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8.49 pm

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester): First, I congratulate the new hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) on an excellent speech. It was probably made that much tougher because my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) had already accused him of being a dead ringer for Lord Lucan. The hon. Gentleman's speech was very well done.

When we sit on these Benches during the course of a day we might sometimes wonder whether it is all worth while. It has been worth while for me already, having today sat next to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), a new Member, for the past six hours. I feel as if I know North Durham extremely well now. I look forward to returning to Gloucester and perhaps talking about a twinning arrangement between our two constituencies.

In all seriousness, it gives me great pleasure to be called to make my maiden speech at the very end of the debate on the Queen's Speech, which for my party marks the beginning of a second full term in office--the first in our history.

Many of the measures in the Queen's Speech enshrine changes for which my predecessor, Tess Kingham, campaigned in her four years as Member for Gloucester. It is a fitting tribute to her that, as we work to create health and education systems that we can all be proud of, the children of Gloucester are excelling, school standards are rising and my constituents are to benefit from a £30 million new hospital development on which work has already begun. It is just one of many exciting new developments in Gloucester over the next 10 years. The building blocks have been laid for a new college of higher education; a state-of-the-art tennis centre is soon to be joined by one of the region's finest new leisure centres;

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and, with the input of public and private capital, ambitious plans are afoot to transform our town centre and historic docks.

Gloucester is well on its way to becoming a modern city of commerce, leisure and employment opportunity--a city fit for life in the 21st century. Yet it is a city steeped in history, having been built on the Roman town of Glevum more than 900 years ago. As one of only three cities to have hosted a coronation, Gloucester has seen many changes down the years.

When we talk of change, modernisation and renewal, we touch base with many of the issues that were of particular importance to my predecessor in the House. It is no secret that she ultimately became quite frustrated by the pace of change or, as she would say, the slowness of change in institutions such as the House of Commons and some of the jousting that goes with it, although I am sure that she would not want the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) to take to heart her comments in The Guardian last week.

As we debate the Queen's speech, my mind goes back to an occasion during the election campaign, just a few weeks ago, when we were visited by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who was then Home Secretary. My local newspaper, The Citizen, and the people of Gloucester are delighted by the changes to the criminal justice system proposed in the Queen's Speech, but when my right hon. Friend visited Gloucester, he expressed particular concern about the sentences that were being handed out to dealers of addictive hard drugs such as crack and heroin, which are as much a problem in Gloucester as they are in many other cities.

If we are to build the society that we want, it is imperative that we tackle dealers in hard drugs and I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the new Home Secretary has already said that it will be one of his priorities. I shall be writing to my right hon. Friend supporting The Citizen's campaign to ensure that judges are consistent in their sentencing and urging him to look at the possibility of monitoring judges and making them more accountable in sentencing people who commit the particularly vile crime of pushing hard drugs.

I am all too happy to support my local paper's campaign, but like many hon. Members, I am fully aware of the fickleness of the media and, occasionally, their attitude towards politicians, for it was the same newspaper that, some months ago, struggled to come to terms with my role as the Labour candidate in Gloucester.

In his eloquent speech last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) summed up some of the difficulties that I am likely to face. He said that he is never anonymous in the House and nor am I. In my case, it is likewise in my constituency. It is not down to being 6 ft 3 in and being--albeit just--in my twenties. Observant hon. Members may have already noted that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, I am from a minority group. In fact, we are both Londoners born and bred.

In all seriousness, I pay tribute to the Solicitor-General, my right hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). She has worked tirelessly to make the House look more like the people whom we represent and hope to represent. I very much welcome the part of the Queen's Speech that will enable more women to be elected to the House, and I hope that people from ethnic minority backgrounds also will be encouraged to stand.

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Most of all, I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the people of Gloucester who, in the general election campaign, sometimes had to read some quite painful comments about me. After my selection, but before it realised what a splendid fellow I am, my new-found friend, The Citizen, said:

Hon. Members: Shame.

Mr. Dhanda: I am not making this up, honestly. The Citizen said:

this may appeal more to older Labour Members than to me--

Most painfully of all, not for me but for the residents of Gloucester, The Citizen said:

The people of Gloucester proved that they are better than that, and I stand here as the very proud Member of Parliament for Gloucester. The people of Gloucester are its greatest asset, and I shall do my utmost to deliver for them a city that is fit for them--a modern, confident and dynamic city that is fit for the 21st century.

