When Shailesh Vara made his maiden speech in the House of Commons after arriving as a newly elected MP, he maintained the traditions of the House by making complimentary remarks about his constituency and its former Members of Parliament.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech.
My constituency, North-West Cambridgeshire, is relatively new, having been created in 1997, and I am only its second Member of Parliament. However, the area that the constituency covers has a long and distinguished history and many eminent people have left their footprints in its soil. My immediate predecessor was Sir Brian Mawhinney, recently ennobled and now Lord Mawhinney. He is a formidable politician. He was diligent, conscientious, hard working and always put the interests of his constituents first. He was fortunate and privileged to serve in high office, including as Secretary of State for Transport and chairman of the Conservative party. Despite all the pressures that high office brings, he always found time for his constituents.
I am sure that Lord Mawhinney will continue to be involved in local affairs, especially as his title is Lord Mawhinney of Peterborough. When he was a Member of Parliament, one of his passions was supporting the local football team, which is affectionately known as "The Posh". As he is now chairman of the Football League, I suspect that, on at least some Saturdays, he will be found on the terraces of other football clubs.
Before 1997, some 60 per cent. of my constituency was part of the former Huntingdon constituency, where the Member of Parliament was the former Prime Minister, Sir John Major. Sir John and Dame Norma continue to live locally and remain involved in several local concerns, especially charitable interests. Given Sir John's love of cricket, hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that on the odd Saturday he can be found at a local cricket match, and Dame Norma holds an annual charity cricket match in support of Mencap.
A third former Member of Parliament, Lord Renton, lives in my constituency. Hon. Members know that I do not exaggerate when I say that he is one of the most charming men in the Palace of Westminster. Soon to be 97, and still active in another place, he is the president of the Association of Conservative Peers. I am grateful for all the kindness and support that all three previous Members have shown me. It is usual for a new Member to have one former Member of Parliament looking over his shoulder to ascertain what he is—and perhaps sometimes is not—doing. Occasionally, there are two former Members. However, it is rare to have three former Members of Parliament looking over one's shoulder—and such an eminent trio at that.
My constituency covers the southern part of Peterborough, south of the River Nene, and some villages and towns that go down to, but not including, Huntingdon. Peterborough is characterised by rapid expansion. Several people there commute regularly to nearby places. The expansion is best typified by an area known as the Hamptons, where it is proposed to build thousands of houses. The major challenge will be to ensure that the house building is matched by the appropriate infrastructure.
Moving south in the constituency, there are picturesque villages such as Hamerton, which has some 30 houses, and Sawtry, Yaxley, Warboys and Ramsey, which have a few thousand residents. The abiding theme in the southern part of the constituency is that it is of a rural nature. One particular concern for my local farmers is the proposed reduction in European quotas for sugar beet, and I, for one, will be vigorously taking up their interests wherever that is necessary.
I was recently fortunate to be one of the 20 Members chosen in the ballot for private Members' Bills, and I propose to attempt to introduce a Bill on breast cancer screening for women. At present, women between the ages of 50 and 70 receive a notice from their local hospital inviting them for a screening. I propose to try to change that so that women between the ages of 45 and 75 are covered. The logic is that women are now living longer and healthier lives, and it seems sensible to acknowledge that by covering a higher age group. And of course, we all know that women below 50 suffer from breast cancer, as well as those over that age. I would have thought that prevention was better than cure. Let us not forget that we are not simply talking about the one in nine women who suffer from breast cancer; we are also talking about their families and friends, and that involves a huge number of people. I very much hope that the Government will give my private Member's Bill due consideration.
Many years ago, I remember watching Prime Minister's questions on television with my parents. I said to them, "I hope that one day I will be on those green Benches." For this Ugandan-born Indian, and Britain's first Gujarati Member of Parliament, a dream has certainly come true. I am particularly pleased that my parents are watching this today, not from the other side of a television screen but from the Public Gallery. Madam Deputy Speaker, you can tell from the look on their faces that my parents, Lakhman and Savita Vara, are delighted to be here rather than on the other side of a screen.
There can be no better privilege for anyone than to represent their fellow citizens in this, the mother of Parliaments, and I am deeply grateful to the people of North-West Cambridgeshire for affording me the opportunity to represent them here. They are wonderful people and it is a lovely constituency. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to speak today. I also thank the other right hon. and hon. Members here for extending the usual courtesies to one who is making a maiden speech.