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8.19 pm

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today. I congratulate all those who have made maiden speeches today, particularly the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), and my hon. Friends the Members for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran) and for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell), who spoke with passion and compassion in equal measure, as I have come to expect from them.

Representing the constituency of West Dunbartonshire would be an enormous honour for anyone but it is particularly special for me, because it is my home. It is where I am from, where I was born and raised. The reason I stood for West Dunbartonshire was to represent the people I grew up with, have lived beside and have known all my life. It is an honour to represent them here.

I pay tribute to my predecessor the right hon. John McFall, not from obligation but from true respect. As a Member of this House, John was first and foremost a champion for West Dunbartonshire. I read his maiden speech, and I could easily have used his opening paragraph, although I hasten to add that I did not. He spoke with pride of the honour of representing his home and I know that throughout his parliamentary career that was foremost in his mind.

John was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office and was there at the time of the devastating Omagh bombing. He is of course best known for his superb
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chairmanship of the Treasury Committee. It was a privilege to visit the constituency with John in the weeks before the election. Both he and I were welcomed with open arms everywhere we went. Even after all his 23 years of elected office, he was not wearied by the job. It was clear that he would miss his constituents, and this place, immensely.

John was also a Co-op MP and I am delighted to follow in his footsteps in that respect. I look forward to promoting and supporting Co-op policies in the House, as I believe they often provide a better answer to some problems.

Last week, John was elevated to the other place. I confess that I am slightly unnerved that he will be keeping an eye on me, but his counsel is always welcome. He will be a formidable addition to the other Chamber. Having watched him tackle the bank chiefs, I pity those who thought they were rid of him, but John was respected on both sides of the House and many will be glad to see him back in Westminster.

I pay tribute, too, to Tony Worthington, the former MP for Clydebank and Milngavie. Like John, he was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office and contributed greatly through his work on the Select Committee on International Development.

Although I did not have the good fortune to meet Ian Campbell, who so ably represented Dumbarton before John McFall, I met his wife Mary during the selection process. Living as she does in the quiet rural village of Gartocharn, she was somewhat surprised to see me at her door one night during the selection campaign, as I chased down every last party member for their vote. She was not, however, as surprised as I was when she told me that the postman had not driven up to her house for some months because of the bad weather. At that point, I worried that I might have put my determination to be selected as the Labour candidate above any consideration for the condition of my dad's car, which my partner Gregor had driven up the steep muddy track to Mrs Campbell's house, narrowly avoiding the sheep. I hope the car is not still rattling-if so, I am afraid the game is up. Apologies, Dad.

The constituency of West Dunbartonshire has the best of both worlds. We sit between Glasgow, in my opinion the best city in the world, and Loch Lomond, undisputedly one of the most beautiful places in the world. If Members have never visited the area, I urge them to put it on their wish list now.

I am in the unique position of having a personal connection with virtually every part of my constituency. Having been born in the Vale of Leven, I grew up in Dumbarton and while I am technically a Son of the Rock I am also half Bankie, as my dad is from Clydebank and I have family in with the bricks there. My mum and dad lived in Bowling when they were first married and growing up I often visited friends in Old Kilpatrick, Milton and Duntocher, so there is genuinely no part of my constituency that is unfamiliar to me. I look forward to standing up for all those areas as I promised during my campaign.

There is so much to be proud of in West Dunbartonshire. We have an incredible history and potentially a very bright future. I could speak for a long time about the
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history of Dumbarton as the ancient capital of Strathclyde and about our rock and castle, which dates back to the Vikings. I could tell the House about the famous Denny's shipyard, the leading innovator of the time in shipbuilding, which put the finishing touches to the Cutty Sark.

I could also talk about the proud industrial past of Clydebank, heralded today by the Titan crane on the site of the former John Brown's shipyard, famous for its liners and battleships, where the QE II was built. If I had time, I would love to expand on formidable red Clydesiders, such as Davie Kirkwood, another of my predecessors. My older constituents still remember singing about him at election time and his spirit lives on today in the vital work of the Clydebank asbestos group. I could talk about the individuality of all the communities that make up the Vale of Leven and the fantastic community-led regeneration in Renton, but I hope the House will permit me to move on to more pressing issues for my constituents.

Some people focus too much on the boundaries that divide West Dunbartonshire, while I see a brilliant area, with fantastic people, potential and ambition. But we are a people who suffered much under the last Tory Government and I fear we have much to lose under the present one. This Government should pay close attention to what is happening in West Dunbartonshire, because they could learn from the mistakes that are being made there right now.

My constituency is, I am sorry to say, ahead of the curve in facing swingeing cuts, for we are at the mercy of a Scottish National council that wishes to raise £2 million from local people. The council has ramped up home care charges for almost every service it provides. It is cutting our education services from all sides. Those cuts and charges are the No. 1 issue raised with me both by local people who use the services and council employees who are struggling to deliver them. Although it may not be parliamentary convention to address such an issue in a maiden speech, I would be letting down my constituents if I did not raise that situation in my first opportunity to speak in this place.

