Below is the text of the speech made by Tracey Crouch, the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford, in the House of Commons on 19 December 2019.
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
Mr Speaker, despite the fact that this is quite possibly the most terrifying thing that I have ever done, it is, of course, a great honour to move the Address as the re-elected and proud Member for Chatham and Aylesford. This speech is usually a gift reserved by the Whips for those thought to have had their best times. The Chief Whip, a man well known for his elegance, charm and wit, has clearly clocked that it is panto season, for asking me to do this speech is the equivalent of shouting, “Your career is behind you!” [Hon. Members: “Oh no it isn’t.”] I think we can do a bit better than that and, frankly, I would feel a bit more reassured if the Prime Minister could join in. The Chief, a man well known for his elegance, charm and wit, has clearly clocked that it is panto season, for asking me to do this is the equivalent of shouting, “Your career is behind you.” [Hon. Members: “Oh no it isn’t!] [Laughter.]
Instead of “Cinderella” or “Puss in Boots”, let us raise the literary tone and note that today is the anniversary of “A Christmas Carol” being published in 1843. Charles Dickens was a son of Chatham, so this old has-been speech makes me feel like the ghost of Christmas past; my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) will presently play the ghost of Christmas future; and the Prime Minister is oven ready for the role of the ghost of Christmas present.
Scrooge would have been brilliantly played by the former Chancellor, Philip Hammond, but he was sadly pipped for the part by the last Speaker, who auditioned powerfully for the role for many a bleak year. Old Marley sits on the Front Bench opposite, chained and regretful—and that is just about Arsenal’s recent performances. But who is our Tiny Tim, so valiant and small, the object of universal pity? It could be none other than the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), whom we welcome back to the House; we wonder whether he will have another go at his party’s leadership.
I had thought of continuing the “Love Actually” election theme by delivering my speech on bits of card, with the parliamentary choir singing carols in the background, but: one, we are not allowed to bring props into the Chamber; two, I think Hugh Grant has suffered enough; and, three, it would be simply impossible to fit in all the names of the new Conservative intake.
I note that the last Kent MP to propose the Loyal Address was Bob Dunn, the long-serving Member for Dartford, who started his speech by mentioning that he had been
“returned as its Member in four successive general elections—at each election, the Conservative vote has been significantly higher than the time before.”
Thanks to this Prime Minister, I now know how he felt. This legislative programme outlines plans for a Bill authorising the construction and operation of High Speed 2, but it was in the Queen’s Speech of November 1994 that the legislation for High Speed 1 was proposed. Along with the constituency of Dartford, High Speed 1 travels through mine and many others in Kent. Bob Dunn spoke of its potential virtues, predicting
“the economic benefits associated with it”.—[Official Report, 16 November 1994; Vol. 250, c. 7-9.]
And he was right. Thanks to that Bill, 25 years ago, parts of Kent have seen major regeneration thanks to a much-reduced travel time to London, and there is still even more potential to unlock.
I am privileged to be the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, a diverse constituency with a strong naval history. A friend and mentor of mine, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), mentioned to me earlier this week that he is now the only Kent MP to have been serving while the Chatham dockyard was still operational, but rumour has it that he is also the only Kent MP to have been here the last time a Thanet MP proposed the Loyal Address: in 1937—[Laughter.] Sorry, Sir Roger.
Although the dockyard, while not within the boundary of my constituency, has always been of critical significance to the town, it ceased operation in 1984. However, its regeneration has been remarkable, paying tribute to its heritage through housing, employment and tourism.
Another female member of the 2010 intake to have proposed the Loyal Address is, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). Like Chatham, her constituency is built very firmly on the foundations of the Royal Navy and, of course, she famously littered her speech with bits of the male anatomy as a dare from her colleagues in the reserves. I thought I would seek her advice, given that I knew I would feel sick to the core and would be shaking with fear, whereas she has served with great calmness and tranquillity during tough times at the highest level. She looked at me, took my hand and said, “Tracey, you’ll be fine. Just don’t cock it up.”
