James Heappey – 2015 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

The maiden speech made by James Heappey, the Conservative MP for Wells, in the House of Commons on 1 June 2015.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this House for the first time. The world around us is changing quickly; new threats emerge as readily as new opportunities. Therefore, for the sake of our security, our standing in the world and the good of our economy, it is important that we seek to shape the world around us, rather than waiting to be shaped by it. We must be proud of, and seek to maintain, the fact that Britain is a global power. That is about not only our ability to project military power across the globe, but the role we play in the UN, NATO, the Commonwealth and the EU. It is about maintaining our place as a global centre for business and trade. It is about recognising that British culture and values reach far further and carry more influence than even the largest military ever could.

Before entering politics I served our country in the Army, first in the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment, and then in The Rifles. In that time I had the great privilege of serving alongside men and women from all parts of this United Kingdom, and indeed the Commonwealth, both here in the UK and overseas in Basra, Kabul and Sangin. Those who serve our country in the Royal Navy, Army and Air Force accept an unlimited liability. If the Government and this House ask them to deploy, they will. On land, at sea and in the air, we can have confidence that our forces will punch well above their weight, because I have seen at first hand just how courageous, determined and selfless our soldiers, sailors and airmen are.

However, we owe those men and women the certainty that we will always support them and their families, both at home and overseas. Since the last strategic defence and security review, the threats facing our country have become much more complex. If Britain is to meet those threats, we must be clear in our intent to fund defence properly. We simply cannot ask our forces, regular and reserve, to meet all those threats without resourcing them to do so. Therefore, as we progress towards the SDSR, we must understand that any further cuts in defence must mean a cut to our strategic ambition as a nation. I hope that neither is needed.

As this is my first time speaking in the House, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Tessa Munt. Ms Munt was a committed supporter of our community in Somerset. Over a long and difficult campaign in a marginal seat there has been much on which we have disagreed, but it is important to note at this first opportunity the hard work of Tessa Munt and her dedicated staff.

It is an incredible honour to stand here as the Member of Parliament for Wells, and I would like to thank my constituents for sending me here to speak on their behalf. Mine is a constituency that contributes greatly to Britain’s standing in the world. The city of Wells is England’s smallest city, but with the most complete ecclesiastical estate in Europe it is a major tourist attraction and the backdrop to many television programmes and films. In Street is the global headquarters of Clarks Shoes, a brand recognised around the globe and enjoying growth in new markets, while in Chilcompton is the fashion icon Mulberry. Shepton Mallet is the capital of cider production in this country. Only this weekend, the Royal Bath and West show hosted, once again, the largest cider competition on the planet. In Highbridge, Burnham-on-Sea, Berrow and Brean, we welcome well over 1 million tourists a year who come to stay on the magnificent Somerset coast and to journey inland to the Mendips area of outstanding natural beauty. Our local farmers produce the best milk money can buy; we just need to make sure that they are paid what it is worth. Glastonbury hosts the best music festival on earth. Cheddar is famed for its gorge and for lending its name to the world’s most popular cheese.

I am so proud to represent such a beautiful and varied part of the world, but while there is much to celebrate, so is there much to do. The Prime Minister has called Her Majesty’s speech a one-nation programme that will benefit all in our country. I am delighted about that, because for too long rural areas have not received the same investment as our large towns and cities. Our market towns and villages struggle with poor road connections, very limited access to the rail network, weak phone signals, and achingly slow broadband. To unlock the incredible potential for economic growth in rural communities, we must improve that infrastructure. The investment by this Government in broadband has already brought formidable results. Village by village, fibre-optic connections are being made and life is speeding up. However, the final 5% of the superfast broadband roll-out is disproportionately concentrated in constituencies like mine, and so I urge the Government to push on with that final phase as soon as possible. Within that final few per cent. will be some of Britain’s most isolated communities; we simply cannot leave them behind.