Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Sarah Atherton, the Conservative MP for Wrexham, in the House of Commons on 13 February 2020.
Diolch yn fawr, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am the first ever Conservative MP for Wrexham and I am Wrexham’s first female MP. I stand humbled and privileged to serve every constituent, regardless of how they voted. The people of Wrexham are strong and proud, and they were affronted by the prospect of their democratic will being overruled. I have fulfilled my promise to the people of Wrexham and we have left the European Union.
Wrexham is a town some six miles from the English border and a gateway both to north-west England and beautiful Snowdonia. Inextricably linked to England for work and play, we are still fiercely and proudly Welsh. We in Wrexham illustrate all that is rich in our Union. I am very typical of someone living in north-east Wales. My father is from Chester and my mother is from Caernarfon. The walls of Chester did nothing to keep out the Welsh women. [Laughter.]
My mother came from a large humble “covie” family, where the women are matriarchs, resilient and strong. Indeed, Shakespeare was no stranger to the determination and the take-no-prisoners attitude of Welsh women, but I’ll let you read “Henry IV, part 1” for further information. The women of my mother’s generation were tasked with looking after the family and making ends meet. She never heard English until she attended school. How proud all the family are now, as one of them rises in this Chamber as the first ever female Conservative MP for Wales. I think they’ve even forgiven me for being a Tory. [Laughter.] But that goes to show how amazing this country of ours is and what we can offer to people when they put in hard work, commitment and sacrifice. We must ensure that all those opportunities are maintained and enhanced for our future generations.
Wrexham has a long history of welcoming people into the town. In world war two, we had an influx of Polish servicemen who integrated and settled. There is a large Polish community in Wrexham and a smaller, yet significant Portuguese community. They have woven themselves into the fabric of Wrexham, adding to the diversity and culture of our one nation.
For those who have not been to Wrexham, it is a hidden gem of a market town founded on mining, brewing, football and the military. Sadly, Wrexham claims the second largest mining disaster in Wales. In 1934, an explosion killed 266 men in the Gresford colliery. All but 11 remain buried beneath our feet as a lasting reminder of our industrial heritage. So many men died on that day, as they had changed their shifts to watch Wrexham play Tranmere Rovers. Indeed, as a student nurse back in 1990, I nursed an old man on a medical ward at the local Wrexham Maelor Hospital. His body was covered in small blue scars. He told me that he had been dragged out of the pit that day and was one of the few who survived. It was poignant that, when I visited him at home in Gwersyllt, the same coal that almost killed him was keeping his house warm and water hot.
The mines have since closed, but the resilience and adaptability of the people of Wrexham have meant that other industries and business have filled the void. The people have risen to the challenge. These are the same people who voted me in and I thank them for their faith in me. Indeed, during the election campaign the shift in the political landscape was seismic. The Daily Mail reporter was somewhat surprised to find me and two former Ministers having a swift post-campaigning pint in the LLay Miners Welfare Institute, having just left the opposition in a rather upmarket coffee shop.
As Members have heard, Wrexham’s passion for football goes back a long way and Wrexham Association football club is arguably the oldest in Wales. The Football Association of Wales was founded in Wrexham and I was pleased to see the recent opening of Colliers Park, the national football development centre for Wales, symbolically located on the site of the Gresford colliery pithead. I would like to highlight the good work done by Gresford Athletic football club and Brickfield Rangers football club, including their work in ensuring football is accessible to all, including our young people.
In 1689, the Royal Welch Fusiliers was raised, recruiting from across north Wales. It has a long association with Wrexham’s Hightown barracks. Sadly, this has all changed, but the connection with Wrexham and the Welch Fusiliers remains strong. Madam Deputy Speaker, I stand in the House as the only female MP who has served in the regular Army. It goes without saying that I will do all I can to support our military personnel, veterans and all their families.
Many of us have laid claim to a few firsts. In 1860, my constituency had over 19 breweries in the town. We obviously brew the best beer. Wrexham Lager began in 1882 and the lager is still brewed today. I, too, once dabbled in commercial brewing. I was a brewster—a female brewer. Those who follow me on social media will know that I appreciate a pint of real ale or two and I absolutely value the role pubs play in supporting our communities.
I pay tribute to Ian Lucas, the previous Member for Wrexham, who served the people of Wrexham for 18 years and was a good constituency Member of Parliament. Despite our political differences, Ian and I do have one thing in common: we both served on Gresford Community Council. This is why I value the role of our community councils and councillors in making our communities a better place to live.
Employment opportunities in Wrexham are relatively good. It is served by large businesses such as IPSEN, Moneypenny, DTCC, JCB and Kellogg’s, and we are within commuting distance of Airbus and Toyota. Wrexham is home to the second largest trading estate in the UK, directly employing about 12,000 people. With hopes of expansion comes the offer of further employment opportunities.
It was clear to me during the general election campaign that the residents of Wrexham feel let down by the Welsh Labour Government. The health service is our main concern; a health service directly managed by Labour from Cardiff. Almost daily, I hear heartbreaking narratives from constituents about their disempowerment and suffering. I am listening. As one of seven Conservative MPs across north Wales, we are all listening and we are all looking at what we can do to influence the Welsh Labour Government.
Wrexham has not escaped the problems faced by many towns across the country, but there are now positive plans afoot for regeneration. I have met so many enterprising traders, butchers, bakers and restaurateurs, and I shall be meeting many more. They are the seedcorn of our prosperity. I will do all I can to work with all who seek the success of Wrexham, always seeking to ensure that the people’s voice is heard.
There is renewed optimism in Wrexham, bringing with it the hope that missed opportunities will now be realised. I have lost count of the amount of times people have stopped their car or stopped me in the street, shaken my hand and said, “I’d hoped this day would come.” Wrexham has indeed turned blue and I will prove to my constituents that they have made the right choice. Diolch yn fawr, bobl Wrecsam. Diolch am eich cefnogaeth.