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Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech, and to speak up for the people of Dover and of Deal. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on his excellent maiden speech, and on his passionate and trenchant defence of the Dartford crossing. He and I share an interest in, and a concern about, the selling off of our nation's assets. I also congratulate Members on both sides of the House who have made their maiden speeches today. The list has grown too long for me to name all those Members, but all their speeches were excellent, and I believe that they all have a great future in this place.
It is traditional to congratulate and celebrate one's predecessor in the constituency. I pay great tribute to Gwyn Prosser, who was an excellent hard-working Member of Parliament, well known by Labour Members. He was also a very loyal and diligent Member of Parliament, who took up the causes and concerns of the people of Dover and Deal. When what I used to think were simple problems, easily solved, suddenly landed in my lap, I found that they were less simple and less easily solved than might have seemed the case outside this great and august House. He was a very fine Member of Parliament, and he will be a hard act to follow.
I understand that it is also traditional to talk about one's constituency and its history. We in Dover are, of course, used to visitors. One of our earliest recorded visits was in 55 BC by Julius Caesar; he caught an early ferry from France and came to Dover. In those days border security was quite good-would that were still the case-and he was unable to make a landing at Dover because warlike tribesmen were going to see him off. Instead he went down the coast a few miles-to Deal and Walmer, it is said-where he landed and did the customary European thing in those days: proceeded with an invasion. Having made some progress with his invasion, he then dispatched a communiqué back to Rome. This is what he said:
"By far the most civilised inhabitants are those living in Kent, a purely maritime district".
Well, Dover maritime is very maritime-and, we like to think, very, very civilised. While we are disappointed that Julius Caesar made war upon us, we forgive him a bit because of his very communautaire approach in talking so nicely about us to his capital city.
European relations have continued in this vein ever since, in war and in peace. In Napoleonic times the channel fleet was stationed off the coast of Deal. The long historical link between Deal and the Royal Marines was forged, too. As Members will know, we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo, the glorious
retreat from Dunkirk. Our white cliffs came to symbolise a nation's struggle to survive-a nation's struggle for sovereignty and the values of liberty, democracy and freedom that our nation upholds. As Member of Parliament for Dover, I know that I carry a heavy responsibility to uphold those vital values.
Dover paid a heavy price for being in Hellfire Corner. We lost a beautiful regency town, and we are still waiting for regeneration to this day. I have said to my electors that my hope is that with investment, jobs and money, the gateway to England can once again become a jewel in the crown of our nation. This is my hope. I want it to be my life's work, and I hope we will achieve it and succeed.
Other things come out of our history of being the gateway to England and the border of our nation. The first of them is concern: concern that the previous Government conceived a plan to sack our experienced immigration officers. We are concerned because we do not want porous borders, nor do we want more human trafficking, more gun running or more drug smuggling. We want to ensure that we have proper border security and national security. We want to ensure that the "jungle" in Calais is dealt with, not simply because we are concerned about the number of people there, but because we are concerned about the children there, who are living in terrible conditions. We want them to be looked after properly in a proper European settled way. We must co-operate with our friends, allies and community partners to get a lasting solution to this concern that many hold.
The previous Government also conceived a plan to sell off our port. We do not want our nation's borders to be sold. The people of Dover are trenchantly opposed to that idea. I come here planning to do all in my power to find a better way forward than simply to sell it off at the bottom of the market, possibly to a foreign power. That would be the wrong thing to do for our nation's security.
The people of Dover also want to have a proper hospital back in Dover. The previous Government offered us a polyclinic, having run down our hospital. We say we want a proper hospital, with care beds and doctor-led emergency services. These things are important to us because the nearest acute hospitals are 40 minutes down the road by car and four hours by public transport. That is bad for old people, and those who are badly off and cannot afford a car and do not have access to one. We want a fair share of health care; we feel that is very important.
People in Dover have also told me time and again, "When you come to the House, Charlie, tell them we want a George cross, too." That might be a bit much to ask, but our area paid a heavy price in the war, and people might compare the price we paid with the price that Malta paid. This case should be examined, and I hope that it will be, in due course.
