Simon Hughes – 1985 Speech on Young People and Violent Crime

Below is the text of the speech made by Simon Hughes, the then Liberal MP for Southwark and Bermondsey, in the House of Commons on 6 December 1985.

The opportunity to debate these matters arises because the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), who introduced the debate, believes that issues are involved that merit other than a knee-jerk response. When discussing violence by young people, it is often easy to use clichés that suggest that there is an instant remedy to the problem. The Home Office knows as well as any other Department of State that, in spite of the endeavours of British Governments and those of other countries, and of many agencies outside the Government, it remains necessary to explore the issues carefully and to be careful about suggesting that there can be instant solutions. Many Governments and many agencies have tried and are trying to deal with the enormously complex reasons and practices that make up the violence among our young generation.

I shall cite three examples from my personal experience, which are three microcosms of the problem. These experiences are based in London and they all relate to matters that have arisen over the past few years. The first is a common example. It is the complete despair of parents who have never committed offences and who have done all that they can to instil a code of morality in their children. They despair when they see their children being violent, often week after week. When their children leave junior school and enter senior school, they see them being violent at home, violent with friends and violent with neighbours and others, apart from being verbally violent and violent towards those for whom they have no affection and with whom they have no affinity. These parents wring their hands and fear that they must be to blame for their children’s behaviour.

In most such cases, it would be wrong to say that the parents are to blame. Parents in that position will have done all within their knowledge and power, and in the general parental upbringing that they have practised they will have done a good job by objective standards. A particular family that I have in mind could have been accused of over-indulging the children. However, there was no excuse or explanation in that over-indulgence for the way in which at least one of the children behaved regularly. As a youth worker, I would find myself standing between a carving knife held by the youngster and the parent, with the youngster wanting to lunge the knife into the parent because of something that the parent had done or said. I would find myself trying to disarm the youngster when, for example, he was holding, prior to throwing, a milk bottle to smash into others who were not very far away.

The second example is an occasion when, as a practising lawyer before being elected to this place, I was reading my newspaper on the train as I travelled to a court at Oxford. I read that a youngster whom I knew had been arrested for the alleged murder of a girl whom I knew. The incident had happened in Peckham. It came as a shock to me to read their names in a national daily newspaper.

When I returned that evening, I met the group of whom the lad was a member. I discussed with the members of the group what their view would be if it were proved, as eventually it was, that the young man, who was a member of the youth club of which I was a leader, had killed his girlfriend. I asked them what they thought would happen to him if he were convicted of the girl’s murder. His friends, who had been with him the week before, said that ​ if he had killed someone he should be hanged. They had no more sympathy for someone who overstepped the bounds that they regarded as sacrosanct because he was their friend than for anyone else, even though they were equally prone to violence and any one of them might have been the person who committed the violence. Indeed, one of them was much more likely, in my estimation, to behave in that way than the person who actually had.

Thirdly, there is a rather more general example of the way in which the prevalence of violence in many areas reflects upon people’s daily lives. On 19 December there will be a local authority by-election in Southwark. It will take place in the Peckham constituency, not in mine. It would be a by-election in the Liddle ward, comprising some of the estates that have been reported in the national press recently as being among the worst in London, such as Gloucester Grove, North Peckham, Camden and others.

The reality of life for political parties reflects the reality of life on these estates. Party supporters will not canvass at night. They are unwilling, however bold they may be, and however able they are to go out with others, to knock on people’s doors at night. They are afraid for their own physical safety. In other words, they are afraid of violence, primarily at the hands of young people. Secondly, they are afraid that they will be seeking to induce people to open their doors, which would be unfair on them. Those behind the doors do not normally open their doors after dark, because they expect violent things to happen. That is common, and not the exception. This third example confronts us with the seriousness of the issue with which we are seeking to deal.

Fortunately, the level of violent crime, as a proportion of all crimes perpetrated by young people, is very low. There is a mass of crime involving offences against property, and a lesser amount, thank God, involving offences against people. We must distinguish between the two groups of crime. In a way, one can regard offences involving property—for example, stealing a video or breaking in and taking money—as understandable. It is difficult to extend that understanding to crimes against the person. We can understand youngsters wanting to meet their daily needs by acquiring possessions that they do not have. That is much easier to understand than the feeling that they might have to attack an old person who may have little money or possessions on him. We must put into perspective the proportion of violent criminality, while recognising that it occupies the largest part of the public’s perception because it is more serious, more threatening and more menacing than crime involving property.

My second general proposition is that we must be careful not to generalise. The causes of violent crime are especially difficult to determine and often arise for different reasons, even when perpetrated successively by the same individual. The reason for a 16-year-old taking part in a violent assault on a police officer at a football match, or on the way to or from that match, might be very different from the reason for that person behaving violently in another social context a few days or weeks later. We must examine each event and try to diagnose the factors that go to explain it.

