Adjournment (Summer)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:07 pm on 9th July 1992.

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts , Havant 5:07 pm, 9th July 1992

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye and so make my maiden speech. I follow the conspicuous and eloquent maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry). Mine is very much a valley after his great heights.

I have the honour of succeeding Sir Ian Lloyd, who was the Member for Havant for 25 years. He was a most assiduous and well-respected constituency Member and he was ably assisted by his wife Frances who made a particular contribution to the local work of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Ian was a most distinguished parliamentarian. He was never cramped by day-to-day political argument but always took the long view. In his maiden speech in 1965, he reminded the House of an ancestor of his who successfully introduced a measure in 1693 to denationalise the mines—one of the preconditions for our industrial revolution. It is particularly apt, therefore, that we will be able to celebrate the 300th anniversary of that measure by setting the mines free once more.

Perhaps Ian's influence was strongest in science and technology. It is one of those ironies of political life that, within a few months of his taking his retirement, two measures for which he fought long and hard have finally been implemented. On 1 May, we saw created the Office of Science and Technology, falling within the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Ian had also fought for the creation of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. For a while, it was financed entirely through private spon-sorship, but again, only a few weeks ago, the House of Commons Commission finally voted public funds to support that office. I hope that both measures can be regarded as our tribute to Sir Ian Lloyd on his retirement.

Before the House adjourns, I should like to raise several matters that are of concern to my constituents. Havant stands literally at a crossroads and has done so since Roman times. It stands where the A3 from Portsmouth to London intersects the A27 coastal road. A new A27 was recently constructed. It was intended to bring relief to the area, but sadly it has blighted the lives of many people in Warblington and Emsworth. Its deeply ridged concrete surface produces the notorious A27 roar. When the road was opened, the Department of Transport described the surface as "experimental". It is an experiment which has failed. We in Havant are fighting a battle for bitumen. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) and I look forward to meeting our hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic next week, when we will argue forcefully for resurfacing the A27.

Hon. Members have often referred in their maiden speeches to the sense of community in their constituencies. Havant has its sense of community, too—but perhaps that sounds a trifle worthy or even dull. I assure the House that it is not like that at all. The other week, I had the honour of taking part in the Havant annual town parade, and was preceded by giant Sooty and Sweep puppets, an array of teenage mutant ninja turtles and the south coast's finest Norman Wisdom impersonator. It was a most enjoyable event.

The borough of Havant comprises several distinct communities, and few issues arouse as much emotion as proposals to build on the remaining green land that survives between them. The last thing that we want Havant to become is one long anonymous urban agglomeration. Each part of the constituency, from Hartplain to Emsworth, values its own identity. Waterlooville, for example, is the place where British soldiers camped before embarking to defeat the forces of Napoleonic centralism at Waterloo, that famous battlefield 100 miles south-east of Maastricht. Napoleon, of course, had a notoriously limited grasp of the important idea of subsidiarity—it extended only as far as making his brother King of Spain.

Emsworth used to be famous for its oysters, until a most unfortunate incident at a banquet nearly 100 years ago, when civil dignitaries, local grandees and councillors became extremely ill on eating Emsworth oysters, and I am afraid that some died. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that that is no way to treat local councillors.

There are also the people of Hayling Island, who have taken the sensible precaution of preserving their distinct identity by arranging to be an island. It has rich agricultural land and a very fine beach—one of the 16 in the country to have been awarded the coveted blue flag. It was a Hayling islander who first had the idea of putting a mast on a surfboard, and thus windsurfing was created. I am pleased to say that Hayling remains one of the world centres for that sport.

The names of some parts of my constituency may ring a faint bell with hon. Members who have read their P. G. Wodehouse—Lord Emsworth, Lady Warblington, even the Duchess of Havant. P. G. Wodehouse lived in the area for a time, and parts of it are now immortalised as the titles of upper-class eccentrics in his novels. But my constituents are very far from being characters in a P. G. Wodehouse novel, because, above all, what we do in Havant is make things. We have a concentration of world-class manufacturing firms. We are therefore particularly concerned about the state of the economy.

