Economic Affairs and Work and Pensions
Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire, Conservative)
It is a great honour to be called and to follow so many fantastic maiden speeches: when the bar is set so high, it is often easier to duck under it. It is a great honour to serve South Staffordshire. It is traditional for hon. Members to pay tribute to their predecessors, and that is easier for some than it is for others.
It is easy for me to pay tribute not only to my predecessors for previous constituencies, such as Cannock and Brierley Hill-for example, Sir Fergus Montgomery and Jennie Lee, who were great parliamentarians-but to my immediate predecessor, Sir Patrick Cormack, a great parliamentarian whom we all greatly admire. Sir Patrick believed in and fought passionately for his constituency and constituents, but he also believed passionately in this House-in its traditions and its importance in our national life. He also believed in the importance of a strong House of Commons in holding the Government to account and ensuring good government. Those principles were close to Sir Patrick's heart and will be close to mine.
Over the weeks following my selection, Sir Patrick and I became good and close friends. We enjoyed spending a great amount of time campaigning together, and although our styles were sometimes a little different, that made it all the more enjoyable. I remember campaigning in the former mining village of Great Wyrley, where many constituents rushed up to Sir Patrick to wish him well in his retirement and thank him for the work he had done for them. They shook his hand and said, "Mr McCormack, Mr McCormack." After about the 10th person had done so, I said to Sir Patrick, "Don't you ever correct them?" He said, "Dear boy, after 40 years, it hardly seems worth bothering, don't you think?" It is an honour to step into Sir Patrick's very large shoes, but I hope that, over the years, I will gain some of his panache and style, which graced this Chamber, and that I will be an asset not only to the people of South Staffordshire but to this House.
South Staffordshire is one of those constituencies about which so many people say, "Where is it? Which town is in it?" People probably travel through it many times when they go up the M6 or up the west coast main line. It is a beautiful constituency that does not have a single major town, but is built up around many small, and some large, villages scattered across the South Staffordshire countryside. Many of those villages were born out of the industrial revolution and coal mining traditions, and have settled in some of the most beautiful, pretty and gentle English countryside that one can imagine.
The people are straight talkers, which, as a Yorkshireman, is comforting to know. As a straight talker myself, it is nice to have it blunt from others. South Staffordshire is a beautiful constituency that is criss-crossed by many canals and beautiful fields. However, it has its problems and issues. In South Staffordshire, compared with the national average, twice as many people work in manufacturing. That is important to me, because I have worked in manufacturing since I left university. I think it is fair to say that I am one of the few potters who sit in the House today. It is that experience of manufacturing that I hope to bring to the House, because far too often Governments of all colours have believed that we can build a strong, stable and vibrant economy on the twin pillars of financial services and coffee-shop economics. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who works in coffee shops and I even grudgingly admit that we might need bankers, but we cannot have a vibrant British economy without a strong and vibrant manufacturing sector.
Far too often, young people who go into manufacturing or engineering are seen as taking a second-class career, whereas we reward and sing the praises of people who go into accountancy, the law or public relations. We do not sing enough the praises of our designers, engineers and manufacturers. We need to change that ethos and have a similar one to that of Germany or Japan. We will have a truly vibrant economy only when we recreate the Victorian spirit of ingenuity and inventiveness that made Britain such a vibrant country, as I am sure it will be again.
I truly welcome the Prime Minister's comments about the importance of manufacturing and I hope that the Treasury team listen well to his comments and do not spend all their time listening to bankers. They should also listen to manufacturers, because we often have a lot more common sense than bankers. I hope I can play my part in representing South Staffordshire and the people of a beautiful and lovely constituency, and that I can ensure their voices are heard loud and clear in this Chamber.