The hon. Member for Wealden was right to say that there are many factors, both near and remote, which are accumulating influences, not all of which are understood by the youngster at the receiving end. One primary influence is the family. There are many more small families nowadays. Families tend to live for much longer ​ in small units. We may often find one parent and one child, or one parent and two children, living together. Family units were much larger not all that long ago, and the influence of others, such as grandparents or other older relatives, used to be much greater. In many families there are fewer restraining and inhibiting factors than there used to be. There are fewer people to agree on and present a common code of morality.

I have in mind a wonderful family, the members of which are my friends. There are 13 children; it goes almost without saying that the parents are Irish and Roman Catholics. The members of the family act as the best possible check upon one another. Although they suffered from great deprivation in a general sense, in terms of income, finance and housing when they were young, they had enormous family solidarity. They can provide support for one another; they can entertain one another; they can go out with one another; they can occupy one another and discipline one another; they can take on responsibility for one another when the mother or father are at work or when the older children are not present. They have a general interest which sustains them. That is often to be found in large families, although there is often an odd person out in a large family who feels that he or she must react adversely to the family’s general interest.

In general terms, the different general pattern of present family life explains why the mechanisms that families produce are much less effective. The fewer the people who comprise the family, the greater the pressure will be. In a single-parent family—let us assume that the lone parent remains at home and is physically unable to deal with a growing adolescent—the parent may well find it impossibly wearing to keep on seeking to exercise control, and eventually will give in. The youngster will find it unappealing to stay all the time in the company of the single parent. He will go out and become more and more removed from the parent’s control.

A second factor is that, by virtue of society’s development, previously commonly held values have become less commonly held for all sorts of reasons—hinges in demography, more people moving around, changes in community life, the breakdown of communities and the mixing of different national and racial groups. It means that young people find it more difficult to establish the key values, search though they may, and be taught as well as they might. That makes the judgment of values difficult. One of the things that saddens me about Britain is that we do not have clear definitions of values. It has something to do with not having a written constitution, but it is not completely explained by that. Because our fundamental principles have always been unwritten, it is much harder to discover what they are. I have asked youngsters in this country what they regard as the fundamental values and principles. It is more difficult to obtain clear answers from our youngsters than from those in France, Sweden, the United States or even the Soviet Union. Elsewhere they have clearer statements of the principles of civic duty and responsibility.

The third general factor which I suggest often has an influence on young people is the lack of opportunity arid the feeling of alienation that can build up. The best example of that that I can cite is the failure of people to behave rationally if they have inadequate verbal skills. If one is able adequately to express oneself verbally, one needs less recourse to physical methods of expression. If someone is frustrated because he or she cannot win an ​ argument and compete on the same terms as the other person, such a person resorts, as people do in even the best educated circles, to other methods.
Marriages often start on the road to breakdown when someone ceases to argue verbally and starts to argue physically. The man often exerts his strength over the woman. A pattern of violence is much easier to establish once the threshold into violence is first crossed.

A youngster, who is not a fool, was arrested near to where I live. I know him. He can usually express himself quite well. He was taken to Tower Bridge magistrates court. He came near to being given a custodial sentence for an assault on a policeman. The youngster had been stopped and questioning began. It developed by him reacting when the policeman sought to arrest him. That lad, who is now in his 20s and settled with a good job, regularly went around carrying a knife. He felt that when he came into conflict with authority he would be less able to cope verbally than other people. That was vividly exemplified in the magistrates court.

I remember thinking, as that lad stood in the dock wearing a leather jacket, looking like he always looked—in some ways surly and anti-authoritarian—that a similarly aged youngster who had had the benefit of an Eton education—to take a trite example, but I hope a helpful one—might have been able to explain how he had lapsed from normal behaviour. He would probably have got off with a much lighter sentence because of his ability to explain his behaviour and relate in a way understood by the person in authority. We can blame a great deal on television, which, although it teaches verbal skills in the sense that it exposes people to a range of views, does not allow the same communication because it feeds in always without giving anyone the chance to feed back. Whereas in past generations matters of dispute were a dialogue, they are now often a monologue to which people are not trained to respond other than simplistically. Many offences of violence are spontaneous. We should be aware that people become caught up in a series of events and react quickly and unthinkingly.

Many offences are induced by other factors. Alcohol is clearly one factor. I applaud the Minister and his colleagues for a little belatedly but none the less honestly seeking to deal with the drugs problem. It sometimes causes us to pay less attention to the alcohol problem, which is responsible for more violent crime than drugs. The Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act, enacted last Session, and possibly the drugs Bill proposed for this Session, will deal with these factors, but we must be aware that these pressures have been most harmful.

