Yvette Cooper – 1997 Maiden Speech to the House of Commons

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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.

Philip Hammond – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

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Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Philip Hammond in the House of Commons on 17 June 1997.

I am delighted to make my maiden speech in the debate on this short but important Bill, which will have a significant effect on many of my constituents.

A number of my hon. Friends who are new Members have already made their maiden speeches. My tardiness owes something to Disraeli’s advice to a new Member: “It is better they wonder why you do not speak than that they wonder why you do.” It must be said that if I were looking for support from my colleagues, my timing has not been perfect; but Conservative Members are not so numerous that we can afford to carry passengers indefinitely and, for better or worse, the time has now come.

I have the privilege to represent the new constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge, which was formed largely from the former Chertsey and Walton constituency, with a piece of North-West Surrey attached to it. The boundary commission seldom wins friends when naming new constituencies, but that much-maligned body has surely got it right this time in including the historic name of Runnymede in the title of a constituency for the first time.

I am sure that many hon. Members envy me a constituency which stretches from the Wentworth golf course in the west to the St. George’s hill course in the east, by way of another five first-class courses. It is, perhaps, in the interest of diligent pursuit of parliamentary duties that such a constituency should return a non-golfing Member.

I follow in the footsteps of a number of eminent Members who have represented areas that are now part of my constituency, but it is my immediate predecessors in Chertsey and Walton and North-West Surrey to whom I now pay tribute. Both Sir Geoffrey Pattie and Sir Michael Grylls did excellent work on behalf of their constituents over the years, in their different ways. My special thanks are due to Sir Geoffrey Pattie for the superb apprenticeship that he bestowed on me during the 18 months before my election. He served Chertsey and Walton for 23 years, becoming a Minister and a vice-chairman of the Conservative party. I can honestly say that, if at the end of my parliamentary career I have made half as many friends and admirers in my constituency as Sir Geoffrey has, I shall regard that career as having been a great success.

Runnymede and Weybridge comprises two local authority areas, the borough of Runnymede itself and part of the borough of Elmbridge. The constituency straddles the M25 and the M3; indeed, in those road atlases that tend to exaggerate the width of roads my constituency appears to contain little other than the intersection of those two motorways. It also comprises the ancient town of Chertsey, where the Romans first crossed the River Thames, Egham, Addlestone and Weybridge, as well as the historic site of Runnymede and that of the Tudor royal palace of Oatlands. Those historic locations, together with a selection of smaller towns and villages and the garden estates of Wentworth and St. George’s Hill, are set in the beautiful Surrey countryside, which many people are surprised to find so close to London.

Most, if not all, hon. Members will recognise the name of my constituency and may even be able to locate it geographically through their knowledge of the events in 1215. The basis of constitutional government in England began to emerge when Magna Carta was signed in the meadows by the Thames, between Staines and Windsor, near the town of Egham. We can trace the origins of our modern freedoms to that event which took place in my constituency. It was on 15 June that year when the King and the barons first met at Runnymede. During the next few days, they negotiated the charter. I am delighted to be able to commemorate this week, the 782nd anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, by making my maiden contribution in the House in the name of Runnymede and Weybridge.

Rather more recently, Brooklands, in Weybridge, has been renowned as the home of British motor sport and the birthplace of the British aviation industry. It spawned an engineering industry in the area, which provided an important part of the country’s aviation resource during the second world war. It has also created a surprisingly diverse economy in our constituency.

The Brooklands museum is an extraordinary tribute to the men of vision and spirit who built those twin industries on Hugh Locke-King’s race-track during the 1920s and 1930s. I strongly recommend hon. Members to take the time to visit that museum when passing through my constituency.

Like people in many similar areas of the home counties, my constituents enjoy the benefits of material prosperity, which are due primarily to our proximity to London and the excellent communications that we enjoy because of the motorway network and Heathrow airport. We also suffer because of that proximity from traffic, noise, pollution and the inexorable pressure for further development. The challenge for my constituency as we move into the new millennium will be to get the balance right. We must achieve the correct balance between continuing prosperity and maintaining the quality of life in the area. That will not be an easy task, but I look forward to playing my part, together with the elected local authorities in the constituency, in achieving it over the years to come.

It will be a pleasure to work with those local authorities, especially Surrey county council, now returned to Conservative control by a substantial majority, and Runnymede borough council, which is also Conservative controlled. Whatever other messages the electors of Surrey may have sent out on 1 May, they clearly voted yes to sound Conservative principles and good management in local government.

Runnymede has the lowest council tax in Surrey while, by general consensus, delivering a high standard of services. It has no statutory obligation to do so, but it is the highest spending authority on services for the elderly in Surrey. Its programme of upgrading and improving council-owned housing stock has the widespread support of tenants. Its private sector partnerships have attracted interest across the country. A key factor in achieving that enviable combination of low council tax and high service provision has been the careful management of its capital receipts. Runnymede is debt-free and it has chosen to invest its capital receipts to produce a substantial income to supplement the council tax for the benefit of all the people of Runnymede.

When the Labour party first promoted the idea of the release of capital receipts, it was presented as some kind of cost-free option. The idea was to take out from under the bed the pot of gold that the wicked Tories had squirrelled away and to spend it to good effect. It is now generally understood that there is no pot of gold. To the extent that set-aside capital receipts are cash-backed, the cash is largely in the wrong places. In public sector borrowing terms, the receipts have already been taken into account. Any increase in the aggregate supplementary credit approvals issued will result in an increase in the public sector borrowing requirement. There is no offsetting effect on the PSBR from any notional release of set-aside capital receipts. There was no mention earlier of the Revenue effects of the increased housing provision that the Government are seeking. If the Government achieve anything by the Bill it will be only by robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The reference in the Bill to capital receipts is a smoke-screen. It does not detail the methodology that will apply in determining the supplementary credit applications. If it is to increase the amount of investment in social housing, it must envisage an increase in the aggregate amount of borrowing by local authorities for that purpose.

The Bill provides a thin cover, through the mechanism of taking total capital receipts into account when determining the supplementary credit approvals, for a transfer of borrowing power from authorities with capital receipts to those without. In many cases, that will mean a transfer of borrowing power from authorities that have managed their housing stock well; taken a forward-looking, innovative approach to housing; and undertaken large-scale voluntary transfers to those that have succeeded in frustrating their tenants’ right to buy and which have eschewed the opportunities of the large-scale voluntary transfers that have brought such a welcome diversity to the social housing sector. Incidentally, such transfers have also attracted £4 billion of private sector money, which otherwise would not have been available. The Bill represents the worst kind of subsidy—a subsidy from the efficient to the inefficient.

The implementation of the Bill represents an unjustifiable penalisation of thrifty, well-managed councils such as Runnymede and an erosion of the principle of local autonomy and accountability, which the Government purport to favour. It will also lead directly to the imposition of higher council taxes and higher rents as receipt-rich authorities are forced to run down their balances and forgo the considerable income that those balances currently generate. No less an organisation than Shelter, hardly a well-known supporter of the Conservative view of the world, has calculated that council house rents will rise by £6 a week if all the receipts are released. It is clear that council taxes will rise or services will be cut as prudent councils find that the dice are loaded against them and are forced to liquidate investments.

The Bill is an attack on thrift and good management. It represents a thinly veiled transfer of borrowing power to Labour’s friends in local government. I fear that my constituents may expect more of the same when the local government settlement is announced.

The Bill attacks the capital balances of prudent authorities and an attack on their revenue support will not be far behind. It is the new Government’s double whammy for the council tax payers of Surrey.

When the Bill is stripped of the smokescreen of capital receipts, it is clear that it paves the way for either an increase in the PSBR or for the reallocation of borrowing power away from receipt-rich authorities. It would be better if it said so plainly without hiding behind the fig leaf of capital receipts. It represents an inefficient way of achieving the Government’s legitimate manifesto commitment to higher investment in social housing.

