Alex Salmond – 1987 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons


Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Alex Salmond in the House of Commons on 29th June 1987.

You have called me to speak at rather an apt time, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been watching with interest this evening and counting the relative strengths of the Scottish Nationalist party and Plaid Cymru, on the one hand, and the Scottish Conservative contingent, on the other. As the debate has worn on, the relative strengths have to-ed and fro-ed. At the moment, with five hon. Members on our Benches and only two Scottish Conservative Members, we have the most satisfactory result of the evening so far.

I confess that I have been playing my game of spot the Scottish Tory for some time. Their number has been as low as one and as high as seven during this debate, but for most of the time there have been four Scottish Conservative Members in the Chamber. For some time, I thought that the Secretary of State for Scotland had laid down his particular 40 per cent. rule on his own contingent of hon. Members.

My first duty is to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr. Albert McQuarrie, who was known in the House and elsewhere as a robust character. He came to the House late in life, but I know that he played a full part in its debates, and I am sure that all hon. Members will join me in wishing him a long and happy retirement.

Banff and Buchan, the constituency for which I now have parliamentary responsibility, is a constituency of robust characters, as one would expect from an area that depends for its livelihood on fishing, farming and oil and the industries related to them. My constituency has robust characters who work with their hands and get their faces dirty. They are involved in producing, making and catching things. They are people engaged in the manufacturing and primary sectors who are the real creators of wealth. If Government policy was orientated more to the primary and manufacturing sectors of industry, rather than to the rentier economy produced by the Conservative party, the long-term health and welfare of this country would be better served.

I shall examine in turn the problems facing the three basic industries of my constituency—farming, fishing and oil. I notice that a good deal of attention was paid in the Gracious Speech to the problems of the inner cities, and I welcome Government initiatives on that serious problem. However, in Scotland we do not have a serious inner city problem. In our major cities we have problems on peripheral housing estates, but we have, too, an enduring and extremely serious problem in our rural communities. I do not think that the Government realise the extent to which the decline in farm income is causing such problems for the rural areas and I hope that they will turn more of their attention to that as the Session progresses.

Conservatives claim that theirs is the party that reduces business taxation. If that is so, I hope to hear soon that they intend to abandon their plans to levy additional taxation on the fishing industry in the form of light dues—the dues paid for navigational lights. At the moment, the Government propose to remove the traditional exemption from light dues from the fishing industry while retaining that exemption for the owners of yachts and pleasure boats. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) would be very relieved to hear that, but I think too that he would join Opposition Members in arguing strongly that we should not impose an additional tax on working fishermen while those who own pleasure boats and yachts remain exempt. Light dues, which relate to a public service concerned with public safety, should continue properly to be met from the public purse.

We have heard some interesting remarks from the Secretary of State for Scotland who, since the turn of this year, has ascribed all the problems of the Scottish economy to the decline of the oil industry in Scotland. That is a remarkable feat, given that Scotland has lost 180,000 manufacturing jobs since 1979.

If the Secretary of State thinks that the impact of the oil downturn has been so serious in Scotland—it has cost us 30,000 jobs—why was it that the Government argued so forcibly for, welcomed and encouraged the decline in oil prices, which has caused these grievous burdens for the Scottish economy? Since 1979, successive Chancellors have received from the Scottish oil industry in revenue terms and in 1987 prices the sum of £70,000 million—approximately £14,000 for every man, woman and child in Scotland. Those Chancellors have been very sure that that should not be Scotland’s oil revenue, but, when it comes to a downturn in the industry, there has been no doubt that Scotland should have the job losses. For these three industries—farming, fishing and oil—I will argue at every opportunity in the Chamber, and I will argue for a stronger defence of their welfare.

I move on to the political position facing Scotland and the reaction of Scottish Members to the Gracious Speech. Without doubt the Gracious Speech is interesting not for what it contains about Scotland but for what it does not contain. There is no sign that the Government will make any concessions to Scotland following their massive defeat at the polls. That position was encapsulated by the Secretary of State who, in an interview on Scottish television last week, said that the Gracious Speech is the same as that which we would have had if the Conservative party had won 72 Scottish seats instead of 10. That betrays the arrogance and contempt with which the Conservative party now proposes to treat the Scottish electorate. in its view, it does not matter what we in Scotland say or do, how we vote, how we think or how we learn from our experience of the policies under which we suffer. That position is not sustainable in the longer term. How long it is sustainable will depend on the level of opposition from Opposition Members.

