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2.44 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech as the first Member for the new Milton Keynes South constituency. I regret that I do not have any poetry to share with the House this afternoon, but I am pleased to contribute to this debate on building a high-skilled economy. The motto of Milton Keynes is "By Knowledge, Design and Understanding", and my constituency has always been at the heart of learning and technological innovation.

Before I turn to those themes, let me first pay tribute to my predecessors. I use the plural deliberately because, thanks to the work of the Boundary Commission, I have two. The bulk of my constituency was in the former Milton Keynes, South-West seat, represented for the last 13 years by Dr Phyllis Starkey. I got to know her quite well, having been her opponent in the 2001 and 2005 elections, as well as in the poll last month. Over the 10 years in which we were political sparring partners, it is fair to say that there were few policies on which we agreed. However, I pay tribute to her for her service to Milton Keynes. To represent such a diverse and dynamic constituency for more than a decade is no small achievement. I also know that she had a strong reputation in this House for pursuing her causes with tenacity and determination.

My other immediate predecessor is, I am delighted to say, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster). He was a diligent and well-regarded representative for the two wards that I have inherited from him-Danesborough and Walton Park-and I look forward to continuing his good work. Indeed, we are planning to work very closely together to provide a seamless service to the whole of Milton Keynes. In these financially challenged times, we are endeavouring to save on the public purse by sharing a constituency office.

Hon. Members may think that they know about Milton Keynes, but I would like to use this speech to challenge a number of misconceptions. In an economic debate, it would have been neat to follow the widely held view that Milton Keynes is named after the two distinguished economists, Milton Friedman and John
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Maynard Keynes, but that is not the case. The city takes its names from the historic village of Milton Keynes, which is in my hon. Friend's constituency.

It is true that Milton Keynes is a new city that is just over 40 years in age, with plenty of modern housing estates, and the roundabouts and grid road system with which hon. Members may be all too well acquainted if they have not followed the logic of the layout. However, that modernity belies a rich history stretching over many centuries. Stony Stratford, for example, is an ancient coaching town on the Watling street roman road. The House may not know that the origin of the phrase "cock and bull story" lies in Stony Stratford. On the high street, there are two hotels-the Bull and the Cock. Legend has it that, as travellers stopped to break their journeys between London and cities in the midlands and north, the ale flowed freely and stories became more and more embellished before being relayed, in their exaggerated state, to their destination. I pledge that my contributions in this House will have a sounder factual base.

Bletchley, which forms about one third of my constituency, is of course the home of Bletchley Park and the code breakers, whose brilliant work certainly shortened the second world war and saved many hundreds of thousands of lives. Indeed, it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that their work changed the outcome of the war and, had they not succeeded, we might not today enjoy the freedom of speech that we do. I am delighted to report that, after many years of neglect, important restoration work is being carried out at Bletchley Park, under the expert guidance of its director, Simon Greenish, and I shall do what I can to ensure that the restoration project is completed.

I also wish to use this opportunity to pay tribute to the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), for what he did to right the wrong against the brilliant code breaker and mathematician, Alan Turing, a national hero who was so persecuted for being gay that he ultimately took his own life. While the right hon. Gentleman and I share little political agreement-although, in the interests of full disclosure, I should declare that I was christened by his father-I pay tribute to him for making that national apology for the wrong done to Alan Turing.

Bletchley Park is also the home of the modern computer, which is just one of my constituency's major contributions to the UK's high-skilled economy. That tradition has continued with the Open university, which is also located in my constituency. Many hundreds of thousands of lives have been transformed by the Open university, and it has long-embodied the vital principle of lifelong learning, reskilling people as their careers evolve and giving a second chance to those who have, for whatever reason, missed out on a more traditional form of higher education. The new vice-chancellor of the Open university, Martin Bean, is making an excellent start in preparing and updating the university to meet the ever-evolving challenges that lie ahead. His appointment is significant, because as a former senior director of Microsoft, his move from a high-end private company to the world of education illustrates the vital links that must exist between the two if the UK is to sustain a high-knowledge economy.