The Bill is unfair in its effect on prudent local authorities. It is lacking in detail. It confers excessive discretion on Ministers. In short, it is an ill-conceived piece of legislation and I urge the House to vote against it on Second Reading.

Stephen Twigg – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by the new MP for Enfield Southgate, Stephen Twigg, in the House of Commons on 16th May 1997.

It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to make my maiden speech so early in the parliamentary Session, and I am delighted to be here as the first ever Labour Member of Parliament for the constituency of Enfield, Southgate. I hope to be the first in a long line of Labour Members of Parliament elected by the people of Enfield, Southgate, where I was born and brought up.

During my lifetime, there have been just two Members of Parliament for the constituency before me. Michael Portillo was elected in a by-election in 1984. Shortly after his election to Parliament, he visited Southgate school, where I was then a sixth former. Although our politics were miles apart, Michael Portillo impressed me then as an articulate, charismatic and candid politician. Since then, he has provided more than 12 years of professional service to the people of Enfield, Southgate. During the general election campaign, on our rare encounters, he was always courteous and charming, and on the night of the election count his dignity in defeat earned him widespread and well-deserved respect. I am sure that, if he chooses to do so, he will continue to play an important role in the public life of this country.

Mr. Portillo succeeded Sir Anthony Berry, who was tragically killed in the Brighton conference bombing in 1984. Sir Anthony Berry represented the people of Enfield, Southgate for more than 20 years in the House and is still remembered with great respect and affection by many of my constituents. In his maiden speech here in 1965, Sir Anthony warned of the dangers of the introduction of comprehensive education in Enfield. As a product of Southgate comprehensive school, I have to say that I think that many of his fears have proved to be unfounded.

Enfield, Southgate is a wonderful and diverse local constituency. We embrace both the busy, urban life of Palmers Green and the north circular road, and the rural tranquillity of Hadley Wood and the green belt. Much of my constituency is a collection of villages—Southgate Green, Oakwood, Grange Park and Winchmore Hill, which has been spared a drive-through McDonald’s because of the determined opposition of local people and the good sense of our local Labour-controlled council.

Southgate’s diversity is a great strength. It is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community. Only this week, I had the privilege to lay the foundation stone for the new Hindu community centre of the Darji Mitra Mandal. There is a large Jewish community, as well as significant numbers of Christians, Muslims and Sikhs. It will be a privilege to represent them all.

During my election campaign, perhaps the biggest single issue on the doorstep was the future of the island of Cyprus. I warmly welcome the Government’s commitment in the Gracious Speech to seeking a just and lasting settlement in Cyprus and I look forward to giving my full and active support to those efforts.

Perhaps the most positive feature of the recent campaign for me was the opportunity to discuss politics with large numbers of young, first-time voters in my constituency. For me, the first sign of the large swing to Labour in Enfield, Southgate came with the results of the mock elections at our three local secondary schools, Winchmore, Broomfield and Southgate. All three schools voted Labour by overwhelming majorities. That showed the way forward for the results in Enfield, Southgate.

I have never accepted the widely held idea that young people today are apathetic and not interested in politics. I am involved in a Fabian Society research project working with young, first-time voters, talking to them about their attitudes and opinions. In my experience, young people have clear values and strong opinions. What they reject is not politics itself, but the way we do politics in this country—the style, the language and, above all, the adversarial culture. It is an adversarial culture which is best symbolised by the old way that Prime Minister’s Question Time was done. I am sure that many people will welcome the change made in the past week.

At the election, the biggest swing to Labour was among first-time voters. This Parliament owes it to our young people to forge a new sort of politics based on consensus, dialogue and co-operation. That is why constitutional reform is so important.

I welcome the commitments in the Gracious Speech to devolution, the incorporation of the European convention on human rights and to reform of Parliament itself. This is not some arcane, abstract debate that is of interest only to the so-called chattering classes. It is about devolving power to the people and starting to restore people’s faith in politics.

As a Greater London Member of Parliament, I especially welcome the proposals for a new strategic authority and a directly elected mayor for London. This country is alone in the democratic world in denying its capital city a democratic voice. The removal of that voice was one of the most petty and vindictive acts of the previous Government. I look forward to a new elected authority, working alongside an elected mayor. The mayor will be a powerful champion of London’s interests, ensuring that our first-class capital city has the impact and influence that it rightly deserves. I hope that all hon. Members representing London, regardless of their party, will unite in campaigning for a yes vote in the proposed London w ide referendum.

Constitutional reform is not some academic debating point; it has real relevance to the bread and butter concerns of our constituents. A new authority for London can start to improve the appalling state of our transport system. Greater London’s crumbling transport infrastructure is letting down the people and the economy of this great city. We need a new authority and we need a new mayor to take the lead and get London moving again. The Labour party supports a proportional voting system for the proposed new Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. I hope that we shall also adopt a similar system for the new London authority. That will ensure that we have a credible London voice representing the diversity of opinion in our capital city.

More widely, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, our manifesto proposes a commission on electoral reform for the House of Commons, followed by a referendum. Proportional representation for this House is an idea whose time has come. Electoral reform is an important democratic change, which will assist in the renewal of hope and faith in politics itself. Labour’s proposed referendum will enable the people to decide how the House is elected. It is a momentous and crucial commitment. Following the election result in Scotland, Wales and much of urban England, it is an argument that I hope the Opposition will take more seriously than they have done, both in the interests of democracy and of their party.

This Parliament is often described as the mother of Parliaments. There is much in our parliamentary history of which we can be proud. Constitutional reform is not about tearing up our history, but about building on what is good and changing what is not. I support the Government’s proposals, both because they are good and because they will contribute to the renewal of politics and democracy in this country. Now is the time for a new, consensual politics in the United Kingdom. I look forward to playing my small part in securing those important and long-overdue reforms.

Caroline Flint – 1997 Maiden Speech

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Caroline Flint in the House of Commons on 2nd June 1997.

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech during our consideration of this important Bill. To be able to stand here today as the new Member of Parliament for Don Valley and to speak on behalf of my constituents for the first time is a humbling experience—humbling because I am here by the grace and good will of the people of Don Valley and because my predecessor, Martin Redmond, who served the people of Don Valley for 14 hard years of opposition, was deprived of the opportunity to stand here as a new era of Labour Government begins.

In the 10 weeks from my selection as candidate to polling day, I learnt much from the people of Don Valley about Martin. A private man, he remained living in the same village that was his home. He remained friends with the people he knew from before his election. He made time for individuals and he was regarded with warmth and affection. In his maiden speech in July 1983, Martin was able proudly to describe Don Valley’s main industry as coal mining. Now we can but say that coal mining is part of the heart and character of Don Valley, but that it is no longer the main employer. Martin saw the heavy price paid by the mining communities that are strung from east to west of the constituency as their industry closed without the necessary foresight and investment needed to build a new economic life to replace the old.

Like many constituents who supported new Labour on 1 May, Martin Redmond understood the value of work. He believed in reward for hard work, in the respect and achievement derived from a lifetime of work and in the dignity that should be the rightful reward to be enjoyed in retirement. Martin understood the corrosive effects of persistent unemployment and the dangers of enforced idleness. He criticised the insecurity that seemed to be built into too many jobs.

Martin Redmond witnessed a Britain divided between the haves and have-nots—those with work and those without, and those with opportunities and those without. Martin Redmond would have been proud of the start that this new Labour Government have made—the concerted plan to tackle youth unemployment and the plan to shorten NHS waiting lists. He would have been as proud as I am to welcome this Bill, which will make good the key pledge on class sizes for which Labour has received a clear mandate.

