Jeremy Hanley – 1983 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made in the House of Commons by Jeremy Hanley, the then Conservative MP for Richmond and Barnes, on 1 July 1983.

I thank you sincerely, Mr. Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in this historic place, and I thank the Minister for his kind remarks.
Richmond and Barnes is a new, enlarged constituency, containing the well-known communities of Barnes in the north-east, Mortlake, Palewell, East Sheen, Kew, Richmond, Petersham, Ham in the south and St. Margaret’s and east Twickenham, north of the Thames. It is now the only London constituency which spans that great river, and a greater utilisation of it, coupled with the preservation of its beauty, will be one of my regular pleas in this House.

I pay tribute to my predecessor as the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey, Sir Anthony Royle. He served his constituency for nearly 25 years and was also Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 1970 to 1974. His wisdom and guidance over the last two years were instrumental in my being here. Many things are said by many people—perhaps occasionally with a political axe to grind—but I must set the record straight concerning that gentleman.

During the last two years I have met literally hundreds of people to whom Sir Anthony had given help and they would willingly walk to the end of the earth for him. If people called on him and he believed they were genuinely in need, he would unstintingly seek a satisfactory solution, but, unlike certain cynical politicians, Sir Anthony would never parade his constituents’ problems through the press. That, for him, would have been a breach of privacy and honour.

There were, of course, thousands of people who never needed to seek out Sir Anthony for help and therefore had no evidence of his care and concern, but there are nearly 100 new Conservative Members of this House who would vouch for his labours, because for the last four years he has been the vice-chairman of the Conservative party, with responsibility for candidates. During that time he has radically changed the selection and training system.

Perhaps only time will tell whether the new intake will be of particularly good vintage, but I believe that it will be, and that, far from some of the more spectacular and lurid speculations made by less well-researched journalists—and, indeed, the Opposition—the new Members, in my experience, are almost exclusively men and women of compassion, loyalty and dedication, possessing simple common sense and energy. That is Sir Anthony’s doing.

I must also pay tribute, on behalf of those in east Twickenham and St. Margaret’s, to their previous Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). That he should lose, through redistribution, his east Twickenham ward, and the constituents for whom he cared for 13 years, was a great distress to him. His record as one of the very best constituency Members for exposing and fighting those matters that affect the peace and environment of those who are his responsibility is, quite literally, an inspiration to me. I hope that we may, as brother Members for the same borough, work together for the mutual benefit of the nearly 200,000 people whom we represent. I have much to learn from him, and I offer him my deep gratitude for his willingness to help me.

Tributes are deemed to be traditional, but I hope that I shall be permitted to pay a less conventional compliment. My opponents in the general election were men of the highest integrity and a credit to their respective parties. Their attitude throughout the last few months and years, their co-operation on matters of community interest, and their willingness to work with me rather than against, have constructively caused local wrongs to be put right wherever possible. Co-operation between political rivals — unfortunately by no means commonplace — can produce a combined weight against which it is hard to resist.

On the Richmond Royal hospital, on London Transport’s bus policy, on Windham road nursery school, on aircraft noise and on Richmond’s traffic blight, we have fought our battles together. That has meant that the campaign in Richmond was, if anything, more healing than divisive. It also helps that whoever won the battle could feel that he had the support of the whole community, not merely the party of his preference.

We candidates had many differences in political and social policies, some of them diametrically opposed, but it is pointless in politics to strike a pose, purely to propose some separate dogma, when co-operation can achieve so much. I hope that all my constituents will know that I am open and willing to hear their problems, as I intend to serve their constituency in the way that I believe it deserves.

We are fortunate in Richmond and Barnes that, in addition to being one of the most historic parts of London and Surrey, we have 21 miles of river frontage, 743 acres of urban parks and open spaces and, indeed, the highest number of conservation areas in London. That is in addition to the Royal parks and Kew gardens. The greatest pleasure to be derived from those enormous benefits is in quiet enjoyment of the facilities offered, but quiet enjoyment is what we sadly lack.

While it is a beautiful area in many ways, the immediate impression of Richmond and Barnes is scarred by the inordinate and constant noise from road traffic and from the air. The blight to the area caused by the south circular road, the constant landing of aircraft at Heathrow, flying directly down the line of the upper Richmond road west, and the ever-increasing helicopter noise, causes conversation in the street to be rendered impossible for more than a few moments at a time. A casual meeting of neighbours in Sheen or Palewell is more often accompanied by nods and waves than by words.

In my 10 years of political experience, I have met my various opponents on many platforms and experienced a wide range of opinions and views, often vociferously put, but since coming to Richmond I have never known an issue to unite people of different political persuasions so closely as that of aircraft and traffic noise. On Saturday 5 March 1983, the threat of a possible fifth terminal at Heathrow caused all three political parties to unite in a march to show our strength of feeling. I am not one to take to the streets with banners raised at every opportunity—and, indeed, believe that little good usually comes from such protest—but I was moved in that instance to give my active support, and that of my wife and family, to demonstrate that political barriers had been dropped and that the community as a whole was moved to join together. The support of those along the route was indeed heartening, and those who listened to our speeches later in the centre of Richmond gave us evidence that our complaint was shared by people who would not normally have been moved to protest. Incidentally, during our march of three miles, my younger son counted 32 aeroplanes of varying sizes flying directly overhead. That made the decision to take to the streets that much more rational. Hardly any of the Conservatives in our contingent had ever joined such an event before.

Quite apart from the countless letters that my predecessor Sir Anthony Royle received over the years on the subject, already in nearly two years I have had over 200 letters complaining about aircraft noise, and that must be the tip of the iceberg. Wherever I go in my constituency, whenever I speak to constituents, aircraft noise is second only to traffic noise and volume as a reason for complaint. That we are used to it, as British Airways seems to believe, I refute. We might accept our experience as being unavoidable, but we shall never become used to it and will always pray for its reduction. With summer here, during a hot and airless night it is impossible for almost half my constituents to open their windows, because 15 to 25 aeroplanes destroy the peace which we believe to be ours by right when trying to sleep.