Fuel smuggling and fuel laundering in Northern Ireland account for a loss to the Exchequer of £245 million a year, but it could be stopped almost immediately. It could be checked, with the criminals put in the dock, and people whose lawful trade is affected by smuggling
would see it brought to an end. How can that be done? I shall make two suggestions and I hope that this Government are listening. I hope that they will reduce fuel duty in regions such as Northern Ireland. It shares a land border with another member state whose duty is lower than ours and therefore attracts the smugglers. The Government should fingerprint or DNA our fuel, so that it is impossible to launder and so that we can catch the culprits involved in that illegal trade. I hope that the Government will do that and make moves to build on some of the development work that was done by the previous Administration, who were examining that approach as a way forward. I also appeal to this Government not to increase that duty in a region whose energy costs are already so high that they are disproportionate. They affect business and the wherewithal of the economy to cope at this time. I hope that the Government are listening to that plea.
I shall conclude by commenting about my constituency. Although I was attracted by many of the remarks made by some of my colleagues in their maiden speeches about how wonderful their constituencies are, I believe that my constituency is the finest constituency-not because it has returned me but because it is a wonderful place. It has the geographic splendours of the Giant's Causeway and the Slemish mountain and enjoys some wonderful cities that have brought forward some wonderful people. For example, the market town of Ballymoney brought forward my sporting heroes-the motorcycle racers Joey Dunlop and Robert Dunlop. The market town of Ballymena is known as the city of the seven towers and I hope that during my tenure as Member of Parliament, Ballymena will get city status and become a city not just in name but by charter. There is, of course, the holiday resort of Ballycastle and the 20 or so villages in between that make up the backbone of a large rural constituency that boasts tobacco manufacturing, bus making and whiskey brewing in the oldest whiskey distillery in the United Kingdom, and indeed in the world, Bushmills. Of course, we also have the manufacture of tyres at Michelin and of agri-food, which is probably our largest single industry. Those industries alone employ the vast bulk of people in my constituency.
Today, we are dealing with DEFRA issues, and I was disappointed that the Queen's Speech said very little about agri-food production, as I believe that agri-food production is the way forward. It certainly is for my part of the United Kingdom. It is important in creating jobs, employment and development. I wish that there was a little more coming from those on the Government Front Bench about frustrating a European agenda that is clearly against Northern Ireland producing its food, and which frustrates the production of that food. I hope that the Government and this Parliament will stand up to those who would seek to frustrate us in the production of our food, just as we stand up to other more powerful nations, such as Brazil, Argentina and other countries across Europe, that produce milk, beef and lamb. I hope that we will get support from the Government. One way that they could do that would be to make good on the promise that was made before the election about an ombudsman for the supermarkets. I hope that that is done, because it will be essential in stopping the perception that prices are fixed.
I want our farmers to be a success. I want to see new talent and new blood coming into farms. Although I am delighted that my father worked until he was 84, I meet
farmers every day who are still working at 84 and their 50-year-old sons cannot get into farming. I want to see their grandsons getting into farming and that will only happen if the Government stand up to support our agri-industry.
Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). It seems that his constituency has yet another passionate and powerful advocate to represent it in this Chamber. I am sure that Members will also have been delighted to see his father present in the Gallery to witness his speech. I, too, have the distinction of following in giant footsteps, and I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity so early in this Parliament to pay tribute to my predecessor, Michael Howard.
Michael Howard will be known by many Members on both sides of the House for his 27 years of service to his constituents and his fine record in Government, too, as Secretary of State for the Environment and for Employment and-I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) will allow me this observation at this moment-as possibly the finest Home Secretary that this country has seen since the war. He will also be fondly remembered by Members on this side of the House for his leadership of our party. He did not lead us to ultimate victory, but we would credit him with turning the corner of our fortunes and laying the foundations for the success that we enjoyed at the last general election. I was also privileged in my four years as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Folkestone and Hythe to benefit from his friendship, judgment and insight. I was very grateful for that.
In an interview for a book published recently, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mentioned that Michael Howard had one of those brilliant lawyerly minds that meant that he could win an argument even when he was in the wrong. I am sure that all those who have known him and worked with him will have seen that quality represented first hand. He was undoubtedly one of the finest politicians of his generation in the Conservative party and we remember him warmly for that. He was also dogged and determined in the pursuit of the interests of his constituents. In that regard, he was certainly a man who had something of the fight about him and something of the right about him.
I have the distinction of being the fourth Member to be elected to serve the constituency of Folkestone and Hythe since its creation in 1950, although the Cinque Port towns of Hythe and New Romney, within its boundaries, have been represented continuously since the very first Parliament was summoned by Simon de Montfort in 1265. I am conscious-as were previous speakers, as the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) said-that I follow not just one distinguished predecessor, but a long line of people who have represented the people of Folkestone and Hythe in Parliaments over the years. That is certainly a great honour.
