Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is a pleasure and a privilege to follow three such eloquent and powerful maiden speeches.
I had originally intended to make my maiden speech on
As with all of us, my being here today is only possible due to the support I receive from those nearest to me—not least my incredible wife, Annalise, for whose support and patience I will remain forever grateful, plus our three-year-old son Jacob, who does not understand why Daddy is not around so much. I hope he will read this in Hansard one day and understand just how much of my daily motivation comes from him.
I also pay tribute to the dedication of my predecessor, John Bercow, who served Buckingham for over 22 years. During the campaign, many local residents remarked on how assiduous a constituency Member of Parliament he had been—a trait I seek to emulate. However, I am certain John and I would have clashed, certainly in more recent years, over our views on Britain’s membership of the European Union. As someone whose first interest in politics was sparked by horror at the treaty of Maastricht, it is with particular pride that I have been elected as part of this Conservative majority, mandated to get Brexit done, and to be making my maiden speech in the first debate since our country became an independent nation once more. As we forge a brave, new, outwardly-looking path in the world, I look forward to playing my part in supporting this Government’s positive agenda, on the side of aspiration and opportunity, low taxes and high wages, delivering world-class public services and spreading free markets across the globe.
The 335 square miles of the Buckingham constituency are as beautiful as they are dynamic. From the medieval market town of Princes Risborough and the oldest recorded parish in England of Monks Risborough, the market towns of Winslow and Buckingham accompany over 100 vibrant, community-spirited villages and hamlets, too many to mention here today. Steeped in history, Stowe, Ascott House and Waddesdon Manor all add to the rich heritage of the constituency—not to mention the Prime Minister’s country gaff, Chequers. We have a rural economy, where farming is so important, but that is coupled with manufacturing, retail and new, high-tech industry and jobs in our enterprise zones. The University of Buckingham, under the leadership of Sir Anthony Seldon, is the largest single employer. In an era of our universities having a reputation as seedbeds for left-wing radicalism, I was delighted to discover the Hayek library in the centre of its new Vinson building, complete with the country home of the Institute of Economic Affairs. And it is an absolute personal pleasure, as a motorsport fan since I was eight years old, to represent roughly half of the iconic Silverstone circuit. As an aside, going completely off topic, is it not time that the greatest living British sportsman, with six world championships and counting, should be recognised with a knighthood in our honours system?
My constituency faces threats on multiple fronts: HS2; the Oxford-Cambridge expressway; and over- development, not least from the outrageous, expansionist plans of Labour-run Milton Keynes. One of my early mentors in politics, a former Member of this House, the late Eric Forth, once said to me that the most powerful question in politics is simply “why?” So let me put it this way: why would we take people’s homes, cut their farms in two, blight the landscape, destroy 108 ancient woodlands and risk the chalk streams of the Chilterns, all for a 60p return on every pound spent and no benefit to my constituents, when other solutions exist? It is my passionate belief that our countryside is the defining feature of our United Kingdom. There may be those who believe it is somewhere to occasionally go for the weekend, and what does it matter if we build over it or slam a new railway through the middle, but they are wrong, for when it is gone, it will be gone forever. Nor should our countryside ever be treated as just the bit between the towns and cities, for we are dynamic, home to thousands of successful rural businesses, big and small; many of which, but by no means all, grow and rear the food everyone needs and enjoys.
Turning to the Agriculture Bill, I must declare an interest, in that my wife’s family are farmers, in receipt of subsidies. I have learnt so much from a real hero of British farming, my father-in-law, not least because at family dinners he only has two settings: silence; and talking about farming. It is extremely welcome that this Bill now recognises the central aim of food production. Freeing our farmers from the CAP is one of the major benefits of leaving the EU, but unwinding from decades of bureaucracy and building a system that properly rewards quality food production and the enhancing of our biodiversity is not straightforward—to give that classic countryside answer to the city dweller who stops to ask directions, “I wouldn’t start from here.” This Bill gives certainty, and I welcome it. But as the clock is against me, I cannot better conclude than by quoting Margaret Thatcher’s closing words in her speech to the National Farmers Union in 1986:
“There is an independence and a stability in farming upon which Britain depends and which Britain cannot afford to lose...Agriculture means so much, our farming future must be assured.”