Sarah Olney’s maiden speech

Well, it has been a long time since we have been able to report on the maiden speech of a Liberal Democrat MP.

Sarah spoke today in the debate on the impact of Brexit on science and research. Until a few weeks ago she was working at the National Physical Laboratory, which lies just across the Thames from her Richmond Park constituency, so she has an insider’s view on the subject.

Here is her speech (taken from the rolling feed on Hansard which may be subject to correction):

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me and giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech today. It is a privilege and an honour to be standing here as the elected representative of Richmond Park, which brings with it a great responsibility that I shall use my best endeavours to fulfil.

I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr Zac Goldsmith, and thank him for his excellent constituency work on behalf of my fellow residents of Richmond Park over the past six years. In particular, we owe him our unending thanks for his efforts to block plans to build a third runway at Heathrow. The fact that he felt he could no longer be a part of a Conservative party that approved expansion demonstrates beyond all question his passion and commitment to the cause. It is a cause that I take up willingly on behalf of constituents who know that the claimed economic benefits of expansion will not compensate for the impacts of the increased noise and air pollution that millions will suffer if expansion goes ahead. I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of his predecessor, my fellow Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer, who fought the third runway for so many years. I look forward to working with parliamentary colleagues from all parties as we continue to make the case against expansion.

It is a particular honour to be elected to represent Richmond Park, not just because it is my home and the place where I have been bringing up my family, but because of its great history and wonderful environment. Richmond takes its name from the Earl of Richmond, later Henry VII, who built his great palace in what was then called Sheen in 1500. Henry VII was the king who, having won a great victory against an unpopular king at the battle of Bosworth, came to power at a time when the country was catastrophically divided by the Wars of the Roses and urgently needed leadership to bring it back to harmony and prosperity.

Britain today is a divided country, split asunder by the decision taken in June this year to leave the European Union, and it is hard at this moment to see how these divisions can be healed. It is my belief that Parliament can be a positive force in bringing together the two sides of the Brexit debate. If the arguments can be aired openly, questions answered thoughtfully and votes taken on all the significant points of difference, then each British citizen will see that their point of view is being represented, whichever way they voted in June. There can be no question of people being silenced or sneered at for their opinion on Britain’s future within the European Union.

I make no secret of the fact that my own opinion is that we should remain. I believe that the will of the people is the same today as it has always been: to live in a prosperous and stable society. Our responsibilities as parliamentarians are the same as they have always been: to act in the best interests of our country. We have a duty to future generations to bequeath them a society in which they can thrive. Evidence and instinct both suggest that collaboration with our nearest neighbours benefit our trade, our education, our environment, our security and our individual wellbeing. Such benefits should not be carelessly thrown aside without a careful, sober and detailed examination of what the consequences will be.

The impact of Brexit will be wide ranging and not just financial. In my constituency, our hospital relies on the hard work and dedication of migrants from Europe. Many of my constituents work in financial services which rely on our privileged position inside Europe. Many of our businesses import from and export to the European Union, and rely on the tariff-free access and the harmonised standards of the single market for their success. Many families—hard-working, community spirited, warm, friendly people—have come to our little corner of London from across Europe and made it their home.

In the area of science and research, there is no doubt that the UK has benefited hugely from its membership of the European Union. I had the enormous privilege, before being elected as MP, to work for a world-renowned science and research organisation, so I have had some experience of the discussions and concerns that the prospect of Brexit has raised among the science community. The obvious impact will be the lack of access to research funding provided by the EU. There is no question but that the UK is currently a net beneficiary of this: between 2007 and 2013, we paid in €5 billion to the Horizon 2020 fund and received €8 billion back in grant funding.

But the impacts go deeper. One of the biggest concerns is that by being shut out of access to EU funding, UK scientists will also be excluded from cross-EU collaborative projects and lose access to specialist laboratory facilities across Europe. This will result in a loss of opportunities for UK scientists to participate at the very forefront of research. UK laboratories and research facilities currently benefit from the ability of scientists from across the EU to come and work here. If Brexit inhibits the ability of EU nationals to move to the UK, UK-based science and research will suffer. The success of the UK’s science and technology industries will be critical to our future economy, and we should be doing all we can to nurture and promote them.

I did not aspire to be a politician. I did not ever expect to be standing here addressing hon. and right hon. Members as I am today, but I felt compelled by the events of the last few months—not just the referendum result, but the Government response in the aftermath and the divided society that has resulted—to put myself forward.

I wish to close by thanking my fellow MPs from all sides of the House for the warm welcome they have extended to me since my election. Unexpected though my election was, I am enormously excited by the opportunity I have been given and look forward to playing a full part in the business of this House.

Update: And now you can view it.



* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames where she is still very active with the local party.

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  • Excellent speech.

    The theme was also discussed in the Stumblings and Mumblings blog a day or so ago. The point about ‘Target Fetishism’ raised there chimes in with what Libdems like David Boyle have been saying for a long time…

    >>>There’s a famous story about a nail factory in the old Soviet Union. When it was told to produce millions of nails, it made them so small as to be useless, but when it was told to make tons of nails, it made them so big they were useless*.

    I was reminded of this by the Guardian’s report that the government is considering almost halving the number of foreign students coming to the UK. This is obviously moronic. It would deprive us of billions of pounds of export earnings at a time when we’re borrowing massively from overseas; it would harm one of the UK’s very few world-class high-skilled industries; and it would deprive us of the “soft power” than we’d enjoy from future foreign decision-makers having goodwill towards the country as a result of their student experiences.

    Why, then, do something so stupid? It’s because cutting student visas is the easiest way of achieving the target of reducing immigration, just as producing useless nails was the factory’s easiest way of hitting its targets. What we have in both cases are egregious examples of target fetishism.<<<

  • Gracious of Sarah Olney to be so complimentary of Zac Goldsmith. By the way, did he actually resign his personal membership of the Conservative Party ?

  • Excellent speech. Nice good manners to be nice to Zac. Good to have recent experience of science community views.
    She looks even more of an asset😊😊

  • A super Maiden speech, makes my visits to the Richmond campaign feel even more worthwhile 🙂

  • Impressive.

  • Richard Warren 20th Dec '16 - 3:09pm

    Great speech! Sarah is becoming more impressive all the time

  • paul holmes 21st Dec '16 - 1:22pm

    Al and Sadie: It is a Parliamentary convention that every new MP says something nice about their predecessor. Likewise it is convention that the next MP called to speak (two newcomers are never called in succession) praises the newcomers Maiden speech.

    Contrary to what 10 second sound bites on the news imply the House of Commons is not all about shouting at each other.

  • rosslyn glassman 21st Dec '16 - 6:42pm

    excellent speech – was really impressed.
    Thank goodness we have a rational and forward looking M.P.

  • Richard Underhill 21st Dec '16 - 7:17pm

    A modern maiden speech containing more than courtesies and convention. It is not essential to be as controversial as Disraeli’s maiden speech.

  • It was an excellent speech. Sarah said all of the expected polite things about Goldsmith, and a bit about the local community, but also managed to set out several of her priorities. She mentioned Heathrow, the need for proper scrutiny of Brexit and science funding, which particularly pleased me.

  • The country had been divided for far longer than June 23, what the referendum did was to enable people whose views had been dismissed and ignored for fat too long to finally be seen and heard. It is not the vote that split the country but the lack of open and honest debate about certain issues, immigration being a prime example, over the last two decades.
    The pity is there are still far too many politicians who wish that those people had remained unseen and unheard.

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