A number of questions have been asked about the importance attached to self government by the Scottish electorate. If the election results do not provide a convincing answer to that question, I have here the results of an opinion poll commissioned during the election campaign. The Conservative party has an interesting and geographically split view of opinion polls. It believes in them in England when they show that it is winning, but it does not believe them in Scotland when they show that it is not winning.

I remember earlier this month when this opinion poll was released. I was sitting in a television studio with Mr. Michael Hirst, who did not believe the contents of the opinion poll. The results of the poll showed that the majority of Scottish Conservatives were about to lose their seats, although the Secretary of State for Scotland had said that such opinion polls were unreliable, that this could not happen and that the Conservative party in Scotland would increase its representation. In fact the poll has been proved correct in its analysis of how many Scottish Conservatives would lose their seats.

It also asked people how important they regarded the setting up of a Scottish assembly. No fewer than 62 per cent. thought that it was very important or quite important. Only 25 per cent. argued that it was not very important or not at all important.

We take opinion polls as we find them, but it is an incredible proposition from a party reduced to such a rump in Scotland, as a result not just of this but of a series of elections, to argue that it has the divine right to interpret the wishes of the Scottish electorate more than any other party, or particularly the party that won the Scottish election—the Labour party.

Like many new Members I am engaged in moving home, and as I was clearing out some of my files I came across some yellowing pages of newspaper cuttings from the period immediately before and after the general election of 1983 in Scotland. In them, a number of Scottish Members of Parliament were making the case that the rights of Scotland should be respected—a case with which I agree. They were called “Labour’s new dogs of war,” and they included the hon. Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall). They argued that, by their efforts, they could impose the will of the Scottish people on the House and that they would manage to extract for the Scottish people a measure of Scottish devolution. We are now four years on and the dogs of war not only have not bitten very hard but have lost their bark.

I scrutinised with some interest the speech made by the hon. Member for Cathcart on Thursday, in which he came up with the incredible proposition that the Conservative party has half a mandate in Scotland. His argument was that the Conservative party has a mandate over such sectors as the economy and United Kingdom matters, but does not have a mandate over specifically Scottish Office issues such as education. It is an incredible argument that the Conservative party has the right to destroy the Scottish economy but does not have the right to destroy the Scottish education system. It is not a case of half a mandate. The Conservative party either has or has not a mandate in Scotland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr Wigley) has put the case for the rights of parties coming up from the people. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) has argued eloquently why the Conservative party has no mandate in Scotland. For the benefit of Tory Members, I shall repeat it. The Tory party does not have a mandate in Scotland because Scotland is a nation and as such has a right to determine its own political destiny.

I will repeatedly argue for independence for Scotland within the context of the EEC. I recognise that that is not the majority view in Scotland, although opinion poll evidence shows substantially more support for that position than for the position favoured by the Tory, party—the status quo. Scottish people have the right to choose the amount of devolution or self government that they want. Therefore, I am prepared to argue that, because the Labour party won the election in Scotland, it has the right to insist on its plans for the Scottish people being put into effect.

The basic question is: how will the Conservative party be made to do this? The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), in his quick-fire speech, was long on description of the condition of Scotland, but short on what he and his colleagues are going to do about it. The most with which he threatened the Conservative party was a few late nights for the reduced band of Scottish Conservatives. Incidentally, I am told that in Labour party circles at the moment the hon. Member for Garscadden is considered as something of a radical. If he is a radical, I wonder how conservative the rest are. I do not know what he does to Tory Members, but if I were in their position he would not frighten me.

The same applies to the eloquent address of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway). He cannot convince the Conservative party, Scottish Conservative Members or the Secretary of State for Scotland, by argument or appeal, to change their position. The Scottish Conservatives are a lost cause. They have lost their ability to argue their case before their fellow countrymen and women.

