First, let me congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on being in the Chair. I have the distinction of being the first hon. Member whom you have called since you took up that office, and I wish you well.
It is a moving experience for any hon. Member to come to this place and make a maiden speech. I hope that it will not cause offence if I claim to have perhaps greater justification than most for being moved on this occasion. It is 30 years since I first visited this place and that visit was the genesis of my ambition to become a Member of Parliament. Since I was 12 years old, I have longed to be able to come to the House of Commons and, in trying to realise my ambition, I have fought five general elections. I think that that was matched by Madam Speaker, who had to fight many general elections before she came here to represent West Bromwich, West. I hasten to add that I do not covet the Chair.
The priceless privilege of becoming a Member of this place was given to me by the men and women of Thurrock. My constituency has a long river frontage which stretches from the boundary with London at Purfleet round to East Tilbury. It has a wide variety of geography and industry. It has agricultural areas, but predominantly it has riverside industries. I regret that the port of Tilbury was recently privatised, just prior to the general election. However, I have told the new management that I hope that it will consider me a friend of the port of Tilbury because I want to see it thrive in the competitive market that it faces. My constituency has two power stations and a heavy industrial sector along the river frontage.
My constituency also contains many good men and women of Essex who, I believe, have been unfairly criticised in the popular press as being somewhat insensitive people. I can testify that the men and women of Essex, and particularly of Thurrock, are deeply caring people who wish to see the best public services and the most caring society that can be established in the United Kingdom for their loved ones, their families and for other people. That is evident to some extent by the fact that they voted for the Labour party at the general election.
In all seriousness and if I may be candid, on the morning of 10 April, no doubt like many of my colleagues, I received a great shock and a grave disappointment. I confess that I was feeling greatly down and I almost tried to find out how to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds after the great surprise and disappointment of the election result. However, I was sustained by my wife and family who have encouraged me throughout my political activities and by friends in the Labour party and the trade union movement to whom I pay tribute today.
Many of us received an uplift, however, when we came to the Chamber to elect Madam Speaker, and I shall remember that occasion as long as I live. It was an historic occasion, when the House of Commons was at its best. The fact that the outcome of the debate was uncertain added to the interest and historic nature of the occasion. I am proud to have been in the Chamber when Madam Speaker was elected and I need not apologise for the fact that I believe that the election of Madam Speaker gave me and my hon. Friends a great lift.
I wish now to follow a long-established tradition in this House and to say some nice things about other people. I welcome that tradition and I am pleased to refer to Mr. Tim Janman, who was my predecessor as Member for Thurrock. By his own definition, he was a member of the radical right. According to his lights, he prosecuted that belief with vigour and during his time here he was a diligent Member of Parliament. I wish to refer also to two other predecessors—Dr. Oonagh McDonald, and the late Hugh Delargy who died within the precincts of this place in 1976 and will long be remembered here and in Thurrock as a very fine constituency Member and a great parliamentary character.
I have fought five general elections and have always had good relations with my opponents. I fought Sir Nigel Fisher, the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), on two occasions in 1974 for the seat in Surbiton. I fought John Moore in Croydon, Central and the new Minister for Health, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), who, on a personal level, I have been able to wish well, although I have given him notice that I shall do battle with him on a number of issues relating to my constituency.
It is fair that I should also refer today to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I believe that the Labour party owes him and his wife an immeasurable debt. I believe that, in time, the country will also recognise that debt. My right hon. Friend has done a great deal to provide and promote a loyal Opposition in Parliament and I deeply regret his notice to resign the office of Leader of the Opposition. By July 1 hope that the press will be able to say honest things about him—something which the press has avoided for many years.
The tradition is that one does not trespass into hard political issues in a maiden speech, but there are one or two things in the Gracious Speech that are directly relevant to my constituency. The Gracious Speech claims that the Government will promote quality in the national health service. Unhappily, many of my constituents will find that somewhat surprising and cynical. We have had to endure the closure of the accident and emergency department at Orsett, which has resulted in enormous queues and long waiting times for people in pain and anxiety at the alternative accident and emergency department a long way away in Basildon.
