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It is a particular pleasure to follow so many fine maiden speeches today and the contribution of Sammy Wilson.
The drive for greater devolution of powers from Westminster to the regions is of keen interest to my constituents in Solihull. First, however, in the time-honoured tradition of maiden speeches, I would like briefly to pay respect to my predecessors. Consideration for one’s opponents in both defeat and victory is a strong element of our national character and of this place. I may disagree with what others say, but I have no doubt as to their good intentions and their integrity. So it goes for my immediate predecessor, Lorely Burt, who represented Solihull in this place for the past decade. Mrs Burt was a strong champion for Solihull and women in business, and passionate about the rehabilitation of offenders. Mrs Burt took Solihull in a shock result in 2005 from John Taylor. From the moment of my selection in 2013, Mr Taylor pledged his full support to me and, as a former Whip, Mr Taylor’s word was very much his bond. His friendship has been invaluable over the past two years.
I am also looking forward to working with my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, as his father, Percy Grieve, represented Solihull with great distinction from 1964 to 1983. In fact, on rooting through our constituency offices in the spring we managed to unearth some “vote for Percy Grieve” placards. However, having achieved a majority of 32,000, he clearly did not need them.
Solihull has changed a great deal since that time, but it remains a place of unique character and civility. In fact when I say I live in Solihull, I sometimes get an envious reaction. No doubt the listener has read the report from comparison service uSwitch, which in 2013 deemed Solihull to be the best place to live in the UK. I am sure that there are 649 other hon. Members who would disagree with this assertion, but from my perspective the facts speak for themselves.
According to some, Solihull first emerged as a clearing in the forest some 1,000 years ago where trading took place, and it is still about trade and business. It enjoys incomes well above the national average and full employment. In the vanguard of this is Jaguar Land Rover. Jags and Land Rovers are seen so often on Solihull’s roads that some wags from Birmingham joke that in Solihull a creche is something that happens between two Land Rovers.
JLR’s tremendous success is crucial to our economy and our country, but our local economy is not just based on car production. The Touchwood shopping centre is a go-to destination for the region and at a time when high streets are struggling to compete—something the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Mr Jones, will no doubt be looking to tackle—Solihull’s Touchwood centre is planning an expansion.
However, Solihull and its twin, Shirley, are not just centres for exports and job creation. Many people choose to move to Solihull for its excellent schools. School uniforms are everywhere and the academic achievements of our kids are among the best in the country—despite our receiving £1,000 a year less from central funds per pupil than our bigger neighbour Birmingham.
There is also a strong tradition of volunteering in Solihull and Shirley. We cannot move for lions clubs, scouts and faith groups and other fantastic voluntary bodies. I would go so far as to say—in what is, after all, national volunteers week—that Solihull sits on a sea of volunteering.
This aspect of our town marks it out as a very special place to live; a growing town that can still feel small and nestled by beautiful green belt, hence the town motto of “Urbs in Rure”—town in country. This uniqueness makes Solihull guard its independence keenly. As we face the challenging and exciting prospect of devolution, Solihull stands ready to play its part, happy to co-operate on big-ticket items such as infrastructure, potentially policing, transport and skills for our young people, but it does so as a strong independent town. I intend to be a strong voice for the town I represent.