Don Valley’s history is steeped in mining. Every previous Member of Parliament came from mining and I pay tribute to them all. Indeed, in 70 years, the constituency has had but five Members of Parliament. James Walton, a miner, was the first Member of Parliament to represent the constituency from 1918 to 1922. He was the only Labour candidate in the history of Don Valley to have the unofficial support of the Conservatives.

I would love to boast that I am the youngest Member of Parliament in Don Valley’s history, but I am not. Tom Williams, later Baron Williams, was elected in 1922 at the age of 34. I would love to aspire to be the constituency’s longest-serving Member of Parliament, but Tom Williams served 37 years, until 1959, and I cannot imagine having such a substantial tenure. He served through great and turbulent times; his seventh general election victory was in 1945. As the right hon. Tom Williams, he then served as Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries until 1959. He made a distinguished contribution to the House and I would be proud to be mentioned on the same page in the history books.

Tom Williams was succeeded by Dick Kelley, who served the people of Don Valley for 20 years. In his maiden speech, in November 1959, Dick Kelley was concerned for the economic survival of the village communities he represented. He pleaded: These villages must be kept alive.”—[Official Report, 9 November 1959; Vol. 613, c. 72.] In the weeks leading up to the 1997 election, that view was expressed to me many times.

I am most grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having been allowed to make this speech so soon after my election to this House. I would love to have claimed that I was the quickest of the six Don Valley Members to have made a maiden speech, but that honour remains with Mick Welsh, who was Member of Parliament from 1979 to 1983 and who was later the Member for Doncaster, North. He addressed the House just 20 days after the general election. In his maiden speech, Michael Welsh celebrated the genuine community life of the mining villages of Don Valley. Those men embraced, celebrated and championed Don Valley’s culture and communities for the best part of a century. I celebrate it, too.

Don Valley is a changing constituency. It is perhaps fitting that I am the first woman to represent it. I am not from a mining background. At the time of my selection, try as I might to discover that a distant grandparent had once spent a long weekend in Don Valley, I could not. I determined then that honesty was the only policy. My curriculum vitae announced, I won’t try to kid you that I’m from South Yorkshire. I’m not. Labour party members, and subsequently the electorate, welcomed me with warmth and friendliness to put down roots in the constituency, as they did for so many people before who moved from the four corners of the United Kingdom to make Don Valley their home. Indeed, I am very proud to have been made a life member of the Official’s club in Edlington, and to have been presented with a badge bearing the white rose of Yorkshire and welcomed as an honorary Yorkshirewoman.

In his 1941 book about Don Valley entitled “Old King Coal”, Robert W. L. Ward wrote: Men from Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Durham, Northumberland, Wales and Ireland came in hundreds, bringing with them customs, dialects, superstitions and faiths foreign to the Don Valley. Gradually these foreigners from the midlands and the north have become digested by their South Yorkshire hosts. And such digestion has done something to enrich the local strain. The Don Valley that I know is a diverse community. It is dominated by the former mining villages of Conisbrough, Denaby, Edlington, Rossington, and Hatfield—a new addition to the constituency. It is a constituency of striking landmarks, scenic villages and many beauty spots. It includes villages stretching to the borders of Nottinghamshire, such as Bawtry. The constituency has seen a rapid expansion of villages such as Auckley, Finningley and Sprotbrough, with new families and their young children moving to the area every week.

Don Valley is the historic heart of South Yorkshire, boasting two castles—Tickhill and Conisbrough, which is the setting for the classic story “Ivanhoe”, penned by Sir Walter Scott in a room in the Boat inn at Sprotbrough falls. If The Mirror is to be believed, “Ivanhoe” is the favourite book of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

In the book, Sir Walter Scott describes Conisbrough castle. He wrote: There are few more beautiful or more striking scenes in England than are presented by the vicinity of this ancient Saxon fortress. The soft and gentle River Don sweeps through an amphitheatre in which cultivation is richly blended with woodland, and on a mount ascending from the river, well defended by walls and ditches, rises this ancient edifice. Conisbrough castle is part of Don Valley’s past, but it is also part of its future. Along with the Earth centre on the site of the old Denaby main colliery, Conisbrough castle affords opportunities to attract visitors from afar and become part of Don Valley’s economic regeneration.

I know that the people of Don Valley will welcome the Bill, which will pave the way to reducing class sizes. That pledge, coupled with the ambitious goal of raising education standards and opportunities for children and young people, will be received with great enthusiasm by the electors of Don Valley. Families with young people in Don Valley know that, unlike for previous generations, the mines will not provide the gateway to employment for the many. They know that education is the foundation. The achievement of their children will determine their life chances thereafter. The Bill demonstrates that the Government intend to place education at the centre of their programme—the No. 1 priority. Education is the building block for the future, and children must be at the heart of it.

During the election campaign, one French teacher asked me how she could teach French to children in year 7 of secondary school if, when they arrived, some had not yet mastered the basics of written and spoken English. That is a problem that the Conservatives refused to tackle. Standards are the cornerstone of our education policy. Schools are a vital part of any community and have a precious role to play in the life of the small villages that dominate my constituency.

However, schools are not islands, and must be encouraged to share their expertise, spread their best practice and learn from each other. Where a school is failing, we must look to turn it around in six months, not six years. That should be the Government’s ambition. Not to do so is to condemn generations of children.

Gone are the days when the height of Government ambition was to have one good school in every town. That proposal was rejected at the election. We must ensure that every school is a good school; that every school comes up to scratch—nothing less is acceptable. Gone will be the complacency that allowed class sizes to rise steadily throughout the years of the Major Government. By 1996, more than 1.25 million children were in classes of 31 or more. Indeed, in my constituency, more than 2,000 children are in classes of more than 30 pupils.

I welcome the Government’s intention to review the presentation of league tables, because, vital as they are, the many qualities that a school offers—leadership, morale and parental involvement—are all essential ingredients that add value to a child’s education. Those qualities must be reflected in information made available to parents. The Bill makes a start. Those who choose to buy private education for their child are buying one thing above all else: smaller class sizes. Yet for the majority in Britain, the past five years have seen an unrelenting rise in class sizes. That rise must be brought to an end, and the Bill helps to release resources to begin that task.

The Bill will be welcomed by the electorate of Don Valley as a sign of a new Labour Government who govern for the many not for the few; a sign that Britain has turned a page in history and entered a new era. The Government deserve praise for the flying start that they have made, showing in weeks that a change of Government can lead to a change of mood and priorities. I hope that, for the duration of the Government’s term of office, I serve my constituency well in this new era in British life—a period of new hope and great opportunities. As the Member of Parliament for Don Valley, and, perhaps more important, as the mother of three children in state education, I commend the Bill to the House.

Padraig Flynn – 1997 Speech to TUC Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Padraig Flynn, the then European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, to the 1997 TUC Conference.

President, members of the General Council and distinguished delegates, first of all I should say how delighted I am to be back with you today, to share your enthusiasm for building a new employment and social agenda in Europe and in the United Kingdom.

Before I move on to the business of the day, I want to mention just for a moment the European Year Against Racism. I want to congratulate the many workers, in both the public and private sector, who have made this year so substantive across the United Kingdom. I want to congratulate the trade union Movement in the United Kingdom for using the year as a focus for the long‑term task of ensuring that social justice, equality and the celebration of diversity are the daily fare of working life. Europe, in solidarity, applauds you.

The first time I had the privilege of addressing this Congress was, as the President said, some four years ago, just a few months after I took responsibility for employment and social affairs in the European Commission and just a few months before we produced ‑‑ at the behest of all of the governments of the Union ‑‑ a White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment. That document and its core message of solidarity found strong allies in the trade union Movement across Europe. Its balanced approach ‑‑ making growth, competitiveness and employment complementary and sustainable ‑‑ remains central to Commission thinking. It underpins our continuing collaboration with the Member States of the Union.

Much has happened in relation to the European Union’s economic and social policies since that Congress of 1993, but not enough in my view, nor I suspect in yours. The rate of unemployment across Europe remains unacceptably high.

