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I rise with some fear and trepidation not only because the House is full of hon. Friends and Members who have served it with distinction and who are renowned for their thoughtful and eloquent speeches, but because so many new Membersnamely, on this side, my hon. Friends the Members for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) and for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps)have made excellent speeches. I also include the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil), who is no longer in his place. I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the western isles, to Scotland and to Hansard for my pronunciation of his constituency. I also include the new Member for Taunton (Jeremy Browne).
I pay tribute to the eight years of public service that my predecessor gave to The Wrekin constituency. His philosophy on life and politics remain different from my own, and his approach to matters of public policy and personalities is also somewhat different. However, I recognise that he committed eight years of his life to public service in this place and, for that indisputable fact, I pay him tribute here today.
Public service remains a great privilege and honour, and I am grateful to my constituents in The Wrekin for allowing me to serve them in this place. Indeed, I am the first Conservative MP to be elected for The Wrekin since the major boundary changes of 1997. With the attractive market towns of Wellington, Newport and Shifnal, with the pretty villages of Albrighton, High Ercall, Sheriffhales and Tibberton and with the dominating geological feature of The Wrekin itselfit is an area of outstanding natural beauty that towers 400 m over the rest of ShropshireThe Wrekin is rural England at its very best.
Those Members who have visited my constituency know that, in geographic terms, it is mostly rural. That means that for many of the people whom I represent the success of the rural sector and Shropshire's rural way of life is of paramount importance if The Wrekin is to
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continue to thrive not just in terms of rising living standards, but culturally and in self-confidence. That is why I hope that the Government might recognise that the success of urban England is inextricably linked with the success of rural England. Yes they are different, but they should be treated equally.
Manufacturing also remains a key sector, and I hope that the Government will do more to ensure no further demise in the UK manufacturing sector, not least in the defence and technology manufacturing areas of the country and, indeed, in The Wrekin. In my area, that sector provides employment to hundreds of my constituents, which, in turn, creates demand and spend for The Wrekin's market towns.
The defence sector is a key employer in The Wrekin, with RAF Cosford being one of the largest operational RAF stations in the world. It encompasses the defence college of aeronautical engineering, and there is also the defence repair, supply, logistics and procurement facility at Donington, with its numerous local suppliers of support services. That means that forthcoming decisions by Ministers over matters relating to defence spending and rationalisationnot least, the Government's review of the Army's supply and logistics capabilitieswill be of great interest indeed. The Wrekin has a proud history of working alongside the Ministry of Defence and Her Majesty's armed forces, and long may that continue. This country faces many challenges, not only in domestic policy but in international affairs. Therefore, my responsibility as a new Member, despite my fresher status, is both a sombre and challenging one.
Britain today, as many Members have mentioned, is a world in which authority is undermined every hour of every day. It is as if "authority" is an unattractive worda word that dare not mention its name. We have seen authority taken away from parents, from teachers, from police officers and, perhaps as concerning, taken away from the very institution of collective government and the role of this Parliament in bringing the Executive to account. That is why I welcome Mr. Speaker's comments on the first day of this Parliament, and dare I be as bold as to paraphrase them? This House is justified in its expectation that key Government announcements should be made to Parliament first.
The domestic challenges that face us, many of which require urgent attention, might lend themselves to hasty legislation and quick law, but decisions made in haste do not usually stand the test of time. On important issues such as health and welfare reform and pensions reform, it is time, valuable time, that many of my constituents do not have should the Government fail to get things right. That is why I have concerns about some of the Government's proposed Bills, as set out in the Gracious Speech. However, I defer to convention, and hope to raise these concerns on another occasion. Suffice it to say that the Government's "apologesis" of limited funding inputs from past Conservative Administrations cannot continue as a credible rebuttal given that they have been in power for eight years.
I also hope that, in seeking to curb incitement to religious hatred, the Government will not forget to balance this worthy aspiration with the rights of an individual's freedom of speech, which British subjects have enjoyed for hundreds of years. In a free and fair liberal democracy such as ours, rigorous debate,
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challenge and scrutiny of all religions and beliefs, and indeed the right of people to have no belief, are surely signs of society's strength, not its weakness.
Let us not forget that many people left these shores several hundred years ago for a place across the pond, arguably because of the Government of the day's interference with freedom of speech and religion. Indeed, some might suggest that the Government need to tread carefully with their necessary continuation of promoting equal rights so that they ensure that they do not create special rights that might serve only to produce intolerance and misunderstanding of the very sections of British society that they are rightly trying to protect. In nobly seeking inclusivity, the Government should be cautious not to create a new exclusivity. I have a large Sikh and Muslim community in my constituency, as well as a vibrant ecumenical movement among churches, and have committed myself to trying to protect any diminution of the right of freedom of speech. For the record, that includes political freedom of speech and the right unashamedly to promote the British national self-interest, however politically incorrect that might be today or in the future.
During my time in this placehowever short or longI hope that the Government will ponder the attraction of better law, rather than more law. In so doing, I hope that they might engage the whole House, including, dare I venture, even the occasional Back Bencher from a beautiful constituency in Shropshire called The Wrekin.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): I want to speak about the threat to our local hospital in Hammersmith and Fulham: the Charing Cross. First, however, I congratulate my hon. Friends who have made their maiden speeches during this debate: my hon. Friends the Members for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) and for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard). I am also known as something of a polyglot, so I shall try to offer my congratulations to the hon. Members for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) and for Taunton (Jeremy Browne).