I find remarks about the largesse of the London Treasury to areas such as Scotland, Wales and the north of England amazing, as Scotland has an annual surplus of revenue over expenditure of £3.5 billion. I cannot, therefore, take seriously the idea that Scotland is subidised by the London Exchequer.

I hear other remarks about the history and geography of Scotland which make me realise why so much of the Gracious Speech is devoted to the English education system. I suspect, however, that, in looking at the state education system in England, English Conservatives are looking at the wrong sector for additional education on economics, history and geography. I seriously suggest to Conservative Members representing English constituencies that the nations of Scotland and England have a close and long history. Sometimes it has been a troubled history but it has always been a close one. At this juncture in our affairs, when there is a dramatic political divergence between Scotland and England, and indeed between England and Wales, would it really hurt them so much to concede a little justice to the Scottish nation?

Dennis Turner – 1987 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made in the House of Commons by Dennis Turner on 2nd July 1987.

I felt a little diffident about speaking after the comment by the leader of the Social Democratic party, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), about people coming from local government, but then I composed myself, on the basis that as I have come from local government I might have more contemporary experience to bring to the House on some of the major issues that are being debated today and have been raised during the debates on the Loyal Address over the past five days.

I sincerely thank hon. Members on both sides of the House, and all the workers in the House — the people who serve us our food, the Whips’ Office, Mr. Speaker’s Office, and the Fees Office, which I must not forget — for the warm welcome that I have received and for the courteous and helpful way in which I have been treated. Every hon. Member has helped me in settling into an awesome place. It is an experience that one has to live through to fully appreciate it. I say that in all humility. I am grateful for the help that has been shown to me.

I come to the House following a legend — the legend of Bob Edwards, who was a fine parliamentarian, and who devoted all his life to the interests of the people. If I can serve the people of my constituency one quarter as well as he did, I shall be very pleased.

Bob Edwards made a wider contribution than that, from the days when he sat with Trotsky as a young man, and with Mao Tse Tung. He fought in the Spanish civil war. All that is known to the House. He is such a modest man. He served through the years with such humility. It is a great privilege to follow him. To have had him as a mentor over the past 20 years has been of great value to me.

Bob represented a black country constituency. Many of my constituents expected me to use words such as yow, bay or thear, and wanted me to talk in good black country dialect. However, I shall not do so, only because I have respect and regard for the Hansardwriters. The dialect orginated from the language of Chaucer, but I understand the difficulties of writing down all that I have been saying in black country dialect, so I shall stick to the Queen’s English as we debate the Queen’s Speech.

Bob represented the black country towns of Bilston, Coseley and Sedgley. I now represent, as he did before his retirement, the constituency of Wolverhampton, South-East, which still takes in a large part of the black country. I am a black country man and proud of it. I come here with the spirit of the black country with all that has happened to us over the past few years, some of which has been debated in the past few days.

Many of my black country men would not comprehend what has been said in the speeches over the past few days, I think that they would have difficulty in identifying some of the things that have been said by the Government about the community in which we live in the black country today. Unemployment is 25 per cent. in my constituency. In Wolverhampton, 25,000 good men and women do not have the opportunity to make a useful contribution to society and cannot receive the rewards that would arise from that.

When we talk of unemployment, we must take into account the indignity that comes with it. Independence and freedom have been mentioned often in the past few days. The people whom I represent no longer have the freedom and independence given by the wage packet. A wage packet is important to them, and their dignity, standards and independence are based on that. So I must reconcile that freedom and independence with the difficulties and impoverishment in which many of our people have been placed by being out of work and finding it difficult to cope in present circumstances.

I wonder what I am supposed to say to the lady who came to see me and told me that she was existing on £39.50 a week. Although she received housing benefit, she had to pay for gas and electricity and keep herself on that amount of money. I reflect on that, and on the fact that there must be days in the week on which people, inside and outside the House, spend that much on one meal, yet that person and many thousands of others have to exist week by week on amounts such as that coming into their homes.

It is said that there is investment in housing, but in Wolverhampton we are starved of investment in housing. Year by year, since the Conservative Government came to power—my objective is not to make a political point—we have seen our capital programmes reduced to the extent that our ability to do what we want to in the inner areas has been taken away from us and we are not in a position to make a contribution.

