John Redwood – 1987 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by John Redwood, the Conservative MP, in the House of Commons on 29 June 1987.

Sir William van Straubenzee represented the Wokingham constituency for almost 28 years, and during that time he showed himself to be a tireless correspondent and letter writer, a doughty debater and an elegant and witty speaker. In representing all of the people of Wokingham, I shall do well if I live up to his high standards as a parliamentarian and a fine constituency Member of Parliament. During his career he served in the Department of Education and Science and in the Northern Ireland Office, and in later years in the House he intervened frequently on education matters when his wisdom and knowledge were highly prized. Recently he gained the affectionate nickname of “The Bishop” for his role in trying to sell the mysterious ways of the Church to those here on earth gracing these Benches. It is with great affection that I step into his shoes, with the hope that I can live up to his high standards.
The constituency that Bill van Straubenzee won in 1959 was a very different place from the one that I have inherited. Geographically it was much broader, and in tone and style much more rural. So much so, as the new Member in 1959, one of Bill’s first and most important tasks was to go and meet the local farmers. He equipped himself with a strong stick, and with not a little apprehension, because he knew nothing whatsoever of farming. He went to the occasion and confined himself to nodding wisely, making a few encouraging noises and from time to time tapping his stick. He subsequently learnt that this had been a great triumph—the farmers said to each other, “Well, you know, our new Member doesn’t say much, but he can certainly recognise a good cow when he sees one.” That is a skill that I need much less.

The Wokingham constituency now comprises the three large and important settlements of Wokingham town, Woodley and Earley, where recently has been constructed one of the largest new private housing developments anywhere in Europe. To the north of those three big settlements lie the delightful villages of Twyford, Ruscombe, the Remenham, Wargrave, Sonning and some of the other smaller settlements. To the south lie the villages of Winnersh and northern Crowthorne, the village I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay).

The main problem we face is the tremendous success of the enterprise economy in the Thames valley. The pace of growth and development has been such that it begins to produce strains on roads, hospitals and education facilities. I should like to say how much I welcome the initiative to be launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to cut the waiting lists. I remind him that high growth areas of the country need that additional resource to take care of population growth as well as the advance in medical treatments, which we all welcome.

In the Wokingham constituency we also experience the problems that the area of the Thames valley to the east of Reading into London is now really a unified labour market where wages are high and where there are many attractive job offers available. Whereas places a little further east than my constituency enjoy the benefits of London weighting or outer London allowances for housing and for the competitive forces in the labour market, Wokingham has no such luxury. I urge the Government to look carefully at the possibility not of introducing complete regional pay, but of re-examining the geographical confines of London weighting and outer London weighting and also the amounts involved because we have difficulties in recruiting people of the right skills. If we can find them in other parts of the country, we have problems in housing them because of the high cost of housing.

Above all, the success of embracing an enterprise culture and the success of the Government in lowering taxes and getting growth and prosperity running again in so many parts of the country is more than relevant to those hon. Members representing inner urban constituencies that still suffer dereliction or poverty. There is common ground between us, because many of us representing vast growing areas would dearly love to see some element of that growth passing instead to those inner city areas where there is already public infrastructure and the need for more jobs and development. Therefore, we particularly welcome the Government’s concentration in the Queen’s Speech on setting forth a series of bold measures to tackle the problem of inner city decay.

It cannot be right that there are people in council blocks, tower blocks or medium rise blocks without hope of an improvement in their housing conditions. It cannot be right that there are acres near the heart of Manchester, Newcastle or in some of the less advantaged London boroughs crying out for commercial or industrial development that, for some reason or another, has been blocked when opportunities have arisen to return prosperity to those once great city areas.

The Government are right to put forward two particular proposals. The first is to give tenants the right to choose different styles of housing and to set up tenants’ co-operatives. That should improve the lot of those in inner city housing. It is also right that urban development corporations should take on the task of rebuilding and restructuring industry and commerce by facilitating the massive influx of private capital that those derelict areas so clearly need.

I hope that hon. Members believe in the United Kingdom and understand that the debate in the House is to try to better conditions in all towns, villages, regions and nations within the United Kingdom. I hope that hon. Members will accept that there are many of us on the Government side of the House who, with good will, say that we wish to see those areas of poverty and dereliction cleared and improved. We invite Labour Members to study the reasons why the south-east is so prosperous and why it has embraced the enterprise economy with such success. I hope that they will ask whether, together with some public money and a lot of private initiative, we can kindle exactly the same kind of success in those inner city areas where the prosperity has not yet reached.