Cecil Franks – 1983 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Cecil Franks in the House of Commons on 31st October 1983.

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate and in so doing giving me the opportunity of making my maiden speech on a subject which is of vital importance to my constituency. It is a privilege also to be called to speak after such a distinguished parliamentarian a s the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), even though our views will differ widely.

Barrow and Furness is a new constituency comprising the whole of the former constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, together with the Low Furness region of the former constituency of Morecambe and Lonsdale.

Barrow-in-Furness was represented for 17 years by the right hon. Albert Booth who served the constituency and his constituents with great distinction, achieving high Government office as a member of the Cabinet. He is a man of great integrity and principle, and I am happy to have this opportunity of paying him tribute.

The Low Furness area was represented from 1979 by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd). He, too, was assiduous in his concern for his constituents, by whom he was and is held in high regard and esteem, and I wish to place on record my personal appreciation of the guidance and assistance that I have received from him since I became a Member of this House.

The town of Barrow-in-Furness lies at the end of the peninsula of south-west Cumbria. It is a shipbuilding town whose prosperity depends entirely on the viability and success of its major employer, Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd.—a constituent part of British Shipbuilders. The design and building of submarines, both conventional and nuclear powered, has been largely concentrated by British Shipbuilders at the Vickers shipyards, where over 8,000 people are employed in design and construction. In addition, there is a successful engineering section primarily involved in the design and manufacture of armaments, employing a further 4,500 people. With profits last year of £19 million, the company is the most successful within British Shipbuilders and has a management and workforce confident in themselves.

Whilst I have no wish to introduce a note of controversy in a maiden speech, I should be failing in my duty to my constituents if I omitted to make the point that with 12,500 people employed in the company, the vast majority of whom live within the constituency, several thousand of my constituents would have faced inevitable job loss and redundancy if the electorate had preferred the defence policies of the Opposition to those of the Government.

Great efforts have been made to widen the industrial base and three local employers of note should be mentioned. British Gas has constructed a terminal at Rampside, where gas from the Morecambe bay field is received, treated and then fed into the national grid.

British Nuclear Fuels Limited has a large capital investment in its terminal at Ramsden docks where irradiated nuclear fuel is imported from Japan, transported by rail up the west Cumbrian coast to Windscale and Sellafield, reprocessed and exported back to Japan. After the export of oil, the operations of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. are one of the largest, if not the largest, single sources of export earnings, something which is perhaps not widely known.

Also located in Barrow, is the paper tissue mill of Bowater Scott, which, with four mills in production, is the largest manufacturer of paper tissue in the United Kingdom and, together with a similar sized company in West Germany, the largest in the world outside the United States.

Four miles north of Barrow lies the small town of Dalton-in-Furness, whose residents have waited for many years and with great patience, for the construction of the Dalton-in-Furness bypass on the A590, which carries the heavy traffic to and from Barrow. I fear that their patience will not endure much longer.

Beyond Dalton-in-Furness, sweeping up the peninsula, is the Low Furness region, as picturesque a part of the Lake District as any, with its rolling farmland and gentle hills, and its attractive villages and beautiful coast overlooking Morecambe bay.

The natural centre of the area is the market town of Ulverston, charming and dignified and a centre of tourism in its own right. In addition to the market, there is a regular and lively cattle market serving the whole of south Cumbria. There is also a small but successful light industrial estate.

Two other points of interest are that Ulverston is the birthplace of Stanley Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame, and also that it is the home of Hartley’s Brewery, from whence comes a well-known and popular local beer. It is fair comment to say that for many years much pleasure has been given to a great number of people by the happy combination of Laurel and Hartley.

Turning to the subject of the debate, let me say clearly and without equivocation that I endorse entirely the Government’s approach and policy on the deployment of cruise missiles. I find it incomprehensible that there are those who argue that strength will come from a voluntary and self-inflicted weakness. I find it equally incomprehensible—and reprehensible—that there are those who seem to find their natural allies not with the democracies of the West but with the tyrannies and dictatorships of those who are our enemies in thought and deed; and that there are those who oppose, as a matter of course, each and every act that the Western democracies take to safeguard and defend themselves.

