Archie Norman – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Archie Norman, the then Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, in the House of Commons on 3 July 1997.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to make my maiden speech on the important subject of the Budget. I congratulate Labour Members who have made their maiden speeches today and welcome their interest in the businesses in their constituencies, especially the highly profitable ones in Leamington Spa. I share their interest and that of the Chancellor in the business community, but perhaps in a more substantial way. I should declare that I am chairman of Asda—the largest private sector employer based in the north of England—a director of Railtrack and a former director of British Rail. That establishes my public sector credentials as well.
I have tried to speak in the Chamber in previous debates, and I think this is about my 11th hour of taking assiduous notes. I have listened to many excellent maiden speeches and, as a result, my geography has been much improved. On this occasion, I do not intend to give the House a guided tour of my constituency, but I should like to speak about my predecessor, Sir Patrick Mayhew, who is now Lord Mayhew of Twysden.

It is not difficult to pay tribute to Lord Mayhew. He was a distinguished Attorney-General and his contribution as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was remarkable. He undertook the role with an open mind, great objectivity, integrity, enthusiasm and relish, and he brought the prospect of lasting peace in Northern Ireland closer than at any time in the previous two decades. In the constituency and in the House. Sir Patrick was, in all respects, larger than life. He succeeded in making a contribution which was in many ways beyond politics. His halo still shines brightly in Tunbridge Wells and, as I am constantly reminded, he leaves large shoes to fill.

Mine is a delightful constituency, situated in Kent in the heart of England. Its focal point is Royal Tunbridge Wells, a spa town which was famous in the 18th century for its royal visitors who, I suspect, were able to get there rather more quickly than today’s commuters. It has two major public finance initiative projects which are important to the local community and which were supported by the Conservative Government. The first is the long-awaited dualling of the A21, which is the main arterial route from London to Hastings. The second is a desperately needed new hospital because the Kent and Sussex hospital is divided into two parts and has outdated facilities. A PFI project for a new hospital is at an advanced stage.

Regrettably, both projects have been called in for one of the new Government’s ubiquitous reviews. That means that, within two months of the election, my constituents fear that they may have to pay a steep price for a Labour Government. I hope that those fears are unjustified. The people of Tunbridge Wells are famous, apart from anything else, for the forthright expression of their views in national newspapers. They are vigorous letter writers, as the Minister will find out before long if our transport and health projects are not approved.

My warning may be a little too late for the Chancellor. He will hear from many home owners in Tunbridge Wells and especially from those whose incomes are less than £15,000 a year. The majority of those who benefit from MIRAS are in that income range, and their incomes have been cut as a result of the Chancellor’s action.

Many of my constituents are retired or saving for retirement and their pension funds will be hit by the changes to advance corporation tax. The abolition of tax relief on private medical insurance affects many of my constituents who are in nursing homes and many people in the insurance industry. It is short-sighted, mean-spirited and economically insignificant and can only add to the pressure on the health service. It is greatly regretted by my constituents. My ambition is to rebrand my constituents “Contented from Tunbridge Wells”, but I fear that the Government have done little in their first few months to help me to achieve that aim.

Two of the Chancellor’s main themes were business and employment. Unlike many Labour Members, I believe that experience in business, enterprise and industry is good for the Government and for the House. I am proud of my record in business and of the companies that I served. I welcome the Chancellor’s intention to be business-friendly, and I also welcome the promotion of people with business experience to the Government. The appointment of the Paymaster General and of David Simon, the former chairman of British Petroleum, are a welcome recognition of the contribution that business can make to the policy and process of government. I am glad to see that my friend Howard Davies has been given a leading role in the Securities and Investments Board. It is good to see a former McKinsey man in gainful employment in public services. Hopefully, he will not be the last.

It was reported at the weekend in, I think, The Sunday Times that Martin Taylor had turned down a ministerial job. Of course, BP and Barclays are among Britain’s 10 largest companies: Asda is about the 50th. Perhaps as the Chancellor works his way down the list I will eventually receive a call. My badge from my shopkeeping days reads, “Happy to help”, which has always been my motto, but, of course, I cannot be certain that my help would be the sort that the Chancellor has in mind.

It is not long since the Secretary of State for Health described people like me as stinking, thieving, lousy, incompetent scum. Even as I read the words I find them amazing. One of the great strengths of the House is that hon. Members are able to speak freely, and the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view, but I hope that there is a little truth in the last part of his epithet because my dictionary defines scum as matter which rises to the top in an otherwise murky liquid. The right hon. Gentleman’s words were, in the main, different from the more honeyed prose that we have heard from the Labour party in the past two years. Its business manifesto states that a Labour Government would create a dynamic and supportive environment in which business can prosper and thrive. We hope that they will succeed in that endeavour, although it will be hard to better the achievement of the Conservative Government in the past 18 years, during which period there has been a comprehensive managerial revolution in the way in which we manage and employ people, create success and invite investment into the United Kingdom. To date, the words from the Government have been friendly, but the substance, I fear, has been increasingly hostile.

The Chancellor said that this is a Budget for investment and to secure our future. Business people are, in the main, practical, and we will wonder quite what he means. Our economy’s future depends on competitiveness and profit and, so far, the balance sheet does not look too good. To start with, business people will wonder whether it is logical for a Government, who make much of the need for investment in infrastructure, transport and the waterworks, to reduce the prospect of further investment with a windfall tax.

The Chancellor said that the tax will not affect investment, employment or the cost of services. In fact, it clearly will. It takes investment cash from those companies, and it defies belief to suppose that obliging utilities to gear up and take on more debt will have no effect on investment. Surely we are all financially literate enough in this day and age to understand that taxing more means investing less. Stage two, we fear, may be regulation to force the investment, which the Government have made less attractive, by other means.

Business people will wonder also where the logic is in Labour’s plans for the proceeds of the tax. They are to be used, apparently, to subsidise wages to create temporary jobs, but permanent jobs will be threatened as wage costs will be driven up with the introduction of a minimum wage. Those of us with experience of employing people and of being employed do not need to be the principal of the London business school to know that a minimum wage will mean fewer jobs. It will hit the most vulnerable people in society—in many respects, those whom the welfare-to-work programme is supposed to help, including the unskilled in particular, the handicapped, the young, the old and, yes, single mothers who work part time.

There is a piece of hypocrisy floating around that the minimum wage is a form of competitiveness—that it will even up the competitive field between employers who exploit employees by paying less and those who do not. The reality is that big business will not be affected by the minimum wage, but small business will. The companies affected will not be large and profitable; they will be the corner shop, the local pub, the small hairdresser and those that we need to support most.

Business people will wonder also how opting into the social chapter will help our competitiveness. I was curious and interested to hear the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) say that businesses in Leamington Spa were not concerned. That is not my experience. Many small businesses throughout the UK are in favour of a free-trading Europe, but wholly opposed to further regulation in the form of the social chapter. New regulations in the form of works councils, supervisory boards and paternity requirements can bring us only closer to a European model of inflexibility and ossification.

Business people will wonder also how taxing pension contributions by limiting tax relief on advance corporation tax can do other than raise the cost of employment. It is irrelevant for the Chancellor to justify that measure by claiming, as he did yesterday: Many pension funds are in substantial surplus”.—[Official Report, 2 July 1997; Vol. 297, c. 306.] If they are in surplus, that is a consequence of the funds that have been injected and of their investment performance. Those companies with surplus funds are taking advantage of that by improving their profits through a pension holiday. By definition, eliminating the scope for pension holidays means reducing those profits. It follows that, if those pension funds are in deficit in future, the money to fund them will have to come out of corporate profits. The £5.4 billion that this measure will raise has to come from somewhere. The cost of the Budget is in company profits and individual savings. That is corporation tax by another name for companies and a savings tax by another name for pensions.

It would be churlish of me not to welcome the cut in corporation tax, particularly for small businesses, many of which will benefit in my constituency, but the balance sheet for businesses in the first eight weeks of this Government is in the red—a small cut in their tax bill for a large slice of their pensions and a large increase in pension contributions.

After this Budget, business people will ask whether we have a Government who mean what they say about business, or a Government for whom business was simply a nice idea and who simply said what the electorate hoped they would. The Chancellor’s grand words about investment and long-termism belie a fundamental shift in Government tone and policy—a shift towards a belief that it is Governments who create jobs and shape the economy. The question that business people will be asking is whether new Labour means a new form of socialism—not the ownership socialism of the past, but the regulatory socialism of continental Europe.

The assumption behind the Budget appears to be that the Government can engineer investment, whereas, in the business world, we know that subsidised investment is often the worst form of investment. The other assumption is that the Government can engineer and create jobs, whereas, in the business world, we know that subsidised jobs are often of the poorest quality and temporary.

It is not my intention to be unreasonably contentious, The Chancellor’s aspiration to improve competitiveness and long-termism is, of course, one which we share. It is the means that we contest. This Budget is not a people’s Budget, as the people will have to pay more tax. It is not a Budget for competitiveness or for enterprise. It is a Budget of taxation to enable a Labour Government to pursue political policies that involve spending more of the “people’s money” on their well-meaning, but perhaps ill-judged, projects.

It is not a good Budget for business, for middle Britain or for my constituents in Tunbridge Wells. The business world is pragmatic, not ideological. Most business men operate in their commercial interests and in those of their shareholders and employees. We judge people by what they deliver, not by what they say. As far as we can, we call a spade a spade. Substance triumphs over style, decisions over reviews, and we will hold the Chancellor to account for his promises. Today, the jury may still be out, but the first signs for business and enterprise are ominous—very ominous indeed.

Ann Widdecombe – 1997 Speech on Fox Hunting

Below is the text of the speech made by Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative MP for Maidstone and the Weald, in the House of Commons on 28 November 1997.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) on his choice of subject. I particularly congratulate him on his courage in introducing a controversial Bill so early in his time in the House.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Wansdyke (Dan Norris) on his maiden speech and on having the courage to make it in such a debate. His predecessor, Jack Aspinwall, was much respected on both sides of the House. I am grateful for the tribute paid to him.

Having started on that friendly note, I should like to engage in one of my favourite sports–trying to flush out the Prime Minister. The hon. Member for Worcester told the House that the Prime Minister supported the Bill. I am pleased to hear that. Does that support extend to making parliamentary time available? I hope that I shall be assisted in the resolution of that query by the spokesman for the Opposition. I hope that he will help me to flush out the Prime Minister.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove): Spokesman for the Government.

Miss Widdecombe: That is true. It takes a lot of getting used to, and it will not last long, anyway.

On 15 April–hon. Members may recall that that was in the middle of the general election campaign–the current Prime Minister, in his then role of Leader of the Opposition, wrote to the current Minister for Sport, the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). He said:

“Our policy is to have a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned by legislation. If such a vote is passed, it will be a decision made by Parliament and parliamentary time will be made available for appropriate legislation to progress in the normal way.”

