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Laura Delaney - Maiden Speech - 1983
8 September 1983 - Response to Ministerial Statement on the Privatisation of Certain NHS Services

Mr Speaker,

I rise this afternoon for the first time in this House as the Member for Stratford-on-Avon. It has been a humbling few months since I first received the nomination of the constituency association, and I have greatly enjoyed the process of meeting with a far more diverse and numerous set of constituents than I had the privilege to interact with in my life as a councillor for Eddington, Stratford.

While I may be new to this House, I am no stranger to the political world, having attended debates my father, the late Viscount Sutcliffe, participated in in the Other Chamber, and I have always believed that Westminster--whatever its faults or public complaints--remains the greatest deliberative body in the world. The decisions this House and the Other Place have taken over the centuries have changed the course of history, virtually all for the better. It was, after all, in this Parliament that the decision to fight against the greatest of all evils, fascism and Nazism, was first taken, and it is where we strive to live up to the record of our illustrious forebears.

One of those illustrious forebears is a man who I am honoured to have succeeded as a Member of Parliament. Sir Angus Maude served the people of Stratford with the full force of his voice and his nature as a man for over two decades. In that time, he garnered a reputation as one of the most forceful and passionate defenders of the people he represented, and of the greater Conservative cause. Indeed, his nature was seen as so brusque and powerful, that he was awarded a sobriquet that he wore as a badge of honour: the Mekon. But beyond his work for the people of Stratford, he was a key member of Cabinet under my Rt Hon friend the Prime Minister in this Government's first term in office, and she on numerous occasions has paid tribute to his firm Conservative beliefs, and to his wit and levity when the circumstances call for a break in the tension. Indeed, I have been privileged to share a few witty bon mots with the man himself in preparation for taking this seat in the House of Commons.

Sir Angus, like I, has a great passion for Stratford's native son, William Shakespeare. And I can think of no greater tribute to my predecessor than to say that he has lived and breathed the words of Polonius in Act I, Scene 3 of Hamlet: 'This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.' Mr Speaker, Sir Angus was and is always true to himself and his principles, and I can only hope that one day in the future, when my own successor rises to speak as Member for Stratford-on-Avon, they might think me worthy of even a sliver of the respect and place of honour I hold for my friend, Sir Angus Maude.

Mr Speaker, as I stated, I am a devoted student of the Bard, and firmly believe that there is little in British life, or especially British politics, which cannot be related back to this greatest author in human history. Shakespeare was a proud native of Stratford, and it is where he did some of his greatest writing and composition, and was the home to which he returned over and over again throughout his all-too-short life. Visitors to Stratford can see many of the sites which the man himself would have observed throughout his time in our humble town, many of them seemingly unchanged since the Bard slipped into eternity when James I still reigned as King of England and Scotland in separate legal form. My, how he would be surprised at how the world has changed since he walked the earth.

But Shakespeare was no mere reactionary, someone who believed that the past should be static. Rather, he saw the world as an endless tableau upon which words and deeds were written by men, and women. 'All the world's a stage, and the men and women merely players" he wrote in As You Like It. 'They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.' How true those words remain, nearly four centuries since they were handed down to us at the Globe Theatre, the site of which is not far from where we today debate the laws which govern our great nation.

If we accept it as true that we are but merely players upon the great stage of history and politics, then I must pay great tribute to one of our leading players, the Rt Hon the Member for Sutton Coldfield, the Secretary of State for Social Services. Earlier today, he announced to this House that he had elected to change the script which we all act out as members of the British Company of Players, specifically as it relates to the National Health Service. Now, I know many in this House treat the NHS as if it were the most sacred cow, immune to any touch or change from any Government, regardless of its makeup. But my Rt Hon friend understands well that if the NHS is to survive, and if the books of the British people are to be kept balanced, then measures of reform are necessary, and it is one such measure that he has undertaken in his statement today.

The privatisation of allied services utilized by the NHS, including catering and meal-making, as well as the laundry services which enable any hospital to function and control the spread of disease, is one of the most impressive reforms to the NHS that I have seen in my years as a member of the Conservative Party and political activist. My Rt Hon friend has taken a step to trim the fat from the NHS budget, and pass the savings on to the British taxpayer--to the tune of some £180 million per year.

Let me emphasize that point: £180 million per year will be saved simply by allowing private businesses to compete for contracts to provide the NHS with basic sanitary and culinary services. More than a billion pounds saved in a decade means more money that this government can use to reduce the burden of taxation on the average Briton, less money we have to borrow on the lending markets or from foreign powers, and more money being back in the hands of the people who need it most. But above all, this policy--this seemingly simple change in how we supply the NHS with some of the support services it requires--will change our workforce.

By contracting out support services to private businesses, we will be empowering entrepreneurs large and small to take on contracts with their local hospital, with clinics, and with other health service professionals, which in turn will enable them to hire more workers and further reduce the rate of unemployment which this government is keenly aware must be reduced--by the private and not by the public sector. Instead of money being lost to administrative graft and labour union greed, the savings will be felt by the average Briton, and hundreds, if not thousands, of people who want to work will be able to secure gainful employment in firms that provide these services to the NHS.

Doubtless, my Rt Hon friend will have his naysayers in this House and in other forums across this country. But a wise old man from Stratford had words for dealing with naysayers. 'Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt,' wrote Shakespeare in Measure for Measure. Let us not be held back by our doubts which say that to even utter the word 'private' in relation to the NHS is somehow the equivalent of uttering a filthy four-letter word. Let us instead embrace 'the good we oft might win' by supporting the Rt Hon Member for Sutton Coldfield in his endeavour to expand our economy, make our NHS more efficient, and provide opportunities for Britons who want good, honest work for good, honest pay.
Rt Hon Laura Delaney MP
Secretary of State for Defence (1994-)

Secretary of State for the Union (1994-)
Member for Stratford-on-Avon (1983-)

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