Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. First, may I congratulate my colleagues who have already spoken so well earlier in the debate? My hon. Friend James Duddridge spoke with passion and eloquence worthy of his distinguished predecessor, and I am sure that he will continue in that fine tradition. My hon. Friend Mrs. Miller spoke extremely eloquently. Indeed, another of my hon. Friends referred to her inner steel. I wonder, in fact, whether we have another "Iron Lady" on our hands. As could be expected, my hon. Friend Greg Clark spoke with great intelligence and passion. He is widely seen as one of the brightest minds within the Conservative party—indeed, something of an intellectual—and I hope that it is not an impediment to his career.
It is a great pleasure to pay tribute to my predecessor, Richard Page, who represented my constituency of South-West Hertfordshire for more than 25 years. He was renowned within South-West Hertfordshire for his diligence, energy, enthusiasm and good humour. He was a very effective and popular constituency MP. Indeed, on a personal note, I can say that he has helped me enormously over the past 18 months or so since I was selected to fight this seat. He has the rare but not unique distinction of having been elected to the House for two different seats both in by-elections—in Workington in 1976 and Hertfordshire, South-West in 1979. A hit rate of two by-election victories in three years is rather impressive for one individual and compares rather favourably with the aggregate total for my party over a number of years. We will not dwell on that.
Richard brought to the House his enormous business experience. He was a very successful business man in his own right and this was perhaps put to best use as a Minister responsible for small businesses in the 1990s. His success as a business man also permitted him to be in the position to enjoy his hobby of horse racing to a much greater extent in his capacity as a racehorse owner. Indeed, his knowledge of horse racing was also valuable to the House in one or two capacities.
I am aware, however, of one occasion when rather unexpectedly and uncharacteristically Richard missed a vote. He was subsequently asked to explain the reason for this, and he said that one of his horses had fallen into his swimming pool. Whatever happens in my career and whatever problems I may cause my hon. Friends in the Whips Office, I assure them that I will not miss any votes due to one of my racehorses falling into my swimming pool. However, Richard will be an enormously hard act to follow. Certainly, over the past few months, I have met many, many people in South-West Hertfordshire who have been very grateful for all that he has done for them as their MP.
The constituency of South-West Hertfordshire has changed greatly since Richard was first elected in 1979. It has retreated from its eastern boundaries, but advanced to the north, taking in the fine market towns of Berkhamsted and Tring. With all due respect to those areas no longer in the constituency of South-West Hertfordshire and that are now in the constituencies of Hertsmere and Watford, the changes have done much for both the beauty and diversity of my constituency, if not its compactness.
The north of the constituency falls within the splendidly named borough of Dacorum, which is the Latin translation of the Anglo-Saxon word for Danish. The borough contains Tring and Berkhamsted and the villages of Wiggington, Aldbury, Long Marston and Wilstone, as well as the town of Bovingdon and the villages of Chipperfield and Flaunden. They are all splendid places and I am delighted to represent them.
Perhaps the most significant historical event to fall within the area took place at Berkhamsted in 1066 when, following his victory at the battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror continued to advance through the country until the Anglo-Saxon nobles finally sued for peace at the site that is now Berkhamsted castle and surrendered to him, perhaps establishing the tradition of diplomatic surrender to the French that some might say continues to this day.
Towards the south of the constituency we fall within the Three Rivers district, the rivers being the Colne and its two tributaries, the Gade and the Chess, all of which meet in Rickmansworth. The area contains what could be described as the Metroland so beloved by John Betjeman. It includes the town of Rickmansworth, the village of Croxley Green, the area of the Moor Park estate and Chorleywood, where I am lucky to live. It also contains beautiful countryside, again on the edge of the Chilterns, and the pretty village of Sarratt. The area also contains, by way of diversity, the ex-Greater London council overspill estate of South Oxhey. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells how otherwise affluent areas have pockets of poverty. That is certainly the case in my constituency and South Oxhey is one such pocket in which there are real problems with poverty.
