On Monday I made my Maiden Speech in the House of Commons. I spoke about Plymouth, defence, tower blocks and the pledges I made to the people of Plymouth.
It is a great privilege to stand here on behalf of Plymouth. Plymouth is my home. It is where I was born and it is where I live. I stand here mindful of the political greats who have contributed not only in this Chamber, but to my city. Nancy Astor, the first woman to take her seat in this Chamber, represented Plymouth, Sutton from 1919 to 1945. Michael Foot represented Plymouth, Devonport from 1945 to 1955, rebuilding our city after its devastation in the second world war. Then there was David Owen and his defection, and Alan Clark and his diaries. More recently there was David Jamieson, Linda Gilroy and Alison Seabeck, to whom my city owes a great deal. I have a lot to live up to, but luckily there is a lot to do to get Plymouth its fair share.
I want to thank Oliver Colvile, my predecessor, for his service. Mr Colvile represented Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport for seven years. In that time, he always conducted himself well, with decorum and generosity, describing himself as “jolly Olly”. I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing Mr Colvile a speedy recovery from his time in hospital since the general election. Many hon. Members will know of his passion for hedgehogs. I hope that someone will pick up the protection of those little prickly creatures, but that will not be me. There was, however, one campaign on which he and I co-operated and worked together. In 2014, we joined forces to campaign for one of the new Type 26 frigates to be named after Britain’s ocean city—an HMS Plymouth—and I intend to continue that campaign.
As the son of a Devonport-based submariner, I grew up knowing how important strong defence is to my city and our country. Plymouth is home to Devonport, the largest naval base in western Europe, the nation’s amphibious assault ships, the submarine and surface fleet re-fit facilities at Devonport dockyard, and the Royal Citadel and the historic home of the Royal Marines at Stonehouse barracks—two bases that are facing closure. With the aircraft carriers coming on stream soon and the enormous demand that they will place on the Royal Navy, with regard to both personnel and escort frigates, it is time for us to think again about how many frigates our nation needs. Brexit and international uncertainty mean that we need a larger Royal Navy. Orders for Type 26 frigates have been cut from 13 to eight, and the new Type 31 frigate is still early in the design stage. The 1997 strategic defence review called for 32 frigates and destroyers. We now have just 19, so I want the Government to increase orders not only for frigates, but for offshore patrol craft. More frigates, modularly constructed and supporting marine engineering and shipbuilding businesses, large and small, in Plymouth, across the south-west and across our nation, are exactly what our country needs.
During the Prime Minister’s statement on Grenfell Tower last week, I received the news that tests showed that the cladding on the Mount Wise tower blocks was combustible. I immediately called for the unsafe cladding to be removed, and that will happen. There can be no compromise on safety. I am pleased that we now have cross-party support for that in Plymouth, with the hon. Members for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) and for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) joining me in asking the Government to pay for that emergency work.
Plymouth is one of the UK’s great cities, a grand bastion of parliamentary democracy from the Sabbath Day fight during the English civil war on Freedom Fields to the modern day. Plymouth has seen the pilgrim fathers setting sail on the Mayflower, a fleet setting sail to defeat the Spanish armada and Captain Cook setting sail on his voyages, and there are many more examples. As a base for marine research and expertise, we are second to none. That is why I want not only a ministry of maritime affairs to be set up in Plymouth after Brexit, but Plymouth Sound to be designated as the country’s first national marine park.
Plymouth’s great contribution has not always been matched by us receiving our fair share. The poor deal that we have at the moment as a city is not one that I will accept or vote to cut further. Progress towards Plymouth achieving its fair share has happened, but not quickly enough. It must now up a gear."