First, let me pay tribute to Paul Blomfield for his wry and measured contribution.
I remember reading many years ago that an august former Member of this House once said that one's maiden speech was the easiest speech that one would ever have to make in the House of Commons. Standing here now, I suspect that I speak for a few people who were in the same position earlier this evening when I say that that former hon. Member had a very singular interpretation of the word "easy"; because although this is a tremendous honour, it is also terrifically intimidating. I can therefore tell the House that nobody is looking forward to the end of my speech more than I am.
I shall say a few words first about Tamworth and then about my predecessors. Tamworth is an ancient town whose history stretches back to when England was formed. It was founded in 874 by King Offa, who built the dyke to keep out the Welsh. Sadly, his defences did not extend to keeping out the Danes, who came and burned the town down a few years later. The townsfolk were not daunted, however. They picked themselves up, got themselves together and rebuilt their town. That did not commend itself to the Danes, who promptly returned and burned it down again. It says something about the resilience of the people of Tamworth that they did not give up. They built their town again, this time with the help of the Normans, who built a castle to protect it. The castle is still standing, and the Danes never returned. Ever since that time, through the reign of Edward II, when the town received its charter, and the reign of Elizabeth I, when it got another, to the age of Peel, when Tamworth played host to the launch of the Conservative party with the Tamworth manifesto, the town has been at the heart of England. It has been part of our national history and identity.
Sadly, not enough people know about Tamworth's history. When I tell people that I come from there, they say, "Ah, yes. The Snowdome!" or "Ah, yes. The Tamworth Two! The escapee pigs that caused such a furore during the BSE scandal eight years ago." They do not mention Peel or the Tamworth manifesto. So I hope that when the Secretary of State for Education introduces his education proposals, he will ensure that history is set first and foremost in the teaching of young people, so that they can learn much more about Tamworth and the Tamworth manifesto, and a little less about the Tamworth Two.
Let me now say a few words about the issue at hand. Education is an extremely important subject in Tamworth. We have suffered for many years as one of the poorest-funded local education authorities in the country. That sets children in Tamworth apart; they start at a disadvantage. We need to even up the opportunities for young people there, which is why I welcome my right hon. Friend's invitation to head teachers to apply for academy status, and his proposal to lift the burden of bureaucracy off the backs of teachers and to give them more power. Only if we give head teachers more power and more money to spend on their schools as they see fit, and only if we give teachers the time and the space to teach, which is what they want to do, will we drive up educational standards and improve the morale of the teaching profession.
But it is not just a question of improving education; it is also a question of providing job opportunities. The Government need to get the burden of bureaucracy off the backs of businesses, so that they can grow, prosper and create new jobs. In that way, the children who are now leaving school in Tamworth can be employed and build their own prosperity. I hope that, when the Government introduce their great repeal Bill, the Secretary of State for Education will use all his artistry and eloquence to prevail upon his right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister to focus not only on civil liberties but on the promotion and preservation of business liberty. I want to see a bonfire of red tape, so that businesses in my constituency-such as Forensic Pathways and Alcon-can grow and prosper, and employ and reward more people. Personal prosperity is the best guarantee of liberty, and I hope that the Government will take that on board.
I should like to say a few words about my predecessors. Tamworth is an old constituency, and it has had a long line of great-sometimes rather colourful-Members of Parliament. In the 18th century, our Member, Sir Thomas Guy, built our almshouses before going to London to build his hospital. Peel, whom I have already mentioned, was a great Member for Tamworth. He founded the police force, reformed our penal laws and emancipated the Catholics. He also repealed the corn laws, thus enshrining free trade as a fundamental principle of the Conservative party. He was a great statesman who represented Tamworth. Incidentally, he also had the county boundary of Staffordshire moved so that his house fell within his constituency. Now I do not suppose that the modern Boundary Commission would be quite so accommodating to any such request I might make, which I suspect is the price we pay for progress.
More recently, as some Members might remember, we had Sir David Lightbown-a Member much loved in his constituency, but much feared in the passageways of this Palace. My hon. Friend Peter Luff reminded me that that was true, to his own cost, some years ago, when Sir David, a Whip of some considerable stature, picked him up by the lapels to remind him which Division Lobby he was meant to be going into that night.
My immediate predecessor was Brian Jenkins, who held the seat for 14 years, in which time he worked hard to put his constituents first and foremost. During the six years I have been a candidate in Tamworth, I have never heard a bad word said about Brian Jenkins, who I think genuinely demonstrates that an MP does not have to sit on the Treasury Bench or be a great orator or firebrand like Mr Skinner in order to be a good parliamentarian. Brian Jenkins served his constituents conscientiously and quietly for 14 years. If I can work as hard for them as he did, I will reckon myself a good parliamentarian.
It is a great honour to stand in this spot where Peel must have stood close by. I said at my count just a month ago that it was the honour of my life to be sent here by the people of Tamworth, and so it is. I feel that honour acutely tonight, and I hope that, however many speeches I make, however long I am here, however many brickbats get thrown up from this or that side, I will acutely remember that honour.