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2.47 pm

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): May I first offer my thanks to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to make my first contribution to a debate in this House, and for the kindness that you and other experienced Members of all parties have shown me in recent weeks? I should also like to congratulate the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) on their excellent maiden speeches.

I intend to be brief, but I hope that the House will permit me the time to say a few words about my constituency and the issues that are important there. I considered it a very great honour to have been selected as a candidate to represent the place where I was born, and that I call home. To represent here those with whom I grew up in Wirral South, my family and my oldest friends, is a responsibility that is sincerely humbling, and one that I can barely find the words to describe.

As a Wirral South person, I have had the pleasure of my predecessor's acquaintance for many years. Mr Ben Chapman is a very amiable man, and I have been struck by how many Members of this House have taken the time to speak to me about him in recent weeks. They have stopped me and asked me to take with me to Wirral their best wishes for him. I am sure that that does not happen to every new Member of Parliament, and it is a sign of how highly he is regarded here. He worked hard to foster better relationships between our country and others, most especially China, and his legacy to this House will be in those relationships. Today's debate is about Europe, and I believe that politics is more internationally minded because of Ben's work. In a globalised world, nothing could be more important.

I note that my predecessor made his first contribution to this House during a debate on the National Health Service (Primary Care) Bill. He explained that some of our constituency's most pressing problems related to health services. He spoke of 6,000-more than one in 10-of our residents being on waiting lists, and those in hospital having long waits on trolleys, and not swift effective treatment.

In the coming months, I wonder whether some might attempt to rewrite the history of the recent Labour Government, but I can report that in Wirral South we
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have achieved a great reduction in clinically unnecessary waiting times, and that in the Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology we have a world-beating treatment centre for those with cancer. Along with our marvellous NHS staff and Ben Chapman's hard endeavour in standing up for local health services, we also have Labour Health Secretaries to thank for that.

I am deeply proud to originate from the constituency that I now represent, but I cannot claim to be the first local resident of Wirral South to become involved in Labour politics. In 1932 a Mr Wilson, an industrial chemist, on being made redundant from his job in Huddersfield, moved to Spital in my constituency. His son joined the local grammar school and became its head boy. Young Harold was clearly made for leadership roles, and, although he went on to represent constituencies over the water in Huyton and in Ormskirk, Wirral has never forgotten him.

Wirral is a geographically wonderful place-especially the southern part, which I represent. From the banks of the Mersey overlooking the Liverpool skyline to the banks of the Dee where one can see the heights of Snowdonia, we Wirralians are thankful for our good fortune to reside in one of the most visually stunning parts of Britain.

However, it is our people, our culture and our heritage that truly makes us. We are an internationally minded and cultured people in Wirral South. We are the traditional home of Unilever, and many of my constituents work for nearby Vauxhall Motors and Airbus, as well as for other international companies in manufacturing and other sectors-companies that trade on the European and world stages and worked with the Labour Government and the trade unions to carry British industry through difficult times over the past year. Britain's role in leading Europe over the past decade has benefited Wirral and north-west England, and I trust that all members of the new Government will be able to maintain our influence.

For us Merseysiders, our culture and heritage is at the heart of who we are. According to Impacts 08, the report on Liverpool's year as European capital of culture, we are more likely than others in the UK to go to a museum or gallery, and I like to think that that is not much of a surprise, given that my constituency boasts the treasures of the Lady Lever art gallery in the Victorian model village of Port Sunlight and a wealth of community organisations dedicated to involving people in music, dance and drama. I, myself, am the granddaughter of local songwriter and folk singer Pete McGovern, and I grew up spending many hours in the Philharmonic hall in Liverpool, wrapped in its peerless acoustics.

As such, I should like to say a few more words, if time permits me, about culture. The passion for culture is especially strong in young people in my constituency, and I cannot imagine that there are any more talented young people in any other constituency. Local schools use children's creative talents on stage in order to build their confidence and, during the recent election, I was lucky enough to visit several schools to see their pupils' performances. That work has a really positive effect on the rest of a child's education, and my constituency, like many others, has seen schools make great strides in educational achievement. We should not forget how far very able head teachers have taken us in the past 13 years.

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We also recognise culture as a driver of economic growth. For example, the recent increased promotion of culture in Merseyside resulted in the north-west being seen as a better place to do business. The same is true of other places in the UK, from Folkestone to Newcastle, and at a time when we run the risk of sliding back into recession that lesson can surely be applied more widely.

