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3.32 pm

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech today. It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), and all the new Members on both sides of the House who have spoken so eloquently. I hope that I will do justice with my own speech.

I am conscious of the apocryphal story of the newly elected Member many years ago who, after making his maiden speech to the House, was delighted when a senior and highly respected grandee-a gentleman with a great deal of "bottom"-approached him in the Tea Room later and patted him on the shoulder, muttering, "Rolls-Royce of a speech, old boy, Rolls-Royce of a speech." The delighted Member later recounted this to a colleague, and was most disappointed by the response: "Ah yes, he always says that to the new boys. It means you were well oiled, almost inaudible and went on for a very long time." I am aware that time is precious today, and I will try not to run on.

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I would like to start by expressing my deep gratitude to the people of North Warwickshire and Bedworth, who have entrusted me with the honour of representing them here in Westminster-a task that I take very seriously and will seek to undertake with enthusiasm and energy. Having lived and gone to school in Warwickshire, now to represent a Warwickshire seat in Parliament is truly an honour.

North Warwickshire has a broken history as a parliamentary constituency, having once been abolished under the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885-something I sincerely hope will not be repeated any time soon! But North Warwickshire was not to be erased so easily, and, some 98 years later, the seat was resurrected in time for the 1983 general election, when it was won by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr Maude), who held the seat for two terms. He is remembered with great warmth and affection in North Warwickshire and Bedworth, and kindly visited on a number of occasions during my campaign to offer avuncular advice and support.

Let me also pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Mike O'Brien, who was elected as Member of Parliament in 1992 and represented the seat for 18 years. Since May 1997, Mike O'Brien held an unbroken string of some eight junior ministerial positions. He was once described by Matthew Parris as

Mike worked hard as a constituency MP and always fought for what he believed in. During my time as the parliamentary candidate, we had our political differences and our ding-dongs in the press, but we could always shake hands and we never lost sight of the fact that we both wanted what was best for North Warwickshire and Bedworth. I wish Mike all the best for the future.

My constituency is large and has a diverse economy. Historically a coal mining area, the last working mine in the west midlands, Daw Mill colliery, sits on our border with Nuneaton, and 2008 saw a record year of production. Much of the constituency remains rural, with significant areas of green belt land, and farming remains a strong part of the local economy. Our superb road links make North Warwickshire a hub for distribution and transport, and giants such as UPS and TNT have flagship facilities in the constituency. As in much of the west midlands, manufacturing remains vital to the local economy and to local jobs. An estimated 8,000 jobs in the constituency are linked to manufacturing, ranging from the BMW engine plant at Hams Hall in Coleshill to highly specialised niche engineering companies such as Powerkut Ltd in Bedworth, which, among many other activities, exports precision components for nuclear power stations as far afield as China and around the world.

Culturally, North Warwickshire retains many old and cherished traditions. In Bedworth, a great benefactor was the fondly remembered Nicholas Chamberlaine, who was rector for 51 years from 1664 until his death. In his will, he provided for a school for local children and almshouses for the poor. Today, four local schools and the Nicholas Chamberlaine almshouses continue to receive support from his legacy. Indeed, last Friday, I was privileged to attend founder's day-or "bun day" as it is known locally-in his honour, and to continue the tradition of handing out currant buns to pupils from the schools that enjoy support from the trust.

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In Atherstone, the famous "Atherstone ball game" is an ancient Shrove Tuesday tradition, which dates back some 900 years and continues to raise money for charity-and indeed continues to send one or two people to hospital every year. There is only one rule-that the ball must not be taken outside of Atherstone. Whoever is holding the ball at 5 pm is declared the winner. Beyond that, anything goes. I am delighted that for 900 years, the ball game has avoided the attentions of the "health and safety police"-and long may it continue to do so!

North Warwickshire has a number of difficult issues, which are of deep concern to local people. As MP, I will do all I can to fight for my constituents' interests in these matters. The proposed rail route for High Speed 2 will potentially devastate the villages of Gilson, Water Orton and Middleton. Bedworth is at risk of losing the local fire station as a result of a proposed reorganisation of the Warwickshire fire and rescue service, and I have been part of a local campaign for some time to fight a large, unsustainable and unwanted housing development on green belt land close to the villages of Keresley and Ash Green, near Bedworth.

In addition, there are a number of national issues that I plan to champion during my time in the House-issues on which I know from the doorsteps I have the support of my constituents. One such issue is the welfare of our soldiers and their families, and in particular the issue of mental health care and rehabilitation for veterans and reservists.

I am aware that we are not discussing defence here today, but, as an old soldier, I hope that the House will indulge me for a moment. I had the privilege of serving for some nine years with the Royal Army Medical Corps as a medical support officer. Indeed, I served on operations in Bosnia under the command of the EU military headquarters, when I served with HQ EUFOR in Banja Luka.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): God help you!

Dan Byles: I will leave my thoughts on that for a later speech.

