Thank you for calling me this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I begin by congratulating you on your recent appointment to the Chair. I wish that you may have many years in that office. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson), who has just made a forceful and trenchant contribution to tonight's proceedings. I am sure that he will make a worthy successor to Mr. Jack Ashley in that seat.
Several fine maiden speeches have been made this evening. It was with increasing trepidation that I sat here and waited to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The quality, fluency and style of the maiden speakers who preceded me only increased my terror. I was delighted to hear from the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) about his predecessor but one, Mr. Arthur Davidson. Following his departure from the House, he became the legal manager of Associated Newspapers Group, the publishers of The Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail. As a libel lawyer and a member of the defamation bar, I have been helped in no small way by him to make my way in the world.
I was also delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan) speak with such confidence—a confidence which I cannot claim—when he spoke without notes and with such enthusiasm. Then we had the brave speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan-Smith), which I am sure will be remembered for many years to come.
The Harborough constituency which I have the honour to represent stands at the very heart of England. It is justly proud of its history, its towns and villages and its rolling countryside. The town of Market Harborough, in the south of my constituency, is aptly named. It was given its market by King Henry II in the 13th century. He also gave it the status of town. We still have the market, where sheep and cattle are traded to this day. I am afraid that it is soon to be covered by a supermarket. I am reliably informed that that is progress.
I hope that it will not be long before Market Harborough has a new agricultural market—perhaps just outside the town—so that the links between town and country can be maintained, to the advantage of both.
In 1381, 170 families were listed on the Market Harborough poll tax returns. In 1991, the equivalent list would have contained the names of more than 16,000 souls. I will not, however, pause to consider now the respective views of my constituents and their forebears on the question of local government finance.
The other main centre of population in the Harborough constituency is the borough of Oadby and Wigston, hard by the city of Leicester—fiercely proud that it is not a part of that city, and fiercely determined that it never will be. Oadby and Wigston has every right to be fierce and proud. It is the home of the Tigers—the Leicestershire regiment, which is now part of the Royal Anglian Regiment.
Elsewhere, Harborough is made up some of the finest country in England—undulating farmland, dotted with villages and hamlets, all of them vibrant communities, which play their part in giving the constituency its special identity and in contributing to its diversity. It is a farming constituency, but it also earns its living at home, in Europe and in the wider world, thanks to its textile, knitwear, hosiery and footwear industries, thanks to its engineering and financial services industries and, above all, thanks to the hard work, practical common sense and enterprise of its people.
I am sure that the House will understand that in the Harborough constituency we are looking forward to the reform of the common agricultural policy, which will surely come, and to the resolution of the current GATT round.
I respectfully adopt the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) concerning the powers of the European Parliament and its control of the CAP, and I trust that in due course progress will be made in that direction.
I am fortunate to be the Member for Harborough, but I feel equally sure that for the past 33 years Harborough has been fortunate in having Sir John Farr as its loyal and diligent Member of Parliament. I am sure that there are few hon. Members here today whose parliamentary memories go back as far as 1959. There will be fewer still, on both sides of the House, who know Sir John Farr and who do not remember him with affection and respect. Although recently troubled by ill health and in considerable pain, he never wavered in his duty to his constituents, and he always fought for them, regardless of their politics, with determination and vigour—qualities for which he is famous within the House as he was on the cricket field.
In his maiden speech in November 1959, John Farr warned of the dangers to the environment posed by the indiscriminate use of toxic agricultural sprays. He spoke as a countryman, and as a man with real knowledge of such matters. He spoke of the need to protect our fields, rivers, woods and hedgerows and of the need to protect bird life, insect life, fish life, and indeed mankind, from poisonous chemicals. The modern Green is way behind Sir John, for he was ahead of his time.
In espousing the not altogether popular cause of the Birmingham Six in recent years, he again showed that he was ahead of his time, and that he was fearless in the pursuit of justice for those who were in need of his help. I am happy to tell the House that Sir John is restored to good health and is enjoying an extremely active retirement.
I should like to add my small voice in support of ratification of the treaty of Maastricht. The time has come for us to lead and to shape the future of Europe. I suggest that that is best achieved by working the clay rather than by smashing the pot. We can no longer afford, politically or economically, to treat the European Community and our place in it as subjects unfit for polite society. We must use the Community, and use it unashamedly, to the advantage of our country and of our constituencies. That is certainly what the majority of my constituents want. They will not thank us for failing to complete what my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Chancellor set in hand in December.
On a lighter note, there are few sights more pleasing to my constituents than that of a Frenchman, German, Spaniard, Greek or Italian or any other mainland European decked out from top to toe in English clothes, preferably made in Leicestershire. The person inside those clothes should be well fed on a diet of Leicestershire meat and cheese. I want other Europeans to share that privilege, be they from Scandinavia, Austria or further east in Europe. They will not have that privilege if the Bill is not passed and we are sidetracked into fruitless and mind-numbing arguments by centrists across the channel.
I suggest that not to ratify now would unravel all that has been achieved at an intergovernmental level and outside the agencies of the Community. Not to ratify now would endanger our justifiably British approach to currency and monetary union, employment law, immigration policy, foreign policy and security, domestic and international. Not to ratify now would also endanger our links with the United States, which are dear to many of us here. Failure to ratify would undermine so much of what we have sought to underpin—our support of the doctrine of subsidiarity.
We stand for the transfer of power away from the centre to the nation states. In delegating power to Europe, as we must do occasionally, we do not abdicate it, but delegate it. We know a little about unravelling in my knitwear constituency—it is not a pretty sight. To pass the Bill is to ensure the orderly development of Europe and, what is more, to reinforce it with the authority of this ancient House.