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Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to make my maiden speech. It is a pleasure to do so immediately after my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), who is a constituency neighbour. I know that he was concerned about making his first speech, and I congratulate him on a tremendous maiden speech which I thoroughly enjoyed.

My predecessor in Welwyn Hatfield was a Labour Member and a Minister in three different Departments. Although politically we did not agree on many issues, she did her job, despite facing a serious illness during her time in the House, and did it very well.

I have spent some time trying to become a Member of    Parliament, standing for the first time in 1997. Unfortunately, I was selected in the not very promising—for a Conservative—seat of North Southwark and Bermondsey. At the time, my political mentor was Sir Rhodes Boyson. He was then the Member of Parliament for Brent, North and I am sure that many of my colleagues will remember him. After my selection, I phoned Sir Rhodes excitedly to tell him. He replied, "That's very good, Grant. You've been selected for a safe seat." I said, "No, Sir Rhodes, I was selected for North Southwark and Bermondsey." He said, "Yes, and now you'll be safe in the knowledge you can spend another five years in your printing company." He was absolutely right.

When the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) was returned after the election in 1997, he said that I had received the lowest Conservative vote in the country. I have waited eight years to be able to correct that statement on the record: the hon. Gentleman was wrong because I had the third worst result for a Conservative candidate. I am glad to be able to put the matter straight.

I am Hertfordshire born and bred and now have the privilege of representing the Hertfordshire seat of Welwyn Hatfield. I went to a state school, Watford grammar, and to Cassio college in Watford. Then I went to Manchester Metropolitan university, then called Manchester polytechnic. I was always anxious to go into politics and, in addition to starting a printing business, I was selected to fight Welwyn Hatfield for the first time in 2001. I made an impact on the result, but I did not have the killer benefit that I had in the election a few weeks ago when the Chancellor—I am sorry that he has now left the Chamber—was kind enough to visit the constituency and assist me to a 6,000 majority.

Welwyn Hatfield constituency contains two new towns, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City. As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne did, I shall give the House a quick tour of my constituency. There are several villages on the outskirts of the two towns, including Welwyn, Woolmer Green, Oaklands, Essendon, Brookmans Park, Welham Green, Lemsford and The Ayots, where George Bernard Shaw lived and wrote. The constituency is a nice area with many contrasts. It has some lovely open spaces, such as
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Stanborough park and lakes and the King George V park, which the concept of the garden new towns allowed for. On the other hand, we have significant difficulties and problems, with many neighbourhood shops that suffer from antisocial behaviour by so-called nuisance youths who hang around.

When I surveyed the residents of Welwyn Hatfield last year, their No. 1 concern was antisocial behaviour, which topped the list by a long way. That is significant, and I fought the election on that issue. I am sure that it is shared with other hon. Members and I intend to focus my attention on it.

Another issue that loomed large in the election concerned the Queen Elizabeth II hospital, particularly the closure of children's accident and emergency at night time. As a local father of three, I find it unacceptable that I am now expected to drive my children in the middle of the night perhaps during some emergency to the Lister hospital in Stevenage, as do many of my constituents who are equally angered by this. I intend to represent them intensely on this.

The university of Hertfordshire, in Hatfield, has grown large over the past few years. I welcome it and am pleased that it has made Hatfield its home. However, in many ways it is rather like a large elephant: it has a particularly big footprint. It is a friendly animal but when it puts its foot down, it does not realise what it is crushing. Many long-term residents have found themselves forced out of their own areas by the increased population of students. I do not blame the students. Insufficient accommodation on the campus is provided for them. There are huge problems in Hatfield of overcrowding, parking and properties rented by students falling into dilapidation.

My constituency, like many others, contains many wonderful people—constituents who work selflessly. I am thinking of people like Brenda Beach. For the past 30 years she has run the Gateway club for people with learning disabilities with no recognition and unpaid. Then there is Sean Cox MBE. He spends his entire time raising funds so that on Christmas day 100-plus elderly and otherwise lonely people can have a wonderful lunch and take a present home. His entire year is spent doing nothing else. He is in many senses a hero of our community. For the past 30 years, Barry Clark has run the Breaks Manor youth club in Hatfield, helping to find constructive activities for children. He has done so through thick and thin—through changes in policy on youth services, this that and the other—which could otherwise have knocked him off course. I pay tribute to such people who make Welwyn Hatfield such a pleasant place to live.

Finally, I am one of the few Members of the House who has the privilege of travelling home to my constituency each and every evening. It is a wonderful place to live and I look forward to being a strong voice for Welwyn Hatfield in Parliament.

1.13 pm

Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): First, I take the opportunity to praise both new Members who have made excellent maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), who showed us his energy
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and humour, is welcome in this House. He rightly praised his predecessor, Dame Marion Roe, who was a great parliamentarian and a good Minister. Of particular interest to me was her work on domestic violence and the like, long before such matters had come on to anyone else's agenda. The hon. Gentleman was right to praise her. He demonstrated that he will follow that hard act well in his own inimitable style.

The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) delivered a confident speech, which was most impressive. He did not appear to have a single note—unless, perhaps, he had notes written on some secret part of his anatomy. He, too, displayed a great deal of humour and, rightly, praised his predecessor, Melanie Johnson, who was an excellent Minister and, indeed, had difficulties to contend with. At this early stage, the hon. Gentleman has already demonstrated a close knowledge of his constituency—its people and its problems—and that he intends to campaign strongly for it. Both Members are very welcome to the House and I congratulate them both.

