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Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): I    congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) on a fine and fighting maiden speech. I can tell him that I am a descendant of a long line of operatives working in the Northamptonshire shoe industry. I can convey some optimism to him, based on the fact that the shopmates of Raunds were the forerunners of the Jarrow marchers, but since then they have moved on a little. Now they see some brighter plains, based in many respects on the work done by the Government of Margaret Thatcher. I pay tribute to her, and I pass that optimism on to the hon. Gentleman.

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech during this debate. During the election I promised the people of Northampton, South that I would be as active in pursuing their interests in the House as I had been as a member of Northamptonshire county council, so I am grateful to have this opportunity at this juncture.

I rise to speak in the Chamber as a relatively elderly new entrant, which will, I hope, gain me sympathy and understanding both from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and from hon. Members. One of the joys of being able to look back over a full number of years is that if we play our cards right, we build up a store of friendship that serves us well in our demise. I am delighted to have reacquainted myself with some very friendly faces in and around the House over recent days. I am also delighted to have reacquainted myself with a rather younger friendly face on the Labour Benches, who reminds me of the immense good that we can do when we put aside our political differences and concentrate on the matters that we mutually agree upon. I refer to the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson), whose father was the Labour agent in Kidderminster when I was Conservative agent in the 1970s. The hon. Gentleman's father and I identified much common ground, which we worked upon together in the interests of the people of that constituency. It was a practical lesson in political action that I have never forgotten. Consequently, I am grateful for this opportunity to pay tribute to a good friend who was also a very pragmatic and caring political activist.

That leads me to my predecessor in Northampton, South, Mr. Tony Clarke, who is also a caring political activist who served his constituency well as an MP for eight years. The dedication that he displayed to his constituents was exemplary and was commented upon to me often during the election. It gives me pleasure to pay tribute to him in this Chamber.
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Tony Clarke and I worked together on a number of local projects over the three years that I was a parliamentary candidate, and I thank him for his input and friendship. Indeed, such an attitude reflects much that is positive about the people whom I now represent. They are hard-working people who have their roots firmly planted in agriculture in a county famed for its oak forests. Together, those components created the shoe industry, which later provided employment for many generations of Northamptonshire people, and is still the industry most associated with the county. I need hardly say that one of the great loves shared by my predecessor and me is the local football team, nicknamed the Cobblers. That highlights the importance of that industry to my local community. I know that he shares my disappointment that they failed to gain promotion again this year.

Disappointment is a part of life's rich pattern and is certainly no stranger to the good people of Northampton and those in the surrounding countryside. They were disappointed when Parliament ceased to meet in the town, as it did on many occasions in the 14th century—not least because, for a change, Parliament then brought money to the town rather than taking it away. They were also delighted when Cromwell placed an order for shoes for his new model army on the promise of later payment, only to be again disappointed when the payment failed to materialise. In more recent years, they have been disappointed by the demise of the shoe trade and the loss of many skilled jobs that generations had practised with pride, although quality products are still manufactured by the likes of Church's, Crockett and Jones, and Trickers.

My constituents have also been concerned by the closure of much of our engineering sector. British Timkin and Express Lifts have both closed over recent years, with the consequent loss of thousands of jobs. It is true that those jobs have been replaced, but many feel that they have been replaced by jobs demanding less skill and paying less money, and that disappoints them.

I do not want to give the impression that Northampton is "on its uppers". It is not. It is still a thriving town populated by hard-working people who want to live decent lives, create a caring society, obey the law, ensure that their kids have a good education, provide properly for the elderly and receive quality health care. However, the message that they gave to me on the doorstep is that they feel let down in many of those respects, too—they are disappointed. There were three subjects about which they felt especially aggrieved. Many asked me to raise those concerns at the first opportunity, and I am pleased to do so.

The Gracious Speech made it clear, as it always does, that estimates for the public services will be laid before this House, and those will include the revenue support grant. There is a growing feeling in my constituency that the revenue support grant is in danger of being distorted. Let me explain. Three years ago, Northampton borough council had a massive increase of up to 30 per cent. when it was under Labour control. Two years ago the increase was 8.5 per cent.—the council was still under Labour control. Last year it dropped to just 0.9 per cent. after Labour lost control.

Now I know the Government will argue that the reduction is caused by the need to transfer resources to less affluent areas, but the argument is not that
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straightforward. I have already touched upon the loss of skilled well-paid jobs in Northampton and the influx of less skilled and therefore less well-paid jobs. As a consequence, many of my constituents feel that they are being neglected and ignored by a Government who are reducing the revenue support grant at the very time that that need is beginning to grow.

That feeling is heightened when we consider that Northampton and its immediate surroundings feature greatly in the Government's sustainable communities plan, which projects an extra 47,000 or so houses to be built by 2031. It does not take a member of Mensa to work out that such additional development will increase the town's population by almost 50 per cent., which is well above the figure projected in the county structure plan. That will create the need in and around Northampton for approximately 370 extra hospital beds, nine new upper schools and 27 new primary schools—to say nothing of the additional policing, transport, social and health services, waste disposal, sewage, leisure, water and employment requirements. Yet with all that need, the Government have stated that they will not guarantee the extra money for infrastructure.

No wonder local people feel that they are expected to take much more than their fair share of the housing needs of the London area. No wonder they feel that the Government are letting them down by failing to appreciate the infrastructure demands that they face. No wonder they feel that they are being short-changed by a Government who fail to support local people in Northampton properly at present and seem intent on failing to support them properly in future, while at the same time placing massively increased demands upon them.

I plead with the Government to address those problems urgently by fully recognising Northampton's needs in the forthcoming revenue support grant allocations. I also call upon the Government to reduce the burden of extra housing placed on the town and its immediate surrounding areas by an unfair, ill-conceived and under-resourced sustainable communities plan. I urge the Minister to ask the Government to include that rethink in their commitment to achieve sustainable communities.

Finally, I want to refer to the question of the travelling communities in our society. Northampton, like many other areas of the country, faces a serious problem caused by a section of the travelling community. Let me make it clear that not all Travellers act irresponsibly—and it may be only a small number in that community that do. Let me also make it clear that the great majority of my constituents would be happy to support a continuation of the travelling way of life—provided that Travellers fully accepted their responsibilities. However, some of them do cause damage in my community, place extra demands on resources and policing, and generally act as if they lived beyond the law.

I recognise the need for additional sites. Equally, I recognise the need to protect individuals' rights within our community, and we are not doing that. A change in the law is needed. That is what residents are calling for. I therefore ask that the Government consider that when they look at creating safe and secure communities and fostering a culture of respect.
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I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity and look forward to having further opportunities, under your guidance.

2.58 pm

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