I want to say a few words about my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Hammersmith and Fulham, Iain Coleman. It would be fair to say that Mr. Coleman made most of his impact in the constituency. In fact, his surgeries became something of a legend locally as he seemed to spend his entire time in an almost perpetual surgery at all times and for all hoursexcept during Arsenal games. Mr. Coleman has not been well for a year and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will join me in wishing him a full recovery and a return to politics as soon as possible. His predecessor as MP for the Fulham part of the constituency was Matthew Carrington, who was a popular, respected and effective MP for 10 years. He was enormously supportive and helpful in my efforts to win back the seat on 5 May.
It was rather more difficult to find out about the previous Conservative MP for Hammersmith, as distinct from Fulham, because I am the first Conservative MP for Hammersmith since 1964. Probably the most famous previous Hammersmith MP was one William Bull. Mr. Bull represented the area for
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37 years between 1892 and 1929. He had the unusual and tragic misfortune to lose his wife to pneumonia after she had been out canvassing for him. For someone who died of pneumonia, Mrs. Bull is ironically commemorated with a sundial in Ravenscourt park in my constituency.
Mr. Bull won his first election by only 19 votes. While he was an MP he became a senior partner of his law firm. That is an impressive sounding achievement, until one discovers that the firm was called Bull and Bull. He was a man ahead of his time as he was in favour of votes for women and the Channel tunnel, although these days I expect that the latter is more controversial than the former. Most bizarrely, my predecessor was ordered out of the House by Mr. Speaker's predecessor for calling the then Prime Minister a traitorwhich these days is perhaps more in tune with east London than west London politics.
In truth, the constituency of Hammersmith and Fulham is more famous for its elections than its MPs. I cite the East Fulham by-election of 1933, the battles of Barons Court of the 1960s and the Fulham by-election of 1986. All those have the common characteristic of being won by the Labour party. However, I believe that one of the most significant Hammersmith and Fulham election results was the one just a couple of weeks ago on 5 May. The recorded swing of almost 7.5 per cent. was one of the highest in the UK. The seat was the Conservatives' No. 1 inner-city target, and a new 5,000 majority has been created. Together with the impressive results achieved in London by my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), for Putney (Justine Greening), for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling), for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) and for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott), my result shows that we as a party are making great progress in London again.
The Labour party barely got started in the campaign. It was barely seen, barely heard and had little positive to say about its eight years in government. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems ran a candidate from Tunbridge Wells under the slogan, "Give Peace a Chance." Perhaps they were more the surreal alternative.
Hammersmith and Fulham is one of the smallest constituencies in Britain, but it is none the less one of the most diverse. It is also one of the closest to Parliament. As my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield mentioned, it is quite possible to get back to Hammersmith and Fulham from the House at the end of each evening. In fact, I am probably one of the few Members with a direct door-to-door bus route from just outside Big Ben to just outside his house. That sounds fantastic, until one considers that given traffic in London, it can take up to two hours to complete the journey.
Prior to 5 May, some newspapers made great play of the fact that no premiership football ground was located in a Conservative seat. Some claimed that that showed that the Conservative party was not represented in the inner cities. All that has now changed, for I represent a constituency in which not just one, but two premiership clubs are located: Fulham and Chelsea. Notwithstanding the heroic events in Istanbul last night, I was delighted to see the streets of my constituency decked out in blue last Sunday to
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welcome their new champion. I refer of course to Chelsea football club, but "blue is the colour" is surely the future there politically as well, even if I say that as a Fulham fan.
Hammersmith and Fulham is also distinctive for having more tube users than any other borough in Britain and the greatest number of single women compared with single men in the United Kingdom. It is also the home of the Olympia exhibition centre and part of Earls Court. Its largest employer is the BBC, and it is the home of what is reputed to be Europe's busiest road interchange at Hammersmith Broadway. It is also the London home to dozens of hon. Members, which can make canvassing in certain streets straightforward. Many hon. Members from both major parties have cut their teeth in local Hammersmith and Fulham politics.
The election in Hammersmith and Fulham was all about the dreaded congestion charge extension, the fact that eight out of nine muggers in my constituency go unpunished, the fact that a quarter of the borough's secondary schools are on special measures, the appalling state of the District line and high council tax.
Perhaps the greatest concern, however, and why I wanted to speak in the debate, is the threat to the Charing Cross hospital. On the very day that the election was supposed to be calleda good day to bury bad news, one might sayon 4 April 2005, an announcement was made at a meeting with the chief executive of the NHS hospitals trust that the world famous Charing Cross hospital would either be demolished or possibly have its specialised services moved to the Hammersmith hospital on the Wormwood Scrubs site. That would be a crazy move, and it is one that I have been elected in part to prevent.
Charing Cross is a marvellous facilitythe centrepiece of a three star-rated hospital trust. It is a global leader in cancer care, vascular surgery, neurosurgery, plastic surgery and much else. It is the trauma centre for the whole of west London and is ideally situated just off the A4 for any major incident at Heathrow. Most of all, it is also a local hospital, serving the needs not only of Hammersmith and Fulham, but of other parts of west London, and is easily accessible by tube, bus or car, which Hammersmith hospital is not.
The proposal suits nobody other than the management of the trust, who are in turn driven only by meeting Government targets, which have led to huge deficits in both the local primary care trust and the hospitals trust. In classic new Labour fashion, spin doctors were deployed to deny the initial press reports in The Observer that the Charing Cross site would be sold off. Interestingly, however, there was no denial of the plans to move all or most of the specialised services to the Hammersmith site. I expect that more will be heard on the topic in the House, and I look forward to winning the battle with the Government to leave Charing Cross services on their current site.
In conclusion, many people have asked me and others why the Conservatives did so well in Hammersmith and Fulham and elsewhere in London. The answer is that people in London are overtaxed and face declining public services. I predict major changes in the control of London boroughs in next May's election.
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