I should like to indulge the House with reference to two former Members whose careers might be particularly relevant to the political times that we find ourselves in today. Sir Edward Watkin, who was a Victorian railway magnate and responsible for one of the early attempts
to build a channel tunnel at Folkestone, rebelled from his party in 1886 and sat as a Liberal Unionist in support of the Conservative Administration of the time. Sir Philip Sassoon, who created the beautiful Port Lympne estate in my constituency and was a cousin of Siegfried Sassoon, the war poet, was elected as a Conservative Member, but in 1920 served as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to David Lloyd George in a post-war coalition Government.
The constituency is large and varied. It stretches for some 20 miles along the coast, from the Battle of Britain memorial just to the east of Folkestone, to Dungeness and the Kent-Sussex border. Inland, it includes the unique landscape of Romney marsh and the beauty of the Elham valley and the north downs. The entrance and exit of the channel tunnel is based in my constituency. Folkestone itself, although no longer a seaport and ferry port, is undergoing a very exciting process of regeneration, as it becomes a new hub for creativity and the arts, and I believe that it has a very bright future.
The constituency also included for the first time in an election the Saxon Shore ward, taken in from Ashford borough, but true cartographers would probably say that the constituency's boundaries are constantly changing, not owing to the pains of the Boundary Commission but because of the shifting shingle peninsula at Dungeness, which is constantly moving with the climate. The force of nature is seen by the location of lighthouses that were once offshore but are now hundreds of yards inland. It is a truly unique place in the English landscape. Charles Harper referred to it in his 1914 guide to the Kentish coast as
"one of the most remarkable places in England...a waste of shingle, with here and there a sparse patch of gorse, and stretching as far as the eye can reach."
That landscape has not changed much but for the notable addition of the arrival of nuclear power in the 1960s. Nuclear power at Dungeness is an issue in which my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), the Minister for energy, knows that I have taken a strong interest, and on which I have corresponded with him. I should like to address some remarks in this debate to nuclear power at Dungeness.
Dungeness A power station was given approval in 1959, and a B-generation power station was commissioned in the 1960s and opened in the 1980s. That power station is due to start being decommissioned in 2017. There had been a long-held assumption in my constituency that we would be benefit from a new generation nuclear power station, as part of the Government's new build programme. Earlier in the debate today, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) cautioned us against sending out mixed messages on the future of nuclear power. Certainly, my constituents heard a very evident mixed message from the last Government: Dungeness was originally included on the Government's list of possible sites for new build nuclear power stations and was then removed last autumn, and there has followed a consultation process in which my constituents have taken an active and lively interest.
There is a great deal of support for nuclear power in my constituency. I am sure that hon. Members who have nuclear sites in their constituencies know that there is a good deal of support for them, because they generate a huge number of jobs and important support for the local economy. In my constituency, the area of
Dungeness and the Romney marshes remains a relatively deprived part not only of my constituency, but of Kent and the south-east of England. Nuclear power could play an important part in my community.
It appears from the consultation process launched by the last Government that one of the main reasons why Dungeness was taken off the Government's list of potential sites was the objections of Natural England. It is one of the Government's statutory consultees, and in some ways it is only doing its job, but its assessment, based on the habitats regulations, was that the loss of the vegetated shingle in the area around Dungeness power station could not be mitigated, as the landscape was unique. All of us in my constituency would agree that it is a unique landscape, but we are also mindful that the potential development land for the new power station is only 1 per cent. of the entire protected site of special scientific interest around Dungeness, Rye and Romney Marsh; we are talking about a relatively small area of development.
When, in 1959, the Minister of Power gave consent for the first power station to be built, he reached the conclusion that the mitigation necessary, and the damage to the area, was so small that it could not be said that the building of a power station compromised the integrity of the whole site. I know that my constituents will hope that the new Government can look again at the case for nuclear power in Dungeness and will draw a similar conclusion-that it may be possible to work to mitigate the impact of the building of a new power station without compromising the integrity of the entire site, which is greatly valued not only by my constituents but by people across the country. We see the great value that nuclear power has for our community, and we would like to encourage and support it.
In conclusion, my constituents believe that having a sustainable environment is foremost among everyone's interests in the decades ahead, but we should also have a sustainable sense of opportunity for people, so that there is an opportunity for work, for a decent life, and for people to provide for their families and children, so that people can hope that their children will have a better standard of living than they have enjoyed. We might say that those are eternal dreams and ambitions, held by every generation, but they are only delivered and realised by the decisions that we take in this House every day.
Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today in this debate, as the Labour and Co-operative party Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins); indeed, I travelled through his constituency just a couple of weeks ago, while many other new Members were here having their photographs taken, on my way to see Fulham perform in the Europa league final in Hamburg. Sadly, we were not successful, but it was a great opportunity to go through the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
It is a pleasure to take part in the same debate as the hon. Members for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), for Crawley (Henry Smith), and for North Antrim (Ian
Paisley), and my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans); they, too, are making their maiden speeches this afternoon. I note your entreaty for succinct contributions, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will seek to ensure the appropriate conciseness in my remarks.
