Patrick McLoughlin – 2019 Valediction Speech

Below is the text of the speech made by Patrick McLoughlin, the Conservative MP for Derbyshire Dales, in the House of Commons on 5 November 2019.

Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is the last time that you will be able to call me. It was a great privilege working with you when we were doing opposite jobs, as Chief Whip and Opposition Chief Whip.

I first saw inside the House of Commons in about 1972. In 1970, Cannock elected a Conservative Member of Parliament, Patrick Cormack, with one of the biggest swings in the country in that general election. Like any new Member of Parliament, he went round the local schools and invited us to come down to the House of Commons to have a tour. I came down in about 1972, and I remember it well. I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere, the beauty of the place and the history of the building—so much so that I remember saying to one of my best friends at the time, John Beresford, “I’ve decided what I want to do in life.” He said, “What’s that, Patrick?” and I said, “I want to come back to the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament.” I will always remember him saying to me, “If I was you, I’d keep that a secret.” It was not the kind of place that a comprehensive schoolboy from Cannock would end up.

Leaving school at 16, I became involved in the youth wing of the Conservative party, and I fought my first general election in Wolverhampton South East in 1983. It was a great campaign but an unsuccessful one, when the Conservative party overall was doing incredibly well. I made several unsuccessful attempts at winning other seats, and I began to think that my friend John was right. But as we all know in politics, things happen suddenly. All of a sudden, a by-election was called in West Derbyshire, and I was selected as the candidate, when Matthew Parris, who has been a lifelong friend since then, decided to pursue a career in TV.

I would like to pay tribute to the officers of the West Derbyshire Conservative association in those days, particularly Geoffrey Roberts, who is sadly no longer with us, but his wife Josie still lives in Bakewell. They took a bit of a gamble in 1986, selecting a 28-year-old who was hardly a typical Tory—somebody who left school at 16, had not been to university and had gone through 12 months of a coal strike. With our successful campaign in that by-election, and with my charm and personality, I managed to take a very safe Conservative seat with a majority of 15,500 to one with a majority of 100 votes.

I came into the House of Commons on 13 May. My mother came down, and my pregnant wife was with me, and we were invited to have tea with the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher. My mother was not overwhelmed at all by meeting Mrs Thatcher. She had never met a senior politician of any description. We met her in the Prime Minister’s office here in the House of Commons, ​and within a few minutes, it was almost as if I did not exist. My mother and Mrs Thatcher were talking away like two old fishwives. After 30 minutes, a note came in for the Prime Minister saying that she had to go to her next meeting. She looked at my mother and said, “I’m very sorry, but I have to go to my next meeting.” I will always remember my mother tapping her on the knee and saying, “Yes, my dear, you are busy, aren’t you?” to which Mrs Thatcher said, “Well, I am today. It’s just one of those days.”

That is how I came to represent one of the most beautiful constituencies in England. It is a constituency dominated, to a great degree, by the Peak District national park. The Peak district is within an hour’s drive of 60% of the UK population, and some weekends it feels like they all come. The Peak District national park is a very important part of our country. Obviously it has strict planning rules and regulations, but I want to see people living in the national park and not priced out of it. We must bear that in mind.

We have a number of important market towns in Derbyshire Dales, not least Wirksworth, Ashbourne, Bakewell and Matlock. They are thriving market towns, but at the moment their high streets are under tremendous pressure. I do hope that the new Government will think very carefully about how they can support our market towns and our high streets—that is incredibly important—and avoid putting extra unnecessary costs on them, or if costs are put on business, make sure they are across the board, including for the internet companies, which at the moment do not quite share their full burden.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)

It has been a privilege and a pleasure to serve in this House with my right hon. Friend, but will he give the House a pledge that he will not write his memoirs, or if he changes his mind and does decide to write his memoirs, that he will make no reference at all to what happens in the Whips Office? Does he agree with me that whipping, like stripping, is best done in private?

Sir Patrick McLoughlin

I agree partly with what my right hon. Friend says. If he does not mind, I shall say something in a few moments about the Whips Office that may or may not get his approval, but let us see.

