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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I remind the hon. Gentleman that the part of the Queen's Speech that we are currently debating is the economy and welfare reform, on an amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
Bob Spink: I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have the amendment that we are debating, and I shall stick to the issues that it deals with, such as the skills gap, the burden of regulation, public services improvement, the pensions crisis and encouraging saving. I am grateful for your advice.
We need to improve productivity; that is for sure. Improvement will come, however, through lower regulation. What will the Government do to remove the burden of red tape and bureaucracy on British business? What will they do to remove EU interference? Will they do what they did before: give us warm words and soft soap, and more of the same regulation and bureaucracy? Where are the plans to invest much more in our skills base and provide easier access to vocational training at all levels? How are the Government to promote better use of science and research in our economy, and encourage investment in productive plants? Workers need to work smarter, rather than harder and longeralthough we need, of course, to work harder and longer as well.
There is great disappointment among pensioners that there seems to be little help for them in the Gracious Speech. The fact that they need help is not in question. Pensioners have received a poor deal from Governments of both colours over the past two or three decades, and things are getting worse not better. Under this Government, pensioners' share of national wealth has fallen since 1997, when the Prime Minister promised the earth, after which he has delivered very little sustainable improvement to pensioners.
At those words, people in Canvey Island senior citizens association sang and danced in the aisles at CISCA house, but the Government's word then began to give
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way to the reality that there is little in the programme before us today to help hard-pressed pensioners, one in five of whom are currently living in poverty. Some 500,000 of them are living with nutritional problems because they cannot afford to buy the food that they need. That is a shame after eight years of a Labour Government.
There is nothing in the legislative programme to reverse the growth of means-testing, restore the earnings link and give a decent basic state pension. What will this programme do to improve private pensions, give more fairness and flexibility on the purchase of annuities and help fill pension funds by giving access to unclaimed assets held by the banks and financial institutions? What real incentives will be given to encourage people to save for their pensions over the next two or three decades? Pensions should have been the Government's key measure; instead, they were the people's key disappointment in this programme.
Having listened to your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall skip House of Lords reform and turn back to the economy. A leader in the Financial Times teased the Government and pilloried the Queen's Speech, calling for less Government interference in the economy and business, and less regulation. The Gracious Speech gave a commitment
Perversely, however, the programme, with its mass of legislation, will increase the burden of regulation and bureaucracy on UK business. We live in a global economyEurope is an important part of our trading relationships, but so is the rest of the world. We must fight to retain the rebate that was won for us by Mrs. Thatcher in 1984, which is as relevant today as it was then. We must reverse much of the inappropriate control and regulation emanating from Europe, and we must hold an early referendum on the constitution, whatever the outcome in France.
Today, Parliament is less significant, less respected and less relevant to the people we represent. Democracy is damaged by an overbearing Government, who cram through bad or irrelevant legislation without scrutiny and ransack our constitution or sell out to Europe. People are disappointed by the dominance of political correctness over common sense under this Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said, Parliament must reassert its control of the Executive so that we can better serve those who sent us here.
That brings me to the electorate. In my first speech in the new Parliament, I wish to include a word of thanks to my constituents in Castle Point for returning me in such a handsome manner. Turnout increased significantly, and there was an 833 per cent. increase in my majority. Indeed, if replicated, the Castle Point result would have returned a Conservative Government, and thus led to a more tightly drawn, relevant and meaningful Queen's Speech.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab):
I congratulate hon. Members who have made their maiden speech today, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and the
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hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech). I am grateful for this opportunity, and it is with pride and humility that I rise to make my maiden speech. My pride is in the faith that my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire has placed in me as its Member of Parliament, and my humility is rooted in that faith.
Due to the reorganisation of Scottish constituencies, I have the unique privilege to be the first in what I hope will be a long and impressive line of Members for Ochil and South Perthshire. Before progressing any further, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor. Before the election, most of my seat was part of the old Ochil constituency, which was represented by Martin O'Neillsoon to be Lord O'Neill. I am honoured to have known Martin for much of his time in Parliament, serving as his agent in 2001, and working closely with him on a number of local issues. Martin is a hard act to follow, as he served the people superbly. I do not intend any reference to our comparative sizes, but I fear that I may be in his shadow for some time.
Martin was first elected in 1979 as the Member for Stirlingshire, East and Clackmannan, with a majority of just 984, which is similar to my recent majority. In his final general election in 2001, his majority rose to 5,349, but I do not make any connection between that increase and my role as his agent. Martin is an insistent and passionate man, loved by many in the constituency. Much of his passion outside politics focuses on Hibernian football club, of which he is a director. I am sure that his passion was bruised following Saturday's result, but at least Hibs are still in the UEFA cup. As many hon. Members know, Martin's dedication to the club brought him into contact with another feisty Scot elected in 1979the former Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, George Foulkes, who is the chairman of Heart of Midlothian football club. In opposition, Martin worked as a spokesman, first, on defence and disarmament, then on energy. In 1995 he became Chairman of the Trade and Industry Committee. I am sure that many hon. Members in the House want to extend to the future Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan their best wishes for his time in the other place.
