Clare Short – 1985 Speech on Silentnight Plc

Below is the text of the speech made by Clare Short, the then Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, in the House of Commons on 3 December 1985.

I beg to move,

That this House gives its fill support to the employees of Silentnight plc who are on strike; notes that the workforce of the company have shown great forbearance in the face of an aggressive and obdurate management, that the union agreed to forgo a claimed pay rise for three months in return for an undertaking by the company of no further redundancies, but that the company broke the agreement eight weeks later by declaring another 52 employees redundant and that the present strike was supported by a ballot of the workforce; condemns the company for refusing a union offer to submit the dispute to binding arbitration and for dismissing those on strike; further notes that the company’s claim that it cannot afford a pay rise costing £210,000 in a year fits oddly with its ability to pay out dividends to family shareholders of £700,000; and calls upon the company to lift the dismissal notices and negotiate, and upon the Government to use its influence to bring an end to this dispute.

I begin by making it clear that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), deeply regrets his absence tonight and has asked me to put on record for the House and the Silentnight workers his regret that his duties have taken him elsewhere.

We have chosen to debate this dispute partly because we and the Silentnight workers want a settlement of this six-month dispute. We believe that if the Government were willing, they could use their influence to settle the dispute. We do not accept the Government’s amendment and their suggestion that they find the dispute regrettable. If they did, they could use their influence to bring the dispute to an end.

We also wish to debate the dispute because of its wider implications. We want to know whether there are the kind of industrial relations the Government are now seeking. We hear much about a new atmosphere in industrial relations and about management’s right to manage. We want to know whether the Government intend to return us to 19th-century industrial relations and to the bitterness and conflict that we see in the Silentnight dispute. We are all aware of examples of this style of industrial relations from our own constituencies.

In my constituency there was a similar bitter dispute that ended some months ago at Kenwal Brothers in Middlemore road. It lasted 19 weeks. It was a small textile workshop with appalling conditions and illegal rates of pay. The workers learned that the rates were illegal and that there were such things as wages councils which were meant to protect them. They learned of their rights, and it was not because the wages inspectorate came to inspect the offices. The workers joined a trade union. The owner conceded the minimum rates under the wages council and shortly afterwards deliberately provoked a dispute which lasted 19 weeks.

At the request of the workers, I was involved in meetings with the owner. He told me that he deeply regretted the dispute, that everything that he had built up in his working life was now lost and that he would have to sell up. Once the mostly Asian women workers at Kenwal Brothers decided that they could not go on with their strike, the owner reopened his business and took on more workers, as I understand it, at illegal rates of pay. Again the wages inspectorate has not intervened. We have ​ a strong sense of community in Ladywood, however, and the owner is finding it difficult to obtain enough workers. My hon. Friend could tell similar stories of a deterioration of industrial relations which the Government seem to describe as an improved atmosphere.

The Silentnight dispute has been going on for six months. It has caused enormous hardship to those who are on strike and has also caused the company’s first loss. The half-yearly figures published in October showed an £828,000 group loss compared with a £1·1 million profit for the same period last year. The company, it seems, is willing to damage its financial interests as well as the livelihoods of its 346 workers, for purely ideological reasons.

The Government may wish to claim that the dispute has nothing to do with them. That is the implication of the amendment that they seek to move tonight. That claim does not stand up to scrutiny when we look at the record of the company, its involvement with the Conservative party and the record of Ministers and their entanglement with the company.

Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)

The what?

Ms. Short

I shall come to what I am implying. Mr. Tom Clarke, who is a chairman of the company, is a member of the Conservative party and was until recently president of the Skipton Conservative association. His links with the Tory party got him an OBE from the present Government for services to industry. It also got him a visit from the Prime Minister—certainly a Minister—in 1983, who described him as “Mr. Wonderful”. We want to know from the Minister tonight whether the Government still consider him and his industrial relations policy wonderful.

Even worse, in the Adjournment debate on 6 November initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier)—we notice that he is not answering for the Government tonight and wonder whether that is some form of an apology—defended the management of the company and gave a misleading account of the dispute, taken, we believe, from a misleading company briefing published for the purpose of that debate. He made some wild and unsubstantiated allegations about violent conflict in the course of the dispute. Much of this was misleading and untrue. It is likely that some of it will be repeated this evening so my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley will deal with the allegations in some detail later.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

My hon. Friend referred to allegations of violence or intimidation—at least, that was the implication of her words. Is she aware that, after the 5,000-strong rally on Saturday in Barnoldswick in support of the strikers, Mr. David Marshall, the regional official of the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union, was attacked and injured by two men with sticks? If pickets had attacked management representatives, right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Front Bench and every Tory newspaper in Britain would have been talking about or reporting acts of violence and intimidation. When union officials are on the receiving end of sticks, there is total silence from Ministers and Tory newspapers.