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Milton Keynes is home to another pioneering model of higher-level learning that I believe will play a major part in the skilling of our economy-University Centre Milton Keynes, under the wise leadership of Professor Keith Straughan. When fully established, this exciting new concept will enable young people to access top-quality learning close to home and integrated with their learning at work. It is a model of partnership working and came about as a result of demand from the local community, local employers, civic partners and the voluntary and community sector. Will the Minister, as well as visiting the Open university, visit UCMK? I am sure that he will find a lot there that fits with the Government's agenda.

I have long believed that to unlock the full potential of people in the UK, we need to break down some of the barriers that sometimes exist between higher and further education, and the needs of skilled employers. To ensure that the UK can beat both our traditional economic competitors and the fast-rising challenge from emerging economies, we need much greater flexibility in our education system, and in that Milton Keynes is leading the way.

Milton Keynes has a high-skilled economy, with many exciting new projects, such as the electric car scheme being piloted there. However, our success does not rest alone on its dynamic economy. For a relatively young new city, we have a fantastic, positive, can-do attitude and enjoy a rich tapestry of civic society, with more than 1,200 voluntary and charitable organisations. That spirit is embodied by Milton Keynes' successful bid to be a host venue should England be successful in staging the 2018 World cup. And let this Scotsman put it on the record that I want England to triumph in South Africa and to go on to host the tournament in eight years.

After my electoral disappointment in 2001 and 2005, I could easily have moved on and sought a securer passage to this place, but I did not want to. Having made Milton Keynes my home, I wanted to be the Member for that area, and I feel honoured to be given a chance to represent it in the House. I began my speech by paying tribute to my immediate predecessors, but I would like to conclude with a reference to another former Member-Bill Benyon, who is the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and was Member for the Milton Keynes area for 22 years until 1992. Nearly two decades after he retired from this House, he is still remembered with great warmth and affection by many of my constituents as a kind, compassionate and hard-working man who believed in Milton Keynes and did whatever he could to champion this exciting new city on a wider stage. I hope that, in my time in the House, I can achieve a similar record of service.

2.53 pm

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) on his maiden speech-a Scotsman supporting England, hey?

Those are not my words, but the opening salvo in the maiden speech by my predecessor, whom I shall cite more later, on 24 July 1991. Such observations are as
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true today as they were 19 years ago. Although I have only been in this place for a few short weeks, I have already started to take notice of the vagaries of the House. For example, I have noted that when a Member begins a speech with the words "I will be brief", an extensive and loquacious contribution is guaranteed. Similarly, when the words "This doesn't really need saying" are uttered, it is odds-on that an explanation of what it was that did not need saying will be given, in some detail, to those to whom it did not need explaining in the first place.

Mr Speaker, you may well have been able to discern from my accent-if not my haircut-that I am from the home of John, Paul, George and Ringo. However, it is also the home of Gerry Marsden, The Farm and China Crisis-to unashamedly mention just a few of my personal friends. Liverpool boasts too many politicians, musicians, comedians, poets, broadcasters, artists and so on to mention individually. Otherwise, my maiden speech might well have been one of the longest ever recorded.

It is also possible to find a Scouser at every level of our armed forces. One of my constituents, Craig Lundberg, who was blinded in an attack by insurgents in Iraq, is an inspiration to others. Like many Members from all parts of the House, I would like to pay tribute to all those in our armed forces who carry out such dangerous and commendable work on behalf of us all.

I represent a constituency that, uniquely, boasts two premiership football clubs within its boundaries. In our football-mad city, the achievements of Everton and Liverpool have a direct effect on the fortunes of our city. Historically, we have been no strangers to on-field success. However, for one of our clubs it is now fortunes of the financial kind that threaten its very existence. I urge hon. Members to sign early-day motion 197 on the issue, as the Minister concerned previously refused my request for a meeting with the Royal Bank of Scotland.

I should perhaps declare at this point that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Liverpool fan and a season ticket holder at Anfield. However, I would honestly say the same things if Everton FC had been the victim of a leveraged buy-out that had endangered its future survival and caused so many problems for my constituents living in close proximity to its football stadium. England's most successful football club is slowly being drained by the greed of two American asset strippers, and this is having a negative impact on regeneration projects for the whole area. Unfortunately, the beautiful game does not always attract those with beautiful intentions.