Finally, I should say that the liberty of the subject is one of the most important calls on any Member of Parliament, and as the Member of Parliament for Dover, I especially feel that responsibility, given my constituency's history in defending our nation's freedom and liberty. The honouring of the military covenant is also important to people in Dover and Deal. I therefore bring to the
House's attention the case of Major Bill Shaw, MBE. He is a man who was commissioned from the ranks. He was a regimental sergeant major and was awarded an MBE for his excellent services to the armed forces. He was promoted to the rank of major and subsequently retired having served in Bosnia and Iraq, having been decorated and having instructed at Sandhurst.
He has served our country well, but today he finds himself in an Afghan jail facing a two-year sentence as a result of allegations of "corruption"; there seems to have been a misunderstanding as to what constitutes corruption and what constitutes a payment to release one's car from the pound. I am concerned about this matter, as is his family, and we want to see that justice is done. There are questions as to whether due procedure was followed, and whether he received justice. I ask my colleagues on the Front Bench to examine this case and see what can be done for this man. He defended us for most of his life, and it is therefore right that we should defend him in his hour of need and ensure that his case is properly looked at and his interests properly defended by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech as the new Member of Parliament for Great Yarmouth. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and all the hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. So excellent have they been that there is great pressure on those who rise to speak at this stage of the day, because we are very aware of what has come before.
I am also conscious of Great Yarmouth's history, and it seems, in an ironic way, fitting that I should make my maiden speech in a debate on Europe, given some of the political controversy that Great Yarmouth has enjoyed over the years. That dates back to the fact that some Members of Parliament of the time signed the death warrant for King Charles I in Great Yarmouth-I commend the museum there to any hon. Member who wishes to find out more about that-and carried on through to its dissolution as a constituency in the mid-1900s for electoral questions and corruption, only for the constituency subsequently to rise again.
I am the third Member of Parliament to represent Great Yarmouth in its new formation. The first was Michael Carttiss, which is why I mentioned the irony of the fact that I am speaking in a European debate. Michael's views, actions and speeches on Europe and on the Maastricht treaty are still notorious in Great Yarmouth and Norfolk, as they doubtless are with some hon. Members. He gave years of public service and still serves as a Norfolk county councillor in the Great Yarmouth area. He was followed by my direct predecessor, Mr Anthony Wright, who has also given a huge amount of public service and who deserves a great deal of thanks from me and from all the constituents of Great Yarmouth. We should recognise the amount of time that he put in as a councillor and council leader, and as the Member of Parliament for Great Yarmouth. He built a great reputation among all its residents for
being a genuine, straight and friendly man to deal with, and he did so much to represent many charities across the constituency.
There are a great many things to do in my constituency, and it is fitting that I am speaking on a day when so many hon. Members representing seaside and coastal resorts have spoken. There has been a form of competition as to who represents the best coastal town, and I shall put my pitch in for Great Yarmouth, the second largest seaside town in the country. Tourism is a hugely important industry for my area, as it is worth getting on for £500 million a year to its economy. That makes it important to Great Yarmouth, to Norfolk and to East Anglia. Our area contains more than most people realise. It contains a large chunk of the Norfolk broads, rural villages to enjoy, architecture that dates back to the ruins of Roman forts, places with links to Nelson, some fabulous museums, a race track, a dog track and a wonderful shoreline.
However, part of that shoreline is under threat from coastal erosion. Our coast stretches from Winterton, through Hemsby, Scratby, Great Yarmouth itself, Gorleston and Hopton. I will have work to do as a Member of Parliament to support the new Government on this issue, when, as I hope, we move away from the bureaucracy and red tape that has led to report after report on coastal erosion, and get down to doing some work to protect our coastline and safeguard some of the communities in Great Yarmouth. I will work with my hon. Friend and ally the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) to make sure that we protect the coastline to the east of Norfolk more generally.