I would like to begin, as is customary, by paying tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. Tommy McAvoy. It is testament to the respect felt for him, and the affection in which he is held in Parliament, that I have, over the past couple of weeks, been approached by Members of all parties, Officers of the House, and staff in the Library, the Tea Room and elsewhere in the parliamentary estate, all of whom without exception have told me of their high regard for him. As many returning right hon. and hon. Members will know, Tommy held the record for being the longest serving Government Whip; his 13 consecutive years in post-first as the Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household, and latterly as Deputy Chief Whip-are testament to his success in using his personal, particular mix of authority, subtlety and tactical acuity to help this place to run smoothly over many years. Over the course of this week, I have, from the Labour Benches, observed the frequent presence in the Chamber of his successor in the role of the Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael); I have seen him prowling contentedly in the Chamber, and I hope that he is able to live up to his forerunner, my predecessor.
Of course, as a Government Whip, my predecessor was not able to take part in debates in this House, so this is the first time that a Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, as currently constituted, has had the honour and the opportunity to speak in a debate in the Chamber, but that does not mean that my predecessor was silent in the constituency-far from it. As many people have said, "You always know what Tommy McAvoy is thinking, because he tells you." His robust defence of the interests of his constituents is renowned in Rutherglen and Hamilton West. I know that it is one of his proud achievements that although he entered this House in 1987 as the Member for Glasgow Rutherglen, by the time he left, he had been instrumental in ensuring that the historic royal borough of Rutherglen had re-established its separate and distinct identity as part of South Lanarkshire, and he had enabled the good people of Toryglen to be represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris).
Whereas Tommy was born and bred and has lived all his life in Rutherglen, it does not take the most acute observer to work out that, like the hon. Member for Crawley, who spoke earlier, I am a migrant to my constituency. I am one of the many people who have chosen to settle slightly later in life in the constituency-in my case, in Cambuslang.
Indeed, in some ways it is perhaps the responsibility or, maybe, the fault of the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) that I am here at all. His visit to my school in Tonbridge in the run-up to the 1992 general election inspired me to join the Labour party, in the people's republic of Tunbridge Wells. Although I am not sure that that was quite his intention in speaking to a group of sixth formers in his constituency, I am grateful to him none the less.
It is particularly appropriate that I am able to contribute in this debate, as my constituency has a long and proud association with the famous Lanarkshire coalfield. The
legendary Mick McGahey is of course closely associated with Cambuslang, Scotland's largest village, where I and my family are privileged to live; and in Blantyre we are fortunate to have, thanks to the efforts of South Lanarkshire council, the people of Blantyre and many other local agencies, one of the most successful reinstated and revitalised miners welfare facilities, serving the very heart of an historic and proud community. I look forward to welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton) to sample the unique hospitality of the Blantyre miners welfare society and social club next weekend.
The communities that make up Rutherglen and Hamilton West are proud and principled places, with a strong and enduring sense of community and a welcoming and hospitable outlook. From Shawfield-once the home of Clyde football club and still the venue for arguably the best night out of greyhound racing in the United Kingdom-to Meikle Earnock up the hill in Hamilton and all points in between, the people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West are decent and genuine, and it is both a pleasure and an immense privilege to be their representative in this sovereign Parliament.
In preparing for this maiden speech, I was struck by how my predecessor's maiden speech in 1987 focused on the importance of jobs and investment, during a debate about the then Scottish Development Agency. Over the past 13 years considerable investment in the constituency and all its communities has helped to improve facilities and support jobs, but as we begin to emerge from the worst global recession since the 1930s it is vital that we take the opportunity to rebalance our economy. The potential is immense for new jobs and skills in energy and related engineering, manufacturing and technology that can benefit the environment and provide export possibilities and skilled jobs for people in constituencies such as mine.
However, as various speakers in today's debate have said, those skills and opportunities will be realised only with the right support and incentives for business. I was fortunate to be in the Chamber yesterday to hear the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), and although he chose not to answer every single question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) put to him, no one could fail to recognise the zeal with which he appeared to enjoy cutting the child trust fund for my constituents, cutting jobs for young people in my constituency through the future jobs fund and, perhaps most worrying of all, cutting the strategic investment that could provide jobs for my constituents in the future.
I welcome the green investment bank, which was also in our election manifesto, but it is a matter of real concern that £34 million of the cuts to the Department of Energy and Climate Change seem to be from business support schemes, which would help to start some of the work that we need to do to improve the way in which we produce energy. The cuts to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills also seem to endanger regional development agencies and the consequential funding for the equivalent bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Without wishing to be overly controversial, I should like to express my sincere hope that in this brave new world of the new politics of the alliance of the two old parties, the other wing of the Liberal party-notable in
the comments of the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) and the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) earlier-will be able to assert at least some of what it stood for in the general election, in order to ensure that opportunities in energy, industry and manufacturing are not lost amid the rush and enthusiasm of the Liberal party's other faction to adopt what I think is a dangerous, short-termist and unenlightened policy.
I am grateful to the House for extending me the courtesy of hearing my maiden speech in silence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) said yesterday, although I do not expect to be heard in silence in future, I will not be silent in seeking to represent the interests of my constituents in Rutherglen and Hamilton West to the best of my ability.