The defence of the realm is the prime duty of the state. The deployment of cruise missiles will counter the imbalance that threatens our security. This threat is not of our making or of our choosing, and those who criticise and condemn should direct their words and energies to our enemies and not to our allies.

We are part of the western Alliance, and the British people, in decisive terms, have spoken for this to continue and to be strengthened. In two world wars, our allies have played a critical part in the defence of our freedom and independence, and our future freedom and independence lie in the preservation of a strong and united partnership with our NATO allies. This is the path that we must follow; there is no other.

I crave your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House, to widen somewhat the scope of my remarks and to make reference to two allied aspects of defence of particular importance to my constituency—the Trident programme and the development of Sea Dragon.

Trident is a parallel part of our nuclear defence strategy. The Trident submarine is being designed and will be constructed at the shipyards of Barrow. The policy issues have been fully debated in the House and suffice it for me to say on that that the Trident programme has my full support. But where others have spoken on aspects of policy, my concern goes further, because the employment of 4,000 constituents is, and will be, dependent on Trident for the next decade and beyond. Barrow has placed its trust in the Government’s commitment to Trident and that trust, in turn must be fully honoured.

Sea Dragon is also designed and built in Barrow. It is a close-in weapon system, the last-resort defence to Exocet and similar missiles when Sea Dart and Sea Wolf have failed to take out the threat. British-designed and built, it is currently in competition with two similar but inferior systems designed abroad. The export potential is tremendous and I urge that an early decision be made in favour of Sea Dragon. In passing, may I also mention that a decision is awaited on the conventional submarine, SSK 2400, where export orders are also anticipated.

As I said earlier, where others may speak on defence on matters of policy and principle, my concern goes beyond because the House will appreciate that the whole prosperity and economy of my constituency is dependent on a firm defence commitment. Barrow and Furness has a Member of Parliament who believes in defence, and in defence in modern terms. I will not fail my constituency and I am resolute in my belief that the Government will not fail the country. Strength, not surrender, must be our single-minded objective, for there is no credible or acceptable alternative.

Tim Yeo – 1983 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

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Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Tim Yeo in the House of Commons on 5th July 1983.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech on a subject which affects far more people than the obscure title of the order suggests and which has become controversial.

I declare an interest as the director of the Spastics Society which is one of the charities that derives substantial revenue from a football pool that is operated under the Pool Competition Act 1971. I hope to remain employed by the society until the end of this year and thereafter to serve it in a voluntary role.

Although my constituency is new, it comprises some of the oldest and most beautiful villages in East Anglia. About two thirds of my constituency formed part of the old Sudbury and Woodbridge constituency. I pay warm tribute to Mr. Keith Stainton, the former Member of Parliament for that constituency. He had a distinguished war record and served the constituency most conscientiously for almost 20 years. I can testify to the loyalty and respect that he commanded in the constituency.

Suffolk, South is an area of sharp contrasts. The other one third, which was part of the old Bury St. Edmunds constituency, contains Haverhill, a town with a substantial GLC overspill population, and many rural villages. It is a reflection on the excellent work of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), who supported me generously before and during the general election campaign with time and advice, that he is spoken of as highly on the GLC estates in Haverhill—where there is now a rapidly growing element of owner-occupation — as in the villages by people who are Suffolk born and bred.

The Pool Competitions Act is an important measure for several of the leading charities. The Spastics Society, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, the National Fund for Research into Crippling Diseases, better known as Action Research for the Crippled Child, are the best known, and each derives substantial revenue from the pools that operate under the Act.

Over the past 25 years, the Spastics Society has received almost £40 million from that source, making it the most important single source of revenue. Those who decry the operation of the football pools ignore the tremendous benefit that has been conferred not just on the charitable organisations, but on the thousands of families who have reason to be profoundly grateful for the income received by charities from the operation of the Spastics Society, football pool and other charity pools.

The relative importance of the pools has declined. The Spastics Society football pools contributed 44 per cent. of total voluntary income in 1973–74 whereas the figure for 1982–83 was down to 6 per cent. However, £500,000 still comes to the society from the football pool. That is three times the amount received by direct grant from central Government.

