European Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 3:50 pm on 3rd June 2010.

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Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire 3:50 pm, 3rd June 2010

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to give my maiden speech. In this debate we have heard many fine maiden speeches, all of which were well crafted and delivered. In particular, I must compliment Lilian Greenwood on her speech, and declare a vested interest: I am a graduate of one of her area's great universities, the university of Nottingham. I must also admit to having sampled the hospitality of Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem inn on more than one occasion.

I took advice on what the contents of a maiden speech should be, and I was surprised by some of what I heard. I was told that my speech should have all the attributes of a lady's well-cut dress, meaning that it should be long enough to cover all the important points but still short enough to be interesting. I will try to comply with those criteria.

Hon. Members will know that this is the first time for more than five months that this Chamber has been addressed by an hon. Member for North West Leicestershire, following the tragic and untimely death of my immediate predecessor, David Taylor, who, very sadly, passed away on Boxing day last year. I have become aware that tributes to one's predecessor are sometimes given through gritted teeth, especially when the previous Member had sat on the opposite side of the House, but that is not the case on this occasion. Although David Taylor and I often disagreed on what he did, I have always been a great admirer of the way in which he did it. At this time, when we are so keen to rebuild the public's faith in our Parliament and our parliamentarians, we could find few better examples or role models than David Taylor. When David and I agreed, we fought together for the benefit of our constituency-defending Moira fire station from closure, opposing open-cast mining at Measham, and trying to protect the green wedge from overdevelopment.

David Taylor was born in North West Leicestershire, and he lived and worked there. He was unflinchingly loyal to his constituency, and as a result was extremely well regarded by his supporters and political opponents alike. His dedication to his work was unparalleled both in this House, where he was voted Back Bencher of the Year in 2007, and in his constituency. Given all his work against smoking and the dreaded weed, I know that he would be delighted that his successor is a reformed smoker. Our constituency is a far lesser place for his passing, and it is a privilege to be here in his stead.

Hon. Members will recall many column inches being filled in April with speculation about the voting intentions of "middle England", but there was often confusion about exactly whom that referred to. From my perspective, it referred to the people of North West Leicestershire, who are literally based in the very centre of our country; mine is possibly the most landlocked constituency in the country, surrounded as it is by eight other constituencies. North West Leicestershire is at the heart of the new national forest, where many millions of trees have been planted over the past 15 years. That fabulous countryside sits alongside the traditional and gritty mining town of Coalville and the historic market town of Ashby de la Zouch. My constituency's gently undulating countryside is both quaint and picturesque, spanning Newton Burgoland in the south and Cavendish Bridge in the north, and containing the villages of-I shall name but a few-Castle Donington, Kegworth, Moira, Measham, Ibstock, and Swannington, which is in the middle, and is where I live with my wife and children.

However, that description belies a constituency of extremes. My late predecessor experienced many of those extremes. Imagine his surprise in 1992 when, despite polling more than 28,000 votes, he lost the election. North West Leicestershire had the highest turnout that year, with more than 85% of the electorate going to vote. However, David got the rewards for all his hard work in 1997, when he gained the biggest swing against the Conservatives in that election.

In 2007 the pendulum swung again, this time back towards the Conservatives. We had the biggest swing against Labour in the district council elections that year, and on 6 May this year we again witnessed another 12% swing back to the Conservatives. Indeed, the chimes of the mediaeval church at Breedon on the Hill symbolised the bellwether nature of our constituency, which has always gone with the Government. I believe that when the people of North West Leicestershire have had enough of you, they come out and vote and let you know. History proves it. That was always very heartening in opposition, but I assure the House that it is slightly more worrying when I am standing in this position-which brings me back to today's debate.

We are here to debate Europe, and I am delighted to be speaking on that subject because I love Europe. I have travelled extensively through it, at my own expense. Indeed, East Midlands airport in my constituency is our border with Europe and the world. I adore much European cuisine. I admire much of its culture, and I revel in its diversity, but I am not a supporter of economic union. I was an active member of Business for Sterling in the no campaigns. I strongly support the Government's policy of placing a referendum lock on new European treaties, and indeed on anything that would give more powers away to Brussels.

The events in Greece, which spread quickly to Spain and elsewhere, demonstrate the danger inherent in trying to pull together a disparate group of economies and cultures. We need to learn from their misfortunes and hold on to our triple A rating at all costs. I am particularly pleased that all hon. Members on this side of the House, our Liberal allies included, now appreciate that we need early deficit reduction to protect our credit rating. In my first three weeks in politics I believe that I have seen something I never thought I would see-a miracle. I think that we should call it "The Conversion of St. Vince on the Road to Whitehall".

The consequences of not holding on to our credit rating are extremely frightening. Our economy has been run on to the rocks. Had we joined the euro, we would not just be holed below the waterline, we would also be without lifeboats. We have a huge task ahead to rescue our economy and solve the problems of 21st-century Britain. Sadly, we Members of this House, with a few notable exceptions-or should I say extensions; I am thinking of my hon. Friend the Father of the House-are merely "here today, gone tomorrow" politicians. As a result, we must not consider ourselves to be the owners of sovereign powers. We are merely the custodians of power and sovereignty for future generations. Sovereignty is not ours to give away; it belongs to the people who elected us, and to their heirs and successors.

On that basis, I am very pleased to be one of the many Members of this House who fought and argued over many years to prevent the UK from joining the euro. We Eurosceptics have often suffered the disdain of the Europhiles: at times-heaven help us-we have been called "little Englanders". As an Englishman of below average height, representing a constituency in the centre of our great country, that is an accusation that I personally find difficult to refute.

My background is in business. I firmly believe that our country's small and medium-sized enterprises provide the backbone of our economy. If we help them, they will help to get us out of the current predicament that we find ourselves in. It is not just as a politician but also from a business perspective that my views on Europe have developed over the last 20 years. In 1997 we were the fourth most competitive place in the world in which to do business, but now we are a lowly 84th. Much of that is due to regulation from Europe. This cannot continue.

My business has been a major employer in North West Leicestershire for many years, and I want to be a champion of business and enterprise. I shall support the creation of an environment in which public spending is managed more efficiently and the private sector is unshackled from the weight of burdensome EU regulation. I want an environment in which our country can move free from the lodestone of needless red tape, and where we can build for our future by correcting so many of the mistakes of the recent past.

It is a privilege to stand in this House, and to serve the people of North West Leicestershire. I will do my very best not to let them down, and if at the end of my time in this place, however that may come, I am thought of anywhere near as well as my predecessor David Taylor, I will class myself as having done a very good job indeed.

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John Byng
Posted on 4 Jun 2010 10:38 pm (Report this annotation)

Andrew Bridgen says "I love Europe. I have travelled extensively through it, at my own expense. Indeed, East Midlands airport in my constituency is our border with Europe and the world."

It is a pity that he chooses to travel in such a damaging way. Aviation is the most damaging way to travel for both environmental and energy conservation reasons. I hope he will soon grow to appreciate the benefits of rail travel to Europe and perhaps grow to appreciate the benefits of not travelling so much. No doubt his constituency has a good man leisure destinations that deserve his support.

Geraint Jones
Posted on 7 Jun 2010 3:09 pm (Report this annotation)

CC. Geraint Jones
Excellent well crafted First contribution from Andrew Bridgen, we all look forward to many more offerings from himself and his parliamentary colleagues, in the same vein that will deliver much needed common sense management to the affairs of this country.
It would seem that John Byng is a dissapointed supporter of the Enron and Gordon Brown school of Economics.