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Pilgrim Fathers (400th Anniversary)

Volume 607: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2016

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Stephen Barclay.)

As you are aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, 2020 will mark the 400th anniversary of what we generally call the Pilgrim Fathers and what the United States call the Mayflower Pilgrims, because there were, of course, mothers and daughters, as well as fathers, on that boat.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that I am well aware of that, because Myles Standish, who was the officer in charge of the Mayflower, came from Chorley.

At first glance, nonconformity and its influence on democracy are a series of extraordinary coincidences based in the beautiful setting of rural Bassetlaw, and they are all linked by geography, message and history. The modern history of our great ally and special partner, the United States of America, comes from a tiny group of men and women who, in the autumn of 1620, arrived on board the Mayflower at Cape Cod in Massachusetts. They were a group of religious and political nonconformists who risked their lives, and at times lost their liberty, in order to establish the basis and values of the society they wanted. It was a society that, through the Mayflower compact—which was the basis of that first settlement on the east coast of America—created both the foundations for the constitution of the United States and the model for parliamentary democracy.

The leaders of these pioneers were neighbours. We start in Scrooby, whose manor house under the Archbishop of York was lived in by Cardinal Wolsey in 1530 after his fall from grace, and was visited by King Henry VIII when it was a hunting lodge. Scrooby is 17 miles and 30 minutes from Epworth, 3 miles from Austerfield, 7 miles from Babworth, 14 miles from Sturton le Steeple, 9 miles from Worksop, and only 45 minutes from Lincoln cathedral and 60 minutes from York Minster.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Mayflower left, ultimately, from Plymouth in order to go and found the American colonies. We are in the process of setting up an all-party parliamentary group and I very much hope that he will join me as its co-chair, and we can try to get some other people to join us, too.

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Should hon. Members, following the usual rules, deign that to be appropriate, I would be honoured to join him. The Bassetlaw-Plymouth amalgam cross-party group would be a powerful way to spread the message of the values and principles of the Mayflower Pilgrims.

The key 16th-century village of Scrooby was, as it is now, on the Great North Road. This tiny village was called

“a pleasing land of drowsyhead…broad meadowlands…hummocky plots of stiff soil”


“a raised area served by the River Idle.”

The postmaster—an important position in such a strategic transport route—was John Brewster, and the real story of the pilgrims begins in 1587, when his son, William Brewster, returned to the place of his birth and childhood. It was at the manor house that William Brewster created the religious separatist church, the Pilgrims, and held its first sessions. Who were the neighbours in attendance? Along with William Brewster, there was John Robinson, of Sturton le Steeple. The separatist church named after him in Gainsborough was opened in 1896 by the US ambassador, the honourable T.F. Bayard. That was the last time, but I am sure it will not be the only time, that an American ambassador visited the origins of the modern United States.

I am very interested in history, and I have come across the Pilgrim Fathers in my study of history. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate, and it is a real pleasure to take part. Who would have thought 400 years ago that the Pilgrim Fathers would do something that would last 400 years? Does he welcome the strong economic, physical, emotional, cultural, military, and political ties between the United States and the United Kingdom, which are also united by language?

Order. I am not quite sure that that fits in with the Pilgrim Fathers on the 400th anniversary, and I think you need to sit down. We must be careful not to extend this debate beyond where the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) wishes to take it, and I am sure that he will not be tempted that easily.

There are huge principles that unite us and our strongest ally. They come from villages such as Scrooby in Bassetlaw, and from the other partners who from across our fair and pleasant land created the Mayflower compact. They included William Bradford of Austerfield, who became the first governor of the Pilgrim colony in Massachusetts; Richard Clyfton, the rector of Babworth, in Bassetlaw, whose preaching drew in the neighbours in creating the non conformity and the ideology of individual freedom that were so powerful in the setting up of America; Henry Brewster of Sutton-cum-Lound; Richard Bernard of Epworth and later of Worksop; Gervase Neville of Worksop; John Smyth of Sturton; and Francis Cooke of Blyth. Those dissenters and champions of conscience and liberty were all from the Bassetlaw area. They left the hamlet of Scaftworth on the Idle and went down to West Stockwith on the Trent. From there, they went to Amsterdam, and from Amsterdam to Leiden in Holland, where they recreated their Scrooby and Babworth churches in 1607. Having deepened their church and their philosophy, they set sail via Southampton and Plymouth to the new world, first in the Speedwell and then on the Mayflower.