The society paid £483,000 last year in unrecoverable VAT. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will have the opportunity to remind his Treasury colleagues about the burden that VAT imposes on charities. The sum of £500,000 is a substantial one in charity terms. It is enough to pay for the whole of the Spastics Society’s social work service of 30 specialist workers assisting families in England and Wales. It is sufficient to cover, in running 33 centres for spastic adults, the difference between the cost and the fees received from local authorities. The money from the football pool is financing worthy activities.

Apart from the income that the charities receive, there is another aspect of the football pools that has so far been overlooked this evening. They provide a means for 1.5 million people every year to make a small contribution to charity while at the same time enjoying, quite legitimately, a modest flutter with the possibility of sizeable, although not sensational, financial gain. Although it may be held that gambling is in one sense an undesirable activity, I do not believe that the participants in such football pools, by staking perhaps 15p or 20p a week, are endangering their family budget. The operation of the pools may mean that among the 1.5 million weekly subscribers are some who would not otherwise be aware of the charities that they are supporting and the work that those organisations are doing.

There has been a general recognition for a number of years that the existing position, requiring the renewal of the order every year, is unsatisfactory not only for the Government and the House but for the operators of the pools who cannot make any long-term plans, and for the charities who are uncertain about the security of the income. Therefore, I welcome without reservation the statement by my right hon. Friend that the Act will be renewed annually throughout the life of the present Parliament. As we all know, this will run for a full five years. The Government have given the pool operators and the charities a longer period of secure operation than at any time since the original passage of the Pool Competitions Act 1971. For that reason I know that the charities will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for his assurance.

My right hon. Friend will also know that extensive consultations have been held over the past few years with the Home Office, and the charity pool operators, and the charities were fully involved in those consultations. The charities and pool operators made clear their preference for new legislation that would permit the continued operation of charity pools on a permanent basis. If that is not possible, I hope that my right hon. Friend will hold discussions with all the parties involved to ensure that any damage to the charities’ incomes, following the ending of the present basis of pool operation, will be minimised.

Bringing the present charity pools within the scope of the 1976 Act would be difficult to achieve without some adverse impact, but if it cannot be done. I hope that my right hon. Friend will argue even more strongly with his Treasury colleagues about value added tax.

The Pool Competitions Act enshrines what seems to be an anomalous position, because it restricts the charity pools to a small number of specified operators. I stress that that restriction has been the wish of successive Governments since 1971. The charities concerned have no desire to be part of an exclusive group. At all times, the charities and pool operators have been at pains to stress that they would be happy for the Act to be amended to allow other charities to compete on an equal basis.

When the matter was discussed in the past—the point was raised again this evening—concern was expressed about the expenses of pool operators. I stress, for the benefit of those who do not understand the nature of these pools, that the pool operators are commercial companies which are separate from the charities. The Spastics Society, for example, exercises no management control over the Spastics Society football pool, and has no legal responsibility for its administration.

To some extent, I share the concern about the expense ratios. However, the circumstances of the pools have to be borne in mind, in particular the proportionate cost of running a football pool with a small weekly stake. It is 16p in the case of the Spastics Society football pool. The cost of running such a pool will inevitably be much higher than the cost of running a pool that has a weekly stake of, say, £1. Moreover, all subscribers should be aware how much of their stake — in the case of the Spastics Society football pool, it is 15 per cent. — goes to the charity, how much goes to the prize fund, and how much to expenses. Pool subscribers will also be aware that after the charitable donation has been deducted from their weekly stake, one third of what remains goes to the Customs and Excise in betting duty.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) may have talked to a number of leading fund raisers during the past week, but he has not attempted to talk to me, or to my colleagues who are involved in fund raising, and whom I see in the Gallery. As I run one of the largest fundraising operations in the country, raising about £10 million a year from voluntary sources, it is a shame that the hon. Gentleman made no attempt to talk to me if there is as much concern about fund-raising methods and costs as there seems to be. We in the Spastics Society are perfectly happy with the present system of pool operations.

