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Harriett Baldwin makes her maiden speech


10th June 2010

Harriett Baldwin makes her maiden speech in the House of Commons and pay tribute to her predecessor, Sir Michael Spicer. She highlights the importance of food production in West Worcestershire and also touches on her experience as a pension fund manager.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): May I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker? It is a privilege to speak in this important debate on poverty and to follow such outstanding maiden speeches from the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy).

I pay tribute to my predecessor, who is soon to be ennobled as Lord Spicer of Cropthorne in the county of Worcestershire, for his years of service to the West Worcestershire and, prior to that, the South Worcestershire constituencies. He was elected to Parliament nine times during his 36 years of service to Worcestershire residents, and during my almost four years as parliamentary candidate, I met so many people on the doorstep who paid tribute to his service as a constituency MP and to his energetic pursuit of his casework. He set a standard that I shall strive to maintain. For three decades he championed the case for a new community hospital for Malvern. I am delighted that, after 30 years, my constituents and I will welcome the opening of its doors this coming October.

Here in Westminster, Sir Michael had a stellar career as well, serving as a Minister under Margaret Thatcher and being known latterly to Conservative Back Benchers as the chairman of the 1922 committee, a position for which he stood for many years unopposed. He was clearly admired by colleagues here every bit as much as he was by his constituents. I will not presume to match his achievements, but merely work hard on behalf of the constituents of West Worcestershire and try every day to serve their interests to the best of my ability.

I would also like to reassure all my neighbouring hon. Friends that, unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), I need not aspire to any neighbouring territory in any future boundary review. That is because the Baldwin ward is already part of the West Worcestershire constituency, and is named, of course, after Britain's three-time Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, who lived at Astley. Stanley Baldwin's Bewdley constituency contained much of the same beautiful scenery as the current West Worcestershire constituency, and I have often been asked on the doorstep whether I am his granddaughter; in fact, more often than not, people say, "I hear you are Stanley Baldwin's granddaughter."

I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to put the record straight in Hansard. My maiden name was Eggleston, and my husband was christened James Stanley Baldwin-obviously my mother-in-law was a big fan-but so far we have not been able to find any family linkage beyond the name. Indeed, I was so concerned about possibly being elected on false pretences, with an overestimation of both my ability and my ambition, that I even answered the question in my election address. Nevertheless, I am proud to be called Baldwin, which is a very good and widespread surname in West Worcestershire.

I hope that hon. Members will indulge me if I paint a picture of the main attractive aspects of the West Worcestershire constituency. It is the heart of England, and from the fertile plains of the Severn valley rises the solitary, final western hill of the Cotswolds, Bredon hill, which was an inspiration to A. E. Housman, the great English poet. The River Avon meanders around the beautiful Georgian town of Pershore, on its way to join up with the River Severn, creating flood plains and fields that are famous for being able to grow the most succulent asparagus. On the west of the River Severn, across more fine fields, pasture, orchards and common land, the Malvern hills rise up suddenly, to a great height. It is said that someone standing on the top of the Malvern hills and looking due east will not see a higher hill until they get to the Urals. [Hon. Members: "Ah?"] It is true.

The county border runs along the summit, but the West Worcestershire constituency, which stretches to the north and west of the hills, runs up the River Teme valley to the town of Tenbury Wells, and then as far north as villages such as Bayton and Mamble, which have Dudley postcodes. The four main towns of Malvern, Pershore, Upton upon Severn and Tenbury Wells are complemented by more than 70 different parishes, all with their own charms. It is particularly worth noting that the great English composer Elgar was born at Lower Broadheath. Throughout his life he drew musical inspiration from the scenery and landscape of the Malvern hills.

Food production is important locally. I have mentioned the asparagus crop, but visitors can also eat delicious local cherries, apples and pears, and enjoy locally raised chickens, eggs, turkeys, geese, beef, pork and lamb. To drink with that, they can enjoy the pure Malvern water, or beer, cider or locally produced wine. I am sure that other hon. Members will want to join me in my efforts in this place to promote our wonderful local food.

Visitors can buy locally produced milk and honey as well, but in this afternoon's debate on poverty, I want to use this opportunity to highlight some of the causes of poverty in West Worcestershire. I was delighted to hear the Minister mention drug use, which is not unknown in my constituency, particularly in some of the more deprived parts. I do not need to remind hon. Members of how badly drug use can ruin lives. I am particularly keen to use my time in the House to work with local residents, the police, charities and social enterprises to help people to tackle addiction and ensure that those who deal in drugs are shown no tolerance.

The population of West Worcestershire has one of the older demographic profiles in this country, and I want to raise some of the challenges of poverty among the elderly. I am keen for the Government to make progress on the issue of paying for long-term residential care. Many of my constituents worry about having to pay for their care or sell their homes in old age. I hope that we can support them with a voluntary insurance scheme and that the coalition Government come forward with other proposals that will help us all to afford the increasing cost of looking after our elderly citizens with dignity and respect.

Before coming into Parliament, I was a pension fund manager. One of the many scandalous legacies of the outgoing Government is the way in which they destroyed our private pension system, which used to be the envy of the world. However, the unfunded liability of the public pension system has increased enormously. We are all living longer, so the current situation is completely unsustainable. A pensioner in my constituency on modest savings who has lived responsibly and within her means all her life has to face an annual increase in her council tax, which is often due to the need for the local council and local police to make an ever greater provision for their future pension entitlements.

That results in real poverty for pensioners who have a small amount of savings and are thus unable to claim pension credit. These days, very few people in the private sector are saving enough for their greater longevity either. We are storing up terrible pensioner poverty for the future in this country. The Government have made a welcome start on tackling the fiscal deficit, but I hope that they and this Parliament can also begin to address the long-term pensions savings deficit in this country.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that you have given me to make my maiden speech in this important debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I look forward to using my time in this House to serve the good people of West Worcestershire, both here at Westminster and in the local community, as the Government take on some of those long-term challenges.

1.57 pm

| Hansard



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