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Democracy being what it is (as some British politicians are about to be reminded in a few weeks’ time), the House of Commons places little importance on famous last words. So few MPs get to choose the timing of their own passing, with most instead seeking re-election once too often and failing. Even those who do retire of their own volition find it hard to guarantee a good debate on an interesting topic at the point when they need to make their parting contributions. As a result, last words more often fall into the category of whimpers rather than bangs.

Leopold Braun's 1914 painting of the House of Commons, from the perspective of a backbencher, gives some indication of why maiden speeches are frightening affairs.

Leopold Braun’s 1914 painting of the House of Commons, from the perspective of a backbencher, gives some indication of why maiden speeches are frightening affairs.

In any event, the House has always preferred to focus on maiden speeches, MPs’ first words under the Speaker’s gaze. Around these a set of important traditions has grown up, including that speeches should be relatively short and uncontroversial, and that they should proceed without interruption, with tributes being paid to a Member’s constituency and her or his predecessors.

Maiden speeches, as celebrated set-pieces and key rites of passage, can be stressful affairs. In Anthony Trollope’s novel of 1869, Phineas Finn, the eponymous hero worries greatly before making his maiden speech, as the new MP for the fictional Irish constituency of Loughshane. Trollope describes Finn at first over-preparing and losing his nerve, and then returning to the House for a second attempt in which he uses an unorthodox, and not entirely successful, impromptu approach:

“Phineas spent the remainder of that day alone, and came to a resolution that on the coming occasion he certainly would speak in the House. The debate would be resumed on the Monday, and he would rise to his legs on the very first moment that it became possible for him to do so. And he would do nothing towards preparing a speech;–nothing whatever. On this occasion he would trust entirely to such words as might come to him at the moment […] He had before burdened his memory with preparations, and the very weight of the burden had been too much for his mind. He had feared to trust himself to speak, because he had felt that he was not capable of performing the double labour of saying his lesson by heart, and of facing the House for the first time. There should be nothing now for him to remember. His thoughts were full of his subject […] He hoped that ideas and words would come to him. Ideas and words had been free enough with him in the old days of the Dublin debating society. If they failed him now, he must give the thing up.”

In real life, over-preparation is the norm. Matthew Parris (MP for West Derbyshire, 1979-86) recalls slaving over his maiden speech: “writing [it] carefully, polishing it well, and learning it by heart so that I would not have to read” – but still keeping “the text in shaking hands” throughout the ordeal, “just in case of a mental blank” (Chance Witness, 2002). Similarly, Elizabeth Peacock (MP for Batley and Spen, 1983-97) burned the midnight oil before she first spoke, but still called the event “pressure-driven” and “nerve-wracking” (A Yorkshire Lass At the Court of Thatcher, 2013). Even among those who went on to greater, and much more stressful political careers, the sense of momentousness was inescapable. Edward Heath, for instance, said he “wanted to be as thoroughly prepared as possible” in 1950 and was then clearly delighted when sent notes of congratulations by the bigwigs in his party (The Course of My Life: My Autobiography, 1998).

Below I have posted excerpts from, and links to, the maiden speeches of ever postwar British prime minister, Heath included. Naturally, they show a variety of approaches and interests (only Harold Wilson could not choose his own subject, having been immediately appointed a junior minister in Clement Attlee’s 1945 government). But the texts also indicate how some premiers were notably more accomplished, and more entertaining, orators than others (Margaret Thatcher’s offering, which weighs in at over 3,000 words, is particularly dull and confused). While many appear to have honoured the traditions I described earlier, others seem to breach them deliberately, in particular when it comes to being uncontroversial (see Blair and Brown especially). My own favourites are James Callaghan in 1945 (on the dangers of postwar Japan) and this quotation from Attlee in 1922:

“I am concerned with producing citizens for life. I stand for no more war, and for development in peace; and I say that you are to-day in this country ruining future generations as you have ruined the present generation. It is not the fact that character is formed by unmerited suffering and privation. It simply means what I have seen for 17 years in the borough of Stepney—the boy or the man getting unemployed and sinking, sinking, sinking right down to the unemployable. We do want an economy campaign, but it must be a true economy campaign—economy in mankind, economy in flesh and blood, economy in the true wealth of the State and of the community, namely, its citizens. That can only be brought about by deliberately taking hold of the purchasing power of the nation, by directing the energies of the nation into the production of necessities for life, and not merely into the production of luxuries or necessities for profit.”

Clement Atlee (1922, MP for Limehouse). Subjects: Stepney; unemployment; state intervention in the economy; workers’ contribution in the Great War.


“We have had a great deal of talk about economy up and down this country, and we have had a great deal of talk about waste. But there is one particular waste that is never mentioned, and that is the waste of the man-power of this nation. When I throw my mind back to the War period, I remember how we were told that every man in this country was valuable, how we were told that every man was wanted either in munitions or in the trenches—men of every character, men of every capability. I heard of men who usually would not be considered sufficiently good to do any work, but who were sent to us in the trenches, because they were said to be serviceable for fighting. At that time— I think the only time in 500 years of English history—we were practically without any unemployment at all. In the district from which I come, the borough of Stepney, we always have unemployment. […]

“In East London we stand at the gate of England. Wealth flows through our borough up to London, but precious little stays there. We always have unemployment. The only time when unemployment was practically non-existent was the time of the War; and, despite all the rationing, despite all the food substitutes, on the whole the living conditions of our people were actually better during the War period. […] In my district every day men are coming to me whom I have known years ago, and I see how they have fallen off through unemployment. You see men who were fit to be sergeant-majors in the Army —fine, upstanding men—reduced to dragging along the streets with their hands out for anything they can get. That is an enormous waste. It is not only waste, but absolute folly. We are told, and I believe it, that there is sympathy on the other side with the unemployed. I do not suppose that anyone on the benches opposite is going to get up and say that he is prepared to put the unemployed men, and their wives and families, into a lethal chamber and kill them. I think that everyone on all sides is agreed that they are to be kept alive, and the only question we have to face is whether they are going to be kept alive in fine and fit condition, or upon a dole which means that they are going steadily downhill. The true wealth of this country is its citizens […]

“We know […] the results of the census, which showed that in the London area alone there are 600,000 persons who are living in one-room tenements. You are not going to get an A1 nation under those conditions: you are not going to get a moral nation under those conditions; you are not going to get a sober nation under those conditions […] You may produce a case here and there of abuse of the dole: you may produce an occasional man who marches with the unemployed and has a bad record; but every Member of this House who has been in a contested election and has come into personal contact with the unemployed knows that the great mass of unemployed men are those same men who saved us during the War. They are the same men who stood side by side in the trenches. They are the heroes of 1914 and 1918, though they may be pointed out as the Bolshevists of to-day. […]

“As the nation was organised for war and death, so it can be organised for peace and life if we have the will for it. That is why we reject all these facile assumptions that you can wait until trade is a little better. You cannot wait. The waste is going on all the time. You have only to look at the state of the children in our streets to see how that waste is going on; and if, as I hope may never happen, we should have another war in 20 years’ time, and if the Government should begin, as they did, by calling up for various years, when you come to these last three years and look at the classes of 1920, 1921 and 1922, you will not be surprised to find that a very large proportion of them are C.3. […]

“I am not, however, concerned with producing men for war; I am concerned with producing citizens for life. I stand for no more war, and for development in peace; and I say that you are to-day in this country ruining future generations as you have ruined the present generation. It is not the fact that character is formed by unmerited suffering and privation. It simply means what I have seen for 17 years in the borough of Stepney—the boy or the man getting unemployed and sinking, sinking, sinking right down to the unemployable. We do want an economy campaign, but it must be a true economy campaign—economy in mankind, economy in flesh and blood, economy in the true wealth of the State and of the community, namely, its citizens. That can only be brought about by deliberately taking hold of the purchasing power of the nation, by directing the energies of the nation into the production of necessities for life, and not merely into the production of luxuries or necessities for profit.”

