I was intending to take an hour, if that is okay, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I want to inject Cornwall into this debate, because so far it has been left unmentioned. I stand here as the Member of Parliament for the most south-westerly constituency of the new south-west powerhouse. Although the south-west powerhouse might not yet be a formally recognised entity in this place, there is no denying the shared sense of unity, purpose and determination in this group of all but one of the south-west’s MPs. It is my hope that together we can get a fairer deal for our schools, a better deal for healthcare services and a better deal for policing. Together, we can be a strong voice and champion for farmers and fishermen in the beautiful south-west. Our ambition is untethered and I suggest that the world watches this space.
As an MP of the new intake, I have taken my time and listened to the many maiden speeches that have gone before mine. I have noted that pretty much every Member claims to represent the most beautiful constituency in Great Britain. However, it remains the case that west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are the most beautiful part of the UK. If we were to take a vote on that in the House, I am sure that you would be saying, “The Ayes have it, the Ayes have it,” Madam Deputy Speaker.
I can assure hon. Members on both sides of the House that my constituents fully support English votes for English laws, so I am pleased to be able to make my maiden speech during this debate. Hon. Members can imagine what a privilege it was for me to be a parliamentary candidate in the place where I grew up, the area where I have always worked; to be the candidate of the part of the UK where my children were born and go to school, and where my wife and I share so many friends. As I travel the length and breadth of west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, I cannot quite digest the fact that I am no longer simply a limited-value candidate, but the Member of Parliament for one of the most precious and special parts of the greatest nation on this earth. I feel the great honour and privilege of this role, and I recognise that I am elected as a servant of the good people of the St Ives constituency.
I want to use this opportunity to pay credit to my predecessor, Andrew George. For 18 years, he represented the St Ives constituency with loyalty and a high sense of duty. There is no question but that he shared a clear and unwavering commitment to St Ives, and I am in no doubt that he will continue to do so. I wish him every success in his new role in the Cornwall Community Land Trust.
As new MPs, we are encouraged to take a look at the maiden speeches of MPs who have gone before. As someone who always does exactly what I am told—at this point I am seeking to invest some credit with the Whips Office—I did that. I was pleased yet saddened to read the maiden speech of Sir John Nott, a former St Ives MP and a friend of mine, who to this day can be seen visiting his local farmers market in my constituency on a Saturday morning. In 1966, Sir John said:
“I am afraid that men’s stomachs cannot be filled with the view, nor can they be filled with history. The fact is that we in West Cornwall have about the lowest incomes of the whole of the country. The average wage, which is difficult to calculate in Cornwall, is somewhere in the region of £12 a week, against a national average of £19.”—[Hansard, 4 May 1966; Vol. 727, c. 1701.]
I am saddened because, having looked at the figures today, I know that the situation remains unchanged. The average pay that someone in my constituency can expect to earn is £390, compared to £500 a week in the wider south-west and £520 if they were to earn the UK average. So for me, the most important thing I can do is to work to address this gap.
There are great schools in west Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly. We live in a very safe part of the British Isles with good healthcare services. Where would people find a better place to set up home and raise a family? We have a lot going for us in the far south-west, yet our youngsters leave and our workforce struggle to find the skilled well-paid jobs they need to afford to live there. I for one will no longer accept that we must remain a low-wage economy, so I will do whatever I can to help businesses to grow and create new jobs.
Better transport infrastructure, advances in technology, shorter rail journey times, good broadband and mobile phone services, more apprenticeships and training that meets the demands of employers—these are all areas where we are progressing, but much more must be done. I want to see better use of local expertise and private wealth to support our small businesses and entrepreneurs. I want us to exploit export markets. All round the world, there are Cornish societies and communities who love to buy our products. My plan is to ensure that my successor has no need to refer to the wage gap when the time comes for him or her to give their maiden speech. It is an ambitious plan, but there is every reason to succeed.
Furthermore, I see two other priorities for my constituency: to provide the housing we need and bring health and social care together in meaningful integration. I am embarrassed to admit that in west Cornwall there are enough empty redundant houses, enough brownfield sites and enough parcels of land that have planning permission to meet the need for housing for local people. Some fresh thinking is needed to provide these homes and I see this as an urgent priority.
A great amount of work is being done to ensure that people in Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly can get the healthcare they need and will not remain in hospital longer than is absolutely necessary. However, to achieve this, we have to recruit many more care and support workers, not to mention the healthcare professionals needed in our hospitals and general practices. In a western society such as ours, it is quite wrong that someone who requires palliative care must wait six weeks at home, without any care worker assigned, as was the case in my constituency recently. My fervent hope is that, as we integrate services, such occurrences will be parked firmly in the history books, never to be revisited.
I, along with far too many others, have paid little attention to mental health. I intend to right that wrong and to work hard to ensure that if someone has a mental illness, they receive the help they need, when they need it and as close to home as possible.
My priorities are clear: I am in the business of skills, jobs, housing and health, and I am determined to see positive progress in those areas. I do not ask for much, but I do ask for the support of the House and this Government—and your fine offices, Madam Deputy Speaker—to help me deliver for the good people of west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly that which they rightly deserve.