Ms. Short

I was not aware of that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having put the matter on the record.

In the Adjournment debate to which I have referred, the Minister cannot claim that he was being impartial about the dispute and expressing the regret that the Government claim in the amendment that the dispute has been continuing for some time. He made no attempt to encourage conciliation and a settlement. Indeed, he said that the Prime Minister was right to praise Mr. Clarke, and added:

“We need more people like Tom Clarke.”—[Official Report, 6 November 1985; Vol. 86, c. 103.].

I shall tell the House what the local newspaper, the Lancashire Evening Telegraph—

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

That is a good newspaper.

Ms. Short

thought of the remarks of the Minister, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen. Its editorial of 8 November reads:

“What kind of employment minister is the one likely to appear more responsible—one who seeks to end a strike or one who fans the flames of the dispute?

We ask this because of the apparently crass and partisan behaviour of Rossendale and Darwen MP Mr. David Trippier, No. 2 at the Department of Employment”—

I do not know whether the Minister is No. 2 in the Department—

“during the Commons debate into the bitter, 22-week dispute at the Silentnight works at Barnoldswick, where some 500 employees were sacked after striking over a pay claim.

For we believe Mr. Trippier comes out of it very badly—in seeming to take sides and so wasting the opportunity to use his office to get both sides together. He is sufficiently experienced to know that no dispute is ever solved by intransigence, but his line in the debate can only prolong that attitude.

If his stance were prompted by a belief that the public generally does support governmental moves to curb over-reaching trade union power, he has made the mistake of going too far into the realm of pure union-bashing, something which, we believe, goes beyond most people’s idea of political responsibility.

So in declaring his support for this employer and saying that the country needs more like it, Mr. Trippier overlooks the fact that firms cannot thrive in the atmosphere of polarised industrial relations and that it is the duty of a responsible employment minister to promote the alternative.”

We hope that tonight we may get a rather different attitude from the Department of Employment.

The history of the dispute is well known. There have been articles in The Guardian, The Times and the Daily Mirror and a programme on Channel 4. That is quite remarkable for a relatively small localised dispute. It is surprising that it received such strong national coverage. Perhaps the reason is that the injustice is so gross. It is a typical example of the shifting mood in industrial relations which the Government seem anxious to promote.

In January 1985, the company asked the workers to forgo a wage increase for between three and four months to avoid job losses. The workers agreed to that. In April 1985, the company reneged on the deal and declared 56 redundancies. The workers accordingly requested their pay increase. The company refused and said that it could not afford to pay it. The trade union made inquiries to ascertain whether that was true and undertook some research. It found that the claim was false.

It found, first, that from January 1984 to January 1985 the company made a profit of £595,000; secondly, that the Silentnight group of companies made a profit of £2·5 million; thirdly, that the chief executive of the company, ​ Mr. Tom Clarke, received a £5,000 a year increase, bringing his salary to £50,000 a year; fourthly, that a family trust called Famco, which is composed of Mr. Tom Clarke and immediate members of his family, received £646,000 this year in dividends from group profits; and, fifthly, that it would have cost only £250,000 over 12 months to pay the members of the union their nationally agreed wage rise. These are the economic facts of the dispute.

In May, there was a ballot at the company on the refusal to honour the award. The result was that 352 workers voted for industrial action and 203 against out of a work force of 700. The ballot produced a 3:2 majority in favour of industrial action. The company remained obstinate and refused arbitration on a number of occasions. Despite what the company is putting out in its briefings and what the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen, said in the Adjournment debate, the union declared itself willing to go to arbitration in the absence of any terms. It did so because it was not possible to reach agreement on terms. The union has been anxious throughout the dispute to go to arbitration and the company has refused to do so.

As a result of the failure to come to an agreement, a go-slow started on 10 June. Again, the workers were anxious not to strike. They decided merely to take some action to promote negotiations with the management. Immediately the go-slow started, shop stewards were summoned by the management and told that if the workers were not working normally in 10 minutes, they would be suspended and sent home. The result was that 200 were suspended. The remaining workers walked out. Three factories came to a standstill and, in July, 346 workers received dismissal notices. They are still on strike.

