I was first elected to this place as the first Conservative for 25 years to sit for the constituency of Darlington in the north-east of England. I have never forgotten that particular weekend. I set off on a train on the Sunday afternoon down to London and the buffet bar was closed. Somebody must have told the steward that the new MP for Darlington was on the train—I had been on television a bit—and he suddenly appeared with a tray of tea and toast and said, “We can’t have the new MP for Darlington going off hungry to take on his responsibilities.” He then stood there, shook his head and said, “Mind you, what hope have you got with all those Tories?”
Along with my right hon. Friend Sir Patrick McLoughlin, who made the most splendid speech today, I had the privilege of serving—perhaps unusually—four Prime Ministers. I first served Margaret Thatcher as her Schools Minister and then John Major in the same capacity. With my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, we set up the first proper independent inspection service of our schools, Ofsted, and we ensured that school exam results were published and available to parents. It is extraordinary to think now that the exam results of individual schools were locked away in the director of education’s safe and that parents were not trusted with that information.
I later had the equally unusual experience of working as deputy to two Liberal Secretaries of State, in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Energy and Climate Change. Not only was that interesting, but it turned out to be quite a constructive experience. When the history of the coalition Government is written, perhaps we will see some of the benefits of that working together.
That period had a rather unusual ending. The day after the 2015 election, around lunchtime, I was called by David Cameron and reappointed as Secretary of State for Defence. As I was leaving the Cabinet table, he said the Secretary of State for Industry had handed in his resignation and the permanent secretary wanted somebody to be in charge for a couple of days while the rest of the Cabinet was assembled, so for a few hours I was Secretary of State for Industry. As I was picking up my papers, he added, “The Secretary of State for Energy has also handed in his resignation”, so I said, “Fine, I’ll have a look at that as well”. Then, as I was leaving, he said, “And the Secretary of State for Scotland has resigned”. So for a day or two I held those four portfolios together.
I then had the most enormous privilege of all: working with our servicemen and women at the Ministry of Defence for three and a half years, leading them in the campaign against Daesh, resisting the challenge of a resurgent Russia and playing an important role in NATO. There can be no greater privilege than serving in that Department with the many willing and brave servicemen and women who have committed themselves to the service of our country. I want to put on the record my thanks to them all.