I repeat:

“parliamentary time will be made available”.

If the House passes the Bill–or at least gives it a Second Reading, as it is unlikely to pass the Bill–I hope that the Prime Minister will honour his promise and will make time available, not for a measure on licensing or some other watered-down proposition, but for the measures in the Bill. We have heard a lot of talk about what the upper House will do. I want to know what the Prime Minister will do if Parliament votes–

Mr. Peter Bradley: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe: No. The hon. Gentleman is not the Prime Minister.

I have a couple of concessions to make about the Bill. It may not be the most perfectly drafted Bill in the world, but it is a pretty good attempt. If it is possible for a lawyer of the eminence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) to interpret clause 5 in a different way from what was intended, we shall tidy that up in Committee. What is the Committee stage for? That is a common plea in private Members’ legislation, and one that I have often made–and Labour Members have not granted it. One does not need perfection the first time, because the Committee stage is designed, elementarily, to clear up such problems.

Yes, the fox is exceptionally cruel. When it goes into a hen-house it is concerned not only with getting a good supper but with having a horrible time with the hens. Does that mean that we should take our standards from the fox? Is it proposed that, because a fox eats a couple of guinea pigs in a nasty way, the House should take its standards from the fox? I find that proposition amazing, as I have some of the other arguments advanced today.

It is argued that if we abolish hunting we will abolish jobs. If we abolish crime, we will put all the police out of work. If we abolish ill health, we will put all the nurses and doctors out of work. Does anyone seriously suggest that we must preserve at all costs crime and ill health because they keep people in jobs?

We are told that there must be consensus before we lock people up, that if there is a large body of opinion that says that something is okay, we must not lock up the practitioners. What about the legalisation of cannabis? A sizeable body of opinion, with which I am totally at odds, says that cannabis is all right. I defend to the hilt society’s right to lock up the purveyors of cannabis. I defend also to the hilt–although this will not be so acceptable to Labour Members–our right to lock up people who did not pay their poll tax when it was a lawfully levied tax.

If this democratically elected House decides that hunting is against the law, it is our right to exact penalties against those who fight the law. We will be penalising not the fact that they like to hunt but the fact that they break the law. I do not believe that the sort of people who tell me that they want to carry on hunting are the sort who would wilfully break the law. There seems to be an underlying assumption that such people will go out breaking the law. Frankly, I doubt it. If Parliament changes the law, I believe that people will largely obey it and that we are entitled to take action against those who do not.

It is important to ask ourselves a simple question. Is hunting so wrong that we wish to abolish it? If it is, all else flows from that. We do not need to be concerned about jobs or liberties to do wrong; we need only ask whether it is so wrong that it should be abolished.

My problem with hunting is not that I contest the right of farmers to practise pesticide. Hunting is a most ineffective pesticide. Its supporters have tried to have it both ways by saying that they do not kill too many foxes but also that they kill so many that it is a good pesticide. In fact, nine tenths of fox control is done by shooting, not hunting.

Hunting is not a pesticide, so we must ask what it is. It is cruelty. I am not against killing foxes or culling deer. I am against the chase, the cruelty involved in the prolonging the terror of a living, sentient being that is running for its life. They laugh at it, apparently. When the deer is running, can feel the hounds closing in and knows that its strength is not going to last, it is uproariously funny. If it is so funny, why do not those who favour hunting take a trip to Kenya and stand unprotected in a lion reserve and see if they enjoy the hunt? I admit that I might enjoy watching it. Prolongation of terror is wrong. Those who practise it when there are alternatives that are already widely practised do wrong. Yes, the scenes of a hunt are splendid, so splendid that they are all over my dining room curtains, but they are colourful scenes of olde England, and in olde England, not in modern Britain, they belong.

Theresa May – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons


Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa May, the Conservative MP for Maidenhead, in the House of Commons on 2 June 1997.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate.

When I was preparing my speech, I looked at some of the maiden speeches that had been made by hon. Members in the weeks before the Whitsun recess. I noted that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Ms McKenna) mentioned an incident in which a taxi driver had mistaken her for the wife of an Labour Member of Parliament. Sadly, mistaken identity is not confined to the Labour Benches.

My own confusion was great when I was in the Members Lobby and the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) rushed up to me, himself in a state of some confusion, and encouraged me to put my name on the list for the ballot for private Members’ Bills. He was astounded when I looked at him and said, “Why?” Obviously, he had mistaken me for one of the ladies on the other side. [HON. MEMBERS: “Surely not.”] I was told that a Member making a maiden speech was never intervened on or heckled. That clearly refers to the opposite party, but not to one’s own.

Further confusion has ensued in my early days in the House. When I arrived, I had to take great pains to point out to my colleagues that I represented Maidenhead rather than Maidstone. That was particularly pertinent in the early days of this Parliament. Being a Conservative Member called Theresa adds a certain interest to my life in the House; I am thinking of acquiring a badge reading, “No, I am the other one.” To cap it all, on the morning when I moved into my new office, when the telephone rang for the first time I eagerly picked up the receiver to find out who the caller could be, only to discover that the person on the other end of the line wanted to speak to Edwina Currie.

One of the pleasures of making a maiden speech—I suspect that it may be the only pleasure—is the opportunity that it gives the new Member to pay tribute to his or her predecessors. For most Members, that means referring to former Members of Parliament; but Maidenhead is a new constituency, created from two former constituencies, and I am pleased to say that both my predecessors—my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)—are well and truly back in the House.

I thank them for the kindness that they have shown me, and for the help and advice that they have given and continue to give me. I particularly thank them for giving up some rather good bits of their former constituencies to form mine. In the circumstances, I am very grateful for that. I also pay tribute to their diligence as constituency Members. Despite having had other onerous and time-consuming responsibilities at various times, both worked assiduously on behalf of their constituencies and their constituents, and in that respect they have left me with a great deal to live up to.

It is a privilege to stand here as Member of Parliament for Maidenhead, especially because this is the first time that Maidenhead has had its own Member of Parliament. In view of the potential origin of the town’s name in the symbol of the maiden’s head, it is perhaps appropriate that it should now be represented by a maiden—although I must confess to using the term somewhat loosely.

Although the name of the constituency is Maidenhead, it covers more than just the town of Maidenhead. It also includes some lovely tracts of Berkshire countryside, including what I would describe as some of the prettiest and most delightful villages in the country. Maidenhead is a thriving, dynamic town with a thriving local economy and many local businesses, ranging from small family firms that have been in the area for many years—indeed, for generations—to the European headquarters of multinational companies.

The advantages for businesses in the area are many. Not only is it a pleasant and attractive place in which to live and work, but there is a high-quality labour force on which to draw. Maidenhead also has the advantage of proximity to the motorway network, to London and, of course, Heathrow. Those are advantages for business, although it must be said that they also create some problems for local people—night flights into Heathrow, noise from the A404(M), the need for another bridge across the River Thames, the threat of motorway service stations and the threat of development. I have been and will continue to be involved in all those issues, and I trust that they can be resolved in the interests of those living in the constituency.

Although not much has been written about Maidenhead, it is a town steeped in history. I was reminded of that yesterday morning as I watched the mayor unveil a plaque in the town centre to commemorate the site of the 13th-century chapel that was the predecessor of the current borough church of St. Andrew and St. Mary Magdalene.

Maidenhead owes its origins to the River Thames, and the river continues to play a significant role in the life of the constituency. Many people enjoy walking alongside the river in Maidenhead and watching the operation of Boulters lock. Further up the river is the delightful village of Cookham, where people can spend time looking at the works of the local artist Stanley Spencer in the Stanley Spencer gallery.

The river in the Maidenhead constituency makes it host to one of this country’s major national summer sporting events, the Henley regatta. Although Henley is in Oxfordshire, the regatta meadows are firmly in Berkshire. The river adds charm to many other villages, including Sonning and Wargrave. Wargrave may be of particular interest to female Members, because in 1914 Wargrave parish church was burnt down by suffragettes. I am happy to say that getting votes for women in Wargrave these days does not require such drastic measures. I shall not name all the villages in the constituency, but it is a delightful part of the country, and I am very proud to represent it.

Maidenhead is blessed with good schools in both the state sector and the private sector. I hope that we all agree that the aim is to provide the right education for every child. For some children, that will be an education that is firmly based in learning practical and vocational skills. For others, it will be an education based on academic excellence. The assisted places scheme enables bright children from less well-off families to take advantage of an education that would otherwise not be available to them. I totally refute the concept that underpins the Bill—that, if everybody cannot have it, nobody should have it.

The advantage of the assisted places scheme is that it enables children from less privileged families to benefit from high-quality education. I want to focus on one aspect of the scheme, to which I trust the Government will pay some sympathetic attention. The assisted places scheme not only helps bright children, but is an important way of helping children from difficult family backgrounds or with particular social needs.

A number of charitable foundations provide boarding school places for children whose family circumstances are such that they require to go boarding school: they may have troubled backgrounds or there may be a social need. Those places are provided through a mixture of funding: the boarding school element is funded by the charitable foundation and the education costs are covered by the assisted places scheme. Those children are genuinely in need, and if the assisted places scheme goes, the opportunity to provide boarding school places for children from difficult backgrounds will go with it. I know that the Minister has received representations on that issue, and I trust that the Government will find a way to ensure that genuinely needy children continue to be catered for as they have been in the past.

I should also like to comment on the opposite side of the Bill, if I can call it that: I am referring to the reduction of class sizes. When I was the chairman of a local education authority, we had many interesting debates about the impact of class size on the quality of education. My concern about the Bill and the way in which it will operate is not only that it will abolish the assisted places scheme, but that the assumption behind it is that the prime determinant of the quality of education for our children is the size of class in which they are taught. It is not: the prime determinant of education quality is the quality of teaching, and that is a function of the quality of teachers and the way in which they teach.

The evidence clearly shows a direct correlation between the method of teaching children and the quality of education that they receive. There is no clear correlation between quality of education and class size or the amount of money spent on children in any particular class. I urge the Government to reconsider the issue of quality and standards of education. It is important to examine the methods used by teachers, particularly in the primary sector. I have long questioned the concept of child-centred education. That may sound wonderful, but, as the Office for Standards in Education has said, we should seek more whole-class teaching in primary schools. The method of teaching is important, and the Government should not forget that in their attempt to grab the headlines on the issue of class sizes.

The only other point that I want to make relates to parental choice. By putting an artificial cap on the size of primary school classes, the Government are reducing parental choice. When I was a chairman of education, I received a number of telephone calls from anguished parents who were concerned because their children could not get into the school of their choice. I am sure that any councillor involved in education will have received such calls.