Two thousand five hundred senior citizens and disabled people in Wolverhampton are seeking bungalows or purpose-built sheltered accommodation. We have not been in a position to build a bungalow for the past four or five years. We have estimated that it will take some of the people on that list who are 70 years old now until they are 120 to qualify for the bungalows or sheltered accommodation that they need, because of our lack of ability to provide it.

In Wolverhampton, 74 per cent. of the people are on housing benefit. Is that the freedom and independence that we are told about? What opportunities are afforded them to buy their own homes? Without any ideological hang-up, we— a Labour-controlled council—were selling houses in the 1960s and 1970s, and that is true of many authorities up and down the land. So the idea that tenants were somehow liberated purely by the advent of the Conservative Government is quite erroneous.

If we talk of health, 85 people have been turned away from our hospitals in the past three weeks—people who were seriously ill and could not be provided with a bed when they desperately needed one for emergency treatment. There has been a cut of £3.9 million in our district health authority funding since 1983 — which is not the increase about which we have heard. Recently, because of pressures of finance, we have cut back by 50 per cent. on the incontinence pads that our elderly and disabled people need to be able to live in some kind of decency and comfort. That has happened in the past month.

Will the education that we hear about be education that is uplifting for all, or occasional schools that will be identified and can be moved into the private sector? In the schools in Wolverhampton, there has been a reduction, year after year, in the capital programmes that are needed to improve those schools. There has been chaos in the legislation dealing with teachers, and we know that we cannot now give an education service to our children because of the turmoil that exists. Are we really intending to improve the lot of all our children in all our schools, or that of only a few? We shall see the test of that in the months ahead.

Across all these issues—and there are many more—the reality of people’s lives in my community is different from what is portrayed in the speeches that we have had from Conservative Members. The Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) spoke a couple of days ago about the new licensing laws, but Omar Khayyam, that philosopher of old, would not have subscribed to his views on them: Ah love! could thou and I with Fate conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire, Would we not shatter it to bits—and then Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire! That is what we want in our community. We want fresh thinking and application from this House for the real needs of our people. If we do that, we will give people hope where it does not now exist. We can give people the opportunity to believe that they can grow and build.

In our lives, we have infinitesimal time to do what is necessary. Would it not be better now if, together, we were to start building something better, not only for some of the people, but for all of them? That would make a tremendous contribution to the people whom I represent.

Menzies Campbell – 1987 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech by Menzies Campbell in the House of Commons on 13th July 1987.

I hope that it will not be thought presumptious or unduly prococious of the part of a maiden speaker to offer you, Madam Deputy Speaker, my congratulations on your new appointment. May I express the wish of those on the Liberal Benches that you enjoy your appointment and occupy the Chair for a long time to come.

I am grateful for the opportunity afforded to me to make a maiden speech in this House. I do so attended with all the apprehensions to which maiden speakers are traditionally subject. In the spirit of that tradition, I wish to begin by referring to my predecessor, Barry Henderson.

Barry Henderson served the constituency of Fife, North-East sincerely and conscientiously during the time he was its Member of Parliament. To me he was a courteous opponent, and he was gracious and generous in defeat. However, none of those qualities, admirable in themselves, was sufficient protection against the condemnation by the electors of Fife, North-East of the party of which he was such a loyal supporter. Some of the condemnation was especially reserved for the community charge, or the poll tax as it is colloquially described north of the border.

I trust that we on the Liberal Benches may be forgiven some small self-indulgence from the realisation that the constituency that returned Mr. Asquith for so many years has once more returned a Liberal Member of Parliament.

The House will be aware that within my constituency lies Scotland’s oldest university, founded in 1411. That university has a long noble tradition of scholarship in the arts and sciences, in teaching and research. The maintenance of that tradition is becoming increasingly difficult in the present climate. Research, in particular, is an issue of considerable controversy within that university. It is universally recognised within the academic community that research for its intrinsic merit is an essential feature of a vigorous and healthy university. It must surely be accepted that scholarship should not lightly be sacrificed to commercialism. However, that is an inevitable consequence of Government policies towards universities.

