Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Ben Lake, the Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion, in the House of Commons on 13 July 2017.
Diolch, Madam Deputy Speaker. Thank you for affording me the opportunity to make my maiden speech this afternoon.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) and, in particular, the hon. Members for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) and for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin), who both made excellent maiden speeches. Indeed, they set an exacting standard. They spoke from the heart and I have no doubt that they will be a credit to their party, their constituencies and this House.
I welcome the opportunity to remember the third battle of Ypres in the House and to commemorate the first world war. As the years go by, it becomes increasingly important that we remember the conflict and especially the sacrifice of all those who lost their lives. We must ensure that we learn the lessons of the past and strive never again to subject people to such suffering and horror. While visiting one of the many Commonwealth war cemeteries that pepper the Flemish countryside, it was heartbreaking to stumble across seemingly never-ending rows of young lives cut short by the conflict.
As has already been mentioned this afternoon, perhaps the most famous of the casualties from Wales was Ellis Humphrey Evans, or Hedd Wyn, a son of Trawsfynydd, in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts). Hedd Wyn was a talented poet who, tragically, was killed before learning of his greatest literary triumph. Just a few weeks before winning the most prestigious prize for poetry at the National Eisteddfod, the bardic chair, he was killed at the battle of Passchendaele at the young age of 30.
A manuscript of the winning ode, “Yr Arwr”, or “The Hero”, in Hedd Wyn’s own hand, is one of the many precious treasures housed at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. This sentinel of our nation’s heritage is perched on Penglais hill, overlooking Cardigan bay, a jewel of the Welsh coast, which I now have the privilege of representing as the Member for Ceredigion. I am truly humbled that the people of this great constituency have put their faith in me to speak for them in this place. I am looking forward to working hard on their behalf and serving them well, and I will strive to be worthy of this trust.
My immediate predecessor, Mark Williams, was elected in 2005. He gained the respect of this House and the affection of the constituency, thanks to over 12 years of tireless service. Thousands of people from across the county have benefited from his advice and assistance, and I hope to continue with his good work. I wish him and his family the very best for the future.
Ceredigion is my home. From the peak of Pen Pumlumon Fawr to the tranquillity of the Teifi estuary, its hills and valleys rarely fail to speak to its sons and daughters. It is no surprise that hiraeth should be such a common affliction of Cardis who find themselves absent from the county for too long. As the second most sparsely populated county in Wales, Ceredigion is largely a rural area. Agriculture is the backbone of many of our communities. Farming not only supports a significant proportion of the workforce, but also sustains a range of social activities and events that are the lifeblood of the county.
Ceredigion stretches from the banks of the Dyfi in the north to Cardigan Island in the south. It is bounded in the east by the magnificent hills of the Elenydd, and flanked to the west by spectacular coastline. Indeed, this year blue flags proudly fly above the pristine beaches at Aberporth, Aberystwyth, Borth, Llangrannog, New Quay and Tresaith. Tourism plays a vital economic role in the area, which is unsurprising given that Ceredigion is widely acknowledged to be the most beautiful constituency in Wales.
Ceredigion’s natural beauty is complemented by the diverse nature of her settlements, from the picturesque Georgian harbour town of Aberaeron to the historic mustering point of the drovers at Tregaron, which continues to hold a thriving livestock market to this day.
Although predominantly a rural constituency, we boast two university towns. The university at Aberystwyth was established in 1872, thanks to the pennies of the people—thousands of individual donations from across Wales; and Lampeter is home to the oldest degree-awarding institution in Wales, founded in 1822.
We can also justifiably claim to be the capital of Welsh culture. In addition to housing the National Library of Wales and two universities, Ceredigion has two thriving publishing houses in Talybont and Llandysul, and the recently restored castle in Cardigan played host to the first National Eisteddfod in 1176. The most famous of Welsh bard, Dafydd ap Gwilym, was born in Penrhyncoch, and my hometown of Lampeter is the birthplace of Welsh rugby, with the first recorded match being played there in 1866.
That rich mix of rural and urban defines Ceredigion—a tapestry of communities woven tightly by the emphatic landscape and the famous quick-witted humour of the Cardi.
Although we must speak to our strengths, we cannot be blind to the reality that the uncertainty surrounding our departure from the European Union poses a daunting challenge to the very fabric of our community. During my time in this place, I will strive to ensure that the best interests of the rural economy and higher education are at the forefront of the minds of Government Ministers as they conduct Brexit negotiations.
Madam Deputy Speaker, we cannot allow ourselves to be forgotten. Decisions taken in London have long overlooked the rural economy, with public investment too often bypassing the hinterland. For too long, amenities considered essential to the urban economy are dismissed as mere luxuries in more rural areas.
Several of my predecessors in this House have pointed to the tragic irony that Ceredigion bestows upon its youth an unrivalled education, but offers them a paucity of job opportunities and affordable housing. For decades, our county has lost the potential and the vitality of her youth. Around half her young people leave the county by the time they reach 25 years of age.
Many of the young who have left are Welsh speakers, which has meant that in my lifetime—which, I am sure hon. and right hon. Members will agree, is not particularly long—the percentage of people living in Ceredigion that can speak the language has declined from around 60% to just 47%. This steady, silent haemorrhage saps the life of nearly every town and village the length and breadth of the county.
During my time in this place, I look forward to working with those across the political divide to refocus the Government’s attention on the challenges facing rural areas, and to encourage greater efforts at developing our economy.
Madam Deputy Speaker, we are a proud people in Ceredigion, and we possess an historic resolve to buck national trends. We are also of independent spirit—over the years we have seen fit to elect Members to this House from across the political spectrum. I am particularly proud to follow in the footsteps of my distinguished Plaid Cymru predecessors, Simon Thomas and Cynog Dafis. They worked tirelessly for Ceredigion and were passionate about guarding rural areas from the negligence of a remote Government. Twenty-five years after the election of the first Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion, I am committed to building on this legacy. It is the greatest of honours to have been entrusted by the people of our county during this critical time. As we come together today to remember the sacrifice of those who gave their lives during the first world war, we can all be inspired by their deep sense of duty. It is that sense of duty and service that I will seek to embrace.
I would like to finish by quoting one of Ceredigion’s greatest sons and a founding member of Plaid Cymru, Prosser Rhys. He wrote:
“Deued a ddêl, rhaid imi mwy
Sefyll neu syrthio gyda hwy.”
Whether I am faced by opportunities or obstacles, the best interests of my county and my constituents will be at the very heart of all my endeavours. Diolch yn fawr.