Another factor is the peer pressure, which suddenly induces someone who may never have committed an offence to behave like his peers when that appears to be the thing to do. The difference between a youngster and an older person is that normally youngsters do not think things through in the same way as older people. They do not have the skill to see where behaviour will lead them. The natural checks and balances that may, for example, inhibit us more than others from drinking and driving—the consequences for us are greater and include public vilification and greater inconvenience—do not work in the same way for someone who does not have a driving licence and who does not think through the social disadvantages of behaving in such a way.

There is a danger that youngsters seeking to be violent are seeking instant gratification. We all do it, and it is nearly always illusory. Stealing, robbing and acquiring other people’s property is instant gratification. It is soon spent, passed on or no longer exists. The simple excitement of behaving energetically when life is boring and when often no energy is consumed by someone hanging around all the time explains why someone can get carried away by the excitement of the moment. Those are often single episodes.
A friend of mine is a senior worker at an assessment centre for young people in south London. I was seeking his advice and general comments this morning.

He told me that he has someone in the centre who has been sentenced to three years’ youth custody for an attack on an old man. It was an attack that went wrong and became a robbery. Someone with a clean record fell to the unjustifiable temptation of wanting to steal. He then behaved much more violently. There may have been a reaction or he may not have anticipated that the old man would not immediately give up the money. The offence became much more serious. He now regrets it, but it is too late.

Some violent crime can be explained by child abuse. Child abuse is reflected when the child becomes an adult. There was a debate in the House on the subject last week. Happily, our society is becoming more aware of the massive problem of child abuse. It is normally committed, not by strangers, but by family and close friends. This may be a topical week to say that we must alert the agencies of protection, such as social services, to ensure that they do the best job—in difficult circumstances, as we all accept. There is a great danger that the abused child will become the abusing parent. That is increasingly becoming the case. The child who is not given adequate parental care and teaching becomes an even more inadequate parent. I have seen that happen regularly as will many other hon. Members. It is depressing, because most children of inadequate parents end up in care and have a greater prospect of becoming inadequate parents themselves.

Some violent behaviour stems from genetic disorders and psychiatric illness, but that applies only to the minority of cases, and so we have to grapple with the social reasons for the majority of acts of violence and their consequences.
I have been driven to three general conclusions. First, in our education we must seek to deal with most comprehensively with the need to establish that violence, particularly against others, is the most objectionable form of activity.

We are right to criticise massive frauds in the City, automobile crime and theft from property. But there is a fundamental difference between those crimes and crimes of violence which affect the dignity and integrity of human beings. Those who commit crimes of violence—in particular, young people—must be shown that violence is an unacceptable form of behaviour in any circumstances. Once they are permitted to be violent in the classroom or at home, violence becomes the norm, and that is very dangerous for society.

Therefore, the education process must establish that violence is unacceptable, and youth workers, teachers and others must involve themselves in that process.

Teaching is very hard work in the difficult areas in our society, and teachers’ efforts must be backed with ​ additional social tuition facilities, so that good patterns of behaviour can be established, enabling people to renounce violence in their personal life.

There are three hon. Members in the Chamber this morning who, only a week ago, had personal experience of the second phenomenon that I am about to describe. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) and I were present at an International Youth Year parliament at the premises of the International Maritime Organisation on the other side of the river. I shall not go into the merits of the afternoon’s controversial events, but they demonstrated that it is very difficult to establish in young people the principle of tolerant debate and understanding of others.

There is no easy explanation of the phenomenon of intolerance. We have to teach respect for other people’s views, otherwise we shall find that we have lost the conventional ways of engaging in the normal social processes. When the norms are broken, violence of language leads to violent behaviour and intolerance of the individual, which is unacceptable however loathsome his views may be. Intolerance is now increasingly common, and we must learn to teach young people how to deal with it and how to renounce it.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying and I remember well the incident that he describes. However, I ask him to recall that this sort of violence is nothing new in society. It was taking place when I was young and long before that, and it is not unusual. The important question is how we cope with it.

Mr. Hughes

That is right.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Many of us have noticed that intolerance of other points of view in our universities seems to have grown in recent years.

Mr. Hughes

I am afraid that it is a problem that goes well beyond the category of young people. We have a duty, above all in this place, to teach by example. Many people cite this very building as a bad example to young people. It may be in part an excuse, but none the less we must be conscious of it, as must all people in public life. We cannot make the case that we would like to make if we do not subscribe to good standards in our own practice. As the hon. Member for Hammersmith said, there has always been intolerance in society in varying degrees.

My third conclusion is that violence often arises from the feeling that the other side does not understand. The tragedy of Britain today is that we are increasingly a society in which there appear to be two nations. There are places in Britain which in general terms can be defined as the more deprived areas, where people believe—often rightly, although not always—that they are not understood and valued equally.

