The speech made by Graham Stuart, the Conservative MP for Beverley and Holderness, in the House of Commons on 10 May 2022.
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 was addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
It is a great honour for me and my constituents in Beverley and Holderness that I propose the Humble Address, and all the more so in this platinum jubilee year—I think we can all take it as read that this packed Chamber is intimidating and creates a certain amount of nerves. We wish Her Majesty the best of health and thank her for her seven decades of service to the country. Her Majesty has demonstrated a selflessness that puts the rest of us, perhaps not least in here, to shame.
The legislative agenda we are debating today must be seen within the most alarming of international contexts. Russia’s unprovoked and unjustifiable attack on Ukraine has united the whole House in condemnation. We stand together with our friends in Ukraine, and I congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the Leader of the Opposition, on his party’s wholehearted backing for the measures to support the Ukrainians. We are providing rocket launchers, complete with rockets—so different from the Trident submarines that the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s party previously proposed, which were to have been built but, hon. Members will remember, never armed.
No one in politics minds being senior but, equally, no one wishes to be seen as past it, yet today I fulfil the role of the old duffer whose best days are behind him, while my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones) plays the part of the up-and-coming talent. The Chief Whip certainly made the right decision with the latter, as we shall soon hear. But given my part today, I thought I would dispense some advice, both to those seeking to enter Parliament and to young thrusters already here, many of whom were elected as long as two years ago—you know who you are. I cannot believe that you are still not in the Cabinet. Some of us are here for a long time, some for a short time—and some, according to our media friends, for a good time. [Laughter.]
For candidates, my advice is to keep going and realise how much simply comes down to luck. When I applied to Beverley and Holderness Conservative association, the senior officers had already decided who they were going to have as their candidate: none other than their then Member of the European Parliament, who would not be able to continue in that role, now my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill). After I won that selection, by two votes, two elderly lady members congratulated me and told me they had voted for me. The first one said to me, “You spoke very well, Mr Stuart.” “Thank you”, I said. The other one came in with, “Yes, but Robert Goodwill—he was brilliant”, to which the other replied, “He’s got a job already.”
Robert, of course, won selection in Scarborough. He then went on to overturn Lawrie Quinn’s 3,500 majority, and was, I think, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), the only Conservative candidate in the whole of the north of England to take a seat from the Labour party at that election. The Leader of the Opposition must wish it was so today. Instead the only thing opening up for him in the north is a police investigation. [Laughter.] Some months after the election, I met a member of my association’s executive committee, who actually congratulated me and said that he was glad that I had been selected as a candidate after all. I thought at last my hard work was being recognised, and then he added, “Because you’d have never won Scarborough.”
My constituency of Beverley and Holderness comprises four towns—Beverley, Hornsea, Withernsea and Hedon—and many other hamlets and villages that are dotted across east Yorkshire. It is a beautiful part of the world and has history as well as charm. Beverley has contributed more than most places to the improvement of our democratic system over the years—admittedly chiefly by running elections in such a corrupt manner that the law had to be changed afterwards. After the unseating of the victorious candidate in 1727 by a petition, his agents were imprisoned and Parliament passed a whole new bribery Act. But Beverley’s notorious freemen were not to be put off so easily. Beverley continued to be a byword for electoral malpractice. The novelist Anthony Trollope stood in the Liberal interest, unsuccessfully, in 1868, and such was the level of wrongdoing that a royal commission was established especially and a new law passed disenfranchising the town and barring it from ever returning a Member of Parliament again. Obviously the law did change. Free beer and cash inducements were the electoral controversies then, rather than, say, beer and curry today. Never in the history of human conflict has so much karma come from a korma.
I said I would provide some advice for our up and coming parliamentarians. When I arrived here, I was just about wise enough to back the winner of the leadership contest that summer, David Cameron. What I was not wise enough to do was stop telling him every way in which I thought he was going wrong, and I do mean every way. Funnily enough, that resulted in an 11-year wait to be asked to go on to the Front Bench—a wait that ended only when he stepped down. It may be that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) saw merit where her predecessor did not, but it is more likely that she had just seen a lot less of me. Lesson one for the up and coming: do not make an enemy of your party leader.
There is of course more to this place than the Front Bench. In my first term, community hospitals were being closed in swathes right across the country, and all three in my constituency were lined up for the chop. Having led marches and demonstrations in all the towns across my constituency, it became obvious to me that the problem would not be solved locally, so I set up a campaign group, CHANT, or Community Hospitals Acting Nationally Together. Along with my deputy chairman, the then Member for Henley, I recruited colleagues from right across the House. We waged guerrilla warfare on Labour’s Department of Health, breaking the record for the number of petitions presented in one day in this House.
We held a rally outside this place. There were hundreds of people, and banners and placards galore. David Cameron spoke; so did Labour MPs; and I remember my deputy giving a rousing speech. So carried away with the righteousness of our cause was he that he called on everyone to join us on a march to Parliament Square. So it was that our now Prime Minister found himself being intercepted by a police inspector, who told him that no permission existed for such a march, and that we must go back. There are two lessons here: never stop campaigning for what you believe in; and, having marched your troops to the top of the hill, never be afraid to march them down again, if circumstances necessitate it.
When the call did come, I was lucky enough to go into the Whips Office, the only communal playpen in Westminster aside from the crèche. Being there made me realise how little I knew after 11 years here, because as a Whip, you learn a lot. That is another lesson: join the Whips Office if asked.
Given my position, I would like to tell the House that being in government is not all it is cracked up to be, but actually it is. I served both my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) when they were Secretary of State for International Trade. Both were exceptional. They were tireless and demanding, but delivered, from a new Department, outcomes that no one thought possible. So, young thrusters, enjoy any Department that you are in, and value it for itself, and not just as a stepping stone to something else. After all, as I discovered last September, you never know when you will be prematurely on the Back Benches.
Today’s Queen’s Speech unveils a substantial legislative programme under four main headings: boosting economic growth and helping with the cost of living; making our streets safer; funding the NHS and tackling the backlog; and, providing leadership in troubled times. To pick out one item, if I may, the energy Bill is of particular importance to my constituents. It will make possible the development of hydrogen, and of carbon capture and storage, on which I expect the Humber to be not only a national but a global leader. It will take us to net zero and give us energy security and huge export potential.
The Conservative party, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, has work to do. We were elected to deliver our manifesto and level up the United Kingdom, and that is what we will do. Despite the human weakness that is all too present in this place, I believe that nearly everyone here is in politics for the right reasons, and that elected public service continues to be a noble calling. I hope that potential candidates from all sides will continue to come forward; that young thrusters will show ambition for their country, as well as for themselves; and that before we fire legislative bullets at the challenges that face us, we will, in this platinum jubilee year, take aim and, like our Ukrainian friends, say with total conviction, “God save the Queen.” I commend the Gracious Speech to this House.