"He could not be more different to Boris. It's as though the humour gene by-passed Jo altogether and he inherited only the ambition gene."
It is an absolutely fair comment, but I do not really apologise for the humour-ectomy, nor, indeed, for any hint of ambition that the House might detect, because these are serious times and politicians need to be ambitious when the country is in such a mess. History will not forgive us if we flannel around in the House over the next five years and fail to pick the economy up off the floor, where it is at present.
Orpington, the constituency that I am fortunate enough now to represent, has not troubled the House with a maiden speech for 40 years. I am tempted to give Members a double helping, but time will not allow it. That lengthy interlude has arisen because my distinguished predecessor, John Horam, began his parliamentary career not in the idyllic glades of northern Kent, but in the gritty Gateshead West area of Newcastle.
John Horam has the distinction, as many Members will know, of being the only Member to have served in all three parties. He was originally of course a Labour MP in Gateshead, but, disillusioned with Labour's leftward drift, he dallied with the Social Democratic party in the early '80s before eventually donning Conservative colours and becoming the MP for Orpington in 1992. By the time he came to give his maiden speech that year, he was of course no maiden, but as a liberal Conservative long before the genre became fashionable, he was at least ahead of his time.
That John's political journey-his odyssey, in some ways-culminated in Orpington of all places is entirely appropriate. After all, it was in Downe, one of the constituency's most picturesque villages, that the father of evolutionary biology propounded the earth-shaking theory of natural selection-the most important scientific breakthrough of the past 150 years. It is no surprise to me at all that the people of Orpington inspired Charles Darwin to come up with the concept of the survival of the fittest: meet them and one sees the very best that evolution has done with homo sapiens over the millennia.
Orpington is famous for much more than the man who debunked creationism. I shall not dwell too long on the "Buff Orpington" chicken, admired by poultry breeders for its gentle contours, colourful plumage and succulent breast meat; suffice it to say that they are easy layers, go broody very often and make great mothers. Would it be too much to expect the local Tesco superstore to stock it and support the breeders of that fine bird? I shall keep the House informed of my progress, but my office called Tesco this morning, and it does not currently stock that chicken.
If Orpington's contribution to science is beyond question, its place in the footnotes, if perhaps not the chapter headings, of British political history is no less assured. In 1954, for example, the constituency almost snuffed out the career of a young Mrs Thatcher. Having fought unwinnable seats in neighbouring Dartford, she sought the nomination for Orpington. In The Croft Tearoom in St Mary Cray, one of the more hard-on-its-luck areas of the constituency, can be found a fine photograph of
the young Mrs Thatcher buying her daily milk from a horse and cart in an attempt to impress her local credentials on selectors. She was unsuccessful. Bitterly disappointed at how leading local Tories reckoned her candidacy incompatible with her role as a mother of twins, she wrote to central office to say that she was abandoning all thought of Parliament for many years. Needless to say, British politics would have been very different had she not relented.
I shall not dwell on counterfactuals, but one thing is certain: Orpington would not have gone on to become the totemic seat for the Liberals that it did in 1962 had Mrs Thatcher become our MP. The man who defeated her for the nomination resigned unexpectedly, triggering a famous by-election. A good Balliol man by the name of Eric Lubbock, representing the Liberals, scored an historic victory by overturning a very substantial Conservative majority and chalking up a Liberal gain in an area far away from his party's traditional heartlands in the west country and the Celtic fringe. The birth of Orpington man sparked a revival that marked the end of the Macmillan era and made Orpington a permanent fixture in Liberal folklore.
I come back to the present and the subject of this debate. The scale of the Conservative victory on 6 May, with its 60% share of the vote, was a resounding endorsement of the Conservative party's economic programme. The priority now is to achieve an accelerated reduction of the £156 billion deficit and it is one that I wholeheartedly support, as I support the creative and compassionate ways that I know the Government will use to go about that difficult task. The £6 billion of cuts already announced is barely a start in the process. I look forward to the emergency Budget on 22 June and the public consultations on the role of the state, which will follow.
As one who recently spent four years working in one of the fastest growing parts of Asia, with a ringside seat on the emerging economy that is India, I am fully aware of the challenges that globalisation presents to the British economy. I would like to use the time that I have in Parliament to help this country and Orpington constituency meet those challenges.
Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): I congratulate hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches, particularly the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), who should not be so self-deprecating. If it is in fact true that he has no sense of humour, someone has written him a great speech.
It is a great privilege to be only the fifth person to represent the Chesterfield constituency in Parliament in the past 80 years. The most recent of my predecessors was Paul Holmes, and I should like to start my maiden speech by reflecting on some of the strengths that he brought to the House in the nine years during which he served it. He was a diligent constituency Member of Parliament and a determined fighter for council housing, particularly through his membership of the Defend Council Housing group. As a former secondary school teacher, he was also an outspoken advocate of comprehensive schools and the teaching profession. As MP for an area that suffered a great deal from firms that went into liquidation with failed pension schemes, he consistently added his voice to those calling for a fair deal for those pensioners.
As a guide to the history of Chesterfield and as a commentary on the times, I also want to reflect on the maiden speeches of some of my other predecessors. Sir George Benson was a stalwart member of the Government who is still remembered fondly by some of Chesterfield's most experienced citizens. His first major address to the House was in 1931, when he controversially called for the end of flogging with the cat o' nine tails. I am pleased to inform the House that on the basis of an informal survey that I conducted during the recent election campaign, Sir George's stance against corporal punishment still enjoys some support.
In Eric Varley, a local miner's son who rose to the Cabinet and was posthumously given the freedom of the borough of Chesterfield, my constituency had a famous son who is fondly remembered across the borough. There is also, of course, Tony Benn, one of the greatest political figures of the 20th century, a man who bestrode the politics of his time as few can. I am mindful of those who have trodden this path before me in Chesterfield's name.
Chesterfield has made its mark in other ways than through political history. Despite the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), George Stephenson was actually from Chesterfield. Thanks to the vision of Bill Flanagan, the council leader for 27 years, an innovation centre now stands on the Stephenson family's former estate; new firms grow in new industries, overlooked by the grandfather of innovation.
Football fans will know of the town as the home of goalkeepers, with legends such as Gordon Banks, the England World cup-winning goalkeeper, before him Samuel Hardy, the England goalkeeper for 14 years at the end of the 19th century, and Bob Wilson, who served Arsenal, Scotland and sports broadcasting with tremendous distinction, all learning their trade in the town. Chesterfield football club, the Spireites, is a useful metaphor for the town, having had its moments in the hearts of the nation, as it did in 1997-a great year-when, as a third division club, it was cruelly denied a place in the FA cup final by a combination of the Old Trafford crossbar and a short-sighted football referee. Now, after a quiet period, the club gets ready to welcome the new season at the sparkling new B2net stadium-a brand new home on the north entrance to the town, and a symbol of the regeneration of Chesterfield.
The campaign that brought me here to represent the people of Chesterfield focused most strongly on jobs. With Junction 29A, or Skinner's Junction, a huge site open for business as a result of the tireless work of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), working with Labour party councillors who have fought for the area for so long, such as John Williams, Walter Burrows and John Burrows, Chesterfield and north Derbyshire finally get the investment in jobs that we needed-indeed the biggest investment in the area since the pits were sunk.
As Chesterfield rebuilds its economic prosperity, tourism also plays an increasingly important part, our world-famous crooked spire being just the highlight. While it is true that the number of people drawing the dole is less than a quarter of those who did so at its peak in the '80s, thanks to the Labour Government's steps to save jobs
during the recession, the need for skilled work for those who do not go to university, or for graduate and apprenticeship opportunities, is still keenly felt.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has stated that his purpose is to improve the quality of life for the worst-off in society so that they can play a part and, one hopes, pay tax themselves one day. No one on the Labour Benches would oppose that aspiration; indeed, it was that aspiration that led Labour, in the face of Conservative opposition, to introduce the national minimum wage and the tax credits system. The starting point in reducing benefit dependency is not an increase in the rhetoric against the unemployed, but an increase in work opportunities. It is therefore depressing that the coalition should choose the future jobs fund as one of the first examples of waste to be cut.
