It is a pleasure to deliver my maiden speech following such distinguished contributions, including from Ms Ritchie, and to have such an illustrious predecessor in representing my seat, which is such a beautiful part of the country. First elected to represent Loughborough in 1979 and becoming the right hon. Member for Charnwood in 1997, following the seat’s creation, Stephen Dorrell served for an astonishing 36 years in this House. Upon his election, he was the baby of the House, often described as “permanently boyish”—a trait that, as hon. Members will see, eluded my grasp, I fear, many years ago. Stephen served in a string of offices, from the Whips Office to the Cabinet. His commitment to serving his constituents was formidable and the respect in which he is held locally never ceased to be apparent to me as I campaigned.
But the man is so much more than a list of the offices that he held. He was once described in The Guardian as
“exuding sweet reasonableness and being recognisably a member of the human race.”
He combined this with intellectual rigour, diligence and genuine decency. While I may not be able to emulate his length of service or swift progression through ministerial ranks, I will continually strive to emulate his values, humanity and hard work.
Although a relatively new seat, Charnwood is in the ancient heart of our great country, sandwiched between Leicester and Loughborough. It also, in its short history, has a strong tradition of re-electing its Member—something I hope will continue. It is a mixed, beautiful but oddly shaped constituency, curving around Leicester from Glenfield and Leicester Forest East in the west in a large arc to the rural villages of Barkby, Beeby and South Croxton in the east, taking in historic Kirby Muxloe with its castle, through Groby and Anstey—reputedly the furthest point south reached by Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Scottish army before its swift retreat back north—and picture-book rural villages like Woodhouse Eaves, then passing Bradgate park, containing the ruins of Lady Jane Grey’s family estate and the ancient Charnwood forest.
Heading east, we pass through Cropston, Swithland, Rothley and Mountsorrel, with Thurmaston and Birstall to the south, before reaching Syston, the home of Pukka Pies. I fear that my post-election figure suggests that I have taken my support of local industry a little bit too far. Finally we reach Queniborough, East Goscote and the rural idyll typified by villages such as Cossington, Seagrave, Thrussington, Rearsby and Barkby, where, with the summer approaching and the nights getting shorter—not, I hasten to add, a reference to my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Duncan—many a sunny evening can be spent at the excellent Barkby United village cricket ground.
In the past five years the Chancellor has already laid the strong economic foundations for creating the one nation we all aspire to. Now, with the proposals in the Gracious Speech, we will make that a reality for everyone in this country. I look forward to being in my place to support him in doing this.
Charnwood is a success story and it has achieved much since 2010. It is a constituency blessed with extremely high ownership rates, low unemployment and successful businesses, although there is always more to do. That success does not just happen—that it happens is down to the hard work of the people of Charnwood, the sort of people who are the backbone of this country, working hard, doing the right thing, and building a better future for themselves and their family. They are exactly the people this Government are pledged to continue to support with our focus on opportunity and aspiration.
I will always fight for my constituents and constituency—for example, in continuing to campaign for fairer funding for my county of Leicestershire and for its schools—but there are a number of broader causes that I will particularly seek to champion in this House. While we have made significant progress in recent years, we still need to go further in vigorously and energetically focusing on improving dementia care and mental health provision; both are causes on which I will be vocal. I will not, I fear, be able to emulate the moving eloquence of my hon. and gallant Friend Johnny Mercer on this subject, but he will always find me shoulder to shoulder with him in his commitment to improving this country’s mental health care for children and adults and giving a voice to those whose cause is too often not heard.
I am here to represent the whole community in my constituency but particularly those on the fringes of our society who may not have the voice or ability to speak up for themselves. Every day I will strive to help build the one nation the Prime Minister has spoken about and in which I passionately believe, and every day I will humbly endeavour to repay the honour and trust that the people of Charnwood have placed in me.