Since 1980, St. Andrew’s university has suffered a cut of 21 per cent. in real terms in University Grants Committee funding. It has survived only by the skilful management of its investments and by a robust programme of recruiting foreign students who pay full fees. Obviously, that programme has been acompanied by a reduction in opportunity for students from the United Kingdom. Indeed, it may not be long before that institution is staring deficit in the face. One may think that that is hardly conducive to the role that is required of it during the last part of the 20th century.

This debate is concerned with local government finance. Anyone who listens to those who are involved in local government on a day-to-day basis will readily accept that many of the difficulties that local government faces arise from the continuing reduction in central Government’s support for local government. In Fife, North-East, for example, if the housing support grant stood today at the same level as in 1979, the rents for council houses would be £6 per week less. Until that reduction in central Government support is halted, the pressure on local authorities will continue to be acute and damaging. To suggest, as appears to have been suggested in the House a few moments ago, that the community charge will bring a solution to the many problems of local government financing seems to ignore the fact that the community charge, of itself, will create its own difficulties.

Of course, it is accepted that rates are universally discredited, although from time to time one feels that, as a means of raising local taxation, rates still enjoy some support from Labour Members. The replacement of one regressive tax by another is no solution. The community charge, or the poll tax, must be regressive and unfair; otherwise there would not be any need for rebates. If it were essentially a fair charge, there would not be any necessity to make allowances for those whose personal circumstances were such as to make them unable to pay. A tax that will benefit mostly those who earn over £350 per week is self-evidently unfair.

We argue, as we have argued for a long time, that the only fair system of raising local taxation is by a local income tax based on the ability to pay. If ability to pay is recognised as the proper measure for raising taxation on a national, United Kingdom-wide basis, why is it denied that the same basis should be applied to local taxation?

If the Government were to undertake to restore the level of central Government support to what it was in 1979 and to introduce a local income tax along the lines that we have argued, real progress could be made in the financing of local government. I look for that, but so far I have been disappointed.

Alistair Darling – 1987 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons


Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Alistair Darling in the House of Commons on 6th July 1987.

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. Before I address the subject matter of the debate, I wish to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Sir Alex Fletcher, who represented the constituency for four years after the redrawing of the boundaries in 1983. Before that he had represented Edinburgh, North for some years. When I had dealings with him he was entirely courteous and during the election campaign there was no rancour. I am happy to tell the House that the campaign was conducted entirely on the issues, which is perhaps why I have the pleasure of being able to address the House this evening.

Before I address myself to the Bill I take the opportunity of paying tribute to George Willis, who represented Edinburgh, North and who sadly died during the general election campaign.

It is appropriate that in my first speech in this place I should talk about a local government Bill that affects Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. I shall allude briefly to the position of Scotland and of those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are not separatists, who form the majority of Scottish Opposition Members. If we are to be part of the United Kingdom, the position of those of us in Scotland must be considered and recognised. I consider that it is bad practice to attempt to legislate by what are essentially English provisions and to foist those on Scotland without giving them separate consideration, which they so richly deserve, from a Scottish point of view.

There is a feeling abroad in Scotland that the Government do not care. That feeling will be exacerbated or will be fired if we are to see more legislation that applies to Scotland tacked onto the back of English legislation. The powers of the Secretary of State for Scotland are perhaps greater than those of any other Secretary of State and that makes the case all the more for giving Scotland and Scottish legislation separate consideration. If the Government are so proud of their record, let us hear those who speak for it. Let them proclaim the advantages that they say have come to Scotland. There is a junior Scottish Minister on the Treasury Front Bench and perhaps we shall have the opportunity during the debate of hearing what he has to say about the Bill.

This is an unusual local government Bill, because it deals with Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. Scotland normally has separate legislation and Scottish legislation usually follows in about a year after the legislation has been introduced for the rest of the United Kingdom. That was the position until the introduction of the community charge legislation, or the legislation that imposes a poll tax on Scotland. In that instance Scotland was treated, for once, as an experiment. The poll tax has been tried out in Scotland as an experiment to see whether it will work and to see what the response is before it is tried in the rest of the United Kingdom.

