Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. Before I do so, I pay tribute to the speeches of right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken so eloquently, leaving me with a hard task to follow. I also pay tribute to my predecessor as MP for Bexhill and Battle, the right hon. Greg Barker. Greg worked hard for his constituents over his 14 years as their MP, and left his mark in government as a Minister of State for Energy, working tirelessly to tackle climate change. I thank Greg for the advice and kindness he has given and continues to give me.
The Bexhill and Battle constituency nestles on the East Sussex seafront at its southern face and the beautiful Weald at its northern ridge. It spans over 200 square miles where my 100,000 constituents reside in 100 towns and villages. Mine is one of those constituencies that lists just two of the place names in its title. When I promised in my election literature to put the residents of Bexhill and Battle first, this raised questions about why I was de-prioritising the needs of the 50,000 constituents who did not live in either of those two towns. The use of the word “constituency” in literature is often overlooked.
My constituency borders the East Sussex constituencies of Hastings and Rye, Lewes, Wealden and Eastbourne. As the only male MP in this cluster of blue constituencies, I pledge to be the champion for other minority groups in East Sussex.
Many in this House will be unaware that Bexhill is the birthplace of British motor racing, having staged the first ever automobile race on British soil in 1906. This race was orchestrated by the eighth Lord De La Warr and the organisation that latterly became the Royal Automobile Club. Bexhill was also the launch-pad of another engine of progress and mobility, being the location where the Prime Minister launched his leadership bid to the membership of the Conservative party in 2005.
Next year, we face a battle against the aggressors of Europe who intend to march over our land, vanquish our sovereignty and replace it with French-based custom and rule. Will our nation rise up and repel this threat, or will we be defeated and be ruled for generations from Europe? I refer, of course, to the re-enactment to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the battle of Hastings, when William the Conqueror triumphed over King Harold and his army in a field that now adjoins Battle abbey. I believe there will be another key determination on Europe during this term, and I welcome my Government’s commitment to give people a say in a more civilised manner than that accorded in 1066.
It is customary in a maiden speech to bestow the title of “the most beautiful constituency” on to the area where one serves. Having lived in this wonderful area for almost 10 years, this is an easy case to make. I am, however, conscious of my upbringing for the first 19 years of my life in the noble constituency of Buckingham. As this House knows, this is your constituency, Mr Speaker, where my mother, sisters and wider family still reside as your constituents. I think it best to surmise that the most beautiful constituencies are entitled by the first letter of their description.
I hail from a family of Labour-leaning trade unionists. Having crossed the dining room floor of 5 Gawcott Fields, Buckingham at the age of 16, I know what it takes to stand for the courage of one’s convictions and to suffer the harsh consequences of washing-up sanctions as a result. Yet while my family and I may differ in the means, the ends of giving people hope and support via an education, a job, housing, support in ill-health and strong community are the reasons why I sought election to this noble House. It is also the reason why I am grateful to be able to deliver my maiden speech in the segment of the debate of the most Gracious Speech that is dedicated to the economy.
For the last seven years, I have led a team of lawyers who have been unwinding the Lehman Brothers estate in Europe. This was the largest bankruptcy in world history. From a starting position of bankruptcy, £35 billion-worth of cash and assets have been recovered and distributed by our small team; the books have been balanced with creditors paid in full; and we now focus on paying a surplus. I am aware that a much more challenging turnaround has been performed by the Government team, led by those on the Front Bench. I support the balancing of the national books, returns to taxpayers and the desire to record a surplus.
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister and Chancellor visited our region to announce the south coast plan. This is a plan that has already started with the delivery of a new link road between Bexhill and Hastings. When it opens this year, it will stand ready to deliver thousands of new jobs in a 42-acre business park, with 3,000 homes to attract new labour and give local people the chance of their own home and with a new country park bringing economic regeneration to my constituency. Thanks to the investment delivered by this Government, the future is positive for my constituents in Bexhill and Battle.
However, some of the most vulnerable and troubled of my constituents will always need a safety net, always require a defender and always need to rely on someone who will bat for them in their time of need. I pledge to work with all Members of this House in order that we may together provide this role—not just for my constituents in Bexhill and Battle, but for all constituents represented in this noble House.