Those parents will now find that their choice is further restricted, because in the past they were able to take their case to appeals panels—my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) raised that issue. We all know that head teachers often found one or two extra places for children whose need to be in a particular school was great. The Government are to abandon that practice. They say, “No, it doesn’t matter if a school is popular, or that it is over-subscribed and parents are keen to get their children there. The parents don’t know best about where their children should be educated. The Government know best, and the Government will put an artificial limit on class size.” That will further reduce parental choice.

The Bill will not improve academic excellence or the quality of education in our classrooms. It will take away opportunities from a large number of children, who would benefit from a quality of education that they would not receive without the assisted places scheme. Furthermore, it will reduce parental choice. The Government are saying to parents, “You don’t know best—we do.”

Queen Elizabeth II – 1997 Queen’s Speech


Below is the text of the speech made by HM Queen Elizabeth II in the House of Lords on 14 May 1997.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to receiving State Visits by His Excellency the President of Brazil in December and by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan next year. We also look forward to our visit to Canada and to our State Visits to Pakistan and India.

My Government intend to govern for the benefit of the whole nation.

The education of young people will be my Government’s first priority. They will work to raise standards in schools, colleges and universities and to promote lifelong learning at the workplace. They will cut class sizes using money saved as a result of legislation phasing out the assisted places scheme. A further Bill will contain measures to raise educational standards, develop a new role for local education authorities and parents, establish a new framework for the decentralised and equitable organisation of schools, propose reforms to the teaching profession, and respond positively to recommendations from the National Committee of Inquiry into the future of higher education.

The central economic objectives of my Government are high and stable levels of economic growth and employment, to be achieved by ensuring opportunity for all. The essential platform for achieving these objectives is economic stability.

To that end a Bill will be introduced to give the Bank of England operational responsibility for setting interest rates, in order to deliver price stability and support the Government’s overall economic policy, within a framework of enhanced accountability. My Government will also ensure that public borrowing is controlled through tough fiscal rules and that the burden of public debt is kept at a stable and prudent level. They will aim to deliver high and sustainable levels of growth and employment by encouraging investment in industry, skills, infrastructure and new technologies; by reducing long-term unemployment, especially among young people; by promoting competition; and by helping to create successful and profitable business. These policies will enhance Britain’s position as a leading industrial nation.

My Government have pledged to mount a fundamental attack upon youth and long-term unemployment and will take early steps to implement a welfare-to-work programme to tackle unemployment, financed by a levy on the excess profits of the privatised utilities which will be brought forward in an early Budget.

A new partnership with business will be at the heart of my Government’s plans to build a modern and dynamic economy to improve the competitiveness of British industry. They will bring forward legislation to reform and strengthen competition law and introduce a statutory right to interest on late payment of debts. My Government are committed to fairness at work and will introduce a national minimum wage.

Legislation will be brought forward to amend criminal law and to combat crime, including reform of the youth justice system and measures against anti-social behaviour. A Bill will be introduced to prohibit the private possession of handguns.

My Government will improve the National Health Service as a service providing care on the basis of need to the whole population. They will bring forward new arrangements for decentralisation and co-operation within the service and for ending the internal market. Legislation will be introduced to clarify the existing powers of NHS trusts to enter into partnerships with the private sector. A White Paper will be published on measures to reduce tobacco consumption, including legislation to ban tobacco advertising.

My Government will contribute to the achievement of high standards of food safety and protection of public health throughout the food chain; will ensure openness and transparency of information to consumers, and will consult widely on recommendations for a Food Standards Agency.

A Bill will be introduced to ensure that as many people as possible have access to the benefits of the National Lottery including for health and education projects.

Measures will be introduced to enable capital receipts from the sale of council houses to be invested in housebuilding and renovation as part of my Government’s determination to deal with homelessness and unemployment.

The Government are committed to open and transparent government. They will introduce a Bill to strengthen data protection controls. They will enhance people’s aspirations for better, more accessible and accountable public services using information technology to the full. A White Paper will be published on proposals for a Freedom of Information Bill.

A Bill will be introduced to incorporate into United Kingdom law the main provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Decentralisation is essential to my Government’s vision of a modern nation. Legislation will be introduced to allow the people of Scotland and Wales to vote in referendums on my Government’s proposals for a devolved Scottish Parliament and the establishment of a Welsh Assembly. If these proposals are approved in the referendums, my Government will bring forward legislation to implement them. Legislation will be introduced to provide for a referendum on a directly elected strategic authority and a directly elected mayor for London. A Bill will be brought forward to establish Regional Development Agencies in England outside London.

In Northern Ireland my Government will seek reconciliation and a political settlement which has broad support, working in co-operation with the Irish Government. They will work to build trust and confidence in Northern Ireland by bringing forward legislation to deal with terrorism and to reduce tension over parades, and other measures to protect human rights, combat discrimination in the workplace, increase confidence in policing and foster economic development.

Members of the House of Commons,

Estimates for the public service will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

In the European Union, my Government will take a leading role. They will seek to promote employment, improve competitiveness, complete the Single Market and opt into the Social Chapter. They will seek further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy to secure lower food prices for consumers and save money, support the rural economy and enhance the environment. They will seek changes to the Common Fisheries Policy to conserve fish stocks in the long-term interest of the UK fishing industry. They will play a full part in the debate about Economic and Monetary Union.

My Government will work for the early and successful enlargement of the European Union. They will pursue an outcome to the Intergovernmental Conference and use their Presidency in the first half of 1998 to strengthen European co-operation while advancing the United Kingdom’s interests and to make the Union more open, democratic and efficient. A Bill will be introduced to amend the European Communities Act if necessary.

My Government will ensure a strong defence based on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and promote international peace and security. They will play a major role in decisions to shape NATO’s future, including enlargement, and to include Russia in a wider security framework. To ensure that the United Kingdom’s defence capabilities are matched to the changing strategic setting, my Government will reassess our essential security interests and defence needs.

My Government will retain strong armed forces, including the nuclear deterrent. Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will be a priority.

My Government will work for reforms to make the United Nations more effective and for an early resolution of its funding crisis. My Government will continue to support peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They will work for a settlement in Cyprus. They will promote efforts for a durable peace in the Middle East.

My Government will work on behalf of Hong Kong’s people to achieve a successful transition which preserves their way of life and promotes their continued stability and prosperity.

Preparations will continue for the G7 Summit to be held in Birmingham and the second Asia-Europe Meeting in London in 1998. My Government will host the meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in October 1997 and seize the opportunity to increase co-operation between the United Kingdom and other members of the Commonwealth.

My Government have established a Department for International Development. They will publish a White Paper setting out how, through more coherent policies, they will tackle global poverty and promote sustainable development. They will rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

My Government will promote open markets around the world, while ensuring that the interests of developing countries and the global environment are fairly reflected.

The promotion of human rights worldwide will be a priority, as will the fight against terrorism, organised crime, money laundering and drug misuse and trafficking at home and abroad.

My Government will seek to restore confidence in the integrity of the nation’s political system by upholding the highest standards of honesty and propriety in public life. They will consider how the funding of political parties should be regulated and reformed.

They will programme House of Commons business to ensure more effective scrutiny of Bills and better use of the time of Members of the House of Commons. During the course of the Session, my Government will also publish in draft for public consultation a number of Bills which they intend to introduce in subsequent Sessions of this Parliament. They will propose the establishment of a new Select Committee of the House of Commons to look at ways of making Parliamentary procedure more effective and efficient.

Other measures will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

Candy Atherton – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made in the House of Commons by Candy Atherton on 11 June 1997.

I am grateful for the opportunity to bring to the attention of the House a problem that affects hundreds of people in my constituency and throughout Cornwall.

Before dealing with the problems of long-term care for the elderly in Cornwall, I should like, in my maiden speech, to describe my constituency. It is the penultimate seat before the Atlantic and America, a place of almost indescribable beauty, stretching from Gwithian to Portreath on the north coast, while the Carrick roads and Helford river form its southerly boundaries.

The north coast is wild and the south coast is bathed in warm air that gives us some of the world’s most famous and breathtaking gardens—Trebah being one which readily comes to mind. We have creeks and coves, windswept cliffs and sun-soaked and glorious beaches, but that beauty, like so much in life, cannot mask the underlying problems that scar the area.

Unemployment is at 10 per cent. officially, yet, on estates in Redruth and Camborne, it is nearer 90 per cent. among men of working age. The old industries, such as mining, quarrying, fishing and farming, are in decline and what work there is, is often low paid and seasonal, in the tourist industry.

The last working tin mine in Europe provides a mainstay of employment in the north of the constituency, as do the Falmouth docks in the south, but where thousands were employed years ago, only handfuls of hundreds are today. Many more jobs used to be found in the tin and quarrying industries and still more depended on the mines.

Today, we have the internationally famous Camborne school of mines that has trained hundreds of people from throughout the world in its many arts. There is widespread dismay in the area because the welcome plan for a university for Cornwall in Penzance includes the proposal to relocate that famous school out of our area.

Before making this speech, I read my predecessors’ maiden speeches. The last four all referred to problems of unemployment. Sebastian Coe, the former Olympic runner, spoke of the endemic unemployment, as did his predecessors, the broadcaster David Mudd, Dr. Dunwoody and Frank Harold Hayman. Senior Members may remember Harold Hayman, a Labour Member of Parliament who is still spoken of with love and affection by my constituents. “If you do half as well as our Harold,” they tell me, “you won’t be doing half bad.”

My priority as a Member of Parliament will be to bring new work and opportunities to my constituents. I look forward with relish to the introduction of a national minimum wage which, alongside reform of our benefits system, will enable my constituents to enjoy employment and a living wage.

I shall be keen to ensure that we have a development agency to tackle the problems facing the fishing and farming communities, improve the quality of our housing and provide new opportunities for our young people through jobs and training. In Cornwall, we are concerned to ensure that the seasonal nature of much of our employment does not result in fewer opportunities for our young people and the long-term unemployed. The number of people enduring long-term unemployment is greater in reality than the figures imply.

I could entertain the House with the follies of South West Water. We pay the highest water bills in the country for a service that leaves many of our beaches polluted and fails to provide the long-term investment for which Falmouth, in particular, is crying out. However, this debate is about Cornwall Care.

I believe that all Members from Cornwall must work and speak together on issues of concern to the county. There is much that the new Government must do to remedy the ills of the past 18 years of Conservative rule. I am certain that there will be times when the Liberal Democrats are critical of the new Government; equally, there will be times when I am critical of the actions of Liberal Democrats. That is the nature of all good relationships: we all fall out occasionally. This is one of those times.

The tragedy that has prompted this debate has led some to dub the charity, “Cornwall Doesn’t Care”, but I leave it to right hon. and hon. Members to decide for themselves. The problem is one that all too many local authorities have had to face. The Conservative Government slanted the figures so that it was financially better for many authorities to transfer their residential homes for the elderly to housing association or charity status.