One of the great socialist philosophers of the last century-the great Bill Shankly-may have been mistaken when he said that football was more important than life and death. However, supporters of both of our sporting institutions at least understood his passion, and they will not stand idly by without being engaged in the future of their respective football clubs.

The reason Mr Shankly was, uncharacteristically, wrong is that our city unfortunately recognises more than most the life-and-death results of poor stadium safety and ineffective policing-primary causes of the tragedies at Heysel and Hillsborough. I can assure my constituents that I will campaign on their behalf against any plans to water down ground safety standards, and that I will fight tooth and nail to protect the inquiry set up to examine the Hillsborough disaster. I would like to
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thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), on behalf of all the Hillsborough families, for pushing so hard to get the process started.

My predecessor may have been from the blue half of Merseyside, but he was certainly from the politically red half of this Chamber. It is traditional for Members making their maiden speeches to highlight the contributions of their predecessors. Some are faced with the unenviable task of waxing lyrical about a political opponent whom they may recently have put to the electoral sword. Others may have replaced a colleague in controversial circumstances, while some may have been complicit in their predecessor's downfall. I am pleased to say that none of those scenarios applies in my case. Put quite simply, I would not be in this place without the support, encouragement and friendship of Peter Kilfoyle.

Peter will go down as one of the great parliamentarians. He was widely respected in all parts of the Chamber, despite-or perhaps because of-the fact that he was independent of mind and voted with his conscience, sometimes controversially, as on the issue of Iraq, but also in his spirited opposition to the scrapping of the 10p tax rate. Peter's opposition to the Iraq war was not met with universal support on the Labour Benches at the time, but it appears that some of my right hon. Friends who are in the race for the Labour leadership are also now expressing reservations about that policy. As coalition Members will find out, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

In a world of political self-aggrandisement, Peter Kilfoyle sacrificed career advancement for ideological principle. It is refreshing that there are still men and women whose moral judgment and values override the dangled carrot of elevated office. I can only aspire to follow in Peter's footsteps. He dedicated 19 years to the service of this House and to his constituents in Liverpool, Walton. He also achieved his aim of doing justice to his predecessor, the late Eric Heffer, who gave 27 years to the same cause. I certainly have my work cut out if I am to follow two such political giants. I wish Peter's lovely wife Berni all the very best in coming to terms with having him under her feet 24/7.

It is an unbelievable privilege to have been elected by the people of the area in which I have lived all my married life, and I am delighted to represent them in this place. I do not intend to let them down. I am proud to be a Scouser and to represent Walton, where my mum was born. One of the best things about making my maiden speech is that my mum's name, Dorothy Rotheram, will now be recorded in Hansard in perpetuity.

I actually thought I had something in common with the Prime Minister when someone mentioned that he, too, had been brought up on an estate. On further examination, however, I discovered that his estate was not that similar to ours after all. I make no apology for stating on the record that I intend to be a strong voice for the people who elected me to the safest seat in the country, and for the city I love. I plan to be a constant thorn in the side of the present Government, and to ensure that Liverpool is not disproportionately affected by funding cuts, as it was the last time Tories sat on the Government Benches.

Both of my predecessors had connections with the construction sector, and I am delighted to keep up that tradition. I am guessing that I am among only a tiny minority of people in the Chamber who have completed
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an apprenticeship. I started my working life as an apprentice bricklayer, and my son Steven is an apprentice electrician. I am passionate about the building industry and about apprenticeships. The Labour Government breathed new life into apprenticeships, which had been all but killed off by the previous Conservative Government. A high-skilled economy is not just about graduates, and I therefore welcome the Government's road-to-Damascus conversion on that matter. I will campaign for parity of esteem between vocational and academic training routes.

As a serving Liverpool councillor, I would like to put on record my congratulations to Councillor Joe Anderson and my colleagues, and I wish them all the very best in the months ahead. My predecessor concluded his maiden speech by highlighting to the then Conservative Government that unless they took steps to tackle the social issues of the day, they would not be forgiven. Coalition Members should heed such lessons from history.