The Secretary of State is right to say that benefit recipients should be free to try to work their way off sickness-related benefits while retaining some security, as previewed by the previous Labour Government in the pathways to work pilot. No one could object to his intention to make benefits simpler and fairer, but surely one of the key reasons benefits are complicated is that so are the circumstances of people's lives. The current system at least attempted to reflect logically the complexities of ordinary people's lives, and the Secretary of State has not yet demonstrated how he can simplify the system without increasing unfairness; until he does, I will remain a sceptic. From my perspective, however, I will provide any support that I can to help him to convince his own party of the need to invest more in jobs, not in cutting them, and to understand that benefit recipients are more often the victims than the architects of their circumstances. Alongside a call for personal responsibility must come governmental responsibility to put job creation before the benefit cuts and to ensure that the most needy are not the victims of the simplification of benefit payments.
Chesterfield has a great deal going for it; under Labour, it improved so much. I came into politics to fight for the next generation of working opportunities for Chesterfield and Staveley-to fight inequality and to protect the public services that our people rely on. As I stand here in this magnificent place, bearing a dual responsibility, sent here to represent the people of Chesterfield and the Labour party, there is not a prouder man alive.
David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for inviting me to address the House this evening. We have already heard contributions of real quality from my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) and the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins). I hope that I can fulfil the same degree of quality in the words that I say.
Being elected to represent the wonderful constituency of Macclesfield is the greatest honour of my career. I will seek tirelessly to serve the people of Macclesfield and to honour the trust that they have put in me. Sir Nicholas Winterton is like few other predecessors-he could hardly be described as shy, even when he was retiring. He served as a hard-working constituency MP in Macclesfield for more than 39 years and, being elected in my 40s, I can assure the House and Macclesfield residents that that is a record I will not break.
At the start of the campaign, I canvassed one very short street in which three people told me about the way in which Nick Winterton helped them with real problems in their lives. That is the sort of constituency MP he was. In the House, he was a strong, independent parliamentarian, who gave long and legendary service. He was respected on both sides of the House and by many others who work here. Whether I am in Macclesfield or in the House, people constantly say to me, "You've got a hard act to follow and big shoes to fill." Well, I wear size 11 shoes, so I am off to a reasonable start, but I have a lot to learn. I wish Sir Nicholas and Lady Winterton a long and fulfilling retirement.
Macclesfield is famous for silk. At one point, it was the world's biggest producer of finished silk, with more than 100 mills and dye houses in the constituency. The fine silk tie that I am wearing was woven in Macclesfield and I am proud to wear it. Today, revitalising Macclesfield town centre is a real priority. Local residents and traders will be consulted on how that should be done in the months ahead, but further development must celebrate the town's rich heritage and ideally be linked to the creation of a national silk centre in Macclesfield, where it belongs.
Macclesfield hospital is also an important priority in the community. Many people have fought to keep the accident and emergency and children's services at the hospital, and I will continue to fight to ensure that they stay there. Macclesfield is also home of the mighty Macclesfield Town football club and Macclesfield rugby club, and I am proud to say that we were crowned champions of the national league 2 this season. Our communities are served well by the active Macclesfield Express, Canalside Community Radio and Silk FM. We enjoy great rail links; some people might describe them as first class, but I am very happy to travel standard, like many hon. Members.
The history of Poynton, in the north of the constituency, is rooted in coal. Many residents work in Manchester and continue to enjoy the sense of community that Poynton offers. Traffic congestion is a real challenge, and one that I will tackle as a major priority. In the far north-east, the vibrant village of Disley lies at the edge of the hills next to the magnificent Lyme park. Bollington, once known for cotton, nestles below the wonderful White Nancy and is known locally as "Happy Valley." With its strong community spirit, it is easy to see why. Nearby Prestbury, sometimes famous for footballers, boasts one of the oldest parish churches in the country and has a magnificent conservation area.
As a keen walker and rock climber, I love spending time in the upland villages of the hill tribes of Kettleshulme, Rainow, Wildboarclough and Wincle. I also enjoy all that the Peak district has to offer in the east of the constituency. To the west, we move out to the fertile farmland of the Cheshire plain and the unique rural communities of Langley, Sutton, Gawsworth, Marton and Lower Withington. I will work to protect that beautiful countryside and support our farmers and those rural communities, which were overlooked for far too long by the previous Government.