Winston Churchill (1901, MP for Oldham). Subjects: Boer War; British Empire.


“No people in the world received so much verbal sympathy and so little practical support as the Boers. If I were a Boer fighting in the field—and if I were a Boer I hope I should be fighting in the field—I would not allow myself to be taken in by any message of sympathy, not even if it were signed by a hundred hon. Members. […] I do not propose to discuss the ethics of farm burning now; but hon. Members should, I think, cast their eyes back to the fact that no considerations of humanity prevented the German army from throwing its shells into dwelling houses in Paris, and starving the inhabitants of that great city to the extent that they had to live upon rats and like atrocious foods in order to compel the garrison to surrender. I venture to think His Majesty’s Government would not have been justified in restricting their commanders in the field from any methods of warfare which are justified by precedents set by European and American generals during the last fifty or sixty years. […]

“From what I saw of the war—and I sometimes saw something of it—I believe that as compared with other wars, especially those in which a civil population took part, this war in South Africa has been on the whole carried on with unusual humanity and generosity. […] I have travelled a good deal about South Africa during the last ten months under varying circumstances, and I should like to lay before the House some of the considerations which have been very forcibly borne in upon me during that period. […]

“I have the greatest respect for British officers, and when I hear them attacked, as some hon. Members have done in their speeches, it makes me very sorry, and very angry too. Although I regard British officers in the field of war, and in dealing with native races, as the best officers in the world, I do not believe that either their training or their habits of thought qualify them to exercise arbitrary authority over civil populations of European race. I have often myself been very much ashamed to see respectable old Boer farmers—the Boer is a curious combination of the squire and the peasant, and under the rough coat of the farmer there are very often to be found the instincts of the squire—I have been ashamed to see such men ordered about peremptorily by young subaltern officers, as if they were private soldiers. […]

“If the Boers remain deaf to the voice of reason, and blind to the hand of friendship, if they refuse all overtures and disdain all terms, then, while we cannot help admiring their determination and endurance, we can only hope that our own race, in the pursuit of what they feel to be a righteous cause, will show determination as strong and endurance as lasting. […]

“There are appearances that the Boers are weakening, and that the desperate and feverish efforts they have made so long cannot be indefinitely sustained. If that be so, now is the time for the Government and the Army to redouble their efforts. It is incumbent on Members like myself, who represent large working class constituencies, to bring home to the Government the fact that the country does not want to count the cost of the war until it is won. I think we all rejoiced to see the announcement in the papers that 30,000 more mounted men were being despatched to South Africa. I cannot help noticing with intense satisfaction that, not content with sending large numbers of men, the Secretary of State for War has found some excellent Indian officers, prominent among whom is Sir Bindon Blood, who will go out to South Africa and bring their knowledge of guerilla warfare on the Indian frontier to bear on the peculiar kind of warfare—I will not call it guerilla warfare—now going on in South Africa. […]

“Some hon. Members have seen fit, either in this place or elsewhere, to stigmatise this war as a war of greed. I regret that I feel bound to repudiate that pleasant suggestion. If there were persons who rejoiced in this war, and went out with hopes of excitement or the lust of conflict, they have had enough and more than enough to-day. If, as the hon. Member for Northampton has several times suggested, certain capitalists spent money in bringing on this war in the hope that it would increase the value of their mining properties, they know now that they made an uncommonly bad bargain. With the mass of the nation, with the whole people of the country, this war from beginning to end has only been a war of duty. […]

“I think if any hon. Members are feeling unhappy about the state of affairs in South Africa I would recommend them a receipt from which I myself derived much exhilaration. Let them look to the other great dependencies and colonies of the British Empire and see what the effect of the war has been therel Whatever we may have lost in doubtful friends in Cape Colony we have gained ten times, or perhaps twenty times, over in Canada and Australia, where the people—down to the humblest farmer in the most distant provinces—have by their effective participation in the conflict been able to realise, as they never could realise before, that they belong to the Empire, and that the Empire belongs to them.”

Anthony Eden (1924, MP for Warwick and Leamington). Subjects: Air defence; aerial bombardment.


“May I, at the outset, ask for the usual courtesy and indulgence which is always extended to a maiden speech. […] There can be little doubt that this question is of exceptional interest in this House, and the reasons are not very far to seek. In the first place, it is not in the nature of things possible to provide hastily and at a moment’s notice for air defence; and, in the second place, the very heart of our country, the city of London, is especially vulnerable to attack from the air.

“For these reasons, I hope that the Government will not be tempted too much by sentiment, and will […] as a matter of insurance, protect this country from the danger of attacks from the air. The Under-Secretary asked what was meant by adequate protection, and he said he believed preparedness was not a good weapon. That may be, but unpreparedness is a very much worse weapon, and it is a double-edged one, likely to hurt us very seriously.

“The Under-Secretary quoted an old military maxim, and I will quote one which is that “Attack is the best possible form of defence.” [HON. MEMBERS “No, no!”] I expected hon. Members opposite would be a little surprised at that doctrine. I was not suggesting that we should drop our bombs on other countries, but simply that we should have the means at our disposal to answer any attack by an attack. It is a natural temptation to hon. Members opposite, some of whose views on defence were fairly well known during the years of the War, to adopt the attitude of that very useful animal the terrier, and roll on their backs and wave their paws in the air with a pathetic expression. But that is not the line on which we can hope to insure this country against attack from the air. I believe and hope that hon. Members opposite will carry out the programme which they have inherited, and will safeguard these shores, so far as they may, from the greatest peril of modern war.”

Harold Macmillan (1925, MP for Stockton-on-Tees). Subjects: The Budget; Labour Party divisions; young Conservatives.