On board, the Pilgrim Fathers finalised their original philosophy into the Pilgrim compact, which contains the foundation of the US constitution. The compact states that they would establish:

“a civil body politic…to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”

John Quincy Adams, President of the United States, described the compact as

“the only instance in human history of that positive, original social compact…the only legitimate source of government. Here was a unanimous and personal assent, by all the individuals of the community, to the association by which they became a nation.”

That was a recognition of equal consent as the source of authority, and its birthplace was that tiny corner of England in Bassetlaw.

In setting up the Plymouth colony, the Pilgrim Fathers agreed a compulsory seven-year partnership between everyone who arrived, which involved a pooling of profits, an equal division of wealth and full rights for women, including widows and dependants. Most of the wives died in the first year. Only five survived beyond the first year: Mary Brewster, Elizabeth Hopkins, Eleanor Billington, Susanna White and Elizabeth Tilley. Many of the daughters survived, and they grew to be adults. Through their marriage vows, they replenished the community, to build the United States of America from that tiny group of people.

The context is vital to understanding just how significant the achievement was to the modern day. Feudalism was still the order in the United Kingdom. This was the period soon after Cromwell and the Star Chamber. It was a few years after Guy Fawkes attempted to destroy Parliament. Soon afterwards, William Tyndale, who translated the Bible, was burnt at the stake as a heretic, at Vilvoorde near Brussels.

These dissenters, democrats and visionaries advanced not just religious freedom, but human emancipation. Their story needs expounding, because the ripples of their influence continued beyond their settlement in the United States. In 1703, when John Wesley and his family lived in Epworth, where one of the Pilgrims came from, the influence of the Pilgrims helped to formulate his religious vision and views. He shared the same ethos, and drank from the same well of wisdom.

In 1740, another Bassetlaw pioneer, John Cartwright—his family coat of arms happens to adorn my current property in Bassetlaw—wrote “The English Constitution”, which for the first time stated the principles of universal suffrage, the secret ballot and equal electoral districts. That became the template for the Chartists, and provided the basis of and the detail for the Great Reform Act of 1832. As Thomas Jefferson said, his work must be held in “high veneration and esteem”. It was in East Retford in Bassetlaw that Cartwright witnessed the original rotten borough. There were 200 voters for the two seats, which were sold at 20 guineas a vote or 40 guineas per voter, until the Great Reform Act, which came from the principles established by the Pilgrims. It is hardly a surprise that Cartwright’s last act was to build a mill in Retford that he called Revolution Mill.

The year 2020 provides a historic opportunity—in Leiden, Southampton, Plymouth, Massachusetts and of course Bassetlaw, as well as elsewhere—to reinvigorate the Pilgrim compact in relation to our shared values and, through Parliament, our democracy. In Bassetlaw, the Churches, acting together, have begun our local preparations with their Illuminate 400 project. We welcome the offer of financial support that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already made, and we look forward to that support being specified in detail in the near future. We foresee a celebration of sound and light to illuminate the Pilgrims’ stories, and their churches and locations.

We will recreate the experience of the world’s first international tourism a century and quarter after Americans—they travelled on cruise liners—came to Bassetlaw as the first mass tourists. We will welcome the Pilgrims’ descendants, whether they are famous ones such as the Rockefellers, Clint Eastwood and Richard Gere, who are all direct descendants of the Bassetlaw Pilgrims, or less famous ones. Each and every one will be equally welcome, as indeed will you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and Mr Speaker, to participate in the historic celebrations.

Let this Parliament recognise the importance of the Pilgrims and welcome these celebrations. Their courage, their organisation and their political philosophy of freedom—the rights of the individual, and the responsibility to one another—formed the bedrock of the US constitution. It did more than that, however, because it provided the ethical vision for Wesley and the democratic template for John Cartwright, with the spreading of religious tolerance and freedom, and the emancipating of feudal society to become a representative and participatory parliamentary democracy. Our shared history with the United States of America, our joint purpose today, our unwavering commitment to parliamentary democracy in the United States and the United Kingdom and our resolve to protect it across the world, which we have bequeathed to the world, are what the Pilgrims gave us.