I wish to speak for a short time about an exciting development project facing my north country constituency of Redcar as well as the Tees valley, for the achievement of which we may need some Government help. Teesport is the second largest port in the United Kingdom. It lies in my constituency and north-west of Redcar seaside town. Since its foundation in 1852 it has served the Tees valley. The Tees was the principal artery for the export of iron and steel in the industrial revolution. Iron was originally mined in Eston in my constituency and turned into steel at Grangetown and South Bank in my constituency and in Middlesbrough. Indeed, the amazing development of towns such as Middlesbrough during the industrial revolution was based on their closeness to the North sea and the availability of an excellent port. There continues to be a strong link between the river, the port and the steel industry.

Last December I was privileged to attend the celebration for the export of the 1 millionth tonne of steel through Teesport from Redcar steel works. It was going to South Korea to be part of a ship being built by a company called Dongicuk. Now my steelworks has a 10-year contract to export all of its 3.5 million tonne capacity, much of which will go through the port to a foreign consortium. This is part of the reason why Teesport has developed rapidly to become the United Kingdom's second largest port, handling 54 million tonnes of cargo a year.

Teesport is second only to Grimsby and Immingham and in 2002 it overtook London. It is significantly bigger than the fourth, Southampton, overall and, surprisingly for the north-east, the port of Tyne—which people would probably think of as the biggest port there—is small in comparison. It deals with about 2.8 million tonnes of cargo a year, and the other ports are very small indeed. There are 530 direct employees at Teesport now.

Teesport goes back to the industrial revolution and has gone through privatisation and a series of owners, but it started to kick off in 2000 when it was taken over by Nikko, appropriately described as venture capitalists; then there was a sale in 2004 and a flotation on the stock exchange. It has developed through that
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series of steps, increasing container traffic, for example, from 20,000 units in 2001 to 90,000 units in 2002. It has dynamic, ambitious management. In 2003 there was a need to open a second container terminal. It was opened by the Duke of York and, with additional secondary handling capacity, Teesport can now cope with 200,000 containers a year. It is the container traffic development opportunity on which I want to focus.

The United Kingdom container market is expected to grow by about 5 per cent. a year to reach over 10 million TEUs—20 ft equivalent units. That is obviously a standard measure. The world container shipping market is growing rapidly and over the past few years has been fuelled by manufacturing in the far east, particularly in China. In the United Kingdom this deep-sea increase in volume is growing fastest. The major existing United Kingdom container ports are Felixstowe, Thamesport, Tilbury, Southampton and Liverpool. In 2003, 74 per cent. of all deep-sea UK traffic went through Felixstowe and Southampton.

Teesport is ambitious to share in the increase in the market. I want to emphasise that there is not a collision of interests between this northern port and the southern ports of Felixstowe, Harwich and London because we are talking about a share of a growing market. Teesport is keen to invest £300 million to expand its deep-sea container terminal to bring freight, essentially from the far east although also from elsewhere, into northern England and the distribution centres, which would be engines of job creation before the goods are sent by rail and road elsewhere.

Interestingly, more than 2 million of the current units of deep-sea container trade that come into the country through the southern ports of Harwich, Felixstowe and London are destined for Birmingham and further north. According to the Government's figures, 60 per cent. of all freight traffic that comes through the southern ports is bound for Birmingham and the north. As road haulage costs, fuel prices, congestion and climate change increase significantly, there is obviously a great deal of interest in trying to change logistical patterns of that kind.

Teesport estimates—this is music to the ears of anyone who comes from my part of the country—that this investment could generate up to 7,000 jobs in Tees valley, where although the steel industry is now doing well and the chemical industry is thriving, our unemployment is still twice the national average. Teesport also estimates that it would take millions of lorry miles off the roads if northern goods were driven from northern ports rather than offloaded in the south and taken north. It would go some way to close the £29 billion economic output gap between the south and the north. It would improve access to the North sea ports. It would help end the capacity shortage at UK ports generally and it would stop what we in the north call southern discomfort, by cutting congestion on already over-congested roads and rail. It would also develop hundreds of acres of brownfield land, much of it left over from the steel industry, which I have mentioned, in my area, whereas in the southern ports some development on green belt is likely to occur.

Sounds wonderful—so what is the problem? Teesport will put in a planning application—known technically as a harbour revision order—very soon. The potential problem is that there is not currently a national ports
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strategy to look at strategic development of all the ports, and the implications of development in different regions and sub-regions, although such a strategy is promised soon. There are currently well-advanced applications to expand immediately the three southern ports that I have referred to as the major container importers and exporters, because for overall capacity needs to increase.

Let me emphasise again that there is not really any rivalry here; there is no intent to steal jobs—we are simply talking about coping with an expansion in container traffic. However, Felixstowe south has applied to increase its capacity by 1.8 million units—a very large amount indeed—and has had a public inquiry. Bathside bay, which is the other side of Felixstowe, has also had a public inquiry; it has an ambition to expand to a similar capacity. It has some problems, in that parts of it would be on a greenfield site. Shellhaven, which is in London, has also put in an application to expand by 3 million units. It will have some dredging and connectivity problems.

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