Teddy Taylor – 1964 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Teddy Taylor in the House of Commons on 10 November 1964.

This is my first attempt to speak in the House, and I ask the pardon of hon. Members for making my maiden contribution at such an early stage in the Session. Some senior Members may consider that the abundance of maiden speeches we have heard during the debate shows a lack of humility on the part of the younger generation, but I feel that the cause is not over-confidence but simply a fear, strengthened by the weekend Press, that circumstances might require us to present ourselves to the electorate again before we have had the chance properly to present ourselves to the House. I think that some other hon. Members elected for the first time may have experienced the same difficulty as I did when completing a form which asked whether my new employment was likely to be of a permanent nature.

May I further crave the indulgence of the House for making my speech with the handicap of a cold—which will ensure that even if hon. Members opposite do not hear pearls of wisdom they will, at least, receive plenty of germs. I say this in the full knowledge that with the narrower balance between the parties germs in this Session might well play a more effective political rôle than anything I may say today.

No new Member can attend or take part in the initial proceedings of a new Session without being fully conscious of the enormous responsibility which is placed on each one of us. For we do not come here to start anew—the basis of our British democracy has been established for us by our forefathers and by hon. Members past and present. Even to maintain the high standards and achievements of the past is no easy task, and yet the problems facing the world and this country require that we must seek to aim even higher.

I would refer to my predecessor, Sir John Henderson, who, I know, was well liked in the House. He served as a Member for 18 years after giving over 20 years of continuous service in local government. The conscientious manner in which he applied himself to his duties and the faithful and attentive service which he gave to the electors of the constituency have established a very high standard which I will do my best to emulate in my membership of the House.

The constituency which I represent is the Cathcart Division of Glasgow. Glasgow, as hon. Members know, has 15 constituencies, and Cathcart is one of the only two which have returned a Unionist Member. It is a matter for the individual judgment of hon. Members as to whether this situation reflects the general wisdom of the people of Glasgow or the particular political sense of the electors of Cathcart and Hillhead.

Apart from politics, Cathcart is rather a unique constituency. It contains some of Glasgow’s most beautiful public parks—Linn, Queen’s Park and Cathkin Braes—the finest football stadium in the country, Hampden Park, perhaps the biggest municipal housing scheme in Western Europe, Castlemilk, and one of the world’s outstanding engineering works, that of Messrs. G. and J. Weir. It is a historic place, because in the heart of the constituency lies the site of the battle of Langside, which decided the fate of Mary Queen of Scots.

Cathcart, although merged with Glasgow geographically and socially, retained its municipal independence until early in the century when it was “taken in” by the City of Glasgow, in perhaps more ways than one. I know that the electors of Cathcart and of Glasgow are vitally interested in the contents of the Gracious Speech and I would like to comment briefly on the section which states that the Government intend to promote reforms in taxation and, in particular, to bring about better arrangements for the modernisation of local government finance.

I think that most hon. Members would agree that the rating system is, in principle and in practice, unsatisfactory in many respects. And the dissatisfaction of the system has been aggravated by the ever-increasing burden of local rates. For example, in Glasgow the average man, woman and child has to pay well over £25 per head a year in local rates, and this means an annual burden for the average family of £100 which must be paid directly or indirectly.

The principal objection to the rating system is that it is not levied either according to ability to pay or to the use which people make of local government services. There appears to be no justification for a system which imposes the same burden on a widow living on a small fixed income as on a neighbouring family which may have three or four wage earners.

Apart from that, the unequal incidence of rates throughout the country produces serious problems. Some areas have a high burden per head of population which is about double the burden elsewhere, and the tragedy is that areas with high unemployment are often the ones that have a relatively high rating burden and enormous municipal problems. Thus, those areas which need to attract industry are often hampered in their efforts by the disincentive of a high rates burden. This is considered by some to be a small problem, but for most industrialists it is becoming a more and more important one. Some Clyde shipyards, for example, pay £30,000 or £40,000 a year in rates, and an increase of 2s. in the rate poundage can mean an extra £1,000 on the cost of each ship.

A third factor which the Government will be bearing in mind is the ever-increasing volume of local government responsibility and expenditure, and, of course, this means that a large section of public spending is outwith the timely or effective control of national economic policy.

It is true that capital spending by local authorities can be influenced sharply, although not immediately, by Government policy; but revenue spending, which must now be over £2,000 million a year, cannot be restrained or boosted in a timely or effective manner by the present economic weapons.

For these and other obvious reasons, my constituents and many others trust that the reorganisation of local government finance will include a complete and comprehensive review of the rating system. I would like to say something about the possible alternative systems of collecting revenue, but I have no wish to burden the House unduly and would merely say that I hope to have the opportunity of speaking further on this subject at an early date.

The promise in the Gracious Speech to promote economic development and modernisation in the under-employed areas leads me to the final point I wish to make. The hon. Members who have so ably represented our city in recent years have rightly stressed the urgency of our housing problems and the need to attract lighter and more flexible industries. These representations were vitally necessary because Glasgow’s housing problem is immense and acute and our economic problem of overdependence on heavy industry is one which will require strong, speedy and effective action.

The emphasis on our problems has, however, created the impression in some quarters that Glasgow is a dull, derelict and depressed city with backward industries and an unenterprising population. This is certainly not the case. Our traditional industries, in particular our great shipyards, have spent many millions from their own resources in modernising their establishments. There has also been rationalisation, made necessary by surplus world shipbuilding capacity, but the yards which remain are vital, progressive and among the most modern in the world.

Orders are being obtained in face of international competition, and if British shipyards, which face the full blast of foreign competition unprotected by tariffs or quotas, are given assistance comparable to that given by competitor nations, they will face the future with even more confidence, particularly in view of the Clyde’s good and improving labour relations.

The west of Scotland needs new and lighter industries, but we must never forget that just as vital is the prosperity of the Clyde shipyards on which around 80,000 families depend, directly or indirectly, for their livelihood. In these circumstances, an extension of the Shipbuilding Credit Scheme and the security and stability stemming from it would be welcomed as much as an entirely new industrial project.

Glasgow, like its industries, is often unfairly maligned. It is one of the few cities which support five major theatres and one great orchestra. Its public parks, libraries and museums are world famous, and every district within its boundaries is within, at most, half an hour’s journey of the beautiful surrounding countryside. Firms, administrative offices and even Government Departments need have no fears about moving to Glasgow, and they can be assured that every assistance in location, planning and essential services will be given by our unique Industrial Inquiries Centre which is situated appropriately beside the two basic pillars of any great city—the main line station and the Conservative Club.

I thank hon. Members for listening so patiently and apologise for taking so long.