Maiden Speech

Charles Walker makes his maiden speech in the House of Commons.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) for putting me out of my misery. I have had a long and nervous wait on these Benches and I shall try not to bore the House to tears over the next 10 or 12 minutes, but it will be difficult to follow such oratory.

I have visited the Scottish isles, and regularly go to Islay and Jura. I know that they are in the south, but if the constituency of the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) is as beautiful, he is indeed a lucky man. I have said that I will try not to bore the House, but Conservative Members cannot yet be deselected for making a bad speech. For that, I am grateful.

I follow Dame Marion Roe as MP for Broxbourne. She was well known to the House as a wonderful woman who made a wonderful contribution to the work done here. Her curriculum vitae is three pages long, but merely reading that for 10 minutes would put me in great trouble, so I shall pick out the highlights. She was an Environment Minister when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and was also Chair of both the Health Committee and the Administration Committee. She was also joint vice-chair of the 1922 committee, and I am sure that she would like to be here today in that role.

The most important thing, however, is that Dame Marion gave 22 years of fabulous service to the people of Broxbourne. She is much loved and admired—and much missed. I want to thank her for the great kindness that she showed me and my young family when I was selected to fight the seat. Her husband James Roe, who was by her side for all those years, also deserves my gratitude for his kindness.

I am sure that the House will be interested to hear that Broxbourne is wedged between Essex and London. It is ringed by the M25 and the A10, and I thought that I would break with tradition and give hon. Members a brief tour of my constituency.

Waltham Cross lies to the south. It has a thriving Italian community of 10,000 people, many of whom came from Sicily to work in our greenhouse industry. Indeed, the town is twinned with Sutera in Sicily. It is well known for having an Eleanor cross, raised by King Edward I in 1292. Thirteen of those wonderful crosses were made in memory of the King's dead wife, whose body he trundled around London for 13 days. I hope that he got to us early in his journey, as I imagine that, by day 12 or 13, people would have known that she was on her way at least two days before she arrived.

I turn now to the historic town of Cheshunt, home to Cedars park, at whose gates Charles I was proclaimed king. Unfortunately, the story goes downhill from there. Cedars park was razed to the ground in the civil war, and we all know that Charles I unfortunately had his head cut off. Subsequently, Richard Cromwell, the Lord Protector's son, retired to Cheshunt on his return from his travels, when a new king was in place.

Given the streak of republicanism in Cheshunt, I am surprised that Labour is not better entrenched there. I am glad that it is not, but I should like to take this opportunity to thank my Labour opponent in the election, Jamie Bolden. He is 23 years old, a remarkable young man and a great credit to those on the Labour Benches. I believe that he is a future leader of the Labour party, or a future Cabinet Minister. He fought a hard and clean campaign, and the good-natured running joke in the constituency is that his mum is very proud of him. However, she has every right to be.

We move now to Broxbourne, which straddles the New river. That wonderful river was built in 1650 to take water from the chalk downs into London. It is home to a wide range of wildlife, including kingfishers and herons, as well as enormous pike. I am a very keen fisherman, but the drawback is that one is not allowed to fish in the New river. When I come to the end of my time in Broxbourne—and it might be sooner than I think—I hope on my last day that I might be able to nip down to the river. Many young men and women in my constituency find time to hide under a bridge and try and catch fish. I shall join them, and I shall cheer them on.

Broxbourne is home to a wonderful school that has three stars. It is highly rated by Ofsted and—more importantly—by the children who attend it. Many of them go on to do great and fabulous things. Another school in my constituency, the John Warner school, has just been awarded a charter mark, and students at the Sheredes school this week opened a garden at an old people's home that they had spent their free time repairing and making look beautiful. They are to be lauded for that, as young people make a massive contribution to society. We need to praise them for that, and encourage more people to get involved.