Those workers want—and we want—the Government to use their substantial influence with the company to arrive at a settlement and get the workers back to work. Are the Government willing to use their influence in that way? Is the Minister willing to say that he thinks that the dismissal notices should be withdrawn and that there should be negotiations? If he is not, we are forced to conclude that this is an example of the industrial relations that the Government are trying to promote and that this is what they mean by management’s right to manage. If that happens, we know that there will be more and more bitter conflicts of this sort throughout the land which will bring benefit to no one.

Clare Short – 2003 Resignation Statement

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a personal statement.

I have decided to resign from the Government. I think it is right that I should explain my reasons to the House of Commons, to which I have been accountable as Secretary of State for International Development, a post that I have been deeply honoured to hold and that I am very sad to leave.

The House will be aware that I had many criticisms of the way in which events leading up to the conflict in Iraq were handled. I offered my resignation to the Prime Minister on a number of occasions but was pressed by him and others to stay. I have been attacked from many different angles for that decision but I still think that, hard as it was, it was the right thing to do.

The reason why I agreed to remain in the Government was that it was too late to put right the mistakes that had been made. I had throughout taken the view that it was necessary to be willing to contemplate the use of force to back up the authority of the UN. The regime was brutal, the people were suffering, our Attorney-General belatedly but very firmly said there was legal authority for the use of force, and because the official Opposition were voting with the Government, the conflict was unavoidable. There is no question about that. It had to carry.

I decided that I should not weaken the Government at that time and should agree to the Prime Minister’s request to stay and lead the UK humanitarian and reconstruction effort. However, the problem now is that the mistakes that were made in the period leading up to the conflict are being repeated in the post-conflict situation. In particular, the UN mandate, which is necessary to bring into being a legitimate Iraqi Government, is not being supported by the UK Government. This, I believe, is damaging to Iraq’s prospects, will continue to undermine the authority of the UN and directly affects my work and responsibilities.

The situation in Iraq under international law is that the coalition are occupying powers in occupied territory. Under the Geneva convention of 1949 and the Hague regulations of 1907, the coalition has clear responsibilities and clear limits to its authority. It is obliged to attend to the humanitarian needs of the population, to keep order – to keep order – and to keep civil administration operating. The coalition is legally entitled to modify the operation of the administration as much as is necessary to fulfil these obligations, but it is not entitled to make major political, economic and constitutional changes. The coalition does not have sovereign authority and has no authority to bring into being an interim Iraqi Government with such authority or to create a constitutional process leading to the election of a sovereign Government. The only body that has the legal authority to do this is the United Nations Security Council.

I believe that it is the duty of all responsible political leaders right across the world – whatever view they took on the launch of the war – to focus on reuniting the international community in order to support the people of Iraq in rebuilding their country, to re-establish the authority of the UN and to heal the bitter divisions that preceded the war. I am sorry to say that the UK Government are not doing this. They are supporting the US in trying to bully the Security Council into a resolution that gives the coalition the power to establish an Iraqi Government and control the use of oil for reconstruction, with only a minor role for the UN.

This resolution is unlikely to pass but, if it does, it will not create the best arrangements for the reconstruction of Iraq. The draft resolution risks continuing international divisions, Iraqi resentment against the occupying powers and the possibility that the coalition will get bogged down in Iraq.I believe that the UK should and could have respected the Attorney-General’s advice, told the US that this was a red line for us, and worked for international agreement to a proper, UN-led process to establish an interim Iraqi Government – just as was done in Afghanistan.

I believe that this would have been an honourable and wise role for the UK and that the international community would have united around this position. It is also in the best interests of the United States. Both in both the run-up to the war and now, I think the UK is making grave errors in providing cover for US mistakes rather than helping an old friend, which is understandably hurt and angry after the events of 11 September, to honour international law and the authority of the UN. American power alone cannot make America safe. Of course, we must all unite to dismantle the terrorist networks, and, through the UN, the world is doing this. But undermining international law and the authority of the UN creates a risk of instability, bitterness and growing terrorism that will threaten the future for all of us.

