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Hon. Members will recall many column inches being filled in April with speculation about the voting intentions of "middle England", but there was often confusion about exactly whom that referred to. From my perspective, it referred to the people of North West Leicestershire, who are literally based in the very centre of our country; mine is possibly the most landlocked constituency in the country, surrounded as it is by eight other constituencies. North West Leicestershire is at the heart of the new national forest, where many millions of trees have been planted over the past 15 years. That fabulous countryside sits alongside the traditional and gritty mining town of Coalville and the historic market town of Ashby de la Zouch. My constituency's gently undulating countryside is both quaint and picturesque, spanning Newton Burgoland in the south and Cavendish Bridge in the north, and
containing the villages of-I shall name but a few-Castle Donington, Kegworth, Moira, Measham, Ibstock, and Swannington, which is in the middle, and is where I live with my wife and children.
However, that description belies a constituency of extremes. My late predecessor experienced many of those extremes. Imagine his surprise in 1992 when, despite polling more than 28,000 votes, he lost the election. North West Leicestershire had the highest turnout that year, with more than 85% of the electorate going to vote. However, David got the rewards for all his hard work in 1997, when he gained the biggest swing against the Conservatives in that election.
In 2007 the pendulum swung again, this time back towards the Conservatives. We had the biggest swing against Labour in the district council elections that year, and on 6 May this year we again witnessed another 12% swing back to the Conservatives. Indeed, the chimes of the mediaeval church at Breedon on the Hill symbolised the bellwether nature of our constituency, which has always gone with the Government. I believe that when the people of North West Leicestershire have had enough of you, they come out and vote and let you know. History proves it. That was always very heartening in opposition, but I assure the House that it is slightly more worrying when I am standing in this position-which brings me back to today's debate.
We are here to debate Europe, and I am delighted to be speaking on that subject because I love Europe. I have travelled extensively through it, at my own expense. Indeed, East Midlands airport in my constituency is our border with Europe and the world. I adore much European cuisine. I admire much of its culture, and I revel in its diversity, but I am not a supporter of economic union. I was an active member of Business for Sterling in the no campaigns. I strongly support the Government's policy of placing a referendum lock on new European treaties, and indeed on anything that would give more powers away to Brussels.
The events in Greece, which spread quickly to Spain and elsewhere, demonstrate the danger inherent in trying to pull together a disparate group of economies and cultures. We need to learn from their misfortunes and hold on to our triple A rating at all costs. I am particularly pleased that all hon. Members on this side of the House, our Liberal allies included, now appreciate that we need early deficit reduction to protect our credit rating. In my first three weeks in politics I believe that I have seen something I never thought I would see-a miracle. I think that we should call it "The Conversion of St. Vince on the Road to Whitehall".
The consequences of not holding on to our credit rating are extremely frightening. Our economy has been run on to the rocks. Had we joined the euro, we would not just be holed below the waterline, we would also be without lifeboats. We have a huge task ahead to rescue our economy and solve the problems of 21st-century Britain. Sadly, we Members of this House, with a few notable exceptions-or should I say extensions; I am thinking of my hon. Friend the Father of the House-are merely "here today, gone tomorrow" politicians. As a result, we must not consider ourselves to be the owners of sovereign powers. We are merely the custodians of power and sovereignty for future generations. Sovereignty is not ours to give away; it belongs to the people who elected us, and to their heirs and successors.
On that basis, I am very pleased to be one of the many Members of this House who fought and argued over many years to prevent the UK from joining the euro. We Eurosceptics have often suffered the disdain of the Europhiles: at times-heaven help us-we have been called "little Englanders". As an Englishman of below average height, representing a constituency in the centre of our great country, that is an accusation that I personally find difficult to refute.
My background is in business. I firmly believe that our country's small and medium-sized enterprises provide the backbone of our economy. If we help them, they will help to get us out of the current predicament that we find ourselves in. It is not just as a politician but also from a business perspective that my views on Europe have developed over the last 20 years. In 1997 we were the fourth most competitive place in the world in which to do business, but now we are a lowly 84th. Much of that is due to regulation from Europe. This cannot continue.
My business has been a major employer in North West Leicestershire for many years, and I want to be a champion of business and enterprise. I shall support the creation of an environment in which public spending is managed more efficiently and the private sector is unshackled from the weight of burdensome EU regulation. I want an environment in which our country can move free from the lodestone of needless red tape, and where we can build for our future by correcting so many of the mistakes of the recent past.
It is a privilege to stand in this House, and to serve the people of North West Leicestershire. I will do my very best not to let them down, and if at the end of my time in this place, however that may come, I am thought of anywhere near as well as my predecessor David Taylor, I will class myself as having done a very good job indeed.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for inviting me to make my maiden speech today. First, I congratulate hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today, including my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen). Those two highly contrasting speeches sum up many of the differences between the two sides.
