Saqib Bhatti has delivered his maiden speech in the House of Commons:
"I am going to start by congratulating all my hon. Friends and colleagues who have given their maiden speeches today and in recent weeks. They truly have been of the highest order. I give my maiden proudly representing the constituency of Meriden. We are all a product of our journeys, so I am grateful and privileged that I can stand here thanking those who have been part of mine: my friends, my other half, my family—thank you.
My predecessor, Dame Caroline Spelman, was a mightily impressive colleague and friend to many in the House. During her 22-year career, she held a number of important positions, such as party chairperson, several shadow Cabinet positions, Second Church Estates Commissioner and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She did all of these with distinction, while demonstrating an unrelenting dedication to her constituents—a dedication that I hope to emulate. I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating her son David, who last month rowed across the Atlantic with a friend as part of the Talisker challenge and broke the world record.
Meriden is the largest constituency by geographical size in the west midlands. We have beautiful countryside, booming local businesses and a vibrant community spirit. My constituency takes its name from the village of Meriden, known as Alspath in the Domesday Book. It originally made up part of Lady Godiva’s estate and, as many Members of this House will know, Lady Godiva rode through the streets of Coventry naked in protest against her husband’s tax rises. Mr Deputy Speaker, I have a lot in common with Lady Godiva—[Laughter.] I do not know why they are all laughing: I love horses and, like Lady Godiva, I am a big advocate of low taxation. However, I am going to wait for the Budget this time, before I decide to what degree and how I protest any new taxes.
In the Domesday Book, Meriden was known as the true centre of England. That was until the early 2000s, when an over-zealous team at the Ordnance Survey decided that the centre of England was in fact in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans), but since I am not a bitter man and I do not hold a grudge, Mr Deputy Speaker, let me tell you why Meriden is still the beating heart of this country.
I wanted to speak in the Environment Bill debate because my constituency has an excellent track record on the green agenda, and Solihull Borough Council—my council—has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. The environment will pervade every area of policy making for my generation and many future generations to come. Infrastructure projects such as the ones in my constituency bring with them air pollution, noise pollution and continuous threats to the green belt. I will work hard to represent my constituents, so that progress and developments never mean compromising on our quality of life. This is a tricky topic, but one from which I will never shy away.
Meriden is unique and picturesque. It has more than 300 listed buildings and is steeped in history. It contains idyllic villages such as Hampton in Arden, Knowle, Dorridge, Catherine-de-Barnes, and Balsall Common, to name just a few. They capture the true character of the great British countryside like nowhere else, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) earlier tried to tell the House. Meriden is home to Birmingham airport and the National Exhibition Centre. It has rail links to every part of the country, and will soon be home to a certain high-speed rail link and interchange station. It has a Jaguar Land Rover plant, the prestigious Blythe Valley business park, and Birmingham business park, which houses names such as Oracle, Arup, and Rolls-Royce, as well as new market disrupters such as Gymshark.
If one travels north in my constituency, however, there are communities in greater need of opportunity, such as Chelmsley Wood, Castle Bromwich, Smith’s Wood, Kingshurst, and Fordbridge, where I see hard-working and socially conscious people who have not experienced the benefits of economic progress. Recent decades have seen more investment in those areas, and new facilities bring new opportunities, but as far as I am concerned, until all members of our society feel the effects of economic success, our job as parliamentarians is not finished.
As a former businessman and president of one of the largest chambers of commerce in the country, I have always advocated for social progress through economic progress, and for the role that business plays as a force for good in society. I believe we must do all we can to support business to thrive, and we must allow entrepreneurs to take risks, create jobs, and drive society forward, as that is the only way we will address the injustice of inequality. The difference between life expectancy in Knowle in the south of my constituency, and Chelmsley Wood in the north, is 10 years. With higher crime levels and lower levels of employment, there is something inherently unfair about the disparity in the life prospects of two children born in the same constituency, a mere eight miles apart.
The primary reason why any of us enters politics is because we want to make the lives of the people we serve better. I am thinking of that young boy or girl who, right now, is working hard to get the grades to be the first in their family to get an apprenticeship or go to university. Perhaps they are on an athletics track, running an extra lap so that one day they can represent their country on the international stage and return triumphantly. I am thinking of that recruit to the emergency services or armed forces, who is willing to risk life and limb for this beautiful nation of ours, or of the immigrant who came to this country, leaving everything behind, in order to build a better life for themselves and their family.
People may ask what unites us in our love for our country, but that is simple: we dare to believe. We dare to believe in a country where our children will have the best opportunities in life, and where our pensioners can grow old and live with dignity. We dare to believe in a country that is open, inclusive and optimistic. There are those—a small few—who may try to create disunity among us, but we must remember that hope and opportunity will always defeat the ideologies of division and hate.
There is no “leave” or “remain”, Mr Deputy Speaker; there is only our great global Britain—the Britain that says it does not matter where somebody was born, where they come from, what they believe, who they love, or what anyone else says they are capable of achieving. Instead, as long as they share our values of respect, hard work, and they stand up for what is right, they can achieve anything. We live and serve in the best country in the world. Unwavering in our commitment to our values, we have remained faithful to our vision for a better world, and we have always stood tall and firm in the face of adversity.
We must now hold that vision more closely and dearly than ever before. As we embark on the final leg of our journey to new-found independence, it is now that we must remember our old friends and seek out new ones. It is now that we must speak up and act for those facing persecution and oppression across the world, and we must take seriously the threats to our environment and society. We must remember everything that we have in common, and everything that unites us. We must dare to believe."