In a perverse sort of way it is possible that some good may come from Scotland being used in this way. Conservative Members know how greatly their forces were diminished north of the border and I believe that the poll tax contributed possibly more than anything else to their rejection at the ballot box just one month ago. The much criticised and much talked about yuppies, if there be such creatures, turned out overwhelmingly to support Labour Members.

In Edinburgh, Central, as in the rest of the country, we have a sense of fairness and decency and of what is right and what is wrong. We believe that if a local authority is elected it should be left to get on with the job without interference from central Government. The hallmark of this Government is that they have interfered more than any other Administration in the way in which local authorities conduct their business. More than that, we value local services and we are willing to pay for a job well done. We do not want cheap and shoddy services. Instead, we want repairs that last and services that people take a pride in delivering and that others appreciate when they receive them. Cost cutting does not make for greater efficiency, and privatisation leads to cost cutting, which means in the long term that local authorities and the public sector must pick up the pieces.

Part I of the Bill is clearly designed to squeeze direct labour organisations, although in many parts of the country they are extremely efficient and win a large share of the work that has to be put out to tender. Local authority services can be efficient, because the people who provide those services take pride in doing so. They know that they are providing a service on which local people rely.

The Transport Act 1985 did more than anything else to undermine the provision of one local authority service-buses—by putting transport affairs into private hands. In the Lothian region, we had one of the best bus services in the country; now the ratepayers are paying £2 million more to subsidise a less efficient bus service. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) will no doubt have some sympathy with that. When I was chairman of Lothian region transportation committee, he wrote to me again and again, more than any other Member of Parliament, asking whether I could do anything to restore services in his constituency.

We must maintain and enhance DLOs, because they have to deal with emergencies and pick up the pieces when the private sector cannot meet the need. If the legislation is passed, DLOs will be weakened, jobs will be lost and it will cost us, the ratepayers and those who live locally more in the long term.

Part II of the Bill is what I might term the morality part. It seeks to strike at those local authorities that choose not to do business with certain firms. I cannot see what is wrong with deciding that we do not want to do business with a firm that conducts itself in a way that we find reprehensible. I cannot see what is wrong in deciding that I do not wish to trade with a firm that mistreats its work force by not paying them properly, or by discriminating against certain sections on grounds of race, creed or colour. I should have thought that such an attitude would be lauded by all hon. Members. However, it appears that the Government intend to strike against it.

I consider this a matter of decency. Where is the local authorities’ right to choose? Coming from a Government who support the right to choose and freedom of choice, this part of the Bill is ill founded. It strikes at the very right of local authorities to make choices, not just on cost but on matters of straightforward decency.

I find part III of the Bill particularly difficult to understand. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) paid tribute to the magnificent vistas that can apparently be seen in his constituency by anyone who visits it. I invite any Conservative Member who wishes to come to Edinburgh. Indeed, I will invite the Scottish Front Bench, and will gladly pay for the two taxis that will be required to take them round the city. The Georgian facades and the historic and beautiful royal mile belie the fact that 20 per cent. of the constituents are unemployed, many of them young people. We have young bands of nomads with nowhere to live and nowhere to go. Instead of paying money to private landlords to build accommodation, we need controls over the sort of accommodation that is provided, proper supervision and proper funding. When we consider that the public purse pays private landlords some £9 million a year in Edinburgh, we realise that the money would be better spent by local authorities to provide properly supervised accommodation to suit the needs of young people—to give them a sense of pride in their accommodation, and a chance to make something of their unfortunate lives.

Much has been said about the part of the Bill that strikes at publicity. I will say only that it seems very bad practice that the Government intend to suppress dissent to the extent of saying that communications from local authorities, perhaps to Members of Parliament, are to be struck at if they are critical of the Government. Part IV demonstrates that no one can attack the Government without fear of retribution through the courts. This Government have spent a large amount of money, both directly and indirectly, on privatisation and advertisements. We were told that businesses that had been created by the state were shackled by the state, but when they were to be privatised they became, suddenly, a model of efficiency, and we were told that they ought to be purchased when the opportunity arose. Who paid for that? The taxpayers paid for it. If the Government can spend public money on advancing what they believe to be right, democratically elected local authorities ought to have the freedom to do exactly the same.

