Neil Kinnock – 1970 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Neil Kinnock in the House of Commons on 13th July 1970.

I rise to make my maiden speech. I am particularly happy to make it on the subject of health and social security because the House will know that Socialists in my part of the country, South Wales, have made a unique contribution to the design and development of our National Health Service. Though I cannot hope to rival the talents and vision of Jim Griffiths or Aneurin Bevan, I can bring to this House some zeal for social justice and provide a continuity of interest in this subject.

My predecessor, Mr. Harold Finch, also belonged to this generation of giants, was an expert not only in social welfare but also in miners’ compensation, and it earned him respect in this House, and, indeed throughout the country, and, so I am informed, throughout the world. Because of the way in which he applied his knowledge I can certainly testify to the genuine affection which it earned him in the constituency. I am sure that his dear wife is a familiar figure in this building and that the House will want to join with me in wishing them a long and active retirement. Mr. Finch’s retirement is likely to be marred by only one single fact, which is that, for the early years of it, at least, it will be under a Conservative régime, something which does not commend itself very easily to his palate.

We have a Tory Government, a Government which, on the basis of the pronouncements since 1st July, the election manifesto and even the compassionate speech of the Secretary of State for Social Services, not only economically but socially are prepared to stampede back to the barren prairie lands of laisser-faire. The Government, who are seeking to please all the people all the time and will succeed in pleasing only a tiny élite few have produced two glorious non sequiturs.

First, there has been a lot of talk about compassion, and this from a party whose very existence is an illustration of rapacity and selfishness. To me and to the people of South Wales that is what Conservatism means. I make no apology for giving their definition, because they are the people whom I represent.

Secondly, we have had the pious palava of creating “one nation”, and this from a Government that is prepared in the name of the god “choice” to encourage the development of private alternatives in education, welfare, insurance and health—[Interruption.] There is no order of the House that demands that I make a non-controversial speech. I am talking about a controversial subject, a matter of life and death, and nothing is more controversial than that. There will be the same old formula of privilege, selectivity take the hindmost, which will neither give success to the Conservatives nor, more important, ameliorate the distress of the people seeking assistance from the health services, national insurance and other benefits of the Welfare State.

Perhaps I have a suspicious mind, but the South Wales valleys breed suspicious minds, and I have reason to believe that the “one nation” party is conducting a survey of the Welfare State system and the National Health Service with a view to undertaking extensive mining operations. Doctors and nurses who are so desperately needed in the public health system will be sucked out of the pool of medical manpower into private medicine, where they will be available to few people. New developments in medical technology will become available in the first instance and for some time to come only to people who can afford to pay either through heavy insurance premiums or directly. Public confidence in the National Health Service will be eroded by governmental neglect and by the garish shop window of private health schemes. In the words of Aneurin Bevan, we shall have a nation divided by the salt, some above, some below. I am in this House, and I hope that other hon. Members on this side are, to knock the salt off the table so that there is universal provision of the best regardless of a person’s background or income. Only in this way can we afford to hold up our heads when we talk about a health service.

There are probably people on the other side of the House who are very nice—[Laughter.]—perhaps most of them are out of the Chamber at the moment, but there probably are some nice people. The nice, kind people have confused their niceness and kindness with the idea of compassion. I am not saying that there are no compassionate people, but what I have read in the Conservative Party manifesto, what I have heard so far today and suspect I shall hear for the rest of the day has little to do with compassion. Compassion is not a sloppy, sentimental feeling for people who are underprivileged or sick, to be used as a tearjerker or as an expedient at the time of an election. It is an absolutely practical belief that, regardless of a person’s background, ability or ability to pay, he should be provided with the best that society has to offer. That is compassion in practice; anything less than that is sheer sentimentality. It is impossible to be compassionate while at the same time promising to cut public consumption for the sake of buttressing-up private choice.

Illustrations of this non sequitur, this paradox, that runs right through the policy are many. The manifesto refers to the contribution made by voluntary services to the National Health Service. No one appreciates more than I do, as a member of a regional hospital board, that this is an excellent way of providing State care with a human face. I support the development of voluntary systems, but if increasing voluntary activity means going beyond youngsters and citizens being involved in the running of hospitals and caring for the aged, the sick and the weak, and results in transforming half the Health Service into dependence on voluntary donation and philanthropic management, that will be a different matter altogether. We did away with a “flag day” health service many years ago. The slightest step in that direction will earn the fury of the people of this country, and I shall be in the van of that fury.

We are told that the development of the Health Service will be financed only out of economic growth and not through the reallocation of resources from other Departments. That leads to two questions. Will the families who do not have immediate access to universally available health facilities feel secure and serene enough to bring about the increased productivity we require for economic growth? I do not think they will, not because they are selfish people, but because they cannot connect their standard of living with a vague and incomprehensible national growth target.

Secondly, if the Government are concerned about out-dated hospitals, the efficiency of community services and the lack of co-ordination between the three branches of the Health Service, why was so little done about it in the last Conservative Administration? We allegedly had the growth rate then, and we certainly had the problems, but little or nothing was done about them.

I am pleased to know that an undertaking has been given that there will be more health centres. We shall be particularly glad in Wales, because we understand what a blessing they are. We now have 13, and 14 are in process of construction. They are a novelty to us. All of them have been built since 1964. Before then for 13 years not one was built.

We are told that we have had a “programme for Parliament”. After all the answers I have heard during Question Time and the statements which have been made during debates, I am beginning to wonder which Parliament we have a programme for. We have been told nothing. We have not even had a gratuitous promise. We have had no statement about the Green Papers on reorganisation, and we have had no commitment to a reorganisation of the Health Service. There has been no mention whether the Government are now to extend the practice of screening which involves the application of modern medical technology and could save countless lives since it diagnoses disease at an early stage. It is a natural extension of the National Health Service and we should like to know whether the Government intend to adopt screening on a widespread basis.

What have the Government to say about giving universal application of dramatic technological advances so that they may be available to ordinary people? Suspicions are bound to arise when we read that the Conservatives believe that people should provide for themselves. Does this mean that people will have access to heart, lung and kidney machines only if they can afford to pay for them? One cannot blame people for being suspicious when they have no ground to believe otherwise.

My constituency of Bedwellty is situated in the coalfields and has a consciousness that is shared by people in similarly situated communities. In those communities we have a preoccupation with community help. We have more than our share of old people, we have a much higher than average rate of infant mortality and juvenile morbidity. These are the main problems to be tackled.

There is no major general hospital available to people in the constituency and we do not enjoy the immediate services of any of the primary specialists, such as gynaecologists and obstetricians. Access to the surrounding hospitals is limited by preposterously high bus fares. The cheapest fare to get to any hospital within my constituency is 5s. 2d. and the most expensive runs up to 12s. Looking at the party opposite, I cannot see that this situation will be bettered within the life of this Parliament.

The Secretary of State said in rather unkind terms that he likened the commitment of the Labour Party to social security to the worship of a sacred cow. My attitude and that of the people in my constituency, and indeed that of all hon. Members on this side of the House, to social security and health matters is that there should be an opportunity for fair treatment for everyone. This is not an attitude of the sacred cow but an elementary characteristic of our claim to be a civilized nation.