Philip Hammond – 1997 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons


Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Philip Hammond in the House of Commons on 17 June 1997.

I am delighted to make my maiden speech in the debate on this short but important Bill, which will have a significant effect on many of my constituents.

A number of my hon. Friends who are new Members have already made their maiden speeches. My tardiness owes something to Disraeli’s advice to a new Member: “It is better they wonder why you do not speak than that they wonder why you do.” It must be said that if I were looking for support from my colleagues, my timing has not been perfect; but Conservative Members are not so numerous that we can afford to carry passengers indefinitely and, for better or worse, the time has now come.

I have the privilege to represent the new constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge, which was formed largely from the former Chertsey and Walton constituency, with a piece of North-West Surrey attached to it. The boundary commission seldom wins friends when naming new constituencies, but that much-maligned body has surely got it right this time in including the historic name of Runnymede in the title of a constituency for the first time.

I am sure that many hon. Members envy me a constituency which stretches from the Wentworth golf course in the west to the St. George’s hill course in the east, by way of another five first-class courses. It is, perhaps, in the interest of diligent pursuit of parliamentary duties that such a constituency should return a non-golfing Member.

I follow in the footsteps of a number of eminent Members who have represented areas that are now part of my constituency, but it is my immediate predecessors in Chertsey and Walton and North-West Surrey to whom I now pay tribute. Both Sir Geoffrey Pattie and Sir Michael Grylls did excellent work on behalf of their constituents over the years, in their different ways. My special thanks are due to Sir Geoffrey Pattie for the superb apprenticeship that he bestowed on me during the 18 months before my election. He served Chertsey and Walton for 23 years, becoming a Minister and a vice-chairman of the Conservative party. I can honestly say that, if at the end of my parliamentary career I have made half as many friends and admirers in my constituency as Sir Geoffrey has, I shall regard that career as having been a great success.

Runnymede and Weybridge comprises two local authority areas, the borough of Runnymede itself and part of the borough of Elmbridge. The constituency straddles the M25 and the M3; indeed, in those road atlases that tend to exaggerate the width of roads my constituency appears to contain little other than the intersection of those two motorways. It also comprises the ancient town of Chertsey, where the Romans first crossed the River Thames, Egham, Addlestone and Weybridge, as well as the historic site of Runnymede and that of the Tudor royal palace of Oatlands. Those historic locations, together with a selection of smaller towns and villages and the garden estates of Wentworth and St. George’s Hill, are set in the beautiful Surrey countryside, which many people are surprised to find so close to London.

Most, if not all, hon. Members will recognise the name of my constituency and may even be able to locate it geographically through their knowledge of the events in 1215. The basis of constitutional government in England began to emerge when Magna Carta was signed in the meadows by the Thames, between Staines and Windsor, near the town of Egham. We can trace the origins of our modern freedoms to that event which took place in my constituency. It was on 15 June that year when the King and the barons first met at Runnymede. During the next few days, they negotiated the charter. I am delighted to be able to commemorate this week, the 782nd anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, by making my maiden contribution in the House in the name of Runnymede and Weybridge.

Rather more recently, Brooklands, in Weybridge, has been renowned as the home of British motor sport and the birthplace of the British aviation industry. It spawned an engineering industry in the area, which provided an important part of the country’s aviation resource during the second world war. It has also created a surprisingly diverse economy in our constituency.

The Brooklands museum is an extraordinary tribute to the men of vision and spirit who built those twin industries on Hugh Locke-King’s race-track during the 1920s and 1930s. I strongly recommend hon. Members to take the time to visit that museum when passing through my constituency.

Like people in many similar areas of the home counties, my constituents enjoy the benefits of material prosperity, which are due primarily to our proximity to London and the excellent communications that we enjoy because of the motorway network and Heathrow airport. We also suffer because of that proximity from traffic, noise, pollution and the inexorable pressure for further development. The challenge for my constituency as we move into the new millennium will be to get the balance right. We must achieve the correct balance between continuing prosperity and maintaining the quality of life in the area. That will not be an easy task, but I look forward to playing my part, together with the elected local authorities in the constituency, in achieving it over the years to come.

