Andrew Mitchell – 1987 Maiden Speech to the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Andrew Mitchell in the House of Commons on 20 July 1987.

I rise to address the House for the first time in a spirit of great humility—deeply honoured to represent my constituency in this place.

I am particularly pleased to have caught your eye relatively early in the Session, Madam Deputy Speaker, so that I may pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Philip Holland. Philip’s love and knowledge of this place and his service to his constituency was well known and well respected—as much in Gedling as in this House.

I mean no disrespect to Acton when I say that Philip graduated from that seat, from 1959 to 1964, to Carlton, which he went on to represent for 21 years—latterly as the constituency of Gedling, following the Boundary Commission’s most recent review.

Any hon. Member who chairs the Committee of Selection and yet remains so well liked and respected by hon. Members on both sides of the House must be endowed with the greatest of skills. Only time will tell whether any of my hon. Friends will take up Sir Philip’s mantle as a great hunter of quangos. I have been left in no doubt over the past few weeks that Philip’s many friends on both sides of the House will join me in wishing him and Lady Jo Holland a long and happy retirement.

The House may be aware that I am not the first member of my family to have taken his seat in this House; indeed, I am at least the fourth to have done so. Nevertheless, over the past three weeks I have come to the confident conclusion that not since Lloyd George have so many people known my father.

I beg to suggest that the constituency of Gedling is insufficiently well known outside Nottinghamshire. The rural deanery of Gedling, which gave its name to the refashioned seat of Carlton in 1983, is far more compact than its predecessor, having lost all the land south of the River Trent. My constituency stands at the crossroads of England, with a foot in the north, a foot in the south, but its heart in the Midlands.

Many hon. Members wax lyrical about the rural or urban nature of their constituencies and their agricultural or commercial interests. The great delight and at traction of the Gedling constituency lies in the exciting cross-section of the great variety of our national life that it provides. From the rural beauty and farming lands at the northern end to the more industrial areas of Netherfield and Colwick, my constituency includes the prime residential areas of Carlton, Woodthorpe and Arnold, perched either side of a hilly ridge. It also contains the attractive villages of Gedling, Burton Joyce and Stoke Bardolph, which include two of the most beautiful churches in the country which date from Saxon times. The Gedling colliery is achieving record productivity. It has been recruiting new members to the industry over the past six months and is an important feature of my constituency.

The quality of life enjoyed by my constituents is, by and large, excellent. We are particularly well served by the fine health facilities in Nottinghamshire which have seen a 30 per cent. decrease in waiting lists over the past four years. My constituents profit from living under the benign sway of the Gedling borough council, which is continuously singled out for praise by the Audit Commission for its standards of efficiency and service provision. Indeed, the council had its own version of the right to buy before the Government introduced their Housing Bill in 1980. We receive national and international delegations to inspect our housing schemes for the elderly and the frail elderly.

Of great significance is the fact that Gedling lies alongside the city of Nottingham. We know only too well that what happens in Nottingham today affects us in Gedling tomorrow. Gedling’s wealth and success are inextricably linked to the future of Nottingham city. As I try to follow that rocky pathway which is the lot of a Government Back Bencher, travelling as it does between toadyism and revolt, I shall be hoping, Madam Deputy Speaker, to catch your eye in the future when the Government’s bold plans to tackle the problems of our inner city come under discussion. We have much to be proud of in Gedling, and I am pleased to have been able to tell the House briefly some of those things.

Many of my constituents have followed the passage of this Bill with keen interest. The measures which passed into law before the election were widely welcomed. The help for business in dealing with VAT and in reducing small companies’ corporation tax was warmly supported, as was the further help for the blind and the elderly. Above all, we have had the welcome reduction in income tax. Today we are asked to give a Third Reading to this Bill. the greater part of which reintroduces proposals for tax relief for profit-related pay, as well as extending the accessibility and flexibility of personal pension schemes. I warmly welcome both measures. As my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary said on Second Reading: The working of the labour market remains one of the greatest weaknesses in this country.” —[Official Report, 8 July 1987; Vol. 119, c. 356.] There is common cause on both sides of the House that the level of unemployment remains appallingly high.

I hope that I am being equally uncontroversial when I say that it is the supply side of our economy that must particularly command our attention and the Bill, with these two principal measures, makes a direct contribution on that front. In spite of significant progress on the supply side, there remain real restrictions on job mobility, occasioned by the lack of private rented accommodation and immobility within the council housing system.

The problems within education and training are well rehearsed, but the results are that we do not always turn out children equipped to compete in today’s industries or win tomorrow’s jobs. There are still problems within the labour market which hinder productivity along with our industrial performance. Above all, there is the absurdity of a system whose rigidities can attribute greater value to being unemployed than to working.

Tax relief for profit-related pay will ecourage the widespread adoption of such schemes and will help to dispel any vestige of that bizarre myth which was prevalent during the days of our economic decline in some parts of the private sector —that pay is somehow not in reality always directly linked to profitability.

These measures will help further to eradicate the them-and-us sentiments which for so long have dogged British industry. They will extend and enhance a community of interest between employee, employer and shareholder and secure a more motivated and committed work force. Above all, who can doubt that such measures, when implemented, will act to cut unemployment by ensuring less risk for an employer contemplating taking on labour as well as acting as an alternative to redundancy when times are bad?

I believe that the clauses which relate to private pensions will secure an equally warm welcome. They improve the lot of the early leaver, and perhaps I should declare an interest at this point. It is a sad fact that many who have changed careers during their working life are particularly disadvantaged in respect of their pension entitlements. The relevant clauses in the Bill will not only increase the freedom to choose in pension planning but free another rigidity in the labour market over the long term.

The Bill’s provisions join the many other economic measures taken by the Government to improve choice and freedom for millions of our fellow citizens. Such measures also extend personal responsibility greatly within society. It is the extent to which these opportunities and responsibilities have been grasped throughout society which is truly remarkable. Many of these measures have been practical methods to improve the commercial operation of our economy, but they are part of a shift in opinions and ideas, and expression of a new consensus which has sprung up. They mark a sea change in public opinion. It may be that the Falklands factor disguised the extent of support for this new reality, but the 1987 third election victory is a message which cannot be ignored on the Opposition Benches. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) acknowledges these truths in his books and in his more recent speech in the debate on the Loyal Address. I dare to suggest that even the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) has shown an awareness of these new realities and aspirations over the past few weeks.

It was a Conservative Prime Minister returning to office in 1951 who reflected in the House that the nation required time to allow certain Socialist legislation to reach its full fruition. Although the positions are not comparable, I hope that the Opposition will accept how great has been the revolution in the spread of choice and ownership within society as well as in personal responsibilities keenly grasped. It is time for the Opposition to embrace these verities.