George Turner – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made in the House of Commons by George Turner, the Conservative MP for North-West Norfolk, on 7 July 1997.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in the Budget debate. Budgets do much to determine the well-being of those who send us here and, rightly, strongly influence their judgment of us.

Before addressing any Budget issues directly, I wish to express to the House my personal delight at being here at all. I am greatly honoured that the people of North-West Norfolk have elected me. I should also like to follow the traditions of the House by mentioning my predecessors and by providing a brief sketch of my constituency—it is, after all, 33 years since a Labour Member has been able to do so.

Informed Members will know that, although somewhat camouflaged by a name change and minor boundary revisions, mine is one of the nation’s truly great historic constituencies. The name North-West Norfolk accurately describes the geography of the constituency, but King’s Lynn is indisputably the centre of it and gave the constituency its name for many years.

Sir Robert Walpole, the nation’s first Prime Minister, represented King’s Lynn in this place, and his family long dominated the politics of west Norfolk. Happily, not all the political customs of that time have survived to this day. However, the Walpole family motto, “Say what you think”, has strongly influenced many of those sent to represent my part of Norfolk in Parliament. Saying what one thinks has not always won friends in political circles, but it clearly expresses an expectation of the people of Norfolk—and particularly of my constituents. When in doubt, I follow its guidance and, to date at least, I have come to no harm—nay, I have had not even a rebuke from Excalibur itself.

I have known three of my immediate predecessors personally. At the beginning of my election campaign, I was particularly pleased to meet Derek Page—now in another place—who served from 1964 to 1970. He was the last Labour Member to represent the constituency—a fascinating man who became disillusioned with old Labour, but has now fully endorsed new Labour—and many in Norfolk recall his time with affection. When I met him, I felt that the baton had been handed to me to bring to this place and, for the first time, I felt that I would win the seat.

Derek lost his seat in 1970 to an equally interesting politician, Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler, who won the seat as a Conservative. He not only said what he thought but, in a moment of high drama in this Chamber, crossed the Floor of the House to join the newly born Social Democratic party. He narrowly lost his seat at the next election and, despite his substantial personal following in Norfolk, never realised his ambition to return to the House. Notably, he, too, now supports new Labour.

I hold out no hope for such conversion of my immediate predecessor, Mr. Henry Bellingham, who will be well known to Conservative Members as he served for 14 years on their Benches. They will know that he was, by word and by action, a most loyal supporter of the previous Government. Some say that his loyalty was penance for his ancestor John Bellingham who, just yards from where I stand, assassinated Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in 1812. In his maiden speech, Mr. Henry Bellingham declared an ambition to remove the blemish he felt that that dastardly act had attached to his family name. I hope that history will judge that he did so.

I am certainly pleased to take this opportunity to pay public tribute to Mr. Bellingham. In Norfolk, he was widely recognised for the pains that he took in handling constituency work. He went to great lengths on behalf of constituents with problems—whether pursuing officials of government or quango at a national or most local level. His efforts earned him considerable respect and affection within the constituency, and were certainly a factor in limiting my majority at the election. Interestingly, some officials have sought to dampen my enthusiasm for following Mr. Bellingham’s example and pursuing them on constituency issues. However, after only modest exposure to my new role, I am certain that nothing less will do in my part of Norfolk.

My constituency has many features worthy of note—not least the town of King’s Lynn, with its 1,000-year-old port and mediaeval, Elizabethan and Georgian architecture. Its port and fishing industries remain sources of employment, but they are surpassed today by the many small and medium-sized businesses to be found in the industrial estates that were mainly stimulated when the town had an overspill agreement with London.

Many will know my constituency for the beauty of its countryside and coastal regions. To the north lie marshes and superb sand beaches which provide natural havens for wildlife and joy to the discriminating visitor. There are many pleasing coastal villages, and the town of Hunstanton remains popular with a variety of visitors and family holiday-makers. More recently, those northern towns and villages, like many others in Norfolk, have attracted people who come to Norfolk at the end of their working lives seeking quality of life for their retirement.

A number of huge agricultural and sporting estates lie inland, and they are typical of those that were the very cradle of the agricultural revolution. There is also the royal residence on the beautiful Sandringham estate. Agriculture remains of considerable importance to Norfolk. Hon. Members may be interested to know that more than 200 years ago in the village of Heacham in my constituency agricultural workers gathered with their farming employers to petition Parliament for a minimum wage, which they wished to see linked to the price of corn.

