European Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:24 pm on 3rd June 2010.

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Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Conservative, Wyre Forest 2:24 pm, 3rd June 2010

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to make my maiden speech as the new MP for Wyre Forest, and I also thank Michael Connarty for his contribution.

As I look around the House, I am very much aware of the fact that Members will have just come back from tough election campaigns, where candidates will have been getting stuck into each other in order to get elected, yet in Wyre Forest the campaign could not have been more gentlemanly. It steadfastly adhered to a political version of the Queensbury rules, and that is entirely due to the nature of my predecessor, Dr Richard Taylor. Richard was famously elected as an independent in 2001, trying to save Kidderminster hospital from down-scaling and the closure of the accident and emergency department. Although he may not have achieved everything that he and his party set out to do all those years ago, his political achievements have become a byword for people power. The term the "Kidderminster effect" is now used to describe political curiosities, and he is already described in modern political textbooks as an example of how the traditional party system can be broken when constituents feel strongly enough about a specific local issue. While Richard's local achievements may not have been as huge as hoped for in 2001, he has proved two things for modern politics: that Governments ignore the views of the electorate on local issues at their peril, and that when it comes to important local issues, people are a lot more politically minded than we imagine.

Richard follows in a long line of interesting politicians in Wyre Forest, including former Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and the hugely charismatic Gerald Nabarro, but Wyre Forest also has many other interesting sons, including the 17th-century Puritan preacher Richard Baxter, who set up his ministry in Kidderminster in 1641. Also from Kidderminster was Sir Rowland Hill, the inventor of the modern postal system-someone whose legacy Members are reminded of every day as they collect their post bags from the House of Commons post office. More recently, and no doubt of interest to Members who grew up in the '60s and '70s, Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant is still an active member of the local community.

Comprising the three towns of Kidderminster, Stourport-on-Severn and Bewdley, as well as the outlying rural communities, Wyre Forest is a community that is both historical and fascinating. Straddling the river Severn, its earlier history is based on trade along the river. The town of Bewdley used to be an important trading port, part of which is mentioned in the Domesday Book, while the main town received borough status from Edward IV in 1472. This, of course, is the town that Stanley Baldwin lived in and from which he chose his title: Earl Baldwin of Bewdley. Downstream from Bewdley lies the Georgian town of Stourport-on-Severn, created as a port where the river Stour joins the Severn, but made much more prosperous by the building of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. The canal basins and locks now form a stunning central focus for the town.

The biggest town in Wyre Forest is Kidderminster. Also mentioned in the Domesday Book, Kidderminster was granted a borough charter in 1636 by King Charles I-a former, and unfortunate, visitor to this House. Kidderminster is, of course, known for its carpet industry, which was started by the Brinton family in 1785. This has been the main driver for the local economy until recent times, and indeed there are still a number of successful carpet manufacturers based in Kidderminster and Stourport. So significant to the local economy was-and to a lesser extent still is-the carpet industry, that the local newspaper, The Shuttle, was named after the shuttle that forms an integral part of the looms used in the weaving of carpets.

The modern economy is more diverse, however, with manufacturing ranging from design and building the undercarriage for heavy earth-moving equipment to-slightly surprisingly for land-locked Worcestershire-the manufacture of luxury ocean-going yachts, and from forging parts for motor car components to the cutting-edge design and manufacture of rocket motors.

Taking advantage of the outstanding local beauty and our fascinating local history is the impressive local tourism industry, which includes both the West Midlands safari park and one of Europe's finest heritage steam railways, the Severn Valley railway. Both represent significant tourist draws for the west midlands, and provide important diversions for my three children.

More recently, Wyre Forest has undertaken a comprehensive review of all the schools in the district, as a result of which the former three-tier system has changed to a two-tier system. That process has included a major rebuild and investment from Worcestershire county council. Worcestershire is a wave 6a Building Schools for the Future authority, and the proposals are to rebuild four of our secondary schools: Stourport high school; Wolverley Church of England secondary school; Baxter business and enterprise college; and King Charles I school. The proposals also include the provision of a new special school for two to 19-year-olds and the refurbishment of Bewdley school and sixth-form centre. The BSF programme has been signed off this year by the Treasury, so although I have no reason to believe that the rebuild will not go ahead as planned, I cannot understate the importance that this investment will have in Wyre Forest, where there is a need to deal with issues relating to certain pockets of local deprivation. These areas will benefit immeasurably from this investment.

On the wider issue of per pupil funding, Wyre Forest, as part of the Worcestershire education authority area, suffers from being near the bottom of the per pupil funding league table. That means that a school the same size as Kidderminster's Baxter college would receive more than £3 million per year more to do the same job if it were located down the road from here, in Tower Hamlets. Of course we recognise the increased costs associated with being in the centre of London, but are they really that much higher? I hope that the proposed pupil premium for disadvantaged pupils will help to redress the imbalance, but I seek a move towards a fairer funding formula for Worcestershire schools.

I was keen to speak in this debate on Europe because I feel that we can learn many positive things from our European partners, including lessons from Sweden on school provision. I am frequently asked where I stand on the issue of Europe, and my answer is that I am neither a Europhile nor a Europhobe, but a Euro-realist: I feel that we are where we are on Europe. As someone newly elected to Parliament, I deplore the creeping nature of legislation that comes not from this place but from Brussels. I welcome the coalition's proposed referendum lock, and I will always stand firm against joining the euro.

When I consider whether we should be in or out of Europe, my first instinct is to examine how it will affect the people of Wyre Forest, and whether my constituency would be better off if we came out of Europe. I remain open-minded and could be persuaded otherwise, but my instinct is that Wyre Forest's economy stands a far better chance in the future if we stay in Europe, taking advantage of the trading opportunities available, which we talked about earlier.

I look forward to serving the good people of Wyre Forest not just in this place but locally in the community, where I intend to spend my time working with the business community, trying to attract more opportunities locally and tackling low local wages and rising unemployment. The man of the moment back in 2001, when the hospital was threatened, was always going to be a doctor, but in 2010, when we have rising unemployment and a doubtful economic outlook, I look forward to using my experience of business, investment and economics to work hard for the people of Wyre Forest to tackle the crucial issues facing us all.

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