I left the Army to enter politics because I became deeply concerned about the support that we as a nation give to our wounded soldiers. That the British people hold our servicemen and women in the highest regard is beyond doubt; the success of fantastic charities such as Help for Heroes and Combat Stress ably demonstrates that. But these are charities that should not need to exist. I still do not believe that we, as a nation and as a Government, give our soldiers and their families the support they deserve when they are damaged on operations fighting for our country. As the Prime Minister noted yesterday, the sad fact is that we have now lost more veterans of the Falkands conflict to suicide than we did during the conflict itself. Specialist programmes such as the veterans medical assessment and reservist mental health programmes rely on referrals from civilian GPs. They are excellent programmes for those who make it that far, but study after study has shown that only a small minority of civilian GPs are even aware that they exist. In theory, veterans are entitled to priority treatment on the national health service, but in practice, for too many that entitlement simply is not there.

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There will doubtless be much debate over the coming months about the value of some major defence projects costing billions of pounds, but please let us get the fundamentals right too. Let us not forget the poor bloody soldier and his family-the soldier on whom we call to do so much in our name, and who deserves our support when he has been wounded, when he has been traumatised, and when he is back home, out of uniform, and the medal parades are over.

Thank you for indulging me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Those are concerns that I know are shared by hon. Members in all parts of the House, but they are also issues on which we can and must do so much better.

3.40 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to deliver my maiden speech during today's debate on Europe. I congratulate the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) and for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) on their fine speeches.

It is an honour and a privilege to be in this Chamber representing the people of Nottingham South. I am particularly proud to be the first woman to represent our city in Parliament. When I was a little girl, my dad often talked about his mother, whom I never met but whose name I share. He told me that although she was bright and won a place at grammar school, she was unable to take up the place because my great-grandfather thought that education was wasted on girls. A generation later, my own mother, the daughter of a Lancashire clog-maker, also had limited educational opportunities. Her teachers at secondary school asked her to help with the younger pupils, but there was no opportunity for her to take public exams, and she left school without a single qualification.

The fact that the abilities of those two women had been squandered or ignored on the basis of their sex or their class infuriated and inspired me as a child. It made me determined to grasp every opportunity I had, but it also made me want to fight to ensure that every girl and young woman-many of whom did not have the support and encouragement that my parents gave me-could fulfil their potential. I am therefore delighted to be here to speak for the men and the women of Nottingham South.

I hope that many hon. Members have already had an opportunity to visit the queen of the midlands, as Nottingham is sometimes known. If they have, they will know that it is a fine city with a long and fascinating history, but as it is represented by three Members of Parliament, they may be wondering which of its delights are in my own constituency. I hope that my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and for Nottingham East (Christopher Leslie) will forgive me if I claim to have more than my share of the best bits, particularly those that demonstrate the innovation on which our city prides itself.

Nottingham South is home to the oldest inn in England, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, carved into the sandstone caves at the base of Castle Rock. The camellia house at Wollaton Hall is the oldest cast-iron glasshouse in Europe,
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and we have, in Notts County, the world's oldest professional association football club. But Nottingham is not just a historic place; it is an industrial city. While the lace workshops may have disappeared, as sadly has the factory producing thousands of Raleigh bicycles, Nottingham has shown its resilience, and other enterprises have sprung up to take their place. We are a modern European city, home to many thriving businesses employing cutting-edge science and technology to produce products and services for the 21st century. Our employers include Boots, Experian and Speedo. Moreover, it is no coincidence that Nottingham is developing as a science city, given that it has not one but two world-class universities.

My immediate predecessor, Alan Simpson, is a graduate of Nottingham Trent university, and was a student at a time when the cost of study was borne by the public purse. I know that the taxpayers of Nottingham have had great value for money from Alan, because he has been an outstanding representative of our city. Everyone who I have spoken to in the past few weeks, whether Members or staff in the House, has told me how much they liked Alan and how much he will be missed. I say "everyone", but I must confess that when I visited the Whips Office I did detect some relief, for Alan was fiercely independent and never afraid to stand up for the things he believed in, even when that incurred the wrath of his colleagues. Perhaps his greatest achievement has been to secure recognition that climate change poses an immense and immediate threat to our planet and that we must take action urgently to address it. Although Alan has retired from Parliament, I know that he will continue to enjoy being a thorn in the side of any Government or Opposition who fail to grasp the importance of protecting the environment for future generations.

I have never asked Alan why he decided to stand for Parliament, but I had only one reason for becoming an MP: to make a difference. I know that sounds rather grand, but let me explain. I have spent my whole working life representing working people, many of them low paid or part time and most of them women, and 18 of those years have been spent in Nottingham as a trade union organiser for Unison. My first few years were depressing times for anyone seeking to defend public services and the people who provide them-hard-working, committed and caring people who have often sacrificed pay and perks to do those jobs, which are not just socially useful, but vital to every one of us.

