Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) (Con)
It has been two and a half years since my last contribution, and I am delighted to have been re-elected to my seat. I am also delighted to see you re-elected to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), not least because I will try later in my mini-maiden that is now a maxi-maiden to do justice to some of the excellent work in constituencies the length and breadth of the land to support those with disabilities to move into the workplace. I was very proud in my first term to be a Disability Confident champion and to promote, at every level and every opportunity, those who were opening doors so that people of all talents, regardless of disability, had the opportunity to be everything they could be. We need them.
I am particularly pleased and privileged to follow in the footsteps of genuinely new friends and particularly my new neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), who is of course a fellow coastal community champion. I would also like, without causing offence by not singling out more people, to commend my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), who spoke movingly earlier in the debate.
This debate about the economy is particularly important, because it is the economy that powers our public services. I speak with feeling on that, because it powers our schools and I am a teacher. It also powers our NHS, and I stand before the House today not just as a teacher, but as a very grateful mum. What brought me to Parliament in my first term was a potentially shattering experience, when my then five-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumour. We fell into the embrace of the NHS, and thanks to the surgeons of Great Ormond Street and King’s College, his life was saved. That stopped me in my tracks; I was moving towards being a headteacher, and I was overwhelmed with such a need to give something back, having experienced that incredible support and affirmation from the NHS. Ultimately, I found my way here, and the same sense of service that brought me here the first time has brought me back.
I would like to thank the good people of Eastbourne and Willingdon for bringing me back. I would also like to thank one or two hon. Friends for helping me on my way and for campaigning with me in the dark and the rain in my beautiful coastal town. I would particularly like to mention my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). So confident was he in my success that he said to a member of the media that if I did not win, he would jump off Eastbourne pier naked. Now, there was joy in my campaign centre in the early hours of election night on the back of my win, but there was some disappointment in other quarters that that jump was not to take place, although I am not sure the world is any poorer for that missed opportunity.
I also thank my predecessor, Stephen Lloyd, who, in victory and defeat, brought back and supported the Eastbourne carnival, which is a really important showcase for local community groups and a powerful fundraiser for local charities.
In the context of today’s debate, I stood on a platform of inspiring new prosperity in my home town and, critically, new prosperity that left no one behind. For that reason, I wish to highlight two particular groups in Eastbourne whose important work I will be supporting. One is called Project SEARCH. I am sure that other Members will have similar programmes in their constituencies. Project SEARCH seeks to provide supported internships for young adults with learning disabilities. Such internships are to be found at the local hospital, which hosts the programme and which has genuinely opened the door of opportunity to these young people who come and add to that organisation. Their work is of inestimable value. It is hugely important, and I want to see that work grow and develop.
A second group relates to another cohort of people who must not be left behind. They are under the auspices of Reformed East Sussex, which looks to build bridges for ex-offenders who can find it incredibly challenging to find their way back to employment. What an incredibly powerful thing it is to be able to reach out and to provide that first step back into work. It does tremendous work not only for ex-offenders, but for those who are recovering from addictions. I look forward to working with both those organisations for those particularly hard-to-reach groups and to seeing those jobs open up for them.
What do Members know of Eastbourne other than the fact that it is, of course, the sunshine capital of the south, with the highest number of sunshine hours anywhere in the kingdom? Sometimes that is disputed by neighbours, but not tonight, so I will rush on. It is also known for its heritage coastline—incredible vistas are beamed across the world when we host our international tennis tournaments. We are also the gateway town to the South Downs national park, which is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies) reminds me, the home of the very famous challenging, but inspiring, Beachy Head half marathon, which she herself ran. I waited on the finish line to welcome her in.