Below is the text of the maiden speech made by David Miliband in the House of Commons on 25th June 2001.
I have listened carefully to the serious and interesting contributions in this debate. I extend my congratulations to hon. Members who have made excellent maiden speeches. My hon. Friends the Members for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen) and for Telford (David Wright) made powerful and persuasive contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) showed that, although he may have abandoned the cloth, he has not lost the gift of the preacher. I am grateful for the chance to join them and address the House for the first time.
South Shields is a constituency where unemployment is three times the national average, where the rate of economic inactivity is one of the highest in Britain and where the collapse of the mining and shipbuilding industries has brought massive economic change and wrought real economic pain. It is therefore appropriate that I should make my maiden speech in a debate on economic policy as part of a Queen’s Speech that is dedicated to defining and reforming the Government’s role in a modern society, for I am here to represent a constituency and to stand up for an ideal—the power of our action together to create a more equal, more productive society.
A maiden speech is a daunting occasion. One of my predecessors, Mr. Cecil Cochrane, waited 12 months before opening his account in the House. He then said: I was commissioned … to render the Government every possible support during the War, and I am not certain … that I have not rendered that support better by keeping silent than I should have done by asking you … to notice me before.”—[Official Report, 22 May 1917; Vol. 93, c. 2205–206.] I hope that I do not come to regret opening my mouth sooner than Mr. Cochrane, but my commission is to represent the people of South Shields and it is about them and their needs that I want to speak.
First, I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, David Clark. He spent 22 years working hard for the people of South Shields and had a distinguished ministerial and parliamentary career. He has a permanent memorial of his commitment to the constituency and his passion for the environment in the magnificent leas, now owned by the National Trust, along the South Shields coastline. I am sure that he will make a distinguished contribution to the other place.
South Shields is a town of rich heritage and great diversity. It is known for its river, its mines and the sea. It is also a political town, steadfast in its values, rich in a tradition of radicalism and reform rooted in trade unionism and community organisation. The people of South Shields know the dignity of work, the difficulty of economic change and the difference that an active, enabling Government can make; they know how high quality public services can liberate them as individuals and lift up our entire society; and they know that although there has been progress in the past four years, the work to tackle inequality of life chances is nowhere near done.
South Shields has real strengths. The Port of Tyne Authority has more than 1,000 employees; shipyard and engineering workers have skills and expertise second to none; and there are growing companies in the manufacturing, retail and finance sectors. After four years of fast progress, the performance of our primary schools now outstrips the national average. South Tyneside college is a world leader in marine and nautical studies. Crime in South Shields is falling and housing and social services are improving.
The town boasts more than 200 voluntary organisations, as well as Britain’s oldest local daily newspaper, the Shields Gazette South Shields did not just provide the inspiration for Britain’s most-read author, Catherine Cookson, but now has a vibrant artistic life centred on the old Customs house. Its coastline is magnificent, its neighbourhoods diverse, and its people warm and hard working.
There is more. South Shields football club is only 12 divisions off the premiership, in the Albany Insurance northern league. For a nervous first-time candidate, the local team provides the perfect answer to the difficult choice between professing allegiance to Newcastle football club or Sunderland football club. In that, as in much else, South Shields has no trouble finding a third way.
South Shields also has a long, proud, multicultural tradition. The town’s roots go back to Roman legions and Danish settlers. Our Yemeni community, about 1,000 strong, dates back to the 1890s. The Bangladeshi community, of similar size, now into its third generation, is ready to challenge Birmingham as the curry capital of Britain. Both communities play a vital part in the life of South Shields.
The River Tyne has sent whalers to the Arctic, shipped trains to the Punjab, refuelled Navy destroyers for the fight against fascism and sent the first lifeboats to sea to rescue those in trouble; in return have come goods, ideas, investment and people. Just as the river gives and the river takes, so South Shields depends on what we take from the world and what we can give back. I have special reason to know this.
