Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this great opportunity to speak in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs. Miller on a very passionate speech—indeed, she used the word, "passion". I also congratulate my hon. Friend Greg Clark. Those Members who were listening carefully will recall that he mentioned his love life—he said, "I have fallen in love with Tunbridge Wells." If I may be bold and slightly controversial in suggesting an affair, I ask him to find room in his heart to come and speak in Southend, a town with which I am sure he will also fall in love.
I follow in the footsteps of Sir Teddy Taylor. Teddy and his wife Sheila welcomed Katy and me to the area with open arms and have always been there offering a helping hand. Our friendship is no doubt assisted somewhat by the fact that we share a passion for protecting the sovereignty of this Parliament and the United Kingdom from all who attack it.
Teddy served the constituencies of Southend, East and what is now called Rochford and Southend, East for some 25 years. Before that, he was the Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Cathcart. In total, he was a Member of Parliament for 40 years, having first been elected in 1964. He has the respect of everyone in the constituency, from every walk of life and political party. He also served the country in the Scottish Office and subsequently as shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. He was and will continue to be a force in British politics and a great character. As I said, Teddy was first elected in 1964, before my parents had even met, let alone when I was a twinkle in their eye. I shall not try to replace Teddy, either in the Chamber or in the constituency. Apart from anything else, I cannot do the accent.
I trust that the House will indulge me while I give an overview of the constituency. Rochford, to the north, is a long-standing market town, which has excellent architecture and is rich in history. It lies in Rochford district and Essex county council. Rochford district also boasts the lovely villages of Great Wakering, Little Wakering and Barling. Foulness Island, at the most easterly point of the constituency, was home to the Ministry of Defence and now accommodates QinetiQ, which tests munitions for our armed forces. The island represents half the constituency in size but contains only 179 voters.
By contrast, Southend-on-Sea is much more densely populated. Our home is only a few minutes from the water, with wonderful views across to Kent and out to the ocean. We have a pier—the longest pleasure pier in the world. We also have award-winning beaches. It is a truly wonderful place. On a warm summer night, with the tide in, there are few better places to be than on the front, enjoying the sand, the sea and a plethora of other activities. With new, larger hotels being built in the area, it will doubtless be an excellent place for political conferences, especially for the smaller parties.
Southend is not all sea and fun—we have a serious side. We have a vibrant education sector, with excellent grammar schools throughout the constituency and throughout Southend. In addition, the university of Essex, where I did my degree, has an expanding and welcome presence in Southend.
The constituency also has its challenges. I especially want to mention two broad challenges. The first involves infrastructure and the second funding for our services. There is a problem with congestion for traffic heading from east to west and west to east. I would support work to widen the A127 and any measures to speed up traffic along that road. I would also welcome an outer relief road, although I am cautious about supporting specific proposals. Any outer relief road cannot be at the expense of building on the space for residential use. Rochford and Southend have unique charms and I would not want the areas to merge into one. Alas, once relief roads are built, the land within them becomes indefensible.
I want to refer to the funding of local services. Like many seaside towns, Southend has a different set of priorities compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. The seaside brings people into the area in their later years, which puts a particular strain on the health service budget. Lower cost accommodation means that authorities near London send asylum seekers to be accommodated in the area, although the local council gets no additional funding for the secondary costs of those populations. I look forward to working with colleagues in all parties to ensure that the unique problems of seaside towns are tackled as sympathetically as possible.
My hon. Friend Mr. Amess recently raised the problem of funding for Southend council with the Local Government Minister in an Adjournment debate. There are several causes of the funding crisis, but I want to highlight the main one, which was raised in the debate and is a matter of constant dispute in Southend. The dispute centres on the assertion by the Office for National Statistics that there has been a massive reduction in Southend's population.