickly. I congratulate her on her maiden speech and I congratulate other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today.

I am personally grateful to hon. Members from all parties, but especially to Liberal Democrat Members and to the staff of the House, whose advice and kindness have helped me and other new Members to find our feet. I am proud to say that I am the first Member of Parliament to represent Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. This is a new constituency, and there are many in Scotland. Three quarters of the constituency was previously within the Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber constituency. I pay tribute to David Stewart, who was the Member of Parliament for that constituency from 1997 and the Labour party candidate at the election.

Mr. Stewart conducted his campaign in the way he conducted himself in this House: he was understated, industrious and gentlemanly. He was a renowned campaigner on many worthy causes, and I would particularly like to highlight his work to tackle global poverty through the Jubilee 2000 movement. I wish him well for the future. Of course, the highlands of Scotland have a long and radical tradition. Hence it has been for many years a stronghold of Liberalism and now Liberal Democracy. Prior to 1997, much of my constituency was represented by that great Highland Liberal Russell Johnston, who continues his service in the other place. Throughout his 33 years representing the area, Russell exemplified the thoughtful and independent-minded approach that is characteristic of the highlands. I was especially grateful to him for spending so much of his time with me during the election campaign. It is striking to think that Russell was a Member of this House for as many years as I have so far spent on this earth. Russell Johnston was to me, as to many others, a political inspiration, but he was not the first Liberal influence on my life. My mother tells me that, when I was three months old, my grandfather was seen rocking me in my pram and saying "Repeat after me: 'I am a member of the Liberal Party.'"

A quarter of my constituency was previously represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy). Indeed, that
19 May 2005 : Column 364
is not the only thing that we have in common, for we are both former pupils of Lochaber high school and, as has been remarked upon in the press, share a hair colour that is perhaps more prevalent in the far north of Scotland than anywhere else. I have been very grateful for his help and support locally over the past year as a candidate, as well as for his outstanding leadership of the Liberal Democrat party, which has seen us to our best performance in a general election since the 1920s. Both my right hon. Friend and Lord Russell-Johnston have spoken up loudly for the highlands and for their principles, and if I can live up to their standards in the years to come, I shall be serving my constituents well. Like them, I shall work hard for everybody in my constituency, irrespective of their party preference.

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey is the longest name of any constituency in the country—indeed, to some it may prove to be something of a tongue-twister. While many Members can speak of the visual attractions of their constituencies, I believe that Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey can rightly be described as one of the most beautiful of all. It is also one of the most diverse, encompassing the fast-growing city of Inverness, the remote splendour of the Cairngorm mountains, the mysteries of Loch Ness and the popular seaside town of Nairn. I have not yet had the pleasure of canvassing the most famous resident of Loch Ness, but I am reliably informed that she is not a Labour supporter. Like the Prime Minister, Nessie was not seen in my constituency during the election campaign, but unlike the Prime Minister, her reputation has grown as a result. Tourism is one of the most important industries in the area and hon. Members on both sides of the House can be assured of a warm highland welcome as and when they choose to visit. Indeed, I hope that the Prime Minister will now take the opportunity to do so.

One of the most important recent developments in Badenoch and Strathspey has been the creation of the Cairngorms national park, and I previously worked for the park authority. Readers of the National Geographic Magazine recently voted the highlands one of the top 10 sustainable tourism destinations in the world. Clearly, the need to develop the tourist industry further must be accommodated in such a way that it does not at the same time undermine the natural features that attract the visitors in the first place. We must not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

As Members on both sides of the House are all too aware—the right hon. Member for Fylde (Michael Jack) eloquently made the point in his speech earlier—threats to our environment are more often international than local. The threat and indeed the current reality of climate change are all too apparent to my constituents, not least because they are highly visible through the fortunes of the Scottish ski industry. The Cairngorm mountain ski area has successfully diversified into a very popular summer attraction, as the amount of time and the snow available for winter sports have fallen as a consequence of global warming. I hope that we might finally see some genuine progress made on that most pressing question when the G8 comes to Scotland in the summer.

I am proud to represent the whole of the city of Inverness, capital of the highlands. Britain's most northerly city is also one of the country's fastest growing. The quality of life, as well as the quality of
19 May 2005 : Column 365
employment, have caused the population to rise, especially in the Inverness and Nairn areas. As well as being a service centre for the highlands, with much income from traditional areas such as tourism, Inverness is home to an increasing number of innovative modern industries, particularly in the medical field. The success of LifeScan Scotland, formerly Inverness Medical, which now employs more than 1,200 people, is helping to attract many new businesses to the area.

Inverness's growth and success present challenges, not least the fact that, despite recent progress, with wages at 80 per cent. of the UK average, the highlands and islands is still one of the poorer areas in the United Kingdom. Problems caused by remoteness are as pressing as they were when Russell Johnston raised them in his maiden speech in 1964. Of course, there has been progress, and I pay tribute to the work of many public agencies in the highlands. The fact remains that there is considerable room for improvement in all aspects of the transport network—bus, train, road, and air—in my constituency, despite the substantial progress made under Nicol Stephen, our Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive Minister for Transport.

Effective transport links between the highlands and London are vital for the region's continued growth, so it is a matter of regret that the Government have so far not seen fit to protect vital air routes between Inverness and London with a public service obligation. Considerable further investment is also needed to improve road and rail infrastructure around Inverness and between Inverness and Nairn, particularly by upgrading the A96 and completing the Inverness southern link road.

Perhaps the most pressing problem across the highlands—and, as we have heard in other speeches today, in many areas across the country—is the shortage of affordable housing. The rapid rise in house prices has pushed owning a home beyond the means of many local people. One Conservative Member has already confessed to me that he owns a second home in my constituency. I look forward to meeting him there, but I have to say that demand for second homes has enormously exacerbated the problem of the shortage of affordable housing. We need radical solutions, which will be one of my priorities during this Parliament. Although housing policy in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Parliament, decisions made here can have a significant impact on the problem.

Our rural areas are home to many thousands of people, so services in small communities such as those that I represent must be preserved and enhanced, not undermined or removed, as has been the fate, for example, of too many post offices in recent years.

In his book, "Memory Hold the Door", the author, John Buchan, wrote of the importance of holding public office in words that I believe still hold true today:

I look forward to the next stage of that adventure and I thank hon. Members for their forbearance of my opening foray today.
19 May 2005 : Column 366

4.30 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page