Orders of the Day — Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:05 pm on 22nd May 1997.

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Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Liberal Democrat, St Ives 6:05 pm, 22nd May 1997

Yes, indeed.

Perhaps the Conservatives are now reconsidering their traditional opposition to electoral reform in those nations. A number of speakers have already ably argued that.

The general election marked the retirement of the former Member for St. Ives, David Harris. I was delighted to pay him a warm tribute when the result was announced and I am pleased to have the opportunity to repeat it today. Many people know that he retired in tragic circumstances. He was regarded with warmth and deep respect by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Since my election to the House, I have had conversations with older, long-standing Members and their respect and warm regard for him has come across strongly. He was a hard-working constituency Member of Parliament, and he will be remembered in the constituency as a gracious and honourable man. I offer him my best wishes for his future.

There are many parallels between the St. Ives constituency and the other Celtic nations mentioned today. The constituency stretches from the most southerly point of Great Britain at the Lizard to the Land's End peninsula and across to the Isles of Scilly. It includes St. Michael's Mount. Even with the important towns of Helston, Penzance, Hayle, St. Ives, St. Just, Porthleven and Marazion, it is a largely rural constituency. It is, of course, renowned for its scenery, its beaches and its occasional sunshine. Its traditional industries of farming and fishing are still very important to the area. Unfortunately, the last two mines at Geevor closed 10 years ago.

The constituency is well known as a holiday destination. I would wager—and this is not an offer of cash for questions—that the whole House would agree that west Cornwall and Scilly are among the most attractive places in these lands.

Alongside—or, perhaps, despite—the beauty of the area, however, Cornwall is becoming renowned for its poverty and deprivation. It has had the lowest wages in the country and among the highest levels of unemployment anywhere. Even while unemployment was allegedly falling in other parts of the country, it was and still is rising in Cornwall. It is an area that has suffered a great deal of deprivation and faced enormous problems. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), came to speak to some of the workers at St. Ivel because the closure of the factory will have an enormous impact on unemployment in the area. It is an issue on which I shall be working hard in the coming weeks and months.

The area also has a deep-seated housing problem for local people, with high levels of second-home ownership hand in hand with high levels of homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.

Like Scotland and Wales, Cornwall is known for its strong sense of belonging, of community and of place. If the total contribution of our existence on this planet were to measured purely in the profit and loss accounts, Bills and debates such as this would be pointless and there would be little point in defending the interests of places such as Cornwall. If a national audit were all about measuring the value of pride, despite the depths of adversity Cornwall and Scilly would be one of the most wealthy places in these islands.

Even now, there are pressures on all places—especially Cornwall—to lose their identity and pride. To paraphrase, Matthew Arnold once said that it is inevitable that a centralised kingdom will work to render its dominion homogeneous. That is what I think the debate today is all about; it is to keep the differences and to celebrate and encourage the diversity in this land.

In the case of Cornwall—and no doubt Wales and Scotland—a place that was once so distinctive is under threat of becoming indistinguishable from everywhere else. But whether or not one was born in Cornwall—and this no doubt applies to Scotland, England and Wales as well—many people come to the area and recognise its importance and strength. They get involved in the local community, which we welcome. It is a broad and welcoming community, which celebrates diversity within it as well as diversity in the nation as a whole.

Of course, the Cornish character is deeply egalitarian. If someone gets a little bit uppity, the Cornish are always swift to put him in his place and delight in doing so. Therefore, as a Cornishman born and brought up in the constituency—I have worked there and my wife is from there—I am immensely proud to have been elected as the constituency's representative. It is a great honour to be its Member of Parliament. There is nowhere else on earth that I would rather represent.

During my travels around the constituency, both before and during the election, I met a large number of people. Early in the campaign, a cousin of mine came up to me and said, "Well, I don't suppose you could do worse than that shower." I guess that by "that shower" he was referring to the Conservative Members sitting to my right. By Cornish standards, it was praise indeed; by my cousin's standards, it was the highest accolade known to man. Such is the level of accolade in Cornwall.

When touring the constituency during the election, I would try to stop and chat to as many people as possible. I would often be greeted with, "Yeau Pard, woz on eh?"—which translated means, "Good day my very good friend and most esteemed colleague. How on earth are you? Please tell me what has been going on in your life lately, if you don't mind me being so bold as to ask." It loses a lot in the translation. One conversation that I remember well at St. Just not so long ago went, "Where have you been lately?" The answer was, "I've been off on a world tour." "Well," he was asked, "where exactly have you been?" The reply was, "Well, I have taken in Trewellard, Pendeen, and Botallack."

With Cornish people—no doubt it is the same countrywide, especially in Scotland and Wales—there is always a self-mocking irony and a dry sense of humour. But there is also an intense stoicism, which is often needed to survive the problems of living in an austere environment and poor economy.

My first impression on coming to the House was that it seemed so far removed from the real world of west Cornwall. I have come here to represent that area, not to be drafted in to represent the chosen party in Cornwall. That is an important point that needs to be taken on board. It is what I am determined to do.

Cornwall, like Scotland and Wales, has accepted second best for far too long. The passion and fire of Michael Joseph in the past needs to be rekindled today for the future. There is a fire for a new beginning; there will be new hope. We need a new start and we are making new demands.

During the campaign and the march to London, demands will be made: for recognition of Cornwall's special cultural, historic, linguistic and constitutional status; the case for a Cornish Assembly; the overwhelming case for a powerful Cornish development agency; the desperate need to establish a university college in Cornwall; and the case for a fair deal for Cornish residents on water bills, housing, economic development aid, policing and education.

While Scotland has the West Lothian question, which is constantly answered in various ways, Cornwall has the Trelawny question: And shall Trelawny live or shall Trelawny die,There's 20,000 Cornish folk who'll know the reason why. I believe that we will ensure that Trelawny will not die. That is what our party believes. I shall be working to persuade hon. Members that Trelawny must not die in the months and years ahead. Cheers.