Economic Affairs and Work and Pensions
Damian Hinds (East Hampshire, Conservative)
Thank you for allowing me to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is an enormous privilege to address the House for the first time. The trepidation that I had already has been greatly enhanced by having to follow so many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members.
I begin by expressing my appreciation for my predecessor, the right hon. Michael Mates. On his election in 1974, as MP for the then Petersfield constituency, he was about the age that I am now, but he had already served Queen and country for 20 years in the Army. He went on to serve in the House for a further 36 years. His well deserved reputation as a champion of the people of East Hampshire and his service as a Minister of the Crown and as a Select Committee Chairman cast a very long shadow, in the penumbra of which I stand rather hesitantly today. If ever, in this House, I can be half as good as he was, I shall be not half bad.
I very much hope to emulate Michael Mates's long and close relationship with the people of East Hampshire, and there are many people whom I have the privilege to represent now who have been transported into my constituency, courtesy of the Boundary Commission, having taken no decision of their own to do so. They have been served well by my right hon. Friend Mr Arbuthnot. The House will be familiar with his exemplary service and so I shall not affront his modesty now. Suffice it to say that I aim to ensure that the residents of Bordon, Liphook, Grayshott, Selborne, Headley and Headley Down will not be found gazing wistfully across the constituency boundary. I shall do my best to serve them as well as they have rightly come to expect.
The constituency of East Hampshire is England at its very best, with its varied and enchanting landscape, historic market towns and many beautiful villages. One such village is Chawton, where Jane Austen found such inspiration and created most memorable characters and images that show our country at its most cherished. But that tranquillity has at times been rather violently disrupted. Should I ever require a reminder of the need to remain in harmony with my constituents, it is there in the bullet holes in the door of St Lawrence's church, close to our family home in Alton, for that was the site of the civil war battle of Alton. On that occasion, it took 5,000 parliamentarians to match up to the local men.
Today, East Hampshire is, I am pleased to say, once again a harmonious place, but challenges still exist. We need houses that local people can afford, but we need to resist the sort of overdevelopment that can spoil the character of an area. It is vital to provide jobs locally and to keep the micro-economies of our towns and villages vibrant for our local heart and soul. Looking forward, the opening of the Hindhead tunnel, the various options for the future of Bordon and the advent of the South Downs national park all present both new opportunities and new challenges.
In my constituency, particularly in Bordon, we are proud to be home to so many who serve in our armed forces. They are a constant credit to our nation and our commitment to them in this House must measure up to their commitment to serve our country. I welcome the Government's pledge to renew the military covenant and I look forward to seeing that as a priority in the business of the House.
After the defence of our country and our security, perhaps the biggest battle we face is ensuring that we further define and bolster Britain's place in the new world economy. As the new powerhouses of China, India, Russia and Brazil loom ever larger, we must rise to the challenge they set. Fundamental to that must be ensuring the very best education for every child to enable them all, regardless of background, to fulfil their potential. That is a theme that many hon. Members have touched on already. Striving for excellence is not just about bringing all up to scratch or setting the bar at an acceptable standard. It must be about encouraging all to stretch themselves, from wherever they start, to be all that they can. That should be true both for schools and for the students in their care. In education, as in industry, when people feel ownership, empowerment and responsibility, they are much more likely to go the extra mile and make a success of their venture-hence the great attraction of the academy model, even for schools that are already very successful.
Those same principles need not mean going it alone, as they can extend beyond the school gate, with schools working in partnership with others. In my constituency, the 44 schools and colleges already work co-operatively, choosing to pool resources in the pursuit of shared goals. The potential advantages of that kind of approach are manifold. It can enable smaller village schools, which we value very highly in my area, to derive scale benefits that they otherwise would not have. It can provide new stretch opportunities for particularly gifted and talented youngsters, and also a forum for governors to share best practice.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has outlined bold plans to help tackle the problem of people being trapped in the welfare system, but I am sure that he would agree that even better than cure is when we can go for prevention. The oft-quoted number of NEETS-people not in education, employment or training-is such a bland statistic, but it masks so much wasted potential. It is often said, too, that one can spot the people likely to end up adding to that statistic from a very early age. That is too often remarked on, but too rarely acted on.
We must have ambition for all our young people, and the pupil premium that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is putting forward will be a big part of that. I hope too that more areas will follow the model of the East Hampshire Partnership, for which a key focus is identifying the people who may be at risk of falling into that group, and working together across the age groups for their benefit.
Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for allowing me the chance to speak.