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Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): I congratulate the many new Members who have made their maiden contributions this evening. The hon. Members for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and for Brent, South (Ms Butler) expressed great pride at being the first women to represent their constituencies, and I am particularly proud to be the first man to represent mine in more than 20 years. I am also proud to be standing next to my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton). She worked extremely hard to win her seat, and no one is prouder than I am to be with her this evening. [Hon. Members: "Love on the Benches!"] I believe that my hon. Friend is married.
Let me now undertake the enormously pleasurable task of paying tribute to my predecessor, Virginia Bottomley. This House will know that she played a distinguished role on the national stage as Secretary of State for Health and as Secretary of State for the then Department of National Heritage. The House may be less aware that she was also a hugely conscientious constituency MP, a determined champion of local causes and a passionate advocate of the many charities and voluntary organisations in my constituency. She is also immensely photogenic and cuts a wonderful dash in the hills of Haslemere, the gardens of Godalming and the fetes of Farnham. That, I fear, is an area in which I will be unable to follow in her distinguished footsteps.
My constituency consists of three historic towns and a number of villages that lie between them. Farnham is the largest of the towns, Haslemere is a town of great charm and character, and Godalming has a special place in my heart as I went to school there and my family are originally from there. My late grandmother was still alive when I was selected as a prospective parliamentary candidate, and no one could be happier than she would have been to see me standing here today.
In many ways, both the problems and the opportunities in my constituency reside in the same fact: we are only an hour from London. That creates not only huge economic opportunitiesmore than half the working population in my constituency commute to Londonbut huge development pressures that threaten the special character of my constituency's towns and villages. I do not wish to depart from the tradition of not being controversial in a maiden speech, but I want to let the House know that I will be campaigning vigorously against the housing targets set for my constituency by the Deputy Prime Minister, who used as his vehicle the unelected, unwanted and unnecessary South East England regional assembly.
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I will also be campaigning strongly for a tunnel for the A3 at Hindhead. There is a huge traffic bottleneck there and enormous problems for traffic coming from London to Portsmouth. The tunnel is a project of national importance, and I urge the Government to reconsider their decision last December effectively to withdraw funding for it.
The final issue currently of great concern to my constituents is the future of Milford hospital, which is a specialist rehabilitation hospital. More than a quarter of my constituents are retired, and the demand for the services offered by Milford is only likely to increase. However, I am told by my primary care trust that a short-term cash crisis leaves its potential future funding in doubt. I will be campaigning very strongly, locally and nationally, to ensure that Milford hospital does not become a victim of that cash crisis.
My own background is in education. With a business partnerhe is in the GalleryI set up an educational publishing business that produces guides and websites to help people choose the right university, college or course. I will mention it in the Register of Members' Interests, and I declare it today because I want to say something about education. I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for Education for sparing time from her schedule, and for making the effort to come and listen to what I have to say.
We live in a highly competitive world, and most Members in all parts of the House would accept that some inequality is the inevitable consequence of maintaining the link between effort and reward in our society. But given that that is so, there is surely not just an economic necessity but a moral duty to ensure that we give every child in this country the best possible start in life.
As a prospective parliamentary candidate, I followed in the footsteps of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) and did a week as a teacher in a local secondary school; I also did a week as a classroom assistant in a primary school. I welcome some of the changes in education that we have seen in the past eight years, particularly the literacy and numeracy hours, which have been important contributions. However, if we are to address the shortfalls in our education system, we have to recognise that it is not just a question of funding; we also need a disciplined learning environment and academic rigor. Respect for teachers is vital, but we also need to pay due attention to academic standards. If everyone gets a prize, in the end the prize itself becomes worthless, and the people who suffer most are those with the least. For them, a credible exam result is the very passport that they need to help them to break out of the cycle of low expectations with which they may well have grown up.