The constituency that I humbly represent has seen its fair share of boundary reviews. The villages and towns, from Alloa in the south-west, to Crieff in the north and Kinross in the east, have fallen into 11 different constituencies since 1918. From examining the historical records for the area that I represent, I see that I am the first Labour Member of Parliament to represent Crieff, the area having been previously represented by Liberal, Liberal Unionist, Conservative and, lately, Scottish National party MPs, most recently Annabel Ewing. As her website informs us, Annabel Ewing is the daughter of SNP president Winnie Ewing and sister to Fergus Ewing MSP. I note, however, that the "Almanac of British Politics 2002" reminds us not to confuse the Scottish Ewing dynasty with that of J. R. Ewing from the 1980s television show "Dallas". Other distinguished representatives for the area have included former Secretary of State for Scotland Arthur Woodburn, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, often remembered for his use of "unparliamentary language" and former Foreign Secretary and Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home.
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In 1785, the first recorded cricket match in Scotland took place in Alloa. The actress Sophie Stewart was born in Crieff in 1908, and more recently, I spent my secondary education with former Partick Thistle, Liverpool, and Scotland footballer, and now "Match of the Day" pundit, Alan Hansen. Perhaps the most interesting claim that I have heard is that Pontius Pilate was born in Strathearn I am sure that my hon. Friends will appreciate, however, that that is not entirely possible to clarify, even with the substantial resources of the House of Commons Library.
My constituency is quite diverse, covering two local authority areas, Clackmannanshire and Perth and Kinross. Clackmannanshire is the smallest county in Scotland and my home for the last 37 yearsan area of great beauty, with the Ochil hills, Alva Glen, Dollar Glen, Alloa, Sauchie, Clackmannan and Menstrie Towers, and Castle Campbell in Dollar. Over in Kinross lies Rachel House, the first children's hospice to be built in Scotland.
There is a great industrial past rooted in paper manufacture, textiles, woollen mills, mining, brick manufacture, andlest we forgetbrewing and distilling. Sadly, many of those traditional industries have disappeared, but fortunately we are left with a considerable whisky presence, including many world-famous Diageo brands and the former United Glass bottle manufacturers plantquite a useful relationship, I am sure that the House would agree. Not only do we have the whisky and the bottlesand quite a number of consumers, I am surebut the water to go with it in the form of Highland Spring from Blackford. At least we can now begin to see the sense of the boundary commission's work. We are also lucky to have leading technology companies such as Landcatch and E-Point adding to the diversity of the constituency.
Close to the centre of the constituency is the Gleneagles hotel, the location in just over 40 days of the G8 summit of world leaders. Much has been made of decisions to hold the summit at this location, and while I support the right to peaceful demonstrations, that should not be the expense of other local residents or the safety of all those present in the area, including demonstrators. I have great faith in the ability of our police force to carry out its job. Great work can be done at Gleneagles, with the opportunity for it to be the launch pad for the redevelopment of Africa and the associated alleviation of suffering.
Ochil and South Perthshire is diverse in both landscape and people, as I was reminded by Mr. Speaker on the occasion of my swearing inand who am I to disagree? I am immensely proud to be a Labour Member of Parliament, especially as this Labour Government established a national minimum wage, which many Opposition Members could not find time to support. Now, under this Labour Government, Ochil and South Perthshire is growing and developing as a result of continued investment from Westminster and Holyrood.
A new acute hospital serving the Forth valley will be completed by 2009, a new community hospital in Sauchie by 2007, the reintroduction of rail services to Alloa by 2006 and a new road crossing over the Forth. There will, I hope, be three new secondary schools in Clackmannanshire, with a new school planned in
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Kinross. South Perthshire has also benefited from new assistance for small businesses and investment in local infrastructure.
Before I was elected to this House I worked in the construction industry, and I now hope to put my experience to the test as we build a better future from these Benches. I am proud to see more than 4,000 successful new deal participants in the Ochil and Perth area, I am proud to see 20,000 local pensioners receiving the winter fuel allowance, and I am proud to see around 4,500 local pensioners benefit from pension credit. Those are the real numbers that show Ochil and South Perthshire is a better place to live under the Labour Government.
I have been asked on many occasions what my priorities are for Ochil and South Perthshire. I wish to help deliver greater equality and opportunity. I wish to see the constituency continue to prosper and grow, and I wish to see people living without fear, happy to be in an inclusive society.
Before resuming my seat, I hope to dig myself out of some trouble here today. My wife Lynda, of 24 fantastic years, and my children Victoria and Dominic, have been hugely supportive during the general election, but I must apologise for missing our wedding anniversary as a result of campaigninghonestly, the risks one takes to win an election! I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to address the House today in my maiden speech. I hope to catch your eye on future occasionsbut perhaps not for so long.
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