Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Andrew Griffith, the Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs, in the House of Commons on 20 January 2020.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate on the economy and employment, which is a subject on which I hope to contribute to the House from my personal experience. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter). I compliment her on her excellent speech and on her passion.
Let me start by acknowledging what a privilege it is to represent the residents of Arundel and South Downs. I pledge to serve them to the very best of my ability. My predecessor, Nick Herbert, made a rich and diverse contribution, leading Business for Sterling, serving as a Minister of State and devoting his many energies and talents to the global fight against tuberculosis in his 14-year tenure. Now, as chairman of the Countryside Alliance, Nick has a somewhat enlarged number of constituents to look after, and we look forward to his continuing to make his presence felt vicariously in this House.
Even within this Chamber, which sees more than its fair share of partisanship, the claim of Arundel and South Downs to be one of the most beautiful constituencies in the UK must rank highly. It comprises six historic market towns, together with their many surrounding villages. The common thread is the natural geography of West Sussex, with the South Downs providing a chalky spine and clay flanks facing towards London to the north and, to the south, the Greensand hills stretching down to the coast. This has provided the ideal conditions for cultivating grapes for 2,000 years, and the constituency is the epicentre of English sparkling wine production, with Nutborne near Pulborough, Nyetimber in West Chiltington and Upperton in Tillington just some of the successful local businesses producing world-class products. My constituency also has a farmed landscape that is particularly associated with the grazing of sheep, and it would be remiss of me if I did not say that I will be seeking to protect my local farmers’ access to markets, and to achieve a level playing field on quality and welfare standards.
The constituency’s eponymous South Downs national park contains a number of unique habitats that allow endangered species to thrive, including the rare Duke of Burgundy butterfly. It is orange in colour and found predominantly in the south of England, but its numbers have been reduced sharply in recent times. It would be uncharitable, however, to draw an analogy with one of the Opposition parties, currently being led by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey).
The South Downs national park is, by some considerable margin, the nearest national park to the House, and I extend to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, an invitation to visit. Should you make the journey, you will be rewarded by its natural beauty by day and, should you stay after sunset, you will witness a blanket of stars and galaxies, reflecting the area’s status as one of the UK’s dark sky reserves. Light pollution is a global and growing issue. It is estimated that one third of the world’s population, including most of us in Europe, have already lost the ability to see our own milky way galaxy, blinding ourselves to the ability to see our earth in the broader context of the universe. There are many benefits to reducing light pollution, and I hope that this House will be an effective platform for doing that.
Of course, the best way to solve a problem is not to create it in the first place. My constituents have real concerns about the volume and type of housing development that is being proposed. As we speak, I estimate that fully 10% of the southern part of my constituency lies under water. Much of this area is natural floodplain, but an unnatural act is the ambition to build new homes in the hundreds—collectively in the thousands—on this land, which also lacks much of the necessary infrastructure. I shall return to this another day. However, part of the solution, which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has rightly addressed, must be to level up elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
The area has been inhabited since neolithic times. Indeed, the history of England is etched on to the very landscape. My constituency contains part of all three ancient administrative units of West Sussex: Arundel, Bramber and Chichester. Sitting between Normandy and London, they were of great strategic importance in the years following the 1066 conquest. Their graces, the Dukes of Norfolk, whose seat is at Arundel, have been central to our nation’s history since the 14th century and provided the House with many of my predecessors, while the abolitionist William Wilberforce once sat for the old Bramber division.
In the 20th century, local airfields made a substantial contribution to the battle of Britain, while in the run-up to D-day, British and allied troops camped there in their hundreds of thousands awaiting the signal to go. We continue to punch above our weight today as the location of Wilton Park, the influential forum for discussion that welcomes leaders of more than 100 nationalities a year.
There is a great deal to be commended in the Gracious Speech. Businesses have welcomed the ambitious commitment to gigabit broadband and 5G coverage, something I have long campaigned for. Britain should lead, not lag behind, other OECD countries on this. Alongside broadband, we need the roads and railways to reduce friction on trade, which is why investment in improving the A27 is welcome and will secure growth and employment for my constituents.
I can also report that much joy has been provoked in the small market towns of West Sussex by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s commitment to a review of business rates. Having been a finance director, I share his view on the importance of balancing the nation’s budget, but I hope he can have sympathy with the argument that it is better and fairer to tax the fruits of the harvest than the soil it is grown in.
I shall be supporting the Government today—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] On the subject of the economy and employment, I could not put it better than the words of Mrs Thatcher’s 1979 manifesto: the policy of this Government should be to
“restore incentives so that hard work pays, success is rewarded and genuine new jobs are created in an expanding economy.”