It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), who has a distinguished record on cancer and in science, which is close to my heart. It is an interesting and bewildering experience to enter Parliament outside the usual intake, and I thank colleagues on both sides of the House who have helped and supported me in the past couple of weeks. When my predecessor, Rachel Squire, was elected in 1992, she brought to the House a background in social work and union representation. She brought, too, a passionate belief in the importance of equality of opportunity for women. Most importantly, she brought a warm personality and a strength of character that was appreciated on both sides of the House. Her death this year from a brain tumour was a tragedy for all who knew her. What struck me most was her dedication to her constituents, for whom she fought with tenacity. I hope to do just the same.
Dunfermline is the historic capital of Scotland. Indeed, the body of Robert the Bruce, who gave the town its charter in 1322, is buried in Dunfermline abbey. I share my constituents' pride in the city's architecture, which includes our very own Carnegie hall, donated by Andrew Carnegie, the most celebrated of Dunfermline's sons. Many visitors enjoy a stroll down the glen, which is maintained by bonds donated by Andrew Carnegie. Dunfermline, like many cities, has had its ups and downs. Daniel Defoe commented in the 18th century that it showed the "full perfection of decay". The city is not in such a plight today, but many parts are run-down, with the old Co-op site blighting our city centre. That is
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a cause that I intend to take up on behalf of my constituents. Dunfermline was once a magnet for Scotland, and I believe that, in time, it can become so again.
One advantage of fighting a by-election is that it draws in political representatives of all the major parties form all parts of the country. Never has Dunfermline seen so many MPs, including my party's three excellent leadership contenders. It seems that visitors were struck, as I have always been, by the landscape, the history of the city and the friendliness of the people. I am sure that that is the only explanation for the fact that so many Labour Members missed the vote on the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. I certainly hope that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) enjoyed his visit to Dunfermline high street. My Liberal Democrat colleagues look forward to welcoming him to their constituencies, following the dramatic effect of his visit to my constituency on the Conservative vote.
The constituency reaches as far west as Kincardine, which will soon have a second crossing across the Forth thanks to investment by my colleagues in the Scottish Executive. In fact, the decision to invest in the second crossing was announced by my good friend and leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Nicol Stephen. I thank Nicol for his tremendous support during the by-election. He is an excellent leader with all the drive, enthusiasm and intellect that one could hope for. However, Nicol is not the only leader who has connections with Kincardine. I am sure that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) will recall our meeting in the village café on polling day. Unlike now, he looked surprisingly optimistic.
The iconic Forth bridge connects my consistency with that of another Liberal Democrat, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett). Hon. Members will know that the 1.5 mile-long bridge is the world's first major steel bridge. It has a balanced cantilever design, and its gigantic girder, with a span of more than 500 m, ranks as one of the great feats of civilization. From the top of the bridgeand I knowthe views of the constituency are stunning. We are fortunate to have a rich diversity of attractions and entertainment. Fordell Firs is the national scout activity centre, and it is widely used by schools and youth groups as well. Just up the road is the Scottish base of the Mines Rescue Service, with an international reputation that we must support and protect. In Dunfermline itself, a new venture called Ceramic Experience brings out the creative potential of children from a very young age. In the north, Knockhill attracts bike and racing car enthusiasts from all over the country. Run by dedicated volunteers, the Scottish vintage bus museum is now acknowledged as a focal point for historic bus restoration.
My constituency has a rich athletic heritage, with three excellent clubs. Pitreavie, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, is rightly proud of international athletes such as Linsey McDonald and Ian Mackie. Dunfermline and West Fife coach Jimmy Bryce has a long record of nurturing young talent, but perhaps his latest find, Gemma Nicol, could be the most promising.
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Finally, my own club, Carnegie Harriers, has some first-class road and hill runners, including young John Hargreaves from my own village of Kelty.
Dunfermline is proud to be a home for many important businesses. The Dunfermline building society retains its strong links with the city, which houses its headquarters. Although it has experienced significant decline, Rosyth dockyard is still a major employer, and I am determined to ensure that that remains the case for many years to come.
On the subject of employment, I am very disappointed with yesterday's decision to axe 142 jobs from D. M. Crombie, and I am seeking to meet the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram), to discuss the decision. Following the loss of hundreds of jobs at Lexmark and Simclar, I am determined to help those employees and to work toward bringing new high-value jobs to the constituency.
I can honestly say that Dunfermline and West Fife is a great constituency and one that I am honoured to represent. I can today pledge that I will serve all of my constituentsno matter on which side of the House they sit.
Many of my constituents will be interested to hear our debate on cancer services. It is particularly fitting that I make my maiden speech in this debate, as Rachel Squire had a long and brave battle against a brain tumour. I am sure that everyone in this House will have been affected by cancer in some way or anothera friend, family or even themselves. More than 130,000 people die from cancer in the UK every year. It is an illness that takes life in such a brutal manner.
This week, I was pleased to be able to sign early-day motion 1696 on action mesothelioma day. Members will know that mesothelioma is an incurable asbestos-related cancer. It can develop 30 or 40 years after a person has come into contact with asbestos, which was widely used in the shipbuilding industry until the late 1970s. Many people predict that the epidemic will peak in around 2020. Its dockyard and ship-breaking heritage makes my constituency a national hotspot for mesothelioma. As reported in last week's Dunfermline Press, Dr. Colin Selby, a chest specialist at the local hospital, has warned that between 200 and 300 men could die in West Fife from the condition each year. At the moment, many men have not even heard of it. I am therefore grateful to the Dunfermline Press and to the British Lung Foundation for helping to raise awareness of this crippling disease.
During my election I campaigned on four key issues. First, I led the effort against the proposed increases in tolls on the Forth road bridge. We need to provide public transport alternatives to the various parts of Lothian for our commuters who are currently forced to use their cars. I look forward to working with others on developing a sustainable transport strategy for this major artery.
Secondly, I said that I would work with local health campaigners on the future of our local hospital, the Queen Margaret. We need to explore how much major elective surgery can take place there. I would like a waiting times unit to be developed at the hospital to
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conduct hip replacements and the like. I am pleased to say that I have already met people from the hospital and the local health board to advance that agenda.
Finally, despite the best efforts of teachers, standards in our primary schools are below the national average. Our secondary schools are too large. We need a new secondary school for the West Fife villages, and I want to help to reduce the size of our secondary schools overall.
Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie) on his excellent maiden speech. As a new MemberI was elected only last yearI know how scary it can be to stand here and make a speech for the first time. He did it with some flair and I am sure that he will never forget the occasion. Having all his pals around him is no bad thing. It is also rather nice that they seem to be staying to listen to my speech. I thank them for that.