If black youngsters know that statistically they are less likely than white youngsters to get employment, and have the feeling that they are not understood and that not enough is being done for them, they may think that the only way to be noticed is to assert their point of view, whatever the consequences for themselves. They are willing to challenge authority because that brings attention to them. All youngsters want attention. That is very important for them in establishing their identity. We must not allow them to feel discounted and discarded.

At a time of high unemployment, and when public sector expenditure is being restrained, we have a duty to ​ ensure that our resources are directed towards overcoming the feeling of alienation and powerlessness which sometimes, when added to all the other adverse factors, prompts people, often in groups, to react violently. There will be other debates about how best to deal with the problem of violence, but the Government should always be seeking ways of giving youngsters less cause to feel that they are not being noticed and that the only way to he noticed is to be violent. We must also help them, as I have said, through the education process and other agencies in society, so that we can begin to resolve some of the problems, although ultimately they can be resolved only individually by every young person coming to the conclusion that he or she must renounce violence because it is fundamentally wrong.

Simon Hughes – 2014 Speech on Data Protection

Below is the text of the speech made by Simon Hughes at the Manchester Central Convention Centre on 3rd March 2014.

Thank you Chris (Graham) for your kind introduction and to the ICO for inviting me to speak today.

Can I begin by congratulating you on your reappointment as Information Commissioner for a further two years and I very much look forward to working with you.

It is great to see so many people here. I understand from our hosts that this conference was oversubscribed. I think this is both a reflection of the growing importance of information rights to the public and the growing importance of the Information Commissioner’s Office in promoting and protecting those rights.

I have effectively been given a free rein on what to speak about today. Given this, I thought I would give you my reflections on my first two months as Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties and to set out what I see as the priorities in the field of information rights between now and the general election. These priorities include strengthening individuals’ information rights, guaranteeing the effective enforcement of these rights and making progress with the proposed EU data protection Regulation.

Data protection and the powers of the Information Commissioner

The whole concept of privacy and personal data has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Individuals now share personal data on an unprecedented scale and modern data processing allows companies to provide increasingly personalised services to their customers.

In 2011, the World Economic Forum estimated that individuals around the world send about 47 billion non-spam emails, submit 95 million tweets on Twitter, and share 30 billion pieces of content on Facebook every day. Indeed the ICO’s twitter feed is pretty busy itself, with over 9000 followers and 1700 tweets sent.

A thriving information economy is essential for enhancing our competitiveness and driving economic growth. This is why the Government has published an Information Economy Strategy which looks at how Government, industry and academia can work together to exploit the many opportunities available in this sphere.

Linked to this is the need to maximise the economic and social value of data sharing both within government and between the public and private sectors.

To support this, the Government is embarking on an open policy making process to look at current thinking on data sharing of government held data. We are keen to bring together relevant parts of government with stakeholders who have an interest in the use of data for delivering better public services.

We recognise that the views and opinions in relation to data sharing are diverse, as are the benefits and potential downsides. But I am confident that we can assuage any fears by making sure that our approach is open, honest and positve. Our ambition with this work is to listen to, and understand the arguments put forward and to work with all sides within and outside of government to reach a workable solution for data sharing that will help deliver necessary changes and result in improvements to public service delivery and the lives of people across the United Kingdom.

Given the changing nature of how we share and process personal data, it is essential that we provide for strong rights for data subject in order to protect against abuses and appropriate sanctions for those who breach the Data Protection Act.

As you know, one way we plan to strengthen the rights of data subjects is to make the practice of enforced subject access illegal. This practice has long been considered undesirable by the Information Commissioner and others as it runs contrary to the intention behind the right to subject access in the DPA. The DPA gives individuals the right of access to personal data held about them by a person or organisation by making a subject access request.

The Government will commence s56 of the DPA as part of a package of reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and criminal records disclosure. This will prohibit a person from requiring someone else to produce certain records as a condition of employment, or for providing a service, other than where the relevant record is required by law or where it is justified in the public interest.

We are also committed to guaranteeing that the ICO has sufficient powers to enforce compliance amongst organisations and to punish those who commit serious breaches of the Data Protection Act.

On this point, I would like to pay tribute to the Information Commissioner who has been a vigorous campaigner in making sure that the rogue individuals who trade illegally in personal data are brought to justice.

He continues to argue eloquently for the introduction of custodial penalties for breaches of s55 of the DPA. As you know, this is an issue that has been mentioned as part of the wider Leveson press regulation debate. But, in truth, and perhaps more importantly this issue goes far beyond the issue of press regulation. Serious misuse of personal data by any sector causes significant distress and damage to ordinary citizens and undermines public trust in public institutions and business which in turn can undermine economic growth.

That is why in the last few weeks we have begun to review the sanctions available for breaches of the Act so we can decide whether to increase the penalties as the law permits.