If we are to tackle this problem effectively we must put things in perspective. Europe is failing to create enough jobs. Fair question: why? Some voices are still blaming this on our competitive performance. They say we cannot compete either with low wage economies or with more efficient developed economies like the United States and Japan. Why, you ask? Because our costs are too high? Why are they too high? Because we have over‑developed social policies, which we cannot afford, they say. The question is: what does Europe do about it? Europe compounds the difficulties, we are told, by proposing even more costly social policies.

That view has little foundation in fact. The European Union economy has underperformed for much of the past two decades in terms of growth and job creation but not because of lack of competitiveness. Europe is competitive on any criteria that makes economic sense. We pay our way in the world with a trade surplus of over one per cent of GDP. We have low stable inflation, 2 per cent, creating a positive and predictable environment for business. We have a steady 2 per cent a year growth in productivity, two to three times faster than the United States, steadily narrowing the real income gap between us. We have declining unit labour costs, and the highest levels of profitability for 35 years.

These are the facts, not fantasy. They show the true state of Europe’s economic fundamentals. So to suggest that Europe is not competitive and then to blame it on Europe’s social model is, in all its forms, simply misleading. Europe’s social model is not a drag on our competitiveness. Public social spending in Europe is a productive factor, creating stronger economic performance. It is not a cost; it is an investment for both the short and the longer term. It is not an unaffordable luxury. It is simply the European way of coping with change and with paying for services that citizens of all advanced industrialised countries demand.

Our problem is not that our economies are weak, or our budgets unbalanced through excessive social spending. Our problem is that our competitive success reflected in trade, and in productivity, has not been matched by effective economic policy management. Our persistent unemployment is not the consequence of overdeveloped social policies, although many could be usefully reformed. It is the result of underdeveloped and fragmented economic policies, as well as poor investment in human resources.

The very success of the Single Market has highlighted the growing problems arising from having economic policies based on the old concept of fragmented national markets, rather than on the reality of the Single European Market. This is reflected in the different fates of Europe and the United States, during and after the major recessions of the seventies and early nineties. In the United States the policy guidelines and instruments of countervailing action exist. The central monetary authority, the Federal Reserve, is obliged to pursue both full employment and price stability. The FED has used its interest rate policy very effectively in both respects. Europe has lacked such a framework. All we have had has been a loose commitment to economic policy coordination and fourteen separate currencies.

And the result? While the United States recovered rapidly after each recession, Europe did not. Without the means to manage common action European recovery has been slow. Each recession has left a legacy of high and increasingly structural unemployment. The paradox is, of course, that some commentators never cease lecturing us about how we should learn from the United States with its flexible labour markets.

On the contrary, we learn much more from the United States in terms of economic policy management than in terms of labour market and social policy design. The former has enabled the United States to maintain a high level of employment. The latter has led to costly social problems ‑‑ the working poor, crime rates and imprisonment ‑‑ that we in Europe have more successfully avoided. Now Europe has the opportunity to escape its own policy traps, to emulate the positive aspects of United States employment performance, while maintaining the inherent strength of the European social model.

The recent Amsterdam summit ‑‑ wrongly played down or written off by many ‑‑ was indeed a watershed in this process. The new European Treaty has put employment centre stage alongside the other criterion of success ‑‑ price stability. This created the opportunity to transform the long‑run growth in performance potential of the European economy. Two phrases from the Treaty tell it all. Firstly, it says, “Member States… shall regard employment as a matter of common concern and shall coordinate their action.” Secondly, “The objective of a high level of employment shall be taken into consideration in the formulation and implementation of Community policies and activities.”

The identification of employment as “a matter of common concern” reflects awareness of the interdependence of Member States. If one Member State resorts to competitive devaluation, distorting subsidies to industry or a downgrading of working standards, that adversely affects job prospects in all of the other Member States. There has to be an end to monetary dumping, fiscal dumping and especially an end to social dumping.

The aim of the Treaty is not just to stop bad behaviour; it goes further. It aims to promote a positive‑sum game in economic and social policy from which we can all benefit. Amsterdam, with Maastricht, gives us the tools and the positive policy guidelines that we need to ensure the long‑run growth and development of employment in the European economies.

There are two political consequences that emerge. The first is that EMU can no longer be seen as some kind of optional extra. It is the necessary counterpart to the increasingly integrated European economy in which national, economic policies lose much of their force if exercised alone. The second is that monetary union alone is not enough. Our objective must be a full economic and monetary union, with an effective and positive cooperation and coordination of national policies and objectives, including employment, as well as appropriate monetary policy.

Economic policy failures have been the root cause of Europe’s unemployment. Too often, though, unemployment has turned into long‑term unemployment because of the weaknesses in our social protection and labour market systems.

Too little emphasis on employability policies and too much weight given to unemployment insurance and other income maintenance schemes have weakened our capacity to adjust. We need to modernise, not only our economic policies but also our labour market policies, including our social protection systems.

But let me be quite clear about one thing: reform and modernisation does not the mean wholesale deregulation. Contrary to the rhetoric, deregulated labour markets do not produce higher levels of employment than well regulated ones. What they do tend to do is to reduce standards; they widen the spread of incomes between richer and poorer members of the workforce; they reduce overall levels of productivity‑enhancing investment in people and capital.

Well regulated labour markets are as essential to long‑run economic success as well regulated product or financial markets. They enable entrepreneurs to create jobs, just as much as they enable workers to equip themselves for changing skills demands. They also help to create what I believe is an essential pre‑ condition for economic and social well‑being: a skilled, flexible, secure and mobile European workforce.

To achieve this, the regulatory framework cannot remain static in a changing world. We must reconcile the flexibility which firms need with the security which workers require. This is the key to bringing our success as productive economies and societies into the new century, and into the new shape of working life.

In the new, more fluid labour market the need for security will not diminish, but its purpose, its form, needs to change in order to serve and to help create a more dynamic labour market and a more dynamic economy. An important part of this must be a new and a stronger focus in social protection systems on employability and access to skills. Social protection must actively equip people to work as well as provide basic support.

Just as important, labour law and the collective arrangements governing future working patterns must offer recognition to new forms of working conditions and contractual arrangements. The arrangements must factor in human resource investment as an integral part of the mutual contract.

The incorporation of the new, reinforced protocol into the Treaty as a chapter of social policy was a major political achievement. More importantly still, the endorsement and the opting in by the United Kingdom was very significant and it has strengthened European social policy. I warmly welcome that step taken by the United Kingdom Government. It has put the United Kingdom back at centre stage in the development of a truly European social policy, a place they should always have been in.

However, some people have warned that as a result I would be travelling here to Brighton today and that I would be coming by boat ‑‑ coming by boat and towing behind me a huge raft of European legislation as a result of the Social Chapter. What a misunderstanding ‑‑ and I am being kind in the words I use here ‑‑ as to what European social policy is all about and what the Social Protocol does and does not do. A Common Market needs common minimum standards, if all workers are to benefit from the economic benefits which the Market brings about, and to prevent social dumping.

Most of the relatively few laws that have been adopted in the last 30 years have covered health and safety matters, have covered freedom of movement of workers, have covered working conditions and have covered equal opportunities. Can anyone here suggest or argue that these laws are not justified or that they should be removed? I think not.

The Social Protocol is not, I repeat, a legislative agenda and it has no presumption in favour of legislation. The Social Protocol is a development of the means we have at our disposal to protect the minimum rights of workers. It is important, now that the United Kingdom has signed up, that it provides a single coherent policy approach. It also creates direct input by the social partners to the policies which directly affect them and which is the basis for a new legislative approach in which you ‑‑ yes, you ‑‑ the trades unions and the employers become the key legislators.

The European social dialogue is becoming a real and effective partnership. I look forward to supporting you in the realisation of the full potential of this new mechanism in the future.

