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European Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 3rd June 2010.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington The Minister for Europe 5:45 pm, 3rd June 2010

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must press on.

There were 15 maiden speeches and I compliment all those colleagues and Opposition Members who spoke for the first time today.

My hon. Friend Mark Garnier demonstrated early on that he aims to copy the independent streak of his immediate predecessor. He will be a doughty champion for his constituents, but he also spoke wisely about the economic advantages that he sees his constituents gaining from this country's continued membership of the EU.

My hon. Friend Simon Kirby spoke about the ups and downs of the Anglo-French relationship over the centuries. Like many hon. Members on both sides of the House, he gave us a kind of Cook's tour of the best tourist sites in his constituency. I felt I was getting the benefit of a top-quality travel documentary programme condensed into a parliamentary debate.

Alison McGovern spoke of the importance of European trade to businesses in her constituency. What came through above all in her speech was her sense of pride in, and affection for, the area where she grew up and that she now represents. I was delighted to hear from her that Harold Wilson could be said to have started his career in her constituency. Of course, when he became Prime Minister, he fell so in love with Chequers and Buckinghamshire that he ended up retiring to Great Kingshill just outside my constituency. It is something of a habit for former Labour leaders. Clem Attlee did exactly the same thing-when he accepted an earldom, he took the secondary title of Viscount Prestwood, in honour of the village in Buckinghamshire where he lived-and now Mr Tony Blair has also decided to make his home in that most conservative of counties. The estate agents in my constituency scan the post every morning for the envelope postmarked Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

My hon. Friend Julian Sturdy spoke of the sense of public disaffection from the EU. Awareness of that is very much driving the Government's policy towards the Europe Bill, which we hope to introduce later in this Session. He also said that he wanted the Government to be proactive, positive and a friendly partner within Europe. With the addition of the words "clear-eyed and hard-headed," that is exactly how the Government intend our policy to be. It is customary to say that we hope to hear from those who have made their maiden speeches frequently and in the near future. With the lavish praise that he bestowed upon Hugh Bayley, my hon. Friend can be fairly confident that he will be called again before too long.

Catherine McKinnell spoke of the need for jobs and investment in the north-east, and made a very wise paean for her local media, which I am sure will ensure that her speech gets the coverage in her region that she hopes for.

Julie Elliott spoke about the importance of Nissan, jobs and economic growth in her constituency, but also warmly of Chris Mullin, a former colleague whom we all miss. He had no airs and graces-probably very few ex-Ministers, when penning their memoirs, would actually write about an incident in which officials forgot to remove a post-it note that they had inscribed, "This is a very low priority. Perhaps we could pass it to Chris Mullin."

My hon. Friend Dan Byles spoke about the diverse community in his constituency and the diverse recreations in which they take part. However, if I may say, I thought he was hiding his light under a bushel. I feel that a man who has rowed the Atlantic could surely emerge in next year's Atherstone ball game at 5 pm holding the ball-he will probably be the only one remaining upright in Atherstone village. I look forward to him telling us of that achievement in future years.

Lilian Greenwood spoke with great passion about what led her into politics. I suspect that she and I will have many disagreements, but anybody who listened to her speech, whatever their political view, will have felt encouraged and inspired that they too might one day be able to make a difference. Her determination and perseverance are things that all of us can admire, and she is very welcome here.

My hon. Friend Andrew Bridgen spoke of the urgency of tackling the United Kingdom's deficit in public finances. The hon. Member for Rhondda was unfair to my hon. Friend, because he reminded us that it is possible for someone to feel that they are culturally part of Europe-to feel an affinity with everything that European civilisation has produced-but also to feel that they do not want further political integration within the European Union. We need to accept that Europe is now united and at peace, but also that it is diverse. The trick for Europe is to recognise that diversity as well as its unity.

Bill Esterson spoke in particular about the importance of education to his constituents. My hon. Friend Mike Weatherley set some sort of record by managing to work in references to both Iron Maiden and the Carry On films in the course of a single speech.

Grahame M. Morris enticed us with visions of the beaches of east Durham, but spoke seriously about the need for more employment and investment in the north-east of England. My hon. Friend Gareth Johnson explained to me finally what lies behind the big brown signs that say "Historic Dartford", which have baffled me every time I have visited friends in his constituency. When I am commuting between London and Brussels, I will think of my hon. Friend as the train passes through Ebbsfleet, and I shall know exactly whose constituents I am close to.

My hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke spoke about a particular constituency case. I can tell him that consular staff at the Foreign Office have visited his constituent and they have been in touch with the family. We think that in the first instance it is for Mr Shaw's lawyers to come to our officials with the evidence that gives rise to their concern that the trial was unfair so that we can consider their case and determine how we might take it forward. It would be most appropriate for the judicial proceedings to run their course first, and for any direct intervention from the British Government to follow once those have been concluded-

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