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My constituency is steeped not only in beauty but in history. In my home town of Ashburton, a once important stannary town occupied with the trading of tin, there still exist two venerable and ancient offices-portreeve, the representative of the monarch, and master bailiff. Both of those offices stretch back to the early 9th century, well before even your illustrious office had been conceived,
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Madam Deputy Speaker, and indeed to a time when the ground on which we now stand was little more than a marshy outcrop of the River Thames. I offer my congratulations to Mrs J. Distin, Ashburton's newly elected portreeve, who is the 1,189th holder of that office, and to Mr W. Shapley, our master bailiff.

Although Central Devon is an area of outstanding beauty and interest, it is not without its challenges and hardships. It is a constituency in which agriculture matters, so events that hurt agriculture have a major impact upon my constituents. In 2001, the foot and mouth outbreak was centred around the market town of Hatherleigh, with devastating effects. The pall of smoke that hung over that part of Devon from cattle being burned on their pyres will never be forgotten. Today, there is the challenge of bovine tuberculosis, which costs 30,000 cattle a year in this country and causes untold misery to Devon's farmers. I am pleased that this issue is receiving the vigorous attention of our Government.

Many other serious issues affect my constituency, including the underfunding of our schools compared with other parts of the country. Devon is ranked 148th out of 151 local education authorities in terms of central Government funding. There are many reasons why that position is too low. I will continue to press on this matter for the sake of our local children, who have a right to a fair share of education funds.

In this debate I wish to focus on schools, not least because I have a strong belief that the greatest gift that any young person can receive, after a loving family, is that of a good education. For those who choose the vocational path, it is vital that education be provided with the same energy and vigour as that afforded to the more traditional academic routes. I welcome the statement of my hon. Friend the Minister of State responsible for skills and lifelong learning that there will be an extra £50 million of capital expenditure for further education and an extra 50,000 apprenticeships. He should be congratulated, as we should remember that education and skills are important not just in and of themselves but to the life chances of our young people.

Education is the great highway of social mobility-for individuals to move on and up, in many cases escaping poverty and deprivation in the process. I say that as someone whose mother and father left school at ages 15 and 14, and whose life was transformed by the winning of a free place at a grammar school. The greatest opportunity ever provided to me, that school became the foundation on which the rest of my life was built. I would like to see others have the opportunity that I was privileged to receive.

I have long admired the ideas and the reforming passion of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and my hon. Friend the Minister of State. They have fully understood the force for good that education and skills can represent, but they have done more than that. They have truly understood the disgraceful and inhumane waste that is represented by continued educational failure-the appalling destruction of life chances, especially among the least advantaged. It is they who have understood the extraordinary power of choice: that choice will drive up standards; that parents know better than bureaucrats; that giving power to those who otherwise just have to take what they are given is the key to raising up the less advantaged; that
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future generations must be sustained not just by hope but by taking control of their destinies; and most importantly of all, that there is an age-old truth that the quest to create a stronger and better society cannot be left to the planners, to the bureaucracies, to the well-meaning architects of the state, but must be gifted to those by whom the consequences of success or failure are most keenly felt.

The Government's radical agenda for education and skills will represent a vital journey-a true quest for equality, of a kind not that seeks to push down to some lowest common denominator, but that seeks to raise people up by providing choice and opportunity for every young person, irrespective of wealth, colour, race, creed and social background.

I thank the House for its indulgence and wish the Government every success in their vital endeavour.

4.53 pm

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): I feel privileged to have this opportunity to make my maiden speech; I might say that I feel 21 all over again. It is a real pleasure to do so during a debate that is so fundamentally important to my constituents. My constituents in Newton Abbott have a real issue, and that is deprivation. We need regeneration, and skills have to be the route to regenerating the local economy, but before I move to that, let me pay tribute to my two predecessors, whom I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride).

Mr Richard Younger-Ross was very much loved by his constituents. He was a hard-working Member, and he pushed forward a number of issues that I shall also push forward relating to the inappropriate water charges in the south-west and the A380 bypass, which has continually deprived our economy of the growth that it needs. My other predecessor was, as my hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon expressed, a colourful character. I reiterate my hon. Friend's comments about the real good that Anthony Steen did in putting human trafficking on the agenda. I am pleased that he is carrying on with that work.

Let me give the House a little of the colour and flavour of my constituency of Newton Abbot. If I could give the Boundary Commission some advice, it would be this: next time, can we change the name? Many people have told me that as they do not live in the town of Newton Abbot they feel completely disfranchised.

My constituency is two thirds urban and a third rural. There are four towns, and until recently one of them, Kingsteignton, was the largest village in the country. My towns have interesting histories, but they have suffered not just during the most recent recession but over the past 50 years because there has not been the investment in the south-west that it deserves. Newton Abbot has a proud history in engineering. In the days of the railways, in the 1950s, it was very prosperous, but I am sad to say that only one large company-Centrax-is left. It is a proud example, but we need more.

