On Thursday 3rd June 2010, Gareth Johnson MP gave his Maiden Speech in the House of Commons.

Gareth’s subjects included: the importance of Ebbsfleet International as a geographical landmark and transport hub; the problems associated with the Dartford Crossing; the Thames Gateway as an opportunity but also a transport nightmare; a tribute to Howard Stoate and Margaret Thatcher’s historical links with Dartford.

Gareth said: “One MP described this process as like jumping into a cold swimming pool! I wouldn’t go as far as that but it certainly was a surreal experience. I have been extremely busy since the election working on numerous local constituency issues. It has been a genuine honour to commence work on behalf of Dartford as the new MP. There are a lot of challenges ahead but I am determined that I will give everything I have to ensure that Dartford’s interests are looked after here in Westminster”.

The full transcript of the speech is attached and two photographic stills.

Transcript of speech:

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech to the House. I commend the speech that the Hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) gave in such an eloquent and powerful manner.

On the subject of the debate, I agree not only that Britain can benefit from its membership of the European Union, but that Europe benefits from Britain’s membership of the union. We should resist unnecessary interference from the European Union, which should not seek to interfere with every facet of our lives. We need individuals to have greater freedoms over their lives and for this House to have the freedom to operate without further subservience to the European Union.

This House benefits from the expertise that different Members bring to it. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Dr Howard Stoate, who brought to the House an in-depth knowledge of medical issues, which I am sure the House appreciated. He served the residents of Dartford for well over a decade and worked hard for them.

Dartford has a tradition of not changing its Member of Parliament very often; indeed, I am only the sixth Member for Dartford since the second world war. That is a tradition that I would like Dartford to continue. Dartford is also the longest serving bellwether seat in the entire country, with the Member of Parliament reflecting the Government party for nearly 50 years. Again, that is a tradition that I would like to keep.

Dartford is also the seat that Lady Thatcher contested twice and the place where she met her husband Denis. To this day, she is referred to as Margaret Roberts by some of my more senior local party members.

It is traditional for new Members of Parliament to say something complimentary about their constituency. For me, that is easy. Dartford is my home, my background and my life. I grew up locally. I helped my father to deliver milk to the local area on his milk round, and I attended Dartford Grammar School. Although I probably spent more time in the Headmaster’s study than he did, I still gained a great deal from my education and I doubt whether I would be here today if it were not for that experience.

Dartford is a diverse constituency, with rural villages and an urban town centre. It is a commuter town with a heavy reliance on the rail network. As part of the Thames Gateway, we have seen a large number of new houses built in the area. Thousands more houses are planned that could threaten the stability of the local area if we do not properly prepare for them. However, they could also create a wonderful opportunity if we can ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to cope with the influx of new residents. The more established areas, such as Joyden’s Wood, Longfield and Hawley, are popular villages for local families to live in. Areas such as Greenhithe are once again flourishing, after declining with the loss of manufacturing in the area.

Dartford also has a rich vein of history. The Roman road of Watling Street was built through Dartford, going under the site of the town’s church, via a ford over the river Darent, thus giving the town its name. Wat Tyler’s revolt began in Dartford, which was where he lived and where the peasants congregated before marching towards this House. I am pleased to say that the residents of Dartford still like to lobby their representatives in a forthright manner, but thankfully for me in a less blood-thirsty way these days.

In the 16th Century, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleeves, lived in Dartford, and shortly afterwards the school I attended was founded in the town centre. Thus began a tradition of good quality education in Dartford that still exists today. Although we have four excellent grammar schools in Dartford, we also have flourishing academies, such as the Leigh Technology Academy, which attracts pupils from a wide area, so much so that Dartford now needs more school capacity to provide sufficient places for local school children.

Dartford has other challenges ahead. Our town centre is desperately in need of regeneration. The recent recession has prevented a development project from taking place, and local traders are suffering the consequence of that.

Another thing that affects traders and local residents is the continuation of the tolls on the Dartford Crossing. The tolls remain in force despite previous assurances and they create congestion and misery across the entire area. They act as a literal road block to the opening up of the Thames Gateway. Any Member who has found themselves stuck in traffic at the Dartford Crossing will confirm that, instead of opening up the area, the Crossing actually stifles it. It also creates pollution, which has a detrimental effect on the health of my constituents. For all those reasons, and many more, I will never stop campaigning for the tolls on the Dartford Crossing to be scrapped.

Dartford also has much to be optimistic about. Too often, we hear reports in the media about religious tensions, but our Baptist church sits right next door to our Sikh temple without a murmur of difficulty, something of which both congregations are rightly proud. Bluewater shopping centre provides fantastic employment opportunities and a model apprenticeship scheme, not to mention the shopping opportunities that are keenly experienced by my wife. A lot of work has gone into improving Dartford. It has a first-class new judo centre at Stone, as well as a brand new football stadium and a forward-thinking local authority. My constituency is also the home of Ebbsfleet International train station, which lies on the new high-speed rail line between London and Paris. These increased transportation links, rather than increased political links with the European Union, represent the direction in which I believe we should be moving.

I am the first ever Member of Parliament to live in the beautiful rural village of Hartley in my constituency. Villages such as New Barn, Wilmington and Southfleet add to the pleasant country feel of much of the area. Although it is just 16 miles from this Chamber, Dartford has a very Kentish character and culture. It is proud to be distinct from London, and I am very proud to be able to represent it.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I congratulate the Hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on his excellent maiden speech, and all the other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I particularly welcome the fact that we have had four superb speeches from new women Members on the Labour Benches. That demonstrates the fact that, although it is still happening too slowly, the more representative the parliamentary Labour party becomes, the more effective we will be. As an Opposition, we will be far more effective as a result of their contributions and those of others that we shall hear. That was ably demonstrated during the debate. ENDS

Editors’ notes:

The background and protocol of maiden speeches:

As at 7 th July approximately 50 of the 250 newly elected MPs have made their maiden speech.

The first time a newly elected Member speaks in the Chamber of the House of Commons is known as a maiden speech. By tradition, the Member is called ahead of other MPs who may have indicated their wish to speak in the same debate. A maiden speech is usually uncontroversial, fairly brief and includes a tribute to the Member’s predecessor in the seat, irrespective of party, and favourable remarks about the constituency. It is also a tradition that a maiden speech is heard without interruption and for any speeches that may follow to praise the new MP’s first contribution.