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on securing the Adjournment debate this evening. I commend him for raising the topic in the House and for his excellent and powerful speech, which we listened to with great interest. He highlighted the strong and friendly links that this country has with the United States, and our historical contribution to that great nation. Personally, I love history and I believe that highlighting the pioneers of our past is very important. The hon. Gentleman has therefore done a great service this evening not only to history and to his constituency, but to the Americans by letting them know that they should visit Bassetlaw as part of the celebrations commemorating the Pilgrim Fathers and the Mayflower.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that we should use the occasion for a fantastic trade exhibition to make sure that we have lots of American companies coming over here to visit Plymouth as well and to boost our growth?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful case. I know that he has been a champion of his constituency and of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower. It is good to see my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) and also my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), who tells me that there is a civil war centre funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and an exhibition in his constituency, so we are getting to grips with this important historical occasion.

We want to encourage as many Americans as possible to learn at first hand about the journey of their forefathers, which underpins our special relationship. In doing so, we want them to discover more of our beautiful country, and to visit, look up their roots and enjoy our heritage.

The Mayflower with the Pilgrim Fathers on it left Plymouth on 6 September 1620 with just 102 passengers and crew on board. It arrived 56 days later on 11 November in Cape Cod on the US east coast. The Mayflower sailing is celebrated by many in the US as the beginning of their national legacy, and in the UK as the beginning of one of the most enduring alliances the world has ever known. The Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, but, as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw pointed out, three of the four signatories to the Mayflower compact came from Bassetlaw and south Yorkshire. They must be remembered too for their contribution.

We should remember that four of the children who were on that journey came from Shropshire and were directly related to a distinguished former Member of this House, Sir Jasper More.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for enlightening us on that matter.

It is only right that all parts of the United Kingdom that were involved in that momentous occasion can profit from the renewed interest that the citizens of the USA will have in visiting the UK as part of the 400th anniversary commemorations in 2020. This matters not just for the constituencies involved, but for tourism and the economic benefits brought by those tourists from America and other parts of the world, because we have a great story to tell. American tourists spent nearly £3 billion in this country in 2014.

The Plymouth area has received financial support from the Government, with £35,000 announced to upgrade facilities at the Mayflower museum. However, I would like to allay any fears that the people of Bassetlaw might have that all Mayflower-related financial support is going to Plymouth and will not be distributed across the country: £500,000 worth of support was announced in the autumn statement 2015 by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, as we heard, for Mayflower-related celebrations across the country. VisitEngland is in the process of allocating that sum and will involve in its work a number of areas across the nation, not just the city of Plymouth.

I am delighted that in response to a question on the record from me to the Chancellor, he confirmed that additional money will be made available on top of that £500,000.

I am grateful to the Chancellor for the support he is giving.

Other support might be available as well. To date, the Heritage Lottery Fund has not given any Mayflower-specific grants, although I understand that it is in discussions with other organisations across the UK, including in Bassetlaw, regarding possible bids.

I congratulate Plymouth on the proactive approach it has taken to deepen the cultural, educational and tourism links with large US target audiences, because all those aspects are vitally important. I congratulate Bassetlaw and other areas of England on getting together with Plymouth and other areas to discuss how they can all get involved in this historic event and make the most of this opportunity to encourage tourists to discover their areas. I understand that Bassetlaw Council, as a member of the Mayflower 400 organisation, is currently in discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund about a bid for funding to support a planned series of events for the 400th anniversary celebrations. The result of that bid has yet to be decided, but I wish Mayflower 400 every success in its efforts.

That is exactly the type of collaboration, spreading the economic and cultural benefits of tourism right across the country, that this Government are seeking to encourage through our five-point plan for tourism. On that point, I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) is in his place this evening. We all want to see as many visitors as possible coming to the UK and getting out and about across our fantastic country to see our heritage, because it is not just in London but across the country. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw made some powerful points about the people, the times they lived in, the effect they had on this country and their contribution to the creation of the United States of America.

Will my right hon. Friend also recognise that it is really important that we have good transport links down to the south-west so that people can not only fly into the place, but take a train or a decent road down to Plymouth so that we can maximise the benefit for the city and for south-east Cornwall?

I note what my hon. Friend has said and will come to that point in a moment if I have time.

