Michael Gove – 2005 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

michaelgove

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Michael Gove in the House of Commons on 7 June 2005.

Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye and giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in the House of Commons. Whatever any of us may have done before coming to this House, speaking in the Chamber for the first time is a nerve-racking moment, and I am therefore grateful for the courtesies that the House extends to new Members during their maiden speech.

I feel a particular sense of nervousness coming after the hon. Members for Bristol, East (Ms McCarthy), for Newport, East (Jessica Morden) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark), and my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies), for Braintree (Mr. Newmark), for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) and for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), who all gave accomplished speeches.

The hon. Member for Newport, East spoke with great charm about her constituency and with great force about her passion for social justice. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran follows in the distinguished footsteps of Brian Wilson and a hero of mine, Sir Fitzroy Maclean. She is a worthy follower in that tradition. She spoke without notes but with great fluency and conviction. The hon. Member for Bristol, East also follows in distinguished footsteps, and she lived up to that in a speech of great wit and authority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree spoke with great force and persuasiveness. He gave a maiden speech in the best traditions of the House and I congratulate him. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley gave a witty and forthright speech which I greatly admired, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough gave a personally powerful and principled speech on which I congratulate him. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness also spoke without notes but with tremendous aplomb and authority. I wish them all well in their careers in the House.

This Bill is of particular concern to my constituency of Surrey Heath, which is an economically vibrant home to both multinational companies and a wealth of small and medium-sized enterprises. There have been a number of distinguished contributions to this debate. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), as befits a former Foreign Officer Minister, ranged far and wide in his remarks. Other Members, such as the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), were rather more tightly focused. With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope to be a little less than tightly focused and to use this opportunity to look at the broader themes underlying the Finance Bill.

As the son of a small business man who ran a flourishing fish merchants in Aberdeen, at a time when that city’s fishing industry was in ruder health than today, I know personally how regulation and legislation conceived from the best of motives can stifle enterprise and limit opportunity.

Any opportunities that I have in life I owe to my parents and to the sacrifices that they made. They adopted me when I was just four months old, and I was fortunate therefore to be raised in a secure and loving home. That has left me with a profound sense of the importance of helping families to withstand all the pressures placed on them by modern life, and I hope in my time in this House to do what I can to improve the lives of children born to disadvantage and to support all parents in the difficult but immensely rewarding task of raising families.

Before turning to the legislation that is before us, I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor as MP for Surrey Heath, Nick Hawkins. Nick served for 13 years in this House, first as Member for Blackpool, South and latterly as MP for Surrey Heath. During his time here, Nick set an example as a diligent and caring constituency MP, as well as a robust and principled scrutineer of legislation. During my time as a parliamentary candidate and in my brief weeks as an MP, I have met many constituents for whom Nick was an indefatigable champion; he set a standard that it would be difficult to match. I also know, not least from his many friends still in this House, how valuable Nick’s sharp legal brain was in the scrutiny of legislation. Nick’s belief in defending the principles of our common law and standing up for the liberty of the individual do him great credit, and I wish him well in the legal career to which he has now returned.

Following in Nick’s footsteps is a challenge, but it is made far easier by the charm and friendliness of the people of Surrey Heath. It is both an honour and a pleasure to represent the most attractive and vibrant constituency in the county judged by “Country Life” to be England’s most beautiful. I know that there may be some dissent among my hon. Friends, but as a flinty Scot, and someone who therefore judges English beauty with an unclouded eye, I can only say that I concur with the judgment of “Country Life”. Surrey is indeed God’s own county; it combines the best of England’s civic traditions with large areas of still unspoilt rural charm.

Camberley is the largest town in my constituency. I am sure that memories of it will be dear to those hon. and gallant Members who passed through the Royal Military academy or the Staff college, both of which lie in its precincts. Camberley’s particular charms are not, however, known only to those who pass through the RMA’s gates. Thanks to John Betjeman’s most famous poem, “A Subaltern’s Love Song”, the romance of Camberley is well known:

“nine-o’clock Camberley, heavy with bells,

And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells”

is how he immortalised that beautiful town. While the scent of Camberley is now tinged with the odour of fumes from the M3, which cuts a swathe through my constituency, there is a still a pine-woody and evergreen quality to the town that is very pleasing to this Scottish exile.

John Betjeman is not the only great writer to have drawn inspiration from the air of Surrey Heath. John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera” draws on the history of Bagshot heath in my constituency as a haunt of highwaymen and cutpurses. “The Beggar’s Opera” is a satire in which comparisons are drawn between the highwaymen of 18th-century Surrey and the politicians of 18th-century England; both, John Gay suggests, were charming rogues who made it their business to deprive honest citizens of hard-earned money, only to squander the plunder on their own vanities. I will leave it to other Members to decide what relevance, if any, John Gay’s insights have to discussion of this Finance Bill.

