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Madam Deputy Speaker: I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 12-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

5.46 pm

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Let me say first that this is a truly magnificent place, and it is a great honour to represent my constituents here within. May I place on record my appreciation, as the new boy in this place, for the support and warmth that I have received from right hon. and hon. Members, from both sides of the House, which is very much appreciated? In particular, I want to place on record the advice that I have received about this, my maiden speech: all of it has been totally contradictory, but it has been very helpful.

This is a place that I would not want to be in, if that meant that Robin Cook was still alive. Robin Cook was described by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr. Brown), as the outstanding parliamentarian of his generation. In this place, Robin was known for his intellect, his wit and his drive. I knew him, as his election agent since 1982, for the work that he did in his constituency. Throughout Livingston, there are many monuments to the work that Robin Cook did for the people of Livingston and West Lothian: St. John's hospital, the rail link between Bathgate and Edinburgh, new schools and new colleges of education—all tributes to the great work that Robin did.

What was striking, and what marked Robin out as an outstanding politician, was the work that he did for ordinary people in his constituency. It was humbling, during the by-election, to go to door after door and meet people on whose behalf Robin had intervened, or people who had met him or seen him at gala days.

Before the election in May, we estimated that Robin had been involved with more than 40,000 constituents and their families in the Livingston area in his relatively short time as an MP there. He once told me that he had met many, many wealthy people in his life and that he had been to many wealthy places, but that he had never encountered the wealth of community that so much prevailed in many parts of the constituency, which I now have the great honour to represent.

One member of staff used to call us the odd couple. Right hon. and hon. Members might remember the film of the same name. There were two central characters: one was a witty, charismatic individual who played a mean hand of poker; the other was an obsessive individual who would rewrite his introductory leaflet 27 times to ensure that there were no split infinitives. Well, the odd couple are no more, and I will miss him terribly. His tragic death on 5 August is not just a loss to this place but a great loss to the constituency of Livingston and to West Lothian. Robin and I were not only close personally but politically. On the major issues of the day—apart from proportional representation—whether full employment, social inclusion, dignity for our pensioners or Iraq, we were as one.
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I have the great honour to represent in this place the village and the community in which I was born and brought up. Prior to becoming a full-time union official with the Confederation of Health Service Employees, I worked in primary care psychiatry, which I recognise is a skill that could be of use in this place. It was a pleasure, during the by-election, to meet one of my constituents, who, when I asked if she was voting Labour, told me that, in the past, she had always voted for the Scottish National party, but this time she would vote for Labour, because I used to work in the health centre, and when her man was "off his heid", I was "the man who came up and jagged him and made him better." Not many right hon. and hon. Members will have had such an endorsement from their constituency. Gregor Poynton, who was working hard on my campaign, chapped a door on the night before the by-election, and said to a man who came to the door, "Would you like to meet Jim Devine, the Labour party candidate?" The man said to him, "I'm sorry, mate, there's nobody in." It is a unique constituency.

In fact, the constituency is the fastest growing part of Scotland. The new town of Livingston was established in 1965. We have a football team in the Scottish premier league. Sadly, it is propping up the premier league at the moment, but we will not be following our friends to the east and sacking our manager. I am sure that we will be moving up the league very quickly.

I have famous, great predecessors—not only Robin but Tam Dalyell, the former Father of the House, represented my constituency, as did Mannie Shinwell. Probably our greatest claim to fame, however, is the work of James "Paraffin" Young, who in Addiewell in 1866 delivered the first shale mine, and extracted oil from shale for the very first time. I can therefore proudly boast that I am the Member with the first oilfield in the world in his constituency.

I have a variety of interests. I hope that this place follows the lead of the Scottish Parliament and the Irish Dail in banning smoking in public places. That will make a major contribution, not just to the well-being of individuals and bar staff but to the population as a whole. I have a particular interest, as a former full-time union official with Unison, in industrial relations. I want to share with this place a modern, industrial relations practice model in which I was involved within the Scottish health service—partnership working. Partnership working and staff governance were given the same legal status as clinical and financial governance. I also want to participate in the campaign by ASLEF to get freight off our roads and on to rail.

I was warned, however, that one of the things that I would have to do is refer to this debate, and I am obviously happy to do so. The turnout for the by-election in which I was elected was 38 per cent. The turnout in another by-election in Scotland that day was 32 per cent. Not too long ago, if a constituency delivered less than 70 per cent. in a by-election or in a general election, questions would be asked. This is not just a Scottish problem. The very able Scottish journalist, Ian McWhitter, pointed out in an article recently that in Leeds in 1999, the turnout was 19 per cent., in Tottenham in 2000, the turnout was 25 per cent., and in Kensington and Chelsea in 1999, the turnout was 29 per cent. It is not a Scottish problem, a rich problem, a poor problem, a Tory problem or a Labour problem. It is a problem for all of us collectively.
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I have ideas on how we should improve turnout. From my experience in the by-election, one idea is about political honesty and political debate. I had to deal with the party of independence that would discuss everything bar independence. The Liberal Democrats launched a petition in the by-election against the closure of the local hospital. The local hospital, St. John's, is not under threat and will not close—I can give assurances to the Liberal Democrats on that. What was striking about their campaign was that they blamed the Scottish Executive for causing the closure—a Scottish Executive of which they are a member. This dishonesty alienates voters, and that is why people do not participate in the political process.

We must all learn from one another. I see my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr. Murphy) sitting on the Front Bench. One of my colleagues, who lives in his constituency, tells me that if he raises a complaint with him, he ends up with 12 letters, six phone calls and three visits. When I shared that information last night with my hon. Friend, he told me that that was false—it is 24 letters, 12 phone calls and six visits.

As I said at the start of my speech, being in this place is a great honour. I am very proud that my constituents elected me here. I recognise that I have big shoes to fill, and I hope that I can do so.

5.57 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May I say what a pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine), who made a remarkably fluent and assured maiden speech? He is absolutely right that his predecessor, Robin Cook, can only be described as a great parliamentarian, whom many of us will miss as a colleague and friend. It is a difficult to act to follow, which he appreciates, but he has made a very good start. I just hope for his sake that the hospital is still open in four years' time—many are not.

I have no illusions that there may be contained excitement outside this place about our proceedings this evening, but the Bill is extremely important. It deals with a critical element of our democracy—our voting system. I welcome the Bill. It is a modest Bill, which has gross omissions that I shall seek to point out, but what it does contain is welcome. I must say to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) that I am amazed that even the modern, opportunistic Conservative party can find any reason to decline to give a Second Reading to a Bill that contains measures that we all want introduced, and to deprive Parliament of the vehicle for further such measures. It is a tactical mistake. I hope that he will reconsider that position later, as it is important that we move forward as a united House as far as possible in seeking to reduce fraud and maintain the integrity of the voting system.

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