Smith’s maiden speech charms MPs

October 17, 2009 at 6:51 pm Leave a comment


A “Norfolk girl who might be said to have made good” spoke for the first time in the Commons on Wednesday.

27-year-old Chloe Smith, victor of July’s by-election in Norwich North, is the Baby of the House, or youngest MP.

Ms Smith took her seat in the Commons on Monday after swearing the oath at the despatch box. She was warmly greeted by MPs and Speaker John Bercow.

She lost no time in making her maiden speech, and her seven-minute, highly traditional oration won high praise from her new colleagues.

Shadow minister John Hayes declared it “an excellent maiden” speech from “a bright star with a bright future”.

The by-election was called after Labour MP Ian Gibson resigned.

He was unhappy that the party had banned him from standing as a candidate at the next general election because of his expenses claims.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Dr Gibson claimed almost £80,000 in four years for mortgage interest and bills on a London flat which was the main home of his daughter.

He was called before a Labour party disciplinary hearing and barred from standing, despite protests from his constituents.

On a swing of 16.5% from Labour to the Tories Ms Smith won the by-election with majority of 7,348 and 39.5 per cent of the vote.

Labour’s Chris Ostrowski, who caught swine flu in the last days of the campaign, got 18 per cent.

Ms Smith stuck to the traditions of a Commons maiden speech on Wednesday by praising her predecessor, waxing lyrical about the delights of her constituency and avoiding controversy or overt partisanship.

She began by thanking Deputy Speaker Sylvia Heal “for the opportunity to take part in this Opposition day debate” on higher education.

“As this is my first speech, I want to pay tribute to Dr. Ian Gibson, the previous Member for Norwich, North,” she said.

“He was a dedicated constituency Member whose tradition of independence and plain speaking I hope to emulate.

“He was known locally for his work on science, as I understand he was here in the House, and for sticking up for the people.

“Although I do not enter this place as a scientist, I certainly intend to stick up for all my constituents.”

Ms Smith then spoke at length about her constituency.

“We are known for industries such as chocolate, mustard, wool, shoes, financial services and now modern technologies, including biotechnology and engineering,” she told MPs.

“We have a high proportion of small and medium-sized firms, and I applaud all those in Norwich who choose to take a risk and build their own businesses.”

She moved on to setting out her priorities as an MP.

“I look forward to working over the next nine months on NHS facilities, transport, housing and more. I am already working on behalf of those constituents who face problems with social housing,” she said.

“My predecessor talked eloquently about Norwich’s housing during his maiden speech in 1997, but the problems have not diminished since then.

“It is a personal priority for me to focus on the improvement of the stock and service for local council tenants.”

Turning to the topic of debate, she rounded off by condemning the building crisis in higher education caused by the Learning and Skills Council.

“Many of my constituents are already losing out in the chaos, and we may all lose further if the college cannot recoup the £3 million already sunk into plans encouraged by this Government.”

The praise for Ms Smith’s speech was lavish.

Labour MP Dari Taylor was characteristically fulsome.

“I warmly welcome her to the House, as do all hon. Members.

“It was a pleasure to listen to her speech, which was young, enthusiastic and knowledgeable—characteristics and qualities that are warmly welcome here.

“It is my belief that she will represent her constituents with care and professionalism. I congratulate her, and I am delighted that she is taking her seat.”

Ms Smith’s Tory colleague Rob Wilson told her “she can be very proud of herself, and I am certain her predecessor would have looked on and nodded in approval. I am sure she will be his equal in every respect in fighting for the interests of her constituents in this House.”

Winding up the debate Kevin Brennan, Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs, praised her “great clarity and passion about her constituency”.

“I particularly thank her for the praise that she gave to her predecessor, Dr. Ian Gibson, who is a close friend of mine and was an excellent Member of the House.

“She said that she wanted to emulate his independence in the House.

“I hope she has informed her Whips Office of that, as I am not sure her Whips will so heartily praise her if she does so.”


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