I hope that the House is not too tired with this journey around my constituency, as it is time to get back in the car and visit the attractive market town of Hoddesdon. It has a beautiful town centre that I am afraid needs some work. It could be a fantastic facility for my constituency and the surrounding area. We need to reinvigorate and revitalise Hoddesdon town centre. I shall work with all my colleagues on the town council and in local groups to ensure that we get the right business to go there, and that the town becomes a place people want to visit and spend time in.

The international pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp and Dhome is located in Hoddesdon. It is a major employer in my constituency, and it is at the forefront of finding cures for today's diseases. Again, I look forward to working with the company to bring more investment to my constituency, as I do with Tesco, which also has its headquarters in my constituency.

Last, but not least, is the Cuffley and Northaw ward in the borough of Welwyn Hatfield. It is an extremely beautiful area of rolling countryside and little villages. It is a wonderful part of the green belt and many people from London come to enjoy that part of my constituency. I urge Labour Members to press the Deputy Prime Minister to do a little less building on our bit of the green belt, as the present proposals worry many people.

Despite the leafy picture that I have painted, Broxbourne is not all roses. There are significant pockets of poverty, and we have many of the problems that one equates with London. Despite the best efforts of our schools—we have wonderful head teachers—our young people simply do not do as well as others in more prosperous areas. I urge the Government to work with me and other interested parties to try to improve the performance of our young people and give them the life opportunities that I and so many other Members had. The amount of new build is putting increasing strain on our schools and hospitals. I have parents crying in my surgery because they cannot get their children into any of the schools of their choice, let alone their first choice.

To be a little controversial for a moment, I understand that for every £60 spent by the Government in the north of England, only £35 is spent in my constituency. I do not want to see an increase in tax—in fact, I would like to see taxes reduced—but the cake should be cut a little more fairly. My constituents need good public services, and they need good schools and chances to improve their lives.

I shall conclude with the three things that matter most to my constituents. The first is the protection of the green belt. The East of England regional assembly is a totally unaccountable body, but it is placing hundreds of thousands of houses in the area. My constituents are confused, because 250,000 houses in the north of England are being pulled down—houses that would cost £30,000 to renovate, but £117,000 to replace. I will work with all parties to bring planning back to local people and to make elected politicians accountable for it.

I shall not rehearse the problems that Chase Farm hospital faces. It is a wonderful place where many good people work and we are lucky to have them, but it is in desperate need of more funding. That funding was promised eight years ago, but it still has not arrived. My constituents deserve a first-class health service. After all, they are paying for it. The people who work at Chase Farm deserve to work in a state-of-the-art hospital. My fear is that, if we do not see more investment, we will lose many of those good people and the problems afflicting Chase Farm will only worsen. I would hate to see that happen.

The final issue is crime. We are told that Broxbourne has 84 police officers, one per 1,000 of the population, but there are lies, damn lies and statistics. What with shifts, weekends, holidays, training and sickness, that number is radically reduced. Indeed, on some evenings, there can be as few as eight police officers covering those 84,000 people, which is only one per 10,000. Police stations are shut and calls go unanswered. I have huge respect for the brave men and women who patrol our streets, but we need to give them more support. I cannot go on telling my constituents, as the Government would like me to do, that they have never had it so good, because the reality does not match the rhetoric. We need more policemen and more visible policing before my constituents lose confidence in the service.

This is a daunting place, but I take comfort from the fact that, in the last century, 3,000 Members of Parliament came before me and in the next century, if we still have a Parliament, 3,000 will come after me. Only a very few make a lasting contribution—Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, Margaret Thatcher and, although it pains me to say it, the present Prime Minister, because he will be recorded in history. I have been awarded a tiny walk-on part and I am hugely grateful for that. I hope to be a courageous Member of Parliament who puts his country and constituency before his personal career. Wherever I see unfairness or injustice, I hope to challenge them. Whether I am here for four years or 40 years, I hope that my constituents will say, "He did his best for us, and that is all that we could ask."

1.4 pm

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