My Lords, it is a tremendous honour to be able to contribute to this important debate, and to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, on his excellent maiden speech.
I will start by thanking all those—both Members and staff of this House—who have been so kind with their time and generous in welcoming me to this place. In particular, I thank my two introducers, my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot, who 15 years ago took me under his wing when he was chair of the Defence Select Committee and I a new member, and my noble friend Lord Randall. I must say that ours was a slightly less cordial first meeting when I was a very junior Member of Parliament and he a very senior Whip. After what, frankly, could only be described as a good dinner with fellow new MPs, I found myself coerced into being a rebel Teller on the Crossrail Bill, which was something of a surprise to the Whips. We all know that Whips do not like surprises but, to my noble friend’s credit, his only concern was not that I was rebelling but that I knew what I was doing and did not make a fool of myself in the Chamber of the House of Commons—and we have been firm friends ever since. It was fun, but government Whips can rest easy; I might wait a couple of weeks before trying the same thing here.
I confess that I was rather hoping to be able to give my maiden speech on
However, I offer noble Lords some reassurance that I come to this place with some useful skills. I am a qualified bomb disposal officer. I started my career in Hong Kong with the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers. I continue to serve after 32 years in the Army Reserve and I am very proud to be chairing the Reserve Forces 2030 review. I continue my links with the Brigade of Gurkhas as the deputy colonel commandant. It was perhaps my operational service in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan that led me into politics. War is a terrible thing and it has left a lasting impression on me. I found myself agreeing with Winston Churchill that
“Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.”
That inspired me to stand for Parliament.
There seems to be a tradition, in the Commons at least, of Ministers being appointed to a department for which they have little or no relevant experience. Perhaps I and my noble friend the Minister are exceptions to this rule; I was deeply honoured to be a Minister at the Ministry of Defence for five years, ending my time there as Minister for the Armed Forces. I challenge anyone not to be uplifted by spending time with our service men and women. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those who have made such a contribution to our nation.
My wife, Caroline Dinenage, is Minister for Digital and Culture and a veteran now of some six departments. She always says to me that I am so lucky only to have served in one, and I always tell her that she is and always will be a far better Minister than I ever was.
I am equally proud to have represented Milton Keynes for nearly 15 years, a wonderful city of wonderful people, all with a positive can-do attitude. In Milton Keynes it is rare, if ever, for a political party to have a majority, and this means a level of party-political co-operation rarely seen elsewhere. That is just the sort of approach and attitude that I intend to bring during my time in this place. Situated at the centre of the Oxford-Cambridge arc, Milton Keynes is an area of high growth that is in desperate need of new housing if it is to continue to attract skilled workers and to be the economic powerhouse it is.
The measures before us today are a positive move by the Government, giving homeowners the freedom to extend their own homes as their families grow and for us to regenerate the brownfield areas of our towns and cities. There is just one area where I seek reassurance from the Minister: that the conversion of family homes into houses in multiple occupation will still require planning permission. As my noble friend knows, an excess of HMOs in any community brings with it a whole host of challenges worthy of an entirely separate debate in this Chamber.