“In addressing the Committee for the first time, I am sure I can claim the indulgence which is always afforded to a new Member on such an occasion. I should not venture to do so, except that I feel that there has been, perhaps, too much consideration given to rather minor details of this Budget and not enough consideration to its major aspects. We have had from the late Chancellor of the Exchequer a speech full of his usual skill and with a full amount of the acerbity with which he is wont to speak. I am not blaming him for that, because I think it is not unnatural that, under the circumstances in which this Budget was introduced, he should feel a little bitterness in the matter. While the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unfolding his proposals, one of the most interesting things was to see the expression upon the faces of some of the hon. Members opposite. First of all, they had to listen, of course, with interest to what the Chancellor was going to say, but the interest turned rapidly to surprise at the audacity and the magnitude of his proposals, and finally, I think, to horror and disappointment when they thought of the way in which these proposals would be received in this country. Possibly it added a little to the bitterness of this disillusionment to think that all this, from their point of view, miserable state of affairs is very largely their own fault. […]

“If it be not impertinent for me to say so, the late Chancellor and many others who have spoken have thought it necessary to use the very ancient method of making up for a certain weakness in argument by a certain vigour in statement. He really had the temerity to say that this was a rich man’s Budget. When you think of the remissions of taxation, remissions which he supported, affecting most of all the poorer classes of Income Tax payers, I think that is a monstrous statement to have been made in this House, but I fancy that the real explanation is a certain feeling of disillusionment and disappointment. The late Chancellor said, with regard to the remissions on the lower scale of Income Tax, that it was a proposal which had always been made by members of the party sitting behind him, and he was sure that they would not be in a position to oppose the proposal, which had their sympathy while in office. That is where the shoe pinches. If these proposals had been made by the members of the party sitting behind him when they were still in office all would have been well. They had their sympathy, but never their practical support, and it is the same throughout the whole of this Budget. This Budget is not to be debated on its real merits, but is to be treated in a very petty spirit, due largely, in my view, to the disappointment of the party opposite. […]

“The Leader of the Opposition, in remarks made during the Recess, made an appeal to some of the younger and more progressive Members of the Conservative party to range themselves under his flag. I well understand that the General of an Army, half of which is reputed to be in mutiny, and the other half in a state more or less of passive despair, should wish to find some new recruits, but I can assure him that I belong very much to that body of the younger Members of the party, and that, if he thinks that we are either so young or so inexperienced as to be caught by a trap so clumsy as his, it shows that he totally misunderstands the moral principles and ideals of democratic Toryism. He has no conception of what those ideals and principles mean to us. If he thinks that he and his party have only to offer us as the true socialism a kind of mixture, a sort of horrible political cocktail, consisting partly of the dregs of exploded economic views of Karl Marx, mixed up with a little flavour of Cobdenism, well iced by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and with a little ginger from the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) —if he thinks that this is to be the draught given to our parched throats and that we are ready to accept it, he is very much mistaken. […]

“Hon. Gentlemen opposite are in a dilemma […] They are not quite certain whether to take the line that we have been stealing their clothing while they very incontinently went to bathe in the muddy waters of Russian intrigue, or whether they are to say the clothes are no good anyway. They have not made up their minds, but the people of this country have made up their minds that these proposals are to their benefit, and I am quite certain of this, that for myself, and for many others who have the same views as I have, although we are but young, newly arrived, and inexperienced members of the party, it has been, to have a Budget like this, an immense encouragement. And we claim it as a sign of what Conservatism can do and has always done, when it is true to itself.”

Alec Douglas-Home (1932, MP for Lanark). Subjects: Import Duties Act; protectionism; trade unions; David Lloyd George.

A Douglas Home

“I feel myself fortunate in being allowed to speak upon such an important occasion, the first on which I have had a chance of saying something in this House. Perhaps I may do so with the more confidence in that hon. Members have always been ready to listen to that section of my countrymen known as “the Clydesiders,” of whom I may claim to be one. […]

“I am glad to see opinion is changing in Britain, and that we are getting horse sense enough to impose some restriction on the imports which have flooded into this country in increasing quantities of late years. To hon. Members opposite it seems that the imposition of a tariff must raise the cost of living; to us equally it seems that in so far as it stimulates employment and gives work, it will increase the purchasing power of the people by substituting wages for unemployment benefit and various reliefs of that kind. It seems to hon. Members opposite that the putting on of a tariff in order to get revenue from it and apply it to the reduction of Income Tax, is to relieve the rich at the expense of the poor; to us, equally truly, it seems that it is absolutely necessary in order to reduce the heavy burden of taxation which is crippling industry, and we honestly believe that until we can do something to remove that burden, we cannot make any great inroad into the numbers of the unemployed.

“The point then is this, that though our method of approach may be different, our goal is the same as that of hon. Members who sit on the opposite benches. In all seriousness I say that there is not one of us, and least of all the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for bringing in this Bill, who would go on with it, if we thought that for one moment it was going to add to the burdens on the shoulders of the poor. […]

“We must get down to the practical facts as to how this tariff and this Bill will affect industry. […] Nobody can deny that goods made by cheap labour in other countries and brought into this country are just as much a danger to the standard of life of the working people of this country as the blackleg who stands outside the door of the factory in this country. Just as I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) ought, in view of his statements to-night, to come into the Lobby with me tomorrow night, so I feel that, if hon. Members opposite wish to stick to precedent—and they are sticklers for precedent—they should support this policy, which is in keeping with the ideas which have been prevalent in trade union practice for a considerable number of years. Hon. Members opposite will, however, really be judged by their inability to bring forward an alternative, and that also applies to hon. Members on this side below the Gangway.

“At first I could not find that they had suggested any alternative at all, but, on looking at the OFFICIAL REPORT, I found that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had given this as the alternative of his party: “All that is needed is to put the world right in order that abundance may be brought to the masses. It is that for which we stand.” The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) concurred in that profound judgment. I am reminded of a politician of whom I was told some time ago by the senior Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan). This politician got up and said that all that was wrong in South Africa was that they wanted a better class of settler and a better water supply; and a voice from the back of the hall called out, “Yes, and that is all that is wrong with Hell.” I suggest that this House and the country will want a more definite alternative, and one that bears more relation to fact, than the Leader of the Opposition’s statement that all that is needed is to put the world right and it is that for which they stand. […]

“There is one tribute that I should like to pay in closing. I do not think I should be here in the House of Commons to-day if it were not that my political interests were stirred some 10 years ago by a remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (M. Lloyd George), who is not now present. I remember him saying, shortly after the War something to the effect that it was up to the new generation to look at things through new eyes. When the Safeguarding Duties and the McKenna Duties first appeared, we realised that he was talking business. The tribute I want to pay to him, by one of my generation, is that I think he has done more than anyone else in the country of recent years to make Protection a certainty in my time. I am going to take his advice. It is because I think it is necessary to look at things through new eyes and because this Bill embodies those principles that I support it.”

Harold Wilson (1945, MP for Ormskirk). Subjects: rebuilding the House of Commons; MPs’ accommodation and offices.

Harold Wilson

“I am not sure whether in making a maiden speech from what is, I think, an unusual part of the House one is entitled to ask for its indulgence. Probably I am not entitled to ask for it, though on this occasion I feel the need for it even more than many of my colleagues who were elected to Parliament for the first time in the recent Election. They, at least, have spoken with great authority on the subjects which they have chosen and, although I find myself speaking from a part of the House where one is expected to speak with authority—though I am told this has not always been the case—I am called on to deal with a subject which even veteran Members of this House would enter upon only with very great trepidation—the important question of the amenities and facilities provided for private Members of this House.

“May I say that, speaking as one of the new young Members to whom my hon. Friend referred, I share, as we all do, their desire to see Parliament work as efficiently as it is possible for it to work. My hon. Friend raised a number of points with some of which I am not competent to deal. For instance, he raised the question of the Treasury for which I am, perhaps fortunately, not answerable. He raised also the question of postage which I know is inflicting very serious concern on a number of hon. Members, and I will undertake to see that what he said is brought to the notice of the authorities concerned. I think that all I can properly reply to is this question of the allocation of rooms for which the Ministry of Works is partly responsible, and also the subject he mentioned at the beginning, namely, the provision of accommodation in London for Members who have, so far, had difficulty in finding it.