I am ashamed that the UK Government have agreed the resolution that has been tabled in New York and shocked by the secrecy and lack of consultation with Departments with direct responsibility for the issues referred to in the resolution. I am afraid that this resolution undermines all the commitments I have made in the House and elsewhere about how the reconstruction of Iraq will be organised. Clearly this makes my position impossible and I have no alternative than to resign from the Government.

There will be time on other occasions to spell out the details of these arguments and to discuss the mistakes that were made preceding the conflict. But I hope that I have provided enough detail to indicate the seriousness of the issues at stake for the future of Iraq, the role of the UN, the unity of the international community and Britain’s place in the world.

All this makes me very sad. I believe that the Government whom I have served since 1997 have a record of which all who share the values of the Labour Party can be proud. I also believe that the UK commitment to international development is crucial. The levels of poverty and inequality in a world rich in knowledge, technology and capital is the biggest moral issue the world faces and the biggest threat to the future safety and security of the world. We have achieved a lot, and taking a lead on development is a fine role for the UK. There is much left to do and I am very sorry to have been put in a position in which I am unable to continue that work.

I do think, however, that the errors that we are making over Iraq and other recent initiatives flow not from Labour’s values, but from the style and organisation of our Government, which is undermining trust and straining party loyalty in a way that is completely unnecessary. In our first term, the problem was spin: endless announcements, exaggerations and manipulation of the media that undermined people’s respect for the Government and trust in what we said. It was accompanied by a control-freak style that has created many of the problems of excessive bureaucracy and centralised targets that are undermining the success of our public sector reforms.

In the second term, the problem is the centralisation of power into the hands of the Prime Minister and an increasingly small number of advisers who make decisions in private without proper discussion. It is increasingly clear, I am afraid, that the Cabinet has become, in Bagehot’s phrase, a dignified part of the constitution – joining the Privy Council. There is no real collective responsibility because there is no collective; just diktats in favour of increasingly badly thought through policy initiatives that come from on high.

The consequences of that are serious. Expertise in our system lies in Departments. Those who dictate from the centre do not have full access to that expertise and do not consult. That leads to bad policy. In addition, under our constitutional arrangements, legal, political and financial responsibility flows through Secretaries of State to Parliament. Increasingly, those who are wielding power are not accountable and not scrutinised. Thus we have the powers of a presidential-type system with the automatic majority of a parliamentary system. My conclusion is that those arrangements are leading to increasingly poor policy initiatives being rammed through Parliament, which is straining and abusing party loyalty and undermining the people’s respect for our political system.

Those attitudes are also causing increasing problems with reform of the public services. I do believe that after long years of financial cuts and decline, the public services need reform to improve the quality of services and the morale of public sector workers – the two being inextricably linked. We do not, however, need endless new initiatives, layers of bureaucratic accountability and diktats from the centre. We need clarity of purpose, decentralisation of authority and improved management of people. We need to treasure and honour the people who work in public service. As I found in my former Department, if public servants are given that framework, they work with dedication and pride and provide a service that, in the case of the Department for International Development, is known throughout the world as one of the finest development agencies in the international system. Those lessons could be applied in other parts of the public service.

I have two final points. The first is for the Labour party and, especially, the parliamentary Labour party. As I have said, there is much that our Government have achieved that reflects Labour’s values and of which we can be very proud, but we are entering rockier times and we must work together to prevent our Government from departing from the best values of our party. To the Prime Minister, I would say that he has achieved great things since 1997 but, paradoxically, he is in danger of destroying his legacy as he becomes increasingly obsessed by his place in history.

Finally, I am desperately sad to leave the Department for International Development. I apologise to those in the developing world who told me that I had a duty to stay. I shall continue to do all that I can to support the countries and institutions with which I have been working. It has been an enormous honour to lead the Department. It is a very fine organisation of which Britain can be proud. We have achieved a lot but there is much left to do, and I am sure that others will take it forward. I hope that the House and party will protect the Department from those who wish to weaken it.

Clare Short – 1999 Speech at Trade Union Congress Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Clare Short to the 1999 TUC Conference in Brighton on 16th September 1999.

Congress, I am very pleased to be here today among so many old friends. Labour and trade unions have come a long way together, united by our shared commitment to social justice for all.

And I am proud to be here today as part of a Labour Government, for which we waited so long, which has – whatever our impatience – those values of social justice at its core.

Social justice at home – to undo years of growing inequality and poverty.

And social justice abroad – working systematically to reduce the poverty of the world’s poorest people.

