I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my first speech in the House in this historic debate on the referendums for a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly. Having listened to the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), it is somewhat ironic that I stand here representing the constituency of Stirling. I offer my congratulations to other hon. Members who have made their first speech this afternoon. Before I embark on some comments on the Bill, I should like to make a few preliminary and traditional remarks.
First, I place on record my thanks to hon. Members and officers of the House who have greatly assisted me in the bewildering transition from the outside world. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Ms McKenna), I have been exposed to the undoubted wit of the London cabby, one of whom told me that he did not know how a married woman could make a maiden speech. As we say in Scotland, "He'll ken noo."
I have also been overwhelmed by some of the accolades that have been thrown my way since I was elected some three weeks ago, not least that of being made an honorary vice-president of the Glasgow university shinty club. I understand that my one perk, which I shall of course declare in the Register of Members' Interests, is that I am allowed to play for the team.
I should like to record my own tribute to my predecessor, Michael Forsyth. I have a confession to make. Like many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I suspect, I have struggled to find words adequate to describe the previous Member of Parliament for Stirling. He was a man of many talents, a self-confessed political Houdini, who excited great emotion in Scotland and beyond. He was undoubtedly a consummate politician who rarely shied away from controversy and he pursued issues as he saw them. He also acknowledged the tension in his relationship with many Scots.
Although I do not share Michael Forsyth's political beliefs and regret many of the policies that his party implemented, I recognise that in the House he was an assiduous, diligent and effective Member of Parliament for Stirling. He also had a sense of humour, which, it must be said, sometimes was self-deprecating. Some 18 months before the election he told me that we would both have fun on the campaign trail. I am not sure whether his idea of fun was for me to stand here and for him not to. As an opponent, I found him unfailingly courteous and I am pleased to acknowledge his generous words to me on the morning of 2 May when the result was announced. I wish him and his family well in whatever the future holds for them.
I am also pleased to recognise the debt that I owe to Harry, now Lord, Ewing, who represented Stirling town until the boundaries were redrawn in 1983. Lord Ewing is still remembered by the good folk of the town as a man of courtesy and integrity.
I am privileged to have a number of my constituents here in the House of Commons, including my hon. Friends the Members for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), and for Glasgow, Baillieston (Mr. Wray) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Robertson). I have to advise them now, however, that if they have constituency problems on which they wish to consult me, they can queue up like everyone else on a Friday evening.
I know that I will vie with other hon. Members if I claim that my constituency is one of the most beautiful in Britain, but, in all honesty, Stirling is. It is also an area of deep historical significance. The town that gives its name to the constituency is dominated by the impressive Stirling castle, a fortified rock that goes back into the mists of time. The castle is surrounded by buildings of note such as the Church of Holy Rude and the Argyll Lodges. It is no wonder that the town, which is the traditional gateway to the highlands, is at the centre of an expanding tourist industry. Full credit must be given to the partnership between the Labour local authority and the tourist board for developments in the area.
The constituency stretches over 800 square miles, from Tyndrum and Crianlarich in the north to the villages of Strathblane, Balfron, Drymen and Killearn in the west and onwards to the famous bonny banks of Loch Lomond. It also includes the Trossachs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) said, within the Trossachs is Loch Katrine, which is a monument to Victorian values—the Victorian values that recognised that there was public good in providing a free and efficient water supply to the industrial town of Glasgow. Those are the Victorian values that we should applaud.
As well as being an area of outstanding historical and cultural distinction, the constituency is home to rural communities that are struggling to alleviate disadvantage and communities that are trying to restore hope and optimism for the future. Communities such as Raploch will undoubtedly benefit from the Government's welfare to work programme. The Stirling area also has one of the highest percentages in Scotland of those earning below £2.50 an hour. On behalf of the low-paid in my constituency, I welcome the commitment to introduce a national minimum wage.
I must also note that the constituency contains the small city of Dunblane. That community was visited by such tragedy on 13 March 1995 that it is still difficult fully to comprehend its emotional impact. On behalf of the parents, families and the wider community of Dunblane, I welcome the Government's intention to extend the ban on handguns.
The area in and around Stirling is steeped in Scottish history. Rob Roy McGregor is buried in the village of Brig o' Turk. At Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce defeated the English horsemen of King Edward as they got bogged down in the marsh made even more soggy by Scotland's excellent June weather. Later this year in Stirling, we will celebrate the 600th anniversary of the battle of Stirling bridge, where Sir William Wallace, the one who did not have an Australian accent or blue woad on his face, inflicted yet another defeat on our English neighbours.
We have moved on since then. The area saw so much bloodshed in earlier and more turbulent times as we tried to come to terms with the fact that we all shared this small island. As its democratic representative, I am privileged and pleased to be here to offer my support for the Bill, which will pave the way for the development of a Scottish Parliament. That will be a monumental development in the country's constitution.
I do not expect the current Secretary of State to don a tartan plaid and to put blue woad on his face to lead the yes-yes campaign. In its own way, however, the establishment of a Scottish Parliament is about being brave hearted. It is about recognising the sentiments and aspirations of the people in Scotland to move towards a more modern and decentralised government for this country.
The Scottish people have consistently shown that they do not want separation. The results on 1 May only underlined the fact that the nationalists have lost the 15 general elections since the second world war. The people in Scotland want something different from and better than what the status quo offers them.
My predecessor in Stirling mounted a political campaign and built a reputation as the so-called guardian of the Union. He saw himself as a knight in shining armour who was trying to save the Scottish people from themselves. He challenged the assertion that the Scottish people wanted a Parliament and, with Conservative colleagues, he threatened political mayhem in the new Parliament if subsequent legislation for that Parliament was made on the basis of a general election mandate. They claimed that the aspiration for a Scottish Parliament was more to do with the fevered imagination of Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians than the
settled will of the Scottish people
Well, the Scottish Parliament will be anchored by a distinct positive decision of the people of Scotland. It will be secured by their consent as well as its ability to vary tax. The referendum will give the House the clear unequivocal answer to those who challenge the aspirations of people in Scotland to have greater autonomy over their domestic political agenda. It will further ensure that the new Parliament will not become a political hostage to those who think that they know better. Those people were so woefully out of touch with the Scottish and Welsh people that they suffered complete electoral humiliation on I May.
The Bill will be a springboard to a Scottish Parliament, a devolved Parliament within the partnership of the United Kingdom. It will lift this country's constitution into the 21st century. It will be the realisation of a dream for so many, not least my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. It will strengthen the partnership of the United Kingdom, because it will be solidly anchored by the positive consent of the Scottish people.
A Parliament that has confidence in itself should have the confidence to give away some of its power because it should recognise that its legitimacy and strength come from meeting the aspirations of its people and not by crushing them. I am pleased to offer my support to the Bill.