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As a north-west MP, I welcome you to your new role, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I would like to think that a bit of history is being made today because, as the first Conservative MP to have been elected for Carlisle since 1959, I am the first Conservative from Carlisle to be making a maiden speech for 50 years. Since becoming a new Member, I have become conscious of the protocol that interventions, questions, answers and speeches should be short and to the point. I am sure that hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I shall follow that tradition.
My predecessor was a Labour Member, and although our politics, outlook and the way in which we do things are different, I acknowledge that Eric Martlew had the interests of Carlisle at heart. He came from Carlisle, he believed in Carlisle and he clearly did his best for Carlisle, and I do not think that more can be asked of a constituency MP.
I would like to cite two examples of Eric's work. In 2005, when we had the great floods in Carlisle that were devastating for many people, he got heavily involved and managed to convince the Government to spend considerable sums on building flood defences. I am delighted to say that those flood defences are now almost complete. Eric also had a great interest in rail and was a member of the all-party group on the west coast rail line. During his years as a Member, the Euston-to-Carlisle train journey time dropped considerably. I am benefiting from that, in that my train journeys are half an hour to an hour shorter than they would have been. If the high-speed rail link is introduced, I would like think that that journey time will drop further.
If hon. Members were to get the train to Carlisle, I do not think that they would be disappointed by our great city. Our compact border city is welcoming and friendly, and in many respects it is a well-kept secret-it was so secret that it successfully avoided being mentioned in the Domesday Book. The city is just 10 miles from the Scottish border, and as a Scot who has been elected for an English constituency right on the border, I am delighted to report that border relations are good and we support England's result today.
Carlisle has a rich heritage. Its castle was built by William II, and its cathedral, although small, dates from the 12th century. Of course, we have the world heritage site of Hadrian's wall, which is a popular spot for people walking from the east coast to the west coast, as well as the Tullie House museum.
We also have an industrial heritage. In the past, we had railways and crane makers, and the builder Laing originated in Carlisle; today, we still have a lot of manufacturing, with Pirelli cars, Nestlé, Carr's Milling and, with food manufacturing being a big thing in Carlisle, Carr's water biscuits-a real favourite of mine. We also still have a strong building society-the Cumberland building society-and long may that continue to be the case. Sadly, we have lost Border Television, although probably the only thing that people remember about that company is that it produced "Mr and Mrs". I hope that there will be a rebalancing of the economy. Carlisle may well benefit from that, because manufacturing is still very much a part of our local economy.
The most important thing is, obviously, people. I came to Carlisle 18 years ago and was made very welcome by the people of the city. I have lived and worked there, and there is no greater privilege than to become their representative. However, there are problems everywhere, and Carlisle is no exception. We have the legacy of the previous Government to deal with, and I believe that rebalancing the economy, improving education and helping the low-paid will be the key issues for Carlisle.
How are we to make those improvements? In my view, first, we must decentralise. It is important that we take decision making back to the communities and allow local people to make local decisions for themselves. Whitehall has a role, but that role has become far too big. We now have the opportunity to return power to local people. I genuinely believe that elected mayors offer a way forward, because they bring transparency to local decision making and make people aware of who is in charge of their local community.
The Budget has been described as tough but fair. I genuinely agree with that description and think that three things flow from the Budget. First, we must encourage business. The real recovery will come from the private sector and we can achieve that only through the changes to taxation, which I welcome, and, of equal importance, less regulation and less interference in business. That is how businesses thrive.
Secondly, and very relevant to Carlisle, we must look after the low-paid. I think that the Budget helps with that through the increase in the personal allowance and child tax credit, linking pensions with earnings, and the council tax freeze. The pay freeze does not affect the low-paid-those paid less than £21,000-in our public services.
Thirdly, we have the public sector. The public sector is still important-still vital to our economy and our communities-but it has to innovate, think differently and do things differently. Let me make one suggestion to Government Departments. Carlisle has a low cost base, housing is of good quality but relatively cheap and our industrial sites are cheaper than those in many other places. I therefore suggest that the Government should consider moving Departments from the south to the north. Doing so will save them money and help to regenerate parts of Carlisle.
The Treasury team and Ministers in other Departments have many difficult decisions to make in the coming months, but they will not go far wrong if they follow Carlisle city's motto, "Be just and fear not." If I follow that motto as the Member for Carlisle, I think I will have done okay.
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