The Government is also determined to tackle the scourge of nuisance calls. I know how frustrating nuisance calls are for many people and how they can create fear and anxiety for the elderly and others. Although I have only been a Minister for two months, I have already started to take action against the organisations responsible for making nuisance calls.

Since 2010, the Government has increased the level of penalties that can be levied against those breaking the law. In 2010, the maximum penalty that Ofcom could issue for silent and abandoned calls was increased from £50,000 to £2 million. Similarly, in May 2011 a maximum penalty of £500,000 was introduced to allow the ICO to issue higher penalties in relation to unsolicited calls and texts under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation.

But we are determined to do more and, I’m pleased to say, we are doing more. We are working closely with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the ICO, OfCom, Which? and others to deal effectively with the root causes of these calls and those organisations that break the law.

We are positively considering a proposal by the Information Commissioner to lower the threshold at which he can issue civil monetary penalties for breaches of PECR from the very high bar of proving substantial damage and distress to a lower bar of irritation and nuisance. My ministerial colleague Ed Vaizey and I have asked the Information Commissioner, working with OfCom, Which? and others, to consider what would need to be done to set up a common portal for the reporting of nuisances calls. We will publish an action plan in the coming weeks that will set out current and further plans in this area.

Finally, we have recently conducted a consultation on extending the ICO’s powers of compulsory audit to NHS bodies. This requires secondary legislation which we plan to introduce before the summer recess so that the power can come into effect by the autumn.

We have chosen the NHS as it is one of the largest data controllers in the UK, processing huge amounts of sensitive personal data on a daily basis. We will work closely with the ICO to monitor the effectiveness of these powers before considering whether we might extend them to other sectors that process large amounts of personal data in their day to day business.

EU Data Protection Regulation

Of course, the issue of Data Protection and personal privacy is a global issue. For the past two years, the Government has been working with our European Partners on a new EU data protection framework. This is following the European Commission’s publication of proposals back in January 2012. We recognise that the current legislation needs to be updated to reflect the realities of data processing in the 21st century.

An immense amount of work has gone in to the negotiations to get the proposed Regulation right over the last 2 years. I would like to pay tribute to my Sarah Ludford, who has worked tirelessly in the European Parliament to scrutinise and improve these regulations. Her hard work has had a considerable effect, and I know that the whole of the Government is grateful for the efforts she has made. I would also like to pay tribute to the important work of the Information Commissioner who has played a pivotal role as vice-chair of the Article 29 Working Party.

How we achieve a balance between growth and data protection rights is the key question that we have been working to resolve. The UK carried out its own Impact Assessment of the proposals. This concluded that the Regulation in its original form could have a net cost to the UK economy of £100- £360 million per annum.

The Government wants to see EU data protection legislation that protects the civil liberties of individuals while allowing for economic growth and innovation. We are clear that these should be achieved in tandem and not at the expense of one another.

It should give everyone the right that their personal data will be protected , whilst allowing for the free flow of data which is crucial to underpinning the digital economy.

So how do we go about achieving this balance? We have already seen since the draft Regulation was published that there has been a tangible shift in perception as to what the best approach should be to balancing individuals’ data protection rights against the obligations on controllers.

When the Commission first published the draft Regulation, many concerns were raised about the how prescriptive the text was; that one size does not necessarily fit all; and that the burdens placed on data controllers and of course our regulators, may not always be in proportion to the protection conferred on data subjects.

There is now a growing consensus in the negotiations around the importance of not placing disproportionate burdens on small and medium enterprises which form the backbone of the European Economy. These SMEs are particularly well suited to taking advantage of the opportunities that technological developments will provide; we do not want to force innovative enterprises to look outside the EU to better realise their ambitions.

Bearing this in mind, the emergence of the risk-based approach has been a welcome development during the course of the negotiations. This continues to be a key element of our negotiating strategy under the Greek Presidency. This approach should be accompanied by effective enforcement so that data controllers remain accountable for the processing decision they make and the safeguards they put in place.

The Government continues to support a Directive, rather than a Regulation. This would provide consistency across Member States where it is beneficial but would give Member States flexibility to transpose the legislation with regard to their national traditions and practices.

I cannot predict what will happen under the Greek Presidency; or whether the European Parliament will be able to come to a conclusion on the text of the Regulation before the European Parliamentary Elections. However, we are clear that the quality of the text should take precedence over a rush to conclude the negotiations. If the negotiations are rushed, we risk a complicated and prescriptive instrument that could damage growth and employment prospects for years to come.

I know you will be interested in this process as it develops, and I will ensure that the Coalition Government continues to work openly with stakeholders and other member states throughout the development of this legislation.

Conclusion

So it is clear that a lot has been achieved over the last few years, but there is clearly a lot more still to do. I am looking forward to working closely with the Information Commissioner and others over the next 15 months on driving forward the information rights agenda. Thank you.