I hope we shall find a way forward that does not damage the financial position of the charities over the longer term. The voluntary sector plays a major part in the life of our country, and unusually, it enjoys the support, both practical and philosophical, of most, if not all, sections of the community. The true size of voluntary organisations is not known precisely, although the Charities Aid Foundation is sponsoring research, the results of which will be available later. It is likely to show that in economic and financial terms the voluntary sector is a force to be reckoned with.

The Government have expressed their enthusiasm for the voluntary sector on many occasions and have backed their words with deeds such as increasing direct Government grants and fiscal concessions in the form of covenants, legacies and relief from stamp duty. That has demonstrated tangibly the Government’s remarkable support for the activities of many leading charities. Bearing in mind that every pound of direct Government support is boosted by voluntary donations and that in addition to expenditure by voluntary charities considerable real value is obtained through the work of unpaid volunteers, there is a substantial multiplier effect at work, converting each pound of Government assistance into several pounds’ worth of activity.

The voluntary sector is one of the most cost-effective areas for Government expenditure. With the severe limitations that will now exist, quite rightly, on both central and local government expenditure over the next few years, the significance of the voluntary sector is likely to grow.

By giving his assurance, my right hon. Friend the Minister has given some short and medium-term help to the charities. But the long-term anxiety is perhaps now more pronounced. It is in the interests of the community for the House to approve legislation that allows some modest form of gambling to be promoted for the benefit of charity. By doing so, the voluntary sector, which we are all so anxious to encourage, would receive continuing benefits.

Jeremy Corbyn – 1983 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

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Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons on 1 July 1983.

I should have thought that in four years’ time the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) will be an unpaid, unemployed employee of a non-existent local authority, if he follows the logic of his own arguments.

This is the first time that I have spoken to the House. It seems a million miles away from the constituency that I represent and the problems that the people there face. Islington, North is only a few miles from the House by tube or bus. We are suffering massive unemployment and massive cuts imposed by the Government on the local authorites. There are cuts in the Health Service. In common with the rest of inner London, we have lost all grant funding for education. That is a measure of the contempt with which the Government have treated Islington, North — indeed, the whole borough of Islington.

The borough has suffered an unprecedented media attack in exactly the same way as the GLC suffered because it was singled out as fair game for editorials in the Daily Mail, The Sun and other newspapers. The previous Member for Islington, South and Finsbury used an Adjournment debate in the House to raise complaints about the borough council on a number of matters.

It is significant that just this week the Minister received a letter from Islington borough council about objections made to the district auditor about the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Islington News Co-operative and the council’s newspaper, Focus. The district auditor replied on detailed terms. He said that he felt that there was no case for the borough council to answer in the light of the allegations made by the previous Member. It is unfortunate that little publicity is likely to be given to the district auditor’s reply compared to the publicity that was given to the allegations made against the borough council in the run-up to, and during, the election campaign by Conservative and Social Democratic party members.

The borough which I have the honour to represent has suffered a stupendous loss in rate support grant since 1979. In 1979 £55 million a year was paid to Islington borough council. That was the Government contribution to the needs of that rundown inner city area. It is indicative of the Government’s determination to create massive unemployment in inner city areas and demonstrates their ignorance of the problems that people face in such boroughs that the Government grant is now down to £32 million and is destined to go down further. That is a massive indictment of the Government. The hon. Members who now represent Islington will speak up continuously on that problem and will speak up for a borough that has been maligned by the Government and the press mercilessly over the past two years.

Unemployment in Islington is as bad as anywhere else in London. If one takes the rate together with those of the neighbouring boroughs of Hackney, parts of Waltham Forest and Enfield, there is a horrific picture. There is 20 per cent. registered unemployment. Far more people are unemployed than that. About one third of those who are out of work at the moment in Islington have been out of work for more than a year. Within a few minutes of the House are areas in Finsbury Park where there are black people of 20 and older, both women and men, who have never worked since leaving school at the age of 16. They have little but a great deal of contempt for the Government and for proceedings that are adopted by the Government in attacking such boroughs. They have little regard for a system that seems destined to force them to stay permanently on the dole. I shall convey that spirit to the House as often as I can. The people in my constituency are bitter and angry.