International tourism has grown spectacularly in recent decades. Obviously the Pilgrim Fathers took a long time to get across the Atlantic, but today that journey is very quick. International tourism is so important, and we are determined to capitalise on these opportunities to benefit the whole country.

The Prime Minister published the five-point plan last summer, within the first 100 days of this Government. One of our most important priorities has been to see greater collaboration between destinations in England. We have seen that this evening, with Plymouth and Bassetlaw working together on exciting opportunities and initiatives, and we also want our national tourism bodies, VisitEngland and VisitBritain, to work more closely together to promote holidays in England. That is why we have announced changes in the governance of VisitEngland and VisitBritain, and why we have announced a new £40 million Discover England Fund to incentivise destinations to work together. Having participated in a couple of regional roadshows for the Discover England Fund, I can say that it has been fantastic to see the creativity and energy of destinations when we all come together. I think that in this debate we have seen that creativity and the determination to celebrate this anniversary effectively.

In responding to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) the Minister has encapsulated my wish, which is that we do something for the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, including the Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland, the Irish from the Republic, the Scots from Scotland and the Welsh from Wales. Together, in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we can come together to try to attract tourists from across the United States of America.

I am pleased to note the hon. Gentleman’s positive points. We want to ensure that the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has more tourists and more opportunities to show what fantastic places we have across our nations.

Our second priority has been jobs and skills. We want to boost apprenticeships in tourism and to promote it as a career choice for the brightest and the best. Tourism is a growth area and it is exciting for people to get involved and have a career in it.

Thirdly, we realise that regulation is an issue for small business. We are looking at what we can do to ensure that regulation and how it is enforced is both proportionate and common sense.

A moment ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) mentioned transport. We need good transport, high-calibre locations, and great hotels and hospitality, but we need a joined-up approach. When visitors want to discover England, it is right that the transport offer is easy and straightforward to access—when they get off the train, ideally there will be a bus to take them to their final destination. I am working with colleagues in the transport and tourism industry to explore what more can be done, but it is important that we have a joined-up approach to ensure that people coming from America or wherever else around the world have not only a good experience—a high-calibre experience of history, culture, heritage and tradition—but good facilities and hotels. We do pretty well in this country, but we can always do better. That is what we are looking at most passionately.

We want to ensure that all visitors receive a great welcome. That means we must drive improvements in our visa service and ensure that tourists to the UK are greeted warmly when they arrive. Most recently, we have had negotiations on two-year visas for people coming from China, which would make a lot of difference—they want to visit on several occasions but do not want to apply for a visa every six months. My hon. Friends in the Home Office are dealing with that, and we have had considerable success.

We want people to go home with great memories and experiences, highlighting the best of Britain. We want them to go home and tell other people what has been achieved, and that Britain is not only open for business, but a top-level tourist attraction across our nations.

We want to ensure that our history is celebrated. That is why it is so important that we celebrate the 400th anniversary of that fantastic experience, so that we can learn about it, and so that our young people in schools and colleges know about it. We should talk about it and promote it. I am passionate that this has been a great opportunity this evening to highlight that and put it on the record. We have a little time to prepare, which is important. What I have heard from the hon. Member for Bassetlaw is encouraging and we want to do anything we can to assist. It is very important that we understand such a historic milestone. I have learned so much from what he has told us about his constituency, its people and what life was like at that time. We need to ensure that that is transmitted to the Americans, particularly so that they come back over here and see what life is all about.

I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman to encourage as many tourists as possible to the Bassetlaw area during the coming years. The anniversary represents a great opportunity to commemorate an important historical event, which changed lives. As he highlighted, it was the opportunity to be the basis of what became the United States of America. We have learned a lot this evening about the history of Bassetlaw and the people involved.

Before the Minister finishes his speech, I cordially invite him to Bassetlaw. I offer a personal guided tour of the site. He will have the opportunity to stay in the historic Sherwood forest. Of course, the majority of the Sherwood forest that still exists is in Bassetlaw. That is surely an offer that no tourism Minister could ever refuse.

I will certainly take that kind invitation on board. I will put it forward and have a look at the diary to see whether it is possible.

We are almost out of time. I welcome the debate, which has been good-humoured, interesting, factual and bipartisan. We have highlighted the great country we are and the history we have, and we want to celebrate it.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.