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Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. I enjoyed all the previous maiden speeches, especially the one by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), which was amusing as well as thoughtful. I shall have great difficulty following him.

It is a great honour to me to stand here as the new Member of Parliament for Wellingborough. It has been a very long political journey. In 1992, I stood in my first parliamentary election for the constituency of Islwyn. There I met Sheila Organ, who became my agent and a good friend and who has encouraged me throughout what has been, at times, a difficult journey. During the campaign, we knocked on doors in Islwyn day and night; we must have called on hundreds, if not thousands of homes. Things looked good—we were well received—and come polling day, they still looked good. Only when I went to the count did I get an inkling that things were going slightly wrong. Before me were 40 or so trestle tables, but the returning officer took me to one side and said, "Mr. Bone, that table is for you. All the rest are for Mr. Kinnock." When the result was declared, it was a close-run thing. I lost to Mr. Kinnock by a mere 25,000 votes.
 
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In 1997, I was selected as the candidate for Pudsey in west Yorkshire, where the retiring Member for the seat was the excellent Sir Giles Shaw. Despite the hard work of my team, we were swept away by the Labour landslide. On to Wellingborough, which in 2001 was the most marginal Labour seat in the country, with a majority of 187 votes. My campaign team, ably led by Lady Helen Fry, worked hard to achieve a Conservative victory and I thought that I must win this time. Not only did I lose, however, but I turned Wellingborough into a relatively safe Labour seat.

After 2001, I was beginning to wonder whether someone was trying to tell me something—

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Ivan Lewis): Are you thinking what we're thinking?

Mr. Bone: That saying's time had not yet come, but there is another—"If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again." The campaign to win Wellingborough at   the last election started in August 2004, when my exceptionally talented campaign manager, Leigh Hooker, joined me. Had it not been for her skill and outstanding leadership, the result might have been different. Under her leadership, my able team, consisting of Paul Bell, Andy Mercer, Steven North, Barbara Jenney, Calum Heckstall-Smith, Peter Bedford, Malcolm Walters, Roger Powell, Richard Lewis and others I might have forgotten, set about on a campaign the like of which had never before been seen in Wellingborough. At the count, I was ready with my speech to congratulate another Labour candidate on his re-election and, sure enough, the pile of Labour votes was rising higher and higher, but to my great relief my pile of votes edged just ahead. What an honour and privilege it was to be announced as the new Member of Parliament for Wellingborough.

I pay tribute to my predecessors. Sir Peter Fry was MP for Wellingborough from 1969 to 1997. A great parliamentarian, he was known for much more than that. He was known as an MP who really cared for his constituency and worked hard for it. Many people in Wellingborough voted for Sir Peter not because he was a Conservative, but because of his outstanding service to the constituency. His successor, my predecessor, Paul Stinchcombe, was also a great local Member of Parliament. He worked hard for his constituents and was well liked and although I disagreed with him on almost every political matter, on some non-political matters he and I could agree. One of those matters was Alexine's law.

Mr. Stinchcombe strove to highlight the difference between the penalties for causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving. The campaign for Alexine's law highlights the story of 17-year-old Alexine Melnik who tragically, a year ago to this day, was killed by a careless driver. That driver received a punishment of a few points on his licence and a small fine. I will continue to campaign for what Mr. Stinchcombe was trying to achieve on that issue.

My constituency is at the heart of Northamptonshire and consists of the two towns of Rushden and Wellingborough and their surrounding villages. It is a very diverse community in which the rural and the urban live side by side. It is a wonderful place to live and
 
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to bring up a family, and I was delighted when my daughter, Helen, won the Hawkes scholarship and was able to go to Wellingborough school.

There is work to be done in the constituency, however. We have the six worst roads in the country. Our hospital is 159th worst out of 192 for cancelled operations. We have virtually no NHS dentists in Wellingborough and Rushden. A secondary school has been knocked down, resulting in some children being left at home and receiving no education at all. Twenty per cent. of the population are scared to go out at night because of their fear of crime, and we have one of the worst ratios of police officers to population in the country. However, when the previous county council proposed to cut the fire service in Rushden, that was a cut too far.