One of my first acts as the MP for West Dunbartonshire will be to establish a jobs taskforce, but while I am planning how to help get people into work, the Government are taking people out of work. My constituents valued Labour's future jobs fund. Nowhere was it needed more than in West Dunbartonshire, because despite Labour's success in tackling the desperately high levels of unemployment left as the Conservative legacy, West Dunbartonshire consistently has one of the highest levels of unemployment in Scotland. I do not accept that it is for ever our fate to be at the wrong end of those statistics, which is why I welcomed Labour's future jobs fund, but that help will now be taken from my constituents, and I urge the Government to reconsider their decision.

I raise the issue not just for its own merit but to illustrate to the Government that many in the Chamber will disagree with their policies. That is normal and healthy in a democracy, but it would not be healthy or democratic to bind the House to an arbitrary and artificial dissolution threshold of 55%.

I am conscious that I may not have made as traditional a maiden speech as is expected, but I am firmly aware of the expectations my constituents have of me and I intend to uphold my promise to them that I will always put them first.

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8.26 pm

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) and Members on both sides of the House on the excellent maiden speeches we have heard today.

I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for recognising me for this maiden speech. It is, after all, five years since my predecessor, Bob Marshall-Andrews, took to the airwaves to concede defeat. Many Members may have heard him admit defeat on that occasion, but not all may have heard him make later what has variously been described as an Al Gore-style retraction or a Lazarus-like recovery.

Bob Marshall-Andrews represented the constituents of Medway for 13 years, highly ably holding the Government to account throughout that period. During that time he faced a pincer attack from my campaign and from his Front Bench. On one occasion, the Labour Whips were so keen to assist my campaign that they leaked the fact that they had given him permission to undertake legal work in Hong Kong for several weeks while Parliament was sitting. Such things are always opaque, but I understand that it was in retaliation for Mr Marshall-Andrews having auctioned a series of Whips' letters to recalcitrant MPs, to raise money for the Campaign group.

Bob Marshall-Andrews had a number of great successes. He defended the right to trial by jury-I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) took up that cause this evening-and he helped to prevent the extension of detention without trial. He played a major part locally in bringing the campuses of four universities to our constituency.

The counstituency of Rochester and Strood is the successor to the Medway constituency. It contains two of the five Medway towns. Rochester, with its castle and cathedral, was and should again be a city. Strood, its proud neighbour over the River Medway, grew in the patriotic fervour of the Boer war, along with Chatham dockyard, and that is recorded in street names such as Gordon, Kitchener and Cecil.

The constituency contains the historic dockyard of Chatham, which built and served our Navy from before the time of Pepys, to Nelson's HMS Victory, to the Falklands conflict. We are proud of that heritage, but we are also proud that, 25 years on, we have recovered from the closure of that dockyard.

The constituency is two thirds urban, but also a third rural. We have the Hoo peninsula, between the Rivers Medway and Thames, which stretches from Grain to Cliffe, and where we saw off the threat of an airport twice the size of Heathrow. The constituency also contains the north downs villages of Cuxton and Halling.

On the substance of the debate tonight, I should declare an interest: I am a member of the Kent police authority. However, on occasion, turkeys do vote for Christmas, and I should like to welcome the coalition's proposals to abolish police authorities and replace us with directly elected individuals. It must be right that those who exercise the coercive power of the state should be held to account by those whom they serve. That is a progressive cause. It is the cause of centuries of the parish constable against the remote magistracy. It is the cause of London Labour councils and the South Yorkshire police authority through the 1980s. It is the
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cause of the Levellers and, indeed, the Diggers, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton referred earlier. However, it is a cause today that is represented not by the Opposition, but by the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron), who represents not just Burford, but democratic ideals of the Levellers who lost their lives there.

I have heard the odd senior police officer oppose those plans, yet there is no suggestion of any intrusion on the chief constable's prerogative. The powers that will be transferred are currently those of police authorities. Surely, the objection is not merely that directly elected individuals will exercise those powers more effectively than police authorities have done to date.

We will also codify operational independence. I would caution that that does not mean that the police should be allowed to get along with things solely as they wish. The Metropolitan police have a tradition of independence because we have had a concern to guard against them becoming the arm of central Government. However, our tripartite system is a compromise between counties, where chief constables would occasionally receive instructions, and boroughs, where oversight was much greater. Indeed, the watch committee of the borough of Preston met twice a day-once in the morning, to give the chief constable his instructions, and once in the early evening, to check that he had carried them out.

Before I close, I should like to draw the House's attention to what I consider the major trend in policing of the past 25 years. It is the movement of power from locally appointed and accountable chief constables to an organisation that is both a private company and a trade union with a closed shop: the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has grown to dominate the field of policing without the sanction of the House. It has its committees and its cabinet, and it issues instructions to us in Kent on how much we should charge for policing the Faversham carnival or the Maidstone water festival. It is right that we should now move and have directly elected police commissioners to rebalance the policing landscape and restore local democracy.

