"I was surprised to have been given the privilege of seconding the Loyal Address this afternoon. I am not, for example, the son of a bus driver, although my father did once drive a milk float in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr Baker. Just as an aside, why is it always the case that we have to wait so long for these sons of bus drivers, and then two come along at once?
It might be my education. I am, like the Leader of the Opposition, an ex-grammar school boy and like him, I gather, I rather screwed up my A-levels, so perhaps there is hope for me yet. Or it might be my extensive experience of PR before entering politics. As the House knows, I am a practising doctor. Unfortunately, in a medical context, PR does not stand for public relations, but is shorthand for the type of examination that involves putting on rubber gloves, applying gel and asking a man to cough. May I give my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a little advice? If, in the future, he finds himself speaking at a medical profession dinner, under no circumstances should he tell the audience that in his life before politics he was into PR, and that he found the work very stimulating.
Many of my predecessors in this role have had a reputation for humour, so I think that it was courageous of the PM to ask a doctor to second the Loyal Address. As the House can already tell, medical humour is a famously acquired taste, and it would be all too easy to share some of the stories of which every doctor has an infinite supply—many may not be appropriate for this place and its refined audience. However, I can perhaps report on the lady who complained of, as she put it, a history of “erotic” bowels. I resisted the temptation to ask whether her erotic symptoms were erratic in nature. Or the elderly man who said that his secret for looking so healthy was to do Kama Sutra exercises every morning, only to be corrected by his wife: “Gareth, I think you mean Tai Chi!” If colleagues do not think that I deliver this speech very well today, just be grateful that we are not holding this debate at a weekend, when I understand from some that doctors do not perform as well.
I had hoped that my medical background would be an advantage in politics, but I have been disappointed. My first disappointment came when I stood for election as the Conservative party’s candidate in Blaenau Gwent. I am not sure that Nick Smith is with us today, but I am sure he would agree that sporting a blue rosette outside the Tredegar Kwik Save takes a certain type of character: mostly delusional, and perhaps even masochistic. In fact, the president of my constituency association, Mr Rob Stanton, was elected to Wokingham Borough Council with more votes than I received at that election. However, I was able to comfort myself with the fact that my modest 816 votes nevertheless represented the biggest swing to the Conservative party of any candidate in Wales that night. In retrospect, I should have taken more note of the lady in Abertillery market who, when I asked her why she supported Labour, replied, “Don’t you get complicated with me!”
Delivering this speech is, of course, really an honour for the constituency of Bracknell, which I am privileged to represent. It is a particular honour in this year of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday. The constituency has long-standing royal links. It is proud to host the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which celebrated its bicentenary in 2012 and has trained successive generations of British, Commonwealth and international officers serving in Her Majesty’s Army and elsewhere around the world. My constituents also enjoy access to the extensive woodland of Swinley forest, which is wonderfully maintained by the Crown Estate. With its vibrant economy and town centre regeneration, the Bracknell constituency has a very bright future.
This is the 63rd Gracious Speech that Her Majesty has given since her accession to the throne. On this occasion, it is apt to look back to Her Majesty’s first Gracious Speech and at the changes that there have been since. The preservation of peace was the first emphasis in 1952. Our country was still recovering from war. The grandfather of my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames was Prime Minister. The nationalisation of iron and steel was the subject of heated debate. Slums had to be cleared and people housed. This led to the creation of new towns, of which Bracknell was one. Communicable diseases such as tuberculosis challenged our young health service. Abroad, closer unions were foreseen to cement the ties on which peace depended: with the United States of America, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, with the Commonwealth and with a recovering Europe.
The vision of the post-war political generation was a big vision: of a country that would never again suffer the insecurity and hardship experienced by those who had to pick up arms and fight for our existence; of every person being able to get a chance in life—of health, education and employment; and of a society that is fair, just and free, in which freedoms are earned because we value our country, our environment, our world, and in which rights are balanced by responsibilities, for each other and for ourselves; and, most importantly, to prepare for the future. Variations of this vision have guided successive Governments ever since, with varying degrees of success.
The generation Her Majesty addressed in 1952 had fought for that vision, displaying a deep consciousness throughout our nation that individual lives are fleeting: that we must take care of the world we inherit—conserve it—so that we pass something better to our children; that we achieve more by coming together with our neighbours, with our friends and with our former enemies by respecting our riches, and each other; and that humanity is the vital bond without which our society, globally and nationally, our communities and our families will disintegrate.
On a personal level, I am humbled by the experiences of that wartime generation. My grandfather was under fire at the age of 20, in the tail end of a Halifax bomber. I also recall caring for an 89-year-old Polish patient who was short of breath and experiencing angina. He had taken the time to put on a tie and a suit adorned with military ribbons, and he apologised for taking up my time. I asked him about his military experience. He told me that his village in eastern Poland had been overrun by the Soviets in 1939. He was deported to a Siberian work camp and, in his own words, wore the same socks for two years. He was handed over the British in 1942 in Baghdad, and fought with Montgomery’s 8th Army across north Africa and up the spine of Italy via Monte Cassino. When reflecting on his heroic story, I humbly ask whether my generation would display the same values, the same stoicism, the same modesty, the same courage, and the same respect for others, and I recall his loyalty to his adopted country.
The closest I have come to fighting has been as a doctor battling ageing, obesity and the challenges of cultural dislocation. In the course of Her Majesty’s reign, life expectancy has increased by a decade. The percentage of people aged over 85 has grown by a factor of five. The world’s population has virtually trebled, and our own has gone up by a third. The proportion of our population of foreign birth has more than trebled, albeit from a low base. It is clear that we must not only treat the symptoms of the challenges that come with such marked change, but strive to cure their causes. That is why this Government’s commitment to helping to improve the life chances of those who have the misfortune to be born or raised in circumstances over which they have no control is admirable and right.
The generation Her Majesty addresses today must rediscover the values of the past to face an ever-accelerating pace of change. It is a world that is more connected and more conscious of its differences, but also more conscious of what we have in common than ever before. This time, we have the opportunity to rediscover those values peacefully, and the important legislation outlined in this Gracious Speech will help us to do so. The challenge of overcoming extremism without compromising our humanity is one that deserves the support of the whole House. My right hon. and good Friend the Home Secretary knows that dealing with our society’s failure to integrate some communities will be integral.
The space industry received the attention it deserves as one of Britain’s most successful industries with a power to inspire that is unmatched. I am sure that all members of the previous Parliament recall that I mentioned the UK space industry in my maiden speech in 2010. As British astronaut Tim Peake was a graduate of Sandhurst, I am shamelessly going to claim him as having been educated in my constituency. As such, I am concerned for his welfare. Tim is due back from the international space station just before the EU referendum vote, but if he is slightly delayed, and the country votes to leave in June, he need not worry about getting home, since the European Space Agency sits outside the European Union. Seriously, though, the Government’s support of the space industry will help to secure Britain as a globally recognised centre for high technology, whether we are inside or outside the European Union.
Finally, some hon. Members will know that I have kept my own counsel on June’s big European event, but the time is fast approaching when I feel I should make my position clear, if only to deal with the alarming possibility that as time moves on, I and other hon. Members who have taken a similar approach will have to deal with the advances of two charming men, one with blond hair and one with spectacles, approaching us in the Members’ Lobby to ask when we are coming out. I can see no good reason why we should exit—at least not before the semi-finals, and preferably not after the pain of extra time and a penalty shoot-out.
Keeping up with change is a tough enough job for any Government. Conservative Governments do not just want to keep up; they want to do better. That is why I am not only privileged to represent the good people of the Bracknell constituency, but proud to second this motion on the Gracious Speech."