Several years ago, Cornwall county council recognised that it was facing a problem with its 18 residential homes for the elderly. Two and a half years ago, a report was produced that suggested that four homes should be closed. Understandably, there was uproar when it was published. People, including the then chair of policy and resources, in whose ward one of the homes was located, do not want their local homes to close.

The controlling group proposed that a new charity, Cornwall Care, should be created. The county council would retain ownership of the homes but the services would be delivered by Cornwall Care. Last April, the new charity took control of the services and announced that existing staff would have to sign new contracts of employment considerably worsening their terms and conditions.

Many of us recognised that the figures did not add up and that the new charity would be forced to take action when the staff were transferred into their employment. I met many of the staff, some of whom faced losing more than £300 a month. That was their mortgage, and many told me that they would not be able to survive financially under the new terms.

For weeks, pressure was put on those caring members of staff to sign the new contracts. They were told that if they failed to sign, they would lose their jobs. I have some knowledge of transfer of undertakings law and I joined many others in publicly warning the charity that it would face industrial tribunals.

Eventually, 249 staff decided to take their cases to an industrial tribunal. All were dismissed. That was not an easy decision for them to make. Many had worked for the county council for more than 20 years, and I know that their decision caused them great anguish and misery. To a man and a woman—they were mostly women—they said that they loved working with the residents and wanted to continue doing so, but that they could not and would not sign the contracts.

The case was heard in Truro in the middle of the general election campaign. The former staff won and the result was widely publicised in the national media. Since then, the situation has deteriorated. The charity has announced that it will be forced into liquidation if an appeal is unsuccessful, and I understand that it has recently said that it faced severe financial problems whatever the result of the appeal. That has meant that existing staff are concerned for their futures and that residents—and their families—are worried about where they will live. The staff who won the industrial tribunal feel pressure not to take up their legal entitlement and a general miasma of worry is hanging in the air.

During the election campaign, I met folk in tears about the situation. I met one woman, who was clutching a letter from Cornwall Care and who was in tears on her doorstep. She implored me to act as soon as I won the election, because she was so worried about her mother, who was a resident in one of the homes in my constituency. That was one reason why I, with many other hon. Members, signed an early-day motion about Cornwall Care last month.

Meanwhile, the county council, which was embroiled in elections itself during the general election campaign, said that the problem was for Cornwall Care to resolve. My intention in requesting this Adjournment debate was to knock a few heads together at Cornwall Care and the council. The county council, as the owner and purchaser of the service, has a responsibility to resolve the problem. Occasionally, local government gets its priorities wrong and sometimes councillors make the wrong decisions. When Labour local authorities err, as a party and a Government, we have rightly condemned them. It is time for the Liberal Democrats to do the same.

I have consulted the Liberal Democrats’ general election manifesto, which was entitled “Make the Difference”. It states: Older people in Britain should be able to look forward to a retirement of security, opportunity and dignity. Older people feel that they are fast becoming Britain’s forgotten generation. Many of the residents of Cornwall Care feel that they have been forgotten, that they have no security and that the whole sorry mess is very undignified.

Many of us believe that the county council knew that Cornwall Care would lose at an industrial tribunal. It is not right for local authorities to transfer a problem to another body rather than face the political flak. The residents and their families and the former and current staff need to be reassured about their futures. The whole sorry mess could, and should, have been avoided. The elderly in Cornwall deserve better and I call on the Liberal Democrats in Parliament, from whom I would like to hear on the issue some day, to demand that their colleagues on Cornwall county council to resolve the problem.

Patricia Hewitt – 1997 Maiden Speech to the House of Commons


Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Patricia Hewitt in the House of Commons on 3 July 1997.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech during the debate on the Budget. It has been a pleasure to listen to such fine maiden speeches this afternoon. I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman). Having spent many a pleasant weekend with friends in his constituency, I was sorry to hear that “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” remains disgusted. I hope that he will make good his offer to assist my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer by ensuring that Asda, the company with which he has had such a long association, participates enthusiastically in our welfare-to-work programme.

This is, above all, a Budget for jobs and families, which is why it is being so warmly welcomed in the constituency that I have the honour to represent. I know that my pleasure in this Budget will be shared by my predecessor, Greville Janner, whom many right hon. and hon. Members will remember as an effective Chairman of the Select Committee on Employment.

Greville Janner is remembered and known more widely for his lifelong opposition to racism in all its forms, for his distinguished presidency of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for his sponsorship of the War Crimes Act 1991, and for his relentless pursuit of the secret repositories of Nazi stolen gold. In the constituency, however, he is remembered above all as an outstanding constituency Member of Parliament.

I remember last year knocking on the door of one elderly woman, who told me most movingly how her grandson had died many years ago in a tragic accident swallowing the top of a biro pen, which, in those days, lacked the tiny hole that would have enabled him to breathe sufficiently to remain alive. It was Greville who led the successful campaign for that safety measure in product standards. It was that sort of campaigning on behalf of his constituents for which not only he but his father—his predecessor in this House—is remembered.

Greville was one half of a unique father and son team, who between them represented my constituency for 52 years. Greville’s father, who subsequently became Lord Janner, did not announce his decision to retire until after the 1970 general election had been called. Greville used to tell the story of his selection with great amusement. He claimed—I am sure quite wrongly—that he was assisted by the fact that the election posters, “Vote Labour, Vote Janner”, had already been printed. I am sure that he would have been selected under any circumstances. He will no doubt forgive me if I say how grateful I am that his son decided not to follow in his footsteps.

I also want to pay tribute to three other outstanding public servants who served my constituency. Councillor Paul Sood was one of the most outstanding fighters for the Asian community, not only in Leicester, but throughout the country. Tragically, he died last year, just a week after being re-elected to serve as the city councillor for Abbey ward in my constituency. It was an enormous loss, but I know how proud he would be to see his widow, Mrs. Manjula Sood, now serving in his place.

All of us in the constituency were sad to hear last month of the death of Councillor Martin Ryan, who for many years was leader of the Labour group on the county council. He served, among other capacities, as the county councillor for the Mowmacre ward in my constituency. Just two days ago, I was also extremely sorry to hear of the death of the former councillor, George Billington, who had only recently retired as my predecessor’s parliamentary agent. I will do my best to live up to the extremely high standards of public service which they and my predecessors have set.

I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) and for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) will agree when I say that Leicester is a wonderful place in which to live and to learn. We are Europe’s first Environment City. We are home to two first-rate universities. Many of their students, especially those at De Montfort, live within my constituency.

Although it may distress some right hon. and hon. Members to acknowledge this, now that Leicester holds the triple crown of sporting achievements in football, rugby and cricket, we are indeed Britain’s sporting capital. I am delighted to say that, now that the Millennium Commission has chosen the project for the national space science centre, to be sited within my constituency, as the landmark millennium project for the east midlands, we will shortly be the space capital as well.

Leicester, West is a constituency of captivating variety. It stretches from the old industrial buildings along the banks of the River Soar and the Grand Union canal, which form part of the border of the constituency. It takes in a small part of the city’s old mediaeval centre—although, less happily, we also take in some of the inner-city ring road, built in the 1960s with a distressing lack of sensitivity for that old mediaeval heritage. It extends down the Belgrave road, which marks the border between my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, where the red brick cottages of 19th century weavers are now the heart of Leicester’s Asian community, and from there across to the new estate of Beaumont Leys and the longer-settled communities of Mowmacre, Stocking Farm, New Parks and North Braunstone.

I know that residents, especially on those estates, will warmly welcome my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday that he would rapidly begin the release of council house receipts, which will make possible desperately needed repairs and renovations to their homes.

Above all, Leicester is rich in its people. We are well known, and rightly so, for our cultural and racial diversity. By the year 2000, half the young people of our city will come from the ethnic minority communities. Leicester is fortunate to be home to many thriving businesses and to a variety of churches, temples, gurdwaras and mosques that are at the heart of the communities they serve. It is home also to a number of theatres, festivals and arts performances from a variety of different traditions.

Like many of my constituents, I am a citizen not only of this country, but of another—in my case, Australia. In this Parliament, I am the only Member also to be an Australian citizen. Like many of my constituents, I know what it is like to have families in two countries, so I know how much many families in my constituency warmly welcomed my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s early decision to abolish the odious primary purpose rule.

I must mention also the parks and open spaces with which my constituency is so richly endowed. Perhaps suitably for Europe’s first Environment City, Western park in my constituency is home to one of the country’s leading green charities and consultancies, Environ, along with the flourishing city farm on Gorse Hill—both of which will, I hope, play a considerable role in creating the environmental task force within the east midlands.

I regret to say, however, that our enjoyment of some of our open spaces is all too often spoiled by the arrival of unauthorised travellers, who themselves have too few authorised sites to which to turn. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will be sympathetic to the case that I will be making on behalf of my constituents for a badly needed review of the previous Government’s law and practice in this area, which has proved so disastrous.

Perhaps too often neglected in my constituency and others like it are the outer-city estates. Almost half of my constituents live on such estates. Listening to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State this afternoon, I found myself thinking in particular of families struggling to bring up children in communities where anything up to one in four of working-age men are officially unemployed—and where, in reality, far more are out of work.

Young men all too often turn to destructive or criminal activities, because no creative outlet is offered for their energy. Children are growing up, as one grandmother said to me in fury and frustration, to believe that the only way they can earn a living is to sign on for a giro.

Those are the people whom the last Government locked into unemployment and poverty, and then derided as an underclass. The people I have the privilege to represent are no underclass. They want a chance of a job, a chance to earn a living, a chance to bring up their families decently, to live in safety and to retire with dignity. They want the same respect and opportunity’ as other people. That is what the Budget will begin to give them.

Listening to today’s speech by my right hon. Friend, I thought of Betty, for example, who is a parent governor at Wycliffe community college, which is located on one of the estates in my constituency. Recently, Wycliffe community college was inspected by the Office for Standards in Education. One member of the inspection team asked Betty how the school coped with local parents and with families living on income support—”you know”, he said, “with the underclass.”

Betty said, “I’m one of the people you’re talking about.” She told him, “I live on benefit—not because I want to, but because my husband lost his job and hasn’t been able to get another one, and because we bought our council house, just as the last Government encouraged us to do. Now we find that the only way we can pay the mortgage is to stay on income support.”

Betty left school at age 15 with no qualifications, returned to school, through Wycliffe college, and got herself five O-levels, which in itself is no mean achievement. She would love to train and work as a classroom assistant, and that school would love to give her the job. She cannot take such a job, however, for the simple reason that, as things stand, her family would no longer be able to afford their mortgage. It is such poverty traps, which were created by the previous Administration, that force families such as Betty’s to choose between the job they need and the home in which they live.

I know how much Betty’s family and families in a similar position will welcome the announcements made in the Budget, and today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, about the Government’s welfare-to-work programme and their longer-term objective of creating a benefit system that will at long last reward rather than penalise hard work and effort.

