Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is the last time that you will be able to call me. It was a great privilege working with you when we were doing opposite jobs, as Chief Whip and Opposition Chief Whip.
I first saw inside the House of Commons in about 1972. In 1970, Cannock elected a Conservative Member of Parliament, Patrick Cormack, with one of the biggest swings in the country in that general election. Like any new Member of Parliament, he went round the local schools and invited us to come down to the House of Commons to have a tour. I came down in about 1972, and I remember it well. I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere, the beauty of the place and the history of the building—so much so that I remember saying to one of my best friends at the time, John Beresford, “I’ve decided what I want to do in life.” He said, “What’s that, Patrick?” and I said, “I want to come back to the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament.” I will always remember him saying to me, “If I was you, I’d keep that a secret.” It was not the kind of place that a comprehensive schoolboy from Cannock would end up.
Leaving school at 16, I became involved in the youth wing of the Conservative party, and I fought my first general election in Wolverhampton South East in 1983. It was a great campaign but an unsuccessful one, when the Conservative party overall was doing incredibly well. I made several unsuccessful attempts at winning other seats, and I began to think that my friend John was right. But as we all know in politics, things happen suddenly. All of a sudden, a by-election was called in West Derbyshire, and I was selected as the candidate, when Matthew Parris, who has been a lifelong friend since then, decided to pursue a career in TV.
I would like to pay tribute to the officers of the West Derbyshire Conservative association in those days, particularly Geoffrey Roberts, who is sadly no longer with us, but his wife Josie still lives in Bakewell. They took a bit of a gamble in 1986, selecting a 28-year-old who was hardly a typical Tory—somebody who left school at 16, had not been to university and had gone through 12 months of a coal strike. With our successful campaign in that by-election, and with my charm and personality, I managed to take a very safe Conservative seat with a majority of 15,500 to one with a majority of 100 votes.
I came into the House of Commons on
That is how I came to represent one of the most beautiful constituencies in England. It is a constituency dominated, to a great degree, by the Peak District national park. The Peak district is within an hour’s drive of 60% of the UK population, and some weekends it feels like they all come. The Peak District national park is a very important part of our country. Obviously it has strict planning rules and regulations, but I want to see people living in the national park and not priced out of it. We must bear that in mind.
We have a number of important market towns in Derbyshire Dales, not least Wirksworth, Ashbourne, Bakewell and Matlock. They are thriving market towns, but at the moment their high streets are under tremendous pressure. I do hope that the new Government will think very carefully about how they can support our market towns and our high streets—that is incredibly important—and avoid putting extra unnecessary costs on them, or if costs are put on business, make sure they are across the board, including for the internet companies, which at the moment do not quite share their full burden.