My constituency of Sefton Central is made up of parts of the old Crosby constituency and parts of the old Knowsley, North and Sefton, East constituency. Crosby was represented by Claire Curtis-Thomas, who served here from 1997 until this year. She served her constituents diligently, and many of them have expressed their gratitude to me for the support that they received from her. She was also one of the few qualified engineers to serve in this House, and spoke with great authority on the subject during her time here. Knowsley, North and Sefton, East was represented by my right hon. Friend who is now the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth). He has been good enough to introduce me to many people in his former constituency who are now constituents of mine. I believe he has served the House and the people of Knowsley, North and Sefton, East with distinction, and he will do the same for the people of his new constituency. He is deserving of the support of Members in his bid to be Deputy Speaker.
I believe I am not the first member of my family to make a speech in this Chamber. My granddad was an electrician, and after the war he worked on the rebuilding of this Chamber. A number of the Polish workers who had served in the forces were also employed on the same work, and when the British workers, who were all strong trade unionists, discovered that the Polish workers were being paid less, they organised a meeting in this very Chamber. My granddad, as the shop steward, made the first speech in the newly refurbished Chamber. Unlike in the case of my granddad, there are Clerks here to record my speech, but I am happy to claim that my granddad's story is right, and that he gave his maiden speech here some 64 years before I did.
Of course, the story of east European workers being paid less than British workers has relevance today. Like many other hon. Members, I have heard countless tales of east European workers being paid less than the minimum wage, taking jobs that British workers would otherwise have been employed to do. I therefore hope that the Government will confirm that the law is enforced, and that foreign nationals are not exploited in this way to their cost or to the cost of British workers. It was wrong when my granddad was here in 1946 and it is wrong now.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) gave his maiden speech and recalled what an excellent seaside constituency he represents. Sefton Central is another excellent seaside constituency. It is between Bootle and Southport, and has many outstanding features. Its sandy beaches stretch from Waterloo to Formby, and form part of the 20-mile stretch of sand dunes that characterises the Sefton coastline-the longest stretch of sand dunes in the country. Crosby beach is decorated by the Gormley statues, which are named Another Place-a much-admired tourist attraction-and there are red squirrels to be found at Formby, looked after by the National Trust.
Sefton Central is also home to the Grand National, and to Aintree race course, and I hope that the Government do not carry out their threat to take the world's top horse race off terrestrial TV and sell it to Sky.
Many people in Sefton Central believe it has the highest number of Premiership footballers of any constituency in the country. That may well be true. I would like to congratulate two of my constituents, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, on their selection for the England World cup squad this week. Wayne Rooney also used to live in Sefton Central, and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will want to wish them, and the whole England World cup squad, well. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) mentioned Harold Wilson, who represented the Ormskirk constituency in 1945. Parts of that constituency are now in Sefton Central.
I hope that the coalition Government go ahead with a number of important projects in my constituency that were given the go-ahead by the Labour Government. One is the Thornton relief road. I mentioned the importance of tourism to my constituency; the Thornton relief road is much needed to reduce congestion from Switch Island, which is at the junction of the M57 and the M58, to Thornton. The route is a bottleneck for people trying to reach Crosby, Formby and Southport, and the new road would have a significant economic benefit for tourism and other business. People in Sefton Central
remember when a previous Tory Government neglected them and thousands more across Merseyside. I will press Ministers to make sure that this vital project and others are not axed, and to ensure that the road's importance is finally recognised.
According to many people in Sefton, the road was first proposed in 1934. Surely that is too much delay for any new road. At the election, candidates in Sefton Central from all parties pledged to make sure that the road was built, and I hope that Ministers from both coalition parties will note the promises made on their behalf by Tory and Liberal Democrat candidates.
Sefton has many fine schools, and my wife and I have been hugely impressed by the primary school that our children attend. I have also visited a number of excellent secondary schools in Maghull, Formby and Crosby, and will argue with Ministers to make sure that Building Schools for the Future is not a victim of Government cuts. Chesterfield High and Crosby High are good schools, and are due to be rebuilt on a joint site. Brand-new facilities do not guarantee success, but having 21st-century buildings certainly makes a difference if we want 21st-century learning and standards.
The constituency has four Sure Start children's centres-at Holy Rosary Catholic primary school in Aintree, at Hudson primary school in Maghull, at Freshfield and at Thornton. My son attended a nursery at a Sure Start centre, and the support that my family had was outstanding. Many of the other parents told me that they noticed the difference that Sure Start had made to them, their families and their children. They noticed a marked improvement in support once the children's centre opened, and have noticed the impact that it has had on their families, and on the progress made by their children. I welcome the coalition's commitment to Sure Start, and I hope fervently that it is a promise that is kept.
People in my constituency were horrified to learn of the £4-million cut in the Merseyside police budget that was announced by the coalition last week. I urge the Government to reconsider such a cut, and to think about the likely impact of such drastic action on front-line policing. More importantly, the Government should consider the impact on our communities and on the people of Merseyside. I said earlier that I hoped that we would not see a re-run of the neglect of previous Tory Governments. Sadly, the police cuts, and the threats to the Thornton relief road, to Chesterfield High and Crosby High schools, and to the Royal Liverpool University hospital, do not bode well for the economy or my constituents.
Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to deliver my maiden speech to the House as the newly elected representative of the good people of Hove and Portslade. I also thank the previous speakers for their excellent contributions, including my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), and the hon. Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), who all claim to have the best seaside town in the country in their constituency; I will try to persuade them otherwise later.
I pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, Celia Barlow. She worked tirelessly during her five-year term on local and national matters. She was just as formidable in the House as she was on the doorstep, and I wish her well in whatever career path she pursues. I should like to mention another former Member for Hove, Sir Tim Sainsbury, whose advice and support over the years have been invaluable to me.
Brighton and Hove does, of course, take its name from two neighbouring historical towns, situated on a delightfully sunny, and sometimes windy, spot on the south coast. From the inclusion of Hove in the name of the city, it might rightly be assumed that those living in my constituency are mindful of its unique identity, separate from our larger neighbour, Brighton. We Hove residents are often asked whether we live in Brighton, and our defensive response gives rise to the well-known phrase, "Hove, actually."
I will be keeping a close eye on Hove's individuality-that is, on its regency and Victorian architecture, wide boulevards and colourful beach huts. I shall keep an even closer eye on the individuality of Portslade. Its history, and indeed its contribution to local affairs generally, is just as rich as Hove's. I am so keen to see that fact recognised that I shall campaign to change the name of the constituency to Hove and Portslade.
The bedrock of our community has always been our elderly population, although demographically Hove has changed a lot in recent years. It is a friendly place, with many different cultures represented, and I pay particular tribute to my friends the Coptic Christians from Sudan and Egypt, a thriving Muslim community, which includes a number of entrepreneurial Iranians, and a well-established Jewish community, whose roots go back to the 18th century. I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown, am also proud to represent the LGBT community in the city.
I come to politics from a background in film and music, and I shall channel my passion for each into supporting local talent. It is no secret that Hove is home to a great number of musicians, some of whom are internationally famous, but it is home also to the excellent Brighton institute of modern music. Hove's cinematic past, however, is often overlooked, and it is frequently forgotten that, at the end of the Victorian era, the pioneers of Hove developed techniques that are still in use throughout the world today.
The distinctive beaches and buildings of Brighton and Hove translate extremely well on to film, and that is why they have featured in countless films over the years. Classics include "Brighton Rock", "Oh! What a Lovely War", "Carry On At Your Convenience", "Carry On Girls" and "Quadrophenia"; and in recent years there has been "The End of the Affair", "Circus", "London to Brighton" and the rather curiously named "Brighton Wok: The Legend of Ganja Boxing".
Promoting the city as a location for filming and, indeed, as a place for the media business to thrive must be done in partnership with my council colleagues, and that will be just one area where we are able to work together. Another area is the promotion of local businesses. As a qualified management accountant, and as a past owner of one of the area's largest manufacturers, winning two Queen's awards and the Sussex company of the year award, I shall make supporting small and medium-sized enterprises one of my biggest priorities.
All councils should take back some powers from London, and as an example I note that Brighton and Hove city council has limited powers to pursue the owners of neglected listed buildings for the reimbursement of costly emergency repairs. I have therefore written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport to see whether more powers might be handed to councils so that they can deal with such irresponsible people.
On sport, Hove is home to the well-established and successful Sussex county cricket club, the winners of last year's Twenty20 cup, which they successfully started defending this week. On football, I have been a supporter of the Seagulls, Brighton and Hove Albion, and during my teenage years I used to go and watch them when they actually played in Hove. We should soon have our new stadium in Falmer-and a deserved promotion in due course. Brighton and Hove do not do everything together, however, and Hove has the more successful rugby club, which won the Sussex cup just last month.
Secondary education in my constituency has been a hot topic in recent years, and I have deliberately avoided putting a partisan twist on to my maiden speech, but Hove and Portslade are just the sorts of places that will benefit greatly from the policies of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. I look forward to being involved in any way that I can, and that includes supporting the award of academy status to Portslade community college.
Hove needs a new primary school, and I am working with parents and councillors to see what the best options are. The process has just taken an interesting twist, with the news that the much-loved Connaught centre has been vacated as an adult education base. It began as a school in 1884, and I am keen to ensure that a return to its original purpose is investigated in full. I could refer to many local heroes who have put their lives into educating our children, but I should like to mention one man, Bob Wall, who runs an extremely tight ship at Hillside special school in Portslade. When I think of a model head teacher, I think of that man.
I should also like to single out several charities. There are so many worth mentioning that I could fill my whole speech with them, but I shall name just a few. The Martlets hospice, Impact Initiatives, Off the Fence, the Alzheimer's Society, Macmillan and Emmaus all stand out as beacons of excellence in my constituency.
Returning to music, I perhaps bring something new to the House in the form of my huge passion for rock and heavy metal. A few years ago I rashly pledged that I would be the first Member to wear an Iron Maiden T-shirt in the Chamber, so, Mr Deputy Speaker, I may be in touch soon to see how I can deliver that promise without breaking too many rules. The benefit of this country's musical success to our economy is often understated. In 2008, for example, overseas earnings rose by 15% to £140 million. I was particularly delighted, therefore, to see a commitment to live music in the coalition policy document. On that musical note, Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank you again for the honour of letting me make my maiden speech today.
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