8.33 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) on his fine maiden speech. The practical experience that he obviously has of police authorities will stand him in good stead in debates in the House on such matters, even though we may not agree on the contents of what he says. As for his generous tributes to his predecessor, I am sure that the Labour Whips will hope that he is as loyal to the new Government as his predecessor was to the Labour Government.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) for her fine speech. She also paid a very generous tribute to her predecessor, John McFall. John McFall is certainly a hard act to follow, but I have no doubt that she has the talent and expertise to be a worthy successor to him. She will shine in the House, although the nice things that I had written down about her speech came to a stop when she reached the part about Glasgow being the finest city in the world. Glasgow is a fine place, but that is going a little too far. I am sure that she will do well, and I wish her well in her parliamentary career.

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I want to say a few things about the issue of the 55% threshold for Dissolution of the House of Commons, which is being proposed by the Government coalition. I do not think that I am the only Member, and not only on this side of the House, who is disappointed at the way that the Deputy Prime Minister-the first Liberal leader since Lloyd George to speak at the Dispatch Box from the Treasury Bench-performed in the Chamber today. I found his refusal to enter into any real debate and answer questions very disappointing. As the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said from the other side of the Chamber, the proposal for a minimum threshold is a major constitutional change, and it was not even in either of the Government parties' manifestos, so it is quite reasonable to ask questions about the proposal, how it would work and what it would mean in practice. It is not good enough to say, "It is just a few details that we will sort out later."

The Deputy Leader of the House was taken by surprise, or ambushed, in an Adjournment debate last week. He could be forgiven for not having all the answers, but by now I would have hoped that the Government had answers to the questions that they were asked. I hope that we see better from the Deputy Prime Minister in future.

Given that the Deputy Prime Minister would not answer many of the questions that were put to him today, I hope that the Home Secretary, who is always courteous, tries to address in the winding-up speech some of the issues that the Deputy Prime Minister unfortunately failed to address. I congratulate her junior Ministers on their promotion to the Treasury Bench and hope that they will have a word with her about that before the end of the debate.

Those issues are simple and straightforward. First, do the Government accept that if a Government lose a vote of confidence on a simple majority and no alternative majority is formed within a reasonable time, Parliament will then be dissolved and there will be general election? If they say yes and make it clear that that is their position, they will deal with many of the objections held by Members on the Opposition Benches. [Interruption.] The Deputy Leader of the House chunters away from a sedentary position, but the fact is that we have not been given clear answers to these questions. If the Government give clear answers, they will allow the debate to move much further forward.

Secondly, we have to challenge the assertion being made by the Government parties that their proposal for a 55% threshold gives away the Government's right to call a general election. A 55% threshold does not give away the Government's right to call an election. As has been pointed out time and again, the Government parties have 57% of the seats-a majority-so nothing has changed. There is no move to a fixed-term Parliament in the measures being proposed, from what we can understand about what they are meant to provide.

If those on the Government side of the House really want to give up the right to be able to call a general election at a time that suits the Government parties, perhaps we should go for a higher threshold for a Government motion to dissolve Parliament. Let us go for the Scottish higher proportion, as some people have suggested. That might be a fair combination: a higher
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threshold for the Government to be able to move Dissolution, but keeping the right of a simple majority in Parliament to throw the Government out if they no longer have the support of the House. That is the kind of debate-the kind of proposal and the kind of compromise-that we ought to have over time. It is the kind of debate in which we might get a fair degree of consensus across the House.

One lesson of the Scottish example is not simply the numbers-the threshold-required to dissolve the Scottish Parliament, but the approach to politics involved. The Scottish Parliament's arrangements for dissolution and for no-confidence votes have stood the test of time because they were not suddenly announced at the last minute, after an election. Originally, we were told that there would be a binding vote of the House of Commons on the proposals within days of the Government taking office. That idea at least appears to have been dropped. The Scottish Parliament proposals had such broad support because they were discussed over time, and not just in this House. There were weeks, months and years of discussion in the wider political community in Scotland as well. I suggest that that is a lesson that the Government should learn from the Scottish experience.

As the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) pointed out, this is not only a question of getting measures through this place; they have to get through the House of Lords as well. No matter how many former Liberal Democrat councillors, retired Tory MPs or whatever the Government try to stuff into the House of Lords, I predict that, once they are there, they will become attached to the place along the corridor.

If the Government really want to move forward on fundamental constitutional reform, the way to do it is to try to get as much consensus as possible across the Chamber of the House of Commons. If that happens, there will not be the same opportunity for those in the House of Lords who want to stop change to do so.

Let us try to move forward with consensus. I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister's performance today was an aberration caused by his excitement at being the first Liberal leader since Lloyd George to sit on the Treasury Bench. Perhaps some of the wiser heads in the Lib Dem and Conservative parties will advise him to think differently and to approach the issues differently in future.

I am sure that we can get consensus in the House on most of those issues. Let us try to move forward on that basis, rather than force division where no division need exist.

8.39 pm

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech this evening. It has been a privilege to listen to so many of my colleagues making their maiden speeches. I mention particularly the previous three speeches-from the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who has deep boots to fill as the successor to Bob Marshall-Andrews; the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle); and the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field), with whose comments about House of Lords reform I find myself agreeing strongly.

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