We must also remember that tourism is an important industry for our country. I hope to play my part in arguing the case for it, as it is one of our most cost-effective industries in creating jobs. That is something that we in Great Yarmouth need, as at certain times of the year our unemployment is way above average.
The town has one of the most deprived wards in the country, and there is much work to do to improve our infrastructure. One of my predecessors often joked that the nearest motorway was on mainland Europe, and not too much has changed. We have work to do in that regard, but it is worth doing.
Earlier, I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary mention the green agenda, climate change and the need for new energy sources in the future, because all that represents an opportunity for Great Yarmouth. Just as the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) noted with regard to her constituency, Great Yarmouth can benefit from renewable energy. I believe that I can work with my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) to make Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth an epicentre for renewable energy in our region, as well as in our country and in Europe.
We in Great Yarmouth already have the experience of working with the offshore oil and gas industries, and the offshore wind farm at Scroby Sands used to be the largest in Europe. A new wind farm is coming, and there is the local potential to exploit marine energy and other renewables because we have the necessary experience and expertise. Most importantly, our phenomenal new outer harbour has created a deep-water port that will allow us to service the industry, not just through facilitating its supply chain when it is built, but by acting as its construction base. I intend to play my part, loudly, in
bringing that about. I have already talked to Ministers to ensure that Great Yarmouth gets a really good shot at delivering on some of the opportunities arising from the new energy industry. I want to protect and grow our economy, and to protect and grow energy for our country in the future.
We have a wide diversity of business in Great Yarmouth. The Government's plans to free up business and entrepreneurs are very exciting. The tourism industry is the essence of our entrepreneurship, but among our businesses are also companies that supply potatoes for crisps and chips. Other firms supply microchips for NASA and the Ministry of Defence, and still others provide broadband services and other facilities.
Mine is a diverse and exciting constituency. I have a phenomenal job ahead of me in making sure that I deliver on the trust and faith that the people of Great Yarmouth have placed in me. I want to follow those that have gone before in making sure that we take advantage of the opportunities that exist for the area. I intend to play my part in making sure that we grip with them with both hands. I hope that I can play a small part in moving Great Yarmouth forward, thereby helping our country to grow in the years ahead.
Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me my second opportunity to speak in what is only my third week in this place. I look forward to goading my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the former Minister for Europe, into answering some of my questions in a few moments.
I come to this place after 10 years of experience in the European Parliament. Throughout that time, the hon. Member for Rhondda was ever present in European circles. He first came to us as a lobbyist, talking to us in BBC-speak about the audio-visual media services directive and such like, but his later guise was as the Minister for Europe.
However, first I want to address the current Minister for Europe. There are a number of tricks of the trade-I know that my hon. Friend will learn them very quickly-but I do not think that they were completely grasped by his predecessor in the role.
First, I do not think that we have ever used all the power that we should be able to wield in European institutions. We are, and have been for a number of years, the second largest net contributor to the EU budget. We all know, because it is often talked about in this place, that for the past 15 years the European Commission's accounts have not been signed off-in the technical language, given a "positive statement of assurance"-by the European Court of Auditors.
That state of affairs has continued since 1994. During all 13 years of the previous Labour Government, not one Treasury Minister visiting Brussels queried whether we were getting value for money. Not only that, but no one asked whether so much money should be spent on projects that were well known to be affected by fraud and mismanagement.
If we were to punch above our weight-or at least at our weight-in Europe, I would suggest that we honour, almost, what French, German and Spanish colleagues do. They would stop at absolutely nothing to get their
way in those institutions. They would drag the budget process to a halt. They would drag a former British Prime Minister to talk about trumpets at the gate and say that he is actually just about to give away a huge amount of British money to keep them quiet-to stop them moaning at him for some other engagements that he might be doing around the world. We must absolutely remind our European partners that yes, we do want to play a full part in European institutions with our European friends, in whatever future Europe has, but that actually we want to be regarded as a fair partner as well. We have been playing-and paying-their game for too long.
