A new MP has used his first speech in Parliament to pay tribute to his predecessor, who died last year.

Conservative MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup Louie French told the Commons that James Brokenshire, who died in October from lung cancer aged 53, was an “outstanding” MP who “remained true to his word” to stand up for constituents throughout his time in Parliament.

Mr French gave his maiden speech as MPs debated the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, and said the Government had his “full support”, despite having rebelled only weeks after being elected during December’s vote on the winter Plan B restrictions.

Surrounded by Conservative MPs who attended the debate to support him, Mr French said: “In representing the constituency of Old Bexley and Sidcup I follow my good friend, the late James Brokenshire.

“I know that members on both sides of this House mourn the loss of James who was a friendly, thoughtful and well-liked gentleman.”

Mr French also paid tribute to Mr Brokenshire’s wife Cathy, who was seated watching the speech in the public gallery alongside Commons Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing.

He said that his predecessor was a “tough act to follow”, adding: “He was an outstanding constituency MP who fought for the people of Old Bexley and Sidcup every day, never forgetting that it was them that placed him in this House.”

The new Conservative MP concluded his speech by reciting words from Mr Brokenshire’s first speech.

He said: “I would like to finish by reciting the words James made in his maiden speech when he said: ‘Hope is one of the most valuable things we can offer. In a small way I will try to provide that sense of hope to my constituents by standing up on the issues that matter to them, by listening to those who think that no-one is prepared to be interested in their concerns and by giving a voice in the House to those who have none’.

“James remained true to his word and I will continue this when serving my local area.”

Mr French also joked about his initial rebellion on the vote to impose Plan B Covid restrictions in December.

“Who would have thought that someone with a surname French would have been so warmly welcomed by so many Brexiteers?” he said, adding: “Perhaps if the Home Secretary would have forecast me voting against the Government in my first month, she might even have deployed the Navy even earlier.”

He also said: “All jokes aside I am more than happy to give my full support to the Government and today’s Bill and its wide efforts to improve animal welfare across the UK.”

The MP said his constituents were “animal lovers” who were particularly concerned by “the callous act” of pet theft.

He also paid tribute to Old Bexley and Sidcup’s schools, its history and its contribution to the arts, culture and science.

As Mr French finished his speech, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said: “Could I just say – a fitting tribute from the new member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, and could I just say we all think of the former member, who was a friend to us all.”

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