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I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
It is an honour to have been asked to move the Loyal Address, but it is first important to recognise that we meet in the shadow of some of the most terrible tragedies of modern times. Nothing we say can undo what has happened in north Kensington or, for that matter, on the streets of London or Manchester. What we in this House can do is to join our sovereign in leading the nation in mourning the dead, caring for the injured and the bereaved, and uniting in an absolute determination to prevent any such tragedies and outrages from happening again.
Our tone in this debate and debates in the coming days and weeks must reflect the nation’s horror and sadness at such awful tragedies. The country expects our debates and arguments to be robust, but there is room for consensus too. At times like this, we should reflect on Jo Cox’s words about there being more that unites us than divides us.
I am not the first Richard Benyon to have been asked to move the Loyal Address. My great-great-grandfather was the MP for Berkshire between 1860 and 1876. Although he was a great man in many ways, there is no record of him ever troubling Hansard with any speech, even a maiden speech. He was asked by Disraeli to move the Loyal Address in 1869, but replied that, though mindful of the honour, as a matter of principle he never spoke in Parliament. As you know, Mr Speaker, my father was one of your predecessors as the Member for Buckingham. He told that story to Speaker Thomas, who clasped a hand to his head and said, “How I wish there were more like him in the House today.”
I still think of myself as young, but being asked to do this singular honour reminds me that I am, as golfers put it, on the back nine. In the election that we have all just endured or enjoyed—whatever our perspective—I faced a Labour candidate who was born a year after I was selected to fight the seat I now hold. Teams of therapists will be needed to help me to overcome the brutal reality that I have gone straight from being young thruster to old codger, with nothing in between.
I wrestled the Newbury constituency from the Liberal Democrats at the third attempt. I want it on the record that in doing so, I reduced the number of Members of this House who were educated at Eton by one. That may be why some Opposition Members consider me to be something of a working-class hero. [Laughter.] The Newbury constituency is no stranger to controversy. Greenham Common and the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston have made it a regular tourist destination for the Leader of the Opposition, among others. He will be pleased that one particular sword has been beaten into a ploughshare: the runway at the now decommissioned Greenham Common airbase was taken up and crushed to form Newbury’s new and infamous bypass.
The only other Member for Newbury to have moved the Loyal Address was William Mount in 1905. A year later, he lost his seat, due to a combination of negative campaigning by the Liberal candidate—[Hon. Members: “Shame!”] I know that that is hard to imagine in this day and age—and, crucially, his not being a champion of free trade, the latter a fact not lost on a particular champion of free trade: his great-grandson, David Cameron.
The area I now represent is by all measures a prosperous area—someone once said to me that deprivation in West Berkshire is when Waitrose runs out of balsamic vinegar; they were totally wrong—but we all know, in all our constituencies, areas of need, although not on the scale of deprivation and poverty that I witnessed in my years as a soldier in Belfast in my early 20s. That memory still has a great impact on my political beliefs today. In all constituencies there are areas of humanity that have missed out on the prosperity of the fifth largest economy in the world. A rising tide of economic prosperity should lift all boats in the harbour, but that is not happening everywhere. This Queen’s Speech has at its heart the words of the Prime Minister on the steps of No. 10 a year ago, when she spoke of social justice and equality of opportunity.
The part of England that I represent combines so much of what makes me positive about Britain’s future. Sitting alongside some of the most breathtaking countryside exists an economy of extraordinary excitement and dynamism. In 1985, a small group of people started working on mobile telecommunications in a one-room office above a curry restaurant in Newbury. That company, Vodafone—still based in Newbury—employs 108,000 people worldwide and is worth £59 billion. West Berkshire remains one of the most exciting places to start or grow a business. It attracts companies and investment from around the world, and it is a model for the kind of outward-looking, engaged, modern society that works for Britain today.
Businesses are not just entities or institutions separate from real lives; they are first and foremost about the people who work in them and those families who in turn depend on them. As we tackle the big challenge of this Parliament, let us remember what really matters to our constituents. Too often, this place, and those who report on it, are obsessed with the politics of Brexit; our constituents are concerned with the realities of Brexit. That means the reality for the companies in West Berkshire, and in all our constituencies, that are part of a new generation of creative entrepreneurs in manufacturing, tech, life sciences and the service sector. They need to be able to sell their goods, services and expertise in Europe and around the world, and they need to be able to recruit the best people to keep them competitive.
I want to be positive about the future. I want to look back at this time and say that I was part of a Parliament that rose to the challenge and, with a great unity of purpose, helped to ensure that Britain successfully reset its relationship with its European neighbours, successfully negotiated access to key markets for its businesses and, while controlling immigration, still allowed people to come to Britain to study and to contribute to our economy and our society. The referendum was in part about parliamentary sovereignty, so we in Parliament can reflect that by immersing ourselves in the detail of what we can all agree is a great national endeavour.
Let our eyes be not only on Europe. As the United States takes a particular route on the environment and climate change, we should grasp the opportunity to ensure that the UK becomes the leader in clean tech, green innovation and resource efficiency. I welcome, for example, legislation announced in this speech that will promote the development of electric vehicles. This will ensure that we build the cars of the future, maintain our strength in motor manufacturing and make our towns and cities better places in which to live and work.
At times, the problems we face seem massive and there are times when we might let ourselves think that it is all too difficult. Just when all seems bleak, we as Members of Parliament have a means of keeping ourselves grounded in the realities of life. In our constituencies, we can visit a charity, a school or a business that inspires us. We can have a quiet conversation, as I had recently, with a veteran coping with life-changing injuries. These experiences lift our eyes to the extraordinary humanity and strength that exists in this country, never more so than in these most sombre times.
It is the quiet but determined doers—whether they are individuals, in our public services, in industry or in voluntary organisations—whom we meet almost daily who make me optimistic for Britain’s future. Twenty-seven years ago, John Major spoke of his desire to build a nation at ease with itself. It was a phrase that resonated with me. A nation at ease with itself would present its population with the same opportunities whatever part of the country or whatever background they came from. Such a society would enjoy greater prosperity, its citizens would enjoy longer and more satisfied lives, and inequality between the richest and the poorest would be narrowing. By every independently produced statistic, we live at, or at the threshold of, such a time.
Those measured indicators are steadily, if too slowly, being achieved, but none of us can claim that our United Kingdom is a nation at ease with itself. Last year’s referendum and the recent election have shown that divisions remain wide and potentially harmful. The Gracious Speech holds firm to the Prime Minister’s deeply held belief in having an economy and society that work for everyone. These are values that matter to her, they matter to me and I know that they matter to every single Member of this House.
Those we represent deserve to live in a country at ease with itself and with the world. I commend the motion to the House.