Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Richard Holden, the Conservative MP for North West Durham, in the House of Commons on 20 January 2020.
Mr Deputy Speaker, may I just say how much of a pleasure it is to see you back in your rightful place in the Chair today?
I hope my maiden speech does not defy convention as much as the voters of North West Durham did in returning the first Conservative MP ever for that constituency. I will work hard for everyone from every political tradition in my constituency over the next few years to repay the trust that they have placed in me.
First, I would like to pay tribute to the outgoing MP, Laura Pidcock. Although we come from very different political angles with very different political philosophies, I recognise particularly the work that she did for the men who were victims of sexual abuse in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s at the Medomsley detention centre, and I will continue that campaign. I am sure that all Members of this House will join me in wishing her and her young family every success in her new role as chief of staff to the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) in his quest for the deputy leadership of the Labour party.
North West Durham is a stunningly beautiful place. I readily admit that, as everyone can tell from my accent, I grew up on the wrong side of the Pennines, albeit in a very similar area with some very similar challenges. From Killhope Cross to Burnhope and from Ebchester to Witton-le-Wear, covering much of the former County Durham districts of Wear Valley and Derwentside, my constituency of North West Durham is quite a large one.
There are many local campaigns that I am already stuck into, and which are required to help drive our local economy and the good, well-paid jobs that are the backbone of a strong economy: investment in our high streets in Crook, Willington and Consett; and investment in transport, particularly in rural bus services in Weardale, Tow Law and villages across the constituency and, in the north of the constituency, investment—hopefully—in a new rail line. Consett and the surrounding area is one of the largest population centres in England without a rail line, despite having four rail lines there as recently as the 1960s. I will be campaigning for a feasibility study to reconnect our area to the growth centres of the north-east, with a cycle and walkway alongside it. If this proves viable, as I hope it will, I will be campaigning for public money to get our area plugged into the northern powerhouse. I will also be campaigning for investment in services that support local people, such as Shotley Bridge Hospital, which I hope will be protected for the long term, and over time I will be campaigning for a modern hospital to replace it.
Consett has a proud heritage—a heritage of steel manufacture that goes back centuries—but the steelworks were closed 40 years ago, and now we have to look forward to the future. Over the weekend, I visited the Genesis Project, which is providing much investment in both housing and new industry in the constituency. I will also be campaigning for our rural communities and for the jobs that continue to exist there, particularly in our agricultural and rural economy. We have an absolutely stunning area of outstanding natural beauty and a world heritage site, but those places cannot exist in stasis. In fact, the Eastgate cement works site that was closed in 2002, when over 100 jobs were lost there, is still vacant, and I will be campaigning for investment to put that place back in use.
On a national level, there are a few things I would like to ally myself to, one of which really does affect my constituency quite significantly—vehicle excise duty on motorhomes. My constituency is one of the largest producers of these in the country, and they have already been hit by a huge increase in vehicle excise duty. I hope that the Government Front Benchers will listen to my pleas to see that reversed.
I will also be campaigning—as one might expect, knowing me—for a cut in beer duty. Per head, we have many more pubs than average, including many excellent wet pubs in the constituency. I think of the Black Lion in Wolsingham and the Steel Club in Consett, in which I have been holding my surgeries. I hope that the Government will pay attention to these pleas too.
On a slightly different note, I would also like to see the Government investing in the Pause programme. It is something that I saw in action when I was working in the Department for Education, and I would like to see it rolled out nationally. It is not a huge amount of money, but it will really help women, particularly at the most vulnerable time when they have had children taken into care. It was piloted by a Labour council in one of the poorest areas of east London, and I think it is something that all Members from both sides of the House could support being seen across the entire country.
Furthermore, again on the education side, I would like to see technical and vocational education really at the centre of the Government’s agenda for the future. I am very proud to see the 20 institutes of technology that will be pushed out across the country, including one in the north-east, and I really want to see technical and vocational education at the heart of everything we do to drive productivity, particularly in the north-east of England.
Another campaign that many hon. Members were involved in was the one against fixed odds betting terminals. I would like online gambling and online fixed odds betting to face the same restrictions. If we are going to ban people from walking into bookmakers to gamble large sums, we should also look at the gambling that can take place in people’s homes, in people’s bedrooms or even in the bath. It is one of those things that reach into every aspect of people’s lives, and I think it is a really important thing that the Government should look at in the coming years. I will certainly be part of any campaigns that look at restricting that.
Finally on the campaigns I will be involved in, I would also like to make a personal shout-out for a review of legal aid. It is something that Members in another place particularly helped me out on, and for those in difficult circumstances it is something that I hope the Government Front Benchers will address.
It is the greatest honour of my life to have been elected to represent the people of North West Durham. I hope to prove for them a worthy MP and a campaigning MP, and that I will deserve their support in elections for many years to come.