Thank you very much Mr Deputy Speaker for calling me to speak this afternoon. I congratulate you on your election. I am delighted to speak after my hon. Friend Huw Merriman. I, too, have a specialism in insolvency, but neither of us can claim to be as expert in that subject as Gordon Brown. I am also pleased to have spoken after Ian Paisley, who spoke so well about the value of unity.
I have listened with much admiration for a number of days to the eloquent and passionate maiden speeches on both sides of the House. It is an absolute privilege to be part of our British democracy. South East Cambridgeshire, the constituency I am fortunate to represent, has not troubled this House with a maiden speech for 28 years. It has been well served by the distinguished Sir James Paice for all that period. Sir James is an honourable, loyal and principled man, who has throughout his career stood up for farmers both within and outside the constituency. I know that he will be sorely missed in that community and many others.
Many presume that South East Cambridgeshire is a safe Conservative seat. I am not sure that there is such a thing as a safe seat of any kind any more, but even if there were, that is not a term that should be used to describe my constituency, which has had a chequered, even colourful, political history. The Isle of Ely, which falls within it, was the seat of Clement Freud. He was a man of many rare attributes, being a night club manager, a dog-food commercial actor and a Liberal Democrat, all of which fit together surprisingly well.
The constituency was represented by Francis Pym—yes, a Conservative, but not always a supporter of his Prime Minister—who once said, “Landslides do not on the whole produce effective government.” So our Prime Minister can rest assured of an effective and smooth five years. And it was the home of Oliver Cromwell, who defeated the Scots at Dunbar, incorporated Scotland into his protectorate and transported the Scots as slaves to the colonies. Now, there is an answer to the West Lothian question—but not one, of course, that I would recommend.
Standing in the shoes of such colourful and distinguished predecessors is difficult, but it has been made much easier by the charm and friendliness of the people of South East Cambridgeshire. The constituency includes the city of Ely, the town of Soham and many villages. It is the only constituency in the country that contains a racecourse, a science park and a thriving farming sector. The businesses in these areas are leaders in their fields, competing successfully on the international markets. They are part of our growing economy in the east of England. Our Government have an opportunity, if not an obligation, to support and nurture such successes, and I am delighted that our Government are doing precisely that.
But I am also mindful that economic success is not universal throughout the constituency. As the daughter of a teacher who taught in a state primary school in a very deprived area in Leeds, and the granddaughter of a headmaster who founded a technical school in Leicester, recognising as he did that academic education is not the right route for all children, I know that education can transform lives, that education is a driver of social mobility, and that ambition and aspiration are not and should not be the preserve of the few, but of the many.
Equality of opportunity is at the heart of any respectable democratic country. A good education should be available to all, no matter what background they come from or where they live, which is why it is so important that we have a fair funding formula for our education nationally—a formula that provides per pupil funding which is more consistent across the country. Ambition and aspiration are now being talked about by both major parties, and rightly so, but that should not be limited to aspiration for individuals alone. It should encompass our vision for our country. A small but great Britain has played a disproportionate role in world affairs for centuries. A strong Britain should continue to play a key role in our international affairs.
My great-grandparents fled to this country with nothing, with no possessions and no money, not even speaking the language, and Britain gave them a home. It gave them hope and it gave them a future. They integrated into our society, such that my grandfather was awarded a CBE for services to education. I am so proud to be part of this great country and to be in a position to give back to our communities. It is a huge privilege to have been chosen to represent the people of South East Cambridgeshire and I will do my utmost to serve them.