Victoria Atkins MP gave her official maiden speech in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon (July 8), in which she promised to be the “parliamentary champion” for her Louth & Horncastle constituents in the years ahead.
“To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.” Those are wise words for a maiden speech and they sum up the first Conservative Budget since 1996. They are also the words of a former constituent, who was born and bred in the village of Somersby. His name was Alfred Lord Tennyson, and I hope that I will live up to those values in this place.
“Let me take Members to my constituency. It is beautiful. We go from the rolling hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds — yes, Lincolnshire has hills — across some of the richest agricultural land in the country, to the miles of sweeping sandy beaches where half a million people holiday each year. There is the fine local architecture, including St James’s spire in Louth, which is celebrating its 500th anniversary this year.
“This is the land of poetry, heroism and champions. Heroes include Sir John Franklin, who was a Spilsby resident and famous explorer. He travelled the world and perished when he was charting the Northwest Passage.
“This part of the world also played a vital part in the second world war. The shadows of RAF bases, such as Binbrook, Manby and Strubby, surround us. The most famous of all is that of Woodhall Spa where Bomber Command was based and where, in 1943, the Lancasters flew on the Dambuster raids. I noted with interest during the Budget that the Chancellor was very generous to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) with his Battle of Britain memorial. I will just mention that the Battle of Britain memorial flight flies from my constituency, so I shall be knocking on his door.
“Today, the heroism continues, as fast jet pilots fly Typhoons from RAF Coningsby. They will be delighted at the Chancellor’s announcement that he will meet the NATO commitment of a 2% defence budget, and I am sure that this House will join me in thanking them and their families for their service to our country.
“I am often asked whether there are enough women Members in the House of Commons. The good people of Louth made up their minds some time ago, in 1921, when they elected Margaret Wintringham. Mrs Wintringham ran a different campaign from my own, for she took a vow of silence and said not a word on the campaign trail—a difference that several constituents were keen to point out to me during the election—but I did not take her lead. I will not take her lead, and I look forward to being a strong voice for Louth and Horncastle when the time comes.
“That brings me to my predecessor, Sir Peter Tapsell. As former Father of the House, he was well used to addressing the serried ranks of these Benches. He was a Member of this House for 54 years, or 19,730 days for the economists among us. He fought 14 general elections and one by-election, served under 10 Prime Ministers and was perhaps the first special adviser in his role as speech writer to Sir Anthony Eden. He also saved the British economy at least once. During one of the sterling crises of the 1960s, the then Labour Chancellor, Jim Callaghan, asked Sir Peter for help. Sir Peter had a think, rang the Sultan of Brunei—as you do—and persuaded him to buy £500 million of gilts, and the next morning the pound was saved. For anyone wondering, Sir Peter has not given me the telephone number of the Sultan of Brunei—sadly.
“There is another former Member to whom I must pay tribute and that is my father. He showed me how much good can be done in this place, and made his maiden speech in the Budget debate of a new Conservative Government as well.
“This Budget will be welcomed by my constituents who know that a thriving economy pays for the things that we care about, such as schools, hospitals and defence. They believe that our country must live within its means, and, like the Chancellor, that it must be done fairly. In my previous life, I prosecuted serious organised crime, including tax frauds worth tens and hundreds of millions of pounds. I saw at first hand how fraud and tax evasion have both political and economic ramifications. In one case, the fraud was so large that it threatened to alter another country’s GDP. I therefore welcome continuing efforts to ensure that everyone pays their fair share in tax.
“Locally, I will work hard to help the rural and coastal economies in the constituency. There are challenges. The Louth and Horncastle constituency measures 531 square miles, yet there are only a few hundred metres of dual carriageway. It has 157 parishes, but no railway station. My constituency helps to feed the country, but there is fewer than one person per hectare. The small businesses that are the lifeblood of the local economy must not be put at a disadvantage simply because of the vast distances of the Lincolnshire countryside. My constituents are hard-working, resourceful and resilient. There are pockets of genuine deprivation, and my constituents need better roads, better broadband and the implementation of the long-term economic plan for Lincolnshire. They will particularly welcome the announcement regarding the national living wage, as the median salary in my constituency is £480 a week. That is an example of how this Budget and this Government will help my constituents.
“Finally, there is one more constituent whom I must mention. Being the Queen’s Champion is an honour held by the Dymoke family of Scrivelsby since 1377. For 450 years, the Champion, clad in full armour, rode into the coronation banquet in Westminster Hall where he threw down his gauntlet to any challengers to the Monarch. Mr Deputy Speaker... Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I had not noticed you had taken the Chair. The people of Louth will not forgive me.
“I throw down my gauntlet and promise my constituents that I will be their parliamentary champion in the years ahead.”