Ben Wallace – 2005 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

The maiden speech made by Ben Wallace, the Conservative MP for Lancaster and Wyre, in the House of Commons on 24 May 2005.

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James), whom I congratulate on her succinct speech.

This is my maiden speech. Yesterday, while I was waiting all day to be called, it struck me that a maiden speech is a bit like a first bungee jump, leap from an aeroplane or chance to walk a girl home—while one is waiting, one does not know whether one will get one’s chance; while one is waiting for the chance, one is not sure whether one has done the right thing.

It is an honour to speak as the new Conservative Member for Lancaster and Wyre and to represent my constituents in this House. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Hilton Dawson, who represented the people of Lancaster and Wyre for the past eight years. He was a friendly and approachable constituency MP who always managed to get out and about, and, more often than not, he put the people before his party or his politics. He worked tirelessly for the rights of children at home and abroad and always did his best to better their welfare. I wish him well in the cause to which he has returned since leaving this House, and I will always support him in the community if he needs me to.

Geographically, Lancaster and Wyre is sandwiched between Preston and the Lake district. It is bordered on the west by Morecambe bay and on the east by the Yorkshire dales. The constituency is steeped in Jacobean and mediaeval history; indeed, the seat of the Duchy of Lancaster has been there since the 14th century. The city of Lancaster was also the first city in England to welcome the young pretender on his march south in 1744–45, so it was no surprise that, as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I always received a warm welcome from the city. To this day, the constituency has strong links north as well as south, and I look forward to doing my best to represent the north in this House in the south.

The constituency also has ancient history. The town of Garstang has been a market town for the past 800 years and it historically prided itself on its rural economy and trade. Now, it prides itself on being Britain’s first fair trade town, and I look forward to supporting that and increasing what is on offer to the people. The settlements of Poulton-Le-Fylde and Thornton have been in existence for nearly a millennium.

The rich history of the constituency is reflected in the two local regiments: the King’s Own Border Regiment, which recruits from around Lancaster, and the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, which recruits in Preston. They are well-recruited regiments with a first-class history in serving the Crown. It is a great shame that the Government, under their proposed umbrella for reform, are due to abolish those two proud regiments. It may be of note that the commanding officer of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment is perhaps due to stand trial for action in Iraq. It is a scandal that the country does not stand by the soldiers that have been sent to Iraq on Government business. As an ex-serving officer, I would say that if our senior officers are to stand trial, perhaps some people from other Benches in this House should face a similar fate.

I wanted to speak yesterday in the home affairs debate, because I wanted to point out that a major factor in the history of Lancaster and Wyre has been law and order, in which it has a great tradition. Lancaster castle is the oldest and longest continually running prison in Europe. It has housed debtors, executed witches and deported thieves. Poulton-Le-Fylde boasts some of the best examples of antique stocks and whipping posts. That is a bit too tough on crime and the causes of crime nowadays, but it shows the great theme in my constituency for upholding law and order.

On a more positive note, there are good examples in the education sector, from first-class primary schools, such as St. Hilda’s and Carlton, to Garstang high school and Lancaster university. They all turn out first-class students, and the challenge for economic development in the constituency is to provide jobs for those skilled people to enter the labour market. In manufacturing, British Aerospace is south of my constituency and Glasson Grain is in it. Both struggle with fierce overseas competition and it is hoped that the Government will do more to help the manufacturing sector.

During the general election, I campaigned on three main issues. The first was cracking down on crime, especially youth crime and antisocial behaviour, which now blights all streets across the country. I wanted to campaign also for local communities to have more of a say in planning so that, as so often happens, their decisions are not overruled from the centre. Thirdly—and more appropriate to this debate—I campaigned for better access to national health service dentists. A recent survey found that only 30 per cent. of dentists in Lancaster and Wyre would take NHS patients. If all the investment is going in at the top, why can people not get access to dentists? That surely shows that there is a flaw in the plan somewhere.

It is appropriate in this debate for me to speak to the Conservative amendment, because my constituents are not concerned about who delivers their health care, but who commissions it. They want access to a GP out of hours, an NHS dentist and health visitors, and they also want their primary care dictated predominantly by their needs instead of being anticipated by the centre and targets.

I want to thank the electorate of Lancaster and Wyre for sending me here, and I shall try to do my best over the next four or five years to represent their needs. I want also to thank my association, which obviously backed me; otherwise, I would not be standing here.

I came here because I believe in defending, not denying people’s liberties. I came here because many of the constituents whom I represent live on the edge of the means test. They are not eligible for any of the benefits, but are eligible to be taxed. They do not have the cushion to absorb such measures as tuition fees or higher council tax. I came here because my constituents deserve good government, not big government. During the next few years, I shall do my best for them and for the party.