I thought also of Bill, who is a manager at one of the employment projects on a local estate. Bill was a construction worker—a roofer—until he was injured in a fall from the roof on which he was working. He now says, however, that that accident was the best thing that ever happened to him, because it gave him a chance to discover within himself gifts that he did not know that he had. He is now running an employment advice project, into which he has introduced some wonderfully sophisticated software that, with his guidance, enables people who are lacking not only a job but the most basic confidence to start exploring their own real aptitudes and aspirations before taking that first step into training or a job.

Bill said, “I know how hard it is to change. But I also know that people can do it, because I’ve done it myself.” I believe that the Government’s welfare-to-work programme will mobilise community groups such as Bill’s, marrying the bottom-up energy and potential of millions of people across the country to the Government’s top-down strategy and vision.

I thought also of the lone mothers in my constituency who began another group, which they called Turning Point, because that is what it was for them. Originally, those lone mothers met to support one another over a cup of coffee around a kitchen table, but now they are running their own thriving voluntary organisation.

I thought also of the staff and parents—fathers and mothers—who run creches and playgroups that have been starved of funds, sometimes to the brink of closure, because of the previous Government’s local council budget cuts. They are able to offer not only child care places but—in response to yesterday’s very welcome announcement—training places for young unemployed people who wish to work with children.

I am sure that, like me, those parents hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will ensure that lone parents under the age of 25 who have spent six months or more out of work and on income support will be able to access the opportunities created by the welfare-to-work programme in the same way and on the same terms as other young people who have been on job seeker’s allowance.

After listening to yesterday’s Budget and to today’s debate, I thought also of the teachers working and living in my constituency. Their dedication was scorned by the previous Government. Our new unitary council shares the new Government’s determination to ensure that all our children have a chance to fulfil their potential, whether they live in inner cities, in suburbs or on outer estates.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not be at all surprised if I say that several Leicester schools—including Dovelands junior school and Bendbow Rise infant school, which is in my constituency, and recently did its best to celebrate an anniversary while the rain poured in through the roof—will be early in the queue for the very welcome new capital funding and private finance initiative announced yesterday.

Finally, I thought of the hundreds of women and men, many of whom are retired, who are now volunteers in so many community organisations, such as social clubs, youth sporting groups, children’s bands and other organisations. I thought also of the sometimes wholly unrecognised individuals who, in their own homes, are looking after children and other relatives with profound disabilities. Our social fabric is woven from all their efforts.

Those men and women, and many others like them, are the heroes and heroines of my constituency. They and thousands of other people across the country will be the heroes and heroines of the new Britain that we were elected to build, and for which the Budget lays such a magnificent foundation.

Michael Portillo – 1997 Speech to Centre for Policy Studies

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Portillo to the CPS at the 1997 Conservative Party Conference held in Blackpool on 9 October 1997.

I was delighted to be asked by the Centre for Policy Studies to give this lecture. But as a member of the Cabinet which led the Conservative Party to its greatest ever defeat, and as a former Member of Parliament who lost to Labour on a 17 per cent swing, you will understand that I am not here to lecture anyone.

On the Friday morning, the day after the general election, even before Tony Blair had arrived in Downing Street, I received a telephone call of condolence from Lady Thatcher. But it was condolence delivered in her inimitable style. It was a call to arms and to renewal. She reminded me how after the defeat in 1974, the party had to rebuild, and in particular begin again its work on ideas and policy. That was when the Centre for Policy Studies was founded, and I for one hope that the CPS will be a source of new thinking in our present difficulties. But that process cannot be based on nostalgia for old ways of thought. An idea whose time has come can quickly become an idea whose time has gone. The value of the CPS’s work has always been its originality and its fitness for the day. Even the enduring principles upon which a party should be founded must be given contemporary forms of expression.

Let us begin by recognising the scale of our defeat and of our problem. Perhaps as one who went in an instant from being in the Cabinet to being a member of the general public, I am qualified to offer an opinion. I do not accept the view that the Conservatives lost the election of 1997 because we abandoned one-nation Toryism or split the nation. We did not. I will return to that point in a moment. The causes of our defeat were different. I would like to identify what I believe to have been the four principal factors.

First, the party became associated increasingly with the most disagreeable messages and thoughts. Much of that linkage was unjustified, but since it is what people thought – what people still think – it must be appreciated as a deeply-felt distaste, rather than momentary irritation. We cannot dismiss it as mere false perception. Tories were linked to harshness: thought to be uncaring about unemployment, poverty, poor housing, disability and single parenthood; and considered indifferent to the moral arguments over landmines and arms sales. We were thought to favour greed and the unqualified pursuit of the free market, with a “devil take the hindmost” attitude.

Second, we abandoned almost completely the qualities of loyalty and the bonds of party without which party effectively ceases to exist. Some of this was ideological. Passions about the future of our country rightly fired people up, but wrongly led them to attack and despise their colleagues. Part of it was egotistical. There were MPs anxious to oblige whenever the media came looking for dissent, seizing the opportunity to be famous for fifteen minutes. But now we are out of government, their views are sought more rarely, and their once-famous faces are fading in the public memory.

We must re-discover the old instincts that led Tories to support one another and to rally round. Loyalty was never a secret weapon: it was because it was so visible in public, and reinforced in private, that it was so effective. The impact of disunity upon us is clear to see. The party must in the very near future learn again to display the camaraderie and common purpose that are fundamental to a party’s prospects. Our new leader, William Hague, has every right to expect our loyalty publicly and privately. If he does not get it, we stand no chance of being re-elected. He has shown that he will lead. Now the party must show that it can be led.

Third, we were thought to be arrogant and out of touch. Much of it may have been no more than personal mannerisms that grated on the public after years in office. Some of it was insensitivity – using the language of economics and high finance when people’s jobs and self-esteem were at stake. And when people looked at the composition of our party, they thought it too elderly, or too vulgar, or too out of touch in vocabulary and perceptions, or in some other way, unfamiliar and unrepresentative.

Fourth, there was sleaze. I did not believe all that Conservatives were accused of . Even today, I do not think that wrongdoing was any more prevalent in our party than in others, and I expect the rotten boroughs of the Labour Party to prove as much in coming months. But it was certainly bad enough. Sleaze disgraced us in the eyes of the public. Their perception was of corruption and unfitness for public service. Such distasteful perceptions can endure and do us damage for a long time.

We should face these issues head on and deal with them. The last years profoundly disappointed our supporters, and disgusted many others. Those of us who were in the parliamentary party, and those of us who were in the government, bear a particular responsibility.

But let us also be clear about our successes and achievements. The Labour Party is determined to create the myth that our eighteen years represented a period of misery and failure. So let me deal briefly with what really happened.

The Conservative Government took a country that was on the brink of being ungovernable and restored the authority of government and the ability of management to manage. We replaced a debilitating corporatism with a climate of opportunity. We turned sullen nationalised industries into high quality public services fit for a modern economy. We pioneered the view that the job of government was not to create wealth itself, but to establish the conditions in which enterprise could flourish. That insight is today shared by virtually every government in the democratic world. In that context we talked about the benefits of the free market.

But we never argued that free markets were everything. We increased sharply spending on social security (not because of unemployment, but to help more people and pay higher benefits) and on health and education. We were determined to modernise our economy and to make Britain competitive, but we softened the effects of industrial change with policies to help the inner cities, with regional aid and training programmes for those without work. Ministers fought successfully to attract inward investment and to win contracts abroad. We were anything but laissez-faire. Above all we pursued policies that brought Britain success. At the end of the Tory period we had a greater proportion of our people in work than our European neighbours. We had growth and low inflation. The strength of the British economy is now recognised without any carping. Everyone knows that that was our work.

Nonetheless, at his conference last week, Mr Blair made the point that twenty years ago the IMF came to bury Britain, but now they praise us, claiming into the bargain that New Labour has friends everywhere. In fact, the IMF can praise Britain only because they believe socialism has been buried. It is the economic policy of the last government that has friends everywhere, but some of them in this country will yet prove to be false. I well remember the verdict of the IMF on the Labour government. I shared the feeling of national humiliation brought upon us all by the men who were Mr Blair’s role models at the time. I recall my own sense of despair for the unemployment and waste that would follow from Labour’s enslavement to the trade unions and their refusal to govern in the interests of all the British people.

Labour’s new statements of policy are an accolade to our government. Labour says it has accepted our reforms. They signed up to privatisation, trade union legislation, free enterprise, low levels of income tax and even Conservative-set levels of public spending. The 1990s did not discredit Conservative party policies. They produced a humiliation for Labour as it gradually voiced support for all that it had once opposed. It could be elected with a huge majority only because it had come to sound like a Conservative party. Mr Blair’s great insight was that to avoid continuing electoral humiliation, his party had to accept intellectual humiliation. For many in the Labour party, winning power in that way has been a bitter and degrading experience. Those people cringe when they hear Gordon Brown lecturing fellow Europeans on the need for flexible labour markets, so validating Conservative thinking. They loathe his commitments on taxation, such as they are. No wonder that they now hate us so much.

I emphasise this. There is much for the Conservative party to learn and to put right. We shall do it. But that is not to say that everything that we did in the past was wrong. Very far from it. We have many achievements of which we can be proud. The Conservatives did things in the last eighteen years that were imaginative, radical, and good for our people. They were copied by many abroad and by our opponents at home.

It is important too that we maintain clear markers as we make changes in the party. It would be a great mistake for us to try to copy Labour’s techniques and style in the belief that that offers a recipe for future success. There is a phoneyness and insincerity that clings to Labour, as it must to a party that was willing to say anything to get elected. Labour is the party of fashion, bending day-by-day to catch the wind blowing from its market researchers. The Conservatives need to be attractive, but we will not become lifeless bodies borne on the changing tides of populism. If Labour remains wedded to fashion, then its time may be short indeed for nothing is so certain as that fashions change. When I see Mr Blair basking in the glow of Noel Gallagher, I remember Harold Wilson’s love of being pictured with the Beatles or Ena Sharples. But rubbing shoulders with idols does not guarantee that the star dust will stick, and infatuations with politicians pass quickly.

Our task is quite different from the one that Labour faced in opposition. They modernised in order to marginalise their core beliefs. We must rebuild our party on central Conservative principles applied to today’s new challenges. If we adhere to principles through changing times, we will win respect, at a time when Labour’s modishness will look as tired as Harold Wilson’s HP sauce and Gannex mac.

The Conservative message is attractive, and if properly explained it touches a chord with the majority. Its main elements can be summed up by the words choice, aspiration, opportunity, duty, and compassion.