Simon Hughes – 2008 Liberal Democrat Conference Speech

Conference, it is a pleasure and a privilege for our conference to meet in this great northern seaport city of Liverpool, the city where focus began. Our party is committed to build on the progress of liberal democracy in the north of England – in this city, in Leeds and Manchester, in Newcastle and Sheffield and in many other places besides. Mike Storey was a hugely effective leader for our party in this city and this party owes him a huge political debt. Warren Bradley has proved a tough and worthy successor, and he and his team deserve all our continuing support – above all in this European Capital of Culture year – as they seek a new mandate for our party from the people in May. Offers to help will be gladly received all weekend at the ALDC stall. (With, I am told, a tickling stick for reward!)

No sooner had I finished my last speech to Conference than I had to leave very quickly for Birmingham, where my dear mother Paddy was critically ill. My brothers and I were really touched at the very warm and generous wishes sent to us from Brighton that week. Paddy miraculously pulled through that crisis but very sadly died last November. Our party, as well as her family and friends, owe her a great debt of gratitude, as we do to people like Claire Brooks, Cyril Carr and so many others up and down the length of Britain who have given so much of their energy, skill and time to deliver liberal democracy locally and nationally. As we work ambitiously for the future we should always be encouraged by the work and witness of so many great campaigners who have brought us to our present position – stronger than for over 80 years.

Since Brighton, the party has been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

But four people in particular deserve our very special thanks.

I want first to pay a very warm tribute to Ming – and to Elspeth – for all Ming did for our party as leader, to thank him most sincerely, and to express our warmest wishes for his continuing contribution to liberal democracy in parliament, in Scotland, across Britain, and beyond. Ming has added hugely to the respect and credibility of our party, both at home and abroad.

Next I pay tribute to Chris Huhne – on his very doughty leadership contest, and on his unqualified support for Nick since then. After winning huge credibility on environmental issues, Chris has got off to a flying start as our new Shadow Home Secretary – absolutely clear in our opposition to ID cards and further detention without charge, and standing up for the liberties of our people.

A third parliamentary colleague has become a complete star since our last conference – Vince Cable. Vince not only has now been touted as possibly the most popular politician in Britain, but in his opposition to the regime in Saudi Arabia and his proposals for dealing with Northern Rock, he has earned huge respect across the country.

And then Nick. Our new leader has done us proud, from the very day of his election. We all know that the last few days have been difficult – but a week is a long time in politics. I can tell you conference that no leader could have made the party’s position more clear or been more principled. Nick is determined that our party will make the positive case for maximum participation in the European Union, but never to the detriment of the rights of the British people. All Liberal Democrat MPs are united in our belief that we need to make the case for the European Union direct to the British people, so that, once and for all, Britain can shed its reputation for being so lukewarm on Europe. Britain will never be trusted in the leadership of our continent until we show that our commitment to Europe is for life, not just for one more Christmas. And we will take no lectures from Labour or the Conservatives over leadership and the EU.

Thank you, Nick, for your leadership, your principle and your vision. We share your ambition and look forward to great things ahead.

Since Nick’s election we have done best of the three major parties in local elections. That is a good sign. But as we all know, the next big test is May 1st – just 54 days time. In the north-west alone there are 33 councils up for election in the North West of England. Across England there are so many prizes to be won. Hull and North East Lincolnshire are just waiting for majority Liberal Democrat control. Cheltenham, Maidstone and many other places are champing at the bit to push back the Conservatives, Oldham and Sheffield to push back Labour.

In Wales, Cardiff, Bridgend, Swansea and Wrexham all deserve to have larger Liberal Democrat groups after May.

But good results will not just happen, as we all know. We will all need to work hard, focus our collective efforts and get our messages out to voters. To achieve the results we know Liberal Democrats are capable of, we need those of you who have no elections to cross local boundaries to help those who have. We need local efforts to be directed first to the ‘swing wards’. And we need maximum numbers of friends and supporters to be asked to help out with delivery of literature and knocking on doors.

And in London, the battle is well and truly on.

Brian Paddick is an exceptionally well qualified candidate to take on Ken Livingstone, who on reducing crime, building social housing and much else has promised much but quite simply failed to deliver.

And Brian Paddick is also a seriously well qualified candidate to take on the Boris-Johnson-come-lately of the London political scene.

All of Britain knows our capital would be better led by a senior copper than a serial clown.

It is our job to convert that belief into votes and reality.

And what fantastic campaigning opportunities the government has given us.

Following Labour policy, Post Office Ltd .have just announced proposals to close 169 post offices across Greater London. And we must not let the Tories get away with hiding the fact that they did just the same. Liberal Democrats – at conference – agreed not just that we should oppose the present closure programme, but also where new funding to support the post office network would come from. The public are behind us in fighting for these vital local services and we must not let Labour off the hook.

