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Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James), whom I congratulate on her succinct speech.

This is my maiden speech. Yesterday, while I was waiting all day to be called, it struck me that a maiden speech is a bit like a first bungee jump, leap from an aeroplane or chance to walk a girl home—while one is waiting, one does not know whether one will get one's chance; while one is waiting for the chance, one is not sure whether one has done the right thing.

It is an honour to speak as the new Conservative Member for Lancaster and Wyre and to represent my constituents in this House. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Hilton Dawson, who represented the people of Lancaster and Wyre for the past eight years. He was a friendly and approachable constituency MP who always managed to get out and about, and, more often than not, he put the people before his party or his politics. He worked tirelessly for the rights of children at home and abroad and always did his best to better their welfare. I wish him well in the cause to which he has returned since leaving this House, and I will always support him in the community if he needs me to.

Geographically, Lancaster and Wyre is sandwiched between Preston and the Lake district. It is bordered on the west by Morecambe bay and on the east by the Yorkshire dales. The constituency is steeped in Jacobean and mediaeval history; indeed, the seat of the Duchy of Lancaster has been there since the 14th century. The city of Lancaster was also the first city in England to welcome the young pretender on his march south in 1744–45, so it was no surprise that, as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I always received a warm welcome from the city. To this day, the
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constituency has strong links north as well as south, and I look forward to doing my best to represent the north in this House in the south.

The constituency also has ancient history. The town of Garstang has been a market town for the past 800 years and it historically prided itself on its rural economy and trade. Now, it prides itself on being Britain's first fair trade town, and I look forward to supporting that and increasing what is on offer to the people. The settlements of Poulton-Le-Fylde and Thornton have been in existence for nearly a millennium.

The rich history of the constituency is reflected in the two local regiments: the King's Own Border Regiment, which recruits from around Lancaster, and the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, which recruits in Preston. They are well-recruited regiments with a first-class history in serving the Crown. It is a great shame that the Government, under their proposed umbrella for reform, are due to abolish those two proud regiments. It may be of note that the commanding officer of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment is perhaps due to stand trial for action in Iraq. It is a scandal that the country does not stand by the soldiers that have been sent to Iraq on Government business. As an ex-serving officer, I would say that if our senior officers are to stand trial, perhaps some people from other Benches in this House should face a similar fate.

I wanted to speak yesterday in the home affairs debate, because I wanted to point out that a major factor in the history of Lancaster and Wyre has been law and order, in which it has a great tradition. Lancaster castle is the oldest and longest continually running prison in Europe. It has housed debtors, executed witches and deported thieves. Poulton-Le-Fylde boasts some of the best examples of antique stocks and whipping posts. That is a bit too tough on crime and the causes of crime nowadays, but it shows the great theme in my constituency for upholding law and order.

On a more positive note, there are good examples in the education sector, from first-class primary schools, such as St. Hilda's and Carlton, to Garstang high school and Lancaster university. They all turn out first-class students, and the challenge for economic development in the constituency is to provide jobs for those skilled people to enter the labour market. In manufacturing, British Aerospace is south of my constituency and Glasson Grain is in it. Both struggle with fierce overseas competition and it is hoped that the Government will do more to help the manufacturing sector.

During the general election, I campaigned on three main issues. The first was cracking down on crime, especially youth crime and antisocial behaviour, which now blights all streets across the country. I wanted to campaign also for local communities to have more of a say in planning so that, as so often happens, their decisions are not overruled from the centre. Thirdly—and more appropriate to this debate—I campaigned for better access to national health service dentists. A recent survey found that only 30 per cent. of dentists in Lancaster and Wyre would take NHS patients. If all the investment is going in at the top, why can people not get access to dentists? That surely shows that there is a flaw in the plan somewhere.
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It is appropriate in this debate for me to speak to the Conservative amendment, because my constituents are not concerned about who delivers their health care, but who commissions it. They want access to a GP out of hours, an NHS dentist and health visitors, and they also want their primary care dictated predominantly by their needs instead of being anticipated by the centre and targets.

I want to thank the electorate of Lancaster and Wyre for sending me here, and I shall try to do my best over the next four or five years to represent their needs. I want also to thank my association, which obviously backed me; otherwise, I would not be standing here.

I came here because I believe in defending, not denying people's liberties. I came here because many of the constituents whom I represent live on the edge of the means test. They are not eligible for any of the benefits, but are eligible to be taxed. They do not have the cushion to absorb such measures as tuition fees or higher council tax. I came here because my constituents deserve good government, not big government. During the next few years, I shall do my best for them and for the party.

5.15 pm

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The maiden speech of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) was a fine speech. I have listened to several maiden speeches over the past few days and I have been impressed by their high calibre. The hon. Gentleman and I will obviously differ on many issues, but he will provide us with good debate during the coming years.

I must make special mention of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James). I lived in Swansea for 13 years and taught at the university there. Indeed, I took Donald Anderson's job when he was elected to Parliament a very long time ago, and later joined him here. My hon. Friend's speech was very good and it brought back many memories of happy days in Swansea, where I still have close associations. Her robust speech makes me conscious of the fact that she will be a great parliamentarian and will fight the corner for Swansea.

