Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker…….May I begin my maiden speech by saying that I am indeed honoured and humbled to be in this Chamber today, having been elected by the people of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock? It is privilege, and I will always remember that they trusted me with their vote. I value that and will do all that I can for the constituency of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock. May I share with hon. Members part of my life’s journey? It would be terribly boring if I gave them my whole life’s journey, but for the past 10 years I was an elected councillor in South Ayrshire. My ward was in the town of Ayr on the coast. There are many good things about Ayr, but I will touch on two. Ayr racecourse is one of the UK’s premier racecourses. I invite Members to come along and spend their money there—they might even make money that they can invest to make some more. Odds on, they may lose some money. In addition, we have hosted the Scottish international air show for the past three years. For the moment, it is a wonderful event. It is not a threat to Farnborough but, in years to come, one never knows.
My time on the council was preceded by 31 years in Strathclyde fire and rescue service. I served throughout Ayrshire and the central belt, was based in headquarters for 10 years as a member of the technical support team, and finally served as a senior officer covering Argyll and Bute, and the beautiful islands—I would name them, but there are too many. It was a complex and diverse fire service, with Glasgow sadly being remembered as a tinderbox city many years ago, and I was well aware of that. Given my background, it is particularly poignant for me to deliver my maiden speech so close in time to the tragic Grenfell Tower incident, which must surely have been a hell on earth for all concerned. I await with interest the outcome of what must be a thorough and effective public inquiry.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Corri Wilson, for the good work she undertook in this Chamber and in the constituency during her period in office. I thank her and wish her well for the future. Some further thanks are due to my appointed buddy, Joanna Freeman, who is a tolerant and lovely woman. She guided me—a lost soul as one of the new MPs—through what I describe as the wonders of Westminster. I will also take a wee moment to thank my long-suffering wife, Agnes, our two daughters, Angela and Karen, and our family, who have been helpful in the journey that has brought me to this Chamber. Sandra Osborne, Phil Gallie and George Younger preceded Corri Wilson as MPs for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock. They were all excellent parliamentarians who may be remembered by some in this House.
Let me take Members back to the dark days of the second world war of 1939 to 1945, when the Labour MP for South Ayrshire was Alexander Sloan, better known locally as Sanny Sloan. A former miner and a workers’ champion, he served his community well, but regrettably, like so many miners, he was dogged by ill health and died in 1945, soon after his second victory in an election to this House. The commonality is that we were both born to mining families in the small Ayrshire mining village of Rankinston, albeit we were born some 72 years apart.
There are many proud British institutions, but I shall mention just two: this Parliament and the national health service. One wonders—dare I say it?—what the outcome would be if there were a referendum on which should be closed. I suspect that this Chamber would be empty. I thank the national health service, and Dr Nykerie and his team at the Golden Jubilee hospital in Clydebank near Glasgow, for the successful double bypass surgery that I successfully underwent in 2014. My family and I are eternally grateful to them. However, I must apologise to my constituents in Maybole, a town just south of Ayr. I waited three months for my bypass, but they have waited nearly 30 years for theirs. The town is severed by the A77, which is—excuse the pun—a main artery from the central belt of Scotland to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) for the important ferry ports at Cairnryan that serve the ferry traffic to and from our neighbours in Ireland. It is an economic driver, so the A77 is an essential link. The punishment of the 30-tonners and 40-tonners taking that journey through the villages needs to be rectified, particularly at Maybole, and I am sure that it will be.
Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock is a rural and coastal community that is, to some extent, the bread basket of Britain, with Ayrshire tatties, bacon and cheese, and Ayrshire cattle, not forgetting the—albeit smaller—fishing communities along our coast from Dunure to Maidens and Girvan, which is still an active port, and to Ballantrae in the southernmost part. The good food and eateries in the constituency are considerably more reasonably priced than those in London; they have wonderful prices. After consuming the lovely food of various eateries, visitors may wish to toast that good food with a fine whisky or a delicately distilled Hendrick’s gin from William Grant & Sons in Girvan. There is no connection. Although I am Bill Grant and they are William Grant, I do not have a distillery. Their product is wonderful. Hendrick’s gin and Grant’s whisky are global.
As an area, we have attracted many famous people. Post-war, President Eisenhower was gifted access to and the use of apartments at the beautiful Culzean castle. More recently, another President—President Trump, although he was known as Donald at the time—secured the Turnberry hotel and golf course. I thank his son Eric for the investment in this world-class facility and for securing its future and the associated employment.
We were home to Sir William Arrol, who resided at Seafield House in Ayr. More recently, that was a children’s hospital, where Dr John McClure MBE was the senior paediatrician for many years. Sir William Arrol was the engineer responsible for building the Forth rail bridge—I nearly said road bridge, but that is not the case—the gantries at Harland and Wolff in Belfast, where the infamous or famous ship, the Titanic, was built; and Tower bridge here in London.
This being an Ayrshire constituency, it would be remiss of me not to mention Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns, who was born at Alloway—the ploughman poet, whose fondness for women is renowned. The women were far more fertile than the fields he ploughed, producing numerous offspring, and I am sure he would have faced immense challenges from the Child Support Agency.
But his passion went far beyond the fairer sex, and he penned many poems and songs, with lines such as
“Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon”.
From its source at Loch Doon, the River Doon gently winds its way past Dalmellington, Waterside, Patna, Polnessan, Dalrymple, Alloway and finally to the Firth of Clyde at the aptly named Doonfoot.
There is also “Afton Water”:
“Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes”.
The River Afton gently winds its way past New Cumnock, where I shall pause for a moment and mention the local football team, Glenafton Athletic, better known as The Glens, who, during the election campaign, won the Scottish junior cup by beating nearby rivals Auchinleck Talbot. To see New Cumnock bedecked in the team colours of red and white, with virtually every home displaying them, and with the lampposts adorned with bunting, was a credit to the strength and community spirit of New Cumnock, and I commend it for that and for the victory on the football park.
As we move onwards, we come to Cumnock, sometimes referred to as Old Cumnock, which plays host to Emergency One (UK), bespoke builders of fire appliances and emergency vehicles that are used throughout the United Kingdom. I commend them for their good work as they export—yes, I will use the word “export”—from Cumnock in Scotland all over the United Kingdom.
As we move on towards Ochiltree, I will stop for a moment at Dumfries House. May I give immense thanks to His Royal Highness Prince Charles for his involvement and, indeed, vision in not only saving Dumfries House for the nation but securing job opportunities in catering and tourism within and, indeed, beyond the constituency? Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock has a proud past. As the Member of Parliament for that constituency, I will endeavour to do my best to secure a promising future.
Finally, an extract from Robert Burns’s poem “To A Mouse”, which may be reflected on by many parliamentarians from all parties, whether past, present or future. It reads simply:
“The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”