European Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 3rd June 2010.

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Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover 5:03 pm, 3rd June 2010

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech, and to speak up for the people of Dover and of Deal. I congratulate my hon. Friend Gareth Johnson on his excellent maiden speech, and on his passionate and trenchant defence of the Dartford crossing. He and I share an interest in, and a concern about, the selling off of our nation's assets. I also congratulate Members on both sides of the House who have made their maiden speeches today. The list has grown too long for me to name all those Members, but all their speeches were excellent, and I believe that they all have a great future in this place.

It is traditional to congratulate and celebrate one's predecessor in the constituency. I pay great tribute to Gwyn Prosser, who was an excellent hard-working Member of Parliament, well known by Labour Members. He was also a very loyal and diligent Member of Parliament, who took up the causes and concerns of the people of Dover and Deal. When what I used to think were simple problems, easily solved, suddenly landed in my lap, I found that they were less simple and less easily solved than might have seemed the case outside this great and august House. He was a very fine Member of Parliament, and he will be a hard act to follow.

I understand that it is also traditional to talk about one's constituency and its history. We in Dover are, of course, used to visitors. One of our earliest recorded visits was in 55 BC by Julius Caesar; he caught an early ferry from France and came to Dover. In those days border security was quite good-would that were still the case-and he was unable to make a landing at Dover because warlike tribesmen were going to see him off. Instead he went down the coast a few miles-to Deal and Walmer, it is said-where he landed and did the customary European thing in those days: proceeded with an invasion. Having made some progress with his invasion, he then dispatched a communiqué back to Rome. This is what he said:

"By far the most civilised inhabitants are those living in Kent, a purely maritime district".

Well, Dover maritime is very maritime-and, we like to think, very, very civilised. While we are disappointed that Julius Caesar made war upon us, we forgive him a bit because of his very communautaire approach in talking so nicely about us to his capital city.

European relations have continued in this vein ever since, in war and in peace. In Napoleonic times the channel fleet was stationed off the coast of Deal. The long historical link between Deal and the Royal Marines was forged, too. As Members will know, we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo, the glorious retreat from Dunkirk. Our white cliffs came to symbolise a nation's struggle to survive-a nation's struggle for sovereignty and the values of liberty, democracy and freedom that our nation upholds. As Member of Parliament for Dover, I know that I carry a heavy responsibility to uphold those vital values.

Dover paid a heavy price for being in Hellfire Corner. We lost a beautiful regency town, and we are still waiting for regeneration to this day. I have said to my electors that my hope is that with investment, jobs and money, the gateway to England can once again become a jewel in the crown of our nation. This is my hope. I want it to be my life's work, and I hope we will achieve it and succeed.

Other things come out of our history of being the gateway to England and the border of our nation. The first of them is concern: concern that the previous Government conceived a plan to sack our experienced immigration officers. We are concerned because we do not want porous borders, nor do we want more human trafficking, more gun running or more drug smuggling. We want to ensure that we have proper border security and national security. We want to ensure that the "jungle" in Calais is dealt with, not simply because we are concerned about the number of people there, but because we are concerned about the children there, who are living in terrible conditions. We want them to be looked after properly in a proper European settled way. We must co-operate with our friends, allies and community partners to get a lasting solution to this concern that many hold.

The previous Government also conceived a plan to sell off our port. We do not want our nation's borders to be sold. The people of Dover are trenchantly opposed to that idea. I come here planning to do all in my power to find a better way forward than simply to sell it off at the bottom of the market, possibly to a foreign power. That would be the wrong thing to do for our nation's security.

The people of Dover also want to have a proper hospital back in Dover. The previous Government offered us a polyclinic, having run down our hospital. We say we want a proper hospital, with care beds and doctor-led emergency services. These things are important to us because the nearest acute hospitals are 40 minutes down the road by car and four hours by public transport. That is bad for old people, and those who are badly off and cannot afford a car and do not have access to one. We want a fair share of health care; we feel that is very important.

People in Dover have also told me time and again, "When you come to the House, Charlie, tell them we want a George cross, too." That might be a bit much to ask, but our area paid a heavy price in the war, and people might compare the price we paid with the price that Malta paid. This case should be examined, and I hope that it will be, in due course.

Finally, I should say that the liberty of the subject is one of the most important calls on any Member of Parliament, and as the Member of Parliament for Dover, I especially feel that responsibility, given my constituency's history in defending our nation's freedom and liberty. The honouring of the military covenant is also important to people in Dover and Deal. I therefore bring to the House's attention the case of Major Bill Shaw, MBE. He is a man who was commissioned from the ranks. He was a regimental sergeant major and was awarded an MBE for his excellent services to the armed forces. He was promoted to the rank of major and subsequently retired having served in Bosnia and Iraq, having been decorated and having instructed at Sandhurst.

He has served our country well, but today he finds himself in an Afghan jail facing a two-year sentence as a result of allegations of "corruption"; there seems to have been a misunderstanding as to what constitutes corruption and what constitutes a payment to release one's car from the pound. I am concerned about this matter, as is his family, and we want to see that justice is done. There are questions as to whether due procedure was followed, and whether he received justice. I ask my colleagues on the Front Bench to examine this case and see what can be done for this man. He defended us for most of his life, and it is therefore right that we should defend him in his hour of need and ensure that his case is properly looked at and his interests properly defended by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech; I am very grateful.

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Colin D Gibbs
Posted on 4 Jun 2010 11:14 am (Report this annotation)

A pretty good maiden speech Charlie,captures our position well. The only criticism I can make is the over generous compliment to your predecessor.