Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech today. I congratulate Mr. Simon on his first speech, which I found interesting and humorous. I wish him well in his constituency and hope that his wife delivers shortly. Given what he said, I hope that she has a daughter and that he enjoys the experience.
In standing before the House for the first time today, I am reminded of the comment that there are only two things more difficult than making a short address: the first is trying to climb a wall that is leaning forwards; and the second is trying to kiss a girl who is leaning backwards.
Needless to say, it is a great honour and a privilege to be addressing the House and I thank the voters of Billericay and district for sending me here. As we all know, the first duty of a Member of Parliament is to be a good constituency Member and I shall do my utmost to serve the interests of all my constituents, regardless of how they voted or whether they voted at all. I also thank my family and friends in the constituency for all their support, without which I would not be here. In addition, I thank Thalia, my wife, for being by my side for the past 10 years.
I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor. Teresa Gorman represented the Billericay constituency diligently and effectively after becoming its MP in 1987. Essex is known for the independence and entrepreneurial character of its people, and Theresa earned the respect of many by not being afraid to make up her own mind on things and speaking out on what she thought was right. During her time here she championed a wide range of worthwhile causes, including those of small businesses and the self-employed. She battled against trade union closed shops, the Post Office monopoly and the creeping loss of our sovereignty to Brussels and the European Union. Theresa was never afraid to stand alone and challenge conventional wisdom. I am sure that the House joins me in wishing her and her husband Jim all the best for the future.
I am fortunate to represent the Billericay and district constituency. It is a diverse constituency, comprising four townships, broadly one in each corner of the constituency: Billericay, Wickford, Laindon and Pitsea. Each has its own character and sense of community. In the middle is beautiful greenbelt land and green fields, which is part agricultural but includes villages of various sizes, such as Crays Hill, Ramsden Bellhouse, Little Burstead and Great Burstead.
My constituency has some of the most interesting churches and listed buildings in the land. It also has some excellent markets—in Pitsea and Wickford there are always bargains to be had. Indeed, with its four townships, my constituency is a shopping paradise, with its wide range of merchandise for sale and its excellent pubs, inns and restaurants.
As for Billericay itself, the town has historical connections with the Pilgrim Fathers. Christopher Martin, who led the expedition, and his family left Billericay to sail on the Mayflower in 1620. That journey is symbolised in Billericay today by the many references to the Mayflower—for example, Mayflower school, the Mayflower and Pilgrim pubs—and by the numerous small businesses that include the word "Mayflower" in their name. Christopher Martin road is on the edge of my constituency. There are several towns in New England itself called Billericay, and one called Billerica, which is the original spelling. Those men and women were escaping the heavy hand of government, which at that time would not allow people to worship or lead their lives as they saw fit.
I should like to take this opportunity to make the Government aware of one of the key issues concerning many entrepreneurs who live in the constituency today: that is, the rising burden of regulation and taxes on small businesses and the adverse consequences that flow from that for my constituents and for the country as a whole.
One of the main reasons why I am a Conservative is that I believe the relief of poverty should be one of the main objectives of politics. But this can better be brought about if we foster personal freedoms within the rule of law, if we encourage enterprise, and if we allow businesses, especially small businesses, to breathe and thrive. Such an approach will create a more prosperous economy and more wealth from which the Government can take their rightful share in order to help the truly disadvantaged in society.
That will not happen, however, if Government pile regulations and costs on to business, because that will hinder enterprise and, eventually, our ability to help those most in need. Yet this Government continue to make life difficult for entrepreneurs. During Labour's first term, red tape costs increased by £15 billion according to the British Chambers of Commerce. Regulations such as the working time directive, the working families tax credit, the data protection directive and student loan repayment have all contributed to those increased costs. And the burden of red tape always falls disproportionately on small firms. Figures from the Institute of Chartered Accountants show that the cost to small businesses of implementing new legislation doubled in the period 1990-2000. Such a cost is meaningful to small businesses.
As for tax, the Confederation of British Industry has calculated that overall taxes on businesses have increased by about £26 billion since Labour came to power. Examples of that include IR35, the climate change levy and the highest fuel duty in the European Union. The many self-employed in my constituency, and the 3 million across the country, also pay more tax courtesy of a national insurance regime that has become more onerous since the 1999 Budget.
The Conservative party has pledged less regulation, and would exempt small firms from a raft of regulations, including the working families tax credit. We have pledged to abolish IR35, to cut fuel tax, to abolish the climate change levy and to reduce business rates. I believe that we should go further in reducing the overall level of taxation, especially for the self-employed, whose level of income tax and national insurance contributions is far too high. I ask the Government to consider this issue, which is causing concern to a large number of my constituents.
I would also ask the Leader of the House to reconsider the Government's attitude to two further issues that are troubling my constituents, and which also show how the heavy hand of government can adversely impact on individuals and local communities in their daily lives. The first relates to greenbelt and greenfield development. In short, the Government seem determined to force Essex county council to build 5,200 houses a year for the next 15 years. That will put tremendous strain on our already overburdened infrastructure. My party believes that local authorities and local communities should decide on the right level of local development, not politicians sitting in Westminster. I urge the Government to consider that proposal.
The second issue relates to incinerators. There is strong evidence that incinerators emit dioxins, which can cause cancer, yet the Government refuse to match the Conservative party's policy to instigate a moratorium on the building of new incinerators. We believe that they are a health hazard until proven otherwise. Would the Government please reconsider that proposal, as that would help to ease the concerns of many of my constituents?
There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of hon. Members, regardless of party, are here because they want to try to improve society. We differ on the method of achieving that goal. The Conservative party has greater faith in the individual than in the state, believing that politicians can sometimes be the problem not the solution. That is so whether the issue is freeing our entrepreneurs from stifling regulation and costs, allowing our local communities to make their own decisions about greenbelt development and incinerators, giving our local police forces more say in how they police their local communities, allowing our local doctors and nurses, governors and teachers more say in the running of their hospitals and schools, or guarding our country's sovereignty against the unelected politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels.
We must guard against an overpowerful Government who tend to encroach on the personal rights and freedoms of individuals, and instead encourage individual initiative and enterprise, which will benefit society as a whole. I am conscious of my constituency's historical link with the Pilgrim Fathers. I look forward to playing my part in achieving that goal in the years ahead, and hope that no one has to set sail from my constituency while I am the MP.