“With regard to the amenities of Members within this House, the Government and all the authorities concerned are trying to do everything possible to improve them so that Members can do their job as efficiently as possible. I know how important this is in the matter of facilities for dictating letters and interviewing the general public. Members who have had greater experience than I have told me that in the past few weeks the amount of correspondence they have received has been very much greater than they can remember in the past. Certainly, those Members who have had an opportunity, during the recent Recess, of refreshing themselves by visiting their constituencies, or living in them, can testify to the desire of the public, greater than ever before, to see their Member of Parliament and discuss with him questions of private or public importance. I believe that the confidence of the public in Parliament as an institution, and in Members as individuals; is perhaps greater now than at any time in the past.

“The Government are most desirous that all possible facilities shall be given for adequate meetings, and for free and frank discussion between Members and the public. My hon. Friend referred to facilities which have been provided in other parts of the world. I, too, have seen the lavish scale on which Congressmen and Senators in the United States for instance, can entertain members of the public. As the House will know, provision is being made, when the Chamber is rebuilt, for additional amenities for Members, particularly for interviewing and the dictation of letters. In order that those who are charged with the duty of building the new Chamber shall be kept informed of what is required, I am asked by my right hon. Friend to say that it is his intention to carry out the proposal made by his predecessor to appoint a panel of private Members to advise him on any questions of lay-out which may arise in the course of that work. […]

“With regard to rebuilding, […] although demolition work is well advanced and should be complete in a few weeks, and work on the foundations will soon be started, the rebuilding of the Commons Chamber, I am told, will not be complete until 1949. In the meantime, we should like to do everything possible to meet the requirements of Members, but we have to admit that the difficulties are very great. Accommodation has been very strained during the war, and was so before the war, and we have now lost a further 16 rooms mainly because of demolition work. […] Further, we have provided additional accommodation for the refreshment of hon. Members which, I hope, they will have noted with satisfaction to-day. My hon. Friend suggested that more use should be made of the rooms allocated to Ministers. But Ministers, too, have suffered from cramped accommodation, and are suffering now. I have gone carefully through the list of all the rooms occupied by Ministers now, and I find that most Ministers are, in fact, sharing rooms except in special circumstances. […]

“I should like to refer to the extremely difficult problem of finding living accommodation in London, which, I know, has caused very great worry and, indeed, hardship to many Members, particularly the newer Members. They have had, and I believe are still having, great difficulty in finding suitable accommodation within travelling distance of the House at the present time. The suggestion has been made that accommodation should be reserved for Members. I think it was suggested that requisitioning might be applied. I am advised that, so far as the war-time powers are concerned, it would not be possible to use these for requisitioning for Members of Parliament and I believe that the powers which have been discussed earlier to-day could not be used in that way. On the other hand, my right hon. Friend has asked me to say that, if evidence is produced to him, as I am sure it may be produced, of hardship which Members are still having in getting accommodation, and if he can be satisfied there would be adequate demands for the regular use of any additional accommodation that could be provided, he would be prepared to see whether we can get it, not by requisitioning but by some other means. I understand that at the present time certain inquiries are being made by organisations, which are not connected with the Government, in order to get such accommodation, but my right hon. Friend is certainly willing to look into further accommodation for Members, if he can be satisfied that accommodation will be used, and, of course, that it can be self-supporting. […]

“We might be able to find some war-time hostel and make it available for the use of Members, provided that satisfactory arrangements can be made about finance, provisioning and other things. I hope hon. Members who are having difficulty of that kind will make their difficulties known to my right hon. Friend in order that steps can be taken.”

Edward Heath (1950, MP for Bexley). Subjects: European integration; German rehabilitation; Schuman Declaration.

Edward Heath

“As this is the first occasion on which I have had the privilege of addressing the House, I ask for that customary indulgence which is generously given to new Members. I am very glad indeed of the opportunity to take part in this Debate. As I was fortunate in being in the Federal German Republic for part of the Whitsun Recess, I should like to place before the House what I found were the objectives of the German Government in taking part in the Schuman discussions. […] It is a tradition of this House that new Members in making their maiden speeches should not be controversial. I hope I shall not be thought to go beyond the bounds of that tradition […]

“Now I should like to say a word about the reasons which I found the German Government had for taking part in these talks, and of what is the attitude of the German Government. I found that their attitude was governed entirely by political considerations. I believe there is a genuine desire on their part to reach agreement with France and with the other countries of Western Europe. I believe that in that desire the German Government are genuine, and I believe, too, that the German Government would be prepared to make economic sacrifices in order to achieve those political results which they desire. I am convinced that when the negotiations take place between the countries about the economic details, the German Government will be prepared to make sacrifices.

“I think it is also true that when the German Government accepted the invitation they were quite aware that no precise details of the nature of the high authority were known, and that they were not aware of many of the economic details involved, but that, in order to achieve the political results which they want, they were prepared to accept the invitation to join these discussions. The first thing they want is to achieve agreement with France, and secondly they want to achieve the unity of Western Europe in order to stand against the threat from the East. On the Continent people are very sensitive about that threat from the East. […]

“Under the Schuman Plan, Germany may very well become once again a major factor in Europe. Anyone going to Germany today is bound to be impressed by the fact that the German dynamic has returned; that Germany is once again working hard and producing hard, and that therefore Germany will become a major factor in Europe. I suggest that there are only two ways of dealing with that situation. One is to attempt to prolong control, which the Chancellor has already dismissed as being undesirable and impracticable. The only other way is to lead Germany into the one way we want her to go, and I believe that these discussions would give us a chance of leading Germany into the way we want her to go.

“Lastly, I want to mention one point which I think has received scant attention in the discussions about the Schuman Plan so far. There is a sentence in the very first communiqué of M. Schuman, in which he says: “After the talks have been successful, Europe with new means at her disposal will be able to pursue the realisation of one of her essential tasks—the development of the African Continent.” That has touched the German imagination in a way in which many other parts of the plan have not, because she sees in the outcome of the Schuman Plan once again the outlet to Africa, and if the outlet to the East is to be blocked, then the outlet to Africa is the most obvious alternative. […]

“After the First World War we all thought it would be extremely easy to secure peace and prosperity in Europe. After the Second World War we all realised that it was going to be extremely difficult; and it will be extremely difficult to make a plan of this kind succeed. What I think worries many of us on this side of the House is that, even if the arguments put forward by the Government are correct, we do not feel that behind those arguments is really the will to succeed, and it is that will which we most want to see. It was said long ago in this House that magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom. I appeal tonight to the Government to follow that dictum, and to go into the Schuman Plan to develop Europe and to co-ordinate it in the way suggested.”

James Callaghan (1945, MP for Cardiff South). Subjects: postwar Japan; the Japanese Emperor; postwar China.