It will be a pleasure to work with those local authorities, especially Surrey county council, now returned to Conservative control by a substantial majority, and Runnymede borough council, which is also Conservative controlled. Whatever other messages the electors of Surrey may have sent out on 1 May, they clearly voted yes to sound Conservative principles and good management in local government.

Runnymede has the lowest council tax in Surrey while, by general consensus, delivering a high standard of services. It has no statutory obligation to do so, but it is the highest spending authority on services for the elderly in Surrey. Its programme of upgrading and improving council-owned housing stock has the widespread support of tenants. Its private sector partnerships have attracted interest across the country. A key factor in achieving that enviable combination of low council tax and high service provision has been the careful management of its capital receipts. Runnymede is debt-free and it has chosen to invest its capital receipts to produce a substantial income to supplement the council tax for the benefit of all the people of Runnymede.

When the Labour party first promoted the idea of the release of capital receipts, it was presented as some kind of cost-free option. The idea was to take out from under the bed the pot of gold that the wicked Tories had squirrelled away and to spend it to good effect. It is now generally understood that there is no pot of gold. To the extent that set-aside capital receipts are cash-backed, the cash is largely in the wrong places. In public sector borrowing terms, the receipts have already been taken into account. Any increase in the aggregate supplementary credit approvals issued will result in an increase in the public sector borrowing requirement. There is no offsetting effect on the PSBR from any notional release of set-aside capital receipts. There was no mention earlier of the Revenue effects of the increased housing provision that the Government are seeking. If the Government achieve anything by the Bill it will be only by robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The reference in the Bill to capital receipts is a smoke-screen. It does not detail the methodology that will apply in determining the supplementary credit applications. If it is to increase the amount of investment in social housing, it must envisage an increase in the aggregate amount of borrowing by local authorities for that purpose.

The Bill provides a thin cover, through the mechanism of taking total capital receipts into account when determining the supplementary credit approvals, for a transfer of borrowing power from authorities with capital receipts to those without. In many cases, that will mean a transfer of borrowing power from authorities that have managed their housing stock well; taken a forward-looking, innovative approach to housing; and undertaken large-scale voluntary transfers to those that have succeeded in frustrating their tenants’ right to buy and which have eschewed the opportunities of the large-scale voluntary transfers that have brought such a welcome diversity to the social housing sector. Incidentally, such transfers have also attracted £4 billion of private sector money, which otherwise would not have been available. The Bill represents the worst kind of subsidy—a subsidy from the efficient to the inefficient.

The implementation of the Bill represents an unjustifiable penalisation of thrifty, well-managed councils such as Runnymede and an erosion of the principle of local autonomy and accountability, which the Government purport to favour. It will also lead directly to the imposition of higher council taxes and higher rents as receipt-rich authorities are forced to run down their balances and forgo the considerable income that those balances currently generate. No less an organisation than Shelter, hardly a well-known supporter of the Conservative view of the world, has calculated that council house rents will rise by £6 a week if all the receipts are released. It is clear that council taxes will rise or services will be cut as prudent councils find that the dice are loaded against them and are forced to liquidate investments.

The Bill is an attack on thrift and good management. It represents a thinly veiled transfer of borrowing power to Labour’s friends in local government. I fear that my constituents may expect more of the same when the local government settlement is announced.

The Bill attacks the capital balances of prudent authorities and an attack on their revenue support will not be far behind. It is the new Government’s double whammy for the council tax payers of Surrey.

When the Bill is stripped of the smokescreen of capital receipts, it is clear that it paves the way for either an increase in the PSBR or for the reallocation of borrowing power away from receipt-rich authorities. It would be better if it said so plainly without hiding behind the fig leaf of capital receipts. It represents an inefficient way of achieving the Government’s legitimate manifesto commitment to higher investment in social housing.

The Bill is unfair in its effect on prudent local authorities. It is lacking in detail. It confers excessive discretion on Ministers. In short, it is an ill-conceived piece of legislation and I urge the House to vote against it on Second Reading.