The number of jobs that we have lost in the past few years give the lie to the argument that, if workers demand high wages, somehow or other they are pricing themselves out of a job. Conservative Members have often lectured us about that. In fact, the average wages in the borough of Islington are well below the national average. At the same time, thousands of jobs have been lost in the past two years. Very few vacancies are notified to the Holloway employment office and there is a feeling of hopelessness that is perhaps paralleled in other parts of the country. That is serious.

Another factor makes people suffer. Islington is an inner city borough where less than 40 per cent. of the population can purchase a car. Presumably many hon. Members drive through it on the way to their constituencies. Day in, day out a vast amount of commuter traffic also thunders through, as well as heavy goods vehicles and dangerous overweight juggernauts. Hon. Members may have seen reports last week of a serious road accident that occurred in St. Paul’s road which is a route for heavy lorries trundling through my constituency, bringing death and danger in their wake.

I hope that the call for a London-wide lorry ban is taken in a debate on London as such a danger cannot be allowed to continue on our roads. There never was a justification for allowing the size and weight of lorries that exist on our roads, and there is even less justification with the completion of the M25 for any opposition to a heavy goods vehicle ban throughout London. The argument that such vehicles serve London’s industry and businesses is fallacious and wrong. At least two thirds of the vehicles that thunder down the Archway road, along the Holloway road, St. Paul’s road and into Graham road in Hackney are travelling straight through London and using the city as a short cut to the Channel ports.

As the Government have taken so much money from Islington borough council and the neighbouring borough councils of Haringey, Hackney, and to a lesser extent Enfield because the Government have friends there, it is incredible that they should countenance spending more than £30 million on the building of a new stretch of motorway — the Archway motorway project — leading more traffic into inner London. That is another matter that I hope to bring often before the House.

The plight of the Health Service in my borough is serious. I am sponsored by the National Union of Public Employees and until yesterday I was employed as an organiser for that union. I am well aware of the cant and hypocrisy that is spoken about the Health Service. The Health Service in London has suffered more than almost any other service in the past few years. Cuts are made day in and day out. At this moment, 53 London hospitals are under threat of partial closure, ward closure or complete closure. Further, the jobs of about 4,000 health workers are at risk under the lunatic policy of continuing to cut health spending in every sense in inner London.

The effects of health cuts are very significant. If a hospital is closed, it might suit Health Service planners and the DHSS, as they might consider it to be an efficiency factor. What happens in reality is that people who were used to going to a convenient local hospital cannot do so, the waiting list for major operations gets longer and longer and the care of the sick is forced more and more into the home and on to women.

Yet the Government had the temerity to issue a press statement before the election about the value to society of private medicine, the development of private hospitals and encouraging people to spend their money on private health care. That freedom of choice does not exist for the constituents of Islington, North. They cannot afford private medicine. They do not wish to see private medicine develop or the obscenity of a private health service and pay beds continuing to exist in National Health Service hospitals. My colleagues and I at the National Union of Public Employees wish that topic, which is a crying scandal, to be brought before the House.

Greater scandals are also taking place in the Health Service. I could list, time permitting, all 53 hospitals in London which are under some form of immediate risk. I will not go through them all but I will draw some to the attention of the House. The south London hospital for women, which is most in the news, is due to be closed. Apparently, as a result of a decision made last night, the ball is now in the Government’s court. If the Government do not provide the money for the running of that hospital, it will close. That hospital was founded because women wished to have a health service in which they felt confidence and trust. It was founded for women, run by women and continues to provide a valuable service for women in south London. It will be a scandal if that hospital is allowed to close.

I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that the closure will not go ahead and that Government money will be provided to keep that vital facility open. Women suffer more than anyone else from Health Service cuts. They suffer through having to wait for operations and it is usually they who end up caring for the sick who cannot be cared for by the Health Service.

On the arguments about spending in the Health Service and the setting of cash limits, I have some useful information—all gleaned from DHSS sources and put together by the London Health Service campaign. The cash limit revenue allocations are compared with the surplus or shortfall, allowing for 5.6 per cent. inflation. There is some argument about the applicability of that figure to the Health Service, but that is the figure used. Only two health authorities in London—Croydon and Hounslow and Spelthorne—had a surplus of cash limit allocation compared with their expenditure. Every other authority was seriously overspending. As anyone who has served on a health authority will know, overspending means cuts, longer queues for major operations and beds deliberately left vacant not because they are not needed by the sick but because the Government are not prepared to provide the money to care for the sick. That is the reality of the situation.