The Bill is one of the worst examples of local authority repression. Scotland will oppose it, just as it will be opposed throughout the country. Scotland will not be pushed beyond the pale. The legislation is bad for Scotland, just as it is bad for all parts of the United Kingdom. Opposition Members who represent Scotland will not pull down the shutters. We shall advance our arguments for fairness, justice and decency.

The Government say that the economic recovery is taking a long time to come north. Similarly, Labour’s argument for fairness, justice and decency is taking longer than I should like, but in the end I believe that our view will prevail. One can trample on decency and scorn consensus only for so long. This Bill illustrates what a heavy-handed, centralist approach this Government have adopted. That is why the Opposition will oppose it root and branch.

David Blunkett – 1987 Maiden Speech


Below is the text of the maiden speech made by David Blunkett in the House of Commons on 25th June 1987.

I wish to pay tribute to Joan Maynard who, for 13 years, represented the people of the constituency that I am here to serve, and the people of Sheffield, to the best of her ability. On 12 June, I was the only Opposition Member who could genuinely say that he was looking on the bright side.

I congratulate the mover and seconder of the motion — the hon. Members for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart). I remind the hon. Member for Davyhulme, who talks about high-rated local authorities and eulogises about the sort of solutions that the Government are proposing for other parts of the country, that until last year the district council in whose area his constituency lies was controlled by the Conservative party. I remind the hon. Member for Sherwood that Robin Hood was born in Locksley in Sheffield, and, like the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), I recall that Robin Hood took from the rich to give to the poor, and not the other way round. From Sheffield, we shall continue to advocate that as hard as we can.

It is not surprising that the issue of what sort of democracy we are and the nature of our local government is a primary part of the Government’s programme. The Prime Minister has spelt out on many occasions that it is her intention to sweep Socialism from the face of Britain. This afternoon she has reminded us that she has nothing but disdain for collectivism. Like the trade unions, local government has stood in the way of the restructuring of our economic and social life; instead of the democracy of the ballot box at all levels, the democracy of the bank balance and of the privilege that comes with wealth and property will be how our democracy operates in a Conservative Britain.

In other words, we shall be taking a step back 100 years to the time when people fought to ensure that democracy was based on citizenship and not on the property that people owned. Talk of a property or share or capital-owning democracy is an insult to the people of Sheffield, Brightside, who, day in and day out, look not at where they can put their money on the Stock Exchange or in the best possible share dealing but at where they can put their money to ensure that their children have food on the table and clothes on their backs. Any family or parent would expect to ensure that the money that they wish to earn will keep their families well looked after.

The words that the Prime Minister used this afternoon about decreasing dependence are hollow to those whose dependence on the state has been increased by mass unemployment, by the increased poverty that goes with it and by the ever increasing dependence on state benefits that they experience. If we want to lift people out of dependence on a central state, we need to ensure that they can earn their living and that they have the dignity and status that go with using their skills. They must earn their money, not make money by speculating on the Stock Exchange or selling property that they may have acquired at a knock-down price from a give-away Conservative Government. They must be able to earn it by hard work in our factories, offices, shops and communities, by providing services and producing goods, and making sure that we have wealth for the future.

The people of Brightside do not want to hear talk of pricing themselves into jobs. Lower wages mean increased dependence on benefits for those who are in work. The number of those who receive housing benefit as rents are pushed up and their earnings go down has dramatically increased—it has doubled during the eight years of the present Government.

In that spirit, we need to examine a different future. This afternoon we heard a dangerous and disturbing comment from the Prime Minister about the security of local government finance. I hope that she will withdraw that remark at some point, because the interest rates for all local authority borrowing and the well-being of local government finance as a whole are not served by statements such as that made by the Prime Minister. That applies to Conservative, alliance or Labour-controlled local governments.