“Rising for the first time, I seek the indulgence which the House always extends to those who address it. However, I must say that listening during the last few days it seemed to me that a new tradition is growing up; you get up and ask for indulgence, and then proceed to lay about you with all you have got, tormenting everybody on the other side, and hoping to get away with it. I hope I shall not trespass too deeply on the indulgence of Members on the other side of the House, but I do want to ask hon. Members to lift their eyes for a few moments from the European scene to what is happening in Asia at the present time.

“I was very glad indeed to hear what the Foreign Secretary had to say about the prodigious American contribution to victory in the Pacific war. Those of us who have had the opportunity of seeing a little of that contribution are left in amazement at the breadth of conception and the speed of execution with which the Americans have carried out their attack across thousands of miles of ocean. I believe it to be almost unparalleled in its field, but at the same time I would like to say that I think this House and this country also owe a debt to those dogged Australians who slogged their way across New Guinea.

“However, this very successful strategy of the Americans, which has taken Japan by the throat at the earliest opportunity, has left problems behind it. The first problem is this, that because they have been willing to leap across hundreds of miles of ocean, cutting the communications of the Japanese, they have left behind them large forces of well-equipped troops, well-housed, well-dug-in, well trained and not a bit feeling like surrender. We are going to face the spectacle of tens of thousands of troops at present in Truk, in Rabaul, in Indo-China, in Malaya, throughout the Netherlands East Indies, returning to Japan undefeated and that, in my judgment, is a most dangerous event. I do not suggest for one moment that we should prosecute the war on those islands to kill them—we value the lives of our own men too much—but I do say that the course which events are taking in Japan at the present time is liable to reinforce the militaristic myth which has bedevilled that country far too long. […]

“I can understand the policy of the Allied commanders at the present moment, which is to use the authority of the Emperor of Japan to compel the surrender of his troops, but I hope that when that surrender has been compelled, we shall have no more to do with the Emperor of Japan. He is, as a divine monarch, the embodiment of all that is opposed to a democratic State and I think this ancient and honourable House will recall that 300 years or so ago it once had occasion to deal with the divine rights of kings. Now we have the spectacle of an Emperor who puts himself on a far higher plane than did our own King Charles. We must have had enough of the Emperor. His position as a semi-divine monarch cannot be reconciled with the introduction of a democratic State in Japan and I say that we must get rid of him.

“The second point I want to make is this. I do not know whether hon. Members have been following the composition of the new peace Cabinet in Japan, but I regard it as the height of insolence to the Allied commanders that some of the men now holding office in the Japanese Cabinet should be permitted to retain those offices, and I hope the Allied commanders will make away with them. May I remind the House that the present Vice-Premier of Japan, Prince Konoye, is the man who was Prime Minister of Japan when she made war on China; that he is the man who condoned the stripping of British subjects at Tientsin; that he is the man who concluded the military alliance with Italy and Germany? Is that the sort of man we are going to treat with? Do hon. Members know, too, the Character of the present Foreign Secretary of Japan, Shigemitsu? He, too, was a member of the War Cabinet in Japan who was recently operating against us, and who has exchanged the friendliest of messages with Herr Hitler, Signor Mussolini and Count Ciano in the past. We must have nothing to do with these people. They hold out no hope for the future as far as we are concerned.

“I hope, if I may look across the Inland Sea to China for a moment, that at some stage before we break up, the Foreign Secretary will be able to give us some information about the present negotiations between China and Russia. I believe these discussions are fraught with incredible possibilities for peace or war in the future. If I might venture to utter a criticism of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said earlier in the day, it would be this: he seemed to refer to China as though it were a country like Greece or Bulgaria or Poland. Hon. Members will know as well as I do that China is no country; it is a continent, it is an empire. General Chiang Kai-shek cannot claim to speak for the whole of the peoples of China. I think I am right in saying that at one time during recent years there have been as many as four Governments in China; certainly at the moment there are two who can lay claim to the allegiance of considerable numbers of the Chinese people. I think we should be very hesitant in coming down on one side without having regard to the vast territories which are administered by another section of the Chinese people, which are administered well, and as far as one can make out, have some contribution to make to the future of the world.

“One final word. I think that now the rising tide of Japanese aggression has passed its summit and the waters are beginning to recede, we shall find that the configuration of the landscape has changed. Throughout the whole of Asia there are new problems and new landmarks arising. A fierce resurgent nationalism is to be detected throughout the whole of the Netherlands East Indies, throughout Indo-China and Malaya, certainly in Burma, which will give headaches to the Empires of Britain and of the Dutch and to France. I believe the Foreign Secretary will have to find new men and new methods if we are to deal successfully with the problems which will confront Great Britain in its relations with its Dominions and its Colonies in South-East Asia.”

Margaret Thatcher (1960, MP for Finchley). Subjects: Local government transparency; public and press attendance at council meetings.


“This is a maiden speech, but I know that the constituency of Finchley which I have the honour to represent would not wish me to do other than come straight to the point and address myself to the matter before the House. […]

“It is appropriate at this stage to mention that the public does not have a right of admission, either at common law or by statute, to the meetings of local authorities. Members of the public are compelled, therefore, to rely upon the local Press for information on what their elected representatives are doing. The original Measure was brought as a result of a case in which the representatives of a particular paper were excluded from a particular meeting.

“The public has the right, in the first instance, to know what its elected representatives are doing. That right extends in a number of directions. I do not know whether hon. Members generally appreciate the total amount of money spent by local authorities. In England and Wales, local authorities spend £1,400 million a year and, in Scotland, just over £200 million a year. Those sums are not insignificant, even in terms of national budgets. Less than half is raised by ratepayers’ money and the rest by taxpayers’ money, and the first purpose in admitting the Press is that we may know how those moneys are being spent. In the second place, I quote from the Report of the Franks Committee: “Publicity is the greatest and most effective check against any arbitrary action. […]

“I now turn to the Bill before the House and will try to deduce its general principle from the Clauses there set down. There are six points I should like to make. The first point is, on what occasions in local authority work will this Bill entitle the Press to be present? […] This is meant to establish a minimum legislative code of practice for the local authorities. Therefore, the first question is to which meetings of local authorities would the Press be entitled to be admitted by virtue of the Bill. I would refer hon. Members to Clause 2 (2), which contains the major point with reference to committees, and I will try to put the point in fairly simple language —rather simpler than the complicated drafting we find here.

“May I point out that committees of local authorities whose only power is to recommend a course of action to the council—a course of action which must be taken by the council and which cannot be taken by the committee without reference back—are not included at all in the Bill? Therefore, any committee of a local authority whose only task is to recommend a course of action to the council is not within the purview of the Bill. […]

“I hope that hon. Members will think fit to give this Bill a Second Reading, and to consider that the paramount function of this distinguished House is to safeguard civil liberties rather than to think that administrative convenience should take first place in law.

“Finally, Mr. Speaker, I should like to acknowledge the help given to me by my right hon. Friend and his Department which, I understand, has been as great as any Government Department could give to a private Member. I want also to acknowledge the help of those who have been good enough to subscribe their names to the Bill, and I should like to thank the House for its very kind indulgence to a new Member.”

John Major (1979, MP for Huntingdonshire). Subjects: The Budget; public spending cuts; old age pensioners.

Sir John Major, former Prime Minister is pictured playing chairty cricket.

