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[2nd day]

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:24 pm on 1st February 2017.

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Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 1:24 pm, 1st February 2017

Sleaford and North Hykeham is not only the constituency that I am proud to represent; it is my home, and I feel a personal responsibility to nurture it. It is a thriving, predominantly agricultural area, with pockets of industry and a strong military tradition.

The town of North Hykeham is built directly on top of the old Roman road, the Fosse Way. To the south is Sleaford, where one is welcomed by the Handley monument, a large, ornate stone structure, within which is a statue of Henry Handley, who was the MP for South Lincolnshire from 1832 to 1841. He was such a popular MP that the townspeople created the memorial in his honour. It is not clear now whether he was so popular for his innovative ideas regarding science, technology and farming, or because of his strong opposition to the taxation of malt. Nevertheless, it is clear that I have a lot to live up to.

My predecessor was Stephen Phillips, who, like his predecessor, Douglas Hogg, is a silk. They brought great intellect and legal acumen to the House, and Stephen is particularly to be commended for his work on the Public Accounts Committee. Probably his greatest virtue, though, is his sense of timing: he resigned at exactly the right time for me to be able to stand for the seat. I thank Stephen for the personal encouragement he has given to me in this endeavour. I also thank the many Members of this House who have given me wonderful support, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Robert Jenrick), for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), and for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), to whom I am very grateful. In these challenging times, Mr Speaker, I promise to uphold the fine traditions of the House and serve my constituents to the best of my ability, ensuring that their voices are heard.

As a new MP, it is right for me to explain briefly who I am. I am a mother of three, a farmer’s wife and the product of a loving family. I am a consultant paediatrician and therefore have particular interests in the health, education and general wellbeing of children. I am a committed Brexiteer, and I am also interested in farming, infrastructure and defence. I am not a silk, or even a lawyer, but I have firm principles based on what I believe to be morally right, and on the ideal of democracy under the rule of law.

I have spent all my working life as a doctor in the NHS, and care passionately about it. The NHS is not perfect; in fact, I doubt any organisation as large and so dependent on human judgment ever could be. However, although there are areas that could be improved, I feel many are too quick to decry the faults in the NHS without adequately recognising the brilliant work done, day in and day out, in helping more people than ever before. I look forward to contributing my knowledge and experience to help to ensure that the NHS goes from strength to strength.

Improving the wellbeing of children remains a topic close to my heart, and I am delighted with the Government’s commitment to young people’s mental health. We must ensure that young people with mental health issues have access to the right treatment; however, as with physical health, we must also focus on prevention. That should include improvements in children’s social care and helping to foster resilience. Resilience is very important. I feel we let down children with the “all must have prizes” culture. Young people should understand their strengths and weaknesses by being allowed to compete and take controlled risks; to win, but also to lose; and to learn from that experience, which better prepares them for the challenges they face in life ahead.

It is truly a privilege to give my maiden speech today in this historic debate. As someone new to the world of Westminster, the greatest surprise to me was that so many seemed surprised by the result of the EU referendum. I was brought up to believe that a good democracy is ruled by the majority, with protection for minorities. As I talk to my constituents, however, I increasingly understand that they perceive that we have rule by a vocal minority elite who are disregarding the views of the majority, and they are angry. Why is that important? Well, because so many people seem to have been surprised by the Brexit vote, having failed to understand the genuine concerns of the majority. This disconnect with the electorate has been seen not just here, but in the results of the US presidential election, and in the rise of far-right parties throughout Europe. There can be no democracy without an understanding of the views of the majority, and those views must be respected, heard and responded to by Members of this House.

There has been much debate recently over whether the referendum was mandatory or advisory, and over the relative authorities of the Government, the legislature and the judiciary. As I said earlier, I am not a lawyer, but I fail to understand how one can ask the electorate a question and then even consider disregarding the result. The referendum is not advice, but an instruction to us. We asked the people, and the people said “Out”, so out we must go.