Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) (Con)
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to give my maiden speech as this House debates Her Majesty’s most Gracious Speech—particularly on this day, as we consider health and social care. It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron).
I am a teacher and passionate about education, but it was my boy’s shock diagnosis of a life-threatening brain tumour, then aged five, that changed the course of my life and has ultimately brought me to this place. So in his name, and remembering the very great expertise and care of NHS staff, I rise to speak. The NHS is in my political DNA, and concern for our local hospital runs through my home constituency like seaside rock. In my parliamentary campaign I said that health was my first priority, so it is very fitting that this is my first debate.
In customary form, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Stephen Lloyd, who served in the previous Parliament and brought great energy to his role and colour to the town in the form of the Eastbourne carnival. He was the first MP to secure 100 apprenticeships in 100 days. He and I have worked together on the Save the DGH Campaign for Eastbourne District General hospital. It seems right, too, in the year we commemorate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, to recall not just Stephen but those who have gone before us both—only 12 since 1885, when the Eastbourne constituency was created, with an electorate of just 8,000 souls.
This year of 2015 marks a more modern anniversary too. It is 25 years since the tragic loss of the right hon. Ian Gow, who served Eastbourne in this place with honour and distinction between 1974 and 1990, when he was cruelly assassinated by the Provisional IRA. At home he is still remembered with great respect and affection, and in this place too. Indeed, he was mentioned only yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), speaking on Britain’s place in the world and the courage we must ever show in the face of terrorism.
In speaking I am suitably conscious that the business of this Chamber is now captured and can be streamed live to millions of homes around the nation. Back in the day, Ian Gow did not think televising proceedings a positive innovation, which made it ironic that his was the very first televised speech. Thanks to those early recordings and the magic of the internet, I was able to hear his voice again. In the Loyal Address of 1989, he urges that we
“do not succumb to the vaulting ambitions of the supranationalists.” —[Official Report, 21 November 1989; Vol. 162, c. 9.]
He, like me, would be pleased to see the European Union Referendum Bill in the Queen’s Speech. He talks of a then “new” hospital, the DGH; now we need new leadership to secure its future. I welcome plans for a truly seven-days-a-week NHS and for more joined-up health and social care, both signposted in the Gracious Speech. There are challenges ahead, but cause for confidence too, not least as Conservative plans recognise the needs of coastal communities such as mine, the importance of transport links, and the power of a strong economy to fund our NHS and build our schools.
My constituency includes, nestled in the downlands, Willingdon, Wannock, Filching and Jevington—made famous by being the birthplace of banoffee pie. Members may know Eastbourne as the sunniest place in the United Kingdom, a tourist town, and a retirement haven. That is all true, but there is perhaps an untold story. We are home to the largest junior school in Europe. We have, reportedly, the highest proportion of female directors in the UK and the highest number of director appointments under 25. We are surprisingly rich in military history, with the latest heritage project revealing the Summerdown camp—the country’s biggest first world war convalescent camp, a tiny part of which is now to be found under my sister’s garden. It is a place of culture, with the award-winning Turner gallery. It is the eastern gateway to the South Downs national park—a connection I hope to make increasingly strong in the years to come. It is a place of business, big and small, and home to the largest distributor of the English language in Europe.
We also have big ambitions, with pipeline plans to build a top conferencing centre, an emerging digital and creative community, and millions of pounds of investment working its way into the town—and soon we will have big names, as tennis stars make their way to Eastbourne later this month for the Aegon international pre-Wimbledon tournament, which beams images of our wonderful town all around the world. Members may recall that Eastbourne drew international coverage only last summer with the devastating images of the fire that ripped through our iconic Victorian pier. That pier is open again for business and for pleasure, and you are warmly welcome.
I close with the most sincere thanks to those who have given me the extraordinary privilege to represent them and the town and the area I love.