“It is now 23 years since I first sat in the Gallery and listened to the 1956 Budget debate. I confess that at that time I had hoped to take part in debates in the House but I did not imagine how long I should have to wait. At that time I did not imagine that I would have the privilege of representing such an ancient and famous constituency as Huntingdonshire, nor did I imagine that I should follow such a distinguished predecessor as Sir David Renton.

“Huntingdonshire is a remarkable constituency in many ways. It is an ancient constituency. It has returned Members to the House since the first Parliament of Simon de Montfort. It is proud of that tradition. It is proud because amongst its former Members was, for a brief period, Oliver Cromwell. He caused your predecessors, Mr. Deputy Speaker, more trouble than I anticipate causing, at least in my early days. Huntingdonshire also has a happy tradition that I shall encourage it to retain—of re-electing its Members time and time again. I enter no note of complacency but there seems to have been some doubt about motives on some occasions. I came across a letter from a discerning constituent in the eighteenth century who wrote to a friend of his Member of Parliament. He said: “Of course we keep re-electing our Member. How else can we get rid of the fellow for six months at a time?”

“That sentiment could not possibly apply to Sir David Renton. Many hon. Members will have known Sir David for many years. They will recognise that he was always elected on merit. He served his country, his constituents and his party—in that order—for one-third of a century and successfully fought 10 general elections. By any yardstick that is a remarkable record. […]

“In his Budget Statement my right hon. and learned Friend said that he and his three predecessors framed their first Budgets in difficult circumstances. That is not surprising. It was largely because of mismanagement of the economy on many occasions and difficulties that arose that there was a change of Government at a general election and a new Chancellor had the opportunity to present a Budget.

“If we accept that thesis as being accurate, we can see immediately the consequences and importance of the first Budget of a Parliament—a Budget which claims to set, and I believe does set, the pattern for Budgets which will follow throughout the period of this Government—framed in the remarkably adverse, difficult and conflicting contradictory conditions facing my right hon. and learned Friend.

“I believe that public opinion requires four things of the Government in terms of economic management. It requires them to cut taxes, to curb inflation, to create new jobs and, as far as possible, to maintain satisfactory public services. But the simple truth is that although public opinion may require all those four things, with the best will in the world the Chancellor and his colleagues cannot possibly achieve them all at the same time. In order to create jobs and to maintain public services, it is necessary first to cut taxes and to curb inflation.

“My right hon. and learned Friend made a very bold start in that respect. Indeed, some Opposition Members would claim that his steps were rather too bold for comfort. The Leader of the Opposition said that it was a reckless Budget, but I suspect that if his party had permitted that kind of Budget to be introduced a year or two years ago, the right hon. Gentleman might have remained Prime Minister or at least have lost the election by a slightly less decisive margin. […]

“I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary this afternoon reiterate that the Government’s commitment to spending cuts and to restraining the level of public expenditure generally was substantial and that the Government intend to keep to it.

“Whenever we talk about spending cuts there is bound to be a certain amount of uproar. It is never popular to cut services. But it seems that much of the uproar which is currently being engendered is to a large extent synthetic. […]

“I think that the public spending cuts are acceptable. I agree that difficulties will certainly be faced, most notably in local government. […] The public expenditure cuts are tolerable, provided that they are seen to be fair. I think that they will be seen to be justified if they are successful in curbing inflation at a time when taxes have been reduced as well. […]

“Having spent a great deal of my youth in Brixton, I accept that there are great problems in the inner city areas and that they need to be dealt with, but I trust that the Government will look at the maldistribution of the rate support grant, if not in time for the next distribution, at least in time for the distribution which will follow that. […]

“In Huntingdonshire and elsewhere, there is a desperate need not just for the maintenance of existing jobs but for the physical creation of new jobs to reduce unemployment and to take up the increasing numbers who are leaving school and will be seeking jobs for the first time. In my constituency, for the reasons that I mentioned, the population has doubled since 1966, but the number of jobs has not doubled or anything like it. In many villages, where some right hon. and hon. Members may think there are no problems, there are no local jobs for the youngsters who have grown up there and left school. There is no local employment for them. Because of the maldistribution of the rate support grant, there is an inadequate level of rural transport. Even if they were able to get to any of the main centres of population in order to travel to London to find employment, the cost would be so high that they would be unable to afford it at the level of salaries they could command. […]

“There are some social elements in my right hon. and learned Friend’s speech which I welcome and wish to touch on briefly. The cash amount of the increase in retirement pensions will be generally welcomed in this House. I should like to mention the plight of many people who are retired. Since it affects many of my constituents who are retired, I am delighted to see the abolition of dividend control and the reduction of the investment income surcharge, particularly the extent of the reduction that has been made. The surcharge has always been utterly indefensible, by any practical logic, in a society that wishes to encourage investment and needs investment to provide jobs. It is grossly unfair that those who were sufficiently prudent during their lifetime to save should find themselves punitively taxed for saving and investing, as every Chancellor of every party has asked them to do so many times in recent years. […] Time after time in recent general elections, retirement pensioners in my constituency have said to me “Why on earth should we save? Why on earth should we invest? When we have saved and invested, our savings have been subjected to dividend control and we have then been punitively taxed on what was left.” […]

“I am grateful to the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for its traditional indulgence to a newcomer. I appreciate it, but I shall not expect it—and I imagine that I shall not receive it—on future occasions. Certainly with a background of politics in Brixton and Camden I am rather more used to a rowdy reception, and may perhaps feel happier with it in any event. In conclusion, I believe that in his Budget Statement yesterday my right hon. and learned Friend laid the foundations of a strategy for a wider and more profitable industrial and commercial base, provided that our policies are carried through for the period of this Parliament in the fashion that we expect. I hope that the Chancellor will continue his work and that he will find it possible—though it would certainly not be possible in this Parliament—to present as many Budgets as his predecessor did. As the years roll on I hope that he will be successful with those Budgets, and if he is I look forward to being in my place to support him.”

Tony Blair (1983, MP for Sedgefield). Subjects: Inequality; unemployment; the North; socialism.


“I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me this opportunity to make my maiden speech, especially on such an important Bill, as the new Member of Parliament for Sedgefield. I only hope that I can acquit myself as well as the hon. Members who have preceded me in this difficult task.

“Sedgefield is in county Durham, and having lived there for almost 20 years it was an especial honour for me to be chosen by the Labour party to contest the seat. Given the Labour party traditions of county Durham, my subsequent election with a good majority was hardly surprising, but it was no less pleasing to me for that. The constituency is remarkable for its variety and contrast. In the north-west is the large modern conurbation of Spennymoor, flanked by old mining villages, such as Chilton and Ferryhill. Turning east, one travels through more villages such as West Cornforth, Bishop Middleham, Trimdon Village, Trimdon Colliery and Fishburn, and still further east there are the villages of Wingate, Thornley, Wheatley Hill, Deaf Hill and Station Town. Although most of those villages share the common history of mining, they also have their own distinctive and separate character.