Rushden fire station is the only whole-time, professionally manned fire station in the whole of east Northamptonshire. Rushden is a hugely expanding town, and to cut that fire cover to save a few hundred thousand pounds would be ludicrous—even more so when the county council has a spin department that costs more than £500,000 a year. If I asked my constituents whether they would want a cut in the number of firefighters or the number of spin doctors, I think I know what their answer would be. All is not doom and gloom, however. We now have a new county council, ably led by Councillor Jim Harker, and he has promised to review the situation.

As a Member of Parliament, I believe that we should put country first, constituency second, and party third and last. I can see the anguish on the Whip's face as I say that, but I would like to explain briefly what I mean. On 31 March this year, I attended RAF Cranwell with my wife, Jenny, without whose support and kindness over the years I would never have got here. Perhaps it was her saying, "If you don't win this time, I'm going to divorce you" that provided the extra incentive that I needed. We were at Cranwell to see the graduation of 212 initial officer training, and escorting the colours that day was our eldest son, Alexander. As I watched those young people who were about to embark on a career that would clearly require them to put country first, and who might have to make the ultimate sacrifice, it was brought home to me that every politician must always put country first. I am delighted that Flying Officer Alexander John William Bone is sitting up in the Gallery to hear my maiden speech.

After my defeat in 2001, I had to ask myself what was wrong, and it seemed to me that so many politicians were arrogant and out of touch. They were all too willing to preach, but they were not particularly interested in listening. I was determined that that would not happen to me. So for the past four years, I have listened to local people and then campaigned on their behalf. However, I am afraid that there is still a great deal of arrogance among us. I am of course talking about the European elite. They always think that they know best, but I should like to suggest that they take a leaf out of my book, adopt a listening campaign like mine, and listen to the people of Europe. The people of France and the Netherlands have spoken, and they have put country first. We have heard the Government's financial plans in our debate today. The European Union takes £10 billion or £12 billion each year from this country. Now, there is a suggestion that our rebate,
 
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which was so successfully negotiated by Margaret Thatcher, might be withdrawn. Even my four-year-old son, Thomas, could tell us that that is daft. He might say, "Daddy, why do you want to pay and get nothing in return?"

I hope that my speech has not been too controversial, and I should like to leave the House with this parting thought. I hope that our Government are not becoming too arrogant and out of touch, and I hope that they will listen and always put our country first.

7.6 pm

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in the House today. As my hon. Friends who have already made their maiden speeches have said, it is a great honour to be elected to this place. It is also a great honour to follow excellent speeches such as the eloquent one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone). Humility in the House and in politics generally can often be false, but the long road that he has taken to the House has taught him—a lesson that I hope all of us have learnt—to listen to the people and to respect them.

We have heard an excellent speech from my fellow Yorkshire Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), and I congratulate him on making an amusing and passionate speech. He is committed to what Yorkshire people and everyone else in the country are now looking for in their politicians: honesty. They want people who will tell it like it is. I hope that I am not being controversial when I say that something has happened in recent years to make people feel that that standard has dropped.

My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) made an excellent speech that went to the core of why he is in politics. I shall have to ad lib later, because it dealt with many of the themes that I had intended to address in my maiden speech. It was interesting that he, like me, has particularly identified older people as suffering under a system that puts means-testing ahead of dignity. Perhaps this is not a controversial issue, because there seems to be a growing consensus on the matter. Nearly everyone—with the possible exception of one person who often sits on the Government Front Bench beside the Prime Minister—now believes that older people need dignity, not means-testing. National associations have joined with all political parties bar one in believing that.

I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor, James Cran. He was described by The Guardian as a "flinty Aberdonian", but beneath the flint lay someone who was actually very considerate and kind. He was interested in improving things in general and individual people's problems in particular. Jim's lasting legacy is to be found in Withernsea. As a newly appointed Conservative candidate, I met several Labour councillors, and the first thing that they said was that the then sitting Member had helped to transform that town. If, after whatever career I have in this place, there are Labour councillors in the towns and villages around Beverley and Holderness who pay tribute to the work that I have done to help their communities, we can all accept that a true contribution will have been made.
 
