Rosie Winterton – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Rosie Winterton in the House of Commons on 17th June 1997.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) on her evocative and passionate speech. Her experience as a Westminster councillor has made her an expert on housing and local government. I am sure that her constituents will appreciate that. I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech on this important Bill, which will benefit directly the lives of many of my constituents in Doncaster, Central by improving housing provision and generating much-needed jobs.

In making a maiden speech, it is customary to refer to one’s immediate predecessor. I would like to go much further by paying a heartfelt tribute to Sir Harold Walker. He turned a Conservative seat into a Labour one in 1964, and served the people of Doncaster, Central loyally for 33 years. The people of Doncaster returned that loyalty with not only deep respect but true affection. Those feelings did not stem only from the fact that Sir Harold was an excellent constituency Member. Doncaster people are proud of Harold’s national work. He was the longest-serving Employment Minister and piloted through Parliament the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, the Employment Protection Act 1975, and the Equal Pay Act 1970. He reformed the Merchant Shipping Acts and introduced many other pieces of legislation that bettered the employment conditions of millions of working people. Sir Harold went on to occupy with great distinction the position of Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means for nine years.

Sir Harold’s one shortcoming is his time-keeping, which is due only to the fact that he so enjoys talking to people that he is often delayed in getting to meetings. He takes jokes about it in good heart, and during the general election campaign he apologised to an assembled company for his delayed arrival by saying, rather proudly, “I am of course known throughout Doncaster as the late Sir Harold Walker.”

During the general election campaign, I was reminded time after time by constituents of what a hard act to follow Harold would be. That was an unnerving experience, but Harold and his wife Mary did everything possible to help me during the campaign. They both worked tirelessly on my behalf; I could not have asked for more. Harold is not the tallest of men, and perhaps derives some pleasure from the thought that whilst he cannot tower over many people, he can at least tower over his successor.

Doncaster is renowned for its coal mining, its railways and its thoroughbred horse racing, which takes place on the Town Moor course. The Grand St. Leger, as I am sure hon. Members know, is one of the highlights of the racing calendar. There is one other fact about Doncaster that I hope will cause Ministers to look favourably on my constituency. In 1899, the Doncaster branch of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants sent a motion to the Trades Union Congress meeting in Plymouth. The motion called on the TUC to organise a joint conference with socialist and co-operative bodies to discuss Labour representation. Thus it was really in Doncaster that the Labour party was conceived. I am sure that hon. Members will be delighted to learn that the foundation meeting of the society was held at the Good Woman inn at St. Sepulchre Gate in Doncaster.

For me, being the area’s Member of Parliament is a special honour, as I was brought up in Doncaster. My mother Valerie was a nursery school teacher, and my father Gordon a local head teacher—and, later, an elected representative on Doncaster council. Let me take this opportunity to thank not only the electors of Doncaster, Central for giving me the privilege of serving them, but the members of the constituency Labour party for campaigning for me in the recent historic general election, with its Labour landslide.

Yorkshire people are famous for the warmth of their welcome, and the people of Doncaster are no exception. Since the election, I have been overwhelmed by people’s generosity and kindness, and I intend to repay that by doing my best to represent their interests in the House.

The Bill that we are discussing is about achieving two of the Government’s important objectives, jobs and social justice. When it is passed, councils such as mine in Doncaster will at last be able to use some of the money that they have in the bank from the sale of council houses to modernise existing homes and to build desperately needed new ones. The consequent building and refurbishment programme can be used to provide much-needed jobs and training in Doncaster. I believe that the Bill will end 18 years of unremitting underinvestment in housing in Doncaster.

More than 5,000 people in my constituency alone are victims of Tory neglect, waiting for homes and worried about accommodation for themselves and their families. They deserve better, and the Bill will help them in their aspirations for a better life. Too many people in the Doncaster area are out of work, alienated and disaffected because they see little hope or future. The knock-on effects on society, in terms of crime and the growing drug culture, are frightening to witness.

Much of the drive for change that will be brought about by the Bill is due to our two Ministers’ lifetime commitment to decent housing for all, and to local government. I understand that the Government will be looking to the construction industry to provide a significant number of new jobs and apprenticeships, but let me take that further, and ask whether the Ministers will visit my constituency to hear at first hand from a cross-section of representatives of my local authority and the voluntary and private sectors what Doncaster can do to assist in achieving the Government’s stated aims—securing jobs and social justice.

Britain’s housing problems cannot be eliminated overnight, and unemployment cannot be made to disappear immediately, but both difficulties can be alleviated through the regional development planning to which my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and his Ministers are dedicated. The Yorkshire and Humberside region could become the most exciting growth area in the country. From Sheffield to Humberside stretches a conurbation of great economic potential, where considerable growth could take place. Through the policies of my right hon. Friend and his Ministers, that growth will be encouraged, cultivated and fashioned to bring about a regeneration of Yorkshire and Humberside.

The Bill makes a start by tackling the basic issue of people’s right to decent homes. I believe that, if we can sort that out, many of society’s other problems can be tackled effectively. That is why I welcome the Bill, on behalf of my constituents in Doncaster, Central.