9.2 pm

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): It is delightful to follow the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), parts of whose speech I found extremely moving and touching. There may be a lesson in what he said for some parts of my party, too. He did not look nervous at all in making his maiden speech, but I confess that it is with a sensation almost of fear that I rise to address the House for the first time. It is awesome in itself to be a Member of this place, bound up as it is with our country's history and identity, and I am very grateful to the voters of Wycombe for sending me here.

I am aware that I would do well to follow the example of my predecessor, Sir Ray Whitney. In all our dealings, Ray has displayed all the qualities that have been associated with him both in this place and in Wycombe: shrewdness, courtesy, unselfishness and kindness. He was a devoted public servant and is a perceptive thinker, and I believe that the House will miss him.

I shall spare the House the glittering words that new Members have occasionally been known to lavish on their constituencies, although I believe of my own constituency of Wycombe what all hon. Members surely believe of theirs--that it is the best constituency in the country. I am proud to represent it. If a single word could sum up Wycombe for me, that word would be diversity. Wycombe ranges from essentially flourishing areas, such as parts of the countryside around Marlow, to areas that face great challenges, such as parts of High Wycombe itself. Farmers, the socially excluded, London commuters,

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older people, single parents, the rich, ethnic minorities; all human life--or, at least, much of it--is to be found in Wycombe. It is, in general, a prosperous constituency, but it has some of the problems posed by prosperity, such as traffic and pressure on green space, as well as those posed by poverty, such as social exclusion, especially among our large ethnic minority communities. In short, it can be seen as a kind of cross-section of modern Britain.

This diversity and the changes that drive it would not be incomprehensible to a predecessor of mine, were he alive today. As a young man, Benjamin Disraeli fought High Wycombe three times and lost, as a radical. In middle age, he was elected in an unopposed contest--evidently, he must have had an easier election campaign than I did--for Buckinghamshire, which includes my constituency. He settled at Hughenden manor, which is also in my constituency.

Disraeli said that in a progressive country, change is constant. I cannot help wondering what he would have made of the Government's plans to meet change, as set out in the Queen's Speech. For what the Queen's Speech illustrates to me is not that the Government and Opposition disagree about the recognition of diversity and the need for change, but that their approaches to change are profoundly different. Let me give an example. Today we are discussing law, order, crime and punishment and, naturally, I support the Conservative amendment. But, as someone once said, there is crime and then there are the causes of crime. Crime must certainly be punished, but the causes of crime must be addressed.

In my constituency, and in others, an increasing number of young people who are growing up have never known the love of two parents, which some of us may sometimes take for granted. Some are young men who have never known their fathers. They are raised and taught almost exclusively by their mums and other women whose work and toil almost never ceases. They have no male role models, except the slightly older men who are active in the local drugs economy. Compared to other children, they are more likely to be excluded from schools and to drift into crime. They can thus stave off, at least for a while, the poverty of income.

What they find more difficult to stave off is the poverty of hope. After a while, it can become almost impossible for such a young person to imagine breaking out of the cycle of crime, family break-up and more poverty of hope. Where there is poverty of hope, there will sooner or later be poverty of income. Single men remain deprived of opportunity, while single mums bear the work load of two parents. It makes for a spiral of social exclusion--as other hon. Members have pointed out--the consequences of which affect us all, whatever our circumstances.

On job creation, the Government emphasise inducing parents to work through means-tested credit schemes. We like to emphasise giving parents more choice about work and care through a simple tax and benefits system. Either way, without stable families and the habits that can be picked up from them, there will be no trained and educated work force; no teachers, doctors or nurses with an ethos of self-sacrifice; no voluntary sector of people prepared to give their time to others; and no charities, clubs or civil society--and, yes, there is such a thing as society.

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The challenge of reconciling individual freedom with social obligation is perhaps the greatest challenge of our times. Those Conservatives who like to think of themselves as Disraeli's heirs have a phrase for such a reconciliation: one nation. The Labour party has borrowed that phrase. It is time for Conservative Members to claim ownership of it again.

I end where I began: it is awesome to be a Member of this House. But how can this House maintain its reputation if its powers are to be superseded by the Executive at home and less accountable institutions abroad? How can we live together as one nation if we are to become no nation at all?

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