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My constituency has four towns: Beverley, Hedon and, on the coast, Hornsea and Withernsea. Beverley is famed for its beauty, its minster and its people. Many Members give quite a lot of history in their maiden speeches, but I do not plan to do that. One thing that I would offer is an invitation to an historic figure, the present Prime Minister, to join me on a visit to Beverley minster. There is a precedent for that. Henry V went to Beverley minster after Agincourt to give thanks. I suggest that the Prime Minister joins me in going to Beverley minster to give thanks for the French "non" in the referendum the other day. I am sure that, for different reasons, he joins me in a joyous reception of that historic decision.

The Beverley and Holderness constituency, which as I said has four towns, has existed only since 1997. In political terms, the area has an interesting reputation. We hear of rotten boroughs, and the truth is that in Beverley and Hedon we had two of the most rotten in the country. From—I think—1292, Hedon was able to appoint two Members of Parliament, and those appointed were a distinguished lot. One was Prime Minister for a day. Many of us in this House, even the strongest Back Bencher, might like to be Prime Minister for a day.

In Hornsea we have a tourist town. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) inviting people to Weston. Hornsea and Withernsea offer equal attraction to anything that the south coast might offer, and I suggest that any Member visit east Yorkshire. We have Spurn point, which has the only full-time professionally manned lifeboat station in the United Kingdom. The crews are professional in their maintenance of the station, but the moment that they put their lives at risk in the lifeboats in the service of this country and its people, they are unpaid. Many medal winners for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution have served and worked at that point.

We have the largest onshore gas storage centre at Atwick. Indeed, at Aldbrough, we will have a larger still gas storage centre. I was interested—I hope non-controversially—to find when I went there just how low our gas stores become at the end of a winter. One thing that I hope to look at while in the House is the possibility of a strategic gas reserve for this country, so that industry or even households do not suffer from our running out of that vital substance.

The constituency has a large community with a predominantly agricultural and rural flavour. I am grateful for the fact that it is home to a farmer, Sam Walton, who is editor of Pig World. I thank him for taking me on a tour of farms in the area, and the National Farmers Union for helping me likewise.

Up from Spurn point, the Holderness coastline is one of the fastest eroding in Europe. My constituents want greater justice for the people whose homes, businesses and livelihoods are being drawn into the sea without compensation. It is a complex area, but I hope that the House can consider it. I know that hon. Members have discussed the issue and considered a fairer means of treating people who are paying a price for a natural process.

As has been said by other Members who represent rural areas, infrastructure is so important. Our area has an older than average population, yet they have
 
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inadequate public transport to link them to public services. It may take two or even three bus rides to reach the hospitals. We are lucky, however, in having community hospitals in Withernsea, Hornsea and Beverley. I was delighted to read in the Labour party's manifesto that it is committed to supporting community hospitals. It is all the more worrying, therefore, to find that the local primary care trust, which has a large deficit that is estimated to rise from more than £6 million to more than £8 million, is reviewing those hospitals, with the threat of closure. That was the No. 1 issue raised with me during the election campaign.

To follow my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree, in the national arena it is the plight of pensioners that particularly affects me and which I would like us to change. I am yet to meet the person—certainly in Beverley and Holderness, of any political persuasion and of none—whose vision of life is of paying taxes throughout their working life and contributing to society, and whose aspiration at the end of it is to have to fill out a 24-page council tax benefit form and a 12-page pension credit form in order to get enough money on which to live.

From talking to those in the new wave of Conservative Members, if I may call it that—it is certainly the first major new contingent of Conservative MPs since 1983—I believe that, regardless of traditional left-right politics, they are looking to meld a commitment to social justice with the traditional commitment to freedom and the belief that the Government should do less and set people free. I will work with colleagues to target that message. It is a message not to benefit the rich but to lift those on lower earnings.

I pay tribute to the commitment of Labour Members who are entirely sincere in their desire for a more socially just country. I even pay tribute to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his efforts to try to lift those on the lowest pay. To some extent, he has been successful. However, the labyrinthine and complex system that has resulted means that a bus driver in my constituency who wants to improve his life and that of his family receives after deductions from his family credit just £1.97 an hour. That is not a vision of social justice; it is one of people trapped by a state that is holding them back. I hope that cross-party we can work to dismantle that, set people free and remove them from unnecessary interference—be they young or old, at the start of their career or at the end of it. If, regardless of party affiliation, we all work for that form of social justice during our time in this place, we will have done good work.

7.16 pm


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