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Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to deliver my maiden speech before the Whitsun recess. I am particularly pleased to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott), because she was one of the first new Members from the other parties whom I met when I came to the House. It is especially pleasing to follow her.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands), for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and for various other constituencies, who delivered their speeches today. I am sure that the House will be much the better for the return of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser). It is
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an honour to serve as the Member of Parliament for Putney, because Putney is my home. Before I talk about the area, however, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Tony Colman. Both as a candidate and now as an MP, I have a huge amount of respect for him. He has been extremely successful not just in politicshe was leader of Merton council before becoming Member of Parliament for Putneybut in business. He helped to found the Topshop chain and certainly did his bit to push forward the UK economy during the '80s.
Tony Colman also delivered a huge amount to the House of Commons. He was a member of the International Development Committee, and he played a key role in ensuring that international development rose rapidly up the political agenda in this country. He spent a great deal of time touring countries to see for himself the issues that people face. Locally in Putney, Tony Colman was an assiduous campaigner on aircraft noise, which is something I shall talk about later. It is of great concern to many constituents, and to my fellow residents who live near the Thames in Putney. He did a huge amount for the constituency, and I wish him well in his future career.
It is perhaps particularly fitting that I deliver my maiden speech today, because we have spent a fair amount of time discussing electoral reform and proportional representation. Many hon. Members will know that Putney was the site of the Putney debates, which took place at the time of the English civil war. Oliver Cromwell and his generals camped in Putney for a while, and they used that time to talk about the future shape of the country and how Parliament should operate. They had a decapitation strategy in place long before the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy) came up with the idea and, dare I say, it was a lot more successful.
If the House will indulge me, I shall talk wistfully about my constituency of Putney. In many respects, the constituency name is a misnomer, because Putney comprises many communities, and like many constituencies in London, it is full of vibrant communities and residents' associations. In summary, Putney can be classed as Putney, Roehampton and Southfields. Putney itself sprang up as a crossing point on the Thames to get from Putney to Fulham, and a vibrant business community has developed on the Upper Richmond and Lower Richmond roads and Putney high street ever since.
I encourage Members to join me in attending the university boat race, which starts in Putney every year. We are blessed with some of the most wonderful open spaces in London on our doorstep. I am delighted that I have about half an acre of Wimbledon common in my patch. We are bordered by Richmond park, so I took a keen interest in the Queen's Speech when the Queen noted that there will be legislation to improve and update the management of common land. As Member of Parliament for Putney, I shall be keen to participate in discussion of the legislation to ensure that it safeguards the open spaces that people in my constituency value so much.
Elsewhere in Putney, we have Southfields, which was established by the Quakers. The Southfields grid is an amazing network of roads that criss-cross one another
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built many years ago by the Quaker community. An extraordinary sense of community lives on in Southfields today. Earlier this week, I attended the Southfields Grid residents association annual general meeting, which was well attended. It shows that, even now, when people are switching off more and more from politics, at the grass roots, people still want to get involved with their local community and to do everything that they can to fight on its behalf. I look forward, as a Member of Parliament, to joining the Southfields Grid residents association for its yearly carol singing outside Southfields tube station. We raised £300 for the Trinity hospice last year, and I could not decide whether people were giving us money so that they could walk away quickly, or whether they appreciated our carol singingprobably the former rather than the latter.
In my constituency, Roehampton faces perhaps some of the greatest challenges. Although many Members might think that Putney is a leafy London suburb, and in many respects, I believe, it offers the best of London living, combining close proximity to the centre of London with a leafy suburb that is amenable to living in, it contains one of the country's largest council estates. I make the pledge today to residents on the Alton estate that I will work tirelessly with them to address the growing concern of drugs and antisocial behaviour. None of the estates in my constituency are sink estates, and I will make sure, if I do one thing as MP, that none of them become sink estates. We need the Alton estate to be an estate of which people can be proud, and many residents have lived there since it was built in the 1950s. I will work with them to make it a place that they can remain proud to call home.
There is much of which to be proud elsewhere in my constituency. In this time of much protracted discussion about health care reform, I have on my patch a world-class hospital, the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in West Hill, which has done incredible research and provides outstanding care to patients with some of the most challenging neurological and physical medical conditions in the country. It is an independent hospital providing outstanding treatment to NHS patients, of whom its staff take so much care. We should therefore be conscious that local health care can deliver an amazing service outside of the NHS but working with NHS patients. If for no other reason, we must get rid of the political dogma that people who care about health care work only in the NHS. There are many such people in this country who work in independent trusts and charitable foundations such as the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability.
I and my constituents are extremely concerned about many issues, however. Although I recognise that there are now police community support officers across the country, and increasing numbers of fully trained officers, that is not the case in my area of Wandsworth. Over the past eight years, since the current Administration came to power, we have seen fewer police. It is vital that we work together to put more trained officers, who can arrest people, back on the streets of my constituency, and above all, in places such as the Alton estate, which is increasingly blighted by antisocial behaviour.
The District line also raises issues, which the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) has already discussed. As the only tube line feeding my
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area, on which many of my constituents depend to get to work every day, it is vital that it runs safely and reliably. It is also vital that something called public transport, which, clearly, the District line is, is accessible to the public. I always joke that one must practically abseil down the steps into Southfields station in winter, but it is impossible for women with prams and the elderly to use the steps. We must address that as a matter of urgency.
Finally, aircraft noise is an issue, which I have mentioned. My predecessor worked assiduously to help to ban night flights and I will continue that fight and work with other Members who are similarly affected by the issue. It is high time that we recognised that, as with the development of the green belt, a balance needs to be found between quality of life and the noise with which people who live close to airports must put up day to day. We simply cannot continue to develop Heathrow until it bursts at the seams. At some point, we must draw a line in the sand and say, "Thus far and no further." I believe we have reached that line and, in many respects, crossed it.
When I became the candidate in Putney, I was told that it was a bellwether seat. Perhaps I am living proof that that may not be true, as I am the first Opposition Member of Parliament for Putney for several decades. One of the things that I have already learned during my time in politics is that, although people may be on different sides of the political fence, no political party in the country has a monopoly on good intentions. I will therefore do my best to contribute to the House through strong debate, which I think produces strong legislation that will deliver for people outside the Chamberpeople in the country who depend absolutely on the quality of the work done here every day on their behalf.
I hope that I can play my full role here over the coming years, both in the Chamber and in the Committees that support it. I will do my utmost to be the very best constituency Member that I can be for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, and I look forward to the coming years of debate with Members who are present today.
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