Duncan Hames 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. Earlier today, we read Simon Wright’s speech, and tomorrow we will bring you David Ward.

Duncan’s speech is also available to view here at the Parliament website until 1 June 2011.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech so early in this Parliament. I congratulate the hon. Members for Harlow (Robert Halfon) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on their thoughtful and compassionate speeches. They are indeed a hard act to follow.

One of my predecessors as Member of Parliament for Chippenham, albeit almost 200 years ago, was Sir Robert Peel. His maiden speech was to second the reply to the King’s Speech and it was described by the then Speaker as “the best first speech since that of William Pitt”.

It lasted 40 minutes and Members will be pleased to hear that I cannot hope to emulate him-in that respect, at least.

Although Chippenham first returned Members in 1295, it is one of this Parliament’s new constituencies, formed from parts of North Wiltshire, Devizes and Westbury, all of which were represented by Conservatives. My hon. Friends will therefore find me in the unfamiliar position of saying kind words about not one, but four, Conservative MPs-I could certainly use the practice! I say four because Sir Richard Needham was the most recent Member to represent a constituency going by the name of Chippenham. Sir Richard was the longest-serving British Government Northern Ireland Minister and also a successful Minister of Trade. He continues to work in business and I had the pleasure of meeting him on the very day that the election was called, as I visited a company in my constituency of which he is chairman. The significance of the visit was not lost on the local and regional media, who reported it widely, and I am grateful to him for his enthusiastic welcome.

Sir Richard was succeeded by my honourable neighbour, the current hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray). We were both involved in the campaign to save Chippenham hospital, which, like the minor injuries unit that closed in Melksham, had been frustrated by a lack of support from Wiltshire county council when it really mattered. My honourable neighbour secured an Adjournment debate on the issue on 18 March 2008. I came to the Gallery that evening to lend my support and to see him put the then Minister on the spot. Now that we sit on the same side of this House, I look forward to finding common cause with him more often.

Members will know that my honourable neighbour, the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), formerly Westbury, is a doctor. He served for 18 years as a medical officer in the Royal Navy, leaving as a surgeon commander and continues to serve as an officer in the Royal Naval Reserve. This saw him recalled in 2003 to serve in Iraq, and he has used that experience to speak eloquently about defence matters while in opposition. He reminds us of the professionalism of our armed forces, both regular and reservist.

Finally, the Devizes constituency has also contributed to the Chippenham seat. My predecessor there was Michael Ancram, who served three constituencies during his time in this House, as well as serving his party as chairman and deputy leader. I commend his last speech in this place, which was during the debate on the Budget statement. He was concerned that this generation’s legacy to the next would be worse than financial debt, which can, after all, be repaid, as we risk leaving as our legacy a permanently damaged environment. He quoted a native American saying, which has long been a favourite of mine:

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

He urged this new Government to recognise and address the coming environmental challenges, the greatest of which is surely man-made climate change. Accepting this mission-one that has also been put to me by the Bradford-on-Avon climate friends- will be a focus of my activities throughout this Parliament.

Chippenham has not been represented by a Liberal since Alfred Bonwick more than 80 years ago. I am also the first Liberal Democrat Member to serve in this House for Wiltshire. Chippenham has experienced substantial growth in recent years, so I am pleased that the coalition Government have resolved to scrap the housing targets in the regional spatial strategy, which would otherwise have seen Chippenham grow by about a quarter over the next 15 years, threatening open land near to Birds Marsh woods and along Chippenham’s flood plains.

Although not included in its name, my beautiful and diverse constituency also includes the towns of Melksham, Corsham and Bradford-on-Avon, as well as villages such as Holt where I live, Hilperton, Winsley, and the National Trust village of Lacock-and, indeed, the southern tip of the Cotswold area of outstanding natural beauty at Limpley Stoke. In fact, my constituency will be familiar to fans of costume drama, as Lacock has starred in adaptations of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” among others, and is better known to many as Cranford.

The railways have long been vital to the constituency’s economic development, yet Melksham, which is the county’s fifth largest town, has only two trains a day in each direction. Some Members may pass through Corsham, after Brunel’s impressive box tunnel, when travelling by rail to Parliament. The town certainly sees many trains each day, but none of them stops there for the people of Corsham to use. Through my work here, I will continue to campaign for the improved rail services that my constituents so badly need.

I hope to open a constituency office in Chippenham town centre, which, if successful, will make a modest contribution to the town’s services. However, I shall not be able to match Joseph Neeld, who paid for a new town hall to be built on the high street. It still bears his name, although-or perhaps because-his energies were so focused on the town that, in the 24 years that he spent as Member of Parliament for Chippenham, he did not speak once in Parliament. It seems clear already that I have not managed to show such self-restraint.

As a Wiltshire school governor for the past eight years, I was particularly keen to make my first speech during a debate on education. Great teachers, excellent schools and a world-class university all helped to give me the confidence, financial security and independence to embark on the journey that has brought me here today.

Despite my father’s best efforts, both my parents attended secondary moderns, and, in his case, a technical college. I recall my mother telling me while I studied for GCSEs that she had left school by the time she was that age. Nevertheless, as loving parents, they well understood the difference that embracing learning could make to the opportunities that lay ahead for all of us, and I was the first in my family to go to university-something that we could only afford with the help of a grant.

I was very fortunate. As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out repeatedly during the recent election, family wealth still makes a massive difference to the educational outcomes achieved by children today. I agree with Nick. There are some excellent schools serving communities in less well-off areas, but it simply is not good enough for so many families to find that accessing a good education for their children is dependent on their faith, on paying fees, or on being able to afford a home in an expensive catchment area. Every school should be a good school.

The pupil premium that our Government will now introduce is a crucial lever for directing funds into schools serving families who cannot buy their way to a more successful school elsewhere, so that we can be sure that all children receive the support and attention that they need. I believe that this Government will become known for their ambitious school reforms, the measure of success for which will be that a great education is within reach of every child, whatever their background and whatever their family’s means.

Whether in education, the economy or the environment, looking ahead with a concern for the next generation will, I hope, be the hallmark of my contribution to this place-a contribution to which I will devote the very best of my ability.

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  • It’s interesting that both the maiden speeches you’ve published emphasise the need for better rail services – in the same week that the new Transport Secretary has ordered Network Rail to cut spending and has frozen the new carriage order programme intended to relieve overcrowding.

    This illustrates one of the key challenges for new LibDem (and Tory) MPs – reconciling the spending cuts programme they have signed up to, with the need to campaign for better services (or to protect current services) in their constituencies. It’s easy to support spending cuts in the abstract – much harder when real services, affecting real voters, are in the firing line.

  • My mum works in the Department for transport. the sad fact is that Railways are very expensive and if they’re going to make cuts building or improving railroads is not the right way to go about it. I agree with you John, it’s very easy to campaign for more railways, but the money just doesn’t exist.

  • The pupil premium is good news: but it is not a panacea. Work from the likes of Eric Hanushek and others have cast some doubt on how much extra school spending really affects outcomes. Think of it this way. If you have a class of 30 kids and you are given an extra £20 to spend (even per lesson, if you like), how much is that really going to help literacy rates, university enrollment rates etc? The destiny by catchment area point is extremely well made. Throwing some extra money to those that lose out is not enough. We need merit pay for teachers to work in the hardest schools, we need more pay for those willing to help poor kids on weekends and over summer holidays, we need to work on aspiration, keeping kids in school longer etc.

    In short, backbench Lib Dem MPs like Mr Hames and Mr Ward should really throw themselves into looking at the more structural problems associated with education and lend their efforts to look for liberal solutions.

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