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[1st Day]

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 2:48 pm on 21st June 2017.

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Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng Conservative, Spelthorne 2:48 pm, 21st June 2017

Before I proceed, I want to declare an interest: I have ransacked my family vaults and found no letter from Mr Benjamin Disraeli to my great-grandfather or any other member of my family.

It is a great honour to be invited to second this Humble Address, which was moved so eloquently by my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon. He was both charming and funny, and that is a much rarer quality than you would expect, Mr Speaker.

It is wonderful to see everything in its place. We have you, Mr Speaker; we have the Government—[Interruption] —we have a Government; we have the Leader of the Opposition in his place. All is well with the world. I am even delighted to see our old, special friends the Liberal Democrats in their place, still brimming with enthusiasm—albeit without a leader, but we can live with that for a while.

Election day, as we all know, was full of surprises. When the exit poll was revealed there were gasps of anguish, despair and deep, bitter disappointment—and that was only the members of the parliamentary Labour party. We all know how hard the business of putting together a Government has been. We know how tortuous the process has been— the debates, tensions, and difficulties —and we could follow every detail closely in the highly objective, scrupulously fair pages of the Evening Standard.

It is a great privilege for me, the son of Ghanaian immigrants who came to this country in the 1960s, to perform this duty today. My mother lived in Liverpool, where her elder brother was studying medicine. She remembers Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral and Liverpool winning the FA cup. She certainly would never have believed that her only son would become a British Member of Parliament. That is one of the strengths of this country.

I know that people are wondering, as the custom is for this speech to be delivered by a young, thrusting MP. After seven years in the House I was slightly confused about that description. One of my hon. Friends, a former Whip, said, “Oh, you’re meant to be the young one, are you?” In my intake of 2010, I have seen such meteoric high fliers as a Business Secretary, a Home Secretary, and even a Lord Chancellor. Then there is me. May I reassure Members, and may I reassure the Prime Minister, that I am still young, still thrusting.

This occasion is also a great honour for my constituency, Spelthorne, but as MPs, we can all reflect that politics is not all about set-piece occasions and big speeches. When first I walked down the high street in Ashford, I wondered how I would be treated. An elderly woman came up to me, and said, rather surprisingly, “Mr Kwarteng, I am going to vote for you.” Then I made the fatal mistake. I asked the question no candidate should ever ask. “Why?” “Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I like seeing your smiley face in the newspaper.” We must never attempt to second-guess at every stage our voters’ motivations.

The borough I have the honour to represent has many political and historic associations. Staines, of course, was where the barons assembled before forcing King John to sign Magna Carta in Runnymede. It was in Staines that Sir Thomas More, one of your less fortunate predecessors, Mr Speaker, was tried, before his execution on Tower Hill—may you avert that fate. One of my recent predecessors, Sir Humphrey Atkins, was Chief Whip, then Northern Ireland Secretary in turbulent times.

These days, my constituency is very much a place of business, with a range of enterprises, from small start-ups to global companies such as Shepperton Studios and BP. Spelthorne has a thriving business community, which of course is greatly helped by our location, with excellent links to London and Heathrow airport. There is also a great innovative spirit in my constituency; as recently as 2015, a study concluded that Staines-upon-Thames was the No.1 town in the country in which to start a new business, with three times as many start-ups every year as the UK average.

Despite changes in the way we do business and the technology that we use, the traditions of the House have withstood the onslaught of time. You, Mr Speaker, uphold the great traditions of this House and our parliamentary system. These institutions have evolved, and they remain—I wondered how I could put this; I was at a loss for words and was thinking of a phrase. Of course: “strong and stable”.

I am delighted that the Government’s programme is ambitious. We have Brexit, and when we look at the great repeal Bill, we have to consider what a great and significant piece of legislation it will be. The original European Communities Act was passed in 1972. Feelings were so strong at that time that it took 300 hours of parliamentary debate before the Bill was passed. Feelings are no less strong today, because the future of the country is at stake. The complexities of the great repeal Bill will be debated extensively in the next two years. It will be a great landmark in the parliamentary and constitutional history of this country. A new Immigration Bill will seek, rightly, to reduce migration to sustainable levels. Once passed, both these Acts will shape Britain very considerably in the years ahead.

In conclusion, Mr Speaker—[Hon. Members: “More!”] The last few months have been, by any standards, horrific. I never thought I would live to see barriers erected on Westminster bridge. The attacks on innocent people—even within the parliamentary estate or, most recently, at the Finsbury Park mosque—have rightly disgusted the overwhelming majority of decent people in this country. Neither did I think that I would see a tower, with 500 people sleeping in their homes, go up in flames. The appalling scenes of devastation in west London last week can never be forgotten.

We can talk of tradition and history, but at a time like the present we must be mindful of human suffering. It is at times like last week that we in this House are reminded of the solemn duties and grave responsibilities that we have been called on by our constituents, and the whole country, to discharge. The recent terrible events remind us of the awe-inspiring trust with which we have been endowed. It is in this rather sombre and reflective mood that I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.