Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Neil O’Brien, the Conservative MP for Harborough, in the House of Commons on 3 July 2017.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant). Before he spoke, he promised me that he would make me look good. By speaking so powerfully, so poetically and so brilliantly, he has already broken his first political promise—so thanks a bunch for that.
It is also a pleasure to follow my predecessor, Sir Edward Garnier. He was a brilliant constituency MP for 25 years. He is independent-minded and he is brave, but above all he is just an exceptionally nice man. He will be missed in all parts of this House, and he will be massively missed in our constituency.
It is an honour to represent the people of Harborough, Oadby and Wigston in this House, and I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart for sending me here. There are four really striking things about my constituency. The first is the staggering amount of community and voluntary work, whether it is local charities such as Rainbows, LOROS, VAL or VASL; the award-winning work of Market Harborough in Bloom, which is visible all over the town and makes it beautiful; the strength of our local army, sea and air cadets, with whom I celebrated Armed Forces Week just the other day; or community campaigns such as the campaign to save the children’s heart unit at Glenfield hospital, which I support. The strength of our civic life is incredibly visible from the briefest look at The Harborough Mail or the Leicester Mercury, or by tuning into our community radio station, Harborough FM. A huge number of people in my constituency dedicate themselves to improving the lot of their fellow citizens, and it is absolutely inspiring.
The second striking thing about my constituency is the strong culture of enterprise. There are now nearly 4,500 businesses in the constituency—a quarter more than in 2010. There is simply nothing that the people in my constituency cannot do well. From milk floats to jet engines, we have made everything. Although we have heard speeches this evening about the invention of powered flight in Scotland, you will be relieved, Mr Speaker, to hear that we have never tried to combine the jet engine and the milk float, as that would lead to dangerous adventures, I think. My constituency is famous for farming and food, and also for textiles. One of its most famous family businesses, Symingtons, actually managed to combine both of those things, because one brother made soups which fattened us all up, and the other brother made corsets with which to constrain our bulging waistlines. You will agree, Mr Speaker, that that is a very cunning business model. Given the culture of small business, the have-a-go culture, and the culture of enterprise in my constituency, I will work to make sure that important initiatives such as the Midlands Engine and the new industrial strategy work for small business as well as big.
The third really important thing about my constituency is the open and welcoming nature of the people. Perhaps that is because we have been plugged into the global economy ever since the Romans came and built the road that now forms the eastern boundary of the constituency. I have to tell you, Mr Speaker, that not all of that road is now passable by car due to several centuries of disgraceful underinvestment by the Vikings, Normans and Saxons, but none the less, later on the canals came and put the constituency back on the map. The fantastic staircase of locks at Foxton Locks is a testament to the time when it was the spaghetti junction on the M1 of its day. In more recent decades, the constituency has welcomed people from all over the world. Sometimes they have come with absolutely nothing but the clothes on their backs, particularly the Ugandan Asians who came and settled there when they were fleeing from Idi Amin. Wherever they have come from, they have often started brilliant businesses and powered our economy forward. In our constituency, we have very good relations between all the different communities, and I will work to keep it that way.
The fourth and final thing, Mr Speaker—you will perhaps see this coming—is of course that my constituency is strikingly beautiful, from the well-kept gardens of Oadby, Wigston and Market Harborough to the gently rolling countryside, it is a lovely place to be. When we are walking near our home—me, my wife Jemma, and our little daughter Florence—tramping through the tall buttercups and the nice pink clover flowers under the big Leicestershire skies, that is about as close as it gets to heaven.
My constituency is a place of beauty, a place of opportunity, and a place with a strong community, and I want to keep it that way. To keep it beautiful, we have to start by reforming our broken planning system. We have made progress in recent years, and of course we must build more houses, but too often at the moment our planning system only builds resentment. It puts development in the wrong places and does not match new housing with the necessary infrastructure, and councillors and the community simply have too few powers relative to developers.
To extend opportunity we have to focus on education. I grew up in Huddersfield, went to a comprehensive, got to go to Oxford and have ended up in this House. I want young people in my constituency to have the same chances as I have had. It simply cannot be right that school pupils in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston get so much less funding than children in identical circumstances in other areas. The new national funding formula will start to address that injustice, and I hope that the Government will press on with it as soon as possible. I also want the forthcoming review of council funding to address the wider underfunding of Leicestershire.
To make the most of our community spirit, we have to make sure that everyone in it is included. We are an ageing society with more people living alone so loneliness is a growing problem. I commend the work of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness and the fantastic work being done by mainly community groups in my constituency to address loneliness. I will get right behind them.
I am an optimist by nature. Yes, we are in a global economic race, but this country has better schools than ever before and a brilliant culture of enterprise. Yes, we are an ageing society, but I believe that, with more older people and time to volunteer, we have the conditions for a massive boom in our social and community life. Although this country faces some challenges, I for one believe that our best days still lie ahead.