Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the privilege of making my maiden speech today. I begin by declaring an interest as a solicitor. It is a welcome opportunity to speak in this debate, given that violent crime is of major concern to my constituents.
First, as is customary, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Stephen Twigg. However, I do so less as a matter of custom, and more out of a personal respect for his record of hard work and service to an area we both grew up in and care deeply about. I am sure that his talents will continue to find a prominent place in public life—but with respect, I trust not in Enfield, Southgate.
Before addressing the subject of the debate, I would like to describe the constituency that I now represent as Member of Parliament and the borough that I still represent as a councillor. It is long-established and distinguished, not least by its names. Enfield was literally the end field in the old county of Middlesex. Southgate was the "South gate" to the royal hunting forests.
The words "Enfield, Southgate" are rarely uttered by political pundits without being preceded by the word "leafy". Indeed, the constituency is green, with tree-lined streets, and an abundance of parks and farmland to boot. It is also suburban, in the best sense of the word, straddling the area between London and Hertfordshire. The green belt is the natural check on development and is cherished, particularly by its nearest neighbours in Hadley Wood. It needs, though, to be protected by the vigilant eyes of the active local residents associations and councillors.
The constituency includes Cockfosters, which is where I grew up. Some will know of it simply as being the end of the Piccadilly line, others for its being the subject of adverts for alcohol beverages, and others for more cerebral reasons, since it is the home of Sir John Betjeman and Trent park.
The park has been home to the Sassoon family, prisoners of war and Middlesex university. It is described, rightly, as the jewel in the crown of the constituency. Indeed, Trent park has royal links, being known by locals as the secret childhood playground of Her Majesty the Queen and Princess Margaret. Her Majesty was known to be partial to the chocolate cake cooked by the housekeeper, Mrs. Gubby. Sadly, the recipe has not stood the test of time, but Trent park certainly has. The university is due to submit plans to increase development in the park. I will oppose any plans that inhibit future generations from fully enjoying our wonderful country park.
Another significant part of the constituency is Palmers Green, which is well known not only for being the backdrop to the last Harry Potter film but for Green lanes. The street boasts a diverse collection of shops, small firms, cafés and restaurants and a diverse community. Only this weekend, the active Green Lanes Business Association, championed so admirably by Costas Georgiou, celebrated the vibrancy of the area with a successful shopping festival.
It is now traditional for the newly elected Member for Enfield, Southgate to include in his maiden speech the north circular road, which runs through the constituency. I should choose my words carefully, as I would not want to suggest that this clogged-up artery is the site of any significant movement. It does not so much run though as pass through, and usually its traffic does not even do that. Sir Anthony Berry, in his maiden speech some 40 years ago, and, after him, Michael Portillo, expressed hope that the road would be widened shortly.
Even now, with the London Mayor's latest and inadequate road plans exhibiting in the constituency, there is an unmet need for a full widening scheme properly to tackle congestion. I sincerely hope that this will be the last maiden speech in which this issue needs to be raised.
The constituency still retains its local heritage as a collection of villages—Southgate Green, Oakwood, Grange Park and Winchmore Hill. During the election campaign, it was clear that constituents felt an increasing sense of powerlessness over what happens in their community. They want their local voice to be louder on issues as varied as the proliferation of mobile phone masts and local policing. I wish to amply the voice of Enfield, Southgate. I believe that my role is not to rely on the powers of the state being used on their behalf, but to return those powers to the people who make the real difference.
A true description of my constituency needs to include mention of some fine people who give the local community its strength. Enfield, Southgate is the proud home of the oldest woman in England, Judy Ingamells, who is 111 years old. One of the highlights of the election campaign was to visit Mrs. Ingamells and experience what she says is the secret of her long life: a good sense of humour. Her motto for life will no doubt meet with approval from Labour Members; "Never look back, always look forward." Was she the originator of that motto? Mrs. Ingamells was born during the Administration of Lord Salisbury, has lived through the Administrations of many other great Prime Ministers and still lives in hope.
Enfield, Southgate has many public servants, none more so than Malcolm Hudson, the head teacher of St. Paul's Church of England school in Winchmore Hill, who is retiring next month after 12 years of excellent leadership, backed up by years of distinguished service to education. I have come to appreciate the ethos of service that is displayed by many local people in education, health, transport and the police. The challenge is to provide the necessary freedom and opportunity for these people to flourish, and to enable local solutions rather than their being smothered by the heavy hand of government.
The heart of the constituency is to be found in its voluntary and local associations. Two in particular come to mind, from whose services, respectively, 1,000 people each week benefit. The first is TAB centre plus, situated in Bowes ward in a pocket of deprivation. The local church, under the compassionate leadership of David James, has reached out to its neighbours and its premises provide the base for countless diverse community activities. The second is the well known Chicken Shed theatre company, which has its home in Southgate and has provided theatrical excellence throughout the last 30 years, working with and being accessible and available to a complete cross-section of young people. Both these organisations shine out as beacons in the local community. Neither benefits significantly from state funds, but their strength is the voluntary commitment of dedicated people.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to indulge in a tour of my constituency. Some hon. Members may question how the subject of today's debate could be relevant to leafy Enfield, Southgate. That question was shockingly answered nearly 12 months ago, when a local young man was brutally and senselessly murdered on his way home in Southgate Green. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. Within a mile there have been other murders, serial rapes, stabbings, shootings, an armed robbery and an abduction.
I believe that we will not significantly reduce violent crime until we have seriously tackled drug abuse. I saw for myself during the campaign how drug dealing was openly taking place on the residential streets of Enfield, Southgate. I have been to our local prison, HMP Pentonville, on many occasions; only, I hasten to add, in my professional capacity as a criminal solicitor. I am told by inmates that the prison is awash with drugs. It is apparently easier to obtain crack cocaine and heroin on the inside of prison than on the outside. This madness has to stop.
Tackling drug abuse requires action on many different levels, and I await with interest the Government's review of cannabis classification and trust that good sense will return. For the last 11 years, most of my clients, sadly, have been drug addicts. I have seen the crucial role that strong families play in rehabilitation. When a drug addict is serious about rehabilitation, we need to be ready with a compassionate response. Effective treatment is required, as is practical support for the family.
Reducing violent crime and making our streets safer is the priority for me as Member of Parliament for Enfield, Southgate. I am committed to work with the council, local people, the police, families and other agencies to combat crime and to turn back the worrying tide of drug abuse which is now lapping at our borders and threatening our children.