Orders of the Day — Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation
Mr Stephen Hesford (Wirral West, Labour)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to speak in what I and many hon. Members consider to be a historic Budget debate.
There are three reasons why I am pleased to make my maiden speech on this historic occasion. It is the first Labour Budget to be presented to the House since 1979. As other hon. Members have said, many in the House and outside consider it to be the people's Budget—the Budget that the people wanted my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to implement as soon as possible. It is also an historic occasion for me to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I have no hesitation in welcoming my right hon. Friend's Budget, and nor do my constituents in Wirral, West whom I have the honour of serving.
Before moving on to the formal part of my speech, consistent with the pleasurable traditions surrounding a maiden speech, I should like briefly to touch on why I believe the Budget will be good for the country and good for the people of Wirral, West.
There are 18,000 elderly people in my constituency—good and decent people, many of whom live in the pleasant seaside towns of West Kirby, Hoylake and Meols. They will welcome the measures to reduce VAT on domestic fuel and the extra money that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has found for the health service. I know that those and other measures will go a long way to allay the fears of pensioners across my constituency. I spoke to many of them during the election campaign, and they told me just that.
In the town of Greasby, which is inland and central to my constituency, as well as in the areas of Irby and Pensby, many hard-working families with children at school will welcome the new money earmarked for education by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
On the eastern edge of my constituency, which borders on the constituency of the Minister for Welfare Reform, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), my constituents in Upton and Prenton and especially those on the Woodchurch estate, where during the election campaign people were kind enough to give me the warmest of receptions, will welcome the welfare-to-work measures, which will provide real opportunities for jobs and real training for the many hundreds of young people who have been out of work for more than six months.
Moreover, the measures to which I have just referred will go a long way towards dealing with and repairing the damage done to the body politic by the former Government. What this Government and what Labour Members are willing to say and promise, they are also willing to carry out.
Convention directs that I now mention my predecessors, and I do so gladly. Indeed, I would do so even if convention did not direct me in that way. I have the honour of succeeding the right hon. David Hunt MBE. Before him, the seat—Wirral as it was then—was held by a former occupant of the Chair, the late Lord Selwyn-Lloyd.
I have had the considerable benefit of being able to read the maiden speeches of both my predecessors, and on the face of it certain traditions appear to have been formed by them. I should like briefly to outline some of those traditions. First, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, while Speaker, had the reputation of answering his constituency correspondence by return of post.
Secondly, both my predecessors made their maiden speeches while in opposition and, as was consistent with those former times which are sometimes difficult to recall, they welcomed the proposals being put forward by the then Labour Government in a constructive manner. I wish and hope—although I do not necessarily expect to be repaid for it—that Conservative Members would reintroduce that tradition of constructively welcoming proposals when they are good for the country, although I have not heard any of that in my short time in this honourable place.
Thirdly, the right hon. David Hunt made his maiden speech during the 1976 Budget debate. To emphasis the point that I have just made, he welcomed many measures before the House in that speech, especially in relation to job creation and training. Both my predecessors represented the constituency for many years—31 years and 21 years, respectively.
I should be delighted to try to continue some of those traditions. I shall endeavour to answer my constituents' correspondence by return of post. I am only too happy to welcome the measures put forward by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on behalf of the Government, but by way of difference from my predecessors, I am pleased to be able to do so from the Government side of the House. I hope that I am not tempting providence as a new Member, but I am also willing to represent Wirral, West for many years to come. I also realise that, in my own small way, I may have started a tradition of my own: I am the first Labour Member for Wirral, West. Again, I hope that I am not tempting providence, but I hope that that will continue for many years to come.
David Hunt was and is widely respected and liked inside and outside the House. He was known in the constituency as a courteous and diligent Member of Parliament. He was and is a one-nation Tory. His career is well known to many hon. Members, and it would be remiss of me not to remind the House of the many important ministerial pasts that he held, culminating in a well deserved place in the Cabinet in the important position of Secretary of State for Wales.
On a personal note, no victorious candidate can ever have been blessed with a more gracious person in defeat than I was with David Hunt. He has been most kind, and continues to be so, and I should like my thanks to him for that to go on record.
I should like to make one brief observation on the welfare-to-work proposals which were so clearly set out yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow), who made an excellent maiden speech on behalf of his constituency, has already made mention of the minimum wage, but I should also like to do so. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear that that proposal underpins the challenge to get 250,000 young people back to work. The need for that proposal is well understood across my constituency and across the age range.
If I may, I should like to cite one anecdote from just before the election campaign. During a particularly cold February, I and my colleagues in the constituency petitioned on the question of a minimum wage. More than 1,300 people supported the principle of a minimum wage by signing that petition. Sadly, when it was sent it to the relevant Department, it was ignored.
What struck me most forcefully on the streets of Hoylake, West Kirby, Pensby, Upton and Prenton was that people knew about the minimum wage. They well understood the principles behind it and the need for it. I therefore beg to differ from Opposition Members when I say that people in my constituency do not believe that the minimum wage will have the job-negative effect claimed.
The new jobs that will be created under Labour's welfare-to-work scheme must not be under Burger-King conditions. In addition to helping the young people to whom I have referred, a minimum wage will assist about 6,000 people—mainly women part-time workers—who currently earn, disgracefully and unacceptably, less than £2.50 an hour.
I shall conclude on that note, as I hope to speak in the debate which I understand that we are to have later in the year on the minimum wage, when I hope to put other arguments before the House. I beg to support the Chancellor's Budget statement.