On 11th June at 2.32 in the afternoon, Tom rose to give his maiden speech in the House of Commons...
Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. I praise the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan), whose tour de force demonstrated the strength of speaking skills in the northern part of our nation. I am grateful to be called to speak today, because the financing of Europe is a matter in which I must declare an interest. As the husband of a French wife, I know all about foreign powers deciding on British finances.
It is an honour to represent the people of Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Malling in this wonderful House. Our beautiful towns and villages prove that England is today enjoying a bountiful summer. The fruits of our fields are enjoyed nationwide and I hope that this summer you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will be among the many who relish the Mereworth strawberries when you go to Wimbledon. I could give you a tour of my wonderful constituency based on the pubs, but for brevity I shall stick to the numerous towns and villages.
In the west, Edenbridge is a wonderful market town that once made cricket balls—indeed, the balls that Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge smacked out of the ground
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to the delight of Kent and England fans. Chiddingstone is home to one of the finest ales in our nation, Larkins, which will, I hope, one day be on tap here. A little further on is Wolf Hall or, as it is known on the maps, Penshurst. Sadly, these wonderful communities are not entirely tranquil. As I reminded my right hon. Friend the Secretary State for Transport this morning, Gatwick’s low flights are blighting our days.
A little to the east, our largest town, Tonbridge, is home to some of the finest schools in our country. I declare an interest again, as a governor of Hillview School, which is committed to the arts, to drama, to design and to fashion and through that enriches the lives of many young people. West Malling’s High Street shows that commerce and community can combine. The award-winning florists and shoe shops are indeed a delight to all. East Malling is more famous abroad than at home, as its agricultural research has introduced new varieties to farmers around the world, while at Hadlow College those innovations are translated into reality by the teaching of a new generation.
Our community is not cut off from modernity, but communications too often hamper rather than improve lives. Borough Green, for example, is shaken by heavy traffic while many across our area suffer from poor trains and failing phone signals. The response of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and of the Rail Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), has been exemplary, and I look forward to seeing both issues improved with their welcome support.
I am not the first to campaign on these matters. The right hon. Sir John Stanley did so before most people can remember and, indeed, before I was born. In his maiden speech, he tested Hansard with the names of some of our wonderfully yclept villages: Wrotham, pronounced “Routem”; Trottiscliffe, pronounced “Trozlee”; and Ightham, pronounced “Item”. As I say them, I know that I am testing Hansard again 40 years later.
The House knows Sir John’s formidable legacy. His close links with the councils he served alongside and his dedication to every part of the constituency have left an integrated approach and exemplary work ethic that I am determined to maintain. Furthermore, his dedication to our country saw him serve as Minister for housing, for Northern Ireland and for the armed forces. That connection to the armed forces is very strong in Tonbridge and I am proud to join the line of representatives that our town has sent to this House still holding a commission in her Majesty’s armed forces. Sir John continued that tradition of service and his personal courage was clear both from the ministerial offices he held during the darkest days of the troubles and, perhaps most dramatically, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Baroness Thatcher. That really took courage. I wish Sir John and Lady Stanley well. They deserve our utmost praise and gratitude.
My time in this House is, to be honest, unlikely to match the length of Sir John’s, so I shall briefly outline my reasons for seeking a voice in the heart of our democratic Union. The first is the law. As St Thomas More, a former occupant of your seat, Madam Deputy Speaker, once put it:
“I would uphold the law if for no other reason but to protect myself”.
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Though my learned father invariably displayed the judgment of Solomon, I learnt clearly that the rule of law is not the same as the rule of lawyers. Those are not just words of filial rebellion but a call for the sovereignty of the people—the fundamental principle of British governance reasserted many times since Magna Carta 800 years ago—that finds expression in this House, the court of Parliament, and not through the Queen’s courts nor Strasbourg’s.
My second reason for seeking a voice is dementia. That silent time bomb is affecting the whole community, both directly and as carers, and that in turn calls for community response. That is why I am working with the whole community to help Tonbridge, Edenbridge and West Malling to become dementia-friendly towns that can offer the support we need across west Kent.
Finally, I come to the armed forces. Having served in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq and latterly as military assistant to the Chief of the Defence Staff, I know that numerical totems are for accountants, not soldiers. It is capability that matters and that is measured in assets and readiness. As we face an uncertain future in a world in which Russia threatens our allies in the east and Islamic-inspired violent extremism is redrawing the maps of the middle east, we must not only have the ships, the soldiers and the aircraft but must be certain that they are ready. Only by demonstrating our readiness on exercises and operations can we reassure our friends and deter our enemies. Deterrence is about much more than the nuclear boats that are the British people’s ultimate guarantee of sovereignty. It is about the morale and training of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Like a fiat currency, defence relies on confidence in our ability and only truly works when no one dares test it.
As we continue our debate on financing the European Union, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—the only Prime Minister to have lowered the budget. I am also grateful and humbled to be the voice of my community in this Chamber. I will speak for the thousands who supported me and for the thousands who did not. I pledge to serve them all and the interests of our United Kingdom to the best of my ability, as long as the people of Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Malling will grant me that privilege.