Maiden Speech


Maiden speech
House of Commons

3 April 1979

Mr David Alton – In rising to speak I am conscious of the fact that this is the closing moment of this Parliament. That brings to mind two matters. Earlier we heard the final contribution in this House of the right hon Member for Blackburn Mrs Castle while today sees my first contribution to this Parliament. I know there is a convention that hon Members congratulate new hon Members on maiden speeches. I believe that it is right that a new hon Member should congratulate the right hon Lady for the work that she has put into her movement in fighting for ordinary people.I am also deeply conscious that I enter a House that has been recently bathed in sorrow mourning the death of a man brutally murdered in an act of cowardice and terrorism. I am conscious coming from the great city of Liverpool that there has been a great deal of religious strife in our city over the years. There has been great sectarianism and the city has been divided on religious lines.

I am pleased to say that sectarianism in Liverpool has been conquered. In 1972 when I became a member of the city council there was still a Protestant party fighting under the label. That is no longer the case. Is the Liberal Party has achieved anything in the city of Liverpool it is the breaking down of barriers and bringing together people of all colours and creeds, classes and sexes. We have broken away from the bigotry and prejudice that once existed.

I am sure that our philosophy of including people is required in Northern Ireland today. The bullet can never replace the ballot in a free society.

Hon Members will recall my predecessor Sir Arthur Irvine who had serve the Edge Hill Constituency since 1947, having been elected at a by election. He was always most courteous to me. Many constituents have spoken of the warmth he showed them. Like the right hon member for Huyton Sir H Wilson he started in the Liberal Party and although he later replaced the big L for a small l he never forgot the fundamental principles of Liberalism.

Over those 30 years my consistency has suffered the same basic problems as the rest of the country. One of those problems has been accentuated. A year ago I came to the House of Commons with a delegation of local council representatives to meet the Prime Minister. We warned then that the employment situation on Merseyside was becoming desperate. I am sad to report that since that meeting a further 8000 jobs have been lost in manufacturing industries and that, in the first quarter of this year alone a further 3000 jobs in the manufacturing industry have been axed. This means for people employed in companies such as Plessey and Dunlop the agony of the dole queue.

When the new Government are formed I hope that one of the first acts of the new Chancellor, the new Secretary of State for Employment and the new Secretary of State for the Environment will be to get together and begin a week of action. For one week alone, those ministers should drop everything else and make a concerted effort to tackle the problems of Merseyside conurbation. In order to create industrial growth on Merseyside, we must reclaim derelict land. There are 250 acres of derelict land in our South docks. Existing land within the city boundaries will have been exhausted by the end of this year. We desperately need an input from the Government to ensure that this land can be out to good use.

I also believe that the new Government must take measures to ensure that a fair system is installed into industry. Until we introduce a fair system we shall never create wealth. Unless we create wealth we shall never create more work.

I also come to this House as chairman of the city housing committee. It would be wrong for me to pass without making mention of the housing problems. In Liverpool many homes are without inside toilets and bathrooms. On large council estates there are tenants who have not got security of tenure and rights imposed to them at the outset of this Parliament.

Throughout the country as a whole there are still 250000 acres of derelict land within our cities – enough to build nine new major cities. It came as a body blow to us to read circular 50/70 which threatened the whole basis of our home ownership policies in the city of Liverpool. This was a retrograde step. I hope that the Secretary of State for the Environment will think again, withdraw this circular and give people the opportunity of a stake in their community, as we believe in a stake at work through industrial participation. It would be a stake in their own community through home ownership.

In the past few years this House has spent a great deal of time discussing devolution to Scotland and Wales. Perhaps the finest sort of home rule is rule over ones home. I have sad news for members of the Tory Party who might cheer me when I say I believe in home ownership. I do not refer only to people living in council houses. Home rule should also apply to people living in private accommodation owned by private landlords who have refused to give basic amnesties such as inside toilets and bathrooms.

The time must come when this House turns its attention to the finances of housing. It is the economics of the madhouse that it costs £150 000 over a 60 year borrowing period to build one three bedroomed council house. We must also increase improvement grants to ensure that people can get 80 per cent grants. It is crazy that men in the construction industry should be idle and unable to use their skills. It would be far better if they were able to improve homes and provide people with decent places in which to live rather than standing idle in the dole queues. Thos people should be out o good use. Incentives should be offered thorough 80 per cent improvement grants for all people in housing action areas and for all in full grant areas.

This House should also turn its attention to the problems of protecting our community. When people are frightened to walk on the streets in many major conurbations we need to look again at the way in which we run our system of law and order. We need to see more policemen back on the beat walking around their own local communities and small local police stations should be established. It was a retrograde step to close small police stations and leave communities without proper police protection.

Also on the subject of smallness, we should look again at our schools policy. I was concerned last Friday the day after the Edge Hill by election to read that the Secretary of State for Education and Science had decided that she would determine her proposals for the reorganisation of schools in Liverpool. I was amazed that the right hon Lady should have waited until the day after the by election to annoiunce3 her plans and that in the dying breaths of this Parliament she would decide on the future of many children in Edge Hill.

If local Labour Party proposals go through they will sound the death knell of many of our local small local non-selective schools. Arbitrarily children will be herded off to a school built as a result of Labour Party dogma for 2000 children but with only 400 in it at present. It would be an act of incredible folly to ignore the wished of parents who have chosen schools for their children.

We should also look at the way in which we use our resources. I plead with the House and with the Secretaries of States for the Environment and for Transport to reconsider their proposals for the extension of the urban link of the M62 motorway and the construction of the inner ring road. If the inner ring road goes ahead it will cost £40million in capital expenditure and £1 million a year in interest charges for the next 40 years. That is too much of a burden to expect local people in Merseyside to pay for a road which most Merseyside politicians agree is not needed.

If one cannot afford the blankets on the bed, one does not have the piano French polished. If priorities are about priorities surely it means putting first things first and dealing with basic amenities and services – not spending money on grandiose pie in the sky dreams which will become taxpayers nightmares.

Five days ago the people of Edge Hill decided to reject the old ways. They gave a massive thumbs down sign to both the other parties. I believe that that happened because people are frustrated and cynical about the way in which politicians have let them down. People of my generation are angry about the way in which the establishment parties have forgotten what service means and have forgotten about the way in which people should see and hear from their elected representatives.

Although it may sound arrogant for me to come here and say these things hon Members will appreciate that there will not be much time in the present Session for me to say much more on this subject. I am confident that in the election to come not only will Liverpool lead the way as it has done so often but Liberals will lead the way under the leadership of my right hon Friend the Member for Roxburgh Selkirk and Peebles Mr Steel. I hope that I shall return to this Bench so that I may make more speeches in future. I also hope that there will be many more Liberals with me.