Teignmouth is a typical fishing village. We still have a small port, so there is a real challenge in making fishing sustainable. At present, our trawlers have to land at Brixham, a neighbouring seaside town-indeed, my original family home town-but that does not help my constituents.

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Dawlish is absolutely beautiful. I encourage any Member who comes to my part of the world to pay it a visit. It is a typical tourist seaside resort, with some of the most beautiful views. It is probably best known for its long stretch of railway. I am sure Members have seen adverts showing the waves coming over the train. It is extremely picturesque, but things have changed and across my constituency tourism and retail are the main generators of economic wealth. Members will know as well as I do that they do not pay very well.

As the south-west is a beautiful part of the world, we have attracted a lot of retired people, and 30% of the population are more than 60 years of age. That presents a challenge, because there is great disparity between the cost of living and average income, which is why certain issues are particularly acute-water rates, for example. Many things need to be done.

I turn to regeneration and the vital role of the skills debate. One of the most important things is to help children to aspire. At the beginning of the Parliament, I heard a new Member make a very moving speech about how important it is that kids aspire, and in whatever we bring forward I should like to see a method for making that happen. It is partly about role models, so bringing in second careerers, perhaps people from the forces, is absolutely the right thing to do. We need those role models. We need to involve local businesses in schools much earlier. Simply introducing the connection in the fifth form-as it was in my day-is too late; it needs to start earlier. If we can do that, we shall make a big difference.

We should try to improve quality and variety in education along the line-primary, secondary and tertiary. There has been a focus in tertiary education on what I can only describe as the intellectual professions, such as law and accountancy. There has not been a focus on careers as plumbers, engineers and electricians. Those are all valid careers that require no less intelligence, just intelligence of a different variety. I should like some colleges to be the technical colleges that we all knew and loved when we were younger. They should look at proper hands-on training. When I visit colleges I am distressed to find that because of health and safety and all the other rules and regulation, education is all about bits of paper, not about students getting their hands dirty. Getting one's hands dirty is an extremely good and valuable thing. There is a skills college in my community. I want it to be properly funded so that it can become a proper technical college, but we are only halfway through the process, so the Minister on the Front Bench will be hearing from me about that issue going forward.

Then there is the issue of linking tertiary education with jobs, and for my money it is absolutely crucial that we give apprenticeships a real chance. When I talk to people with small businesses in my community, they say, "Anne Marie, one of the challenges is that we cannot afford to take on apprentices, because at the moment all of the burden falls on the employer and it is a huge burden." I am therefore very pleased to see new initiatives from the new Government that will share the cost of apprenticeships. I welcome that 100%.

Of course, we must not forget those who are coming to their second, third and fourth career-often those who have been made redundant, through no fault of
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their own. When I talk to people who have just been made redundant, I see that one of the challenges is getting extra training, which is really difficult. There is a lot of training out there, but it is very hard to find because there is no route map, and there is also not as much funding available as there used to be. So I am delighted to hear from our new Government that they are to streamline that and make it far more accessible.

For me, the skills agenda is a real opportunity for my constituency. It is a way of helping it to regenerate, and that is absolutely key. If I do nothing else in my term in this Parliament, I will work to regenerate Newton Abbot: to regenerate the four towns; to regenerate the villages; to make sure that farming, which my hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon has already mentioned, has a real future; and to put the south-west back on the map, because it feels very much the poor relation and that is not right. I will be here, banging the drum to make sure that is not the case, until I finally leave this House.

5.1 pm

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): I am very grateful for the opportunity to make this, my maiden speech, today. I understand that maiden speeches-first speeches in Parliament-are very like your first child: easier to conceive than to deliver.

Rossendale and Darwen, the constituency I have the honour of representing, was previously held by Ms Janet Anderson for 18 years. During that period Ms Anderson was a hard-working constituency MP, and will be well remembered by many people in my area. She will especially be remembered for her pioneering support and work for local Sure Start centres, and I take the opportunity to pay tribute to her.

Rossendale and Darwen was formed in 1983, and the first Member of Parliament was David Trippier-now Sir David Trippier-who I am sure is well remembered by many people in the House. Sir David still resides in the village of Helmshore, where my wife and I have our current home. This is apt, as Helmshore is the geographical centre of the constituency, with the Robin Hood being the actual heart of the constituency. For those Members in the House who are avid readers of our two local papers, the Rossendale Free Press and the Lancashire Telegraph, I should add that that is not Robin Hood's well, where I proposed to my wife; it is the Robin Hood public house at the centre of our village, where the beer, and the welcome, is second to none, especially on a Friday evening.

Rossendale and Darwen, being nearly 220 square miles, is formed of four separate towns-Whitworth, Darwen, Bacup and Rawtenstall. Each of these towns is separate from the others, and they are independent in both spirit and mind while being similar in many ways. Each is boarded by the lofty west Pennine moors, hemming them into deep valleys, with houses and mills alike with steep mountains rising above them; and streams rush through glens, giving the power that once drove the east Lancashire textile mills.