My job – heading up our Government’s efforts to reduce global poverty -takes me to countries with large numbers of malnourished and illiterate people. These visits have caused me to reflect a great deal on the days when equally bad conditions were common in the UK.

I recently read a new book about the history of council housing and urban renewal in Birmingham between 1849 and 1999, written by a local historian, Carl Chinnlie outlines how Britain was transformed from the early 1800s by the process of industrialisation. It was a period of great change. Young people moved in droves from the countryside to the towns. The era of deference to the land-owning class ended.

Both the middle class and working class established a new sense of identity and a new politics. Both were creating wealth and wanted to benefit from it.

But working people lived in squalid conditions. A report commissioned on Birmingham in 1849 recorded that people lived in tiny, cockroach infested, badly built houses made of dirt. Water came from polluted wells, streets were uncleaned, cesspits overflowed. Women struggled to keep their families clean hut disease was rife and life was short. Birmingham was not alone. In 1847, average life expectancy in Surrey was 45, in London 37, and in Liverpool just 26.

The history of the British trade union movement and of the Labour Party is the history of Britain’s struggle, first for democracy and then for social justice. A struggle to ensure that the wealth created by industrialisation was fairly shared by all people and that education, healthcare, decent housing and a decent income was available to all.

Clearly that job is not complete. Our Government is working to reduce child poverty and increase opportunity.

But many people in the world today exist in poverty and squalor as bad as that of British people in the l850s. I have, for example, recently visited Sierra Leone, where average life expectancy is 35; Bolivia, where 70 per cent of people are malnourished; and India, where one third of the population of nearly one billion people lives in extreme poverty.

The parallel between the 1850s and now is very striking. Today, globalisation is causing massive economic and social change. huge wealth is being created but we are also seeing an enormous growth in inequality, between countries and within countries.

The challenge of our times is to ensure that the wealth and opportunity generated by globalisation is distributed equitably; and that we seize the opportunity for a rapid period of advance and a reduction in the suffering caused by poverty worldwide.

In my view, this is both the biggest moral challenge our generation faces and also a growing challenge to our own interests. If we do not reduce poverty, the conflict, disease and environmental degradation to which it leads will damage the prospects of the next generation, wherever they live.

The challenge before us is huge. One in four of the world’s population – that’s 1.3 billion people – lives on less than 60 pence a day, without adequate food, clean water, basic education or healthcare.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed in the face of such poverty. But that would be the wrong response.

In recent decades, much has been achieved. Life expectancy and literacy are increasing; infant and child mortality is declining. We now better understand what works in development and how to speed it up. But, because the world’s population has grown so fast, there are more poor people than ever before.

Faster progress is now possible and necessary to prevent the constant growth of poverty.

At the heart of this Government’s development policy is a commitment to the international development targets – targets for poverty reduction agreed by the world’s governments at the major United Nations conferences of the past decade.

The main goal is to halve the proportion of the world’s population living in abject poverty by 2015. Associated targets include achieving universal primary education, basic healthcare and reproductive healthcare for all, and sustainable development plans in every country – also by 2015.

These targets have not been plucked from the air. They build on progress already made. And the development committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which represents the most developed nations, believes they are achievable and affordable. But to achieve them we need to generate the necessary political will, and adopt the appropriate policies, nationally and internationally.

Congress, what a wonderful opportunity this is! That within 20 years, we can have every child in the world in school, every human being with access to basic healthcare, every woman with the chance to control her own fertility. This Government is committed to using Britain’s influence to mobilise the international system behind these targets and the policies necessary to deliver them.

Alter years of cuts to the aid budget under the previous government, we have reversed this trend. We have committed an extra £1.6 billion for development over three years.

And we are improving the quality and poverty focus of our aid. Working in partnership with developing country governments that are serious about reducing poverty, upholding human rights and tackling corruption.

But the new development agenda goes beyond providing aid. We must also ensure that the interests of the world’s poor are fully integrated into all areas of policy.

Otherwise, aid is simply a charitable sop to make up for the disadvantages flowing from unfair trade and investment policies.

Take debt relief. Britain has led the efforts to get international agreement on faster and deeper debt relief for many of the world’s poorest, most indebted countries.

Progress was made at the Cologne G8 summit and I hope this will be finalised at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings later this month.

We are also working for a comprehensive trade round that advances the interests of developing countries. This is in the interests of British workers too. We all benefit from the higher levels of growth and investment that result from reduced trade barriers. And we will all lose if the world retreats into protectionism. We cannot reduce poverty without economic growth which must also be sustainable and environmentally responsible. The poorest countries need improved trading opportunities to reduce poverty.