Less than a year after I entered the House of Commons, we faced a general election. I have to say that it was an unusual election as far as West Derbyshire was concerned because two parties got what they wanted. My Liberal opponent had posters up and down the constituency saying, “100 more votes this time”. I am very glad that he got his extra 100 votes, and I was even more pleased that I got an extra 10,000. Let us leave that to the side, but we should be careful what we wish for.

In 1989, I was invited by Margaret Thatcher to join her Government, and I went as a junior Minister to the then Department of Transport. One of the first issues that landed in the area I was responsible for, within a few weeks of my being at the Department, was the terrible Marchioness disaster on the Thames. As we have done in the previous debate, dealing with people who have suffered such tragedies is one of the more difficult parts of life in government, as it is when, as Members of Parliament, we have people who are hit by tragic circumstances and incidents that often cause ​the loss of life and the like. I think most Members of Parliament go out of their way to do whatever they can to help.

I served in several Departments before John Major appointed me to the Whips Office in 1995. I spent 17 years there, becoming one of the most long-serving and perhaps, as far as my party is concerned, long-suffering Whips. When David Cameron became leader of the Conservative party in 2005, he made me the Opposition Chief Whip, and then he made me the Chief Whip in the coalition Government in 2010. There, I was really ably assisted by John Randall, who is now in the other place, as my Deputy Chief Whip—really a man of great and outstanding ability and high principle—and by the right Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). I see in his place the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who was also in the Whips Office.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD)

I have to say that I never dreamed for one minute that I would ever serve under the right hon. Gentleman in any capacity in this place, but I found myself doing so and I found myself enjoying it and respecting his leadership, so I thank him for that.

Sir Patrick McLoughlin

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I think, with the problems we inherited, that there was a lot the coalition Government did of which we can rightly be proud.

I was Chief Whip for a considerable time, and I have to say that I was greatly assisted at the time by two people in the Whips Office to whom I want to refer—Sir Roy Stone and Mark Kelly. Roy Stone is basically the usual channels, as you well know, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is true that there have been only four people to hold the position of principal private secretary to the Chief Whip in the last 100 years, and Roy himself has been doing it since November 2000. The House, the Government and the Opposition have a great servant in Roy, and I really want to say a big thank you to him for the work he does. I think he would say that there is never a dull moment in what he does.

I would like to say a few things about the Whips Office, which I think is quite often misunderstood both inside and outside this place. Contrary to some of the wilder stories, it is the personnel department of any parliamentary party, dealing with a wide range of issues both personal and political.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Ind)

In my experience, I always saw the Whips Office as a human resources department, but with the “human” bit taken out.

Sir Patrick McLoughlin

Well, everybody is allowed to have their views. All I can say to my right hon. Friend is that she ought to have to deal with some of the people the Whips Office has to deal with.

I would like to say something to all people who come into this House of Commons. Whatever they think about the Whips Office and about the party system, very few people would get into this House on their own ability; they get here only because they belong to a major political party or a political party, and I think that is sometimes forgotten by them when they get here.

In 2012, David Cameron gave me the option of becoming Secretary of State for Transport. As Chief Whip, I was aware of the offer just a little time in advance of ​the reshuffle, so I had time to reflect on it. It was a big step to move from the back office of politics to the front office, or to the frontline, as it so often seemed, particularly in those first few weeks at the Department for Transport, where I had of course started as a junior Minister some time before.

I remember very well, Madam Deputy Speaker, you coming to me on that Monday afternoon, when I knew what was going to happen to me, and you told me that the Opposition day debate on Wednesday was going to be on rail fares. I did try to say to you that I did not think this was a very good idea and could you not find a different subject to take on. The next morning you realised why I might have suggested that, but as usual you stuck to your guns, and I found myself responding to such a debate that week.

I found my four years at the Department for Transport one of the most fascinating periods that I spent in government, and it was a huge privilege to be the Secretary of State and head of a major Department such as that.

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op)

I would just like to put on record that during the right hon. Gentleman’s spell as Secretary of State for Transport, a company—it will be unnamed—came to me in desperate straits over a problem that involved the Department for Transport and other countries, and it would have gone out of business within 10 days had it not been resolved. I took it to the right hon. Gentleman, we had a discussion, he did what was necessary and that company was saved, with about 120 jobs, and I would just like that to go on the record.

