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Britain in the World

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:40 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton 7:40 pm, 13th January 2020

Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you for allowing me to make my first speech in this House, in this debate on a most consequential Queen’s Speech. It has been an honour to be present in this great Chamber today to hear the contributions of parliamentary veterans and new recruits alike. I can only hope to emulate them.

The mystical beauty of Rutland and Melton stretches from the vale of Belvoir in the north, down towards Rutland Water and the delights borrowed from the district of Harborough; I note that my hon. Friend Neil O’Brien is not here, so I can talk about stealing from him. The natural landscape is adorned with the architectural majesties of many beautiful market towns.

We are proud of our role in feeding the nation, with arable, dairy, sheep, pig, poultry and even bison farmers, who for generations past—and generations to come—have ensured that food quality, animal welfare and environmental conservation are paramount to their trade. Towards the centre of the constituency is the rural capital of food: Melton Mowbray of pork pie fame. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I can promise the House that we will hear much of the pork pie over the next few years. We can also boast that we are home to not just one, but two geographically protected delicacies, which are, to repeat: the famous Melton Mowbray pork pie and Stilton cheese. Although agriculture is our chief activity, there is also light industry. Members will be particularly interested to hear of Clipsham quarry at the constituency’s eastern edge, for when Parliament was undergoing restoration work in the previous century, it was from here that the stone was supplied.

Unfortunately, however, my constituency has had a precarious history, and its beauty and rural spirit have not always proved a sufficient defence against the palace courtiers and planners in London, who since at least the 12th century have thought Rutland a foolish accident. It is, I think, little coincidence that the year that the county was absorbed into Leicestershire—despite fervent local protest—was the year after the UK joined the European Community. The eternal tension between county and city was played out on a larger scale as a Community became a Union, and perhaps we have come to learn from both episodes that identities are important at all levels. Cosmopolitan and parochial world views can co-exist, as long as there is respect between the two. Now, back to Melton.

It was in the Leicestershire part of my constituency, of pork pie fame, that I was interested to discover that the phrase “paint the town red” originated. In 1837, an eccentric aristocrat by the name of Henry de La Poer Beresford—I will not claim that he is necessarily related to my hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford—turned up at the gates of Melton with his, shall we say, over-refreshed band of friends and refused to pay the toll gate fee to enter the town. They then happened upon a pot of paint—red paint—and proceeded to apply a fresh coat to every doorstep on the high street. Personally, I was rather afraid that Momentum, who besieged the constituency during the election, would do the exact same thing, but fortunately we were spared.

I thank the people of Rutland and Melton for putting their trust in me, for I trust the collective wisdom of the people to choose what is appropriate for them at any given time, and it is for all of us here to guard against complacency. It is in this spirit that I hope my service will be characterised. As significant powers return to this Parliament, our roles as constituency MPs have never been more important, and it is the silent victories that will define my time as an MP: to secure new housing for a constituent; to resolve an issue dividing a family; to fix a failure in the system; or to restore strength and stability to a community. It is in our constituents’ darkest moments, when they have nowhere else left to turn, that it becomes our duty to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak of the unspeakable so that no one suffers in silence.

The people of Rutland and Melton have had an excellent advocate in Sir Alan Duncan. He served his constituents for 27 years, and I plan to be here just as long. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Sir Alan served his constituents with great diligence and care, his party’s Front Bench with consummate political skill, and his country with distinction. In his maiden remarks, he lamented that Rutland had been abolished as a county in 1974. Now, thanks to his efforts, it has regained its own postcode and become a unitary authority again, and I wear its badge with pride; but not to fear those from Leicestershire, I also wear that badge. I salute Sir Alan’s courage in being the first openly gay Conservative MP and I am proud that our party is home to all.

It is fitting that I have been given the opportunity to make my maiden remarks in a debate on Britain’s place in the world. As International Development Minister, then as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and finally as Minister for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan was a steady hand for our allies and all those engaged in our foreign policy. He has helped to ensure that Britain remains the foremost voice in the world for parliamentary democracy, fundamental liberties and a free economy.

This Queen’s Speech demonstrates that the Government understand the threats our nation faces and that the nature of warfare has fundamentally changed. It is no longer a story of traditional military conflict—a set battle space in which infantry, artillery, ships, boats and planes fight it out to the last man standing. The battle is now fully hybrid in nature. By that, I mean the sustained and persistent strategic deployment of all potential instruments of influence: economic, informational, military, cultural, cyber, diplomatic, criminal and civil society.

Hybrid warfare is not necessarily a factor in an overt or declared war; it is now deployed concurrently in peacetime and wartime. Crucially, the actors are occluded, since the most effective enemy is the one who deploys forces against us without us even realising that we are under attack or in conflict. That means that the threats we now face are from states that behave like terrorists, terrorists who behave like states, and individuals who can effect as much damage as previously only states and well-funded groups were thought capable. Hybrid warfare is no longer an esoteric afterthought, rather the whole lens through which our defences and diplomatic efforts should be assessed during the foreign policy, defence and security review we rightly propose to deliver. We must recognise that to protect ourselves, we must bolster and defend all levels of our society, not just military infrastructure and capabilities. We must recognise that to defeat our enemies, we will have to possess truly hybrid offensive and defensive capabilities ourselves.

For nearly 1,000 years, Rutland’s motto has been “multum in parvo” or “much in little”. The same could be said for this great country. It is not through vastness that we have become a beacon in the world, but rather the commercial talent of our citizens, the power of our ideas, and the strength of our democracy and laws, which by unapologetic defence, have stood the test of time. Lest I be accused of already trying to attract the attention of the Prime Minister with the use of classical phrases—if it works, that is not a problem—there is a Greek aphorism that complements the Latin: “gnōthi seauton”, meaning “know thyself”. This has always been a sound basis for British foreign policy. More than ever now, in a world of hybrid warfare, we must be temperate where possible and decisive where necessary. These phrases, “much in little” and “know thyself”, will guide me to serve the good people of Rutland and Melton and to achieve those silent victories.