Below is the text of the speech made by Eddie Hughes, the Conservative MP for Walsall North, in the House of Commons on 19 December 2019.
I hope you will forgive me, Mr Speaker, if I look slightly bewildered to be called to address a full House of Commons Chamber: I have simply never had this experience previously. In fact, over the previous two and a half years, I have got used to being called at the end of a debate to address a Chamber that is almost completely empty, and then being given two minutes to make a 10-minute speech. If you like what you hear over the next few minutes, Mr Speaker, I would like to think you will call me early in debates, unlike your much-loved predecessor. For the moment, though, I am just going to relish this amazing opportunity to talk to all these people.
It is an incredible privilege to be seconding the Humble Address, and it is also an incredible privilege to follow my dear and good friend, my hon. Friend Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). If I remember correctly, she won her seat in 2010 from a Labour Member. If my maths is right, some 50 new Conservative MPs in this Chamber won their seats from Labour Members, right across the country from Ynys Môn to Ipswich—[Hon. Members: “Not in Scotland.”] SNP Members had to ruin the flow, didn’t they? Come on guys—you are meant to be nice. [Interruption.] You are meant to be nice to me. Conservative MPs won Labour seats from Ynys Môn to Ipswich and from Kensington to Blyth Valley. Anybody who has a political bone in their body should just take a minute to remember how they felt when that Blyth Valley result came in.
I won my seat from a Labour Member in 2017, but the Conservatives last won the seat in 1976, and they only managed to win it then because John Stonehouse, the Labour MP, faked his own death. While on a business trip to Miami, he left a pile of clothes on the beach, pretending that he had gone for a swim, never to be seen again, supposedly. I tell you what: he was a damn fine swimmer, because five weeks later he turned up 10,000 miles away in Melbourne, Australia. He was arrested and tried to apply to a couple of countries for asylum, but that did not happen, so he was deported back to the United Kingdom. Incredibly, while out on bail he continued to serve as a Labour MP. I am not sure, but I do not think the Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), would allow such leniency these days. I found it amusing to read a line on Wikipedia that said:
“Although unhappy with the situation, the Labour Party did not expel him.”
That sounds like a familiar theme these days.
For those of us who are 2017 MPs, this has felt like a very precarious innings—like we are never more than five weeks away from a general election. I was getting a bit concerned, because my Conservative predecessor, who is now Baron Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, managed to serve 910 days as the MP for Walsall North. When Parliament was dissolved on 5 November, I had served for 881 days—[Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] I thank my hon. Friends for playing their part—so I knew I had to win the election to beat the baron.
The good omen for me and for this incredible Conservative victory should have been apparent to me on 27 April this year. With just a few days to go before the local elections, I was visited by a man who was at that time a humble Back Bencher: my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson); he was not the Prime Minister then. The blond bombshell was unleashed on the unsuspecting people of Bloxwich, and the result was truly magnificent to behold. Everybody who asked for a selfie was greeted with a beaming smile and an occasional tussle of those famous blond locks. When our tour reached its inevitable destination, the Bloxwich showman—the future Prime Minister—obviously pulled a pint of Thatchers Gold. I know what you are thinking, Mr Speaker: you are thinking, “So what? What was the consequence of this great visit?” The consequence for me was that, in those local elections a few days later, we won two more council wards against the national trend and, for the first time in 20 years, the Conservatives took outright control of Walsall Council.
Perhaps that should not have been a surprise because, over the past three years, we have had a blue-collar revolution. The working people—the working class—of Britain have sent two shock results and who led both those campaigns? It was one man who completely understands that, actually, what the public want—what ordinary working people want—are a Government who will stay out of their way, but will ensure that they have safe streets, a good standard of education for their children, and a great national health service when they need it. We now have a Government and a Prime Minister who understand that and will deliver. People lent us their vote in this election. We cannot let them down; we must not let them down; we will not let them down.
Mr Speaker, I think you know the answer to this question. What is the first priority for this country? [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Members are supposed to say, “Get Brexit done.” Anyway, get Brexit done. Indeed, in an interview immediately after the election result, I think I heard the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), the shadow Chancellor, say that he now understood that the public want to get Brexit done, but Labour had not been listening.
In my constituency of Walsall North, 74% of people who voted in that referendum voted to leave, but that was not the interesting thing for me during the general election. When I was telephone canvassing, I spoke to lifelong Lib Dem voters who voted remain in the referendum, but who were now voting Conservative because they said that they were real democrats. They knew how important it was for this country to deliver on the result of that referendum.
Walsall North is like many of the constituencies that we have just won. It is among the most deprived constituencies in the country, but now we have a Prime Minister who completely understands that, although ability is equally distributed across the country, opportunity is not. That is why we are going to transform the further education system by investing in a huge new rebuild programme worth £1.8 billion.
Investment in infrastructure is also incredibly important. There are towns such as Willenhall in my constituency where the manufacturing base has been decreased over recent years. I was delighted to work with the Mayor of the West Midlands and secure the money for a new train station for Willenhall, because that train station will be a lifeline for that town. It will allow the people of Willenhall to travel to Birmingham and to Wolverhampton more easily for job or education opportunities. It will also allow people to travel into Willenhall, so if we can continue to remediate those old industrial sites, we will automatically free up new opportunities. I am imagining a time when we have a robotic factory in Willenhall, making goods that would otherwise be brought over from the other side of the world, therefore also reducing our carbon footprint for free.
Mr Speaker, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking—
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
I will look at the camera to see who said that. That is not what you were thinking, Mr Speaker. I know you. You were thinking, “What about the NHS? Is it safe in this Conservative Government’s hands?” Let me tell you, it certainly is in Walsall North, because thanks to the Health Secretary my constituency has got £36 million for a new A&E department, which is going to increase capacity and improve conditions for staff and patients alike.
What about the rest of the country, though? I do not know where to begin: 50,000 extra nurses; 50 million extra GP practice appointments a year; and 40 new hospitals. And what about the future of our great nation? Well, I am delighted to read that this Conservative Government will be investing a stonking £3.2 billion a year in research and development by the end of this Parliament, although I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), who said that we simply cannot continue to spend half that money in just three cities—London, Oxford and Cambridge—but that we need to spread it throughout the country.
From my point of view, it certainly looks like the future of the whole United Kingdom is incredibly bright with this Conservative Government. As we look to 2020 with a new-found spirit of optimism and ambition, it is my privilege, on behalf of the great people of the Black Country, to commend this Gracious Speech to the House.