As I have said, north Islington has suffered Health Service cuts perhaps as bad as those in any other area. The borough as a whole has recently lost Liverpool road hospital, the City of London maternity home and the casualty facility at the Royal Northern hospital, placing frightening and devastating pressure on the remaining facilities at the Whittington hospital which itself is now threatened with the closure of one wing. Disasters of that kind occur daily in the inner city areas. That is why people are so angry and it is incredible that only 13 Conservative Members can be bothered to attend today’s debate on these matters.

The DHSS has mounted a privatisation campaign in which it has consistently tried to lecture local health authorities about how efficient it would be if private enterprise played a part in running the Health Service, stressing the efficiency of laundry, catering, portering and gardening services. The private sector is already making a fortune out of drug sales to the health authorities. When Conservative Members lecture health workers who demand decent wages, they never criticise the massive profits made out of the Health Service by the drug companies.

Moreover, the lectures about the need for privatisation in the Health Service are not matched by the experience of health authorities which have brought in private enterprise laundry, portering, catering and cleaning services. In all cases they have said that the services are not only inefficient but difficult to control because one is constantly dealing with third parties whose interest is not the care of patients and the efficient running of a National Health Service that is free at the point of use but only the profit that they can make out of it.

With all the problems that London now faces —massive unemployment, problems of public transport and traffic management, and the rest—it is extraordinary that the Government should choose this moment to mount a fantastic media campaign against the GLC and, in a couple of lines in a badly written and ill-thought-out manifesto, to say that they intend to abolish the GLC. The real reason why they wish to abolish it is because they could not gain control of it at the last election. If the GLC were abolished, London would be the only capital in the world, so far as I can discover, without some central democratic and unitary local authority to administer its business.

It is amazing that the House should spend time debating the abolition of the GLC when it should be debating the lack of democracy in so many other areas of London life. I have dealt at some length with the problems of the Health Service. Greater democracy is needed in the Health Service. It would be advantageous to have a London health authority to discuss the problems of the Health Service in London rather than continuing the balancing act between expenditure in inner London and the needs of counties such as Essex, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire and so on, as the regional health authorities consistently do, with the result that London suffers from an even worse Health Service.

We hear a great deal about democracy and freedom of choice. I find it incredible that at the same time as the Government propose to abolish the Greater London council and to take away the democratic powers of the Inner London Education Authority they allow London’s undemocratic police force to continue its operations and they allow Sir Kenneth Newman to make monstrous attacks on people who merely demand some form of democratic representation in the expenditure of hundreds of millions of pounds on London’s police force.

I hope that the House will return again and again to the debate on the democratic running of London. It is clear that the Government are determined to take away all democratic rights of local government in London. They tried to destroy our borough councils. Now they seek to destroy the GLC and the ILEA.

I represent an area of London that has suffered as much as any other from the policies of this Government, and I shall be telling the House repeatedly that we do not intend to take these issues lying down. We shall not allow unemployment to go through the roof. We shall not allow our youth to have no chance and no hope for the future. We shall not allow our borough councils to be attacked mercilessly in the way that they have been by the Government and by the press in the past year. We shall return to these issues because justice has to be done for those who are worst off and unemployed in areas such as the constituency that I represent.

Tony Blair – 1983 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

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Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Tony Blair in the House of Commons on 6th July 1983.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me this opportunity to make my maiden speech, especially on such an important Bill, as the new Member of Parliament for Sedgefield. I only hope that I can acquit myself as well as the hon. Members who have preceded me in this difficult task.

Sedgefield is in county Durham, and having lived there for almost 20 years it was an especial honour for me to be chosen by the Labour party to contest the seat. Given the Labour party traditions of county Durham, my subsequent election with a good majority was hardly surprising, but it was no less pleasing to me for that.

