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Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden): I congratulate the hon. Members for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) and for South-West Bedfordshire (Mr. Selous) and my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) on three outstanding maiden speeches. They were excellent.
It is a great honour and privilege to speak in the House, representing Strathkelvin and Bearsden. The constituency is the gateway to the Campsie hills north of Glasgow and a large part of it follows the Forth and Clyde canal. It is an area of difference and diversity in which traditional industries, especially engineering and mining, have been in decline. It would be convenient to relate that to the period 1979 to 1997, but it would be untrue because the decline has been occurring for much longer than that.
Like other maiden speakers, I pay tribute to my predecessor. Sam Galbraith served in the House from 1987 to his election to the Scottish Parliament. He served with distinction and was held in the highest esteem and affection by fellow MPs and staff. He entered the House after a brilliant career as a neurosurgeon. His hard work and commitment has been costly to his health and well-being. I am certain that hon. Members will join me in wishing him well.
Over the years, Strathkelvin and Bearsden has continually changed in size and shape. Many Members of Parliament have had responsibility for various parts of the constituency. Hugh McCartney, Margaret Bain, Norman Hogg, Dennis Canavan and Sir Michael Hirst all served with distinction and are held with the highest regard in the area. Indeed, I was driven to distraction by people in one village who delighted in telling me, rather pointedly, that no one could match my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke). He had served them 10 years earlier, but they thought that no one could replace him and still had fond memories of a good MP.
My right hon. Friend will forgive me for saying that the most famous MP was Tom Johnston, a leading member of the Independent Labour party and an MP for periods in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. He was born and educated in Kirkintilloch at the heart of the constituency. He was chairman of the first municipal bank, a gifted writer and went on to change the face of post-war Scotland.
Every MP who has represented the constituency will respect and honour the memory of Thomas Muir of Huntershill. As a parliamentary reformer, he supported the French revolution, which was not a popular cause, and was inspired by Thomas Paine's "The Rights of Man", published in 1791. When charged with making seditious speeches and circulating "The Rights of Man", he conducted his own defence. Muir, who was an advocate, said:
Strathkelvin and Bearsden values its past, but looks forward to a prosperous future. We accept that diversity is a way of life, and are interested in looking to the past and future. Unemployment is falling monthly. Before the general election, there was a 38 per cent. reduction over the previous four years. Today, there are plans in Kirkintilloch for a new health centre, supermarket, swimming pool and town hall. We hope that 1,000 new jobs will be created in that £39 million development.
The Forth and Clyde canal flows through the constituency and has received major investment. I hope that those millions of pounds will attract new boats and visitors to the canal and new cyclists to its towpaths, allowing them to enjoy the beautiful countryside. Our small and medium-sized companies are striving to become more successful with the assistance of their hard-working employees. The community is well served by a strong local press, which always ensures that there is a distinct local voice to challenge all politicians when necessary.
The printed word plays a central role in Strathkelvin and Bearsden. We boast of having HarperCollins publishing, which distributes books to cities, towns and villages not just across the United Kingdom, but all over the world. We are also proud of Omnia Printing, which takes J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter from Bishopbriggs in the constituency to Boston and Brisbane. It introduces Hogwart's school of witchcraft and wizardry to millions of childrenand, dare I say it, adultsand helps those children to rediscover the joy of reading, which cannot be a bad thing.
The diversity that we strive for is a familiar story. We want a blend of tourism and enterprise, and to build a strong local economy. We want everyone in our constituency to share in any improvement that might come along, and we want social inclusion to be a reality for all constituents, which means tackling homelessness. In Strathkelvin and Bearsden, a correct and proper emphasis has been placed on dealing with homelessness at its early stages when young people are thinking about making themselves homeless, perhaps because of family circumstances. Project 101 offers advice to young people about the seriousness of homelessness and the problems that they would face. We want to continue that work.
As a new Member, I have interests in international development, employment rights, transport and, of course, homelessness. My constituency has active churches, all of which are interested in third-world issues of debt relief and international development, which are close to my heart. During the general election, I canvassed one voter who, hearing of my interest in Africa and similar issues, said, "Do you not think it would be a good idea to go and feel at first hand what it's like in these countries?" I said that it certainly would and that I would be prepared to go for a few days to which she said, "I was thinking more of four or five years." I put her down as undecided.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): It is a relief to be called now because it allows me to speak in the Welsh Grand Committee tomorrow and to address several issues that relate to my constituency.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) on his maiden speech. His obvious knowledge of and affection for his constituency will stand him in good stead. I also congratulate the hon. Members for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and for South-West Bedfordshire (Mr. Selous) on their maiden speeches.
When I stood for selection as a candidate and for election as a Member of Parliament, I made it clear that my affection was for one constituency only. It is a bit like proposing marriage, the main difference being that marriage needs a unanimous decision whereas a majority decision will do for election. The good people of Brecon and Radnorshire rarely elect Members with a large majority: we come on probation. My majority, which is in the hundreds, is the second largest in that constituency in the past 20 years. I understand the temporary nature of the contract, but I give notice that I will apply for an extension.