There are also many villages in my constituency, with small, close-knit communities, such as Belmont, Weir, Turton, Hoddlesden and Tockholes. Those villages doggedly cling limpet-like to the hillside during the winter months. Last winter, some were cut off from the outside world for several weeks. In the summer months, the villages
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are marked by horses paddock grazing, and I am sure that the village of Edenfield, in the electoral division of Eden, conjures into Members' minds the appropriate visions of pastoral bliss and long summer evenings.

It is not the landscape, beautiful as it is, that binds together this area of east Lancashire, but the character of the people who live in Rossendale and Darwen. The first Member of Parliament to be killed in the second world war was from the village of Stubbins in Rossendale. Captain Richard Porritt, a member of the Lancashire Fusiliers, was killed in Belgium on 26 May 1940, and he is remembered in the Chamber with a shield to the right of your Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last November, I had the honour of attending a Remembrance Sunday service in Whitworth with two current members of the Lancashire Fusiliers just back from Afghanistan, who laid a wreath and cross in memory of their seven fallen comrades. Many families in my constituency continue to have a strong connection with our armed forces. I believe that we in this country have the finest armed forces in the world and I shall do all that I can to support them and their families while I am a Member of the House.

It is apt that I am making my maiden speech during a debate about building a high-skilled economy because I believe that Rossendale and Darwen can be in the vanguard of rebalancing our economy to that of a highly skilled industrial economy. Rossendale and Darwen were at the centre of the first industrial revolution. Rossendale was the centre of the world's slipper trade, while Darwen was the birthplace of wallpaper, and both were major centres for the textile industry. Such was Darwen's importance to the cotton trade that it was visited by Mahatma Gandhi in 1931 so that he could witness the effect of the Indian Congress party's boycott of Lancashire cotton mills.

This white-hot flame of innovation that led to the invention of wallpaper and the introduction of the first power looms still burns in the breast of every young person in my constituency, and we must do all that we can to foster their full potential. I applaud the Government's commitment to investing in workplace apprenticeships to ensure that our young people, especially in Rossendale and Darwen, have the correct menu of skills to continue our strong tradition of local manufacturing. There are still many well-known manufacturing companies in my constituency, such as J&J Ormerod kitchens in Stacksteads, James Killelea steel in Crawshawbooth, Crown Paints in Darwen and WEC engineering in Darwen, which was visited by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister immediately before the election. All those well-known local manufacturing businesses provide high-skilled jobs for our young people.

The rebalancing of our economy is a key aim of the Government, as is set out in the coalition agreement. With a fairer and more balanced economy in which we are not so dependent on the financial services industry, and in which economic opportunities are more evenly shared among our regions and industries, I optimistically predict that Rossendale and Darwen will prosper and become a regional manufacturing superpower.

5.8 pm

Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to deliver my maiden speech. I congratulate all new Members who have spoken so
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elegantly and eloquently, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), whose maiden speech was well conceived and comfortably delivered.

I represent the constituency of Hastings and Rye. Of course, it is only us who call our areas constituencies. To my constituents, the constituency is home, where they live and where they bring up their families, and I will never forget that. Some six weeks since the general election, I still get a little lost going from one room to the next, and between staircases and lifts, but I remain impressed, humbled and not a little relieved to be in these historic corridors and as part of this historic coalition.

Part of my responsibility is to live up to the example of the previous Member of Parliament for Hastings and Rye, Michael Foster. He was the epitome of a good constituency MP. He was immensely popular, not just because of the individual acts that he did for local residents, but because of his high visibility locally and his successful lobbying of the then Government for additional funds for the town. Unfortunately for him, his popularity grew in inverse proportion to that of his Government, but I recognise that, through his service, he set a very high bar-one that I shall try to reach and, hopefully, at some stage exceed.

The fruits of Michael Foster's success are evident in Hastings. We have a new train station, further education college, and university centre, and two new state-of-the-art office developments. However, physical regeneration has not yet translated into economic regeneration. Our offices are still largely empty, the train services are still poor, and on the index of multiple deprivation, Hastings remains 29th from the bottom. We have some of the lowest wages and highest unemployment in the whole country, let alone the south-east. Cynics might be forgiven for thinking that Labour's regeneration has been a triumph of style over substance so far. The make-up is in place, but I am afraid that the wrinkles are still very much there.

But deprivation is only one part of Hastings, and Hastings is only one part of an area of contrasts and variations. My constituency feels very much like a microcosm of the country, with urban and rural areas, with farmland adjacent to idyllic estates, and with idyllic villages next to deprived wards. We are the custodians of England's most famous date-perhaps more famous than 6 May 2010.

Let me introduce colleagues to the wonderful aspects of my constituency. Hastings, Rye and the village of Winchelsea were all parts of the Cinque ports, which were put together in the 11th century to keep out seafaring invaders, and for the mutual benefit of trade and fishing. Each place has its own unique character. I urge Members to spend their summer holidays with us. They can enjoy local produce, the source of modern English history, top-quality entertainment, fresh air and exercise-and for the more sedentary among us, there are fish and chips and slot machines. They can even walk in genuine dinosaur footprints, which may appeal to some Labour Members.

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