I start by paying tribute to Alison McGovern for her excellent contribution, and to my hon. Friends the Members Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) and for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) for their excellent maiden speeches.
I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to take part in today's debate, as I stand here making my maiden speech on my 39th birthday. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] I had to think about that this morning-exactly how old I was. I am filled with a great sense of honour and pride but, most importantly, a feeling of determination to ensure that I do not let down the residents of York Outer, who have put their trust in me, and that I represent them to best of my ability over the coming years.
York Outer is not the catchiest name for a new constituency. However, one thing that the name cannot take away is the huge privilege that I have in being the first MP to represent this new seat. York Outer is a ring around the city of York, taking in all the villages and communities on the edge of our great Yorkshire city; in essence, it is a doughnut seat, I think the only one in the country. I realise that I am going to have to watch my weight over the coming years, as the connotations could be a problem.
Representing a new seat means that I have a number of distinguished predecessors to whom I should like to pay tribute, two of whom are still serving in the House and two who have retired. I start in no particular order, with the former Member for Ryedale. John Greenway was a very hard-working, extremely well-liked Member of Parliament who started his political career as a local councillor in North Yorkshire county council. He had a fantastic grasp of local issues affecting Ryedale. I have been knocking on doors campaigning for the past four years, and this phrase greeted me on many occasions when discussing local issues: "The support we've received from John on this issue has been fantastic." He will be sorely missed in the House.
I also have the great privilege of having my hon. Friend the newly elected Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) as one of my predecessors. Anne gave me tremendous support during my time as a local councillor in the old Vale of York constituency. As a local farmer, I pay tribute to her tireless work and support for local rural communities and agriculture. I know that that work will continue over the years, and I am delighted to see her back in the House.
The former Member for Selby represented the southern area of my new constituency from 1997. John Grogan and I have a number of things in common. First, we are both born-and-bred Yorkshiremen, and exceptionally proud of it. Secondly, there is our support for Yorkshire county cricket. I must pay tribute to all the work that John did to try to keep test match cricket on terrestrial TV. Thirdly, there is his great dedication to his local community and constituents, highlighted by the number of committed Conservative voters who would tell me, "I've never voted for John, but he's been a brilliant MP." I hope that over time committed Labour voters will say the same about me, or might even vote for me. This is probably where the similarities end. However, John's independent spirit, friendly approach and support in the House for our great county of Yorkshire will be sadly missed.
Last, but by no means least, I must pay tribute to Hugh Bayley, who is now representing the centre of the York Outer seat. It is a great privilege for me to be making my maiden speech with you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker-thank you very much. Hugh represented City of York from 1992, taking over from Conal Gregory. Hugh's respect and experience in the House, and in York, has been built through his dedication and work for his constituents. He has championed several causes over the past 18 years, serving on the International Development Committee and being the chair and founding member of the all-party Africa group. I am delighted to see him appointed as Deputy Speaker, albeit on a temporary basis; the fact that he has got this position certainly underlines the high esteem in which he is held in the House. Given the links between our two seats, it is important that, on certain issues, politics is put to one side and we work together by putting the issues of our great city above party politics. I know we will be able to do that.
York is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring cities of our country. It is steeped in history, has stunning architecture, is surrounded by beautiful countryside and offers a charming and wholehearted Yorkshire welcome. I know that I sound like a representative of the York tourist board, but I count myself extremely privileged to live on the edge of such a great city. I cannot think of a better place to bring up my young family and it is a great honour that I now have the opportunity to put something back into my local community.
From the urban fringes, such as Dringhouses, Woodthorpe and Rawcliffe, to the more rural towns, such as Haxby, to the villages, such as Strensall in the north and Elvington in the south, Dunnington in the east and Rufforth in the west, one thing that all the different communities have in common is that they make up this new seat and they all see York as their main centre and a provider of essential facilities.
With that in mind, I would like to raise a number of issues that impact on my constituency. Investment in local infrastructure in and around York is crucial to its long-term success. Local transport is a classic example of that, from a poor road network and the infamous York northern ring-road, which is becoming permanently gridlocked and slowly strangling our city and is affecting future business investment and putting current businesses under threat, to our disjointed rural bus services and the need to access future rail halts.
Sadly, for too long the previous Government have short-changed our region on transport funding and our local council has not had the vision to put forward a long-term plan that can take our city forward. It has opted for short-term solutions to an ever-worsening problem. Such a situation has to change and I will pursue the matter in Parliament over the next few years.
A further issue is the threat to the green belt around York, which has been brought about by the top-down approach of planning targets imposed on this House and on the City of York council. I am delighted to see that Her Majesty's great speech included a Bill to devolve a large number of powers to councils and neighbourhoods, and to give local communities control over housing and planning decisions, therefore enabling York's green belt to be protected for future generations.
With respect to today's debate on European affairs, I must confess that I have a rather personal connection to all things Europe. My father, Robert Sturdy, is a Conservative MEP and, given that it was under his watchful eye that my passion for politics flourished, I shall always have a keen interest in European matters, if only to allow me to hold my own at the dinner table, where things can get quite heated from time to time.
On a more serious note, I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in this debate and raise one of the key issues that was constantly brought up on the doorstep during the election campaign. That issue is, of course, the previous Government's abject failure to fulfil their long-standing pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. The previous Administration's decision to deny the people of this country such a vote was, frankly, a devastating blow to those who care passionately about the sovereignty of this House. Indeed, I feel the decision not to fulfil the promise of a referendum further damaged public trust in our politics and politicians. I therefore welcome the new Government's determination to improve political accountability, openness and transparency.
Europe has always been a contentious issue and I am sure that will continue to be the case here in Westminster. However, I can assure the House that, back in York Outer, a sizeable majority of my constituents seem to share my concerns about the recent transfer of power from Westminster to Brussels. To put it simply, I firmly believe that we cannot allow any further erosion of powers from this Parliament without allowing the public to directly express their will on such important constitutional amendments.
As such, I welcome the European Union Bill that was set out in the Queen's Speech last week. The Prime Minister is right to ensure that the people of this country are granted a referendum before any future treaties that hand over powers to the European Union are approved by Government. The Government should seek to be a proactive, positive and friendly partner in Europe, particularly when it comes to promoting British business and trade. In other key areas, too, the EU has the potential to be a force for good as we tackle global poverty and the rise in global competitiveness, and get to grips with global climate change.
Britain should play a full role in ensuring that the EU's voice is heard loud and clear on an increasingly diverse global stage. However, we will not be able to play such a role unless the boundaries and limitations of the EU are clearly drawn. The public need to believe in the worth of the EU and, in my view, that will happen only when we strengthen and protect further our own democracy here in Westminster.
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