Andrew Lewer – 2017 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Andrew Lewer, the Conservative MP for Northampton South, in the House of Commons on 19 July 2017.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) for her speech. It was comprehensive, but rather different in its thrust from mine. I must not pass up the opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mrs Badenoch) on her excellent speech and to refer to the really great camaraderie that she and I and the rest of our intake have enjoyed. I am particularly fond of Saffron Walden as it is where my mother went to college. In fact, Rab Butler cut the ribbon at the opening of her college in 1965. I hope she does not get annoyed with me for mentioning the date.

I am truly honoured to have been chosen as the Member of Parliament for Northampton South. I have big boots to fill, in a town that is rich with an industrial history of manufacturing boots and shoes. There is not a place in the world where a British man or woman has not left their footprint with a Northampton boot or shoe, whether in a jungle or a desert, or on a mountain or a snow-laden plain. In 1830, there were 40 shoe and boot manufacturers in Northampton, and they employed a third of all the men in the town. That does not include the ancillary industries; they were employed in actually making the boots and shoes. The fortunes of the town’s shoe and boot industry have risen, fallen and risen again. Although we are now left with only a handful of shoe manufacturers, they produce some of the most exclusive and desirable handmade shoes in the world.

My upbringing, most particularly at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Ashbourne, taught me the value of tradition. Thus—and staying with the metaphor of footprints—I would like to acknowledge the work of the former Member for Northampton South, Mr David Mackintosh. Although his tenure was short, his impact and the footprint of his public service to this House and to his constituents were significant. When I recently visited the Hope Centre, a local homelessness and anti-poverty charity in Northampton, I learned that he was held in high regard there for helping to push through the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and for his local work on combating homelessness.

The Northampton South seat was established in 1974, and those who represented the constituency are still making their footprints on public life to this day. Lord Naseby sits in the other place and still has an involvement in local public life through his work with Northamptonshire county cricket club. Mr Tony Clarke, who succeeded Lord Naseby in 1997, was a passionate public servant and continues to be so today by educating the young adults of the town in the local further education college. Then there was Mr Brian Binley, who is well known to many here and still centrally involved with the regeneration programme, Northampton Alive.

Charles Bradlaugh, whose bust I walked past today, was a particularly famous Northampton MP. He was a radical, and I came across him many years ago when I was doing postgraduate research—he and Charles Newdigate Newdegate had some enormous debates across the House about the difference between taking an oath and taking an affirmation. Previous Northampton MP Spencer Perceval is also well known in this Chamber. It is interesting that speeches made about him in previous years referred quite light-heartedly to his fate. In more recent years, of course, that has changed significantly. ​When we think of Spencer Perceval now, we think of much more recent and tragic events, and about the continuity of the risks that people run when they enter public service.

Francis Crick, who—with James Watson—co-discovered DNA, which is now the driving force of so many scientific breakthroughs and discoveries, was from Northampton, but there are also less well-known people, such as Walter Tull, who played for Northampton Town football club and then for Spurs. He was the British Army’s first black officer; he fought in the first world war but, after an incredible war record, alas he was killed in 1918. Margaret Bondfield, the first ever female Cabinet member, briefly served as MP for Northampton, so there are big shoes to fill indeed.

The constituency of Northampton South is the home of Cosworth, Travis Perkins, Barclaycard and Carlsberg. Those are prestigious brands and significant employers for the area, but I draw colleagues’ attention to another business. Under the shadow of the Carlsberg plant is the Phipps brewery, which was recently re-established after years of dormancy—and a welcome return it is. Pickering Phipps II served as the Member of Parliament for Northampton from 1874 to 1880. In many ways, his brewery and Northampton—because of the tannins involved in shoe manufacturing—was responsible for the revival of recipes that gave birth to the real ale movement, which has been going from strength to strength since the 1970s.

Northampton is one of the fastest-growing towns in the country, and has been for decades—I noticed that all my predecessors made reference to that fact in their maiden speeches. As I will, they referred to the pressures on public services, challenges for the high street and the major issue of housing. With the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), I will be campaigning for new and better facilities for Northampton General Hospital to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding town. We need more housing, better transport infrastructure and a more focused regeneration effort. As championed by Northampton Borough Council and the county council, we need an emphasis on culture and heritage to bring new vitality to Northampton town centre.

I hope my time as a county council leader myself will be helpful for all that, but—and here is a link to the debate topic—just over a month ago I was a Member of the European Parliament in Brussels. I have been told—I keep saying it and no one has contradicted me yet—that I am the only person ever to have served as a council leader, a Member of the European Parliament and an MP. As an MEP, I specialised in culture, education and regional development and fought for things that matter to me, such as the possible continuation of the Erasmus+ programme, or the introduction of a home-grown successor if not.

As an MEP, I also spent quite a lot of time working on the revision of the audiovisual media services directive, making the case for avoiding the unnecessary burden of over-regulation while protecting freedom of speech. I was also particularly interested in religious freedom and highlighted the case of Asia Bibi, who lives under a death sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan. I hope in this place to continue the work I was involved in to try to save her from the terrible situation she is in.

I was a reluctant leaver, but I still believe it is the right choice for the UK. In many ways, the complexity of leaving, which we are discussing tonight, simply underlines how much of our sovereignty we had lost and reminds us all that our work here is about not only getting a good deal as we leave but being ready to innovate in policy areas that this House has not had the lead on, or even much of a say about, for many years. Trade, environment and agriculture are not just something on which we will get a deal, but something on which we will need to work and innovate for ourselves henceforth.

Finally, let me go back to the tradition of describing one’s constituency as the most beautiful. Northampton certainly does have some beautiful buildings. It has a fascinating history, notably in the medieval period. It is my non-conformist and Methodist roots coming out when I say that much of its beauty lies in its industriousness, and that much of what makes the country as a whole great is to be found there. Much of what will challenge us as politicians in the years ahead can also be found there within its boundaries.