8 June 2005
Philip Dunne makes his maiden speech in the House of Commons.


Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to address the House for the first time, and I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick). Your predecessor encouraged us to be brief and I shall be relatively brief in accordance with his advice.

I am particularly pleased to speak in a debate on such a vital topic at such a pivotal stage in European relations. I feel honoured to be in the company of such distinguished architects of the Conservative party's position on European subjects, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I am pleased to say that he is one of my constituents and he chose to vote in my constituency rather than his own. I am only sorry to say that he is not with us at the moment to hear me praise him.

I am pleased to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who has been such a champion of the position that I share in respect of the constitutional Convention. I am also pleased to participate in the same debate as the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), whose position in the House I have followed since I was a small boy. Again, I am sorry that he is not here to hear me say so. I also applaud the eloquence, wit and style of the maiden speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey).

It is indeed a great honour for me to stand here today to represent the Ludlow constituency. Ludlow is my home town and that of my forebears. In fact, one Dr. Dunne, who practised in Ludlow in the early 18th century, was a pioneering exponent of electric shock therapy. I can give a categoric assurance to the House that I did not use such techniques in securing my seat.

I join a long tradition of local Members representing Ludlow. To my knowledge, with the sole exception of one individual since 1885, the seat has been held by local people: from the Windsor-Clive descendants of Robert Clive of India to Sir Jasper More, one of the most distinguished post-war Members to represent the seat to, latterly, Christopher Gill, who would, I am sure, have made a forceful contribution if he were still here-some Conservatives Members may remember him with somewhat mixed emotions-to my immediate predecessor, Matthew Green, who hon. Members on other Benches are, I am sure, surprised is not still here.

Matthew was an energetic MP in the constituency, where he is much liked and still casts a large shadow. I hope to be able to match that, at least in part. In Parliament, he was an able spokesman on youth affairs for the Liberal Democrat party and became a knowledgeable champion of local housing need. He was rightly proud of representing Ludlow, as indeed am I.

I have represented Ludlow town centre on South Shropshire district council for the past few years, so I have a modest experience of such things, but I also come to the House with more than 25 years of varied business experience, the benefits of which I hope to bring to the proceedings of this House.

I also feel a strong sense of public duty in coming to the House and have a family tradition of such service, albeit from a rather catholic political background. My great great grandfather sat on the Liberal Benches. My grandfather sat on the Conservative Benches. After the second world war, my great uncle sat briefly on the Labour Benches before he did a very wise thing and crossed to the Conservative Benches, in contrast to the previous Member for Wantage, about whom we heard earlier.

Ludlow is one of the largest and most beautiful rural constituencies in England. The constituency stretches roughly 40 miles, from the Welsh border west of Bishop's Castle to the villages east of Bridgnorth, abutting the South Staffordshire constituency, which some hon. Members may get to know well over the next few weeks. The constituency is almost 20 miles north to south, from the towns of Broseley and Much Wenlock on the northern boundary across to Church Stretton, which nestles in the Shropshire hills, south to Burford on the River Teme.

For Members who do not know the area, the Shropshire hills have rightly been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. They have been described as the Switzerland of England and are also known locally as the blue remembered hills-especially apt following last month's general and county council election results in Shropshire. If you will indulge me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this brings to mind A. E. Housman's description from "A Shropshire Lad":

"From Clee to heaven the beacon burns
The shires have seen it plain
From north and south the sign returns
And beacons burn again."

Ludlow itself is a fine Georgian town built on a mediaeval town footprint, with one of the most complete surviving sets of mediaeval walls in not only this country, but Europe. I am pleased to declare an interest in that because I expect to become a trustee of the newly established Town Walls Trust, which was set up to fund their restoration at a meeting last evening. Latterly, the small market town of Ludlow is perhaps better known for its well-deserved reputation for good food, which is actively promoted by the food and drink festival each September. Not for Ludlow the uniformity of the nation's high streets. We boast four independent butchers and four master bakers. Until very recently, we had three restaurants with four Michelin stars between them, which might be known to some hon. Members. We also have two greengrocers and specialist cheese, chocolate and organic produce shops, all of which support local producers. If I may say so, the only thing that some say that we lack is a modern bookshop.

Although the constituency is known as Ludlow, its largest town is Bridgnorth, which is another attractive town straddling the River Severn with a historic heritage. Bridgnorth lays claim to being the aluminium capital of the country with some 600 people employed in its two rolling mill plants, which recently attracted tens of millions of pounds of inward investment. That is an important example of manufacturing excellence in my constituency that needs to maintain its global competitiveness. Bridgnorth also has several suppliers to the motor industry, some of which are suffering following the collapse of MG Rover, to which the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) referred earlier.

Overall, the constituency's economy reflects its geography. There is a strong reliance on a healthy farming and agricultural sector that is now coming to terms with the new single farm payment and the complex cross-compliance regime. As I have mentioned, there is a vital manufacturing sector, some interesting technology companies are emerging and there is a growing tourism and service sector.

However, all is not rosy. Although we live in a beautiful area, we suffer from the deprivation that can affect sparsely populated places. Immigration was an issue during the recent election, but the immigration in my part of Shropshire has been mostly from the black country and the home counties. We welcome those coming to live in Shropshire, many of whom have retired, but the consequences of that have included rapidly rising house prices and an ageing population. Local people, especially the young, have difficulty continuing to live where they have grown up. We also have declining school rolls and pressure on our community hospitals.

That brings me briefly on to the subject of the debate. The European constitution was of great concern to the people whom I met in the run-up to the general election, in contrast to several remarks made by Labour Members. My constituents' main worry was a genuine fear of greater political integration, with more regulations imposed by a remote bureaucracy over which there is scant democratic control. There was genuine confusion about the Government's position on the matter, and I regret to say that following the Foreign Secretary's remarks earlier this week and those of the Prime Minister today, they will be none the wiser. As a new Member, I wish to help the Government out of their predicament. I would be more than happy to arrange a local referendum in Ludlow on the European constitution, the result of which I am confident would give the Government a clear steer to help them make up their mind.

There are real worries about Europe in my constituency, from the hill farmers on the Welsh borders to the sugar beet producers in the east whose livelihoods are threatened by the common agricultural policy reforms that are now being implemented and, in the case of sugar, as we heard earlier, are under consideration. We also cannot afford to export more of our manufacturing base. Such matters require a light regulatory touch, not more costly directives from Brussels that try to impose a continental social model on our already overburdened employers.

Our Government have been consistently wrong about Europe and they are in danger of making another strategic blunder. They should declare the EU constitution dead and do everything in their power to lead a debate in Europe on the real reform that is needed to bring back to nation states the powers of self-determination. I look forward to pressing the Government on that and other issues in the years to come, and to standing up for the people of Ludlow in this Chamber.