Orders of the Day — Consumer Credit Bill
2:38 pm

Photo of Greg Clark

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells, Conservative)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. "Do well, doubt not" is advice that any maiden speaker in the Chamber should take to heart. It is also the motto of the borough of Tunbridge Wells, the major part of which I have the great honour to represent here. Tunbridge Wells is a strong community, and I feel fortunate to be able to represent it. My constituency comprises not only the historic spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells. It includes Southborough and High Broom, which is even older, and was home to the first Jewish Member of the House. It also contains Paddock Wood, which started off as a small agricultural settlement and has grown into a lively town in its own right.

My constituency also contains some of the most beautiful villages in the whole of England, from Groombridge and Speldhurst in the west, right across to Lamberhurst and Goudhurst in the east. Those beautiful villages in the heart of the high weald countryside are the source of great pride to visitors and residents alike.

Next year is particularly auspicious for Tunbridge Wells, as it is the 400th anniversary of the discovery by Lord North of the Chalybeate spring, which marked the foundation of the town. Lord North's physician opined that the waters of Tunbridge Wells could cure "the colic, the melancholy and the vapours, that they could make the lean fat and the fat lean". For any politician, a place that can cure the melancholy, the colic and the vapours is surely a very good place to choose to live, and I am pleased to do so.

The quality of life in my constituency is among the best of Britain. One of the jewels in the crown of my constituency will be at the heart of those celebrations of our 400th anniversary—the Pantiles. For Members who do not know it, the Pantiles is the Georgian colonnade par excellence. It contains shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, all of them independently owned and run. In a context in which the high streets and town centres of Britain are accused of being clones of each other, the Pantiles and the High street in Tunbridge Wells are the stunning exception to that rule, and I invite Members to visit if they have not done so previously. I shall do everything that I can to promote such pieces of our national heritage, which is very important.

Our quality of life extends beyond the Pantiles, and is prized particularly in our residential communities and villages. That is not to say, however, that we do not have our problems. Because our quality of life is so high, my constituents are rightly concerned to keep it that way. The rise in antisocial behaviour, graffiti, vandalism and car crime troubles my constituents, and I have pledged to them to work hard with the local council and police to take a tough line for the good of all people in my constituency.

In many senses, the worst thing about Tunbridge Wells is leaving it. I say that because the roads in our area are abysmal. I will press Ministers to turn their attention to that, and particularly to the A21 and the much-needed bypass at Colts hill, which is a notorious accident blackspot. The Kent Messenger has been running a strong campaign to get that bypass funded. Those are crucial developments, and I hope to ask Ministers to support my campaign for such improvements.

Although the springs of Tunbridge Wells are famously efficacious, we do need first-class hospitals in my constituency. A new one is about to be built at Pembury, and my concern is that the poor state of the roads, and the glacial progress towards dualling the A21, as my hon. Friend Charles Hendry knows, might impact on the opening time of that new hospital. I am particularly concerned about the decision to refer that upgrade to the South East England regional assembly. I hope that Ministers will reassure me that that does not presage a permanent delay in that project.

Many people make the mistake of assuming that Tunbridge Wells is uniformly and universally affluent. That is not the case. We have areas of deprivation in my constituency that are the equal of many other parts of the country that are more associated with deprivation. Our problem is that because our average level of income is so high, we often do not get the specialist help and support that we need, and I am concerned that my constituents who most need help lose out in that respect.

That is one of the reasons that I was keen to catch your eye today, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I know from my experience during the election campaign of the impact of worrying levels of debt in my constituency. I remember distinctly canvassing in an area called Showfields in Tunbridge Wells, and as I knocked door to door, a debt collector followed me almost house for house. I do not know whose visit was the more unwelcome, although we were certainly keeping pace with each other. I am concerned that we should take care of our vulnerable communities, even those in a relatively affluent area such as Tunbridge Wells.

It is a great privilege, and also a pleasure, to pay tribute to one's predecessor in a maiden speech. I want to mention two very distinguished predecessors, Archie Norman and Lord Mayhew of Twysden.

