Peter Griffiths – 1964 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Peter Griffiths, the then Conservative MP for Smethwick, in the House of Commons on 6 November 1964.

At this moment I feel much in need of the indulgence which this House normally so kindly grants to those who address it for the first time. The comments of the two right hon. Gentleman on the question of training and retraining of workers in changing industries is of very particular application to my own constituency of Smethwick, in that its industries date back to Boulton and Watt, back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

If we are to maintain our industrial prosperity there must be continuous change, and in such continuous change difficulties are created for workpeople in industry. The younger workers in the prosperous West Midlands area do not find it very difficult to obtain new employment. There are many opportunities for them. But the older workers, particularly those over the age of 50, find it extremely difficult to adapt themselves, to develop new skills which are needed in a completely new field of operation.

The older worker is often less mobile and less adaptable. Therefore, I would respectfully suggest that very special attention should be paid to this question of the suitable retraining of older workers so that they can find not only openings in industry but openings suitable to their skills, suitable to their status and also openings in new industries which give suitable security to a man who has a family and wide responsibilities.

The town of Smethwick is densely built up and many of the younger citizens have been forced, because of lack of modern housing, to move out of the town. Therefore, the national problem of the ageing population is highlighted in Smethwick. I would respectfully suggest that, here again, there is a need for a very thorough investigation of the living conditions of the elderly and, more particularly, of the living conditions of widows in ageing communities. It is ​ essential for us to have all the facts and information fully available so that the House may at a suitable time ensure that help is both timely and effective.

If I might proceed from the question of ageing industries to ageing houses, I would point out that Smethwick is the second most densely built-up county borough in Britain. There is no room in Smethwick to build a single new house. Unless there is clearance and development there can be no building. For this reason I welcome the suggestion which has been made that special aid should be made available to those areas which have particular problems. Certainly, if any proposals can be made for speeding up the relief of the housing problem in towns like Smethwick, I would welcome them.

In Smethwick there are 4,000 families waiting to be rehoused despite the fact that there has been an accelerated housing programme in the town. It is no wonder, then, that in Smethwick the No. 1 social problem is that of housing. One cannot force a quart into a pint pot.

Housing and social problems exist in many of our great cities. Those problems in Smethwick have been aggravated over the past few years by the inflow of large numbers of people from overseas, many of whom have social standards different from those of our own people. However, I want to make it quite clear to the House that there is no resentment at all in Smethwick on the grounds of race or colour. I can assure hon. Members that the people in my constituency are as warm and as welcoming towards strangers as are those of any other community in the British Isles. At the same time, I must make it clear that the people of Smethwick are vitally concerned about the length of the wait for housing. They are concerned about overcrowding and insanitary conditions. They are concerned about the pressure of already overlarge classes and, dare I of all Members say this, they are also concerned about questions of health.

It would be hypocritical of anyone to ignore these problems or to try to pretend that they do not exist. It is essential that all those who seek to represent people or to speak for them should be honest and face up to these problems and discuss them rationally. I make the ​ appeal that they should be discussed without undue emotion. I can assure hon. Members that the local council in Smethwick is courageously and positively facing up to the problems of the town. It is seeking to solve these problems, and I have, on every occasion, called for the most active co-operation between the members of all races in the town.

May I crave the indulgence of the House to say that the Smethwick Conservative Party and the electors of Smethwick have shown, I am sure, that they are convinced that the control of immigration is vital to racial harmony. I ask this House to judge the people of Smethwick and their Member on first-hand knowledge of the Member and the town, rather than on second-hand reporting which is often exaggerated. I know of no cause for shame arising from the Smethwick election. There was a democratic choice, a free election. There was every opportunity, with no fewer than four candidates, for full discussion and full expression. The electors of Smethwick made up their minds on all these issues, just as did the electors in every other constituency. They have the right to choose and they exercised that right. No doubt in the not-too-distant future they will have the opportunity to confirm that choice or to make a change. Until then, may I respectfully suggest that we in this honourable House address ourselves, without personal rancour and without animosity, to the real tasks which face us.