“Sedgefield town itself is at the crux of the constituency. It contains some new industry, the important hospital of Winterton and also has its prosperous residential parts. Travelling south from Sedgefield, one enters a different world altogether. One can tell that it is different because it is the place where the Social Democratic party ceases telling the people that it represents the Labour party of Attlee and Gaitskell and begins saying that it represents the Tory party of Butler and Macmillan. Its towns include Hurworth, Middleton St. George, Whessoe and Heighington. It is sometimes suggested by the fainthearted that Labour support is less than solid here, but I have great faith in the good sense of the people.

“This new Sedgefield constituency is made up of parts of several other constituencies, and I pay tribute to the hon. Members from those parts—my right hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) and my hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Mr. Dormand), for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) and for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes). I am grateful that they are all here as colleagues in this Parliament.

“Though new in 1983, Sedgefield as a constituency has in a sense only been in hibernation, as it existed as a constituency until 1974. Distinguished predecessors have represented Sedgefield, the last three being John Leslie from 1935 to 1950, Joe Slater from 1950 to 1970 and David Reed from 1970 to 1974. Their maiden speeches provide an interesting synopsis of south-west Durham’s history.

“In the 1930s, John Leslie spoke of the poverty of his constituents, particularly the mines. However, in 1950, Joe Slater, himself a miner, described a better world where under public ownership “the views of the miner are respected, and even acted upon, and that is how it ought to be” That was a speech of optimism. David Reed, who like me had the distinction of being the youngest member of the parliamentary Labour party, also spoke with some optimism. He pointed out that the mining pits had largely closed but said: “The influx of new industry into my constituency has shown a remarkable increase during the last five years” In my maiden speech, I would have hoped to continue the theme of progress and optimism, but it is with the profoundest regret and not a little anger that I must say frankly that I cannot do so.

“The speech most appropriate to my constituency now is not the speech made in 1970 or even the speech made in 1950, but the speech that John Leslie made in the 1930s. In that speech, he said: “Everyone will agree that it is nothing short of a tragedy that thousands of children are thrown on to the labour market every year with no possible propect of continuous employment, with the result that thousands drift into blind alley jobs and drift out again. They have no proper training, they feel that they are not wanted and the future seems hopeless.” That is tragically true for my constituency today. In the area of the Wingate employment exchange, which covers a very large part of the constituency, unemployment now stands at over 40 per cent. A large proportion of the unemployed are under 25 years of age. It is said with bitter irony that the only growth area in the constituency is the unemployment office. Those young people are not merely faced with a temporary inability to find work. For many, the dole queue is their first experience of adult life. For some, it will be their most significant experience. Without work, they do not merely suffer the indignity of enforced idleness — they wonder how they can afford to get married, to start a family, and to have access to all the benefits of society that they should be able to take for granted. Leisure is not something that they enjoy, but something that imprisons them.

“The Bill offers no comfort at all either to those people or to the vast majority of those of my constituents who are fortunate enough to be in work. Indeed. it adds the insult of inequality to the injury of poverty. It gives a further clutch of tax concessions to those who are already well off. Some 200,000 people are taken out of the higher rate bands, whereas only 10,000 come out of the poverty trap. That is a good illustration of the sense of priority shown in the Bill.

“When I say “well off” I mean very well off. It is not those who earn the average wage who have benefited from the Government’s fiscal policy, or even those who earn double the average. The only beneficiaries are those who earn more than three times the average. It is to that tiny and rarefied constituency that the Conservatives address themselves. […]

“You may wonder, Mr. Speaker, why, contrary to tradition, some maiden speeches have been controversial. Perhaps it is pertinent to ask in what sense they can be controversial, since the deprivation and unhappiness that afflict our constituencies seem beyond argument. What impels us to speak our minds is the sense of urgency. As I said, in the Wingate area, unemployment is over 40 per cent. A Government who are complacent or uncaring about a level of unemployment of over 40 per cent. are a Government who have abdicated their responsibility to govern. A Government who refuse to govern are unworthy of the name of Government. […]

“There is not a pit left in my constituency. In the 1960s and the early 1970s, new industry came to the constituency, but it often lacked strong roots. When the recession began to bite, many companies—particularly the multinationals — saw their northern outlets as the ones to be cut. Some still remain, including Thorns and Black and Decker, although both have suffered cutbacks. Carreras Rothman, also in Spennymoor, is one area of growth, but in general terms the picture is bleak. It should not be so, because any discerning observer can see the advantages that the area offers. There is a capable and willing work force. There are massive amounts of factory space let at low rents by a district council that, unlike central Government, is eager to assist economic growth. There is ready access by road, rail and air, and some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain. What Sedgefield and the north-east desperately need is a Government committed to marrying together the resources of the area—a Government committed to the north. […]

“I am a Socialist not through reading a textbook that has caught my intellectual fancy, nor through unthinking tradition, but because I believe that, at its best, Socialism corresponds most closely to an existence that is both rational and moral. It stands for co-operation, not confrontation; for fellowship, not fear. It stands for equality, not because it wants people to be the same but because only through equality in our economic circumstances can our individuality develop properly. British democracy rests ultimately on the shared perception by all the people that they participate in the benefits of the common weal. This Bill, with its celebration of inequality, is destructive of that perception. It is because of a fear that the Government seem indifferent to such considerations that I and my colleagues oppose the Bill and will continue to oppose it.”

Gordon Brown (1983, MP for Dunfermline East). Subjects: unemployment; poverty; public spending cuts; tax cuts.

Brown Gordon

“Having listened intently to the Front Bench speeches, I am grateful for this opportunity to make my first speech in this Chamber. As I represent a constituency in which there are now more men and women without a lasting job than there are people employed in manufacturing industries, and as one in seven of my constituents is dependent on means-tested benefit, it is appropriate that I should make my maiden speech in a debate on social security.

“I am conscious of the debt that I owe to my two colleagues and predecessors, my hon. Friends the Members for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), who have shared and so dutifully discharged to the people of Dunfermline, East the responsibilities that it is now my privilege to undertake. Relatively few new hon. Members can enjoy the company and support of their predecessor, especially on the Labour side. To few indeed is it given to enjoy the company and support of two, and especially two who share my view — the view of the Labour party — that the greatest threat to the ideals of individual freedom and personal responsibility that the present Government so stridently espouse, the grossest affront to human dignity and the gravest assault, on any view of social justice, is mass unemployment and its inevitable consequence, mass poverty.

“The people of Dunfermline, East know about unemployment and poverty. They live in a constituency which was once at the heart of the mining industry: 30,000 miners were employed in 66 pits in the county of Fife in 1913; 20,000 miners were employed in 33 pits even in 1947; yet today there is not one pit in my constituency, and only six in the county of Fife.

“However, the people of Dunfermline, East know also that, as the older industries have declined, the newer industries—petrochemicals, electronics and computers—have not yielded the jobs that were promised or expected, so much so that the official figure for unemployment in my constituency is now no fewer than 4,000 people, a figure which obscures a larger truth, as hon. Members are well aware; there are nearly 6,000 men, women and teenagers without a lasting job worthy of the name. […]

“It was almost by accident that I discovered the true but unpublished figures of the number of claimants of supplementary benefit in my constituency. Last month there were 3,300 claims in Cowdenbeath and 4,500 in the Dunfermline area. That means that no fewer than 15,000 men, women and children in the Cowdenbeath and Dunfermline areas depend on means-tested benefits for their livelihoods. In five years the numbers of those claiming benefits as a result of unemployment have doubled.

