Backbench Business — Valedictory Debate

Part of Elections for Positions in the House – in the House of Commons am 3:53 pm ar 26 Mawrth 2015.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Heath David Heath Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Somerton and Frome 3:53, 26 Mawrth 2015

I always said that I would leave this place before I lost the buzz of having the privilege of speaking in this Chamber. I am very happy to say that after 18 years I am doing that.

There are many people who did not think I would last 18 years. The late Lord Rees-Mogg wrote an article every time I stood for election, saying that on the basis of an extensive poll of his friends and family, I was going to lose the next election. It did not quite happen. I was elected for the first time with a majority of 130. I followed it up at the following two elections still with three-figure majorities. I increased my majority each time, but by nothing so vulgar as four figures, until last time. Had I done it four times in a row, I think I would have established a more recent record for any parliamentarian, having four three-figure majorities, but I blew it by getting a larger majority at the last election.

I made up for it by being the first Liberal Minister to speak from the Dispatch Box since 1945, the previous one being Sir Archibald Sinclair. That will be my little footnote in history. I hugely enjoyed my time in government, both in the job of Deputy Leader of the House and as Agriculture Minister, although I was faced with an almost endless succession of acts of God, it seemed to me when I carried out the latter role, so much so that I felt I was the Minister for the apocalypse. It was pestilence, plague, floods, death and destruction on an almost daily basis.

I want to say that I was very proud to be a part of the Government. I particularly thank those in my two private offices who made my life bearable and supported me so well during that time. The principal role, of course, is to represent one’s constituency. I sometimes feel that I have become a bit of a Somerset cliché. I have brought matters to the House such as thatching, cider making, cheese making and carnivals—things that make people think, “Oh, for heaven’s sake—he’s doing his west country thing again!” My answer to that is that if I did not say those things, who on earth else would represent my constituents?

I like to think that I have also made progress on some really important issues—the A303 finally being done after all these years, the Great Western railway, what I hope will be successful responses to the flooding in my constituency, and maybe even broadband for some of my rural areas. When I was first elected, I did not imagine that Frome would ever be listed as one of the coolest places in Britain, but it has been repeatedly in recent years, along with Bruton, another town in my constituency. Even more importantly, I did not imagine, back in the ’80s when unemployment in Frome was 17%, that it would now be less than 1%—statistically, that is full employment. That is a great virtue and I am very pleased about it.

The House needs to address some issues. There needs to be further reform, as I do not believe we have completed the job. I have a huge amount of time for my right hon. Friend Sir George Young and I think we significantly reformed the House, but things were left undone—such as the establishment of a House Committee, on which we were, if I may say so, thwarted. I hope that future Governments will set one up.

We need to get a better balance between the constituency responsibilities of Members of Parliament and their responsibilities in this House. When I was first elected, I went on to the Foreign Affairs Committee. Other members of the Committee thought I was ineffably quaint because I insisted on going back at weekends to do surgeries. Some 99.9% of Members now do advice surgeries most weekends, but that may be at the expense of the scrutiny of legislation, and that worries me.

We obviously need to carry on working on the relationship between constituents and MP, aided and abetted of course by reports in the press. I do not mind occasionally being called names by the press. I remember once being called “a Tajik with toothache”; another time I was described as a cross between David Lloyd George and Father Christmas. That we can deal with, but we should not put up with the constant, relentless, drip, drip, drip of negativity towards MPs.

Lastly, I could not have done my job without the support of my staff: Georgina and previously Jack in London, and Claire, Chris and Teresa at my office in Frome. I could not have done it without my family, particularly my wife Caz and my children Bethany and Tom. I am very proud of having served the 900 square miles, 135 villages and 82,000 happy, smiling, tolerant, independent, bloody-minded, cantankerous Somerset people—and I am proud to be one of them.