At the outset, however, I wish to pay a warm personal tribute to my predecessor, Christopher Hawkins, who served High Peak so well for the past nine years. He was a man of tremendous intelligence and many new and good ideas. Perhaps in a way that is less normal for a politician, he was much more interested in obtaining results than in obtaining publicity for them. He did an enormous amount for High Peak, which has earned him the great respect of people there and for which he will long be remembered. Fortunately, he is now enjoying much better health than when he decided to retire and I am delighted that his skills and talents will continue to be used as deputy chairman of the Black Country development corporation, continuing the good and important work of my noble Friend Baroness Denton.
In the few short weeks I have been in the House, I have already become extremely well aware of the immense affection also for Christopher Hawkins' predecessor, Spencer Le Marchant. None of us will ever forget that, in the early days of the broadcasting of proceedings of the House, it was Spencer's voice that told the world and a hushed and expectant nation the result of that important vote of confidence in 1979. It was those words which we now know spelt the end of socialism in Britain, which was so clearly confirmed by the results on 9 April this year. However, I must advise hon. Members not to expect from me the largesse of Spencer Le Marchant—obviously not in physical terms, nor also, for the sake of my bank manager, in terms of his legendary generosity.
I should like to express my thanks to two other people who, over the past couple of years, have given me a unique opportunity to see the workings of the House and Whitehall and to play an extremely small and minor part in the development of policy. They are my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and John Moore, who I am delighted is now rejoining Parliament in another place, to whom I was special adviser. At the risk of embarrassing my right hon. Friend, I could not have hoped to work for two more honourable, decent. far-sighted and fair men. I rather suspect that I learnt far more from them than they ever might have done from me.
That was certainly a far cry from the days when I first came to work in the House 10 years ago as a humble researcher for my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) in one of his many previous incarnations in the House. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend in the Chamber today. He paid me the princely sum—or whatever his equivalent would be of a princely sum—of £10 a week. I must have been one of the first people to realise, despite many other signs to the contrary, that my hon. Friend was already an ardent supporter of Thatcherite housekeeping principles. At that time I also worked for Peter Fraser—now my right hon., noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate—who paid me no money at all. Only in retrospect did I realise what sound judgment both must have had.
My first election campaign, in 1983, took place in Clackmannan. Contrary to the impression gained by some of my colleagues, I had not applied to stand at Clapham but, having stuttered, ended up 400 miles away in the middle of Scotland! There I learned the importance of brevity. When I asked my agent why he had scheduled no public meetings for me, he said, "Well, Charles, it is better that people wonder why you do not speak than that they wonder why you do."
I want to draw attention to a number of issues relating to High Peak. Listening to the excellent maiden speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House, I was slightly surprised to note how few of them had been there. If they had, they would have had to be satisfied with representing the second most beautiful constituency in the country.
High Peak is a constituency of unique and wonderful contrasts. It combines the rolling valleys of Hope Valley and the charming villages within it with the foreboding splendour and magnificence of Kinder Scout. It combines the majesty of Longden dale with the breathtaking beauty of the Derwent valley; and it incorporates towns such as Buxton—a magnificent Georgian town—with the industrial heritage of the manufacturing centres of New Mills and Glossop. It contains a variety of small towns such as Chapel-en-le-Frith, Whaley Bridge and Hayfield—delight-ful little places—and a host of small villages rejoicing in such names as Dove Holes, Sparrowpit and Wormhill. I have yet to find out why the birds in High Peak live underground while the worms apparently do not. Anyway, it is an area of tremendous contrasts, and it is a delight and a privilege to represent it.
High Peak, however, is not merely an area that people wish to visit; it is much more than that. In many ways, it provides the lungs—the breathing space—for Manchester and Sheffield, being less than a dozen miles from the centres of both those great cities. I simply do not believe that the people of a rural area such as High Peak can claim that the problems of those cities do not matter to them. We depend very much on them; many of my constituents work in them, and are making an important contribution to their revival.
High Peak contains problems as well as opportunities, and it is on those problems that I wish to comment. The first is the problem of access. In the past year, some 24 million people have visited the Peak district, which makes Blackpool seem like a minor resort. The road infrastructure that they have used has scarcely changed in the past 40 years, and we now experience tremendous problems of traffic clogging in places such as Glossop, and on the A628 to the north of that town. Those traffic problems urgently need relief: on weekday mornings the rush-hour traffic is as bad, as slow and as frustrating as it is in any city in the country. Towns such as Buxton also need a bypass if they are to enjoy the growth that they deserve. In places such as Dove Holes, a bypass could be built simply, cheaply and rapidly. I hope that the Government will consider the possibility of building roads in those areas.
Because High Peak is an area of such outstanding natural beauty, I hope that the Government will also pay particular attention to the environmental impact of those roads. The A6 badly needs relief as it is seriously clogged, but it would be a tragedy if that relief destroyed the environment that people wish to visit. I hope that the serious concern felt by people in New Mills will be taken into account.
I also wish to raise the general issue of conservation. Buxton is one of the brightest jewels in the shining crown of High Peak. It is a magnificent Georgian town, and we are fortunate enough to have one of the country's smallest and most special opera houses. Owing to the diligence of those who run it, the opera house has one of the most successful records in the country: it manages to put on new productions that people actually want to see and, more important, it does so with a fraction of the subsidy given to other opera houses. Buxton's subsidy is 27p per seat; the average for similar theatres is more than £3. So, for less than 10 per cent. of the average, people are being looked after and have a tremendous asset.
Next week the international Buxton festival will open, which will bring people flooding into the town not only from the surrounding area but from all over the country and from overseas. Sadly, this year visitors will be shocked by the state of the magnificient Georgian crescent in the centre of the town. It is boarded up and derelict, posing an increasing danger to people passing through the town who visit it. I urge my right hon. Friend to contact his colleagues in Government to find out what can be done by bringing together people who could assist in the restoration of the crescent. I am encouraged by the way in which High Peak borough council, Derbyshire county council—it is rare for that council to be praised—and English Heritage are working constructively together to secure the future of the crescent. but I also urge the Government, through the Secretary of State for National Heritage, to do whatever they can to assist.
In spite of those few problems, we are fortunate to live in High Peak. I invite those who do not live there to come to the festival, or to see something else at the opera house. I consider myself the luckiest Member of the House, because I can be in Westminster during the week and in my constituency in the Peak district for the rest of the time. If some attention could be paid to the small matters that I have mentioned, High Peak would become an even more attractive place in which to live and work, and a more attractive place to visit.