We have also been very closely involved in reforming the global financial architecture. The Asian financial crisis showed that major reforms were necessary – to deal with the problems of short-term capital flows; and to reduce the risks of financial and economic instability spreading across the world. A lesson of that crisis was that the high levels of growth achieved in East Asia were not sustainable in an Indonesia that did not respect human rights or allow trade unions to organise; or in Korea and Thailand, where the relationship between banks and industry was unregulated and corrupt.

Congress, this is a very large agenda. And much of it overlaps with your concerns.

We are all operating in a new, very different world.

I often say that globalisation is as big an historical shift as was the change from feudalism to industrialisation. That earlier shift remade the whole political and economic landscape of the world. It brought economic growth but unequal benefits.

And it gave birth to the trade union movement.

It was the trade unions who realised early on that industrialisation was here to stay – but that it must be managed.

And so it is today. Global economic integration and interdependence is a reality. We cannot turn back the clock. Our common challenge is to manage the globalisation process equitably and sustainably. That is why my Department and I have been talking with the TUC and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, to strengthen our ability to work together on these issues, particularly core labour standards worldwide. We plan to publish a joint statement on how we take this forward in the next few months.

Today, I want to highlight three areas where I think future dialogue and co-operation between us is essential to forge a real partnership for social justice and development.

First, core labour standards. There are an estimated 250 million working children in developing countries. Most are trapped by the need to provide income for their desperately poor families. But many children are engaged in forced, exploited or dangerous employment which threatens their health and mental development.

My Department is supporting a range of initiatives in this area, such as the programme to remove children from the football stitching industry in Sialkot, Pakistan. We are also working with Juan Somavia to strengthen the role of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in promoting core labour standards across the world.

Your efforts, and those of trade unionists worldwide, helped to secure the unanimous adoption in June of a new ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.

We have much to do to implement this important advance. We must establish programmes to allow children to move out of work and into school, and create conditions in which parents are no longer dependent on their children’s income. There is much to learn from our own experience of eliminating child labour.

Secondly, the link with business. Here in Britain, trade unions are increasingly working in partnership with employers – to bring real benefits to the workforce, the business and the health of the economy.

But dialogue with employers can also help strengthen the rights of workers in developing countries. Take, for example, the Ethical Trading Initiative, which is supported by my Department. It brings together trade unions, business and nongovernmental organisations to examine supply chains in poorer countries against an agreed Code of Conduct, which includes key commitments on labour standards.

You have a crucial role here. Your members are the bedrock of knowledge about employee and employer relationships. You have vital links with trade unions in other countries. And you have a mutual interest in protecting the poorest and ensuring that globalisation does not lead to a decline in labour standards that threatens the conditions of workers in industrialised countries.

A third key area is what I call ‘reaching out to the poorest’. The world’s very poorest people are rarely in the organised workforce. Of course, trade unions have an interest in organising the unorganised. But, like us, you also have an interest in supporting pro-poor economic development. The best of international trade unionism is about speaking up for the poor and the oppressed, whether they are unionised or not. Evidence suggests that high levels of economic growth in very unequal societies have a limited effect on reducing poverty because the poor only gain in proportion to their original share. Where societies are less unequal, economic growth has a much greater impact on reducing poverty. This is familiar territory to the trade union movement and needs to be taken forward in the poorest countries, which tend to be the most unequal.

We also know that development proceeds fastest where there is an active civil society; where people hold their governments to account, demand that they do better, speak out against corruption, urge faster progress. Just as you are instrumental in pushing for social reform in this country, so must trade unions increasingly be advocates of economic and social reform in developing countries.

We are rightly proud of the trade unions’ role at the forefront of the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. And in Zimbabwe today, trade unions are the only effective opposition to the excesses of the Government. Trade unions worldwide can take heart from these examples.

Congress, throughout this century trade unions have been at the forefront of advancing social justice in Britain and in many countries across the world.

The challenge for the new Millennium is to advance these principles of social justice in a new, more interdependent world. To bring real advances in human welfare for millions of working people and their families. Trade unions are central to this.

Strengthening the voices of the poor and the exploited across the world, championing the reforms that will improve their conditions and life chances.

I very much hope that in the next year we will forge a strengthened alliance to take forward this urgent and profoundly important agenda.

