Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

25 Years as an MP



1982-2007 Celebrating 25 years as MP for Camberwell and Peckham

This year I will celebrate being MP for Camberwell and Peckham for 25 years. It is a privilege being an MP and I am proud to represent in Parliament such a diverse and thriving part of South London.

Below is my  maiden speech which I made to the House of Commons on 5th November 1982.

Ms Harman Harriet (Peckham):

I know that hon. Members sadly miss Harry Lanborn, who died this summer. It is a great privilege to represent the people of Peckham, but I regret that I have come here as a result of a by-election following Harry Lanborn’s death. I should have preferred to come here after a general election, knowing that he and his wife Lil were enjoying a well earned retirement. Harry will be long remembered in Peckham not only for the 10 years which he served as the Member of Parliament but for the many years before that when he was a Southwark Councillor. His contribution to the area is warmly remembered and he will be sadly missed.

Peckham is not fairing well under the Government’s policies. Since 1979 unemployment has more than doubled and more than 80 young people chase each job at the Peckham careers office. More than 9,000 families are on the housing waiting list, at a time when more than 1,000 skilled building workers are on the dole and the council owns land on which it would build but for the fact the Government cuts have almost put an end to new council buildings.

For those in council homes–nearly 80 per cent. of homes in Southwark are rented from the council–the Government have forced up rents and plan to do so again. Under the Government’s housing policy, the home owner in Chelsea receives nearly twice as much public subsidy as the council tenant in Peckham. Despite the fact that rents are increasing, repairs take much longer because of cuts in the budget for major maintenance. I am not talking simply about a lick of paint; I am talking about major maintenance and vital repairs. Living standards for those in work are falling.

I wish to mention the case of one constituent. I should not call her a “case” but, unfortunately, she is a welfare case. She works a six day week for 47½ hours in the catering department at St. Thomas’s hospital. She receives only £58 take-home pay and her rent is £45 a week. That is why she is a welfare case. It is a scandal that someone who works so hard in the public service must fight her way through a web of rent and rate rebates just to be able to live. For the increasing number of those who are out of work, living standards are failing even faster and their lot is to stand around on street corners with nothing to do.

Vital public services have been hit badly. Southwark council can provide only about 500 nursery places for the borough’s 13,500 under-fives. Even when the Inner London Education Authority has the money to build schools and provide nursery places it is not allowed to do so. The Government prevent ILEA from providing more nursery places.

The Government are directly responsible for something which people in Peckham are extremely concerned about, and that is the increase in crime. We do not know very much about the causes of crime, but we do know that as a youth unemployment increases so juvenile crime increases. Therefore, the Government’s responsibility for directly increasing unemployment, especially among young people, gives them a direct responsibility for the increase in juvenile crime. This is not to excuse crime, but if we are to solve the problem we must understand its causes and tackle them.

We know also-Government reports have borne this out–that dark corners of rundown ill-lit estates attract muggers and vandalism. The Government’s cuts in housing have a direct effect on crime in our inner cities.

Increasing the powers of the police, especially their powers randomly to stop and search-it seems that what the Government will be providing in the police Bill will amount to random stop and search-will do nothing to attack the causes of crime.

However, what it will do-and we know this to be so- is to strain further the relations between the police and the public. It will alienate further the police from the public they are supposed to serve and make it harder for the police to do their job. If the relationship between the police and the police, they should bring London’s police under the control of the locally and democratically elected people. Statutory consultation will not do. The police will consult, but having done so they can and will be able to go their own way.

The effect of Government policies on Peckham is no accident. It is not the effect of the mismanagement of a Government who have got their sums wrong but the politics of inequality. There is no need for the tragic waste of talent of the young person in Peckham who would make an excellent electrician or carpenter but who cannot find an apprenticeship, let alone a job. There is no need for people to remain homeless while building workers are on the dole and while land becomes a blight because it is empty and becomes an eyesore. There is no need for pensioners to go to bed halfway through the afternoon as the winter approaches because they cannot afford to pay their heating bills, let alone the standing changes. There is no need for young mothers to become depressed as they struggle to bring up children in small flats with no nursery facilities and no play facilities in the area.

There is no need for any of that because we are a wealthy nation. We are rich in oil and natural gas and rich in the skills of the work force. But we must plan to use this wealth to put people back to work, to build homes and hospitals and to provide the schools and services that millions need. We must increase the wages of the low paid to stop the gulf of inequality that is opening up and to put spending power back in people’s pockets to regenerate the economy.

During the recent by-election some reports painted Peckham as little better than a dump. It is not a dump, and such reports and such descriptions have been deeply offensive to the people of Peckham, who are struggling to make their area a decent place in which to live, to work and to bring up their children. This Government are making that struggle much harder.

The Government have taken to talking about “the inner city problem”. They point to places such as Peckham and talk about “this problem”. That is completely the wrong way round. The Government do not have an inner city problem; but the inner cities have a Government problem. It is not the people of Peckham who are the problem. The problem lies with those on the Government Benches who are deciding Government policies. It is about time that we stopped criticising the inner city areas and started criticising the Government.

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