The speech made by Sir Robert Goodwill, the Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby, in the House of Commons on 7 November 2023.
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to His 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 Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
It is a great honour to move the Humble Address. This is the first time that King Charles has opened a Session as monarch, and today’s pomp and ceremony are tinged with sadness as we remember the late Queen with affection and with gratitude for 70 years of service to our kingdom and Commonwealth. We look forward to another significant reign as the baton is passed to the next generation.
So, Mr Speaker, it has finally come to this. It is official: I was the future once. The seconder of the Humble Address, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie), for whom I am the warm-up act today, is always described as up and coming. I am not really sure what that makes me. I recall the last occasion, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) was proposing the Humble Address and we all thought he was on the scrapheap, but less than two months later he was back on the Front Bench attending Cabinet, so you never know—although, the Chief Whip has assured me that there is no danger of that happening to me.
Scarborough and Whitby has to be the best constituency in the country. Of course, Mr Speaker, it has a head start by being in Yorkshire. They say you should never ask someone if they are from Yorkshire, because if they are, they are bound to mention it in the first five minutes; and if they are not, why humiliate them unnecessarily? I am pleased to see our colleagues in the Scottish National party sporting the white rose of Yorkshire today, although I must point out that Yorkshire Day is 1 August, so not for the first time they have got things wrong.
The arrival of the railways created Scarborough as our first seaside destination, and we are still Britain’s premier coastal resort and second only to London for the number of visitors. In fact, there could be more if some of the £36 billion recouped from HS2 could be redeployed on dualling the A64. Culturally, we are the home of Sir Alan Ayckbourn and also the birthplace of the McCain oven chip, as well as Plaxton’s coaches and the electric buses that we are increasingly seeing on the streets in places such as Blackpool—that is, if the Labour council there does not order Chinese ones. Whitby is famous for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, the Goth weekend and, of course, fish and chips from the famous Magpie restaurant—although I hasten to add that that is not the only place you can get good fish and chips in Whitby.
Before mass tourism, the area was dotted with ironstone, alum and jet mines. Fast-forward a century or two and we are the biggest mining area in the country, with Anglo American investing £1 million every single day and employing around 1,000 people developing the new polyhalite mine just outside Whitby, with its 23-mile connecting tunnel to Teesside, where Mayor Ben Houchen is delivering so much economic development. The North Yorkshire Moors national park was made famous as the location of Aidensfield in ITV’s “Heartbeat” police drama, and it is home to many important ground-nesting birds on the heather moorland, sustained and managed in traditional ways by generations of farmers and keepers.
I do not know if you have noticed, Mr Speaker, but we seem to be having a lot of by-elections at the moment—[Hon. Members: “More!”] Not so fast. It was a by-election in Ryedale in 1986 that whetted my appetite for frontline politics. The seat was held with a thumping 16,000 Conservative majority, but it fell to the Liberals with a 19% swing, giving Elizabeth Shields a 5,000-vote margin. While the rest of the Liberal party were going back to their constituencies to prepare for government, I was not going to put up with the situation, so rather naively I put my name forward—along with 200 others—to be the candidate at the subsequent general election.
I was not selected, but did come second to John Greenway, who, for Members who do not remember or who were not even born—I am looking at the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Keir Mather)—won the seat back only 13 months later with a 10,000 majority. The moral is: don’t count your chickens on the basis of by-election results.
Not put off, my next move was to try to find a safe Labour seat to fly the flag for Margaret Thatcher. Living in the north-east, there was no shortage of rock-solid Labour citadels—places like Sedgefield, Hartlepool, Bishop Auckland, North West Durham and Redcar—and it was in Redcar that I was selected to challenge the wonderful Mo Mowlam. By then, John Major had taken over from Mrs Thatcher. When that happened, I remember my children asking me, “Daddy, is it really possible that a man can be Prime Minister?” We have now had three women Conservative premiers, assuming the most recent one counts, of course, and we now have the first Prime Minister who represents a Yorkshire seat. Is that a big deal? It certainly is. I must say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) could not be a better neighbour or better friend to me.