The constituency is remarkable for its variety and contrast. In the north-west is the large modern conurbation of Spennymoor, flanked by old mining villages, such as Chilton and Ferryhill. Turning east, one travels through more villages such as West Cornforth, Bishop Middleham, Trimdon Village, Trimdon Colliery and Fishburn, and still further east there are the villages of Wingate, Thornley, Wheatley Hill, Deaf Hill and Station Town. Although most of those villages share the common history of mining, they also have their own distinctive and separate character.

Sedgefield town itself is at the crux of the constituency. It contains some new industry, the important hospital of Winterton and also has its prosperous residential parts. Travelling south from Sedgefield, one enters a different world altogether. One can tell that it is different because it is the place where the Social Democratic party ceases telling the people that it represents the Labour party of Attlee and Gaitskell and begins saying that it represents the Tory party of Butler and Macmillan. Its towns include Hurworth, Middleton St. George, Whessoe and Heighington. It is sometimes suggested by the fainthearted that Labour support is less than solid here, but I have great faith in the good sense of the people.

This new Sedgefield constituency is made up of parts of several other constituencies, and I pay tribute to the hon. Members from those parts—my right hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) and my hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Mr. Dormand), for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) and for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes). I am grateful that they are all here as colleagues in this Parliament.

Though new in 1983, Sedgefield as a constituency has in a sense only been in hibernation, as it existed as a constituency until 1974. Distinguished predecessors have represented Sedgefield, the last three being John Leslie from 1935 to 1950, Joe Slater from 1950 to 1970 and David Reed from 1970 to 1974. Their maiden speeches provide an interesting synopsis of south-west Durham’s history.

In the 1930s, John Leslie spoke of the poverty of his constituents, particularly the mines. However, in 1950, Joe Slater, himself a miner, described a better world where under public ownership the views of the miner are respected, and even acted upon, and that is how it ought to be”. — [Official Report, 29 March 1950; Vol. 473, c. 489.] That was a speech of optimism. David Reed, who like me had the distinction of being the youngest member of the parliamentary Labour party, also spoke with some optimism. He pointed out that the mining pits had largely closed but said: The influx of new industry into my constituency has shown a remarkable increase during the last five years”.—[Official Report, 7 July 1970; Vol. 803, c. 530.] In my maiden speech, I would have hoped to continue the theme of progress and optimism, but it is with the profoundest regret and not a little anger that I must say frankly that I cannot do so.

The speech most appropriate to my constituency now is not the speech made in 1970 or even the speech made in 1950, but the speech that John Leslie made in the 1930s. In that speech, he said: Everyone will agree that it is nothing short of a tragedy that thousands of children are thrown on to the labour market every year with no possible propect of continuous employment, with the result that thousands drift into blind alley jobs and drift out again. They have no proper training, they feel that they are not wanted and the future seems hopeless.”—[Official Report, 4 December 1935; Vol. 307, c. 213.] That is tragically true for my constituency today. In the area of the Wingate employment exchange, which covers a very large part of the constituency, unemployment now stands at over 40 per cent. A large proportion of the unemployed are under 25 years of age. It is said with bitter irony that the only growth area in the constituency is the unemployment office. Those young people are not merely faced with a temporary inability to find work. For many, the dole queue is their first experience of adult life. For some, it will be their most significant experience. Without work, they do not merely suffer the indignity of enforced idleness — they wonder how they can afford to get married, to start a family, and to have access to all the benefits of society that they should be able to take for granted. Leisure is not something that they enjoy, but something that imprisons them.

The Bill offers no comfort at all either to those people or to the vast majority of those of my constituents who are fortunate enough to be in work. Indeed. it adds the insult of inequality to the injury of poverty. It gives a further clutch of tax concessions to those who are already well off. Some 200,000 people are taken out of the higher rate bands, whereas only 10,000 come out of the poverty trap. That is a good illustration of the sense of priority shown in the Bill.

When I say “well off” I mean very well off. It is not those who earn the average wage who have benefited from the Government’s fiscal policy, or even those who earn double the average. The only beneficiaries are those who earn more than three times the average. It is to that tiny and rarefied constituency that the Conservatives address themselves. The provisions of the Bill contradict in practical terms the myth that the Conservative party is the party of lower taxation for the people. In reality, lower taxation under the Conservative Administration has been confined to an exclusive club of the very privileged.