The Protocol does not call for a whole new raft of legislation. There is no conspiracy or hidden agenda. Instead there is a clear mechanism for examining what steps are necessary and, if necessary, how to proceed.

Next year I will be discussing a new European Social Programme. It will not be a stand‑alone approach to social issues: it will present a strategic, integrated, mutually reinforcing set of social policy guidelines aimed at supporting the wider modernisation of Europe. As with everything else that we are doing, its main preoccupation will be improving the prospects for employment.

Let us be clear: people matter and workers matter. In my book, flexibility does not mean insecurity. Workers who feel insecure feel threatened and that is not the way to motivate people to produce more, to accept change and to think “future”. Workers want to be part of and consulted on the way forward for a new Europe. We all know the demands of technology and up‑skilling. Workers will co‑operate, but they must be treated fairly. I do not think that that is an impossible contract in the year 1997.

I state it in clear and unambiguous terms: if legislation is necessary and needed, I will not hesitate to propose and promote the appropriate legislation.

Action on all fronts ‑‑ economic, employment and social ‑‑ will be the subject of the Jobs Summit in November this year called by the Luxembourg Presidency.

I finish today with my proposals for employment policies. In the midst of all the complex issues to discuss, we see four main lines of action that Member States must deliver on:

First is entrepreneurship, to create a new culture, a new climate and spirit to stimulate the creation of more and better jobs. In other words, we need a strong sense of business development in a growing and strengthening European economy.

Secondly is employability of job seekers. We need to tackle the skills gap by modernising education and training systems and strengthening the links with the workplace so that all can seize the new employment opportunities ‑‑ a real springboard for new jobs.

Thirdly is equal opportunities for all at work, to modernise our societies to a new order where men and women can work on equal terms and with equal responsibilities to develop the long‑term growth capacity of our economies.

Fourthly is adaptability of enterprises and of the workforce to respond to changing market conditions, ensuring that no group is left behind, and facilitating the restructuring of industries and workplaces in a way that is acceptable to both workers and employers.

In addition, we want to see governments set clear and measurable targets for tackling the priority issues of youth unemployment, long‑term unemployment and equality between women and men.

We see these actions as part of an integrated and comprehensive economic and social strategy. They must be pursued together within the framework of supportive macro‑economic policies; they must be backed by institutional reforms, making the national labour market institutions and social protection systems more employment‑friendly.

Under each of these headings, guidelines are being prepared which reflect these basic objectives. They form part of a broader framework for cooperation on employment that the Amsterdam Treaty and the European Council Resolution put in place. They provide the basis for developing the concrete actions on which the Council has insisted.

Never has there been a more propitious moment to put one’s views and proposals clearly on the table. We seek a consistent framework to measure performance.

Today, as we prepare for the Jobs Summit, we can clearly see that employment and social policies are top of the European agenda. The new employment provisions in the Amsterdam Treaty give Europe a real opportunity to make low growth and persistent unemployment a thing of the past. They provide the political and operational means by which we can address our deficiencies and failings through an effective conjunction of national and union‑wide policies.

Within this framework, European social policy stands as an integral part of the process of modernisation in Europe.

I understand that invitations are the order of the week. In the run‑up to this Jobs Summit and in the period beyond, my invitation to you is to join us in managing the process of change.

The common concern on the scale of unemployment in Europe and the deterioration in job standards has now been joined by a common understanding of the causes and the remedies that we can bring to bear. The ground is laid for a good future. Let us turn Europe around for the better and let us get on and complete the job. I invite you to be part of it with me.

Maria Eagle – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

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

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I am particularly happy to be able to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Watts) on his first contribution, and I am sure that we shall hear many more contributions from him.

Garston is positioned to the south of most of the well-known Liverpool landmarks, and it is a mixed residential and industrial constituency. It includes some of the docks and the old industrial heartland of the city, much of which was devastated in the early 1980s. Were I to list the factories and employers who have gone from my constituency, it would be a depressingly long list. Liverpool, however, is irrepressible and the people are of the best sort. There are encouraging signs of hope and renewal, especially in the single regeneration budget partnership areas of Speke, Garston and Netherley valley.

Garston’s borders are logical on three sides—the River Mersey, the green belt at the southern edge of the city and the M62. The border on the fourth side runs almost down Queens drive, but not quite. My constituency is perhaps the most socially and economically diverse of all the Liverpool seats and as such, it has always been a volatile swing seat. It used to be a true marginal, but it has lately swung strongly to the Labour party. Although I might like to think that that phenomenon coincides precisely with my appearance on the scene, in fact it predates it. Garston’s progress to an 18,000-plus Labour majority has been aided enormously by the slow death of the Tory party in Liverpool.

Whichever of the two—the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) or the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague)—who are vying to be Leader of the Opposition is successful in grabbing that poisoned chalice, he might profitably reflect on how his party can ever again be relevant to the people of my constituency. If he finds an answer, he may well be on the way to renewing his party. As recently as 1979, Garston was held by the Conservative party, but now it is a very distant third.

Garston contains some of the most desirable and expensive housing in Liverpool, in the Woolton and Allerton areas, and has the highest proportion of owner-occupation in the city, but it also has huge peripheral estates in Netherley and Speke and some very poor private terraced property in Garston, some of which is unfit for human habitation. Unemployment is well above the national average and all indices of deprivation show Liverpool to be very poor—one of the poorest regions in the European Union. Large swathes of my constituency suffer the problems associated with unemployment and poor housing—poverty, ill health and crime, to name just three—yet the community spirit is strong.

Throughout the constituency, community-led groups and businesses have sprung up to try to tackle the problems—whether by way of credit unions taking banks to the estates, such as those in Netherley and Speke, long since abandoned by commercial institutions, or by way of employment and regeneration initiatives, the list is almost endless. SMART, ARCH, CREATE, VANT—I could go on for many hours about the good work of those organisations in my constituency, but time is short. Suffice it to say that the capacity of the people of Garston constituency to fight for improvements and life chances for themselves and their families is endless and inspiring.

Despite the efforts being made, however, regeneration is never an easy task. Some basic problems must be tackled by the Government, and I shall address one of the most basic problems in my constituency, which the Government can and should tackle—the provision of adequate housing. First, I want to refer to three of my predecessors—Eddie Loyden, David Alton and Sir Malcolm Thornton. All have represented part of my constituency and all left this House on 20 April or 1 May.

Many hon. Members on both sides will recall Eddie Loyden as a modest man, but a determined fighter for his constituents and for his strongly held socialist beliefs. A seafarer and a docker, his fight on behalf of the families of the victims of the MV Derbyshire typifies him. I know that hon. Members will join me in wishing him a long and active retirement.

David Alton was another respected representative of the Grassendale ward of the Garston constituency. He has now gone to the other place where, I have no doubt, he will continue to speak up for Liverpool.

Sir Malcolm Thornton, who left this House at the behest of his constituents in Crosby rather than of his own volition, was the Member for Garston between 1979 and 1983, so I ask the indulgence of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Ms Curtis-Thomas) if I make some remarks about him. Our paths crossed in 1992, when I fought Crosby for Labour while Sir Malcolm Thornton fought it for the Conservatives. I came, as I recall, a rather glorious second. I recall seeing Sir Malcolm again on 2 May 1997 after his shock defeat. He was as courteous and gracious in defeat as he had been in victory five years previously. I am sure that all hon. Members wish him well in his future endeavours, whatever they are. I certainly wish all my predecessors well.

Something else all my predecessors and I share, apart from having had the honour of representing Garston, is that we have all made maiden speeches about housing. That illustrates how, across party and through time, the issue has been so important in Garston. It still is.