We have, I hope, a pluralistic democracy that is based not solely on the ownership of wealth or the votes that put us in this House, but on being able to make decisions across the country for the well-being of our communities. The cultural, political, social and economic diversity of the country must be respected if we are not to have the elective dictatorship of which Lord Hailsham spoke some years ago. We must not have a single solution imposed on every part of our country, or a position in which the zealots and missionaries from down south believe that they have the answers for Scotland, Wales and the inner cities of the north.

Some of us are working together. Industry, commerce, business, trade unions, higher education and research institutions are working with local government to come up with solutions of their own. We do not want the solutions imposed through urban development corporations, for which public money is readily available as long as it is directed from the centre and is in the hands of those who wish to offer our communities as hosts to those who want to come in and make for themselves, rather than to stimulate and support the community.

I wonder whether the intentions of the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) or of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry reflect what the Government intend to do. Is it to be the colonisation of Scotland, the north and Wales, or the self-help programmes for the inner cities? There is a considerable difference. Sheffield alone has lost almost exactly the same amount of money in local government grant and subsidies as has been pumped in public money into the London docklands. I challenge the Prime Minister to give the city of Sheffield the money about which she spoke, in terms of the urban development corporations that were mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), to use for the benefit of local people through the democracy that has existed for generations, rather than to impose her solutions from outside. Working together, we can use enterprise arid initiative to rebuild our communities. Until eight years ago our people had jobs. They had pride in the crafts and skills that they used in steel and engineering. I was appalled to hear those industries described today by the Prime Minister as the bad parts of our industry. They were the industries on which our wealth was created and on which many people in this part of the country were happy to live for generations. We want the opportunity to do that all over again. We expect even this Government to respect those differences and that diversity.

If we are to have the opportunity to extend and develop democracy, we must stop the vilification and undermining of confidence in local democracy, as the leader of the Liberal party said earlier. If we remove the safety valve that allows people to determine what will happen in their communities for themselves, if we remove the opportunity for people to be helped to change the nature of their lives, we pose a dangerous threat to democracy itself. If people cannot find an outlet for their frustration, and if the symptoms of the present decay of inner city areas are not allowed a democratic outlet, the Government will inevitably be forced into even greater authoritarianism in order to suppress those symptoms and overcome the frustrations and difficulties that people in such areas will be displaying.

I appeal to the Prime Minister to take account of all that. Democracy is not a slogan about whether people own capital or shares; it is something that belongs to us, which our grandparents fought to achieve. The ballot box, in local as well as in national elections, is an important part of the pluralistic democracy of which we have been so proud.

I hope that we will also ensure that public money is made available for our people and not simply for those who are willing to come from abroad to exploit our country. We do not need the Japanese and Americans, and we certainly do not need to invest in golf courses or in mansions to provide for them. We want leisure facilities and decent housing for our people, because that is their birthright.

If the Government are to invest public money in inner city areas through housing action trusts, as described this afternoon, why are the Government not prepared to provide the same resources to those local authorities that are willing to work with their tenants to ensure that together they are able to repair the desperate housing stock currently existing in many of our major areas? Why is the money that is being made available to the London Docklands Development Corporation not being made available to local government? Is it that the direction of the LDDC suits the Government? Two hundred-year leases without rent review are being given to speculative companies willing to put their money into the London docklands. Property is being sold at well below the market price to encourage people to make a quick buck. If that was done by the much vilified local government system, those councillors would be surcharged and disqualified for neglecting their fiduciary duties.

I say to the Government, to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who is, of course, not with us in the House, and to those who, on his behalf, listen and report back to him that we do not want solutions imposed as though we were colonies of an underdeveloped nation. We are not a separate part of the country. We want the opportunity to do things for ourselves with our people. If the Prime Minister means what she says about the need to listen and to be willing to co-operate with those who wish to regenerate their economies and communities, I hope that, respecting the cultures and the politics of those areas, she will be willing to put some of those resources and some of that commitment into areas where it is clear that the whole of the community, speaking with one voice, is unified in seeking a way forward. It is statesmanship of the first order that unites a nation and does not divide it. It is those who give people the dignity of having a job and of using their skills who will be remembered. Those of us who have to suffer the difficulty of Opposition in the years ahead will continue to ask that this country should see our democracy operate in the interests of everyone, and not just in the mission for a few.