Our culture is an asset. Although we should never stop celebrating it for its own sake, we should not be blind to the benefits it brings to our economy. In the coalition agreement, the Government made great play of returning to the original four good causes of national lottery funding. We will have a debate in due course about whether that is the right approach, but lottery funding for capital projects is no substitute for core public funds, on which the arts in this country are built. Yes, lottery and private funds play a vital role, but they cannot be sought without the foundation of public funds on which to build. I recall that the first chair of the Arts Council was John Maynard Keynes, a great economist who understood this very well, as do the people of Merseyside.

Wirral South is a constituency whose people, throughout the recent election, showed me and the other candidates very great kindness; especially to me, they showed friendliness as one of their very own seeking to represent them. I hope that I can do so, living up to their expectations, and provide Wirral South with the strongest possible voice in the coming years.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Deputy Speaker (Hugh Bayley): It is a pleasure for me now to call Julian Sturdy.

2.55 pm

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): I start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) for her excellent contribution, and to my hon. Friends the Members Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) and for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) for their excellent maiden speeches.

I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to take part in today's debate, as I stand here making my maiden speech on my 39th birthday. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] I had to think about that this morning-exactly how old I was. I am filled with a great sense of honour and pride but, most importantly, a feeling of determination to ensure that I do not let down the residents of York Outer, who have put their trust in me, and that I represent them to best of my ability over the coming years.

York Outer is not the catchiest name for a new constituency. However, one thing that the name cannot take away is the huge privilege that I have in being the first MP to represent this new seat. York Outer is a ring around the city of York, taking in all the villages and communities on the edge of our great Yorkshire city; in essence, it is a doughnut seat, I think the only one in the country. I realise that I am going to have to watch my weight over the coming years, as the connotations could be a problem.

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Representing a new seat means that I have a number of distinguished predecessors to whom I should like to pay tribute, two of whom are still serving in the House and two who have retired. I start in no particular order, with the former Member for Ryedale. John Greenway was a very hard-working, extremely well-liked Member of Parliament who started his political career as a local councillor in North Yorkshire county council. He had a fantastic grasp of local issues affecting Ryedale. I have been knocking on doors campaigning for the past four years, and this phrase greeted me on many occasions when discussing local issues: "The support we've received from John on this issue has been fantastic." He will be sorely missed in the House.

I also have the great privilege of having my hon. Friend the newly elected Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) as one of my predecessors. Anne gave me tremendous support during my time as a local councillor in the old Vale of York constituency. As a local farmer, I pay tribute to her tireless work and support for local rural communities and agriculture. I know that that work will continue over the years, and I am delighted to see her back in the House.

The former Member for Selby represented the southern area of my new constituency from 1997. John Grogan and I have a number of things in common. First, we are both born-and-bred Yorkshiremen, and exceptionally proud of it. Secondly, there is our support for Yorkshire county cricket. I must pay tribute to all the work that John did to try to keep test match cricket on terrestrial TV. Thirdly, there is his great dedication to his local community and constituents, highlighted by the number of committed Conservative voters who would tell me, "I've never voted for John, but he's been a brilliant MP." I hope that over time committed Labour voters will say the same about me, or might even vote for me. This is probably where the similarities end. However, John's independent spirit, friendly approach and support in the House for our great county of Yorkshire will be sadly missed.

Last, but by no means least, I must pay tribute to the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), who is now representing the centre of the York Outer seat. It is a great privilege for me to be making my maiden speech with you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker-thank you very much. Hugh represented City of York from 1992, taking over from Conal Gregory. Hugh's respect and experience in the House, and in York, has been built through his dedication and work for his constituents. He has championed several causes over the past 18 years, serving on the International Development Committee and being the chair and founding member of the all-party Africa group. I am delighted to see him appointed as Deputy Speaker, albeit on a temporary basis; the fact that he has got this position certainly underlines the high esteem in which he is held in the House. Given the links between our two seats, it is important that, on certain issues, politics is put to one side and we work together by putting the issues of our great city above party politics. I know we will be able to do that.

York is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring cities of our country. It is steeped in history, has stunning architecture, is surrounded by beautiful countryside and offers a charming and wholehearted Yorkshire welcome. I know that I sound like a representative of the York tourist board, but I count myself extremely
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privileged to live on the edge of such a great city. I cannot think of a better place to bring up my young family and it is a great honour that I now have the opportunity to put something back into my local community.

From the urban fringes, such as Dringhouses, Woodthorpe and Rawcliffe, to the more rural towns, such as Haxby, to the villages, such as Strensall in the north and Elvington in the south, Dunnington in the east and Rufforth in the west, one thing that all the different communities have in common is that they make up this new seat and they all see York as their main centre and a provider of essential facilities.

