Cambridge MP's First Speech

Reproduced in it's entirety, here is Cambridge's Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert's first speech in the House of Commons.

Thank you Mr Speaker.

May I firstly say what an honour it is to be elected to this House to follow David Howarth, who served as an excellent MP for Cambridge for 5 years. During the election campaign, everywhere I went people were full of praise for David and his achievements, from specific items of casework, to saving Brookfield’s Hospital, and his campaign against the closure of the Young People’s Psychiatric Service.

His national work has also been acclaimed, such as his fight against the Abolition of Parliament Bill. Now that I am here, I am delighted to see that he is remembered clearly by many on all sides of the House, and by many of the Clerks, who appreciated his interest and expertise in procedure. David is a true scholar, a fine lawyer and a great representative, and he will be missed on these benches. 

Cambridge has a long and distinguished electoral history. Since 1295, representatives have included such notable political reformers as Oliver Cromwell – although I do not endorse all of his aims or methods. If one includes the parallel Cambridge University Constituency, which operated from 1603 to 1950, the list includes many great scientists, including Sir George Gabriel Stokes and Sir Isaac Newton, arguably the first scientist to make money – although in his case it was as Master of the Mint. 

Interestingly, in light of recent discussions, the University Constituencies were elected using the Single Transferable Vote, so there is historic precedent for its use for this House!

Cambridge is a very distinguished city, and a very special city. It became significant under the Romans, as an important causeway past the swampland of the Fens – now all coloured blue. Like Rome, it is built on seven hills, although any of you who know it may be hard-pressed to name them all, or indeed to find them. 

Cambridge is a city of values, of people who think beyond the immediate. It is a liberal city, with residents who understand the value of civil liberties and human rights. It is an environmental city, keen to live sustainably and without polluting the planet. It is an international city, with residents who appreciate diversity and welcome those from other countries – and have a deep interest in foreign affairs, and what their country is doing in their name. And it is a city that cares about fairness and social justice. 

For Cambridge is not a uniformly wealthy city. Although some areas are – especially around the picturesque historic centre where tourists  gather – many areas, including the division I had the honour to represent on Cambridgeshire County Council for eight years, and the ward where I now live, are less well off. We must ensure that inequality is reduced, both in Cambridge and across the Country. 

Cambridge is best known as a University town, and it has three of them. The eponymous University, 801 years old (approximately – one should never enquire too carefully about ages), Anglia Ruskin University, an excellent University in its own right, financed by a certain Lord Ashcroft (a good use of his money) and a branch of the Open University. 

And there is more to Cambridge as an Education City than just these Universities; we are proud to have two marvellous Sixth Form Colleges and excellent further education at Cambridge Regional College (I hope the Rt Hon Member for S Cambs and Hon Member for SE Cambs will forgive me for trespassing over the border by a scant few metres), and countless good schools – although some that still need rather more support, possibly through a pupil premium, to ensure that every child can have the fair start they deserve. 

Cambridge is a city of students – especially around the central areas. As a former student there myself, and more recently as a lecturer and Director of Studies, I have seen first-hand the problems that they face as a result of ever-increasing debts. I also see how this debt changes their social interactions – Cambridge students are more segregated than they used to be – and how it affects their career choices – for the worse. 

Cambridge is a city of Science. Of historic figures, such as Newton, Darwin, Watson and Crick. And of more contemporary greats, pushing back the frontiers of knowledge at a great pace. It is invidious to name only a few, but perhaps the house will allow me to select from the biological sciences the name of Venki Ramakrishnan, Nobel Laureate last year, and from the physical sciences the Noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow PRS. 

Julian Huppert

As one of the rare scientists myself in this House, I hope to bring my expertise to bear on many of the issues facing us. While I suspect my own research field will not come up too often – I work, or rather, worked, on four-stranded structures of DNA called G-quadruplexes, how these knots can form inside cells, how they control which genes are turned on and off, and how they can be targets for new anti-cancer drugs – it is an understanding of how science works that I bring to this House. 

I can speak on wider issues of science policy, such as the funding process for both applied and blue skies research, and on the operation of the DNA database. And I can speak on how science should affect the broader reaches of policy – such as in making decisions about low-carbon energy sources, following the ideas of my scientific colleague and now CSA at DECC Prof David MacKay. But I also believe that science, and more specifically the scientific method, has much to contribute to more diverse fields such as Home Affairs and Justice. For instance, a Cambridge Criminologist, Prof Larry Sherman, has performed elegant trials studying how to most efficiently deploy police to minimise criminal activity, and has shown that alternatives to short-term jail, such as restorative justice, are more effective at reducing future crime, cost less, and are preferred by victims. 

Scientists are obviously not unique in being able to apply such approaches, but we do come with a commitment to making evidence-based policy decisions. 

Cambridge is also a city of technology and Innovation. It is an economic powerhouse for the region, with many high-tech companies forming an ever-growing cluster. Companies such as ARM, Solexa and Cambridge Display Technology are changing our lives, and driving the economy. There is much to learn about how to stimulate and nurture such systems, and I hope that we can develop a set of policies that facilitate such growth. 

But economic growth is not all that we should care about. We know that economic growth can lead to environmental damage, but the issue is broader than just that trade-off. We are too fixated on GDP, and make too much of whether it has gone up or down by 0.2%. It does not measure the things we ought to care about – education, health, or well-being. If there is an oilspill off the coast, which we then clear up, more or less well, GDP has increased, but I’m not sure any of us would be delighted with that outcome. 

We need to focus more broadly on personal issues such as wellbeing and happiness. We need to develop rigorous metrics to measure this wellbeing throughout society, and then ensure that we bear them in mind when developing policy. For we already know a lot about wellbeing – it doesn’t change much with income, above a figure of around 7,000 pounds per annum. It changes with the quality of the environment, with the number of friends and other social bonds we have, with the activities we get involved in, with family and with community. 

Mr Speaker, allow me to sum up my aims for Cambridge and for the Country. 

I want to make Cambridge a City where people want to live and work. A city where they can afford to live and work. A city at ease with its environment. A tolerant, open city, and a more equal city. 

And I want to expand those same aims to the country. 

It has been said before that decisions are made by those who show up. It is a great honour that the people of Cambridge have asked me to show up here on their behalf, and I will try to represent them to the best of my ability.

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