My constituency also contains a marshland area to the west, much of which was reclaimed from the sea by Dutch engineers in the 17th and 18th centuries. It has a unique landscape, provides fertile soil and is divided by waterways. It is home to some of the nation’s finest and most fiercely independent horticulturists, fruit growers and small farmers.

My constituency has almost 100 towns, villages and hamlets. It has a rich variety of landscapes, activities and people. It is home to some of the richest and some of the poorest in our land. It is certainly one of the most rural constituencies in England to be represented by a Labour Member. The House will understand that it is a particular honour for me to be here tonight representing North-West Norfolk.

However, let me not leave the House with the impression that I represent a rural idyll. Many important needs of my constituents have been much neglected for many years. I am glad that the Budget addresses many of those issues. Unemployment, including that of young people, remains at intolerable levels. Even in Lynn, where rationalisation has led to job losses, there are far too many low-skill, low-wage jobs. Many of our villages lack well-paid employment for people who historically looked to the land for work. In the 30 years that I have lived in Norfolk, there has been a dramatic decline in the numbers required to work large estates.

As the previous chairman of the education committee, I know all too well that too many of Norfolk’s school buildings require major investment. The county has suffered from an historically low spend on education. The road network in Norfolk, particularly the A47 strategic link, still cries out for improvement and tightly constrains economic development. I have also recently had to inform Ministers that the plight of our fishing fleet requires urgent attention. Rural poverty is every bit as debilitating as its urban equivalent. It will be my priority to see that the urgent needs of my constituents are given proper regard in the deliberations of the House and in the decisions of Ministers.

Hon. Members will gather that I am pleased to give a warm welcome to the Budget. Through the windfall tax, it addresses the need to help many people, especially the young in my constituency, to find work. It deals with the problems of our schools and of the health service. Importantly, it keeps the election promises that I made. After a weekend in Norfolk talking to my constituents, I politely warn Conservative Members that by asserting otherwise they will earn themselves a reputation for veracity in opposition no better than that which bedevilled their latter years in government.

I bring a warm welcome for the Budget from Norfolk with but one caveat. The right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) referred to the problem encountered in rural communities who need to use cars. People who live in villages where they count the number of buses per week rather than per hour view differently the stick of extra taxes, however green the purpose and however well intentioned the Chancellor imposing them. During the lifetime of this Parliament, it will be essential to use broader measures—both carrot and stick, not just stick—to ensure that the interests of rural people are properly reflected in Budget decisions. I look forward to Ministers providing that range of policies.

I hope that I shall not be too controversial if I say a few words about advance corporation tax and pensions, a subject which seems to vex many Conservative Members. I have been a trustee of a pension fund and for many years I have repaid my mortgage through a personal equity plan. I have made it my business at least to try to understand some of the effects of advance corporation tax. If one is to judge the merits not of imposing a tax—which is how Conservative Members refer to it—but of removing a tax benefit, the question that one should ask is why one would introduce such a tax benefit if it did not exist. The answer is that one would not.

If the Chancellor is to take money from people to give tax advantages for certain forms of behaviour, the correct way to do so is to give the tax incentive to the individual who will save the money. We should not try to do so through pension funding by reason of contortions in logic. That is too remote from the pressures that can be put on individuals to recognise the benefits of thrift and saving for their pensions.

I carefully investigated the actions of the previous Government when they reduced the level of ACT from 25 to 20 per cent. At that time, I read in the newspapers—the same ones that I read this weekend—the dreadful predictions of how much more I would have to put into my PEP. Those predictions were wrong: my PEP has gone up by 35 per cent. whereas they referred to effects at 2 or 3 per cent. My PEP has gone up by 35 per cent. because what really matters to people is our country’s economic well-being, not jiggering around with pensions because of tax considerations. What matters is good, sound management and sound judgment of areas in which to invest both in this country and internationally.

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is right in trying to stoke the boiler of the train we are on so that we all move faster, while Conservative Members are in danger of having an academic argument about how we move up and down the corridors of the train: if one walks forward up the train, one may gain time, but really to gain time one must get the train to move faster. History will judge that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made a sound judgment in his Budget proposals.