Nationally, we have a Gordon Brown government which has all the disadvantages of New Labour, but without the style.

In London, we have a Ken Livingstone government, which has all the disadvantages of old Labour, but without the style.

In London, as across the UK, we need a government which has none of the disadvantages of old or new Labour, but with lots of style. With Nick leading us nationally, and Brian leading us in London, that’s just what we’ll have.

In Bermondsey, we are this year celebrating 25 years since this party helped me win our momentous by-election and we went on to win our first council seat – and nineteen years later to run the council. With determination and the right approach, any and every seat is winnable, and there should be no ‘no-go’ areas.

We must field candidates in every possible election, and when we’re successful, make sure that our work and our record means that we don’t slip back. We must never forget that we win hearts and minds, not principally by votes and speeches in committee meetings or in debating chambers, but by campaigning with and for people when they need us, and where they have been ignored by complacent councils and supposedly safe MPs.

I am delighted to report that party membership is now growing strongly. I still believe thousands more people will join us if we ask. We all have a responsibility for recruiting and retaining members all of the time. With Nick at the helm, determined to lead a party that challenges the establishment at Westminster and campaigns vigorously around the country, there will be many ready and willing to join us. Just look at the motivating effect of Barack Obama’s campaign across the Atlantic – the excitement, and the opportunity.

If we are determined to make politics exciting as well as principled, to lead the movement for change in corrupt regimes abroad and outdated practices at home, then the widespread cynicism can be countered, and we can achieve our next goal of more than doubling our parliamentary seats within two elections.

Tonight in London, David Haye from Bermondsey can become the undisputed cruiserweight boxing champion of the world. Today Wales can beat Ireland, and next week Liverpool can beat Milan in the Champions League.

In this hall are many individual champions and local council champion teams. Liberal Democrats have the capacity and ideas to be the new champions in Wales, Scotland, England, and for Britain.

Go for it, friends. Nothing should be beyond our reach.

Simon Hughes – 1983 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Simon Hughes in the House of Commons on 21st March 1983.

I hope that it is significant that I utter my first words in the House on the first day of spring. The occasion may be doubly significant in that I follow not only to these Benches but in this debate a Member for the borough of Croydon. In 1949 Fenner Brockway wrote a biography of one of my most eminent predecessors, Dr. Salter, whom I believe you met, Mr. Speaker, before you were called to high office or had started on your journey to this place.

The borough from which my constituency takes its name was described by Fenner Brockway in 1949 as a backwater in the life of the metropolis”. I shall deal with the economics of the matter in a moment, but politically one thing seems sure. Not only is Bermondsey no longer a political backwater; it is arguable that today there runs through it the strongest current in British political life. That may be because over many years, and particularly since they have been closed, massive pressure has built up behind the dock gates that have represented the industry and the economy of that part of south-east London, and that pressure has found its escape at last.

In 1884 the Bill to establish separate parliamentary representation for Bermondsey was introduced in the House by the Liberal Adminstration. The issue which concerned the first Member for Parliament for the area was one that is as commonly discussed on these Benches today. It was the issue of electoral reform. Seventy-five years ago my Rotherhithe predecessor, Mr. Carr-Gomm, argued for the representation of workers on the Port of London Authority. The demand for the proper representation of workers on the seat of management has not been heeded as it might have been in the intervening time.

Sixty years ago, in 1923, in an address to the electors of Bermondsey before a campaign that was successful, but—perhaps I know the feeling—not originally expected to be so, a Methodist minister and Liberal candidate, Rev. Kedward said: The enemies are in front of us in plain sight: unemployment, poverty, sickness, bad housing; let us attack them with courage. He continued: There is no easy road to victory over such foes, no magic word which when uttered will banish cares for ever”. In the same year Dr. Salter made his maiden speech, calling for a national minimum wage and decent treatment for the people who start at the bottom of the heap. He said that in a civilised society every worker has a right to a living wage. That has been a principle, though not a practice, endorsed by Governments since then. He added that wages have now sunk for millions of our people below the subsistence level”. I use his words because they are no less appropriate today. He added that it is grossly unfair that the whole burden of that depreciation of the standard of life should be borne, as it is, by one class, and that the most helpless and the weakest class. If the country has to submit to a reduction of the standard of living, that should be universally applicable.”—[Official Report, 7 March 1923; Vol. 161, c. 627–36.] I listened to the Chancellor’s Budget statement last week, and I ask him this: where are the reforms of justice and the social progress of sympathetic and progressive economic management? Why will he not consider giving the security and hope that his long-suffering fellow citizens in the inner cities need to hear from this place? Why could he not promise that they, when qualified adults, would not be left behind in the struggle for survival, and often not just left behind but also left out? Why, after 60 years, could he not ensure that people received a decent minimum wage? If he wants to see a monument to his four years of economic policy, let him come and look at my constituency. The Chancellor’s Budget last week and the examples given by his colleague today reminded me, in a phrase that came to mind last Tuesday, of a Chancellor fiddling while Britain groaned.