Council housing in Liverpool is, in the main, very poor. Of more than 45,500 dwellings, almost 27,000—over half—are structurally substandard or in poor condition. Much of the stock is ill maintained, some of it designated defective under housing defects legislation, and some which is defective has not been designated. The local authority estimates that £700 million is required to bring the stock up to standard. The standard in Liverpool council housing for heating is one gas fire. Damp, disrepair, mould growth and the consequences for the health and well-being of the occupants are endemic throughout the stock. Those consequences include needless and difficult additional burdens for thousands of my constituents who already have many other burdens to bear.

I know about this, not just because 80 per cent. of my constituency case load relates to housing problems, but from my experience before the election as a solicitor in private practice in Liverpool, specialising in housing law. During my time in the House, I want to achieve an improvement in living conditions for those in the poorest housing. Before my election, I used the courts—civil and criminal—to achieve that for those who sought my help. Now I shall use legislation. However improvements are achieved, they are long overdue.

In her maiden speech in 1945, Bessie Braddock—a well-known Liverpool Member of Parliament whom I feel I can cite because she had a connection with Bennett street in Garston—told of families of 10 in her Liverpool, Exchange constituency who were forced to live in overcrowded conditions. At my first constituency surgery after the election, I was consulted by a constituent who complained that she and her family of 10 were overcrowded in their home in Speke, yet she had no immediate prospect of adequate housing. Little seems to have changed in Liverpool.

We must do something about that state of affairs. That is why I welcome and support the Bill. It begins to tackle the housing crisis that has been worsened by the dogma of the Conservative party and bequeathed to the nation. It makes provision for the Secretary of State to take into account capital receipts set aside for debt redemption when issuing supplementary credit approvals. That sounds dry and technical, but it will get some of the £5 billion of locked-up set-aside capital receipts back into the equation for rebuilding and rehabilitating social housing. The measure is long overdue, delayed purely by the previous Government’s prejudice against social housing.

In Speke and Garston, in Netherley and Childwall valley, we need repairs and improvements to houses—and soon. I welcome other initiatives that the Government are supporting, such as establishing housing companies and mechanisms to involve tenants. I believe passionately in the strength, sense and ability of ordinary people to shape and transform their lives, given half a chance. I have a particular belief in the capacity of Liverpudlians to do that. Their solidarity, community spirit and adaptability are demonstrated every day on the estates to which I have referred. Let us ask them what they want to do, and listen to the answers.

Landlords, even social landlords, do not have a monopoly of wisdom—certainly not in Liverpool. The best of them would not claim to. I hope that, with the backing of the Government, determined to make a difference in Speke and Netherley, things will change. The Bill is a good start. Perhaps we can then ensure that the next hon. Member for Garston—who, I trust, will not come to the House for many a long year—will be able to choose a different subject for his or her maiden speech.

Ed Davey – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

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Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Ed Davey in the House of Commons on 6th June 1997.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), although a daunting prospect because he gave us such an entertaining and interesting speech. I congratulate him on making such an erudite maiden speech.

I would also like to offer the hon. Gentleman my sympathy and condolence for having the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) in his constituency. This obviously brings a new meaning to the big brother state. I hope that the health service in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency improves, because having the hon. Member for Hartlepool looking over his shoulder all the time might not be good for his health.

From listening to Labour Members and to my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), it is clear that a great consensus is emerging on the new government for London. That consensus spreads to the wider community—the business community, as the Minister said, in the boroughs, and in the population of London as a whole. The need to remove the quango state that was introduced by the previous Government, and the need for a strategic authority that is democratically accountable to the people and will take a strategic perspective on issues such as employment, transport and the environment—issues that affect the daily lives of our constituents—is crucial.

There is a genuine debate, however, about the suitability and appropriateness of having a directly elected mayor. My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey described our position clearly. I am concerned that we will have some very odd hybrid if we have an elected authority and a directly elected mayor. The mandates will clash. It will be a recipe for confusion, and the only way around that—perhaps a separation of powers model—is a recipe for gridlock.

I see no merit in a directly elected mayor. Indeed, I endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). Why are we not going for the tried and tested model of party competition for the new strategic authority? That seems sensible. I would support a strategic authority that was elected in a proportionally representative system. I urge the Minister not to be affected by “manifestitis” and to be open to the idea of having a multi-question referendum.

I am very grateful for having this early opportunity to make my maiden speech. I am the first ever Member of Parliament for the new constituency of Kingston and Surbiton. It was formed from the old Surbiton seat and from the southern part of the old Kingston upon Thames seat and covers a number of communities, from Malden Rushett, Chessington and Hook in the south, through to Tolworth, Berrylands, New Malden, Norbiton and Worcester Park. It covers three quarters of the royal borough of Kingston, which through its long and distinguished history has previously returned only Conservative Members of Parliament to the House, so I am especially pleased that the royal borough is now represented on the Liberal Democrat Benches, by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge). It is a great responsibility, but I look forward to meeting the challenge.

My predecessor in the Surbiton seat, Richard Tracey, was first elected in 1983. He has a long history of public service and, on behalf of my constituents, I thank him for all his work over the years for the people who live in the Surbiton area. I trust that his experience in the media as a former BBC presenter will suit him well as he embarks on a new career.

My predecessor in the Kingston upon Thames seat was perhaps better known in the House. I recommend that hon. Members who want to inquire about how he is getting on go to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), from whom I understand that Mr. Lamont is doing very well. He is remembered affectionately by many of his constituents, whom he helped.

In a former life, I was an avid reader of his speeches as I used to assist my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in his many battles with the former Chancellor, but it is not Mr. Lamont’s speeches as Chancellor that I reflected on in making my maiden speech and wanting to pay tribute to him. I looked back at his very good maiden speech, which I recommend to other hon. Members. I should like to quote one or two phrases from it because they reflect interestingly on recent debates.

For example, Mr. Lamont said early on in his speech: I have to admit that for some years I have been strongly pro-European. Hansard does not record whether he said that sotto voce, but he went on: I hope that everyone will agree that by making an uncompromisingly European speech I am being as non-controversial as it is possible to be. If only that were still the case. I recommend the speech because it talks about the advantages of European governance. He said: At least in the Community there is nothing secret about the way in which the Commission’s thinking is developing. It is a shame only that, when he took office, he did not reflect on those views and still kept, unfortunately, the Budget purdah. I hope that this Government will be a little more open.

My favourite part of the speech is when the former Chancellor discussed the foreign exchange markets. He referred to currency volatility in the early 1970s and stated: One wonders how much of last year’s currency upheaval could have been avoided had there been a joint European strategy”.—[Official Report, 13 July 1972; Vol. 840, c. 1887–92.] How times have changed since 1972.

I do not, however, want to dwell on the past. My constituents’ main concern is education—our future. Kingston schools are extremely popular, and teachers, parents, governors, councillors and council officials work very hard to deliver high-quality education in our area, but in recent years their efforts have been thwarted by cuts imposed by central Government, which have led to huge overcrowding and some of the largest class sizes in the country.

Efforts to absorb those cuts from central Government have proved impossible within the current draconian system of local government finance, so, unfortunately, some of the cuts have been experienced in schools. To meet previous cuts, the authority had to run down its reserves, which are now at the minimum prudential level, yet in the past three years the grant has been cut by £15.1 million.

The authority has worked hard to make efficiency savings to try to meet that challenge and has achieved savings of nearly £4 million, but last year’s cut was just one too many and schools felt it badly. In looking to next year, my concern is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will somehow be able to escape from the trap on public spending in which he has put himself. I am filled with dread when I hear him reiterate the Labour party’s manifesto commitment to keep the previous Government’s public spending controls for the next two years. When one talks to professionals, one realises that the claim that money from the abolition of the assisted places scheme will fill that gap insults their intelligence. More money is needed.

Cuts have been made not only in schools but in further and higher education. In Kingston college, last year’s settlement means that 20 teachers—10 per cent. of the staff, in one college, in one year—may face redundancy.

