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Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): I am grateful to have caught your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, to make my maiden speech in today's
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debate. First, I offer my congratulations to other Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I have certainly learned more today about this great country of ours than I ever did in my A-level geography, and I hope to add to that common knowledge now by convincing people that there is more to Milton Keynes than concrete cows and roundabouts.

While the majority of my electorate in North-East Milton Keynes live in the city, I also represent a large rural community in north Buckinghamshire, and I am glad to have this opportunity to draw the House's attention to its concerns. As is the custom with maiden speeches—though, frankly, I would do so even if it were not—I consider it absolutely right to pay tribute to my   predecessor, the Labour Member, Brian White. Although Brian and I often disagreed on issues of policy, I genuinely acknowledge that Brian was a first-rate constituency Member of Parliament, who served his constituents well. On his own admission, Brian was as surprised as anyone to have been returned in the 1997 general election by just 240 votes. Thanks to his dedication to the people of Milton Keynes, he managed to increase his majority to nearly 2,000 in the 2001 general election. I must confess that, seeing the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) tonight without my glasses on, I wondered whether Brian White had been returned again in this Parliament. I am grateful that, in fact, he has not been.

Brian White was one of only three Labour Members to have served the constituency of North-East Milton Keynes in modern times. When one considers that the first was Aidan Crawley, who was elected shortly after the war, but subsequently crossed the Floor of the House, and the second was the notorious late Robert Maxwell, it would be fair to say that Brian was by far the least controversial. I have little doubt that the election result this time had little to do with Brian White and was a reflection not on him as a Member of Parliament but on the Government. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I say only that I hope to emulate his dedication to the people of North-East Milton Keynes.

I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the first Conservative Member of Parliament for North-East Milton Keynes, Peter Butler, who served the constituency from 1992 to 1997. Peter has not enjoyed the most robust of health over the past year, but I am sure that the many right hon. and hon. Members who served with him in that Parliament will be delighted to hear that he is making a good recovery. I am honoured to have been elected as the Member of Parliament for North-East Milton Keynes and I look forward to serving the diverse community that it includes.

Many Members will have travelled through the constituency as they have driven up and down the M1. To the south and west of the motorway, we have some of the newest new town communities, together with the villages of Wavendon and Woburn Sands. Walton Park is the home of the Open university—an establishment in which all Members can rightly take some pride. The Open university has brought educational opportunity to millions of people across the United Kingdom. From the 20,000 students who enrolled in 1971, the number whom it educates has risen to more than 200,000 every year, and its innovative approach to distance learning
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leads the world. It brings the highest quality university education to learners in every constituency in the land and in that sense it is both the local and national university to every Member of this House. Now is not the time to raise the Open university's unique status as the only university to have been overlooked in the Government's recent higher education review, but I am sure that that subject will fill my postbag and, indeed, my correspondence with Ministers.

Central Milton Keynes, with its excellent shopping centre, snow dome, theatre district and cinemas, lies just within the constituency boundary, and I look forward later this month to attending a ceremony on the summer solstice to mark the rising of the sun as its rays shine down the aptly named Midsummer boulevard to strike the city's foundation stone. Coming so soon after my own election, my friends have drawn a slightly humorous parallel between that and the Prime Minister's famous words in 1997 that a new day was dawning. A new political day has dawned in North-East Milton Keynes, but I am sure that hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I sense that my primary duty is to serve rather than amuse my constituents.

Milton Keynes is of course a modern city, but it is also a constituency of great history. To the north of the motorway, we have rural north Buckinghamshire, including the town of Newport Pagnell, which is the home of Aston Martin cars. It is also the home of my new constituency office. I hope that Members will share my amusement on discovering on my first visit to the office that it was named after its 18th century owner. There, above my nice Conservative blue door, was a name plaque, declaring to all that the building was called Blair house. What to do? It was a dilemma that perhaps many Members on both sides of the House share: should Mr. Blair stay or should he go? I am sure that Members will be impressed by the fact that I made a quick decision, and with the aid of a screwdriver and just two minutes of my time, Mr. Blair disappeared.

Also in the north of the constituency is the town of Olney. It is the town in which I live and it has been home to the famous pancake race since 1445. Olney also boasts of having been the home not only of the poet William Cowper but of the slave trader turned parish priest, John Newton, who is perhaps most famous now as the author of the hymn "Amazing Grace".

Given that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the gunpowder plot, I ought to single out a village in my constituency for special mention. The plotters stayed the night in Gayhurst before making their final, fateful trip to this place in November 1605. To continue the explosive theme, I believe that I am the first ever firework manufacturer to be elected to Parliament. I confess that many of my friends have questioned my sanity in becoming a Member of Parliament, but—as my mother was always quick to point out—when one has a firework-making vicar as a father, one is bound to have some strange ideas.

I hope to earn a reputation as someone who brings solutions as well as problems to the Chamber. To start as I mean to go on, I should offer some reassurance to Members who may be nervous about having a pyrotechnician in the House. They may be relieved to hear that I continue to serve as a bomb disposal officer in the Territorial Army.
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Leaving explosives aside, I have a genuine passion to serve Milton Keynes in this wonderful Parliament of ours. Milton Keynes is a success story. It is a vibrant, can-do place. It is a fantastic place to live, but its citizens have grave concerns about the expansion plans proposed in the Deputy Prime Minister's so-called sustainable communities plan. Our rural communities and green fields are threatened, and that was by far the biggest single local issue in the election campaign. Most people in Milton Keynes accept that the city will grow over time and they do not have a nimby attitude. However, much concern is felt about the type of expansion planned and the manner in which it has been imposed. Local people resent the fact that the expansion plans have been set by central and regional government, and that there is little, if any, meaningful local consultation and ownership of the expansion agenda. That applies to the overall size, location and type of housing developments, as well as the specific local decisions.

People are deeply concerned about the lack of infrastructure to support the additional housing. The small print of the documents from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister contains only the vaguest of promises of additional transport links, health care and educational capacity, as well as the panoply of other services that communities need to thrive. Milton Keynes has an acute shortage of dentists and the general hospital struggles to cope with the present population, let alone thousands more. While our grid road system works—even if the Deputy Prime Minister, in a local radio interview, admitted that he did not understand it—there are no plans to extend it.

Those are just some of the basic services that directly impact on people's quality of life. My approach is simple—i before e, or infrastructure before expansion. In the election campaign, a succession of Ministers visited Milton Keynes to assure us that the infrastructure will be delivered. I hope that they will come back soon to make good those promises. Our city motto is "By knowledge, design and understanding". By following those principles, Milton Keynes has grown into the successful and vibrant city that it is today. Its success can continue, if it is allowed to grow organically, with popular local support and properly thought-through planning. If the expansion is too great or not properly planned, we will permanently lose the basic ingredients of success. I look forward to championing the needs of my constituents in those and many other areas and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today.

8.48 pm

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