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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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