I hope that there is a plan to escape that trap somehow. Liberal Democrats will make no apology for returning to this issue time and again, because it is at the heart of the education debate. Until we have more resources for schools and colleges, sanity will not return to the education system.

If the Government put education at the top of their agenda, as they said they would, we shall be helpful, and make suggestions. In that spirit, as they prepare for the future, I would like to offer them an idea for their welfare-to-work proposals. In my constituency we have Hillcroft college, which presents a unique example of the type of programme that the Government should have in mind.

Hillcroft is the only adult education institution in the country geared solely to the needs of women. Over many years it has helped women who missed out on their first chance of education; women who as single parents are trying to find a path back into the workplace; and women who had previously been dependent on the social security system.

In a recent visit to the college, I was most impressed by the way in which the college supports individual women’s needs, as some try to repair some of the self-confidence that was shattered by some of the previous Government’s policies. I recommend that Ministers come to my constituency, visit Hillcroft and use it as an example in their deliberations on the Government’s welfare-to-work proposals.

In Kingston and Surbiton there is a wealth of examples of policy initiatives that the Government could usefully study—some to follow and some to forget. Kingston university has expanded tremendously over the past few years, and I hope that the proposals in the Dearing report will enable that process to continue.

Unfortunately, many problems have been caused by police cuts in Kingston. In the past two years we have lost more than 40 officers.

The need for a strategic transport policy is one of the subjects of the debate today. In Kingston we certainly have not had such a policy. Moreover, South West Trains has made appalling cuts in services, and the recent infamous cuts have caused many problems for my constituents.

The accident and emergency department in Kingston hospital experiences queues every day of the week. Unfortunately, until there is more capital funding to build a new accident and emergency department there, those problems will continue.

One Kingston policy is highly germane to the debate, and I recommend it to the Government. For the past three years the borough council has pursued the policy of devolution of power to neighbourhoods. The neighbourhood system has been a huge success. In the past, central committee meetings were held at the guildhall, and a few political aficionados used to attend and listen to the debates. There was little participation, and the general public did not know what was going on.

Now, seven neighbourhood committees have been set up round Kingston, which is the smallest borough in London. Many people come to the meetings and participate, and democracy has flourished in our borough. The efficacy of policy decisions, too, has improved because of the public participation.

The success of the neighbourhood system, that revolution in decentralising power within a borough, has become so famous that many people have come to Kingston to study it. After the first two years of its implementation, the previous Government’s district auditor produced a glowing value for money report on it.

The report said: Communications between officers and with citizens appear to have improved as a result of the neighbourhood structure”, and there is real value in local diversity … for many service areas, there is clear justification for delegation to achieve a local focus”. The extra marginal cost was found to be minimal, and the auditor also noted that the royal borough of Kingston operated on staff numbers that were among the lowest for outer London borough councils.

The district auditor was not alone in praising the value of the neighbourhood system. In a recent document entitled “Innovative models of local authority working”, the local government management board said: Kingston has achieved much and is a good example of clear devolution plans being carefully implemented in a very limited timescale. Its experience is well worth considering and drawing upon.

We have heard today about the powers of the strategic authority and how it will be elected, but I hope that any Green or White Paper will refer also to the inter-relationship between the strategic authority and the borough councils—and between councils themselves, and within councils—so the debate is not just about the strategic authority; it is about all aspects of the future governance of London.

I would like an assurance from the Minister that any future Green or White Paper will allow scope to discuss models of how power can be decentralised within, and to, boroughs. Taking power from the centre to empower communities and citizens was what the neighbourhood system in Kingston was all about. If that is the goal of the Government’s proposals for the governance of London, they will be a great success and improve the lives of the people of London. After all, it was the Prime Minister who, in the John Smith memorial lecture on 7 February 1996, said: I want to enable local communities to decide more things for themselves through local councils. I agree, and I hope that the Government’s proposals for the future governance of London follow that statement.

Jack Cunningham – 1997 Labour Party Conference Speech

Below is the text of a speech made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Jack Cunningham, to the 1997 Labour Party conference in 1997.

British interests in Europe encompass agriculture, fisheries and food. Our ability to change the Common Agricultural Policy, ensure a sustainable future for our fishing industry, and provide safe, affordable, properly labelled food is determined by our standing in the European Union.

We inherited a shambles from the Tories on Europe – credibility and trust were at rock bottom. – the BSE crisis – the appalling consequences of new variant CJD, we express our deepest sympathy to the families who have lost loved ones, – the ban on British beef – the quota hopping fiasco in fishing.

The cost of this Tory incompetence runs to billions of pounds to taxpayers, industry, farmers and fishermen alike.

We have begun to turn things around by developing a constructive, open dialogue with the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Progress has been made but much remains to be done.

Today I can announce the formal submission to the European Commission of a date based export scheme for British Beef. This we hope will operate in parallel with the Export Certified Herd Scheme.

We have started a dialogue with fishermen about creating a sustainable fishing industry for Britain. I want to thank in particular colleagues in the European Parliament and Neil Kinnock for their advice and support.

We said we would establish a new, more effective role for Britain in Europe and we have done so.

Reform too is necessary in the Ministry of Agriculture.

We have made a rapid start. I have put the health and well-being of people and the environment at the top of my agenda.

We have begun the establishment of a new independent food standards agency. Open consultation with everyone concerned is guiding the drafting of our White Paper. I expect the necessary legislation to follow next year.

We intend to rebuild people’s confidence in our food, through open debate, clearer, more informative labelling and more rigorous hygiene standards.

We have accepted and will implement the recommendations of the Pennington Report.

I shall appoint a consumer representative to every advisory committee.

New powers including custodial sentences available to the courts await anyone proved to have undermined Britain by illegally exporting British beef before the ban is lifted. If food plants persistently fall short of acceptable hygiene standards they will be closed.

We now have reform of the Common Agricultural Policy on the European agenda. Change is essential. The CAP wastes billions of pounds of European taxpayers’ money. It does not ensure a sustainable environment and results in higher food prices.

We are working to build coalitions for change which will benefit consumers, farmers and the environment.

Last week I was the first UK Minister of Agriculture ever to address the organic food conference of the Soil Association. I want to see resources from the CAP transferred to organic farming and to investment in rural enterprise.

We have made progress too for the first time having animals recognised as sentient beings in all future European legislation. We have introduced better controls for the welfare of animals in transit.

We are promoting the export of meat rather than livestock – more manifesto commitments delivered.

In Europe too we must find a solution to the WTO decision on the banana regime. Surely the powerful nations of the world can find a way to resolve this situation.

I shall do everything possible to meet our historic obligations to these people during my term as President of the Council of Agriculture Ministers and beyond.

In the Ministry of Agriculture we are delivering our manifesto commitments to the British people:

through a more open, redirected department

through strengthened consumer involvement

with a more productive relationship in Europe

by tackling reform of the CAP

by driving up food hygiene standards

by insisting on better animal welfare.

New Labour is the real party of the countryside. We now represent more rural constituencies than the Tories and the Liberals put together.

And I can make one further commitment today.

It is time to take a fresh look at our quarantine laws. I am therefore establishing an independent scientific assessment of all the alternatives. This discussion document is published today and a full public consultation will follow.

I want to create a department that can tackle the challenges of the new Millennium. To produce safe food and safeguard the environment for all our people. An open, accessible department which is trusted by consumers, environmentalists and farmers alike.

Robin Cook – 1997 Speech to TUC Conference

robincook

Below is the text of the speech made by the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, to the 1997 TUC Conference.

Thank you, Tony, and thank you for that warm welcome. I have, because of my life style, become accustomed to starting my speeches by apologising for being late. As the first speaker to present the fraternal greetings on behalf of the Labour Party and Government, I want to begin by apologising for being 18 years late. Sorry it took so long! If it helps to make up for the fact that it took so long, let me begin by assuring you that we have every intention of staying there for the next 18 years.

