Mike's maiden speech

Mike Gapes made his maiden speech made in the House of Commons on Friday 8th May 1992. 


Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. You are new to your post and I am new to the House. As a new Member, I was given advice by some of my colleagues. Some people said, "You should try to be non-controversial, but then you risk being boring." Other people said, "You should try to be controversial, but then you risk being interrupted." I hope that I shall strike a balance-- perhaps I shall be both boring and interrupted.

I succeed a Member, Neil Thorne, who served the House for 13 years and had a reputation among his constituents of dealing diligently with their problems. He is bitterly disappointed at his defeat, and I arrive as someone who never expected to be elected in such circumstances. Throughout its history, the constituency of Ilford, South has normally followed the national trend. There have been only two occasions since 1945 when the constituency has had a Member of Parliament different from the Government. In 1950-51 and 1964-66, it had a Conservative Member of Parliament under a Labour Government. I am the first Labour Member of Parliament for Ilford, South to serve under a Conservative Government. My constituency is an Essex constituency. I was born in Essex and I am a man of Essex. We are not all Thatcherites or Tories in Essex--there are many Labour Essex men and women. In my constituency there was a swing to the Labour party of 5.9 per cent., three times the national average and twice the London average. That happened because we fought on the policies that the Labour party fought on nationally--on transport, health and education, and unemployment. We fought consistently and firmly, and we won.

I therefore do not believe that some of the explanations for Labour's defeat are necessarily valid. Sweeping generalisations do not take account of different results in defferent constituencies. I want to say a word about another predecessor of mine. In 1974, when I was still a student, I worked through the summer trying to get postal votes on the Becontree estate in Goodmayes, one of the wards in my constituency, on behalf of the Labour Member of Parliament, Arnold Shaw, who had been the Member from 1966 to 1970. He was re-elected in February 1974, and I helped him to get an increased majority in the October 1974 election.

Arnold Shaw worked hard on a number of issues. He was a firm opponent of racism and was firmly in favour of stopping all cruelty to animals. If I can follow in his footsteps, in those two areas I will be a worthy successor to him.
Mine is a London constituency in Essex. Ilford expanded 100 years ago because of the coming of the railways. Now 40 per cent. of its people commute into central London, travelling from Seven Kings and Ilford to Liverpool Street or on the Central line from Newbury Park and Gants Hill to the centre of London. Alternatively, they have to try to drive down the Romford Road or go along the appalling A13 through the chicane around Canning Town.

It is appallingly difficult for anyone living in east London to travel into central London to work. East London is the neglected part of this city. It is the area with the highest unemployment, and it has suffered from a lack of investment. It also suffers greatly from the fact that we have no strategic Greater London authority to provide planning and environmental measures to help our community. Ilford would greatly benefit from such a body.

We would also benefit from the end of the recession and the ending of unemployment which has resulted in one in nine of my constituents being out of work. We lost half our manufacturing industry in the late 1980s. A vivid example of that occurred last week, when the Plessey factory in Ilford started being knocked down. It has been disused and empty for some time-- since even before the defence cuts under "Options for Change". Plessey was symbolic to Ilford, but the jobs disappeared a long time ago, and now the factory is just rubble. We need to ensure that the same fate does not overtake other defence industry workers and defence establishments, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said earlier. My constituency is a mixed one. East London and Ilford have often received immigrants and refugees from other parts of the world and we have Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and many others from various parts of the world. We also have a large Irish Catholic community and people from the Caribbean and Africa. We all live in harmony. Although there are difficult international questions--the one over Kashmir being a case in point, events in the middle east being another--there is harmony in our community. It is a bit ironic to note that if the grandparents of some people in Ilford tried to seek asylum in this country today, they would suffer fingerprinting, restrictions, fines on air carriers and, potentially, the inability to seek asylum if the Bill introduced before the election is reintroduced.

We need a sense of history and perspective. The ancestors of many hon. Members sought refuge in this country from oppression, exploitation and discrimination. However, the Government and the European Community by some of its proposals seek to erect barriers against people in other countries who are in danger and in fear. I do not accept that, and more should be said about it.

I mentioned the middle east. In that context, I disagree with the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), because one can draw some hope from the talks process initiated by the United States. That process will be greatly assisted and accelerated if the Labour party wins the election in Israel in June and if there can be greater

involvement by European Community countries, including Britain. It is a shame that there are not similar processes in other areas of the world, because Kashmir, for example, would benefit from dialogue and negotiations between the parties in that dispute.
I was struck by the Prime Minister's words on Wednesday. He said : "Increasingly, countries that join the European Community will also join the Western European Union, as the European pillar of a common defence effort ; but, if the need ever again arose, it would be through NATO that the members of the WEU would defend themselves. Any European country joining the WEU will still look to NATO--including the American presence in Europe--for its defence."--[ Official Report, 6 May 1992 ; Vol. 207, c. 73.]

That is fine, but then I read the Maastricht treaty. Article J.4 states :

"The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence."

That is a far stronger statement than the one by the Prime Minister, and it is not qualified.

The wording in the Queen's Speech is different again, and does not seem to accord with what the Prime Minister said or with the Maastricht treaty. It states that the Government

"will aim to develop the Western European Union as a means of strengthening the European pillar of the alliance and the defence component of the European Union."

That mentions a "defence component" and not common defence, which is a much stronger term than simply "component".

It is time for the Government to come clean. Do they favour a continuation of the Atlantic Alliance, or do they favour a Western European Union military alliance? They cannot have both, because as anyone who has had discussions with the French socialist Government or with people in other European countries knows, ultimately one must make a choice.

So far, the Government have refused clearly to spell out their aims. What will be their stand on integrated European forces? What view will they take on British and French nuclear weapons, and where will ultimate authority for them lie? Nowhere in the Queen's Speech or in the debate have we had an answer to those questions, and we deserve answers.

Although there is a reference in the Gracious Speech to the Government working

"for a comprehensive and verifiable ban on chemical weapons, to prevent the proliferation of biological weapons and other weapons of mass destruction",

it is regrettable that there is no reference to a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. How can the Government expect other countries to strengthen the non-proliferation treaty and to preserve it after 1995 if they are not prepared to act in good faith, in accordance with article 6, to secure further measures of nuclear disarmament?

There is a great window of opportunity. Both Russia and France, for different reasons, have placed a moratorium on nuclear testing. Why is Britain not joining them, and persuading China and the United States to follow suit? There would then be the possibility of a global ban on nuclear testing. There is a great opportunity ; it will be tragic if it is lost and the French moratorium comes to an end. I hope to make further contributions to debates in this place. I shall not confine myself to foreign affairs matters.

I understood that it would be appropriate to do so today, however, and I appreciate the opportunity that the House has given me.

Hansard source

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