It is wonderful to have a robust discussion about everything, so let us start with education, as not much has been said about it today. I want to say only three things, the first of which is that there is a remarkable amount in the Queen's Speech that I salute. It contains a great deal, and opens with a commitment to the

of our economy. None of our achievements in education, health or any of the public services, nor anything that we have done during the past eight years, would have been possible had it not been for our successful running of the economy.

As the former Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee, I have considered our achievements in education. Part of my job during the past few years has been to scrutinise and to point out matters to the Government. Colleagues will know that when my Committee and I thought that the Government had got it wrong, we were pretty robust in our criticism—constructive criticism—of them. The Government have a very proud record in terms of investment in education,
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the early years programme and Sure Start, the secondary schools programme, and skills and higher education.

That does not mean that we have accomplished everything, however. One interesting phrase that leapt out of the Queen's Speech was the commitment to achieve

Many of us in this House will remember "respect" for a long time to come; indeed, there is a Member of this House associated with that title for whom I do not have a great deal of respect.

On returning to the House after an election, it is sometimes important to point out not only the easy things that one heard on the doorstep, but the difficult things. I was most worried to discover on the doorstep in the recent election that although there is not an actual dislike of politics or politicians, there is an undercurrent of resistance, almost, to the democratic process. Once we start to pick up that feeling, it should worry all of us—not just the Government, but the Opposition. The feeling is not just about party politics.

As a young MP, I remember hearing Harold Wilson when he was chairing a Committee on new communications technologies. It was a time when satellite communications and 24-hour media were only dimly perceived. In the 20 years since, we have seen the rise of 24-hour media. From talking to many of my constituents I gain the impression that they feel inundated and fed up with it. There is far too much of it and they have had enough. If we think of the constant barrage of news and information that comes in so many ways and if we add to it the rather nasty tone of the last election, we gain an understanding of the problem.

I realise that the Conservatives no longer want to be seen as the nasty party, but many aspects of their behaviour during the election—their use of the Australian term, for example—made me think that they had forgotten that. I remember when I first went to Australia hearing politicians call each other liars in the chamber. We would not countenance that in this Chamber. The Tory candidate who stood against me called me a liar in his election address. I never experienced that before in all the seven elections that I fought. I thought that it was inappropriate for the Leader of the Opposition and my Conservative opponent to use that term. It feeds back to the ordinary people I talk to, who do not want the tone of British politics lowered in that way.

I also recall the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference taking place during the election. These days, the Secretary of State and junior Ministers cannot get a fair hearing even from headmasters. We then ask ourselves what to do about disruptive behaviour in schools. My Select Committee took considerable evidence on disruptive behaviour, and it is a real problem. All the evidence that my Committee took over five years suggests strongly that such behaviour greatly reflects what is happening in society. Kids do not become different people or step into a different culture when they come to school. They bring what they have learned from outside into the classroom.

Teaching becomes the toughest job in the world when children who show no respect at home, no respect on the streets and no respect in their communities also show no
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respect at school. For such children, it is inevitably difficult to enter a regime in which they are expected to behave themselves, to be quiet and to allow others to learn. It is a challenging problem for our society and there are no glib answers. There is no silver bullet for improving the environment in all our schools.

I go to a school of one sort or another once a fortnight. I often find good schools, well-behaved students and an atmosphere in which pupils can learn—in short, everything that parents would expect of a school that they want their children to attend. I go mainly to state schools—I do not visit the private sector very often—and it is those schools to which I am referring. I believe that we should be proud of the teaching, leadership and environment in which most of our kids are educated in this country. It does no one any good to exaggerate the problem, though behaviour is not what it could be and there is some low-level bad behaviour in some schools, which stops others from learning.

We can probably agree on both sides of the House that what we want from our education system is quality learning in the classroom. We want a teacher to be able to teach and a student to be able to learn. Teachers, heads and all those associated with our education system sometimes need to be congratulated, not criticised, on doing a very good job in most of our country's schools. We should remember that.

I have two more points about the Queen's Speech. First, precisely what is going to appear in the education Bill is rather a mystery. We know about only some parts of it and it seems rather a miscellaneous Bill. I should like to tell the Secretary of State that the battleground for ideas and actions over the next four years may be slightly different from what she anticipates. I shall tell the House what I think, which is that we will return to what happens to children between the ages of 16 and 18. The manifesto contained a pledge that I hold very dear—that no longer will any child be allowed to go into employment without any training or educational qualifications. That is not a plea for making compulsory a school-leaving age of 18, but we must ensure that no child goes into the labour market without some educational or training guarantee.

Finally, the Tomlinson report will not go away. We must make vocational education a genuine alternative for children aged between 14 and 19. That alternative must not be a lesser choice or second class in any way, but making it available will be the challenge for the next four years.

I hope that we have a good debate on education and that new Members will continue to contribute to it when they have delivered their maiden speeches, as it is a wonderful sector in which to take an active part.

5.25 pm

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