Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Jeremy Hunt in the House of Commons on 24 May 2005.
I congratulate the many new Members who have made their maiden contributions this evening. The hon. Members for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and for Brent, South (Ms Butler) expressed great pride at being the first women to represent their constituencies, and I am particularly proud to be the first man to represent mine in more than 20 years. I am also proud to be standing next to my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton). She worked extremely hard to win her seat, and no one is prouder than I am to be with her this evening. [Hon. Members: “Love on the Benches!”] I believe that my hon. Friend is married.
Let me now undertake the enormously pleasurable task of paying tribute to my predecessor, Virginia Bottomley. This House will know that she played a distinguished role on the national stage as Secretary of State for Health and as Secretary of State for the then Department of National Heritage. The House may be less aware that she was also a hugely conscientious constituency MP, a determined champion of local causes and a passionate advocate of the many charities and voluntary organisations in my constituency. She is also immensely photogenic and cuts a wonderful dash in the hills of Haslemere, the gardens of Godalming and the fetes of Farnham. That, I fear, is an area in which I will be unable to follow in her distinguished footsteps.
[Jacqui Smith: You’re not so bad yourself.]
I am grateful for that compliment from the Labour Benches; I fear that that may be the end of them.
My constituency consists of three historic towns and a number of villages that lie between them. Farnham is the largest of the towns, Haslemere is a town of great charm and character, and Godalming has a special place in my heart as I went to school there and my family are originally from there. My late grandmother was still alive when I was selected as a prospective parliamentary candidate, and no one could be happier than she would have been to see me standing here today.
In many ways, both the problems and the opportunities in my constituency reside in the same fact: we are only an hour from London. That creates not only huge economic opportunities—more than half the working population in my constituency commute to London—but huge development pressures that threaten the special character of my constituency’s towns and villages. I do not wish to depart from the tradition of not being controversial in a maiden speech, but I want to let the House know that I will be campaigning vigorously against the housing targets set for my constituency by the Deputy Prime Minister, who used as his vehicle the unelected, unwanted and unnecessary South East England regional assembly.
I will also be campaigning strongly for a tunnel for the A3 at Hindhead. There is a huge traffic bottleneck there and enormous problems for traffic coming from London to Portsmouth. The tunnel is a project of national importance, and I urge the Government to reconsider their decision last December effectively to withdraw funding for it.
The final issue currently of great concern to my constituents is the future of Milford hospital, which is a specialist rehabilitation hospital. More than a quarter of my constituents are retired, and the demand for the services offered by Milford is only likely to increase. However, I am told by my primary care trust that a short-term cash crisis leaves its potential future funding in doubt. I will be campaigning very strongly, locally and nationally, to ensure that Milford hospital does not become a victim of that cash crisis.
My own background is in education. With a business partner—he is in the Gallery—I set up an educational publishing business that produces guides and websites to help people choose the right university, college or course. I will mention it in the Register of Members’ Interests, and I declare it today because I want to say something about education. I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for Education for sparing time from her schedule, and for making the effort to come and listen to what I have to say.
We live in a highly competitive world, and most Members in all parts of the House would accept that some inequality is the inevitable consequence of maintaining the link between effort and reward in our society. But given that that is so, there is surely not just an economic necessity but a moral duty to ensure that we give every child in this country the best possible start in life.
As a prospective parliamentary candidate, I followed in the footsteps of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) and did a week as a teacher in a local secondary school; I also did a week as a classroom assistant in a primary school. I welcome some of the changes in education that we have seen in the past eight years, particularly the literacy and numeracy hours, which have been important contributions. However, if we are to address the shortfalls in our education system, we have to recognise that it is not just a question of funding; we also need a disciplined learning environment and academic rigor. Respect for teachers is vital, but we also need to pay due attention to academic standards. If everyone gets a prize, in the end the prize itself becomes worthless, and the people who suffer most are those with the least. For them, a credible exam result is the very passport that they need to help them to break out of the cycle of low expectations with which they may well have grown up.
I come briefly to education in the third world, given that the developing world will be discussed at the forthcoming G8 summit. I was recently involved in setting up a charity to fund education for AIDS orphans in Kenya. I did so after sponsoring an HIV-positive child for a couple of years, and I make no apology to the House for coming to the problems of Africa through the prism of a small child’s experience, because in the end this is about individuals and individual suffering.
I was greatly helped in setting up that charity by Estelle Morris, who was willing to work across party lines to help me get it off the ground. She once said to me, “Jeremy, you care a lot about education and you care about the developing world. Just why are you a Conservative?”, to which I say this: no party has a monopoly on compassion—the challenge is how to apply that compassion in a modern context. For my part, compassion alone is not enough; it needs to benefit the people to whom it is directed. Compassion should lead to independence for those who lack it, to freedom for those who need it and to opportunity for those who crave it. Creating opportunities for those who really need them—whether in this country or in the developing world—will be a major preoccupation of mine for as long as the people of South-West Surrey give me the privilege of representing them in this House.