Let me take those words in turn. We believe that government, even where it plays a critical part in our lives, as it does for example in health and education, should organise things so that people have choice, and so that there is diversity in the sorts of service on offer. There is dignity in choice. It emphasises that no system can or should believe that it knows best. Everyone, even people in need, maybe especially people in need, have a right to choice. Choice is also the means to improvement in the service to all. There is always a better way to do things. We can adapt the ways in which we care for people, or the ways we teach children, according to evolving technology and changing ethos. Where there is choice, those providing services are free to adapt what they offer, and have the incentive to do so. Different teachers doing things differently, or different doctors, offer the public a comparison. It may be that one of them has hit upon something that is clearly better, at least in the general opinion. That means that other patients and parents will want to see the same method or approach adopted in their surgery or school. In that way choice leads to innovation and then to a widespread improvement.

But if government is unwilling to allow diversity, this process will be choked off. Labour still thinks in terms of uniformity. Its objection to fund-holding GPs is that some people may get a better service than others. The logical response to that should be to encourage all GPs to become fund-holders as soon as possible, so that the advantages of the system may be available to everyone, not put the system under threat. Labour’s attitude to grant-maintained schools is similar. Again, logically if those schools are offering something that others cannot, then the government should encourage parents to consider pushing their own school towards GM status. If the government really believes that GM schools are no better than others, then there is no reason to tamper with their independence.

Choice brings progress. We can walk only when we allow one foot to move in front of the other. The other foot then catches up and passes it. The government should not be resentful of, or hostile to, diversity. It is only by allowing those with good ideas to edge ahead, and helping others to catch them up and then pass them, that our country can move forward.

My next word was aspiration. We all hope in this life. We hope to make the most of the gifts we have been given. We hope to improve ourselves. We look forward to achieving the goals that we have set ourselves, or to winning the plaudits of those whose opinions matter, such as our parents and our teachers. We aspire to be part of an improving world, to play our part in making things better. We look to leave something behind: our reputation, an example to someone else, children who can remember us with love and pride.

There is nothing wrong with aspiration. Indeed, without it we are certain to fail to achieve our potential. Of course there are materialistic aspirations too. Adam Smith considered that the urge to better oneself is the driving human impulse from which “public and national, as well as private opulence, is originally derived”. In the 1980s the Conservatives were associated with aspiration and we inspired people to believe in themselves. Labour sought to discredit both our policies and the notion of self-improvement, denouncing those who looked for something better as greedy and selfish. Some were, but many were not.

Today, Labour has nothing to say to that majority who believe that, given the chance, they could make something of themselves. Labour is the leveller. Labour is the state. Millions of people in the public services are about to discover that Labour has nothing for them. No improvement in services, because they are suffocating the dynamic of creative change, no improvement in status and no advance in pay. People in business will discover that Labour is unsympathetic to profit, and ignorant of the struggle that is involved in running and building a business. Labour is ever on the lookout for an opportunity to launch a crude populist attack on the wealth creators. Those who look to do things better and to be something better, whether they work in the public or the private sector, are, as ever, a constituency that the Conservative party understands and must address.

It has recently been argued by Ian Gilmour and Alan Clark that the Tories have been brought to their present state of affairs because, from the accession of Mrs Thatcher onwards, they abandoned one-nation Toryism. With due respect for two of the party’s most eminent historians, it is worth taking a moment to put the counter-argument.

For about a century, from the time of Disraeli, a Tory party that was led mainly by aristocrats, expressed its deep concern for social conditions in the country, and often played a distinguished role in improving them. That was much to the credit of our party, and brought great electoral success. But the form that it took was necessarily a product of its time. It is more than thirty years since we were led by an aristocrat, and the rise of Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major each demonstrated that the Conservative party now believed in, and provided a model of, a modern form of one-nation Toryism. Gone was any hint of patronising attitudes towards “the poor man at his gate”. Britain had become a single nation in which people from the humblest backgrounds could rise to the highest offices.

Our task was to make such translations easy and progressively more unremarkable. It was a theme pursued by the Heath and Thatcher governments, and it was summed up by John Major’s aspiration to create a classless society. Through all three premierships, more money was spent on health, education and social security, and much work was done to increase opportunity.

During the Thatcher years, we were accused of departing from one-nation politics in particular because of our economic policies and because of the riots.

Huge changes took place in British industry. It was brave to allow the modernisation of Britain to proceed at such a pace, but time has proved the wisdom of doing so. Britain’s economy is now well-placed to compete and create jobs. Countries like Japan, whose policies in the 1980s disguised growing inefficiencies in their companies, in fact merely postponed to today the problem of closing uncompetitive businesses. Britain by contrast has greatly improved job security today, because of the approach we took fifteen years ago.

The worst strife of the period surrounded the miners’ strike. It was essential to stand up to industrial militancy and challenges to the rule of law. As it turned out, that important point could not be carried without conflict. Perhaps there is now a danger of forgetting how much was at stake. It may be that today’s Labour party has a clearer understanding even than we do about how much an end to militancy mattered to the conduct of democratic politics.

But in any case, it does not make sense to me to argue that we lost in 1997 because of the alleged departure during the 1980s from a traditional concern for the unity of the nation. The voters in the elections of the 1980s and in 1992 seemed to recognise the case for our policies. John Major’s government, building on the successes already achieved, was different in tone and style from Mrs Thatcher’s. In no sense could John Major be mistaken for a “two-nation” politician, and his concern for social issues was palpable. It was shared throughout his government.

I conclude both that the Tories never departed from a one-nation approach, but rather updated it for their times; and that even if we were portrayed by some as having abandoned our traditional position in the 1980s, it is plainly unhistorical to attribute the defeat of 1997 to that.

My third word was opportunity. We can never rest from the labour of creating more opportunity. More opportunity for people to have the operation that brings them relief from pain. More opportunity to own your home and shares. More opportunity to enter further and higher education. More opportunity to work, in Europe’s most dynamic economy. Government has to be proactive to prevent sclerosis in the system that limits opportunity. Above all, opportunity is about education. It is the ladder by which our children can climb, leaving behind the disadvantages of birth and background and ascending to the heights of their potential. During all our eighteen years we battled against the so-called progressives whose educational theories had become remote from the world of real children in the classroom. The measure of our success is that David Blunkett now says that he expects parents to complain to his ministry if teachers refuse to adopt whole-classroom teaching or teach literacy by traditional means. Does he not blush when he says it or when he looks back to his days running Sheffield? Let us hope that what he says now signals a commitment by all in education to equip our children with the basic skills, and with the competence in the new technologies, that together lead them to self-fulfilment and success in the world of work.

Now I come to duty, and to the most fundamental misunderstanding about the modern Tory party. It has always been the Conservative view that we all have duties. Those who are successful, powerful, or rich, have special duties. People who achieve in life should be willing to put something back, and to share with others the joy and the fruits of doing well. We are social animals and society is what we make it. We cannot pretend that society is a given state of affairs that we are powerless to influence or change, because it is we who are society.

That is what Mrs Thatcher meant when she said there is no such thing as society in the abstract. There is no unalterable Marxist structure which robs individuals of free will, or excuses any of us from the acts we undertake or from which we refrain. We must not try to escape our responsibilities by making something we call “society” the scapegoat for the evils and bad behaviour that we feel unable to alter. Each of us must, in our own way, in our families and in our communities, do what we can. None of us would wish to live in a grabbing and inhumane society made up of greedy and selfish people. Our enemies may have sought to attach such people to the Conservative party, but they have nothing in common with our beliefs.

The last word I used was compassion. It is an essential ingredient in Conservatism. We have never lost it, but the world does not believe that. Our reputation has suffered because Conservatives don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves. They don’t like humbug or display. Their compassion is largely of a practical sort: what can we actually do about the problems that we see around us? That is why Conservatives are to be found in such large numbers working for voluntary organisations. Conservatives have a scepticism about panaceas and about the possibility of government solving problems with a flourish of a pen. But that common sense approach must not mask the fact that concern for others and magnanimity are important qualities of Conservatism, and the instinct for social cohesion transcends the nation. The policies that we followed in government provided for a large-scale increase in prosperity and new opportunities for millions of people. To take just one example, the overall position of women was unrecognisably improved by the opportunity for so many to work and earn decent money. But not every one prospered from being in work, and we did not overlook that. Peter Lilley as Secretary of State for Social Security devoted much intelligent effort to improving the help that government could bring.

Conveying to the British people accurately and feelingly the true Conservative position on those five words will do much in itself to render us re-electable. The CPS will have a lot to contribute on those and other subjects. Caring about ideas and winning the battle of ideas, are important ingredients in our future success. Freed from the burdens of office, we can apply our Conservatism anew to the present circumstances of our country. I would like to give some examples. In the second half of this lecture I shall point out those areas where I believe the release from the responsibility of government also frees our party from the grooves in which we were travelling. I shall deal with the devolution of decision-making, employment policy, government regulation and government’s proper approach to people’s personal relationships.

The Conservative party is committed to Britain, to British interests and to British commercial interests. Of course, I think that Britain’s relationship with Europe is a most important question. But I will not talk of it tonight. Europe is a word that tends to make people deaf to everything else you say, and I would rather be heard on other issues today.

The Britain we defend is undergoing huge constitutional change, to much of which we are opposed. But the Conservative party is not an organisation for the turning back of clocks. For example, the Scots are to have a parliament. That is their choice, and we must accept it, unless and until experience leads them to a change of mood. Our interest and duty is clear. We must offer effective participation in the new chamber. We must ensure as best we can that the government of Scotland is carried on well. In particular, since Labour is creating extra tiers of government we must ensure that the new body does not suck towards itself responsibility for decisions that should be taken at local level. We must conduct ourselves in such a way as to make unattractive the plans of the nationalists who wish to use the new institutions to promote separatism and the dissolution of the Union.

We must re-assert our confidence in decision-making at the local level. Contrary to the general perception, it was a strong theme of our last government as we passed powers to hospitals and schools. But the extremism of some councils led us to limit the powers of local government. Nonetheless, the policies of partnership, put into practice by Michael Heseltine, led some of the worst Labour authorities to reform. Some of them were led by him to accept again the central role of commerce in the life of our cities. We re-awakened their civic pride. The Labour party promises the electorate that it will bring its remaining rotten boroughs into line. Let us hope so. In any case let us make clear our belief in the importance of local government and our willingness to trust the people. Our representatives in local government will provide the foundations of our recovery. We are already winning seats in local elections. But electoral considerations apart, Conservatives are de-centralisers by nature. It is one of the reasons we distrust the idea of centralising power in a federal European Union. Let us ensure that our policies are consistent across the piece and that at every level we defend the democratic right to decide political questions at the most local level that is practical.

