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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech during this debate, which is addressing a critical part of the new Government's future programme. I congratulate the previous speakers, particularly those who have made their maiden speech and set the bar very high for the rest of us.
It is an honour to speak as the first female Member of Parliament for the Loughborough constituency. I pay tribute to my two immediate predecessors. One, my right hon. Friend Mr Dorrell, is still a Member of the House. Unsurprisingly, I have been researching previous maiden speeches and it would appear that he made his maiden speech during the Budget debate following the 1979 election. Little did he think that one of his successors, 31 years later, would be speaking as the Conservatives were preparing another emergency Budget after a change of Government.
My immediate predecessor, Andy Reed, worked tirelessly for his constituents following his election in 1997. He was respected as a man of principle and resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary over the Iraq war. He was a committed Christian and-I hope that he will not mind my saying this-a well-known sports fanatic. Several Members on the Government Benches have already asked me whether I am going to take his place on the parliamentary rugby team. For the record, the answer is no. I hope that I will be able to serve the people in the Loughborough constituency as well as he did.
Loughborough is a wonderful mix. It sits, as my two immediate predecessors said in their maiden speeches, between Nottingham, Derby and Leicester, and that has clearly not changed. Loughborough is a town of about 50,000 people but it expands by 12,000 or so during term times thanks to our world-famous university, which is back on the map, as the football to be used at the forthcoming World cup was designed there.
Just across the M1 is the town of Shepshed, which, as I have discovered since the beginning of my candidacy six years ago, feels ignored by every tier of government. I hope that I will be able to put that right during my time as its Member of Parliament.
Finally, a number of smaller villages make up the constituency, including Hathern, Sileby, Quorn, Barrow upon Soar, Mountsorrel Castle, and some picturesque Wolds villages. The fact that I have villages in my constituency raises interesting rural issues that I hope to be able to take further forward in the House.
We have a sizeable ethnic community, and it has been my pleasure, in my six years as a candidate in the constituency, to meet and learn more about them, and to visit the Shree Ram Krishna centre, the gurdwara, the Geeta Bhawan and our two mosques.
At one time, Loughborough was renowned for its textiles and hosiery manufacturing. Now, we are known for pharmaceuticals, research and engineering, and for manufacturing bells-Taylor's is one of the last remaining bell foundries in the country. The bells have been exported worldwide, and even hang in St Paul's cathedral here in London.
I want to touch on the importance of supporting the manufacturing sector, as other Members have done. Much has already been said-and, I am sure, will continue to be said-about spending cuts and tax rises, but more needs to be said about supporting private sector businesses, which are the backbone of our economy. We rely on our private sector businesses to provide employment, to train apprentices, to give people skills and, of course, to supply exports.
In March in Loughborough, just before the election campaign started, we received the devastating news that AstraZeneca is to close its Charnwood site, with the loss of at least 1,200 jobs locally. I hope that I will have the opportunity in future debates to raise a number of issues relating to the closure. I am proud to be part of the taskforce, of which my predecessor Andy Reed was a vital part, that is working to fill the site and plug the gap. I hope that we will end up not with a black hole in the middle of Charnwood, but with a site that new businesses and many other industries can use, so that we can still have a full manufacturing sector in the town.
We need to support strong manufacturing businesses, particularly with regard to research and development. Although manufacturing accounts for only about 20% of our economy, it accounts for about 75% of research and development in this country. The services sector is important, but manufacturers take on apprentices and give people new skills in a way that the services sector does not necessarily do. We need both. I am delighted to see that, in the coalition agreement, the Government mentioned the need for a more balanced economy; in fact, that was mentioned earlier today, too.
With a background as a solicitor advising companies large and small on raising finance both in the City of London and outside, I hope that I will be able to use my time in the House to ensure that we have a truly business-friendly environment in Britain. That would be good for my constituents, for Loughborough, for the east midlands, for Leicestershire and for the country. I hope that we can replace the jobs that have been lost, and can ensure a burgeoning manufacturing sector by the time that this Government leave office.