John Whittingdale – 1992 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP for Colchester South and Maldon, in the House of Commons on 6 July 1992.

It is with great pleasure that, in this my maiden speech, I follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), whose views I have long held in great regard. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) and for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) and the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen), all of whom made excellent maiden speeches and made my task considerably more difficult.

As this is the first time that I have spoken in the Chamber it is only right that my first act should be to pay tribute to my predecessor, Lord Wakeham. For 17 years John Wakeham represented, first, the constituency of Maldon and Rochford, and then my constituency of Colchester, South and Maldon. He did so with enormous distinction in a way that won him friends throughout the area. I have lost count of the number of people who have come up to me in the past year and told me that I have a hard act to follow. But I have never doubted that they were absolutely right.

In this place, John Wakeham was perhaps better known for his role in Government. He is one of that dwindling band who joined the Government in May 1979 and has remained a member of it ever since. In that time, he has held an enormous variety of positions, but he will be best remembered for his time as Chief Whip when he set a standard against which all his successors are likely to be judged. He once described himself as the Minister for stopping the Government doing silly things. It is a cause of great pleasure to my constituents and all Government supporters that he is still in the Cabinet and still fulfilling that role.

In 1984 John Wakeham suffered severe injuries in the bombing of the Grand hotel at Brighton, which also caused the death of his first wife. I am sure that no one in the House who witnessed it will forget the moment when a few months later he walked back into the Chamber unaided. I remember listening to that event on the radio, and in particular the reception that he was given by hon. Members. It was a tribute to his remarkable courage—a courage that he has displayed every day since that terrible event.

I should also like to mention some of my other predecessors. Before 1983, the Colchester part of my constituency was ably represented by Sir Antony Buck and, before him, by Lord Alport, to both of whom my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) paid deserved tribute. Previous Members of Parliament for Maldon include Brian Harrison, who now lives in Australia but is still a regular visitor to the district. It was also once represented by Tom Driberg, who will be remembered as one of the more colourful Members of Parliament. Earlier still the constituency was represented by Mr. Quintin Dick, who is said to have spent more than any other hon. Member on bribery at parliamentary elections. I shall not follow his example, even if we do receive increased allowances for our office expenses.

My constituency stretches from the southern part of Colchester to take in the whole of the Maldon district. It is an area rich in history. Colchester was the first Roman capital of England and is Britain’s oldest recorded town. At the end of the Dengie peninsula, at Bradwell, is the chapel of St. Peter-on-the-Wall—one of the first Christian churches in England. It is just a short distance from Bradwell power station—the first Magnox nuclear power station to be built in Britain.

Maldon itself was made a royal borough in 1171, and almost 200 years earlier was the subject of repeated assaults by invading Danes. The battle of Maldon in 991, in which the great Saxon leader Bryhtnoth was slain, inspired a famous Anglo-Saxon poem. Last year, the battle was re-enacted as part of the millennium celebrations. The House will be glad to learn that my constituents now regard the Danes in a much friendlier light.

The recession has hit my constituents hard. The Colchester Lathe Company has announced its intention to cease production, light industrial companies throughout Essex have shed labour, and retailers, small business men, and the construction industry continue to suffer from lack of demand.

Confidence among Essex business men remains low. I am frequently asked what are the Government doing to bring about an upturn. I have always replied that it is not in the Government’s power to conjure up recovery. Only business can create lasting jobs, and it is the Government’s duty to create the right climate in which enterprise can flourish.

Having spent almost three years as special adviser to three of my right hon. Friend’s predecessors as President of the Board of Trade, I read with interest his proposals to reorganise the Department of Trade and Industry. I welcome in particular his efforts to improve communications between that Department and industry and to reduce further the regulatory burdens on business.

However, the key to recovery lies more with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As I said, it is primarily for the Government to create the economic conditions in which recovery can take place. In the words of my right hon. Friend’s amendment, that can best be done by controlling public spending, reducing taxation, relieving business of burdens, and, above all, getting inflation down. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on his success in achieving that aim, and agree that nothing must be done to jeopardise the progress made so far. I hope, however, that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will take the earliest possible opportunity to reduce interest rates again. With inflation falling, the real level of interest rates is actually rising, which is adding to the difficulties facing my constituents.

I hope also that when interest rates fall again, that will be reflected in the rates charged by banks to small business men. I am concerned that too often they tell me that, despite the nine reductions in interest rates, the interest on their loans has not fallen accordingly—or that they have had to pay more in other charges.

The other essential requirement for recovery is continued control of public expenditure. In that, I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West. It is understandable at a time of recession that the public sector borrowing requirement will increase. Although it is higher than I would like, I am reassured that it is less than the average under the last Government, and that it is this Government’s intention to restore it to balance in the medium term. That will not be easy. It will require my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, like Ulysses, to lash himself to the mast and to fill his colleagues’ ears with wax so that they do not succumb to the siren voices in favour of higher public spending.

If my right hon. Friend does that, and if the proportion of our gross domestic product taken by public expenditure can once again be reduced, allowing industry and the public to keep still more of the wealth that they create, then I am confident that, as the recovery gathers pace, the future for commerce and industry in my constituency and throughout the country will be bright.