I come briefly to education in the third world, given that the developing world will be discussed at the forthcoming G8 summit. I was recently involved in setting up a charity to fund education for AIDS orphans in Kenya. I did so after sponsoring an HIV-positive child for a couple of years, and I make no apology to the House for coming to the problems of Africa through the prism of a small child's experience, because in the end this is about individuals and individual suffering.
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I was greatly helped in setting up that charity by Estelle Morris, who was willing to work across party lines to help me get it off the ground. She once said to me, "Jeremy, you care a lot about education and you care about the developing world. Just why are you a Conservative?", to which I say this: no party has a monopoly on compassionthe challenge is how to apply that compassion in a modern context. For my part, compassion alone is not enough; it needs to benefit the people to whom it is directed. Compassion should lead to independence for those who lack it, to freedom for those who need it and to opportunity for those who crave it. Creating opportunities for those who really need themwhether in this country or in the developing worldwill be a major preoccupation of mine for as long as the people of South-West Surrey give me the privilege of representing them in this House.
Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): Madam Deputy Speaker, I am delighted to make my maiden speech to the House on a debate about education and healthtwo key issues for my constituency. First, however, I want to congratulate new hon. Members on their maiden speeches today. I greatly enjoyed hearing the speeches over the last few hours and we have ranged from Swansea, East to Dundee, West and Brent, South, which has been a real education. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt), who provided an interesting tour of his constituency and spoke with authority on education both here and abroad. I wish him every success in his parliamentary career.
My constituency of Kingston upon Hull, North is situated in a proud and famous city, which continues to play an important role in the political life of the nation. I want to commence by paying tribute to my predecessor, Kevin McNamara, and then to explain a little of Hull's history and what is happening there today.
Kevin first entered Parliament as the MP for Hull, North in the famous and hard-fought by-election of January 1966. At that stage, Harold Wilson had a majority of just three MPs, which puts Labour's majority of 67 on 5 May this year in its proper context. Kevin's victory in the by-election convinced Harold Wilson that he should go to the country just a few months laterand the rest, as they say, is history, when a Labour Government was returned with a much increased majority. One of my constituents, Mrs. Jean Oxley, who worked tirelessly for Kevin in the by-election, even wrote to Harold Wilson, saying that Labour supporters were quite exhausted after the campaign and asking whether he could bear that in mind in thinking about calling a general election. It is to be noted that Jean, though exhausted in 1966, is still going strong, and at the age of 94 she nominated me as the Labour candidate in the general election.
Kevin served the area for the next 39 years. In campaigning with Kevin in recent months, I was struck by the warmth and fondness that local people felt for their MP. In Yorkshire, of course, we do not have the displays of emotion that we saw on the streets of Brent, South, but I was gesticulated at on many occasions, as was my colleague in Sheffield, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg).
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Kevin is a man proud of his Catholic faith and he has strong principles and values, which he never shied away from voicing. Members will be aware that Kevin served as Labour's principal spokesperson for Northern Irelanda cause dear to his heartbetween 1987 and 1994. He held many other roles, including Opposition spokesperson for defence and the civil service. In recent years, he has been a member of the Council of Europe and a key member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Kevin took a passionate interest in human rights, championing the rights of groups, including Travellers and the young soldiers who died at Deepcut, which society often wants to ignore or forget.
Kevin was always a strong advocate of animal welfare, and I am pleased that before he retired, fox hunting was finally legislated against. Kevin is quoted as describing his most important work as an MP as putting
I move on now to deal with Kingston upon Hull and its fascinating place in the political, constitutional and social history of this country. When people drive into Hull, they are greeted by a sign stating that Hull is a pioneering city: if we consider its history, we realise why. First, in 1642, Hull slammed the gate shut in the face of King Charles who was trying to access arms held in the cityan action that preserved the political liberties, rights and privileges of this House against the monarchy.
Secondly, Hull is the birthplace of William Wilberforce, who was born in 1759, later became an MP for the city and fought to abolish slavery. The cry of the abolitionists"Am I not a man and a brother?"still resonates today as we see slavery, people trafficking and especially women being trafficked for sex, still continuing around the world. In 2007, we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery and Hull will lead the way in marking that event.
