Dr Julian Huppert MP’s maiden speech

Back when Cix was the main way of talking to other Lib Dems online, a tradition emerged of posting Lib Dem MPs’ maiden speeches so that people could read them and respond – a tradition LDV would like to continue. The first new Lib Dem MP to speak in the 2010 Parliament was Gordon Birtwistle, with Julian Huppert shortly after.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Thank you for giving me this chance to speak so early in this Parliament, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is great to see you in the Chair. There has been a long succession of maiden speeches from across the House, from the excellent speech by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on mental health issues, through to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) and the most recent speech, by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock).

Let me say first what an honour it is to be elected to this House to follow David Howarth, who served as an excellent MP for Cambridge for five years. Everywhere I went during the election campaign, people were full of praise for David and his achievements, from specific items of casework to saving Brookfields hospital and his campaign against the closure of the young people’s psychiatric service. His national work has also been acclaimed, such as his fight against the “Abolition of Parliament Bill”. Now that I am here, I am delighted to find that he is remembered clearly by many in all parts of the House, and also by many of the Clerks, who appreciated his interest and expertise in procedure. David is a true scholar, a fine lawyer and a great representative, and he will be missed on these Benches.
Cambridge has a long and distinguished electoral history. Since 1295, our representatives have included such notable political reformers as Oliver Cromwell—although I do not endorse his aims or his methods. If one includes the parallel Cambridge University constituency, which operated from 1603 to 1950, the list also includes many great scientists, including Sir George Gabriel Stokes and Sir Isaac Newton, who was arguably the first scientist to make money, although in his case it was as Master of the Mint. In the light of recent discussions, I should also say that the representatives of the university constituencies were elected using the single transferable vote, so there is plenty of historic precedent for using it for elections to this House.

Cambridge is a distinguished city and a special city. It became significant under the Romans, as an important causeway past the swampland of the fens—now all coloured blue. Like Rome, Cambridge is built on seven hills, although anyone who knows it well will be hard pressed to name them all, or indeed to find them.

Cambridge is a city of values—of people who think beyond the immediate. It is a liberal city, with residents who understand the value of civil liberties and human rights. Cambridge is an environmental city, keen to live sustainably and without polluting the planet. It is also an international city, with residents who appreciate diversity and welcome those from other countries, and have a deep interest in foreign affairs and what their country is doing in their name. Cambridge cares about fairness and social justice.

For it is not a uniformly wealthy city. Some areas are wealthy, especially around the picturesque historic centre where tourists gather, but many, including the division that I had the honour to represent for eight years on Cambridgeshire county council and the ward where I now live, are less well-off. We must ensure that inequality is reduced, both in Cambridge and across the country.

Cambridge is best known as a university town, and it has three of them. There is the eponymous university—801 years old, although one should never inquire too carefully about such ages—and AngliaRuskin university is an excellent university in its own right. It is financed by a certain Lord Ashcroft, and that is a very good use of his money. We also have a branch of the Open university as well.

There is more to Cambridge as an education city than just these universities. We are proud to have two marvellous sixth form colleges, and excellent further education at Cambridge regional college—I hope that the Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), and the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice) will forgive me for trespassing by a few metres across our borders. We also have countless good schools, although some need rather more investment, possibly through a pupil premium, to ensure that all children can have the fair start that they deserve.

Cambridge is a city of students, especially around the central areas. As a former student there myself, and more recently as a lecturer and a director of studies, I have seen at first hand the problems that they face as a result of ever increasing debts. I have seen how that debt changes their social interactions—Cambridge students are more segregated than they used to be—and how it affects their career choices for the worse.

Cambridge is also a city of science. It has its historic figures such as Newton, Darwin, Watson and Crick, while its more contemporary greats are still pushing back the frontiers of knowledge at a great pace. As one of the few scientists in this House, I hope to bring my expertise to bear on many of the issues facing us. I suspect that my own research field will not come up too often. I work—or, rather, I worked—on four-stranded DNA structures called G-quadruplexes. I studied how these structures form within cells, how they control which genes are turned on and off, and how they can be targets for new anti-cancer drugs. I do not think that will come up, but it is an understanding of how science works that I bring to this House.

I can speak on wider issues of science policy, such as the funding process for both applied and blue-skies research, and on the operation of the DNA database. I can also speak on how science should affect the broader reaches of policy: for instance, I can speak about making decisions on low-carbon energy sources, following the ideas of my scientific colleague Professor David MacKay, who is now chief scientific adviser at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

However, I also believe that science, and more specifically the scientific method, has much to contribute to more diverse fields such as home affairs and justice. For instance, the Cambridge criminologist Professor Larry Sherman has performed elegant trials studying how to deploy police most efficiently to minimise criminal activity. He has shown that alternatives to short-term jail, such as restorative justice, are more effective at reducing future crime, cost less, and are preferred by victims.

Scientists are obviously not unique in being able to apply such approaches, but we do come with a commitment to making evidence-based policy decisions.

Cambridge is also a city of technology and innovation. It is an economic powerhouse for the region, with many high-tech companies forming an ever growing cluster. Companies such as ARM, Solexa and Cambridge Display Technology are changing our lives, and driving the economy. There is much still to learn about how to stimulate and nurture such clusters and such companies, and I hope that we can develop a set of policies that facilitate such growth.

But economic growth is not all that we should care about. We know that economic growth can lead to environmental damage, but the issue is broader than just that trade-off. We are too fixated on gross domestic product, and make too much of whether it has gone up or down by 0.2%. It does not measure the things we ought to care about— education, health, or well-being.

If there is an oil spill off the coast that we then clear up, more or less well, GDP has increased, but I am not sure that any of us would be delighted with that outcome.

We need to focus more broadly on personal issues such as well-being and happiness. We need to develop rigorous metrics to measure this well-being throughout society, and then ensure that we bear them in mind when developing policy. We already know a lot about well-being. It does not change much with income, above a figure of around £7,000 a year. It changes with the quality of our environment, with the number of friends and the other social bonds that we have, with the activities that we get involved in, with family, and with community.

I shall end by summing up my aims for Cambridge and for the country. I want to make Cambridge a city where people want and can afford to live and work. I want it to be a city at ease with its environment, a tolerant, open and more equal city. And I want to expand those same aims across the country.

It has been said before that decisions are made by those who show up. It is a great honour that the people of Cambridge have asked me to show up here on their behalf, and I will try to represent them to the best of my ability.

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2 Comments

  • Tessa Gardner 23rd Nov '10 - 12:58pm

    Julian Huppert’s science credentials referenced on the Royal Society’s In Verba blog:

    http://blogs.royalsociety.org/in-verba/2010/11/23/scientists-in-the-seat-of-power-the-mp-scientist-pairing-scheme/#more-202

  • Richard Harbord 29th Nov '10 - 9:07pm

    I will be intrigued to hear what Julian Huppert has to say about student fees tommorow Tuesday evening in Westminster. This seems to be an issue that will test the Lib Dems in their resolve to bring down the deficit without imposing a massive hike in taxation. Does the Coalition have the political will to drive through the cuts or will they move in the same direction as Labour; into a high taxation society? If we add Labour’s proposal of a 50d tax rate onto VAT; fuel tax; inheritance tax and all the rest it would leave little for wage-earners to take home. Do the Lib Dems oppose this drift towards high taxation as a means for safe-guarding the welfare state?

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