The most impressive thing about the great part of Cheshire that I represent is the warm, generous, hard-working and enterprising people who work and live there. We have well-known residents who have achieved their aims in the world of commerce and industry, and
famous footballers. We also have other heroes, who are mostly unsung and work selflessly in the community: our doctors, nurses and policemen and the volunteers who work actively in our churches, in the local talking newspaper, in the MAST-the medical and surgical trust-hospital appeal, at East Cheshire hospice, for the Gateway Project in Poynton and for the Friends of Bollington Recreation Ground, to name but a few. Those people genuinely inspire me and do so much for our area.
Let me turn to the debate in hand. Since the war, Macclesfield has turned from its focus on silk to pharmaceuticals, with ICI and now AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca demonstrates that we can still innovate, develop and make things in this country and, in turn, the pharmaceutical industry shows that we can compete in global markets. However, too many local businesses have announced job losses in recent years, and the latest announcement-of 250 job losses-came today from the Cheshire building society.
We have to get this economy working again, which means that we must focus on reducing the deficit. When I had the honour of being a special adviser in the Treasury, working with "canny Ken" as the Chancellor, I learnt a lesson: we cannot spend what we do not have. That lesson has not been lost on the Government side of the House.
Having worked in the real world of commerce and industry for more than 20 years in companies such as Asda and PepsiCo, it is clear to me that growth is not determined by state diktat, but based on the decisions of thousands of brave businesses. Growth is developed only in a truly competitive private sector. That is what we need to create jobs, provide valued public services and support those in genuine need. That task will always motivate me as long as I serve the people of Macclesfield in this House.
Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I am very grateful for the chance to speak in this debate, and I congratulate the many hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches. The knowledge and passion with which everyone has spoken is testament to the talent and commitment that exists in this House.
I feel incredibly privileged to be here, and I thank the people of Lewisham East for giving me this opportunity. I also thank Bridget Prentice, my predecessor. Her decision to step down at the last election came as a surprise to me, as it did to many. Anyone who knows Bridget will say that she is straight-talking, good-humoured but not-to-be-messed-with Glaswegian. As the Member of Parliament for Lewisham East since 1992, she was a fearsome advocate for our corner of south-east London. There is also huge respect for her here, as there is in the constituency, as a former Minister. She has been an enormous support to me over the past few months, and I thank her for her advice, encouragement and friendship.
When I was growing up, I never thought I would be a Member of Parliament. Yes, I thought I might be a PE teacher, or even a town planner, but not an MP. A trip down to the polling station every four or five years with my mum and dad was the limit of my political experience as a child, but I was brought up with a very strong sense of right and wrong, and a belief that with hard work and determination, I could do whatever I wanted. I am pleased that my mum and dad are here today and I
thank them for all they have done for me. Given that they have sat here for seven hours, I should probably also thank them for their stamina.
I was very lucky to have a good comprehensive education, and even luckier to be a student when full grants allowed people from families such as mine to go to college without racking up enormous debts. I was lucky to have people close to me who wanted me to do well, and to complete a degree that nurtured my interest in the world around me and gave me the confidence to get on in life. It was the recognition of my own fortunate position and a desire to see the world a better place that led me into politics, to ensure that others had the opportunities that I had and to reduce the inequalities that still exist in our society. My brother often tells me to get off my high horse, but I have always wanted a job in which I can make a difference, so I guess it is no surprise that I should find myself here.
I am very proud to represent Lewisham East, which has been my home for the past eight years, and to represent a party that has brought about huge improvements in the lives of ordinary people, but I also know that my party has a significant challenge of renewal and revitalisation ahead of it. We need to listen to what voters across the country are telling us, which is precisely what I plan to do in Lewisham East.
Like many others, my constituency is one of great contrasts, from the leafy streets of Blackheath and Lee Green, through multicultural Catford, and to the homes of Downham and Grove Park. Bisected by overland railway lines, my constituency has a history of welcoming people from different parts of the UK and, indeed, the world. In her book "The Wouldbegoods", E. Nesbit described Lewisham as a place where