The people of Brecon and Radnorshire have always elected good constituency MPs. The one that I first remember is Tudor Watkins, a traditional Labour Member of Parliament. He was as well-respected in the hill farms of Radnorshire as he was in the industrialised Swansea valley that was his home. He fought hard to get electricity into those farms. Every year he was given the work programme of the South Wales electricity board, which listed those farms that would get electricity next year. He would then travel to the farms and tell the people how hard he was working to get them electricity, and when they got it he was doubly rewarded by their support. He was a very good constituency MP and a man of high principles.
Tudor Watkins was succeeded by Caerwyn Roderick, who had a deep well of generosity and humanity that allowed him to respond to constituents' problems with great magnanimity. He, too, was a very good constituency MP, and a dear friend of mine.
Before the boundaries of the constituency were changed, which made it less favourable for the Labour party, it was won by a Conservative, Tom Hooson. He was one of the Hooson tribe in mid-Wales who were all political, but of different persuasions. John, a friend of mine, was Labour; Emlyn, whom many hon. Members will know, was the Member for Montgomeryshire for many years, and Tom was the Tory. He was a gentleman and a gentle person, and he is remembered with enormous affection in the constituency. Tragically, he died while in office, halfway through his second term. That, of course, led to a by-election. The Liberal Democrats fought it with all the fury that rises in them at by-elections, and Richard Livsey was elected. He held the seat at the next general election.
Richard Livsey, to whom I shall return in a moment, lost the seat in 1992 to another Conservative, Jonathan Evans, a very able Member of Parliament and a liberal, progressive Conservative. He still holds true to policies that some of the present members of the Conservative parliamentary party find difficult. He has gone on to sunnier and more exotic climes in the European
In 1997, Jonathan Evans lost the seat to Richard Livsey, who was my immediate predecessor. The constituency is the largest in England and Wales, but he managed to fill it completely. He was known in every street in every town and village, and he was well-respected and highly regarded. His loss is enormous. Many new Members have said that they have a huge gap to fill, and I can say the same.
The constituency extends from the coal measures in the south, through the limestone escarpments, to the massive red sandstone blocks of the Beacons and the Black mountains, which comprise the Brecon Beacons national park. That is, of course, the most beautiful, wonderful national park in England and Wales, and I say that without any bias whatsoever. I see Labour Members present who represent other areas of that park. The hidden jewels in my constituency, and indeed in Wales, are the northern parts of Breconshire and Radnorshire, which not many people see. All new Members have been advising people to take holidays in their constituency, and I have told our tourist operators to write to every Member of Parliament, asking them to come to the constituency, because it is so big that even if they all came at once they would not stand a chance of bumping into one another.
The general election was fought against the background of unprecedented social and economic doom in the constituency. Several years of decline in manufacturing because of cheap imports and difficulties in exporting had led to job losses from Ystradgynlais to Knighton, Llandrindod Wells, Rhayader and Presteigne. Those jobs will be difficult to replace, and on top of that we have been affected by the foot and mouth outbreak. As a farmer, I know the stress of getting up in the morning and not knowing what one will find.
My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) recently experienced the tragic circumstances of the coroner presiding over three inquests in which it was found that farmers had committed suicide because of the stress that they were under. A worker on my farm, who has been with me for 30 years, recently suffered a stroke, partly due, I am sure, to stress and to not knowing what would happen next. My thoughts go out to all the farmers in the constituency who have suffered culls, whether their animals had the foot and mouth virus or whether the cull was contiguous. I think also of other farmers who, because of the restrictions on them, cannot move or trade in livestock and find themselves in financial difficulties. Being continuously strapped for cash puts huge pressure on them.
On top of that, tourism, which is a major employer in our area and one of the largest businesses, is being completely run down. I took the time this weekend to meet two groups of tourist operators, who said that unless a package is made available shortly to tide people over the lean winter months many existing businesses will not be there in the spring to make use of all the promotion that will occur in future. It is a sad time when so many businesses, in which people have worked so hard and invested all their money and time, see that they have no
Homelessness is not just an urban issue, and I am pleased that many of the Bill's clauses address the problem in rural areas. Homelessness occurs for many reasons. One of the key issues for farming and other small businesses is that, sadly, when a business is lost, often a home is lost too because it has been put up as a guarantee for the bank. As a Member of Parliament and a councillor, I have often dealt with those situations.
We must tackle the need for affordable housing in rural areas. Somebody asked for a definition of affordable housing. Many people in rural areas aspire not only to be tenants but to be property owners. Properties in national parks and other designated sites are very attractive to people who live outside the area. We must find a way, through the planning system or another means, to ensure that property is available not only for rent but for ownership.
Members come to the House bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with lots of enthusiasm and many ideas for improving the lives of their constituents and people throughout the nation. I recently read the maiden speech of a farmer who came from mid-Wales, Geraint Howells, in which he said he sought reform of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ensure that the interests of farmers and consumers would be better looked after. I hope that new Members will achieve their aims more quickly than Geraint Howells didhe made that speech in 1974.