Over 50 years ago, my distinguished predecessor as Member for South Shields, J. Chuter Ede, was Home Secretary in the 1945 Government—probably the greatest reforming Government in our history. One of his hardest tasks was to make decisions on immigration applications from millions of refugees around Europe. There were many hard cases. One application came from a man who had spent the war here, separated from his wife and daughter who were in occupied Belgium, but with his son, who studied at school and then served in the Royal Navy.
The man who lodged that application was my grandfather, Samuel Miliband. Despite long correspondence, the then Home Secretary felt compelled to deny his application. There could not, he wrote, be exceptions. My father had previously been given leave to stay, and later, I am pleased to say, my grandparents were allowed to join him.
Inclusion and opportunity have been the great motors of progress throughout human history. For me, it is a sign of hope for South Shields, and hope for Britain, that the grandson of a man denied residence in Britain by the then Member for South Shields can, 50 years later, represent South Shields in the House; but my job will not be done until every person in South Shields is able to develop every part of his or her potential to the full.
South Shields is a great town with great people, but they have so much more to give. It is the Government’s job to help them all to shine. Unemployment has fallen by more than 1,000 since 1997, but in Rekendyke ward, it is more than 17 per cent.; in Tyne Dock, 11 per cent.; in Beacon and Bents, 11 per cent. Those figures represent a toll of misery and waste. Some 60 per cent, of young people in South Shields fail to get five good GCSEs—more waste. Long-term illness, often associated with mining, affects one in five households—more pain.
To those who say that economic policy is for middle England and social policy for the Labour heartlands, South Shields replies I that a strong economy and a strong society are inseparable and must be built together, with leadership from Government. In South Shields, icy North sea winds lead people to say “cold hands, but warm heart”. Today, we need a Government with helping hands and a warm heart.
I am glad to say that the priorities of the Queen’s Speech are the priorities of South Shields. In my previous role, I was privileged to play an advisory part in developing the manifesto on which the Labour party was elected to serve a second full term, but I now feel much more privileged to be elected by the people of South Shields to ensure that they receive the full benefit of the policies in that manifesto.
South Shields needs investment in skills, transport and business support to tackle unemployment. We need investment and reform to support our teachers in building up secondary education and to sustain all staff in building up the health service. We need modernisation of the tax and benefit system to tackle child and pensioner poverty. As well as innovative legislation for new ideas, we need effective administration of policies already announced, from expansion of services for under-fives to swift action for miners’ compensation.
South Shields has a unique political history. I am the only Member of the House who can say that, since the first Reform Act of 1832, his constituency has never elected a Conservative Member of Parliament. Until the first World War, the Liberal tradition was dominant, but for 70 years, South Shields has been a Labour town. Throughout that period, South Shields has benefited from flashes of Labour radicalism. The Housing (Financial Provisions) Act 1924—known as the Wheatley housing Act—brought council housing. The 1945 Government brought new health facilities. The 1964 Government brought development assistance. The 1974 Government brought child benefit. The 1997 Government enacted the new deal and the minimum wage. Through all that time, however, South Shields suffered because those flashes of radicalism were never consolidated by two consecutive terms of Labour government.
For 70 years, South Shields has felt like a Labour town in a Conservative country. Following the general election, I am glad to say that South Shields feels like a Labour town in a Labour country, making common cause across divides of tradition and geography with people across Britain who share its values and its priorities: public services based on need, active government dedicated to spreading wealth and opportunity, communities built on tolerance and mutual responsibility.
South Shields is bounded by the River Tyne and the North sea, but our town is outward looking. Our community is south Tyneside; our economy is Tyne and Wear and the wider north-east; our commitments and connections stretch across continents.
I chose to stand in South Shields and now South Shields has chosen me. I believe in the potential of inclusion, the power of opportunity and our responsibility to extend it to all. That is the hope for South Shields. That is the message of the Queen’s Speech. That is the cause that I shall stand for every day that the people of South Shields choose to send me to this House.