I very much endorse the remarks of Sir David Lidington about the nature of our political discourse and the importance of treating each other with courtesy and respect.
Sir Patrick McLoughlin talked about the truths that he was told by his wife in private and the very own special relationship that he had with his wife. I want to start by thanking my partner for life, my wife Mary, and our two sons Archie and Ned for the support that they have given me throughout the 18-plus years I have been in this place. There is no doubt that the work that we do here takes its toll on our families and our loved ones. We always have to remember that and acknowledge the enormous sacrifices that loved ones make as we try to do our work here.
I also want to thank my amazing parliamentary staff, in my constituency and in Parliament, who have shown such loyalty and dedication to me over so many years. I thank the Lib Dem party activists in North Norfolk who have shown me enormous loyalty throughout the time that I have fought there. I have spent 29 years campaigning in North Norfolk because it took me 11 years to beat that lot over there to win my seat the first place. So many people have stuck with me through that period, and I am enormously grateful for it.
I thank the teams that have supported me in my role as Chair of the Science and Technology Committee and during the time that I was privileged enough to be a Minister of State in the Department of Health. Everyone will understand that, as a Liberal, I did not imagine for one minute that I would become a Minister, and then suddenly I found myself responsible for something that I cared a lot about in the Department of Health. It was the most invigorating time of my professional life, but it was made possible by amazing people who showed great dedication and commitment in supporting me through that journey.
It has been an enormous privilege to represent the Liberal tradition in this Parliament over an 18-year period, but it has also been a particular privilege to represent the people of North Norfolk. Over that period, one builds up a special bond with the people one represents. They have shown me enormous kindness and generosity of spirit, even when not voting for me, and I have appreciated that.
One of the things that has concerned me and has been an enduring thought throughout this wonderful period in Parliament is the people who come to see me with stories of how they feel that they have been ignored by faceless bureaucracies. Too often, our public organisations do not treat ordinary people with respect—do not listen to them. I have always felt that my job was to give a voice to people who have no voice and always to fight for those people. We face a profound challenge in how we get public organisations to be more responsive to ordinary people. I am always left thinking that the articulate middle classes will find their way through to achieve a result, but what about the people who do not have an articulate voice and are not able to fight the system? It is our job to make sure that we represent them individually but also try to change the system so that they are not ignored as they too often are at present.
I do not want to spend any of my time talking about things that I have done here. I just want to reflect on three causes that I have cared a lot about, continue to care a lot about, and will continue to pursue outside this place. First, there is mental health. We too often treat people as second-class citizens. We trample over their human rights, locking them up when they do not need to be locked up, shunting them around the country and using force against them. I have had the case of a teenager in North Norfolk who had to wait a year for treatment, had her treatment stopped halfway through because she hit the arbitrary age of 18, had to wait another nine months for adult services to support her, and is now told that she has to wait three years for an autism assessment. We treat people like this appallingly. We are letting down someone at the formative stage of their life in a way that will have lifelong consequences for them. The support that we provide to children and young people with mental health difficulties too often falls way short. There is still a massive challenge for us to pursue to ensure that we provide better support, to stop the deterioration of health in the first place and to provide support through periods of crisis.
The second cause is reform of our drug laws. It is an unpopular cause in this place, but out there in the country there is now support—majority support—for sensible, evidence-based reform. I argue again that we need to legalise and regulate the sale of cannabis, so that we can protect our young people better. In the states of the United States that have legalised cannabis, use by high school-age teenagers has gone down. We leave teenagers open to the most dangerous, most potent forms of drugs, bought on the streets in this very city. We do not protect our young people with the prohibitionist approach that we take, and it is high time that we reformed those laws.
The final area that I want to touch on is assisted dying. Out there in the country, there is vast support for reform, yet this House continues to resist the case for it. So many other countries have recognised that it is time to give the right to an individual, not the state, to determine when they should end their life when they face a terminal illness. Surely, it is our right to decide, not the state’s. We leave families in an invidious position of not knowing whether they will be prosecuted if they help a loved one to end their life. This is not acceptable. It is not the hallmark of a civilised society.
Let me end my comments by saying that I have found the past three years extraordinarily difficult. This debate on Brexit is one where, unless we are in one or other of the extreme tribes, we find ourselves quite isolated. I have felt for a long time that we ought to be trying to find ways to achieve common ground and compromising to find a way forward. I feel passionately that there have not been enough people in our country trying to find ways to bring our country back together again and to heal the wounds, which have become very dangerous. I think we are playing with fire if we carry on in this way. As the right hon. Member for Aylesbury said, this country has a wonderful, diverse community that comes together in solidarity, but we have allowed ourselves to become divided. Now is the time to start bringing this country back together again.