The reforms that our government made in industrial relations were some of the most important changes, enabling Britain to become modern and competitive. Labour has still not grasped what makes employment grow and I fear that their decision to sign the social chapter will cost our country many jobs. To judge by the energy with which Labour advocates flexibility in labour markets, I guess they fear it too. But they have given up the British veto and we can anticipate a steady flow of legislation, against which we have no protection, that will impose on Britain the job-destroying inflexibilities of our neighbours. Continental labour legislation is often highly prescriptive. Such legislation is ill-suited to our times. In an economy transformed by technological change, in which work patterns have changed so much, Labour’s employment policies contradict their claims to be economic modernisers. Compulsory union recognition and the social chapter are remnants of attitudes to the work place which have become anachronistic.

We must not blame only legislation at Community level. It makes me laugh to hear the last government portrayed as a mad worshipper at the shrine of the free market. We were rather notable regulators. We passed volumes of new rules and laws interfering with almost every aspect of business and social life. Some of it was thoroughly justified. Regulation has a proper role in protecting people as employees, investors and customers. But we should not believe that we made great advances in reducing the size of the state. Nor I hope will this government be complacent about the burden that it can impose on business and social activity if we are to compete effectively and if people are going to perform their duties of care towards one another.

There must be no confusion about what we want. We look for flexibility at work because it is the critical quality in a modern economy if we are to produce anything close to full employment in a world of rapid change and extraordinary competitive pressures. Flexibility is not a means to provide poor or basic conditions at work, but rather the key to enabling people to be in work and to improving their terms, conditions and perks. The better those terms are, the more contented people will be, and so better motivated and more effective at winning business. That in turn will underpin their job security and make possible further increases in their quality of life at work. The extraordinary feature of the last twenty years has been that an old economy like ours has adapted so well to change, providing opportunities to work for such a high proportion of our people. Conservative policy must both preserve the flexibility that has enabled us to do well, and encourage the development of increasingly enlightened policies in business to make work satisfying and enjoyable, and spread a feeling of security even in a world of change.

The Conservative party needs to be as much of a pro-business party as ever before – indeed more so since Labour is now posturing on that ground. We must be willing to defend the role of incentives and profit. But we must be clearer in our advocacy of responsible and self-enlightened capitalism. In economic terms, that is a capitalism that derives the greatest possible benefit from human capital. In more everyday terms, it means that our best companies are also those who treat their employees best; consulting, informing and stimulating them. It remains the case that such arrangements are best achieved voluntarily. This government is on the wrong track in trying to force union recognition, and is having to backtrack on the minimum wage. Tories, however, must embrace the co-operative mood in business, not least since that new spirit has come about as more people have come to understand our message that we need constantly to improve our efficiency and competitiveness if we are to move forward and create more jobs.

There are a few neanderthals left today in the trade union movement. But the Conservatives will want to be part of a dialogue that can include all those who genuinely want to see our businesses succeed, excluding only those who still want merely to ossify British industry or defend vested interests.

As you will see, I believe that it is extremely important for the Conservative party to deal with the world as it now is, rather than re-fight battles that we have already won, continuing to flog a dead dragon, as it were. This must apply also to our attitude to the personal relationships that people choose to enter. This is an area where we got into some bad scrapes when we were in office.

First, let us deal with sexual misdemeanours amongst MPs . William Hague is right to make a clear distinction between, on the one hand, misconduct of a financial nature or some other betrayal of public trust, and on the other hand, problems in personal life, such as marital breakdown. A betrayal of public trust must lead to resignation, and we shall watch carefully how thoroughly Labour does in fact clean out its Augean stables. But private problems and indiscretions should not normally lead to the end of a person’s career. A sense of proportion is, it seems, returning, as we see from the way that recent problems have been reported. You may think less highly of someone who exhibits weakness in his private life, you may choose not to support or re-elect him, but we should not require people to be driven from office in those circumstances.

The Conservative party has always voiced unreserved support for the family. We believe that children are best brought up in stable family arrangements with two parents. But we admire those many people who are doing an excellent job raising children on their own. The important thing is that people recognise the responsibility they have when they conceive children and do all they can to provide a warm, caring and balanced home for them. Our society has changed. For good or ill, many people nowadays do not marry and yet head stable families with children. For a younger generation, in particular, old taboos have given way to less judgemental attitudes to the span of human relationships. There remain many other people to whom the new norms seem all wrong. The Tory party is conservative and not given to political correctness. Still the party never rejects the world that is. Tolerance is a part of the Tory tradition. I believe that the Conservative party in its quiet way is as capable as any other of comprehending the diversity of human nature. That must go hand-in-hand with policies that reinforce the responsibilities that every parent has for his or her children. That is an area of proper concern for politicians representing the legitimate interests of our society.

Now, a word about tactics. There are two things that the Conservative party needs very badly. One, I mentioned, is loyalty. If we cannot re-invent it we cannot govern. The other is patience. I read somewhere that there was frustration with William Hague for not yet coming up with the next big idea. I accord that remark the prize for the silliest thing said since the election.

The public is not yet ready for such an innovation from us, even if a big idea were a thing to be conjured up at will. People need a rest from us, and we need time to reflect and listen and come to understand one another better than we have of late. We certainly need to do a lot about ourselves. We need better and different organisation. We need a broad and stable financial base. We need to spread our appeal and attract different sorts of people: different ages, social types, ethnic groups and cultures.

As for policies, we should be in no great hurry. Get straight what are our core beliefs. Sort out the confusions and false signals that arose while we were in government. Take a fresh look in the new circumstances. But there is no call to rush headlong into inventing new approaches.

Our party will renew itself. The new intake of MPs is of extremely high quality. Just as happened with Labour, those new people will be the engine of our revival. Ministerial office will be theirs, but they must bide their time patiently too.

On the night of the election I wished our new government well, and I do so again. Conservatives are patriots and we wish to see our country succeed. You will not see us gloat over national reverses, nor talk down our successes, as Labour did when we were the government. We wish to see Britain behaving honourably, being an influence for good in Europe and the world. We wish to see the economy remain strong. We do not look to defeat Labour on the back of national failure. There will be sufficient grounds without that to argue for their removal.

I do not underestimate Mr Blair or his achievements. In the years before the election he skilfully laid bare the areas of life and policy where the public felt dissatisfied and angry with the Conservatives. He did not win merely by default, but because of his talent for capturing the public mood. We will learn from that.

Today the Labour government looks very strong and confident. But problems lie ahead. They don’t know where they are headed, and that is dangerous. Mr Blair’s great achievement is directionless leadership: he appears to be in control, but no one knows to where he is leading. I have made many mistakes in my career. I suppose we all have. But few people have been consistently wrong on all the great issues that faced our nation over the last fifteen years, as Mr Blair was. Last week, in a speech which was much acclaimed, Mr Blair failed to define the purpose of his government . I perceive no ideological roots. I can detect no sense of direction. Labour has a strong sense that it cannot undo what we did. But they do not understand why it was right to do it. They do not accept the politics of freedom and choice that lay behind our agenda. Labour grasped that it had to adopt our rhetoric. But they will in the end be judged not on what they say but on what they do.

Labour has been guided by the wish to destroy us; and by the determination to be re-elected. That is not a recipe for governing well. You cannot run an administration forever on the principle that you are unwilling to do anything that offends. You cannot substitute focus group government for cabinet government. Labour is a coalition brought about to win power. That will to win power is the one idea that the members of the government hold in common. But with the passage of time, that will prove an insubstantial glue. The signs of division may today be no bigger than a small crab in a jar, but they will grow.

This government is too bossy, too contemptuous of parliament, too self-satisfied and too little criticised in the media for its own good or for ours. The wheel of fortune turns and that which once appeared fresh, with the passing of time goes to seed.

I have set out the many things that we must do to present ourselves again as attractive and suitable for government. But on top of all that, what the Tories need is patience. Principles we already have. Opportunities there will be. Our time will come again.

Yvette Cooper – 1997 Maiden Speech to the House of Commons


Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Yvette Cooper to the House of Commons on 2 July 1997.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, thank you for calling me during this historic debate. I am honoured to be uttering my very first words in the House on behalf of the people of Pontefract and Castleford on Budget day. This is Labour’s first Budget for 18 years—and what a Budget. It is hard to know where to begin: resources for education and health, help for the young and for the long-term unemployed, measures to calm growth in consumption, boost for investment or help with child care.

It is also an honour to conclude the debate today, and to hear so many maiden speeches. We have had such speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, North (Ms Ryan), for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) and for Brentford and Isleworth (Mrs. Keen), and from the hon. Members for Witney (Mr. Woodward), for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Cotter) and for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior). We have had a tour of the country, and we have heard how the Budget will affect people across Britain. It is truly a people’s Budget.

Almost 100 years ago, Lloyd George launched his people’s Budget for this century. Now we have a new people’s Budget to begin the next century. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on a wise and radical Budget. It faces up to the long-term problems of the British economy. It also takes immediate steps to tackle some of the deep-rooted inequalities faced by my constituents.

I represent a corner of West Yorkshire which is proud of its industrial heritage and its hard-working people; the liquorice fields and factories of Pontefract; the potteries of Castleford; the pits—the heart and belly of the constituency; the power station at Ferrybridge; the glassworks and the chemical works of Knottingley and Castleford; and, near the corner of Normanton that I represent, a Japanese electronics factory.

These past two decades have been hard times in my constituency. Many of the pits are now closed, jobs in traditional industries have gone and, most important, we lack new investment and help to reskill the work force to generate new jobs to replace the old ones that have gone.

I must report to the House that 2,600 people in my constituency are officially unemployed: a third of them have been unemployed for more than a year. The number of people not working, either because they have been forced into early retirement or on to sickness benefit, is much higher. Too many of my constituent have not had their fair share of opportunities to learn and to obtain the qualifications that they need to prosper in a modern economy. That matters for the future, as one generation follows in the footsteps of another. Evidence shows that the chance of the sons and daughters of miners in my constituency becoming high earners when they grow up is a mere tenth of that of the sons and daughters of well-educated and wealthy professionals. That figure is shocking.

The House must not misunderstand me. It is true that my constituency is plagued by unemployment, but I represent hard-working people who are proud of their strong communities and who have fought hard across generations to defend them. They are proud of their socialist traditions, and have fought for a better future for their children and their grandchildren. In the middle ages, that early egalitarian, the real Robin Hood, lived, so we maintain, in the vale of Wentbridge to the south of Pontefract. It was a great base from which to hassle the travelling fat cats on the Great North road.

Centuries later, Pontefract became home to another true fighter for social justice, Barbara Castle. In her autobiography, she describes her politicisation during the miners lock-out in 1921. Through the years, my constituency has been home to other Members who have fought hard for the working people whom they represent in nearby constituencies, including the former Member for Hemsworth, Derek Enright, and my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O’Brien), who has helped me so much in these early months.

The people of Pontefract and Castleford owe most to the man who represented them for the past 19 years, and who battled hard for their welfare, Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse, now Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract. I know that hon. Members will join me in paying tribute to someone who, as a former Deputy Speaker, worked hard for the House, was fair and honourable, and, above all, was a kind man. He governed the House, which can sometimes be rowdy and alarming, with a firm but fair hand.

