Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my first contribution to this House, and may I take this opportunity to commend all the excellent maiden speeches we have heard today on both sides of the House?
It may surprise my hon. Friends to learn that part of me is a little sad to be here, because the fact that I am standing here means that this Chamber has said goodbye to one of its finest parliamentarians, my predecessor the right hon. William Hague.
William enjoyed a distinguished career over 26 years. He oversaw a landmark Bill to improve rights for the disabled, led our party and served as Foreign Secretary. But his true mark can be found at home in Richmond. He was an outstanding local MP, as well as an outstanding Yorkshireman.
I once arranged a visit to a tiny, remote village and imagined that, for once, I might outdo my predecessor. On arrival, I was told that not only had he held a surgery in the village recently, but that the Foreign Secretary had arrived in a Harrier jet having flown in from a meeting with the President of the United States.
“he’s fit, he’s healthy, he does Yoga, he can probably crack a man’s skull between his knee caps.”
That is hard to beat, but I did find a scintilla of encouragement on the campaign trail. Wandering through an auction market, I was introduced to a farmer as “the new William Hague”. He looked at me, quizzically, then said, “Ah yes, Haguey! Good bloke. I like him. Bit pale, though. This one’s got a better tan.” [Laughter.]
In today’s debate on Europe, we should remember that, as leader, William Hague campaigned to prevent Britain from joining the single European currency and instead to keep the pound. His judgment looks even more excellent today than it did then.
We will miss his oratory, wit and intelligence, and I know that the whole House will join me in wishing him well. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
Sadly, William Hague’s predecessor, the late Lord Brittan, is no longer with us. Fortunately, however, Lord Brittan’s predecessor, Sir Timothy Kitson, still lives locally and his years of dedicated service are remembered fondly.
The constituency of Richmond is known for its remarkable natural beauty. In the east lie the North Yorkshire moors and in the west sit the Yorkshire dales, with their distinctive dry stone walls, stone barns and softly rolling valleys. In fact, admiration for my constituency has even spread to the other side of the English channel, which is why, last year, the remote splendour of Wensleydale and Swaledale became part of the Tour de France.
Interlaced with this natural beauty is a constant reminder of our nation’s heritage. Richmond castle sits magnificently at the heart of the constituency. Built by William the Conqueror, it has witnessed centuries of our nation’s history unfolding. Further afield in Great Ayton, Captain James Cook grew up and left Yorkshire to explore the world.
I am also deeply honoured to represent our soldiers, airmen and their families living at RAF Leeming and at Catterick garrison, our largest Army base. We are home to the historic Green Howards, who served in the Napoleonic Wars, the Normandy landings and Afghanistan. I will never forget that so many of my constituents have risked their lives to protect our nation so that we may debate here in peace today.
In spite of all this, the most remarkable aspect of my constituency is the strength, warmth and independent spirit of our communities. I am fiercely proud to represent them. And although I am not from Yorkshire, they were immensely relieved to learn I was not from Lancashire either! [Laughter.]
I intend to be a champion for the causes of the countryside. I want my hard-working rural constituents to have the strong public services they deserve and every opportunity to prosper.
Our excellent hospital, the Friarage, serves a sparse area of 1,000 square miles, with some patients travelling over an hour and a half to reach it. I shall be a loud voice for ensuring that our local hospital remains strong.
Our rural schools require fair education funding so that they can remain the beating hearts of our villages. I shall be relentless in pushing for better broadband and better mobile phone coverage. The farmers who feed us, proud stewards of our landscape, are too often taken for granted and left alone to battle regulation. Many of our small businesses are making significant exports, and I am determined to help them to give Yorkshire an even bigger place on the map of the world than it already has—if that is possible!
My grandparents arrived in this country with little. My parents, now a GP and a pharmacist, grew up wanting a better future for their children. Today, I have the enormous privilege of standing here as a Member of Parliament. I owe a great debt to our country for what it has done for my family: showing tolerance, providing opportunities and rewarding their hard work.
A great man once remarked that “some of you might not be here in 30 or 40 years” before reminding his audience that decisions made today shape the future for the next generation.
I believe in a compassionate Britain that provides opportunity and values freedom. I hope I can play a small part in ensuring that our great nation continues to hold to those enduring values.