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Valedictory Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:46 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Peter Heaton-Jones Peter Heaton-Jones Conservative, North Devon 5:46 pm, 5th November 2019

I might have guessed, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will, of course, abide by your strictures.

It is an absolute pleasure to follow Dr Blackman-Woods, who made a typically thoughtful speech. It is great to follow a Member with a double-barrelled name; I fear there will be too few of us after the forthcoming election.

It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Sarah Newton, because we are part of the south-west mafia. There is a group of MPs from Somerset, Devon and Cornwall who have worked closely together to push forward on what we need for our region, and my hon. Friend has been front and centre in that proper and very successful campaign, but it is a work in progress, and I just want to take a few minutes on this, my last day in Parliament, to talk about some of the things that we have been able to achieve, as well as some of the unfinished business that still needs to be addressed.

We have had success since 2015 in putting North Devon on the Government’s radar and on the political map in a way that it simply has not been for too long. We have achieved an investment of nearly £100 million for a vital new road link in North Devon. People have heard me bang on about the North Devon link road enough in this place, and it would be silly for me not to do so on my last appearance. It is a vital bit of infrastructure investment, and I am so pleased that we have secured it.

We have also secured the future of the Royal Marines base at Chivenor in the constituency. There was a huge community campaign after the Ministry of Defence said that it was earmarked for closure. The community got together and said, “Up with this we will not put.” I am delighted to say that not only is Chivenor now safeguarded for the future, but that even as late as today I have been talking to the Ministry of Defence to make sure that we can do more there with the unique environment and the service personnel.

North Devon has a commitment to a brand-new district hospital, which is so welcome. Even though I will no longer be the MP, I am going to ensure that we stick to that commitment and that the Government continue to deliver on their promises for the NHS.

All those are things we have achieved, but I mentioned some unfinished business, and I wish to cover three subjects briefly. First, just like, I am sure, Members from all parties, I continue to be concerned by the state of mental healthcare for our young people in particular. It is an absolute shock to realise that the most common cause of death among young men aged between 18 and 35 is not an accident or an incident, or a drugs overdose or a physical illness; it is that they take their own lives. That is a mental health condition that we must tackle, and all Governments of all colours must do so urgently. I have done a lot of work on social care and the regulation and inspection of care home, and that needs to continue.

I really do not want to go down this road too controversially, but I worked for the BBC for many happy years. The BBC and the Government of whatever colour must ensure that the over-75s continue to get the free licence fee concession. I have spoken about that at great length, and I do not intend to rehearse all those arguments now.

As we are on the subject of the media, may I just say a few words about social media, which was touched on by other colleagues? The pressure that MPs find themselves under because of social media is something that has not been sufficiently addressed. I am fortunate in that I have not suffered the sort of threats, abuse or intimidation that many other colleagues in this House have, but none the less—I think that you only get this if you have been an MP—the constant low-level incoming does start to chip away. I do not think that this House, the social media companies or our legislation have caught up with what can be done about that. This happens, as has been said earlier, during election periods. We need to ensure that the role of social media during this and all future elections is more tightly controlled under law and under regulation.

I want quite properly to thank people without whom it would not have been possible for me to do this job. First, the North Devon Conservative Association has been a huge support to me ever since I was selected to do this role at the beginning of 2013. May I just mention the three chairs of the North Devon Conservative Association: Jeremy Smith-Bingham, David Barker and the current chair, Chris Guyver, who I have put in a pickle having to reselect a North Devon candidate in the space of a few days. [Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt know him by any chance? It sounds like he might. I want to thank all the Ministers and officials and the special advisers who I worked with when I was Parliamentary Private Secretary at two Departments—the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice. It was a pleasure to serve them and to serve the Government in that role.

I thank my colleagues, the south-west MPs, including my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth, who I am glad to see in her place. All of us, across the region, have worked really hard since 2015—there have been a lot of us since 2015 and long may that continue—to promote the south-west and its interests. I also thank my absolutely brilliant staff in the constituency and here at Westminster. Let me just mention by name my four current members of staff. Thank you very much indeed to Matt Cox and to my three members of staff who have been with me since the beginning in 2015: Marianne Kemp, Dan Shapland and David Hoare, who have all been brilliant in helping me along.

Finally, I thank the people of North Devon, who did me the privilege and honour of electing me not once, but twice to be their Member of Parliament in North Devon. Helping them, assisting them, meeting them, and sometimes having animated conversations with them really has been an honour and a privilege, and I wish my successor in the role all the very best. I clearly hope that they will be sitting on the Conservative Benches, but whoever they are, I truly wish them all the best. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the staff of the House as well. It is now time to get Pexit done!