Clare Short – 1983 Maiden Speech in House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Clare Short in the House of Commons on 29th June 1983.

I am grateful for this chance to make my first speech, as I prefer to call it, in this House. I intend to follow tradition and speak about my constituency. However, it is impossible for me to follow the tradition of not being controversial, for what is happening in my constituency encapsulates much of the harm done to many parts of the country by the policies of the Conservative Government.

I wish first to pay tribute to my predecessor, Sheila Wright, who was the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth in the last Parliament. I am the Member for Ladywood and a large part of Handsworth has come into my constituency. Sheila Wright worked with me when I was a candidate and she was a Member of Parliament. For a long time she supported and helped me in my work. She is a friend of many years. She worked for the people of Handsworth for five years as a Member of Parliament and, before that, for 25 years as a councillor. The best tribute I can pay to her is the one that was paid during the election campaign by many people in the area who spoke warmly of her, sent their regards to her and remembered all the help she had given to them and their families.

It is a great honour for me to represent Ladywood in this House. It is an honour for all of us to represent our constituencies, but in my case there is an added honour in that I come from Ladywood. I was born there, grew up there, have many friends there and many members of my family live there. Therefore I care about my constituency with the intensity with which people care about the place from which they come. I make the pledge to my constituents that I shall work with all my ability and energy to represent and fight for their interests for as long as I am here.

The people of Ladywood are suffering terribly from the Government’s policies. According to the census of April 1981, Ladywood has the sixteenth worst unemployment in the British Isles. The male rate of unemployment then was 25 per cent. Unemployment in the country has doubled since then, and the male unemployment rate in my constituency is now 50 per cent. For school leavers it is 95 per cent. People say cynically that it cannot get much worse than being nearly 100 per cent. It can, because the period of unemployment is getting longer all the time; young people leave school and go on a YOP scheme—now being replaced by the youth training scheme, which will be no better, and in many ways will be worse, than the scheme it is replacing—and are then unemployed for ever-lengthening periods.

In Britain as a whole, two out of every three school leavers are unemployed, as are one in four of all under-20s and one in six under-25s. A whole generation is being blighted. Of the total unemployed, more than 1 million have been unemployed for one year or more and more than 500,000 for two years or more. They are living in grinding poverty, and the hopelessness they feel about their future is destructive and intolerable.

Long-term unemployment is growing faster for young people than for any other group. Of the 1 million who have been out of work for one year or more, 250,000 are under 25, and they comprise the group for whom long-term unemployment is growing fastest. That is damaging to the future of the nation. When we damage our youth, we damage ourselves.

Half the population of Ladywood is black and half is white, and we are nearly all immigrants. I am a child of Irish immigrants. The white community is made up of immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and many other parts of Britain who came to Birmingham in more prosperous days to seek a better life for themselves and their children.

The black population similarly came, more recently, from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Caribbean for exactly the same purpose. We are the same sort of people. We sought out our homes in the west midlands because we wanted to better our lives and those of our families.

Now, everything they hoped for and came to the west midlands to achieve is being snatched from them as a result of the collapse of the west midlands in the recent past. In the 1930s the west midlands escaped much of the suffering that went on in Britain. Today the west midlands symbolises the destruction that is being done to the British economy by Conservative policies.

We were told by the Prime Minister yesterday that recovery is patchy. Indeed it is; there are no signs of recovery in my constituency. As has happened in many other areas since the election, another major closure has been announced and unemployment is rising. It is not true to say that this amount of unemployment, misery and suffering is creating anything good. Nothing is coming out of it except pure destructiveness, and that is not only intolerable but stupid. It is said that productivity is going up. In fact, the less efficient firms are closing down; inevitably productivity goes up, but nothing new is created.

Investment is at an all-time low. That means that we are laying down nothing new for the future. We cannot secure a recovery and a better future without investment and that investment is not taking place. The money that is available is flowing out of Britain to invest in other countries. We have North Sea oil—we are lucky to have it—but it is being wasted. I understand that £17 billion a year is being poured down the drain merely to keep people unemployed. These people want to work. They want to be productive and we must recognise that a large part of the nation’s wealth is our people and their capacity to produce. We are arranging things in such a way that they cannot produce. We are damaging them and ourselves.