With that in mind, I would like to raise a number of issues that impact on my constituency. Investment in local infrastructure in and around York is crucial to its long-term success. Local transport is a classic example of that, from a poor road network and the infamous York northern ring-road, which is becoming permanently gridlocked and slowly strangling our city and is affecting future business investment and putting current businesses under threat, to our disjointed rural bus services and the need to access future rail halts.

Sadly, for too long the previous Government have short-changed our region on transport funding and our local council has not had the vision to put forward a long-term plan that can take our city forward. It has opted for short-term solutions to an ever-worsening problem. Such a situation has to change and I will pursue the matter in Parliament over the next few years.

A further issue is the threat to the green belt around York, which has been brought about by the top-down approach of planning targets imposed on this House and on the City of York council. I am delighted to see that Her Majesty's great speech included a Bill to devolve a large number of powers to councils and neighbourhoods, and to give local communities control over housing and planning decisions, therefore enabling York's green belt to be protected for future generations.

With respect to today's debate on European affairs, I must confess that I have a rather personal connection to all things Europe. My father, Robert Sturdy, is a Conservative MEP and, given that it was under his watchful eye that my passion for politics flourished, I shall always have a keen interest in European matters, if only to allow me to hold my own at the dinner table, where things can get quite heated from time to time.

On a more serious note, I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in this debate and raise one of the key issues that was constantly brought up on the doorstep during the election campaign. That issue is, of course, the previous Government's abject failure to fulfil their long-standing pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. The previous Administration's decision to deny the people of this country such a vote was, frankly, a devastating blow to those who care passionately about the sovereignty of this House. Indeed, I feel the decision not to fulfil the promise of a referendum further damaged public trust in our politics and politicians. I therefore welcome the new Government's determination to improve political accountability, openness and transparency.

Europe has always been a contentious issue and I am sure that will continue to be the case here in Westminster. However, I can assure the House that, back in York Outer, a sizeable majority of my constituents seem to
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share my concerns about the recent transfer of power from Westminster to Brussels. To put it simply, I firmly believe that we cannot allow any further erosion of powers from this Parliament without allowing the public to directly express their will on such important constitutional amendments.

As such, I welcome the European Union Bill that was set out in the Queen's Speech last week. The Prime Minister is right to ensure that the people of this country are granted a referendum before any future treaties that hand over powers to the European Union are approved by Government. The Government should seek to be a proactive, positive and friendly partner in Europe, particularly when it comes to promoting British business and trade. In other key areas, too, the EU has the potential to be a force for good as we tackle global poverty and the rise in global competitiveness, and get to grips with global climate change.

Britain should play a full role in ensuring that the EU's voice is heard loud and clear on an increasingly diverse global stage. However, we will not be able to play such a role unless the boundaries and limitations of the EU are clearly drawn. The public need to believe in the worth of the EU and, in my view, that will happen only when we strengthen and protect further our own democracy here in Westminster.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Member for his kind remarks.

3.5 pm

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in the debate on Europe. Our membership of the European Union has brought significant benefits to my constituency, particularly through investment in businesses and jobs.

I congratulate those who have also made their maiden speeches today: my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy). Both speeches were excellent.

I pay tribute to Doug Henderson, my predecessor as Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North from 1987. As a former Minister of State for Defence, and for Foreign Affairs, particularly Europe, he would approve, I am sure, of my making my maiden speech during today's debate. He was renowned for his athletics- he was a marathon runner, who ran about 50 miles a week. However, one of his proudest achievements in the House was Royal Assent for the Access to Health Records Act 1990. As someone who has personally benefited from the protection that that Act affords, I thank him today for that and for his unfailing support. I pledge that I, too, will make a positive difference to people's lives through the work that I undertake in the House.

I am incredibly proud to have been elected to represent Newcastle upon Tyne North, the constituency in which I was born and continue to live with my own young family and my extremely large extended family. I thank the people of Newcastle upon Tyne North for electing me. It is a part of the country that I truly love and will do my best to serve.

Newcastle upon Tyne North is home to a vibrant and diverse community. We house the award-winning Newcastle airport, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and, since 1881, Newcastle race course. The constituency
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is home to Sanofi Aventis pharmaceuticals, the factory that created Andrews Liver Salts and, next door, Nestlé, home of the famous Rolo.

The constituency has a proud industrial history, from extracting coal from the banks of the Tyne to manufactured engineering and glass and steel products exported all over the world. However, by the time my predecessor took on the honour and responsibility of representing the people of Newcastle upon Tyne North in 1987, the majority of industry was gone. I read Doug Henderson's maiden speech with a sinking feeling. I will take the liberty of sharing a quote from it. He said:

then Conservative-

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