The Somerton & Frome constituency includes the market towns of Somerton and Frome themselves, as well as Castle Cary, Langport, Wincanton, Templecombe, Hambridge and Westport, Bruton and Martock, plus surrounding Somerset villages.
In May 2015, local people elected David Warburton as their Member of Parliament. In his maiden speech in the House of Commons, David outlined some of the key challenges facing the constituency today, as well as an historical overview.
David Warburton (Somerton and Frome) (Con): May I say what an extraordinary privilege it is not only to speak for the first time in this House, but to follow so many eloquent, lucid and persuasive maiden speeches over the past few weeks? They all make my job a lot more difficult.
My predecessor, David Heath, is a hard act to follow. He was a Member of Parliament for 18 years, and a Minister and Deputy Leader of the House in the previous Government. He served in this place with great experience and distinction and he served his constituents with great loyalty and care. I was delighted that I did not have to fight an election against him. It is not for me to say, but it may well have been because of that that we managed to turn what was a long-held Liberal Democrat seat into a Conservative seat with a majority of more than 20,000. It is also not for me to point out that, because of the far-sighted and very intelligent constituents of Somerton and Frome, that represents the largest Conservative swing in the country. I say Conservative swing, because I know there are Scottish Members for whom an 18% swing is pretty small beer.
This was an extraordinary election. It has thrown up an extraordinary opportunity for all of us, as we have been hearing during this Budget debate. It also presents a great opportunity for the west country. It was 1,066 years ago that an earlier form of Parliament, the Witan, sat at Somerton in my constituency, which proves that Somerset has a parliamentary tradition some three centuries older than the modern building that we find ourselves in today. I say that because if the unhappy occurrence of having to pack our toothbrushes and Order Papers and decant to the provinces arose, Somerton would be only too pleased to welcome us back. If that did happen, perhaps it would provide an opportunity for us to get the connectivity for which we have been waiting for so long in Somerset. My constituency is 640th out of 650 when it comes to broadband access, which means that about 140 towns and villages are all stumbling along on 1990 dial-up style retro-internet connections.
Let me take Members on a little tour of my constituency. It starts with the suburbial villages outside Bath, goes down past exciting Frome and the Mendip hills through burgeoning Bruton, racing Wincanton, ancient Somerton, blossoming Langport and on to the Somerset Levels and hamstone Martock—and, of course, the village of Muchelney, which became the island of Muchelney during the Somerset floods last year. That iconic view of the marooned village of Muchelney stands for much more than just the floods. Many people in my constituency in the past felt rather cut off and rather distant—set aside from the machinery of economic growth. That is something that I am glad that the Government are now beginning to address through the Budget.
A flurry, or perhaps more a flood, of activity has been aimed at the south-west, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) mentioned. We have the dualling of the A303, enormous amounts of investment and railways coming in, all of which will elicit huge yelps of excitement from my constituents—and perhaps reverse some of the exodus of youth that we have seen. About 75% of young people are running away and leaving Somerset, so I hope we can begin to bring them back.
It starts with education. One of my predecessors as MP for Frome was Thomas Hughes, who hon. Members will know as the author of “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”. Although I hesitate to mention Flashman on the Conservative Benches, he was a strong advocate for universal education, and we cannot have universal education without fair funding for rural schools—so I will be fighting for that.
Let me finish by citing another former constituent, Walter Bagehot, who said:
“The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”
Those are the words that have led me here and are the words with which I hope we can lead the west country forward.