“The statistics for Scotland as a whole reflect this trend. In 1979, 405,000 people were dependent on supplementary benefit. There are now 750,000 men, women and children depending entirely on means-tested benefits—one in seven of the population of Scotland. Even these figures underestimate the extent of poverty in Scotland. If we include the low-paid and their families and those who could but do not claim, including an estimated 3,000 pensioners in my constituency, the number of people living at or below the Government’s poverty line in Scotland is more than 1 million—one in five of the population.

“I do not know how Conservative Members can tell pensioners in their constituencies or in mine that they can purchase, even after the November uprating, sufficient basic necessities on incomes of less than £5 a day. I shall have to return to Fife to tell my constituents that the £1.20 that pensioner couples were expecting has been withdrawn, because the Government have cynically chosen to change the basis of the uprating precisely at a time, when, as prices start to rise, pensioners will be most penalised.

“I will also have to tell the unemployed with families of four that they are expected to live on incomes of £59.20 a week. This is all because the Government’s philosophy is that the rich must get richer by way of tax cuts and that the poor must become poorer to ensure true prosperity. Perhaps Conservative Members are not aware that supplementary benefit for the unemployed, when set against average earnings, is now at a lower level than the national assistance board rates of 1948. Perhaps they are not aware also that the level is now dwindling to the poor law rates of the 1930s. If we are to believe the statements made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in recent weeks, it is his intention to push these rates down even further. […]

“The debate about the so-called unemployed trap, and the so-called incentives that it is claimed will be needed to get the unemployed back to work, is designed to obscure what everyone knows. If there are no jobs, no amount of poverty and no degree of destitution will create jobs where none exist. The chance of a labourer getting a job in my constituency is 150 to one against. There is only one vacancy in the local careers office for nearly 500 teenagers who have recently left school and who are seeking jobs. […]

“Where are the jobs that the Chancellor, a member of a Government who say that incentives are needed to get people back to work, is talking about? When pressed on this matter in the 1930s, one new Tory Member representing a Scottish constituency told the unemployed miners in the upper wards of Lanarkshire that there were plenty of jobs for them in London as domestic servants. Perhaps the Minister for Social Security has an answer to the conundrum. Does he still believe what he wrote in “Centre Forward” in 1978? Does he still believe that there are plenty of jobs around for the unemployed as window cleaners? He wrote: “I shall believe that there is a shortage of jobs when two window cleaners call for my custom in one week, one month or one year.” Perhaps the Government’s answer to mass unemployment is for Britain to become a nation of window cleaners. In the same book, “Centre Forward”, the Minister wrote that, to become a window cleaner, “little equipment is needed—a bucket, a leather or two and a ladder.” When the Prime Minister talked regularly during the election about ladders of opportunity, I had not realised that the next Conservative Government would have something quite so specific in mind. […]

“The House was told in 1948 that the welfare state was created to take the shame out of need. Is that principle to be overthrown by an ever increasing set of Government assaults on the poor that are devoid of all logic, bereft of all morality and vindictive even beyond monetarism?”

David Cameron (2001, MP for Witney). Subjects: Parliamentary scrutiny; hospitals; housing.

Cameron 1992

“I am pleased to follow the maiden speeches of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann Mckechin) and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke). Both spoke movingly and amusingly about their constituencies. I am glad that the hon. Member for Dundee, East is a true blue in the sense that he supports Dundee. It is our role to turn him blue in other ways; I look forward to trying to do that. I am delighted to make my maiden speech in a debate on our procedures. I have worked in two Departments—the Treasury and the Home Office—as a special adviser, and I was therefore one of the bad guys, always in a rush to get legislation through the House in order to prove that the Executive were delivering their programme. However, experience shows that too many Bills are passed too quickly, often with too little scrutiny and to little concrete effect. I have therefore enjoyed listening to the debate on the Government’s suggestion for improving matters. I remain sceptical about their solution. […]

“It is a privilege and an honour to represent the constituency of Witney and the people of west Oxfordshire. Witney is a seat rich in history and blessed with some of England’s most stunning towns, villages, buildings and countryside. It stretches from the market town of Chipping Norton in the north to the banks of the Thames in the south, and includes the thriving market towns of Witney, Carterton, Woodstock, Burford and Eynsham.

“The western boundary is Oxfordshire’s county boundary and includes Cotswold villages of great beauty such as Taynton and Idbury. To the east, the seat stretches towards Oxford’s city limits, taking in Begbroke and Yarnton. There are 115 villages and settlements in valleys and plains watered by the Dorn, the Glyme, the Evenlode and the Windrush.

“Burford was home to one of our great Speakers, William Lenthall, who stood up so clearly for the independence of the House and his office. West Oxfordshire can also boast of great statesmen. It contains the birth and burial places of Winston Churchill—Blenheim and Bladon. We have great generals, such as John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, who was rewarded with Blenheim palace for his victories in the war of the Spanish succession. As we, on the Conservative Benches, settle our own issue of succession—Spanish or otherwise—I hope that our battles are shorter and slightly less bloody.

“West Oxfordshire’s political history extends to all traditions. The Levellers, who are now regarded as heroic early socialists, rebelled during the civil war because they believed that their leader, Cromwell, had betrayed the principles for which they fought. I am sure that Labour Members who might sometimes feel the same way do not need reminding that the leaders of that rebellion were rounded up and shot in Burford’s churchyard. William Morris, the socialist visionary, lived and is buried at Kelmscott manor in my constituency, and I have no hesitation in urging all hon. Members to visit that beautiful village on the banks of the Thames which time seems to have passed by. […]

“Under its beautiful and serene exterior, west Oxfordshire faces important issues and problems. Rural poverty has been exacerbated by foot and mouth. The decline of local services, emphasised by the tragic closure of Burford hospital during the last Parliament, has angered local people. We still have cottage hospitals in Witney and Chipping Norton, which I strongly support. […]

“In Witney, there is huge pressure on housing and great concern that the Government’s top-down housing targets will mean building on greenfield sites and wrecking the countryside that we love. That is another issue of great local importance. The theme of how we make and scrutinise decisions runs through today’s debate. I wanted to be elected to the House because I believe in what it stands for and what it can do to hold Governments to account, air grievances and raise issues that people in west Oxfordshire care about. I also wanted to be elected because, through action here, one can get things done.

“I shall support all the efforts being made to restore the House as the cockpit of debate, and the place where policies are announced, debated and decided and where the Government are scrutinised and challenged, whether on the Floor of the Chamber or through strengthened, independent Select Committees. I cannot see how deciding in advance how much time should be given to a Bill and systematic guillotining can help in that regard, but I am a new boy and I am listening to the arguments.

“The beauties of west Oxfordshire of which I have spoken—the glorious view from the top of Burford high street and Pope’s tower in Stanton Harcourt—sum up for many people what they feel about their British identity. I know that we shall always be able to treasure that identity, whether it rests on those feelings or on something else, but what matters just as much as our identity is our self-determination, and our ability to make decisions as a nation and to question and challenge them properly in this place. The ability to continue doing so rests in our own hands. It is a privilege that I shall try to preserve while serving the kind and generous people of west Oxfordshire.”