Labour was well ahead in the polls in the run-up to the 1992 election, and Mo had a car at the count, with the engine running, ready to take her down to sit in Neil Kinnock’s Cabinet as Northern Ireland Secretary, but once again the polls were wrong.
I stood in North West Leicestershire in the 1997 Blair landslide election, which I will quickly pass over. Suffice it to say that both seats in which I stood, Redcar and North West Leicestershire, eventually returned Conservative Members. I like to think that the Goodwill effect was a slow burn.
After what I will call a five-year sabbatical in the European Parliament, I was selected to stand for Scarborough and Whitby, a seat that had been consistently blue since 1918 but had been red in both 1997 and 2001. Even though the exit poll said I would lose, we managed to prevail on 5 May 2005 and I entered the House at last. I put our victory down to one deciding factor. On the eve of poll, of all the places that Tony Blair could have chosen for his big election rally, he chose Scarborough. Maybe the Leader of the Opposition could indulge me next time round and come to Scarborough on the eve of the poll to see if he can replicate the Blair effect—or better still, he could have a rally in Sheffield and go the full Kinnock.
At the following election, I was the victim of a fly-poster campaign. All over town, there were A4 photocopies asking, “What is the difference between Robert Goodwill and a supermarket trolley?” The local newspaper picked up on this and concluded that a supermarket trolley has a mind of its own. I must admit that I have never voted against the Tory Whip, so that might explain it. However, having been here a while, I can now reveal the real answer to the question. The difference between an MP and a supermarket trolley is that there is a physical limit to the amount of food and drink that you can get into a supermarket trolley.
I certainly welcome the Bills that have been announced. In particular, I would like to see convicted criminals attend their sentencing. Life for some of the most severe crimes must mean life. Fairness is part of what it means to be British, and we must ensure that the dynamic between freeholders and leaseholders is intrinsically fair, in the same way as we should show equal respect for landlords and tenants when they are doing the right thing. I was pleased to see that the ban on live animal exports for slaughter will happen, now we are outside the European Union and have the freedom to do that. Those who are successful in the ballot for private Members’ Bills will not be short of other suggestions, both from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and from animal welfare organisations, to carry forward some important measures in that area, which I know is important to the Government. The Bill to tackle unlicensed and uninsured pedicabs, which can rip off unsuspecting tourists, is not before time.
Today’s focus is on the legislative agenda, but we cannot ignore what is going on outside our borders. The butchery we saw from Hamas on 7 October was evil beyond anything most of us could even imagine—and, yes, BBC, these thugs are terrorists. If those atrocities had been on our soil and against our people, we would have been expected to launch a robust response—Israel has that right, too. Indeed, what else did Hamas expect would happen? The conflict in Ukraine may be off the front pages, but we must not waver in our support for the courageous Ukrainian people.
Good government is not so much about how many laws we have and how many new laws we announce, but about how we respond to changing and unexpected events such as the pandemic. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the Prime Minister’s furlough scheme and help for businesses were the right thing to do. The universal credit system was also robust in the face of unprecedented demand.
With small boat crossings of the channel down by more than a fifth year on year, we are making progress in curbing the organised criminal gangs engaged in this dangerous, exploitative trade. Furthermore, if we can stand up the Rwanda scheme, it will be a game changer. Our help should be for those most in need, not those most able to pay.
Finally, I come to a true story from the 2019 winter general election; I heard your strictures about being truthful to the House, Mr Speaker, and this absolutely happened. One of the strongest Labour areas in my patch is a former council estate called Eastfield—we usually go there early in the campaign to get it out of the way—but this time it was different: people were crossing the street to shake my hand. They had voted for Brexit and wanted to get it done, and they were sick of being ignored. When my wife, Maureen, knocked on one door, the lady who answered was effusive in her admiration for Prime Minister Johnson. When I arrived, I asked her why she was so enthusiastic. She said, “Boris is one of us.” When I politely pointed out that he had been to Eton and Oxford, she replied, “You don’t understand. He had a row with his wife and the police came round. That’s what happens on this street all the time.” [Laughter.]
I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.