If I have been charged with one thing by my constituents it is to press the Secretary of State for Health, the local health authority and the new trust to remedy a wrong perpetrated on my constituents 18 months ago by the closure of that accident and emergency department. That decision was extremely foolhardy, it is causing my constituents great pain and anxiety, and I intend to press the Government about that at every opportunity.
The Gracious Speech also refers to the privatisation of some rail services. When I referred to my constituency, I omitted to mention the fact that my constituents have to endure the so-called misery line between Fenchurch Street and Southend via Tilbury. That line is a scandal, with clapped out rolling stock and signalling. No privatisation or other Government action can alter the fact that there must be a major injection of public funds if there is to be a proper rail service for my constituents and others in south Essex. I give notice to the Treasury Bench that I intend to raise that issue at every opportunity.
The Gracious Speech also refers to improving industrial relations. Two things flow from that Government claim. First, the Government intend once again to attack the trade union movement. No doubt they believe that that is a fine and macho thing to do, but there is a danger that the Government will greatly diminish the opportunity of individuals to have their basic rights at work protected. Those rights have already been eroded and the few residual rights against unfair or arbitrary dismissal will effectively disappear if such legislation reaches the statute book.
Secondly, dockers were dismissed at Tilbury during the last Parliament. They followed the correct procedure of prosecuting their case at an industrial tribunal. They won at that tribunal and were awarded reinstatement and compensation, but the port of Tilbury and the Port of London Authority have not complied with those orders of reinstatement. It is a travesty of justice for the Government to claim to be paragons of virtue in promoting the rule of law. I challenge them to legislate to ensure that people will have their industrial tribunal awards implemented swiftly. I do not believe that they will do so, but the Secretary of State for Employment really must address that point as it is a matter of natural justice.
The Prime Minister referred to the widening of the European Community, and specifically referred to the admission of Poland into the Community by the end of the decade. I welcome that. However, Her Majesty's Government are not doing enough to help people in the former states of central Europe to promote their fragile democracies and economies. In my time in the House, I shall try to raise their interests, too. It is a scandal that people in Poland must wait and almost beg for visas for admission into the United Kingdom for legitimate reasons —in particular, students of English. Again, I hope that the Government will tackle that issue with some expedition —to right a wrong.
The Government have won four general elections in a row. They must now consider, as Opposition Members consider, the need to reflect on how democracy in the country and in the House can be extended and promoted. I consider the existing voting system to be indefensible. I go no further than that. I have an open mind on alternative systems, but I hope that the House will reflect upon the need urgently to consider whether we should have an improved voting system at the next general election.
We must also have regard for the need continually to ensure that this place checks the Executive. I was concerned to read in the press that there could be some shilly-shallying or delay in setting up Select Committees. As a new Back Bencher, I hope that there will be no delay and that Select Committees will be set up with the utmost expedition. As Back Benchers, it is our duty to check the Executive. That is an important weapon at our disposal to promote the best interests of our constituents.
Hon. Members could be complacent about our democratic institutions. I hope to play a small role as part of a loyal Opposition. I have said how disappointed I was on 10 April, but I repeated to myself over and again part of Winston Churchill's maxim, "in defeat, defiance". I intend in my small way to contribute to promoting a loyal Opposition to criticise, cajole and expose the deficiencies of the Executive and prepare, I hope, for a general election in perhaps four years' time when it will be our turn to form a Government.
Hon. Members need to be certain that our institutions are continually updated so that we promote and speak on behalf of our constituents. There could be complacency, but I hope that there is not. I am reminded of the words of Lord Hailsham, who referred to the dangers of parliamentary dictatorship. I hope that hon. Members, and in particular Conservative Members, will have regard to that point. We must ensure that our Westminster traditions are continually updated so that democracy can be promoted and sustained in the United Kingdom. I am privileged to have the opportunity to participate in that process over the next four years.