One area where I believe that public investment continues to be more necessary than ever is in our security, and I want to touch briefly on that matter. The contribution of the military to the life of my constituency has been, and continues to be, immensely valuable. As well as the Royal Military academy, Surrey Heath also benefits from our association with the military in many other ways. Our excellent local hospital, Frimley Park, works closely with the Royal Army Medical Corps to provide a matchless service for the whole community. We also house the headquarters of the Royal Army Logistics Corps, and it was on the heathland of the Chobham ridges that the world-famous Chobham armour was developed, which has helped to give our armed forces the protection that they need on the field of battle.

I hope that during my time in this House I can play a small part in giving our forces the support that they richly deserve. Britain’s contribution to extending the cause of liberty has been distinguished, and it is a source of pride to me. In a proper spirit of bipartisanship, I pay tribute to this Government for their role in defending the cause of freedom in Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Iraq. I hope that it will not be considered wrong of me, however, to pledge that I shall use my position here to ensure that in future those who risk their lives on our behalf are given all the support—political, moral and financial—that they need.

The tradition of public service that the military exemplifies is richly alive in many other ways in my constituency. We have some of the best state schools in the country, a superb hospital in Frimley Park, as I said, and thriving voluntary organisations as well as active parish councils that serve our more rural communities such as Chobham, West End, Bisley, Bagshot and Windlesham. But the quality of life that the people of Surrey Heath enjoy and have done so much themselves to maintain is, I fear, threatened by insensitive overdevelopment. Plans to build tens of thousands of new homes in our area, imposed by an unelected and unwanted regional authority, combined with planning guidance that demands an increase in housing density, is wholly detrimental to the character of our communities and risks placing great strain on already overstretched public services.

I firmly believe that all parties in this House in the past 25 years have ensured that power has become too centralised. Decisions are now taken at too distant and remote a level. Intimate questions of planning should be decided by the local people most affected. Planning decisions affect the social capital that individuals and communities have built up over generations. That is why planning law must be seen to be fair, responsive and sensitive. In Surrey Heath, like many other rural areas, we have suffered as a consequence of a small minority—I must stress, a very small minority—of Travellers, who have defied the planning rules by setting up unauthorised encampments on greenfield sites. I hope, while in this House, to be able to change the law in such a way as to ensure the fair application of planning rules. I appreciate the contribution that Britain’s travelling community has made to our national life over many generations, but equality before the law is the best guarantee of civilised treatment for all.

As I said, one of the many attractive features of Surrey Heath is its economic vibrancy. We are lucky to have in the constituency a wealth of local entrepreneurs, including Bob Potter OBE, whose Lakeside hotel in Frimley Green is globally renowned as the home of the world darts championship, thus demonstrating that one does not have to risk going on to Ministry of Defence property in Surrey Heath to see targets being hit with rare skill.

We are also fortunate in employment terms in the opportunities offered to us by multinational companies that serve my constituency, such as Eli Lilly, BAE, Novartis and S. C. Johnson. All those companies are excellent corporate citizens playing a valued part in the life of the community as well as generating jobs, wealth and taxes for the Exchequer. It is with their contribution in mind that I want to say a few words about the precise measures in the Bill.

I recognise the need for legislation to reform the tax system and to limit tax avoidance, and there are many provisions in the Bill that may take us in the right direction, but I am concerned that in their zeal to regulate the Government may risk damaging Britain’s competitive position. Retrospective and arbitrary changes to the tax code do not contribute to the atmosphere of stability and certainty that encourages investment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) pointed out, chapter 4 and clause 39 give cause for concern, as they seem to create the power for arbitrary and retrospective application of the Revenue’s powers. I find that a worrying element of the Bill.

Historians of this House will know that our finest hour came in the 17th century, when we in Parliament insisted on limiting the arbitrary powers of the Executive to impose taxation. In that battle between king and Parliament, I have no hesitation in saying that Parliament was on the right side. I know that the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr. Brown) sometimes revels in his reputation as a roundhead; it is a great pity that in this legislation he should be so cavalier with the tax code.

To my mind, the best way of preventing tax avoidance—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge—is through tax simplification. At a time when economies in eastern Europe are making themselves more attractive to international investment by radically simplifying their tax codes, we should not go down the road of further complicating our own tax system.

I believe that my constituency has equipped itself well for the challenges of the 21st century by staying true to eternal British virtues—keeping what is cherishable and distinctive, celebrating excellence, having a pride in tradition, but always looking outwards. I hope that we can adopt a similar approach as a nation. Our economic strength has been built on sound traditions and an awareness of the importance of low and simple taxation, light and flexible regulation and wise and prudent investment. When we stray from those traditions, we undermine our future prosperity.

I want to thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your indulgence in calling me, and in particular, I want to thank very much the people of Surrey Heath for giving me the opportunity to serve them in this Chamber.