My predecessor gave 36 years of distinguished service to the House and for much of that time served all the constituents whom I now have the honour to represent. He was joined in that task for a short time by my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), until my right hon. Friend’s seat was taken away by the process of democracy. In that election, in which my predecessor first stood as a candidate at Rotherhithe, there was one thing in common with my own—his Conservative opponent, like mine, lost his deposit. In a local election in Bermondsey two weeks after my own election, the Conservative vote fell yet again—this time to 3.6 per cent. The message is firm. The deserving people of the inner city are saying loud and clear that they have no trust in the Conservative Government.

In the words of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), there is a rumbling of discontent. I, too, rumble with discontent. I come here to share that anger and discontent. As in the city of Cardiff, which I know well, as do you, Mr. Speaker, and as does the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), male unemployment in my constituency is very high. In Southwark it is no less than 18.6 per cent.; yet the Chancellor holds back for a further seven months the restoration of the unemployment benefit abatement for those who need that money to live. Of all London’s ratepayers, the residents of Southwark pay the highest inner city rates. Non-domestic ratepayers pay 245p in the pound and, as in Cardiff, are daily being driven out of business. The borough has the worst record for empty properties and hard-to-let accommodation of any authority in London. The Opposition can take no comfort in that, as it is the Labour party which is responsible locally.

Just before I took my seat in the House there was a pensioners’ lobby here. One out of five of my constituents was represented by those who rightly came here to ask for a better deal. What do they receive in the Budget? The answer is a mean-minded and ill-timed administrative alteration in pensions that will lose 70p for a single person and 110p for a married couple every week. They receive no help with heating or standing charges and are still penalised if they receive income which is additional to their pension.

At the other end of the age scale, the young, with whom I have worked for a long time in this city, are job-starved, often educationally deprived, having left school before the statutory age, and look with little hope at the future of communities where they want to stay. Therefore, as in the past, they are soon forced out—and will continue to be so, whether it be on bicycles or whichever other form of transport the Government have not seen fit to provide.

Yesterday’s papers told us that the low-paid have lost at least £45 a year in real terms over the period of the past five Budgets. It is no benefit to them to know that people who earn £30,000 now get an extra £3,500 each year.

The economy of the past four years has done nothing for the inner city. That area is as bare, empty and lacking in progress as it was in 1979. Our people refuse to believe that there cannot be a better way. They also refuse to believe that they do not deserve a better way. I hope that I am not arrogant, but I am angry on their behalf. I am not only the newest but I am the youngest Opposition Member of this House. I am here to tell the House what people said by electing me three weeks ago. This waste and mismanagement of our resources, both human and natural, is, and I agree with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, not only unacceptable, but immoral too.

The people of Bermondsey and Southwark are, however, spirited and have not yet given up the fight. The spirit that led them to resist some of the worst attacks that the city knew during the second world war has led them, in peace, to resist the destructive attacks of politicians in their turn. However, they cannot resist for ever. They have already been generous. They were generous when my learned predecessor made the mistake of saying that the docks would close only over his dead body. They forgave him for that. They were also generous to the Leader of the Opposition when he made similar statements about an election not many weeks ago. They spared him from that. However, they cannot be generous for ever. They have turned to me and I, above all, now turn to the House to remedy their problems.

William Wilberforce died 150 years ago this year. It was his part as a reformer to liberate the people who were enslaved abroad. At home, Gladstone and Lloyd George followed that tradition, as did others who turned their attention to inner cities where the work was done and where the workers remain. My politics are to be those politics of liberation. I am anxious to liberate our people—those whom I can help—in little ways as we are allowed to do, from enforced idleness, unjustified discrimination and harmful dogma.

I have news for the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). He seems to think, to judge from his comment when I took my seat, that I shall not be here for long. I can tell him this. I shall be here for as long as is necessary to work for those people who sent me here to get them back to work.

I conclude with a quotation from a small guide which my library provides for those who want to know about the history of the constituency which I now have the honour to represent. It says: People are right to be proud to say ‘I am from Bermondsey’. This little area has a great history. In the old times it was the place of Chaucer, Shakespeare and, later, Dickens. It continues: In Victorian times it was at the centre of London’s trade and industry. Later, it took a lead in social reform. Now is a time of change when Bermondsey, like its neigbours in North Southwark and Rotherhithe, awaits new developments. The tide of economic welfare has flowed out far enough and for long enough as well. Although there may be an appropriate analogy between my arrival here and the quiet, timid and, as yet, inexperienced first cuckoo of spring, I hope that the Government will listen and learn that it is still not quite too late to turn the tide and to come to the rescue of the people who, at the moment, are beached and waiting for help.