In the early 1990s when I started, local government, the health service and higher education lacked the investment they required-but what a difference a Labour Government made! For many low-paid workers in Nottingham, from care workers to bar staff, the introduction of the national minimum wage meant a pay rise. For my own children, and those of many constituents, Labour's investment in education meant that they were taught in brand-new classrooms, with state-of-the-art IT facilities, rather than in leaky portakabins. For young people with little prospect of work or an education, a Labour Government brought new jobs, apprenticeships and university places, and the winter fuel allowance meant that thousands of Nottingham's pensioners no longer had to worry about switching on the heating in the colder months.

I am proud of Labour's achievements, but I want more, and so do the people I represent. As we begin a period in opposition, I will stand up for the people of
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Nottingham South, for their families and for our city, to ensure that the things that have changed their lives for the better are preserved and built upon, to fight for effective action to free them from poverty and inequality, and to strive for a better future for every one of them.

Unfortunately, I fear that the so-called new politics that Members on the Government Benches are so keen to talk about may provide a pleasing soundbite but be of no use to the people I seek to represent. I fear that the drive for efficiencies and cutting waste that the Chancellor's team is so intent upon will actually take us back to a time as bad as the one that I remember in the 1980s-a time when millions faced the misery of unemployment with no prospect of real help or support, when public housing was either sold off or allowed to deteriorate so that only those in desperate need would want to live there, and when it was normal to wait for months, and even years, for hospital treatment. My constituents do not want a return to those times, and it is my duty and responsibility to ensure that their voice is heard, their questions are answered, and their hopes and aspirations are met.

Among the most pressing of my constituents' concerns is the future of several capital investment projects planned for the city, such as the widening of the A453, a vital link between Nottingham and the M1, which is of huge importance to the local economy, to local businesses and to local people coping with the danger and inconvenience that heavy congestion brings. They want to know why this has been deferred, and for how long, and whether the new Government appreciate the cost of delay.

My constituents are also concerned about phase 2 of Nottingham's tram network. Last summer, the previous Government committed £530 million to help build two additional lines. This development will regenerate parts of the city, further develop our excellent public transport infrastructure, and encourage more people to leave their cars at home, choosing instead this clean green alternative. It will also provide between 4,000 and 10,000 new jobs-but is the funding secure?

During the election I was asked about the new school building for Farnborough school in Clifton, and whether it would go ahead if Labour was re-elected. I was happy to be able to assure the chair of governors that it would, but what shall I tell him now? And what can I tell the other heads, governors, parents and pupils whose schools were due to be rebuilt or refurbished under Building Schools for the Future? What, too, can I tell council tenants waiting for new kitchens, bathrooms, windows and doors under the decent homes programme?

Over the coming months I shall be raising those concerns, and I apologise now if Members tire of them, but I am here to press the Government on the issues that matter to my constituents.

I am delighted to conclude my first speech to the House, and pleased that in a while I can head back to my constituency and my family. It is a journey that I will make often, so hon. Members should not be surprised when I press the Government on the electrification of the line to Nottingham, and on a high-speed rail link to bring our city closer to the heart of Europe. I will do so not just because I understand the need for great transport links and the vital importance of staying close to those whom I represent, but because I must always try to get home before my three daughters' bedtime on a Thursday night.

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3.50 pm

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to give my maiden speech. In this debate we have heard many fine maiden speeches, all of which were well crafted and delivered. In particular, I must compliment the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) on her speech, and declare a vested interest: I am a graduate of one of her area's great universities, the university of Nottingham. I must also admit to having sampled the hospitality of Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem inn on more than one occasion.

I took advice on what the contents of a maiden speech should be, and I was surprised by some of what I heard. I was told that my speech should have all the attributes of a lady's well-cut dress, meaning that it should be long enough to cover all the important points but still short enough to be interesting. I will try to comply with those criteria.

Hon. Members will know that this is the first time for more than five months that this Chamber has been addressed by an hon. Member for North West Leicestershire, following the tragic and untimely death of my immediate predecessor, David Taylor, who, very sadly, passed away on Boxing day last year. I have become aware that tributes to one's predecessor are sometimes given through gritted teeth, especially when the previous Member had sat on the opposite side of the House, but that is not the case on this occasion. Although David Taylor and I often disagreed on what he did, I have always been a great admirer of the way in which he did it. At this time, when we are so keen to rebuild the public's faith in our Parliament and our parliamentarians, we could find few better examples or role models than David Taylor. When David and I agreed, we fought together for the benefit of our constituency-defending Moira fire station from closure, opposing open-cast mining at Measham, and trying to protect the green wedge from overdevelopment.

David Taylor was born in North West Leicestershire, and he lived and worked there. He was unflinchingly loyal to his constituency, and as a result was extremely well regarded by his supporters and political opponents alike. His dedication to his work was unparalleled both in this House, where he was voted Back Bencher of the Year in 2007, and in his constituency. Given all his work against smoking and the dreaded weed, I know that he would be delighted that his successor is a reformed smoker. Our constituency is a far lesser place for his passing, and it is a privilege to be here in his stead.

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