I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that we should be arguing for more repeal of European legislation-something that just does not happen any more. We want sunset clauses in all new directives passing through the European Commission, as I hope we would expect in any new legislation that passes through this place, so that if a directive does not work, there is an opportunity for it to fall.
I would advise my hon. Friend about EU-creep. No, I am not like Nigel Farage, the former UK Independence party leader, referring to the Presidents of the European Council. I am talking about where Europe gradually extends its field. Six years ago, as a Member of the European Parliament, I went to a meeting where I was advised that the External Action Service-which we commented on earlier today-was simply not going to happen. On the way to that meeting, I met a friend of mine who had just had a job interview for a position with that External Action Service. I told the gentleman from the Foreign Office who had told me that the service would not happen that I had this friend and that jobs were available, and he said that no, he must have got that absolutely wrong. For years, those who now sit on the Opposition Benches have said that there would be no such thing-that it would not happen-and now we have a full-blown External Action Service. We are going to have European Commission offices acting like embassies across the globe, diminishing the role of those of member states.
I am deeply concerned about the passerelle clause that came into being in the Lisbon treaty-the constitution: it was and is the same thing. I believe that that clause will be actioned on many occasions, and probably is being actioned at this moment. I am equally concerned about the growth in the European Union's budget. All these things are not negatives taken on their own, but together they add up to what I call Euro-creep: a growing tendency for powers and money to gravitate towards the centre, which is Brussels-and, of course, Strasbourg.
I opened my maiden speech by saying that it was a great shame that we have to have Strasbourg as a home for the European Parliament. Ministers, the current Deputy Prime Minister and I set up a campaign in the European Parliament. We had a petition that got 1 million signatures online-including that of the now European Commissioner from Sweden-to try to get only one seat for the European Parliament. I know the problems that go with it, but I emphasise to hon. Members that surely the current arrangement is one example of a member state punching way above its weight.
Ms Gisela Stuart: The hon. Gentleman is a former Member of the European Parliament and before he gets too sanctimonious, I remind him that during the Convention on the Future of Europe the European Parliament refused to agree on one seat because the default position in the treaty is that the Parliament sits in Strasbourg. Without French agreement, it would have had to give up its seat in Brussels.
Chris Heaton-Harris: There are many other examples, from debates held over the years in all institutions in Europe-and from debates that I have read in this House-of wonderful ideas on what we could do with the buildings of Strasbourg or Brussels. The fact is that we are talking about a huge, expensive white elephant that the people of Britain think is yet another waste of taxpayers' money.
I know that this will not make my hon. Friend the Minister particularly popular when he is in negotiations on the other side of the channel, but I just ask him to mention, every now and again when the French delegation gets a bit excited about reformulation of the common agricultural policy or something else-the French get excited about all sorts of things-that we have been very generous in allowing them to maintain the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, because it is unpalatable to most of our electorates.
I wish my hon. Friend the greatest of luck in his new role. There are great difficulties across the continent at the moment. There is the crisis of the huge debt that many countries have, and the incongruous way in which that debt may have to be serviced by other members of the eurozone-I like to think that it would not be serviced by British taxpayers. There are other pressures, too. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) made the point that we cannot have British jobs for British workers, and talked about the pressures that future accessions might bring. I know from my time in the European Parliament, and from going round schools in what was my region and is now my constituency, how deeply unpopular among the British people the possible accession of Turkey could be. If we press forward with it, we will have a great deal of work to do in explaining to our electorate that it is the right thing for Britain and British workers.
John Mann: Can the hon. Gentleman explain why the new coalition Government will potentially have referendums on all sorts of things to do with the European Union, but not on the question of any accession? Does he not see that as rather a contradiction?
Chris Heaton-Harris: I thank the hon. Gentleman for asking me a question way above the pay grade of such a cub Member; I refuse to answer it because I haven't got a clue what the answer is. That is the blunt honesty that will, I hope, become associated with me. If we go down the line of accession, we should look not only at Croatia, but at countries such as Macedonia, which has been held back because of its problems with Greece over so simple a thing as its name and history.
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