You may wonder, Mr. Speaker, why, contrary to tradition, some maiden speeches have been controversial. Perhaps it is pertinent to ask in what sense they can be controversial, since the deprivation and unhappiness that afflict our constituencies seem beyond argument. What impels us to speak our minds is the sense of urgency. As I said, in the Wingate area, unemployment is over 40 per cent. A Government who are complacent or uncaring about a level of unemployment of over 40 per cent. are a Government who have abdicated their responsibility to govern. A Government who refuse to govern are unworthy of the name of Government.

Yet, despite the 40 per cent. unemployment, NSF, a subsidiary of the National Coal Board, announced in February this year a proposal to close the Fishburn coke works. If implemented, that proposal would push unemployment in the Wingate employment exchange area to over 50 per cent. The coke works is the major employer in Fishburn. It is not ailing. It is a highly efficient plant which produces some of the best domestic coke in the world. It provides work indirectly for many other people in the area, such as road hauliers and dockers.

In case anyone is unmoved by the loss of jobs, I can add that even in economic terms the closure is questionable. We are told that the recession is ending. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) that we need a broad-based economic recovery. My constituents are not interested in promises about economic recovery; they are interested in performance. In the recession, NSF loses money. However, the direct cost of closure in terms of redundancy payments, lost taxes and other related costs amounts to £3 million in the first year and £1 million in the following years. To close Fishburn is an act of economic madness multiplied by social disregard on an unbelievable scale. Its only true justification is a blind allegiance to dogma.

Fishburn is significant not just in itself but as an example of the peril facing the north-east — a peril exemplified in the Bill. Fishburn is a real community. The constituency of Sedgefield is made up of such communities. The local Labour party grows out of, and is part of, local life. That is its strength. That is why my constituents are singularly unimpressed when told that the Labour party is extreme. They see extremism more as an import from outside that is destroying their livelihoods than as a characteristic of the party that is defending those livelihoods.

There is not a pit left in my constituency. In the 1960s and the early 1970s, new industry came to the constituency, but it often lacked strong roots. When the recession began to bite, many companies—particularly the multinationals — saw their northern outlets as the ones to be cut. Some still remain, including Thorns and Black and Decker, although both have suffered cutbacks. Carreras Rothman, also in Spennymoor, is one area of growth, but in general terms the picture is bleak. It should not be so, because any discerning observer can see the advantages that the area offers. There is a capable and willing work force. There are massive amounts of factory space let at low rents by a district council that, unlike central Government, is eager to assist economic growth. There is ready access by road, rail and air, and some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain.

What Sedgefield and the north-east desperately need is a Government committed to marrying together the resources of the area—a Government committed to the north. Over the last few years the level of investment in manufacturing industry in the north has dropped not merely in absolute terms but relative to other parts of the country. That situation must be reversed. In practical terms, the Government must pledge themselves to a massive investment in the region and must plan that investment.

I and others will continue to press for a northern development agency to perform for the north the task that the Scottish Development Agency performs for Scotland. That is not a request for fresh bureaucracy but a realistic assessment of need. Experience of the present Government may teach caution in hoping for such a commitment, but a refusal does not make the case for such a body any less strong. The aim would be to harness the considerable resources of the constituency and the region and to let them work to create a better standard of living for the people. After all, that is the essence of Socialism.

I am a Socialist not through reading a textbook that has caught my intellectual fancy, nor through unthinking tradition, but because I believe that, at its best, Socialism corresponds most closely to an existence that is both rational and moral. It stands for co-operation, not confrontation; for fellowship, not fear. It stands for equality, not because it wants people to be the same but because only through equality in our economic circumstances can our individuality develop properly. British democracy rests ultimately on the shared perception by all the people that they participate in the benefits of the common weal. This Bill, with its celebration of inequality, is destructive of that perception. It is because of a fear that the Government seem indifferent to such considerations that I and my colleagues oppose the Bill and will continue to oppose it.