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Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I am sure that my constituents will be pleased that the Prime Minister, the Government and the entire parliamentary Labour party have attended tonight to listen to this petition from the supporters of the Sir Charles Dilke memorial hospital. Sir Charles Dilke was, of course, a former Member of this House for the Forest of Dean constituency.
Declares that the Petitioners object to proposals to move the Sir Charles Dilke Memorial Hospital from its present site. The Petitioners further declare that the present Hospital should be extended and improved.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to take immediate steps to ensure that the Sir Charles Dilke Memorial Hospital continues to provide all services at its present site,
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is unnaturally full for this time of the evening, and I ask for your guidance. For the sake of history, Mr. Speaker, would not it be best if Labour Members were arranged in a different sequence, with real socialists on one side, moderate socialists in the middle, and friends of the Prime Minister and friends of the next Prime Minister in some distinguishable array?
A hundred years ago, there was an important election for Britain. We in the Labour party are especially proud to be celebrating the centenary of the first meeting in the House of Commons of the Labour party as an organised body of MPs, held on 12 February 1906. The 29 Labour MPsall menwere starting a parliamentary party that would shape the next century of British politics.
The Labour movement has its roots in the desire to improve the lives of the disadvantaged, the disfranchised and the dispossessed. The parliamentary Labour party has for 100 years been the voice of the many, not the few. It is fitting that we gather today in the Chamber to debate the achievements of those 100 years, for it is here and in the Lobbies that Labour MPs such as Keir Hardie spoke for, voted for and delivered the agenda of the first manifestofrom universal suffrage, free health care, devolution and national insurance to the national minimum wage[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]
Today we are a party of men and women, as committed to the ideals of social justice as ever, as committed to the interests of the many as ever, and as restless and demanding of a fairer, more just and prosperous society, where prosperity is created and used for the benefit of all.
In 1906 it must have seemed that the first Labour MPs represented the many in the very House of the few. Those mensocialists, trade unionists, intellectuals and workerswere elected on a franchise of only a quarter of the adult population, which excluded women, as well as many men without property or land or who did not pay high rent.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that among the Labour MPs at that first meeting was the Member for Gorton, John Hodge, who started a run of Labour Members of Parliament in that constituency? Apart from 1931 to 1935, there have been 100 years of continuous Labour representation in the Gorton constituency. Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute not only to John Hodge, the first ever Minister for Labour, but to the people of Gorton for remaining faithful to the Labour party?
Ann Clwyd: I will indeed. My right hon. Friend is a Member for a constituency that has returned a Labour MP for 100 yearsalong with my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard), whose constituency has also returned a Labour Member for 100 years. I congratulate those constituencies on having the foresight to continue to do so.
It was a dozen years before universal male suffrage would be granted, and more than 20 before women were treated equally with men. Those Labour pioneers came to the House of Commons with a purpose. Although vastly outnumbered in our first Parliament they achieved a great deal, from reversing the Taff Vale judgment to strengthening the legal rights of trade unions in the Trade Disputes Act 1906. Labour was also successful that year in securing the Workmen's Compensation Act 1906, and the Education (Provision of Meals) Act 1906. Confronting those two bread-and-butter issuesschool meals and compensation for industrial injuryhas made a real difference to all our constituents: a sign of things to come.
Another landmark achievement of the first parliamentary Labour party was the 1908 Right to Work Bill. Unemployment brought poverty and destitution, which helped to explain why, according to the Government's own admission, coroners blamed the 1906 deaths of 49 Londoners on starvation. The Bill sought to make local authorities responsible for finding work for the unemployed and for providing maintenance if no work could be found. It entailed both a deliberate national effort to tackle the trade cycle and the introduction into law of the revolutionary principle that work was a right. The Bill did not become law, but Labour's assertion of the importance of full employment and the dignity of work has been a central part of Labour's politics ever since.
The first chair of the parliamentary Labour party was James Keir Hardie. Wisely, the chair of the parliamentary Labour party was also leader of the party. As the current chair of the parliamentary Labour party, I applaud and endorse that tradition. Keir Hardie led Labour for two years, and after ill health, was succeeded by Arthur Hendersona popular trade unionist and Wesleyan lay preacherwho later became Labour's first Cabinet Minister. The MPs elected in 1906 included the first Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden.
When the extension of the franchise came in 1918, Labour won the votes of many of those who now had a voice. Labour took office for the first time in 1924, and again in 1929. Then, after the long years in opposition of the 1930s, it joined the Churchill coalition in the second world war, before the 1945 election[Hon. Members: "Hooray!"]brought Labour's great landslide. The 1945 Government became one of the most reforming in British history[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]with the national health service, national insurance, freedom for India, housing, the nationalisation of industry and the foundations of the welfare state.
Sadly, the 1945 Government fell victim to the pressures that every reforming Government face. The natural desires to change further, reform more and become more radical are pressed against the need to balance resources, proceed gradually and manage change. These pressures"the language of priorities" to take a famous phrasehave been at the root of Labour's failings as much as our reforming instincts have been at the heart of our successes. Despite our achievements in the 20th century, Labour was in power for only 23 years. The 21st century is getting better, and I am hopeful that we will beat our previous record by 2023.
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It is right that we mark our successes, but we should also think of all the times when we were not in office, when we were unable to help those who needed us, and unable to support the poorest and the most disadvantaged. We should think why we were not in power more often, and how we can make sure that we are even more successful in the next 100 years than in the last 100 years.
Some 100 years on from the founding of the parliamentary Labour party, we celebrate the achievement of those pioneers and their legacy. The Labour party that evolved into a party of government created the NHS, brought education for all and built the welfare state. It was those pioneers that built the party that more recent heroes, such as Attlee, Bevan, Bevin, Gaitskell, Foot and Castle, would join. It was these pioneers who built the party that our current parliamentarians knowthe party that introduced the minimum wage, introduced tax credits, gave more rights to workers and to unions, extended rights for parents, gave a savings account to every child and enacted the biggest hospital programme in Britain's history.
Today we mark the Labour pioneers, all their successors who served their constituencies as Labour Members of Parliament in the last century in this Chamber, and the laws that they enacted. They served their country well.
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