Lord Ben Stoneham’s maiden speech

In recent months, LDV has been bringing its readers copies of our new MPs’ and Peers’ first words in Parliament, so that we can read what is being said and respond. You can find all of the speeches in this category with this link. Yesterday, Baron Stoneham of Droxford, of the Meon Valley in the County of Hampshire, made his maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate on Tourism. His words are reproduced below.

My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to speak to the House for the first time. I would like to thank the House and especially its staff for the welcome and support that I have experienced during my introduction and induction. It has been very much appreciated. Coming in as a long-time supporter of reform of this House, the warmth of my welcome has made me recall the advice of my former mentor, friend and colleague Roy Jenkins – a most distinguished past Member of this House – who, echoing the words of Adlai Stevenson, always advised us to be cautious. He said, “Enjoy the House of Lords, but don’t inhale”.

Like Roy Jenkins, I have been a long-standing European. I am a little sad that it was in my home village of Droxford in Hampshire, now associated with me in this House, that Churchill made his intemperate response to General de Gaulle that when it came to the point, he would always side with the USA against France. The fierce arguments two days before D-Day in June 1944 took place on a train on the sidings of Droxford station, now sadly closed. I like to think that the intemperate atmosphere that day was not helped by the tactless choice of Churchill to meet a French statesman in a railway carriage so soon after the French surrender at Compiègne. Anthony Eden and Ernest Bevin did their best to contradict the views of Churchill that day but Harold Macmillan sadly felt the consequences of this conversation 18 years later.

I have spent most of my business career in the newspaper industry, both in regional and national newspapers. For 10 years, I was based just over the downs from Droxford in Portsmouth. There I became firmly committed to the view that successful businessmen should contribute more to society than they take out – a sentiment that I fear has weakened in recent years but needs much more emphasis in a period of austerity.

When I went to work in Portsmouth 21 years ago, it had unemployment of over 10 per cent. The naval dockyard was in severe decline. The community simply had to diversify from its overdependence on the Navy. Fortunately, Portsmouth had a vision of what needed to be done, and developing tourism lay at the heart of it. The Renaissance of Portsmouth Harbour partnership was formed, which I chaired. It involved the private, public and voluntary sectors to regenerate and restructure the whole Portsmouth harbour frontage into the world asset that it deserves to be. Funds came from private developers and were combined with lottery funding and other funds to link existing and new attractions on the harbour-side. Two million people have visited the Spinnaker Tower since it was built five years ago, and the city region now benefits from over £400 million in spending by 7.2 million visitors a year. As important as the new jobs and revenues, tourism has helped shape a new perception of Portsmouth so that it can attract new business and investment.

I like to think that the Portsmouth partnership will be seen as a forerunner of the local enterprise partnerships. They will have a major role to play in developing tourism. Portsmouth has joined the new Solent Partnership with its great rival Southampton and the Isle of Wight. There remain great opportunities for other regeneration work in the old dockyard. There is a new museum for the “Mary Rose” and the Royal Navy to come. Tourism will continue to be a strong source of jobs and economic growth. Portsmouth will not stand still. I am also glad that the Navy, despite its cutbacks, has found funds to keep HMS “Victory”, the flagship of the Second Sea Lord, in her prime.

Tourism is one of our biggest business sectors in the UK and has great economic potential for the country. However, we cannot be complacent and just rely on our innate heritage, culture and countryside. In a very competitive global market, tourism needs renewal and investment. It will be an important outlet of jobs over the coming decade. It is a fact that the largest proportion of our young people get their first experience of work in the tourism and hospitality sectors. In terms of skill enhancement, the experience of work and confidence-building among young people, tourism has an important role to play. The Government can help with initiatives for employment training and work experience for those finding it difficult to enter the labour market.

It is essential that the Government set a stable and encouraging environment for tourism to develop. At a time when funds will be short, though, we should be looking again at a costless initiative to boost the tourism industry. I support the view expressed today by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, who I worked with at the Times, that the Government, in their forthcoming review of tourism, should put the extension of British Summer Time back on the political agenda. That would directly benefit tourism in this country. I thank the House for listening to my views today.

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2 Comments

  • Dinti Batstone 28th Jan '11 - 4:54pm

    As my husband would say, ‘Play Up Pompey’ – congrats Ben!

  • Having had the pleasure of working with Ben, during our time in the newspaper industry, I am not at all surprised that he continues to address injustices, such as the super injunction issue, head on. Long may it last!

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