Politically, South-West Hertfordshire has been somewhat monotonous because, during its 55 years of existence, I am delighted to say that it has returned Conservative Members—first, Sir Gilbert Longden, then Geoffrey Dodsworth and then Richard Page. However, Labour Members might be interested to know about the area's contribution to this country's history of radicalism. In the 1840s, the Chartist, Feargus O'Connor, established a community in the area of Heronsgate, near Chorleywood, which he rather immodestly renamed O'Connorsville. The community contained 35 workers' cottages and there was an enormous lottery in which about 100,000 people participated, with the lucky 35 families moving to O'Connorsville. The community was supposed to be a workers' paradise based on the principles of socialism and temperance, but my hon. Friends will not be surprised to learn that as so often happens with utopian ideals, it unfortunately all ended rather badly and the 35 families left rather desolate and hungry five years later. It should be pointed out that during those five years, a public house was established, which was splendidly named "The Land of Liberty, Peace and Plenty", to which inmates could escape for a glass or two. I am glad to say that that still stands and is an excellent public house.
There is much that is good about South-West Hertfordshire and I am pleased and deeply honoured to represent it, but it has its problems. It has problems with crime and antisocial behaviour and I know of serious incidents over the past few weeks in South Oxhey, Croxley and Chorleywood. We have high-value houses, but that means that we have a worrying problem with affordable homes. However, we would strongly resist the proposal made by some of building all over the green belt. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke rightly pointed out the importance of protecting our communities and the green belt.
We have good and popular schools, but they are consequently often over-subscribed, which means that local children are unable to attend local schools. I shall certainly campaign to represent their interests strongly. There is a threat of cuts to our hospital services and in the past few days we have learned more about the financial position of our local hospital trust. I know that I speak for several colleagues when I say that I have great concern about the future of health service provision in Hertfordshire—we certainly have our worries in South-West Hertfordshire.
I shall turn briefly to the Bill. Several hon. Members have spoken passionately and eloquently about the worries that we all have about loan sharks and the exploitation of the weak and vulnerable. There is cross-party agreement on the basic thrust of the Bill, which I certainly share. Much has been said today about lawyers. I, too, was a lawyer, although thankfully I never advised a great deal on the detail of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. I use the word "thankfully" because that Act is notoriously complex and difficult to get one's head round. However, I occasionally advised on the one simple aspect of the Act: the £25,000 limit, which means that most of the Act's provisions do not apply to loans greater than that amount on the grounds that the principles of caveat emptor should apply to anyone who enters into such a loan.
I am conscious that that £25,000 limit is going in principle, although I note that there are two important exemptions. The first is loans to individuals for business purposes. That is a highly valuable service. I have on a number of occasions advised firms that want to perform that task and they would not want to go through the process of licensing. That is an important consideration. The second exemption relates to high net worth individuals, which I understand is a new concept with regard to consumer credit. I am sceptical about how well that provision will work. Having given advice many times on the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and its financial promotions regime, which has a similar exemption for high net worth individuals, I know that the exemption has not worked well over the past three years. In certain limited circumstances, it is being reformed in the context of the 2000 Act, and I shall be interested to see how that works out.
Although I accept the reason why the £25,000 limit is going, it is a pity, if only for the sake of the poor lawyer who does not have a detailed understanding of the 1974 Act, because it will make it even more complex for us to advise on. However, I appreciate that claiming sympathy for lawyers is not a particularly useful activity in the House. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]
On a broader point, much though I appreciate the direction that the Bill takes and although there is much agreement between parties, we must always be careful about overregulating. The Prime Minister made a similar point when he referred to the Financial Services Authority in a speech only last week. Regulation can take us so far, but only so far. To outline a personal philosophy, which broadens the point even more, Governments cannot solve every problem. What can solve problems—what is good for society—is giving more power to individuals who have the energy and enterprise to go back to the name of the public house from the mid-19th century to obtain a land of liberty, peace and plenty.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak, and I thank the House for its indulgence in listening.