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It is a great honour to stand to make my maiden speech as the Member of Parliament for Penrith and The Border. It is a tremendous privilege to be in this House, and I thank my electors for putting their trust in me. The three MPs before me—William Whitelaw, Lord David MacLean, and Rory Stewart—had amazing parliamentary careers, covering roles such as Home Secretary, Chief Whip and International Development Secretary. I pay special tribute to my predecessor, Rory Stewart. When I was selected as the candidate for my seat, Rory reached out to me and was extremely kind and generous with his support, for which I am grateful.
Rory was a tireless champion for Penrith and The Border, famously walking around the entire vast constituency—even that did not tire him out. He helped countless numbers of constituents and campaigned hard for better broadband, overcoming rural isolation, protecting the environment, and flood management, which sadly has been critical again in Cumbria in recent days—my sympathies go out to the people of Appleby at this time. As a Minister, he was incredibly thoughtful, articulate and rational in portfolios such as the environment and prisons and, latterly, as International Development Secretary. As he moves on, I wish him and his family well. By the way, Rory, when you are next in Cumbria, you are welcome to come and kip with me. [Laughter.]
Penrith and The Border has a population of over 82,000 and an area of 3,120 sq km. As such, it is geographically vast and sparsely populated. The constituency contains many diverse and beautiful villages and towns. I will name but a few, with apologies to those that I miss out: Penrith, Wigton, Appleby, Longtown, Brampton, Alston, Kirkby Stephen and Shap. I am also proud to have parts of the original Hadrian’s wall in my constituency, as well as parts of the original “blue wall”.
Agriculture is the lifeblood of the constituency, accounting for about 50% of land use, but there are other industries, too. Tourism is a hugely important sector for our local economy. Indeed, Cumbria has one of the largest tourist economies in the UK. There were 47 million visits to Cumbria in 2018 alone. In addition, there are over 5,700 businesses in Penrith and The Border. Such businesses are absolutely vital to our communities.
Such a vast area has problems with connectivity, be it virtual or real. Whether it is broadband, mobile phone coverage or transport links such as trains and rural buses, communities and people need to be connected and joined together so that people can interact with and access their local services. I will champion these causes.
As the name suggests, my seat goes right up to the Scottish border. I will join hands with my colleagues along and across the border. Working together, we can bring investment and infrastructure to the area through initiatives such as the Borderlands Partnership. I will also passionately stand up with all my heart for the precious Union that is our United Kingdom.
I am a veterinary surgeon by background, and I believe I may be the first vet to be elected to the House of Commons since 1884, when Sir Frederick Fitzwygram was elected as the Member of Parliament for Fareham. The other vets at Westminster have included the late, great Professor Lord Soulsby, who was brought up in Penrith and was the dean of Cambridge Veterinary School, where I trained. Now there is Professor Lord Trees, who sits in another place. All three served as president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, of which I am proud to be a fellow.
So why has this particular vet ventured into politics? My involvement as a veterinary inspector in the 2001 foot and mouth crisis spurred me into wanting to use my background in public service. I am sure Members will recall the dreadful scenes from that crisis—scenes we hope are never repeated. Supervising the culling of many, many animals is sadly emblazoned in my memory. Nationally, over 6 million animals were slaughtered. Cumbria was hit especially hard, with over 1.25 million animals lost. Forty-five per cent. of Cumbria’s farms were subject to culls, and this rose to 70% in the north. The crisis had severe effects on agriculture and the economy, and also on the mental health and welfare of the people who live and work in this area.
As we all know, agriculture is incredibly important to the UK, contributing £9.6 billion to UK economic output in 2018, but it goes much wider than this. We are a nation of animal lovers. Some 40% to 50% of households have a pet and, as an equine vet, of particular relevance to me is the fact that there are over a quarter of a million horses in the UK. Issues in areas such as animal health and welfare, disease surveillance, public health and trade are pivotal, now more than ever, as we enter a crucial time of legislation and common frameworks in these areas.
It is vital that, now we have left the EU, we stand up for our first-class standards of farming and animal welfare as we go on to secure trade deals. Indeed, this will be a great opportunity for the UK to be a beacon to the rest of the world on animal welfare. We can send out the message that if other countries want to trade with us, they need to bring their animal welfare standards up to our level.
Sadly, the veterinary profession is over-represented in mental health issues and the incidence of suicide. I very much welcome the cross-party and, indeed, Government commitment to parity of esteem between mental health and physical health so that people, both young and old, can access the best mental health care in hospital and in the community.
On a lighter note, being a vet in politics has some advantages on the doorstep. As I said, half of households have a pet, frequently a dog. When I am out canvassing and a dog hears a vet knocking at the door, either they run a mile, thinking they are about to get an injection or, worse, have their anal glands emptied—“anal glands” is something you will not read in Hansard every day—or they run towards me. I am reminded of the time a dog did just that and latched on to my leg, not in an aggressive fashion but more in an amorous manner. I looked down and said to the owner, “Well, I think I’ve secured his vote.” To which the owner smiled and replied, “Well, you’ve got mine now, too.”
Finally, I would like to thank some specific people. First, I thank my family and friends for their enduring and steadfast love and support over the years—I could not have done this without you. I also thank Penrith and The Border Conservative association for all its help and support.
I also thank specific Members of this House and another place for their support and encouragement in my journey here. To my right hon. Friends the Members for North Somerset (Dr Fox), for Epping Forest (Dame Eleanor Laing), for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay) and for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) and for Moray (Douglas Ross) and, in another place, Lord McInnes of Kilwinning, thank you so much.
On the other side of the House, I specifically mention Ian Murray, whom I was up against as a candidate in 2010. When I was selected as the candidate for Penrith and The Border, he contacted me to wish me well, and he did so again when I arrived here. I feel strongly about that spirit of cross-party working. If someone on the other team has an idea that is good for the country, we should work together to bring it forward for the benefit of everyone. It is in that spirit that I enter this House and hope to continue.
Finally, if you will permit me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will say a final few words about someone you knew well, as he was a constituent of yours. My father, Christopher Hudson, sadly passed away just a few days ago. I have debated whether to say this and, indeed, whether to go ahead with my maiden speech this week, but I know it is what he would have wanted me to do.
My dad, Christopher Hudson, was a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, and he devoted his life to the service of his patients in the NHS and in Australia, and during periods spent in Nigeria and Pakistan. He notably worked to reduce maternal mortality and postpartum complications in the developing world. He delivered countless babies and saved countless lives through pioneering surgery in this area and, especially, in cancer surgery—those procedures are still making a difference today. In addition, he trained and mentored so many health professionals right up until the end. I am so sorry that he is not here today, but he is at peace now. With all my heart and soul: thank you, mum and dad. God bless you, dad. This one’s for you.