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My Lords, it is a privilege to rise to speak here for the first time, particularly to do so following the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, who is right to remind your Lordships of the large number of people who are concerned about the rapidly growing population and the contribution that net migration makes to that.
This is only my 12th day sitting in your Lordships’ House. In ordinary times, I might have waited a little longer before venturing to make my first utterances, but this is already my second Parliament and we have just had the second Queen’s Speech in almost as many months, so I thought I had better get my skates on.
Despite arriving in the middle of such a busy period, I have found the staff of the House to be extremely kind, generous and helpful, answering all my many trivial questions and providing directions with great patience despite the many burdens on their time. Most of all, I am grateful to them for not mistaking me for somebody’s son or parliamentary assistant who has taken a wrong turning.
I am particularly grateful to my supporters, my noble friends Lord Lexden and Lord Lamont of Lerwick, who have given me valuable guidance and support, just as they have over many years, and to noble Lords from all parts of the House who have been so very warm and welcoming.
Of course, the election that we have just seen has changed a great deal. I had anticipated using my maiden speech to tell your Lordships how much I looked forward to speaking up for the north-east of England, a part of the country which does not normally benefit from a loud chorus of Conservative voices, but now I find that I come from the new Tory heartlands and need only be a backing singer to the 10 Conservative MPs who represent the region in another place. None the less, I look forward to working with them and people from all parties and none who want to help a part of the country that I hold particularly dear.
My native area held out against the Tory tide at this election, despite being for many years a dependably Conservative part of the north-east. Whitley Bay stands in the Tynemouth constituency, which for many years was represented by a trailblazing Tory woman, Dame Irene Ward, later a Member of this House and clearly fondly remembered as Baroness Ward of North Tyneside. I know that I do not need to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, anything about Whitley Bay, for she also has the pleasure of hailing from there, but for those of your Lordships who have not yet had the pleasure of visiting, I would heartily recommend it. You will find a place fizzing with great spirit, friendliness and creativity. If your Lordships had been there this time last week, you would have seen 300 hardy souls running into the North Sea for the traditional New Year’s Day dip. I am afraid to say that I was not among them, but their bravery has certainly inspired me as I dip my toes into these rather warmer waters for the first time.
A particular privilege of entering your Lordships’ House at a relatively youthful age is the chance to do so in the sight of both my parents. I am sure that other noble Lords, however and whenever they came to this place, did so deeply conscious of the gratitude that we all owe to our families, and I am very glad to have the opportunity to express mine directly.
I hope your Lordships will also permit me to pay tribute to the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, my boss for much of the last seven years. First at the Home Office, and then in Downing Street, I had the privilege of seeing at first hand her dutifulness, her resilience and her strong devotion to public service. I am sure that these qualities will continue to inspire many in public life, particularly those of us who have come here by her nomination. I look forward to speaking in your Lordships’ debates with my own voice, while drawing on all that I learned during those years in government. To that end, I am particularly glad to see the domestic abuse Bill among the measures in the Queen’s Speech. Its provisions will transform and, in many cases, save lives. It has already been far too long in reaching the statute book and I hope it will have a swift passage from hereon in.
I am not only a Conservative and a unionist, I am a Tory and therefore respectful of tradition—not least, today, the sensible tradition of steering clear of contentious topics in one’s maiden speech. However, when a figure as esteemed and authoritative as Lord Sumption is among those who have pointed to the growing tendency to resolve in the courts matters which, even earlier in my short political career, would have been matters for Ministers, accountable to Parliament and to the electorate, I feel safe in welcoming the Government’s plans to establish a constitution, democracy and rights commission.
The Supreme Court turned 10 years old only in October. Even without the controversies of recent months, I think that this would have been a useful time to take stock and examine how it is working and how it has developed. I am glad that there will be a chance to do that through this new commission. For my part, I have certainly watched with concern the way that litigation seems to be becoming politics by another means, and the new, seemingly widespread view that what happens in the courtroom is sacrosanct, while what happens at the ballot box is not.
My despair at seeing laws I had worked on in government and had seen pass both Houses of Parliament struck down as incompatible with EU law was one of the reasons I left government in order to campaign to leave the EU, and I am particularly glad to be coming here at a time when Parliament is reasserting some of the sovereignty which I feared it might have lost. I hope it is more than youthful naivety which leads me to believe that there is a way of proceeding and embracing this commission which can reassert the importance of the rule of law and of parliamentary democracy and can restore the reputation of our courts and our Parliament in the eyes of the public they both serve. I look forward to the day when judges are neither traduced on the front pages of newspapers, nor have their brooches replicated and worn like political pin-badges.
However, these are debates for future occasions and I must be wary of wading too deeply for fear of sinking before I can swim, particularly in the company of so many accomplished swimmers. It is a privilege to be paddling alongside you.