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Rory Stewart delivers an unconventional maiden speech in Westminster Hall

Stewart Rory Rory Stewart was always going to be an unconventional MP. The former soldier, diplomat, academic and writer has already fitted much into his 37 years and was one of those who came forward to join the Conservative candidates' list last summer after the MPs' expenses scandal.

He was elected at the general election as MP for the seat of Penrith and the Border in Cumbria, which is why he was moved to break convention and deliver a maiden speech in Westminster Hall yesterday on the subject of the tragic shootings in that county on June 2nd which saw the deaths of twelve people. The debate had been in initiated by the Labour MP for Copeland, Jamie Reed.

Foregoing the right to give a traditional maiden speech in the Commons chamber, here's what Rory Stewart told the MPs in the parallel Westminster Hall chamber:

"I was not intending to make a maiden speech today, but I can think of no better example of what Parliament is about than the issue that the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) has brought us. There is a precision, a compassion and a sense of dialogue and openness in this room that I wish was more present on the Floor of the House, so I am proud to be making my maiden speech. The hon. Gentleman’s contribution was immensely deeply felt and measured. He balanced the kind words of Tony Parsons with the horror of cheque-book journalism. His commitment to the West Cumberland hospital really came across, and I very much hope that our Government will be able to sustain the hospital. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Prime Minister was very impressed by his visit.

"As the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) pointed out, Cumbria is a dense and complex web, which stretches across the artificial boundaries created by the Boundary Commission. Grandchildren of constituents in Brampton were in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency when the shots were fired. In all that we do, I hope that we reflect that dense web of Cumbrian culture in two specific ways. I hope that we look at the lessons of the tragedy in terms, first of distance and secondly of the way in which we conduct the inquiry. Both should reflect Cumbrian approaches.

"In terms of distance, we need to understand the sad but powerful lesson that we represent a county defined by its sparse population and long distances. That is why the West Cumberland hospital matters and why we in Penrith and The Border think all the time about what would have happened had some terrible tragedy occurred in Kirkby Stephen, which is an hour and a half from the Carlisle hospital.

"In this time of potential budgetary cuts, we need to fight hard to make sure that the police services that got 47 armed officers on the ground within an hour continue to be able to do that. We should also remember that recent events are an argument against hasty amalgamations, against closing our cottage hospitals and turning them into big hospitals, and against amalgamating the Cumbrian police with the Lancashire police. As we have seen, local services are much more responsive and flexible, and they can draw on services available in other parts of the country and make them operate more effectively.

"We need to fight for such things. That is partly because although Cumbria is one—although we are a dense web—the needs of people in Copeland are very different from those of people in Penrith and The Border. Although we are one, we are also divided in very sad ways. The life expectancy figures on the west coast are nearly 20 years shorter than those in the east of Cumbria. Those are the kinds of things that we need to work together to overcome. They are also the reason why all our specific services—the police, the fire service and social services—need to be local, adept, flexible and focused on specific communities and to be pragmatic in responding to them.

"That brings us to the inquiry. The hon. Member for Copeland talked about Cumbrian virtues. As he said, the fundamental element of Cumbria and of the whole border is people who are slow to react and slow to anger, but who, when they are determined, are resolute and focused. Let us hope that the inquiry reflects those values. As the hon. Gentleman said, we should not rush into anything, but once a decision is made we should stick with it and push it through.

"We should not have some grand commission based in London, with people who know nothing about Cumbria, guns or mental health pontificating in an abstract fashion. We need the very virtues that the hon. Gentleman saw in the local newspapers to be part of a local inquiry and a local commission. Those involved should include mental health professionals, the police and, above all, Cumbrians. Too often, our farmers and our teachers are ignored in favour of distant bureaucrats. Let the commission and the inquiry reflect Cumbrian values; let those involved be slow to anger and resolute, but also precise, pragmatic and focused on the exact events of the day of the shootings.

"On that point, let me end my maiden speech by saying that it is a great honour to stand in this room with the hon. Gentleman, who is an impressive leader. It is also a great honour to participate in a debate that shows the precision, level of inquiry and openness that I hope can characterise the House as a whole."

Jonathan Isaby


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