During the election campaign I was asked repeatedly, “Why are the Government doing this to us?” The people in the west midlands see clearly that there is destruction everywhere and that nothing new is replacing it. They said, “It is claimed that the Government’s policies are designed to reduce inflation but when we had inflation we all had incomes, our incomes increased and we lived better. We now have nothing and we still have inflation.” There are two rates of inflation in Britain and the one for the poor— for those who live in council houses, for example—is still increasing. Nothing is coming out of the Government’s policies.

The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), the former Secretary of State for Transport, said that we must get rid of inflation to create jobs, but that is not true. Inflation has been decreasing and more jobs have been destroyed. We have seen that happen in the recent past and we know that we are not creating jobs. The policy is not working.

In answer to the question that was put to me by my constituents, I explained, “We have an extremist and dogmatic Government who are deliberately using unemployment” — that is what monetarism is — “to reshape our society. They are using unemployment to frighten workers, destroy trade unions and cut wages. They have a vision of a more unequal society, a more competitive society. They say that from that will come more efficiency and, therefore, more economic prosperity.”

The people of Ladywood, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I reject the Government’s policies. We do not want the future that they hold before us. It is not acceptable to us and, what is more, it is not even working.

We frequently hear the excuse that the problem in Britain is the problem of the international economy, over which we have no control. It is clear from OECD figures and American Bureau of Labour statistics that unemployment in Britain has increased massively faster than in any other industrialised country. Britain led the world into recession, but an international recession is made up of individual national recessions. If in turn we each throw our economies into recession, we shall have, of course, a great international recession. We started it and similar policies to ours have been pursued in the United States of America.

We can now start to undo the recession. We can work with international partners to change the world economy. There should be no excuse there. There can be jobs for all, and it is our duty and obligation to organise our society in such a way that everyone can work, make a contribution and get a decent income. Anything less than that is unacceptable.

There are nine old people’s homes in my constituency, and I visited them all during the election campaign. They are all desperately short of staff. There are nine old people’s homes in a sea of unemployment. People are queuing for jobs all around them, but those responsible for running the homes are not allowed to employ more staff to take care of the elderly. That is the result of public expenditure cuts. Pretence is made that cuts in public expenditure are cuts in bureaucrats but that is not so. The cuts lead to reductions in the staff who can care for the elderly and the very young. It is disgraceful and unnecessary.

The great sadness for the people of Ladywood is that they see what is going on in the knowledge that they have rejected it. However, they must continue to suffer because it seems that the rest of the country has to learn the hard way. The Government’s policies are not beneficial to any of us.

Racial equality is important to the people of Ladywood. As I have said, half of my constituents are black and half are white. However, we are united in our need for jobs, decent schools for our children, decent housing and proper health care. We need to respect one another. We must respect all the various racial groups in our society and we must work alongside one another, or it will not be a good place in which to live and work.

The black community in Ladywood has been undermined and hurt badly by the Government’s actions. The Nationality Act 1982, which was placed on the statute book in the previous Parliament, has made the black community feel insecure and unwanted. That includes the generation which came as immigrants and the generation that is growing up that was born in Britain. These people must be made welcome and be part of our society, or it will be dangerous for us all.

Black people, especially those who originated from the Indian subcontinent, are harassed constantly by disgraceful immigration procedures. Many of them have approached me already to make representations. There are families which want to look after their aging parents and which can afford to do so. They have a house and they want to care for them. However, we do not allow Asian families settled here and which are prosperous to look after their aging parents.

I am making representations to the Minister of State, Home Office about a case which encapsulates all that is wrong with our immigration procedures. It concerns an old man who is a citizen of the United Kingdom and the colonies. He fought for Britain in the first and second world wars. He was made a prisoner of war by the Japanese. He has come to Britain and has been refused entry. He is here on temporary admission while I make representations. That old man is shocked and astounded that the country that he respected, honoured, worked for and fought for will not allow him to come in as a visitor. That is what has been done to a large part of the population in my constituency and it is not good enough. It is not the behaviour of a civilised society and we can do better than that.

I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion in a form that will reflect part of the speech of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), who was the Foreign Secretary in the previous Government. The Government must not think that their increased majority means that they have a mandate for their policies. They were given a smaller vote than that which the previous Government secured in 1979. They did not win a great victory in areas such as Ladywood, where more than 50 per cent. of the people are opposed to them. The intensity of that opposition is great. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Government are hated in my constituency, especially their leadership. People hate them with vigour. This is divisive, destructive and damaging to our society. If there are not changes, I fear for us all.