I have known Archie Norman for some years as the most candid man I have met in politics. I first encountered Archie when I was appointed director of policy for the Conservative party. I sent him a piece of work for approval, and he sent back an e-mail consisting of three words: "Hopeless, start again". But I can take that advice from Archie Norman, because I know that he has a clear mind and rigorous judgment, and is someone who always speaks the truth. I hope that my party will have occasion to take his advice in the months and years to come, as I certainly hope to do personally.

Anyone who has worked with Archie will know that he is kind and generous, and enjoys a great deal of affection as well as respect. That respect is very palpable in my constituency. Canvassing in Tunbridge Wells makes it very clear that Archie—as he is universally known there—has a reputation for being a particularly effective constituency MP. The bypass that has just opened at Lamberhurst could well be named the Archie Norman memorial bypass, and the hospital at Pembury also has a great deal to do with his ministrations.

The other former Member of this House to whom I want to pay particular tribute is Lord Mayhew, perhaps better known to hon. Members as Sir Patrick Mayhew. Lord Mayhew still lives in my constituency, and continues his community service to this day. At every flower show I attend, it seems, Patrick Mayhew is presenting the prizes. When the Royal British Legion march, Patrick Mayhew will be leading the procession. If I go to a fundraiser for the excellent local hospice, I can be certain that Patrick Mayhew will be leading the charge. I am always absolutely delighted to see him. If when I turn up at such events—as I hope I will for many years to come—I am greeted with the same delight as that with which my constituents greet him, I shall consider myself to have done my job very well in this place.

Lord Mayhew also had a high reputation in this place, and will keep it, as the man responsible for beginning the process that led to relative, if sadly not absolute, peace in Northern Ireland. In so doing he conducted himself with great dignity, and occasioned great disruption to his life and that of his family as a result of the security threats that that entailed; but he took it with characteristic good grace and humour. I have heard it said that he once thanked his bodyguards most sincerely for being prepared to give up their lives to protect his. One of the guards who was pretty sanguine about his responsibilities responded immediately: "Oh no sir, we are here to get the one who gets you." I am very privileged to have Patrick Mayhew and his wife Jean as my constituents. They are loved and respected in Tunbridge Wells, and I know that that will continue for many years to come.

Three weeks ago in the Chamber, we heard an excellent response to the Queen's Speech from Vera Baird. In that speech, she described her motivation for entering politics. She said, in particular, that she wanted to help children from the old steel town of South Bank in her constituency to take up the opportunities available to them. She was not to know at the time that sitting in the Chamber for the first time was a product of South Bank. South Bank is the town where I went to comprehensive school, and where my father, like his father before him, was the local milkman. I am keen to associate myself with the sentiments that she expressed. It goes to show that a commitment to come into politics and help in the work to give opportunities to everyone in our society is not the preserve of one political party, but an ambition in the House generally, as I think our presence on both sides of it demonstrates. I am grateful to be in the same House as the hon. and learned Lady.

The key to improving the life chances of people in my constituency, in South Bank and indeed throughout the country is maintaining strong communities. Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding villages is a set of strong communities, and I am very grateful and honoured to be chosen to be their voice. Voluntary groups, in profusion throughout the constituency, are doing fantastic work, and parish councils are working tirelessly for the good of their villagers. Our local newspaper, the Kent and Sussex Courier, has been awarded this year the national community newspaper of the year award, reflecting its place at the heart of our community.

It is important that we build up the trust that we place in our local communities. On issues such as planning, we do not trust our local people enough. I want to use my time in this House to transfer some powers away from it—and, indeed, away from Ministers—and to local people in my constituency and others.

You will probably have discerned from my remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have fallen in love with Tunbridge Wells and its people. It is very easy to succumb to that. There is an old saying that "Travel broadens the mind", but whenever I do travel these days I have cause to call to mind the final line from that great film "Lawrence of Arabia": "On the whole, I wish I'd stayed in Tunbridge Wells."

Annotations

Ray Jones
Posted on 7 May 2006 10:03 am (Report this annotation)

In response to your maiden speech last year, and absence of comments to date, I enjoyed its mixture of common sense, courtesy towards much respected
predecessors in your seat and am in general agreement with your sentiments - even tho' I did not vote for you.

Ray Jones.

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