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Devolution and Growth Across Britain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:47 pm on 3rd June 2015.

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Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Conservative, North East Hampshire 3:47 pm, 3rd June 2015

I should like to thank you, Mr Speaker, for ushering in my first speech so speedily. It is a pleasure to follow Mr Robinson, who makes his point forcefully, although I am pleased to rise in support of the vision outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in saying that this Government are keen to give more powers back to our shires.

It may strike right hon. and hon. Members as odd that I am making not only my maiden speech but the first maiden speech for my constituency. It is said in the King James Bible that

“for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day”.

Meanwhile, the creation of North East Hampshire out of the ashes of Aldershot, Basingstoke and East Hampshire took the Boundary Commission a little longer—from 1991 until 2007. It was first contested at the 1997 general election on different boundaries and won handsomely by my predecessor, James Arbuthnot, who represented my constituents admirably until he retired. Once described as

“a Conservative MP of a species nearing extinction…with a patrician accent redolent of his party some decades ago”,

his contribution to Government and Parliament should silence any critic. Having served as a Whip, Social Security Minister and Defence Minister in government, he was then appointed as Opposition Chief Whip. But it was his service to this House, as Chairman of the Defence Committee, that he told me was the best job he had ever had. He served this House and his constituency with enormous grace, skill and dedication, and it is a privilege to follow in his footsteps.

Indeed, I should like to thank the people of North East Hampshire for giving me the privilege, honour and opportunity to represent them in Parliament with a very strong mandate. North East Hampshire is home for me. I grew up there; I went to school there; and I continue to live there today with my wife and baby daughter.

The constituency includes the wards of Sherborne St John, Bramley and Sherfield, and Pamber and Silchester to the north of Basingstoke. This has been home to people for centuries: the once-animated Roman town of Calleva can be seen today, still part of the peaceful villages that surround it.

The constituency continues east, including the lion’s share of Hart district—the wards of Hook, Hartley Wintney and Odiham, and the larger communities of Yateley, Fleet and Church Crookham. North East Hampshire then heads south, around and past Basingstoke into the ward of Upton Grey and the Candovers. Travelling along the highways and byways there, and indeed across the constituency, any visitor will be delighted by astonishingly pretty villages, straight out of a child’s story book, complete with thatched cottages, village greens and ponds. One village, Rotherwick, boasts a house where the original bay window was the model for the picture on Quality Street chocolates. This is the original chocolate-box village.

My constituency is home to RAF Odiham. Britain’s fleet of Chinooks is based here. Their contribution to the defence of our freedom is hugely valued and respected. Odiham’s association with freedom is profound. King John rode from his castle there to Runnymede, where he met the barons to sign Magna Carta. The principles enshrined in Magna Carta—the primacy of the rule of law, that none shall be taxed without representation and, importantly, the freedom of the English Church—are seen as the first glimmers of human rights. They are the principles that bolstered my desire to enter public service.

The House will be aware that human rights were not conceived in 1998. They have existed for centuries, but they did not exist in a vacuum. Rights were balanced by responsibilities. In this, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, it is right for us to consider how to balance and thereby strengthen justice in our country. A former Prime Minister once said:

“I am in politics because of the conflict between good and evil, and I believe that in the end good will triumph.”

I am firmly of her opinion.

I want to see the kind of equality before the law that Magna Carta promised, matched by equality in opportunity. Education holds the greatest hope for a life rich in promise. The consequences of its failure are housed in our jails and hospitals. We must always strive to improve education because it is there that we set up children with the ability to look after themselves and their families in later life and, indeed, to contribute to our society and economy.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills said, with hard work, with determination and with energy, we can create a country in which everyone who wants to work can get a job, in which people keep and spend more of their own money and in which people know that they and their families will be safe and free.

North East Hampshire is a great place. Britain is a great country. Our best days lie ahead.