Sir Patrick McLoughlin

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As I said, it was an incredibly rewarding period.

Within a few days or weeks of being there, I found myself having to phone Richard Branson to explain why his company was going to keep the franchise for the west coast main line, although he had previously been told that Virgin had lost it; that conversation I remember well. I would like to say at this point that it is fair to say that people such as Richard Branson and Brian Souter have done more for rail passengers in this country than many Secretaries of State, and they have improved our railways in a very dramatic way. I hope that, whatever plans come in the manifestos, we do not lose the involvement of the private sector in the railways. They have transformed our railways, and I think that is partly as a result of the private investment we have seen.

I would like to take this opportunity, if I may, to pay tribute to some of the superb civil servants who supported me in my role. Among them, in my private office were Mark Reach and Rupert Hetherington, as well as Philip Rutnam, who was the permanent secretary for all the time that I was there, while Phil West was my principal private secretary for the entire four years I was at the Department. I had excellent special advisers—another often misunderstood role—in Ben Mascall, Simon Burton and Tim Smith, as well as a constituent of mine, Julian Glover, who knew more about the railways than anybody I have come across and would give me the history and everything else. He has written and had published not so long ago a book on Thomas Telford, “Man of Iron”, ​and it is great authoritative writing. People such as them who bring outside expertise straight into the political arena are really very important.

I was encouraged by the unswerving support of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, who were both great infrastructure enthusiasts—so much so that one of my problems as Transport Secretary was that, when visiting a construction site, I was always third in line to get a hi-vis jacket and a hard hat. In 2015 I was reappointed by the Prime Minister. I remember him saying, “Patrick, you’ve been going up and down the country promising all these schemes.” I pointed out that I had only done so after he had promised them in the first place, and that it would have been difficult to row back on promises made by the Prime Minister.

Talking about infrastructure, one of the fascinating aspects of returning to the Department where I began my ministerial career was that I could appreciate fully just how long and difficult these major projects are. Crossrail is a good example. When I was first in the Department, in 1989, I remember the then Secretary of State saying, “We’re going to build Crossrail.” It is now being built. It has been delayed and gone over budget, but it will make a tremendous difference to London once it is finished.

That brings me to High Speed 2. HS2 is not about speed; it is about capacity. It is about building a modern railway that is fit for our times and for a modern country. I could spend a long time talking about HS2, but I think that might try the patience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir David Lidington), which I do not want to do. I accept the problems that he and his constituents face as a result of HS2, and those concerns must be listened to. However, I will find it ironic if I can take a high-speed train from London to Brussels or Paris, but not to Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds. It is absolutely essential that we increase our capacity.

As we prepare to leave the European Union, I well recall the Cabinet meeting on the Saturday morning after David Cameron had returned from the negotiations —given that he has written about this in his book, I can now break the rule not to speak about Cabinet discussions. I said in that meeting, “I would love to live in Utopia, but the trouble is that I would wake up and find that the EU was still there.” We have to be realistic about what we want from Europe. We are leaving the European Union, and it is right that we do so—we said that we would be bound by the result of the referendum, and I strongly believe that—but it is the European Union that we are leaving, not Europe. We must make sure that we get a good trading relationship with the rest of Europe as quickly as possible.

I will still be living in Derbyshire Dales. I shall miss tremendously being its Member of Parliament and being at the centre of things there. I am sure that I will still enjoy the company of so many good people, but it will be a different relationship. After 33 years, it is time to move on.

One of my greatest supporters and helpers has been my wife. It is fair to say that she has always been my strongest supporter in public—in private, she has often told me the truth, and I have been the better for it. I first entered the House in a by-election, and it was chaotic; after six weeks of campaigning, I arrived here in the thick of it. I decided only last week not to seek re-election, ​and I have to say that my departure feels the same. One of the best pieces of advice that my wife ever gave me was when she was helping me with a speech that I was preparing. After typing it up, she looked at me and said, “Patrick, I’ve never known you to make too short a speech.” On that note, I want to end by thanking everyone, including all the officers and staff, for their help.