Thirdly, as Hull's first woman MP, I cannot miss the opportunity to celebrate the wonderful life of another Johnson from Hull who reached great heights. It is not my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), remarkable though he is, but Amy Johnson, a strong, independently minded woman who lived in Hull for many years and followed her dream to become an aviator. She was keen to succeed in a project that would demonstrate that women could be as competent as men in a male-dominated field. She qualified as the first British-trained woman ground engineer and, of course, made her historic flight as the first woman to fly alone to Australia in 1930. I shall certainly look to Amy Johnson as an inspiration.
I am lucky that my experience in local government and as a member of the London Assemblytogether with other new hon. Members, I grappled with holding the Mayor of London to accountwill stand me in good stead in the cut and thrust of politics at Westminster.
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Today, Kingston upon Hull, North consists of leafy avenues in the south of the constituency, filled with students and academics from the university, up to the council estate at Bransholme, bordering the East Riding. Although it suffers from poor planning in the past and the economic blows of the 1980s, a strong community spirit survives in many of the people who moved from the fishing area in Hull to the new council estate in the 1970s. This area is now part of the pathfinder in Hull, which is very welcome. We have already seen community attempts at regeneration, with the award-winning community gym at the Dales working to get local people fitter. Work has also been done with disaffected young people to get them back on track.
Even after eight years of a Labour Government and massive investment in our community, we still have more work to do in health and education in Hull. Hull is leading the way, however, in the introduction of free healthy school meals, alongside the Labour Government's fresh fruit scheme, in all our primary schools. Those initiatives have been an amazing success. In one city centre school, there has been 98 per cent. take-up of healthy school meals. It is heartening to see small children either enjoying a healthy lunch of "cowboy pie", consisting of fresh meat and vegetables, or leaving school at the end of the day munching carrots and fruit. The long-term public health benefits of such innovations will take time to see, but I believe that they are essential if we are to reduce the gap between the life expectancy of a baby born in Kingston upon Hull todaysix years lessand a baby boy born in Kingston upon Thames today.
Continuing with the theme of education, we also have a well established music service in Hull, which gives any child, including those with special educational needs, an opportunity to learn to play an instrument. That service survived the massive cuts to music education in the 1980s and has been fiercely protected in Hull. We need only to go along to a school concert at Thoresby or Fifth Avenue primary school to be impressed by the talents of the youngsters.
I know that in Hull we need to build on the excellent work of our primary schools in order to get the results in the secondary sector. I am delighted that the Labour Government have awarded £200 million under the "building schools for the future" initiative to refurbish and rebuild our secondary schools, includingand, hopefully, at the top of the listthe Sir Henry Cooper and Kelvin Hall schools.
The university of Hull sits in the heart of the constituency and I am particularly proud of the Hull and York medical school, which, opening only two years ago, was ranked second in The Guardian league tables of UK medical schools for 2005. The course attaches particular importance to good communication skills in medical training and clinical placements from early on in a student's life. We now have the opportunity to develop a dental school on similar lines and I will be supporting and lobbying the Government on that in the coming months.
I also want briefly to mention another innovation in Hullthe community warden service, which provides a reassuring presence on the streets of my constituency. It befriends and works with the elderly and the young.
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As a port city and a gateway to Europe, Hull has always had international links. It has just been awarded Fairtrade status to show the outward-looking nature of many Hull people. Meanwhile, our local football team, Hull City, the Tigers, has just won year-on-year promotion and will be playing in the championship. We have a marvellous new stadium, known as the KC stadium, built in partnership with the Labour council, which has aided our team's success.
I am humbled to have been elected to represent such an interesting and challenging area. I will promote the city whenever possible and never forget my duty to improve the lives of people throughout the constituency. I will strive to serve all my constituents to the best of my ability.
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