There is no disguising the recession. Our firms in Havant are going through a difficult time, just like many firms around the country. It is no good gloating over the recession and taking a snapshot of the economy when it is at the bottom of an economic cycle. Instead, we have to compare the full economic cycle—the upswing and the downswing—with the previous economic cycle. That way, we can take a step back and measure the changes in the underlying performance of the economy. We find that a lot has changed for the better in the 1980s. During the full cycle from 1981 until now, the British economy has had an average growth rate of more than 2 per cent. a year. That compares with the previous economic cycle from 1975 until 1981, when we had an average growth rate of a little more than 1 per cent. per year. It is a measure of the conspicuous improvement in the underlying performance of our industry, and I see in Havant the practical evidence that lies behind those statistics.

IBM has a large factory in Havant. Its output has trebled in the past few years. Only the other week, an IBM manager was telling me how his Havant plant could compete with its rival IBM plant in Germany and outperform IBM's Japanese point in both quality and cost control. I asked him how that was achieved and he said that it was because of our more flexible employment legislation. We are now beginning to gain back from the far east the technological lead in computer disc drives which was lost 10 or 20 years ago.

The other day, another Havant firm was floated on the stock exchange—Kenwood. It was created by Mr. Ken Wood, although he was not, as far as I know, a chef. That firm had languished in a large conglomerate, but, after a management buy-out a few years ago, its performance has been transformed. Kenwood's sales have been booming and it is now beating competition from France and Germany. There are many other such firms, such as De la Rue systems, Apollo fire detectors and Colt ventilation systems. They are all at the sharp end of British industry and they are exporting much of their output. The dynamism of such firms lies behind the transformation of our trade performance, with our share of world trade increasing in the past three years, having stablished during the 1980s, after years—decades—of decline.

Several of our exporters in Havant have criticised the performance of the Dutch firm that has taken over some of the short-term insurance responsibilities of the Export Credits Guarantee Department. I have written to my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade about their concerns. Other firms still feel that they do not yet have completely open access to the European market and that we in Britain are more serious about free trade than some other member states of the EC. I therefore welcome the fact that the Government have made completion of the internal market one of their priorities for the United Kingdom's presidency of the European Community.

Havant is a young constituency, so we are very interested in the standards of our schools. Many were built during the 1960s and, sadly, are in need of repair or even complete rebuilding. We are worried that educational planners are so preoccupied with the decline in the number of secondary school pupils that they have lost sight of the baby boom and the increase in the number of very young children. We now have nearly 4 million under-fives, compared with a little more than 3 million in the early 1980s.

In 1998 there will be about 15 per cent. more primary school pupils than in 1984. Therefore, we need to be wary of closing infant and junior schools precisely when we can see an increase in the number of young infants who will soon join them. I shall fight to ensure that changes to our schools proposed by Hampshire county council take account of these trends and the clear wishes of parents and teachers.

Some people ask me why my constituency, which contains Leigh Park, one of the largest council estates in Britain, returns such a substantial Conservative majority. That is the old snobbish assumption that Conservatism is just for the upper crust. One of the best aspects of the count in Havant on 9 April was when the ballot boxes from Leigh Park were opened and we saw the voting papers pouring out, so many with a cross for the Conservatives. It was evidence that the modern Conservative party understands the aspirations of the people on the council estates as well the people on the Bovis estates.

They are people who have bought their council house thanks to Conservative policies. They are people who work in private firms and know that the success of those firms, their jobs and their prosperity depend on a healthy private sector. They are people who care about standards in their schools. They are people who try to bring up their children decently and have no truck with the sociological defences of the criminal. They are people who want more choice in health and education, who want to keep a greater share of their pay packets to spend in the way that they know best. The modern Conservative party speaks for them. I am proud to represent them.