We began by making up for lost time. One step that I was proud to take within the first fortnight in office you have already referred to, Tony. The staff of GCHQ make a major contribution to defending the freedoms of this country. Now they are free to share in one of those fundamental freedoms, the right to join the trade union of their choice. Never again must we allow it to be accepted that you cannot be true to your country and also loyal to your trade union.

I took that step as Foreign Secretary, partly because I know that if I want to say to other countries that “you should observe civil liberties and labour freedoms”, then I have to practise what I preach in Britain first. I am proud of the fact that we have managed to bring to our foreign policy the same values of democracy and of civil liberty and trade union rights that inform our domestic policy.

Once in my travels I saw a sign in a Paris hotel, “Please check in your values at reception.” I am not one of those who believes that you should check in your values when you check in your passport as you leave the country. We are an international Movement. The rights and freedoms we demand for ourselves we should demand for others who are unable to obtain it by themselves.

That is why when I was in Indonesia last week I pressed the Government of Indonesia on the concern felt across the union Movement in Britain about the position of Mr Pakpahan, currently in prison on charges arising from his steps to organise an independent trade union ‑‑ independent of Government approval. I was told that he had actually been charged with making a speech inciting the overthrow of Government. I had to tell the Government of Indonesia that if that was an offence in Britain, Tony Blair and I would have spent the last five years locked up in prison!

I do not want Foreign Ministers to arrive in Britain, from Indonesia or any other country, to start to tell me that we have fallen down on trade union rights. That is why I am delighted that we now have made a commitment that early next year we will publish the White Paper giving effect to our commitment that unions will be recognised by companies where a majority of the work force vote for recognition.

I want to pick up something that Adair said in his fraternal greetings from the CBI, before me. Of course, it would be far better if that recognition was done by voluntary agreement between management and work force. Of course I understand the tensions that can arise where management feel that they are forced to recognise the trade union. All I would ask is that it is also recognised that tensions can arise within a work force when they feel that their legitimate aspirations are being ignored and are not being listened to.

As we enter the next century, the key to a competitive successful company will be the skills, the energy and the creativity of its work force, and you cannot ask a work force to bring their innovation, their initiative and their creativity to their work station but then say to the same work force “We are not going to listen to you when you want to talk about the conditions of work in the workplace.” It is an issue of democracy.

Democracy is one of the key values that has run through what the Labour Government has done since it took office in May. It is because of that commitment to democracy that tomorrow we will give the people of Scotland a vote on the return to Scotland of a Scottish Parliament which will enable us to ensure that the public services to the people of Scotland are delivered by people elected by the people of Scotland. And the same again next week in Wales. It will be the first time in history that Scotland has had such a democratic Parliament.

I know there are some Nationalists in my own country who will say it will be the first time for 300 years we have had a Scottish Parliament. I do not want to disillusion them about the nature of the previous Scottish Parliament, but very few of the people that I represent ever got a look in in that Parliament of 17O7. This will be a democratic Parliament, bringing decisions closer to the people. It will be good for Scotland. Devolution will be good for Wales. I tell you this, I think it will also be good for Britain because one of the problems that we must tackle is that we have inherited a state in Britain that is too over‑centralised, in which too much power is exercised by too few people at the top, and there is too little freedom for discretion, for local communities to decide the services they want for themselves.

That is why, having won that power in Whitehall and Westminster, we are determined to share that power, to return power from Whitehall, from Westminster, back to local communities, in particular to take the last remaining power away from that cast of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera in the House of Lords. By the time we meet again next year, we will be on the verge of putting into practice our commitment to clear that mediaeval lumber of Parliament and to make it absolutely established in both Houses of Parliament that the people who take part in passing the laws of our country should earn their seat by the process of democracy, not by the right of birth.

For democracy to work best it needs to work within a society that is cohesive, a society in which there is social cohesion and social justice. That is why we have already set up our Low Pay Commission which has already met twice to put into effect our commitment to introduce a national minimum wage.

Yes, I accept ‑‑ and I agree with Adair Turner on this ‑‑ that we have to be competitive in the international world, we have to trade successfully in a global economy, but we will never compete on the basis of going down the cul de sac of lowering wages. There will always be somewhere in the world which will do the job more cheaply than ourselves. We will only compete if we do the job better than others, not through low pay, but through high skills, high technology, high motivation. You do not get a high skilled, motivated, committed work force on the back of poverty pay.

So we have started on our task, creating a fairer, more just, more open, more democratic Britain. We have started to create a Britain that is more at ease with itself, and also a Britain that is more at ease with its European neighbours.

I am a magnanimous personality. I wish to be generous to my opponents. I therefore wish to record the immense contribution made to Labour’s election victory by the Tory Eurosceptics. If it had not been for the constant image of division and dis‑loyalty which they paraded I might not be standing in front of you here as a Government Minister. My prize award to a Tory Eurosceptic for having his cake and eating it at the same time went to a former Tory MP ‑‑ I stress former ‑‑ who in his election address said “I shall listen very carefully to all the arguments about the single currency and then I shall vote against it”. Fortunately his electors, to their credit, having listened carefully to all the arguments, then voted against him!

On May 1st Britain rejected a narrow nationalism that looked back to the lost world of the 19th century independent nation states. It voted to look forward to the next century of interdependent states, and Britain as a result of that new Labour Government is no longer standing on the side lines in Europe, heckling from those side lines ‑‑ not a very good position from which to score any goals. Britain is now a respected and leading player in the European team. We gave an early signal of our commitment in the first weekend after that election, by announcing our determination to sign the Social Chapter, to end the unfair, unjustifiable situation in which the work force in Britain was left with the worst rights to know what was going on of any country in Europe.

If I have any concern about Europe, it is I think that too often our image of Europe is one of top politicians meeting at Summits, in top people’s hotels, talking about politicians’ obsessions about institutions and procedures. I firmly believe that if we want to make that European project legitimate, relevant, we have to demonstrate that we are participating in the European Union because it can bring real benefits to the lives of the citizens, of people, can bring them a better environment by making sure we do not dump our pollution on each other, can give them better rights at work by making sure we have minimum standards across Europe and, most of all, can tackle the biggest question facing so many families in Britain and across Europe, which is how do they obtain and how do they keep a job.

As Tony Blair has said, the key objective of our policy Europe should not be to integrate the economies of Europe but to strengthen the economies of Europe. There is no better test of the strength of an economy than its ability to offer its people the opportunity of a job and the security of a career with a future.

I therefore give you this assurance, that next January, when Britain assumes the Presidency of the European Union, we will make it our number one objective to establish the European Union as a Europe for the people, not a Europe for the top politicians. If I am going to do that, Tony, I need the help of the trade union Movement. I need your help to communicate to the British people why partnership cannot stop at the Channel; why we need to co‑operate with the other countries of the European Union. I want your help to explain during that British Presidency that Britain’s place is in Europe and that we can make Britain’s place the driving seat of Europe. Together we can do it, just as we together won that victory on May 1st.

Ours is not a tactical alliance, it is a strategic bond based on our common belief that by working together we can achieve more than we can as individuals, based on our shared commitment that for the individual to thrive the individual needs a strong community.

I am very much aware that Labour’s longest serving Foreign Secretary was Ernest Bevin who came from the trade union Movement. Having seen both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and also the trade union Movement, he said “Can the diplomats and governing classes show us anything so wonderful as this Movement which was built out of nothing?” Those of us who are now in charge of the Government and of its embassies must now show the same humility in constantly remembering that we were put there to serve the ordinary people of Britain. That is what the new Labour Government will do, that is the task we have begun, that is the job for which we will seek another renewed mandate at the next election, and that is the task that I ask our friends in this hall to join with us, to make sure that we complete it.