Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Politics has become something of a dirty word in recent years, but during the election campaign, thousands of activists from all parties throughout the country went out in the cold, the dark and the rain because they truly believe that their political viewpoint can make people’s lives better. Across the House we may disagree, often vigorously, on how to do that, but I truly believe that public service is why we are all here.
A true example of that public service was my predecessor, Sir Michael Fallon. I know Sir Michael was a friend to many in this place. He served my constituents in Sevenoaks and Swanley for 22 years, and those in Darlington before that. He served as a Minister under four Prime Ministers, first under Margaret Thatcher as schools Minister, a role he also played under John Major. He was responsible for setting up school league tables and Ofsted—huge leaps forward for the accountability and performance of schools in this country. Sir Michael also served under David Cameron and my right hon. Friend Mrs May. Despite his unofficial title as Minister for the “Today” programme, he was in fact a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and in the Department of Energy and Climate Change. He was latterly Secretary of State for Defence—a role that he both excelled at and relished, although I must say, as the person responsible for running the No. 10 grid at the time, it is possible that he did not always manage to run his announcements past No. 10.
Sir Michael was, above all, a strong voice for Sevenoaks and Swanley constituents, an example I am determined to follow. Sevenoaks is a wonderful constituency, with a vibrant community and excellent schools, and it is over 90% green belt—something we must maintain. It is an honour to represent the constituency that houses Chartwell—Winston Churchill’s former home—as well as Chevening, the Foreign Secretary’s residence. I am very much looking forward to an invitation to visit.
Although the constituency is known for both its greenery and transporting much of its population to work in London, there is significant entrepreneurship, with 7,000 businesses in Sevenoaks. We are also developing some fantastic expertise in wine and beer. Squerryes, Westerham Brewery and the Mount Vineyard are creating world-class produce and deserve to become international brands.
I also pay tribute to my brilliant local district council, led by Peter Fleming, who has won numerous awards for his stewardship, and at a time of great fiscal strain made Sevenoaks District Council financially independent. Equally, Roger Gough, the talented leader of Kent County Council, has done so much to deliver the excellent standard of schools throughout the constituency.
I should move on to the health service, which is the main topic of debate today. All of us here will have stories of how the NHS has helped us, and we have heard some incredibly moving ones from my hon. Friends today. My now thriving one-year-old twins were born six weeks early and needed help to breathe and to eat when they were born. I owe the neonatal teams in our NHS everything and I will be forever grateful.
I worked on maternity care and choice policy when I was a special adviser, and it is something that I will continue to speak up for in this place. We must, and I know that we will, ensure better care for women in maternity, ensure that pain relief is freely and readily available, give women a full choice of options on how and where they want to give birth, continue to improve outcomes for multiple births and deliver on our brilliant promise to extend maternity leave for mothers of premature babies.
It has been striking this week that the focus of maiden speeches has been on the importance of social mobility and education. In speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Wantage (David Johnston), for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes), for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), among others, it is truly heartening to witness the breadth of expertise, diversity and interest that our intake takes in these issues. I will add my own name to the list of those speaking out on this topic.
I went to a comprehensive and was the first in my family to go to university. My grandfather on one side was a milkman and, on the other, a doorman at The Sun. My grandmother was one of the smartest people I have met. She got a scholarship to a good school, but was not allowed to go as they could not afford the uniform. The thing that changed the fortunes of my family was the great education that my mum and dad received. That is why I am incredibly proud of the Conservative party’s legacy in delivering higher school standards, not just by putting money in with that reform, but by being fearless in demanding better for our children, calling out the soft bigotry of low expectations that my right hon. Friend Michael Gove so rightly addressed and that my right hon. Friend Gavin Williamson is continuing to work on.
The levelling up in funding that we have promised is the key next step, but equally important, as with all public services, will be the inspection regime making sure that this leads to higher standards being delivered. The true test of our system is whether we can improve the outcomes for those who need it the most. There are more than 2,000 children in care in Kent. We have taken huge steps forward in addressing their complex needs and improving their educational attainment, but we must do more, and I know that this is a Government who will do so.
I thank the House for listening. Politics done well is making people’s lives better and I am delighted to be part of this one nation Conservative Government, who I am certain will give so much to my constituency and to the country.