3.3 pm

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech today and, in so doing, to contribute to this debate on building a high-skilled economy. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), who is fortunate to be able to boast of two premiership football clubs in his home city. Sadly, in Southampton we can no longer do the same. I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who made an excellent contribution, enlightening us on the motto for Milton Keynes and challenging some of the misconceptions that even those who are relatively close to his constituency might have held.

A debate on a high-skilled economy is particularly pertinent to Romsey and Southampton North. In Chilworth, we have the excellent university of Southampton science park, where 14% of the employees are graduates of the university. It contributes more than £370 million annually to the regional economy. I was fortunate to visit one of the companies on the park just this week, and I can certainly attest to the importance of a high-skilled work force, given that they were testing high explosives.

My next comments are far removed from the high-tech world of Chilworth, as I turn to the heart of the constituency, Romsey town, several hundred years ago. On the edge of the town, being renovated this year, is Broadlands-the stately home where the 19th-century Prime Minister Lord Palmerston was born. Broadlands has been described as having a grandness that personifies the swaggering confidence of Palmerston. I can assure fellow Members that there will be no swaggering from me today.

Although Palmerston was born in Romsey, he never served as its Member of Parliament, so I will not pay tribute to him as a predecessor-and anyway, going back to the 19th century would be somewhat stretching the point. He did, however, have an interesting political journey as a Tory, a Whig and, indeed, a Liberal. It is interesting to note that he has been described in some biographies as having too strong a character to be overwhelmed by liberalism.

I would like to pay tribute to two predecessors in the Romsey constituency. Michael Colvin served the constituency of Romsey and Waterside from 1983 to 1997, and the Romsey constituency from 1997 until his
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untimely death in 2000. Michael was a good man, a farmer who understood the rural areas of the constituency well. He was a former Grenadier Guard, and was passionate about championing defence issues. He well understood the military issues relevant to the school of Army aviation in Middle Wallop, and he was also a parish, district and, indeed, a county councillor in Hampshire. As a serving borough councillor in the same district that he served, I can attest to that being a good apprenticeship for Parliament.

Also committed to Romsey was my immediate predecessor, Sandra Gidley. She worked hard for the constituency and was well known for her commitment to the NHS and to women's issues. She is, of course, also well known for having dragged Mr Speaker to his Chair last year.

The recent election saw significant boundary changes, and further parts of Southampton are now included in the new Romsey and Southampton North constituency. It now includes the Ford plant at Swaythling. Southampton is well known as the home of the transit, and Ford is committed to using innovation and technology to make Britain's best-selling light commercial vehicle as green as possible. It has been successful, and its ECOnetic transit has the lowest CO2 emissions in its class.

Even in an area where we are fortunate to have good schools, an excellent university and companies like Ford committed to Britain's manufacturing base, there is still a disconnect between what employers want and the skills of our school leavers. It is critical that the two are matched, and that our education system works with employers to make sure there is no skills gap.

Having a strong and productive work force is about many things, and one of the key strengths of the Romsey and Southampton North constituency is the quality of life and the quality of the natural environment. As a remedy for stress and tension, there really is nothing better than some of the countryside and open spaces in the constituency. If the restorative qualities of the River Test could be bottled, there would be a far reduced need for pharmaceutical products. We also have a small corner of the New Forest national park in the constituency. Although the park and its authority do not come without some level of challenge, it is at least an area where dog walkers and native ponies still prevail.

The River Test, one of the finest trout rivers in the world, runs north to south through the constituency, and it has been appreciated over the years by prime ministers and presidents from across the globe. It has a fine tradition of fly fishing, and a wonderful tranquillity and beauty, which can give amazing solace.

Even in the more urban parts of the constituency, there are pockets of open space that enormously enhance the quality of life. Residents in Swaythling have worked hard to preserve and maintain Monks Brook. One of our local wildlife photographers delights in sending me pictures of adders and slow worms from this tiny patch of countryside right next to the motorway. In Bassett there is the sports centre, Daisy dip and the golf course, and I appreciate how hard the city council works to maintain these areas and secure their future.

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