I note that the last Loyal Address after a December election was proposed by a Mr Reginald Mitchell Banks from Swindon. Hansard notes that he delivered his speech in court dress, a tradition I am grateful no longer exists, although if Hansard wishes to note that I am wearing high-street chic, it is of course welcome to do so. Mr Banks spoke of the importance of trading with our friends abroad, and of course the bonds of commerce and enterprise between the United Kingdom and countries both near and far have only strengthened since. The famous Watling Street—a trading route used by ancient Britons, Vikings, Saxons and Romans—runs through Chatham. It was on that road that famous battles were fought against Roman invaders, but I am delighted to say that things have changed, and it is on that road, now known as the A2, running through Aylesford, along with the M20, that goods come and go from the port of Dover, which, as the Foreign Secretary now knows, is a rather important trading point.
It is in that spirit of being open to the world that, 96 years on from that election and its subsequent Humble Address, we have proposed legislation that, by delivering on Brexit, creates new and exciting trading opportunities—and it starts in this House tomorrow with the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. That Bill and other Brexit legislation announced this morning will unlock and unleash Britain’s potential. We stand ready to build a new relationship with our friends in the EU and elsewhere based on free trade and co-operation. Thanks to the legislative programme announced today, we can raise our own standards in areas such as agriculture and of course—my personal passions—animal welfare and environment.
The reintroduction of the Environment Bill will protect and restore our natural environment for generations to come, set ambitious, world-leading but achievable programmes to tackle pollution, and enable us to make the most of our much loved landscapes. For those of us with densely populated, polluted constituencies, whose last pockets of green space are threatened by inappropriate and strategically ill thought through planning proposals, demonstrating that those fields provide not only a haven for wildlife but a breathing space in urban areas that enhances the health and wellbeing of our residents is our last remaining hope.
As well as other extremely important pieces of legislation, I know from my campaigning throughout the election that my constituents will warmly welcome plans to enshrine in law increased funding for the NHS, greater access to GP appointments, fairer funding in education, more police officers and tougher sentences for serious criminals. They will also be delighted to hear of further commitments to support those with poor mental health. Members of this House, including me, have spoken powerfully and personally about their own brushes with various mental health conditions. It is right that we help to remove the stigma around mental health by talking about it, but it is actions, not words, that matter. It is paramount that we ensure that our constituents, whose voice may not be as loud as our own, receive the treatment they need by guaranteeing that mental health will be treated with the same urgency as physical health.
I was proud that our manifesto included commitments to improve the overall wellbeing of the nation. Although measures such as investing in grassroots sport, enhancing physical education in schools and reforming the out-of-date gambling legislation may not be in the legislative programme outlined today, the Prime Minister should know that there is wide cross-party support for such improvements beginning the laborious Whitehall process, and I hope that will happen soon.
I made my maiden speech during a debate on poverty. Part of my constituency suffers enormously from deprivation, and I work alongside many organisations to support those who find themselves unable to cope. Charles Dickens chronicled vividly the poverty of Victorian Britain and the inequalities alleviated in the ensuing 180 years by moderate, enlightened Governments of all colours. Mercy and altruism must remain our mission in today’s one nation Conservative party. I have worked with many MPs from other parties in this House on various issues. Of course I welcome and congratulate my new colleagues on the Conservative Benches, but there are friends who sat on the Opposition Benches whom I will miss enormously. Although we have not covered ourselves in glory in the past few years, new MPs will soon discover that this place is at its best when we work together, and that relationships and friendships will be formed over issues that need cross-party consensus if progress is to be made.
Chatham’s hero, Dickens, may have been a great social reformer, but he also observed that there is nothing in this world so irresistible as laughter and good humour. Perhaps that would be no bad guide for us, as we repair this House of Commons in the coming months. Let laughter and good humour replace recent rancour; let friendships thrive through adversity; and let us respect our differences but not let them divide us. And of course, let Tottenham finish above Arsenal in the league this year. As I finish my humble offering to Her Majesty, I take this opportunity to wish colleagues and all the hard-working House staff a very merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah and a peaceful holiday season. In the words of Tiny Tim at the end of “A Christmas Carol”, God bless us everyone!