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12.8 am

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to make my maiden speech and to participate in this debate. As someone who ran a small business for many years, I appreciate being called to speak at this time. I also thank the new small

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business Minister for his invitation to contact him to discuss the ways in which we can improve services to small businesses.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Mahmood) on interesting maiden speech, and I look forward to hearing more contributions from him in the years ahead. I also congratulate all the hon. Members who have made maiden speeches today. As the hon. Members for Perth (Annabelle Ewing) and for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) said, being Friday the 13th, it is good to have survived the experience.

I am perhaps in a unique position, as my two immediate predecessors in Edinburgh, West still serve as elected Members, as they both won seats in the Scottish Parliament.

For Donald Gorrie, who stood down from Westminster this year, the Parliament represented the fulfilment of a lifetime's campaigning. Donald was elected to this place on his fifth attempt, and in his first speech, he argued for a Scottish Parliament in the debate on the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill. Although he has often been described as a maverick, and still is, Donald consistently fought for a Parliament in Scotland, with Members elected by a fair voting system. He now sits in that Parliament, and is involved in the partnership Government. At times, he causes more problems for both partners than many members of the Opposition.

Donald's predecessor in Edinburgh, West was Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, who is also a Member of the Scottish Parliament—the same Parliament that he spent much of his time in this House opposing. As a list Member, he was elected under the proportional voting system, which he also opposed.

It is a great privilege to be in this place, and I look forward to working on behalf of all the residents of Edinburgh, West. It is heartening that relatively affluent constituents were prepared to elect a candidate who was advocating an increase in their tax rates. Proposals for fair, progressive increases in taxation, linked to identifiable increases in key public services, can strike a chord with the very people being asked to meet the cost.

Although the statistics detailing Edinburgh's relative affluence do not lie, they do not tell the whole story. The constituency stretches from Queensferry at the Forth bridges to Muirhouse and West Pilton, and within it there is great diversity, with areas of poverty as well as areas of affluence. In those poorer areas, there is not only financial poverty but a poverty of expectation. At the general election, those areas had a very low turnout of under 50 per cent.

It was not satisfaction with Labour which kept the majority of those electors at home on 7 June but disillusionment with politicians of all parties and detachment from the political process. We should not try to dismiss that with glib phrases such as "voter apathy". We need to address the underlying causes of that fracture between the political classes and ordinary people. We must put an end to the present voting system, which disfranchises many, whether or not they bother to vote. The introduction of a fair, proportional system is part of the answer.

There is a need for politicians of all persuasions to do more to engage with the electorate, to understand their needs and aspirations, and, more importantly, to recognise that aspirations have been damped down or even, in some

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places, extinguished. We must offer people a way out of their impoverishment, a stake in society and a share of the wealth of their nation. In recent years, there has been much talk of social inclusion, but in the past four years the gap between rich and poor has grown even greater, and too little has been done to reverse the damage done to society in the Thatcher years.

As the MP for Edinburgh, West, I shall endeavour to serve all my constituents, including the rich and the poor, those who voted for me, those who voted for candidates from other parties and those who opted out of the political system. Many of the matters of concern to my constituents have now been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and I look forward to working with Margaret Smith, the Edinburgh, West Liberal Democrat MSP. We will be an effective team working on behalf of our constituents.

It is a great honour to represent such a diverse constituency, with its historic villages such as Corstorphine and Davidson's Mains. Like the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East, I must pay tribute to one of my local hostelries, the Corstorphine Inn, which sustained my campaign team at the general election. From Cramond to Barnton, the constituency includes castles, large estates and housing estates. In Muirhouse and West Pilton there is a great community spirit, but some pockets are the most deprived areas in the constituency.

West Edinburgh has a booming economy and the lowest unemployment rate in the city, but there are pockets of high unemployment, and we must match those who want jobs to those who want skilled workers. Education and training are key issues. We must invest in education, rather than throwing the education system—and the health service—out to the private market.

Although a city seat, Edinburgh, West has a rural dimension in the villages of Ratho, Ratho Station and Dalmeny, where many problems were caused by the recent foot and mouth outbreak. Not only were farmers affected, but the royal highland show was cancelled and Edinburgh zoo was temporarily closed, with the loss to the local economy of many millions of pounds. As the zoo is in my constituency, I probably represent more penguins than any other Member.

I am proud to serve on the City of Edinburgh council.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city, the home of the best Hogmanay celebration in the world. It has the international festival, the fringe festival, the book festival, the jazz and blues festival, the science festival and the longest continually running film festival in the world. I would like to welcome many Members there during the recess.

Edinburgh is also home to the Scottish Parliament where my predecessor now sits. In that Parliament, Liberal Democrats form part of the Government and have played a role in delivering a fairer voting system, scrapping tuition fees and delivering an excellent teachers pay deal and free long-term care for the elderly, with the details being announced just last week. I look forward to similar policies being introduced here.

In my constituency, transport is always a key issue. It has a particular relationship with small businesses, because transport policies to improve the ability of commuters to move from outwith the city into the city centre have often meant ruin for small shops and businesses along those routes. Planning decisions have

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allowed the construction of out-of-town shopping centres and had devastating effects on local shopping centres.

What can be done to help? The Minister mentioned several good ideas including the reduction of red tape and the need to have access to finance and skilled labour. However, I ask him to consider some other issues. The first is the threat of the black economy with tax evasion and, for example, the unlicensed disposal of waste causing ever-increasing problems. When sensible regulation is in place for bona fide traders, there must be prosecutions of fly-by-night traders.

We must also stimulate enterprise, and one sector that I particularly wish to mention is arts and entertainment. This country has tremendous potential. In the United States, the entertainment industry now exports more than General Motors or Ford. We must stimulate our creative talent in computer technology, design, film, fashion and music. In the creative industries, we can lead the world.

However, we must not develop small business support as a separate policy. We should integrate our small business support with education so that the skills developed—whether academic or professional—will produce thriving industry; with transport so that the work force have access to the places where employers need them; with health provision so that we increase the amount of health care and advice about safe working to avoid the time lost through bad health such as back problems, which cost the country, employees and businesses millions; and with planning and housing policy so that we do not drive the cost of affordable housing away from affordable work space.

Many small businesses supply the goods and quality of services that can be delivered only by small businesses with specialist expertise in the field. They have the tools; we should let them get on with the job.

As a new Member, my first impression of this place was that it was steeped in history and had many fine traditions. I find the pink ribbon for hanging my sword on the coat hanger in the Members' Cloakroom quite invaluable.

However, since the general election much has been made of the low turnout. It is up to hon. Members to set an example to show why the public should participate in the democratic process, as we are the product of their decision to vote on polling day. It is no wonder that members of the general public are disillusioned by what they see if elected Members do not set an example for others to follow. We must rekindle the interest of the public in the political process—it is our responsibility. If we do not, we do not deserve their votes.

While we are here and grappling with the problems of the western world, I hope that we never forget those in the third world who are desperate to fill their empty bellies while burdened with debt to the richest nations on the planet. At the weekend, I was on the telephone to my wife, who is in Botswana, where she said there were walking skeletons on the street. Yesterday, a 2,000-page United Nations report on the impact of climate change stated that industrial pollution is the main cause and that the consequences for human society are likely to be catastrophic. Global warming is real—that is official. Crop failures, water shortages and disease will affect others much more than they affect us. The poor are always hardest hit.

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As well as looking after our constituents, we must never forget those elsewhere in the world with problems much greater than our own. I hope that my time in this Parliament will see a change to a time when we no longer sit back and watch what happens elsewhere as if we were immune from the consequences to a time when we realise that we all share the same planet and that we had better start looking after it.

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