For some, the traditional tribute to a predecessor is something to be swallowed swiftly, got over as fast as possible. For me, it is an honour and a privilege to be able to pay that tribute on behalf of the House and the people of Pontefract and Castleford to Sir Geoff, as he is known locally.

Sir Geoff was a well-loved constituency Member of Parliament. Like my grandfather, he began his working life in the pits as a teenager. The mischievous among his Pontefract friends describe him as a corner-stint man, but they would never use the same phrase to describe his commitment to his constituents. His proudest achievement was his work for the welfare of the miners with whom he served for so long, getting emphysema recognised as an industrial disease.

I pay a personal tribute to him, too, for Sir Geoff has been extremely supportive during these curious first months here. I hope that we can continue to work together for the people of Pontefract and Castleford, a partnership which I hope echoes the strength of this new Government, young and old, energy and experience, women and men, across the country and across the generations working together for common goals. The Budget gives us the chance to achieve those goals.

More important to my constituents than anything else will be the new deal for the unemployed. In Pontefract and Castleford we are raring to go. Already, the Groundwork Trust in Castleford has approached me with a proposal for an environmental task force. We hope to encourage young unemployed people in some of the highest areas of unemployment in our constituency—in Knottingley and on the Airdale estate in Castleford—to join regeneration projects that are already planned. That way, they can take their first steps into the world of work straight from their own doorstep, be part of rebuilding their own troubled estates, learning transferable skills and building their own personal pride in their environment and in their work.

We think that this is such a good idea that we are not even waiting for the windfall tax money to come through. A local partnership is already drawing up a proposal for European money, and I hope that we will provide a successful model for the rest of the country to follow. At the same time, Wakefield council is itching to expand on its successful job subsidy programme, Workline, which it has been operating for the past 11 years. Employers there have a year-long subsidy of up to £40 a week to take on unemployed workers.

I asked one employer involved whether he would have taken someone on anyway. After all, his business was expanding. He told me two interesting things. The first was that the subsidy encouraged him to take on a new employee a year earlier than he would otherwise have done. The second was that, without the subsidy, he would not have considered taking on someone who was unemployed. There, in that one anecdote, was the proof that such a job subsidy can speed up job creation and help people in most danger of being locked outside the work force, trapped on the dole, into jobs.

That is important because it means that the new deal gives us a chance to tackle the long-term roots of inequality—people who are trapped on the dole in my constituency. Moreover, by helping those who find it hardest to get work, the new deal also boosts the capacity of the economy. That means that, as the economy grows, instead of running into the old inflationary buffers, as so often happens, we can have growth that creates jobs and more jobs, because we have boosted the capacity. That is the Budget’s greatest strength. At the same time as controlling consumer demand and stopping it expanding too fast, the Budget is boosting the supply side to try to raise Britain’s long-term sustainable rate of growth.

I hope that the new deal will receive support from both sides of the House, because it is about our future. In Pontefract and Castleford, I found enthusiasm for these proposals on both sides of the political spectrum.

As recently as Monday morning, a small business man came into my surgery. He admitted to being one of the few people in the area who had voted Conservative for 30 years—until the recent election. However, he said that he was delighted with what he had seen about Labour’s plans for young people. He said that he wanted to take on three young unemployed people, asked when they could start, and where should he sign. His enthusiasm was infectious, and I hope that such enthusiasm will encourage more small businesses, both in my constituency and throughout the country, to take up the challenge to provide a new deal for the unemployed. It is something which we all need to work on together.

I am sure that that man will be even more delighted now that he has heard my right hon. Friend’s Budget. It truly is a people’s Budget—a Budget for social justice and for Britain’s future. Tough choices have to be made, but they will generate results in the long run.

Keynes said: In the long run we are all dead”— but I say, “So what?” Our children and our grandchildren will still be alive. Therefore, for the people of Pontefract and Castleford and for their children and grandchildren, I welcome the Budget.

John McDonnell – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

John McDonnell GB Labour MP Hayes and Harlington

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by John McDonnell in the House of Commons on 6 June 1997.

I have been made aware of the conventions of maiden speeches, especially the tradition of paying tribute to one’s predecessors. I have no problem with praising many of the previous Members of Parliament for Hayes and Harlington: men such as Walter Ayles, a good socialist who took a special interest in aid to Africa; Arthur Skeffington, a superb housing Minister in the Wilson Government; and Neville Sandelson, a good man who unfortunately fell victim to the delusions of grandeur of David Owen.

Despite my respect for the conventions of the House, I shall not perjure myself by praising my immediate Tory predecessor. Many saw him simply as a Tory buffoon, and he was once described as a “pig’s bladder on a stick”. When he chose as his election slogan, “We love Dicks”, we were not sure whether to laugh or to call in the obscene publications squad. However, Terry Dicks was not a joke. He was a stain on the character of this House, the Conservative party which harboured him and the good name of my constituency. He brought shame on the political process of this country by his blatant espousal of racism and his various corrupt dealings. He demeaned the House by his presence, and I deeply regret that the Conservative party failed to take action to stem his flow of vile bigotry. Thankfully, my constituents can now say good riddance to this malignant creature.

My speech in this debate, and many others today, have been more than 10 years in the waiting. In the newspapers this week, we have seen pictures of 50,000 people demonstrating for democracy by holding candles in a park in Hong Kong. More than a decade ago in our capital city, more than 250,000 Londoners stood silently in Jubilee gardens on the last night of the GLC when the lights were turned out in County hall. As the GLC councillor for Hayes and Harlington council and deputy leader of the authority, I was among them, and we tearfully sang “We’ll Meet Again”. After all this time, we are about to meet again.

The abolition of the GLC was self-evidently an act of malignant spite by a Prime Minister in the first demented throes of megalomania. Harold Laski, a good socialist and once the chair of the Labour party, prophetically explained that Britain would not experience fascism in the form of a strutting Mussolini or Hitler, but instead was vulnerable to a form of Conservative authoritarianism arrived at by the slow incremental erosion of our civil liberties and democratic institutions. Under the Thatcher regime, the institution of democratic local government was bombarded by the introduction of rate capping, the surcharging of the Lambeth councillors and the abolition of the GLC, culminating in the establishment of the government of our capital city by an appointed state: the appointment of Tories, by Tories, to line the pockets of Tories.

What has that plethora of quangos and joint committees achieved for our city? In the custodial care of the Tory appointees, 40,000 families in London are homeless every year; up to 3,000 people sleep on our streets in winter; crime has doubled, with a terrifying and unrelenting increase in violence; our manufacturing and economic base has collapsed; our health service is in crisis; and our transport system is gridlocked, with the effect that traffic is slower than at the turn of the century. Many of us will never forget or forgive the Tories for the scale of their neglect of our city.

For most of the past decade, I served as the chief executive of the Association of London Authorities, and latterly the Association of London Government. After 10 long years of designing blueprints for a new strategic authority in that capacity, I am naturally pleased that, at last, we have the opportunity to start the reconstruction process. I also warmly welcome the fact that, in the spirit of open government and inclusiveness, there is to be a thorough consultation process, including a Green Paper, a White Paper and a referendum before the final legislation.

It is critical in the consultation process that views are honestly expressed and listened to if we are to avoid putting in place a structure that we shall live to regret. In that spirit, I want to set out some initial views on the basic architecture of the proposed new government for the capital.

There was a consultation process in the Labour party on the structural options for the new authority, but it is no secret that the proposal for a directly elected mayor was the result of enthusiasm from above.

I have tried to analyse why, deep within me, I have such reservations about the proposal; it is certainly not because of an emotive claim that the system is somehow alien to this country. It is partly because it grates against my notion of democratic socialist practice, which involves the development of a policy programme by the party for presentation to the electorate, and in which the electors vote primarily for a set of ideas and policies associated with an ideology and advocated by a party rather than voting for their impressions of an individual. That is a vote for the many, not the few—and certainly not for one.

I also have practical concerns about accountability and the potential for the abuse of power and corruption in a mayoral system. Nevertheless, the proposal for a directly elected mayor was contained in the manifesto on which our party was elected, so I look to the detail of the design of the relationship between the mayor and the elected authority to ensure political accountability and to secure probity.

The checks and balances that are essential to ensure accountability would at a minimum include, for example, the election of the mayor’s cabinet by, and from among, the authority members; the approval by the authority of the overall budget and major spending decisions; a system of scrutiny of policy making; the ratification by the authority of any senior staffing appointments; and the right of the authority to express no confidence in the mayor and to trigger an election—in effect, a right of recall.

The strategic role and powers of the new authority are almost self-evident in terms of the immediate and concrete needs of Londoners: economic regeneration; an efficient integrated transport system; a decent environment; and a feeling of safety from crime and hazards.

My plea is simply that the legislation that we pass be sufficiently flexible to enable the new authority to meet new challenges as they arise. That may require a more general power of intervention, if necessary triggered by a decision by the electorate, the Secretary of State or the House.

On funding, I agree that the allocation of powers and responsibilities without resources is pointless. The inheritance of existing precepts and the transfer of grant from central Government without capping, combined with the ability to borrow, would go a long way towards resourcing the new authority and achieving some economies of scale that would release new money. I also plead for flexibility in the legislation, to enable the new authority to explore new funding streams, possibly by hypothecated levies again triggered by the Government, by the House or by referendums.

Some discussions have already taken place on the location of the new authority. Naturally, I prefer the retrieval of county hall, if necessary by compulsory purchase. I would certainly welcome an inquiry into the sale of county hall under the previous regime.

As an alternative, the Middlesex guildhall across Parliament square would be suitable. We have been informed that the Prime Minister has assured the Corporation of the City of London of its continued existence. Thus, the City’s guildhall is not available for use.

Labour remains committed to reforming the City’s archaic and undemocratic procedures. I hope that the City corporation will produce its own options for reform. By way of an incentive to expedite matters, I give notice that, unless reform proposals are forthcoming at the appropriate stage of the Bill enacting the new authority, I am minded to seek to insert a clause to abolish the City corporation—a generally uncontentious measure, I suggest.

On the representative nature of the authority, whatever its size and method of election, I would argue that it should reflect the gender balance and ethnic diversity of our community. We should ensure the full involvement of all the social partners, of both sides of industry in the capital, in its deliberations and decision making.

As a child, my first political awareness came when Wilson was in Government, John F. Kennedy was President of the United States and Martin Luther King had a dream—a dream of a new society, of equality and decency for our children. I believe that the last Greater London council administration was part of that dream; it was about building a new beginning for our city. The new authority that we are putting in place will be part of the procedure that will allow us to dream that dream again; a dream of a decent civil society in which equality reigns. I am pleased that I am going to be part of the process of making that dream a reality.