Below is the text of the maiden speech made in the House of Commons by Dennis Turner on 2nd July 1987.
I felt a little diffident about speaking after the comment by the leader of the Social Democratic party, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), about people coming from local government, but then I composed myself, on the basis that as I have come from local government I might have more contemporary experience to bring to the House on some of the major issues that are being debated today and have been raised during the debates on the Loyal Address over the past five days.
I sincerely thank hon. Members on both sides of the House, and all the workers in the House — the people who serve us our food, the Whips’ Office, Mr. Speaker’s Office, and the Fees Office, which I must not forget — for the warm welcome that I have received and for the courteous and helpful way in which I have been treated. Every hon. Member has helped me in settling into an awesome place. It is an experience that one has to live through to fully appreciate it. I say that in all humility. I am grateful for the help that has been shown to me.
I come to the House following a legend — the legend of Bob Edwards, who was a fine parliamentarian, and who devoted all his life to the interests of the people. If I can serve the people of my constituency one quarter as well as he did, I shall be very pleased.
Bob Edwards made a wider contribution than that, from the days when he sat with Trotsky as a young man, and with Mao Tse Tung. He fought in the Spanish civil war. All that is known to the House. He is such a modest man. He served through the years with such humility. It is a great privilege to follow him. To have had him as a mentor over the past 20 years has been of great value to me.
Bob represented a black country constituency. Many of my constituents expected me to use words such as yow, bay or thear, and wanted me to talk in good black country dialect. However, I shall not do so, only because I have respect and regard for the Hansardwriters. The dialect orginated from the language of Chaucer, but I understand the difficulties of writing down all that I have been saying in black country dialect, so I shall stick to the Queen’s English as we debate the Queen’s Speech.
Bob represented the black country towns of Bilston, Coseley and Sedgley. I now represent, as he did before his retirement, the constituency of Wolverhampton, South-East, which still takes in a large part of the black country. I am a black country man and proud of it. I come here with the spirit of the black country with all that has happened to us over the past few years, some of which has been debated in the past few days.
Many of my black country men would not comprehend what has been said in the speeches over the past few days, I think that they would have difficulty in identifying some of the things that have been said by the Government about the community in which we live in the black country today. Unemployment is 25 per cent. in my constituency. In Wolverhampton, 25,000 good men and women do not have the opportunity to make a useful contribution to society and cannot receive the rewards that would arise from that.
When we talk of unemployment, we must take into account the indignity that comes with it. Independence and freedom have been mentioned often in the past few days. The people whom I represent no longer have the freedom and independence given by the wage packet. A wage packet is important to them, and their dignity, standards and independence are based on that. So I must reconcile that freedom and independence with the difficulties and impoverishment in which many of our people have been placed by being out of work and finding it difficult to cope in present circumstances.
I wonder what I am supposed to say to the lady who came to see me and told me that she was existing on £39.50 a week. Although she received housing benefit, she had to pay for gas and electricity and keep herself on that amount of money. I reflect on that, and on the fact that there must be days in the week on which people, inside and outside the House, spend that much on one meal, yet that person and many thousands of others have to exist week by week on amounts such as that coming into their homes.
It is said that there is investment in housing, but in Wolverhampton we are starved of investment in housing. Year by year, since the Conservative Government came to power—my objective is not to make a political point—we have seen our capital programmes reduced to the extent that our ability to do what we want to in the inner areas has been taken away from us and we are not in a position to make a contribution.
Two thousand five hundred senior citizens and disabled people in Wolverhampton are seeking bungalows or purpose-built sheltered accommodation. We have not been in a position to build a bungalow for the past four or five years. We have estimated that it will take some of the people on that list who are 70 years old now until they are 120 to qualify for the bungalows or sheltered accommodation that they need, because of our lack of ability to provide it.
In Wolverhampton, 74 per cent. of the people are on housing benefit. Is that the freedom and independence that we are told about? What opportunities are afforded them to buy their own homes? Without any ideological hang-up, we— a Labour-controlled council—were selling houses in the 1960s and 1970s, and that is true of many authorities up and down the land. So the idea that tenants were somehow liberated purely by the advent of the Conservative Government is quite erroneous.
If we talk of health, 85 people have been turned away from our hospitals in the past three weeks—people who were seriously ill and could not be provided with a bed when they desperately needed one for emergency treatment. There has been a cut of £3.9 million in our district health authority funding since 1983 — which is not the increase about which we have heard. Recently, because of pressures of finance, we have cut back by 50 per cent. on the incontinence pads that our elderly and disabled people need to be able to live in some kind of decency and comfort. That has happened in the past month.
Will the education that we hear about be education that is uplifting for all, or occasional schools that will be identified and can be moved into the private sector? In the schools in Wolverhampton, there has been a reduction, year after year, in the capital programmes that are needed to improve those schools. There has been chaos in the legislation dealing with teachers, and we know that we cannot now give an education service to our children because of the turmoil that exists. Are we really intending to improve the lot of all our children in all our schools, or that of only a few? We shall see the test of that in the months ahead.
Across all these issues—and there are many more—the reality of people’s lives in my community is different from what is portrayed in the speeches that we have had from Conservative Members. The Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) spoke a couple of days ago about the new licensing laws, but Omar Khayyam, that philosopher of old, would not have subscribed to his views on them: Ah love! could thou and I with Fate conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire, Would we not shatter it to bits—and then Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire! That is what we want in our community. We want fresh thinking and application from this House for the real needs of our people. If we do that, we will give people hope where it does not now exist. We can give people the opportunity to believe that they can grow and build.
In our lives, we have infinitesimal time to do what is necessary. Would it not be better now if, together, we were to start building something better, not only for some of the people, but for all of them? That would make a tremendous contribution to the people whom I represent.