Lib Dem Lords’ maiden speeches: Lorely Burt on Trade Unions

Last week, Lorely Burt made her maiden speech in the House of Lords. She spoke in the debate on trade unions. Here it is in full:

My lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today.  I feel enormously privileged to be here, and I hope to make a productive and positive contribution to this house. I am grateful also for the welcome I received from noble lords and ladies at my induction and for the enormous support, courtesy and patience of parliamentary staff in the way they prepared me and helped this particular ‘new girl’.  I have found the politeness and helpfulness of all the staff in this place without parallel. However, I’m sure it will take me a while to get used to the ways and customs here, so I feel now is a good opportunity to apologise in advance for any faux pas I’m likely to make as I feel my way! Now I have been told that one’s maiden speech should be relatively non-controversial. My lords – I’ll try!

Having been bruised and battered many times in the fray of the Other Place I have been impressed by the politeness and civility I’ve witnessed here, in this chamber.  It is refreshing and I hope to measure up to the standards you maintain here. Politics, in my past experience, has been a brutal game.  I have served in local as well as national elected chambers – as a local councillor in Dudley (Lenny Henry country) and for ten years as MP in the rather more genteel Solihull, overturning a 9,400 majority in 2005.

This result came as an enormous surprise, not only to the ruling party but also to many in my own party!  At least one colleague on election duty with the media that night asked them to double check the result before they would discuss it on air! But although it was the street-fighter from Dudley who originally won the seat, I chose Solihull for my peerage title.  Because today I am a silhillian – live there, love it and love the people I’ve served these 10 years.

Before I discovered politics, my career was in public service (the prison service, in fact) in commercial business and then as an entrepreneur with my own small businesses.  And I’ve spoken up for business large and small during my parliamentary career. So, my lords, this short debate today seemed ideal for my maiden speech.

My Party, the Liberal Democrats, is a pro- business party.  We feel a special affinity to small businesses – that independence of thinking, preparedness to back up your beliefs with actions, working hard – all traits we share with the entrepreneur. Indeed many party members ARE entrepreneurs, but many also are trade union members, a lot of them in the public sector, selflessly serving in health, education and other services. And we all recognise that businesses and public services are nothing without the people who staff them. Who put their energy, time and creativity in making businesses grow, delivering the best service they possibly can. Who take pride in seeing the success they have helped create. And who rightly expect to share in that success

Business is a partnership. A partnership between those tasked with managing the business and those who put energy and effort into making that business- or that service – the best it can possibly be. And (and here my lords I can’t help being a bit controversial), I think that anyone who seeks to profit at the expense of one side or the other will only defeat themselves. Taking sides is counterproductive. And I’m sad to say we see this all too clearly in politics at the moment.

The Trade Union Bill, in my view, seeks to diminish Union power when there’s no evidence that strikes are on the increase, and the
numbers of trade union members is at its lowest since 1995. Having said this, however, trade unions have a big responsibility too.

They serve their members poorly if they seek to push management too far, protect unproductive working practices and hamper the ability of the employers to create wealth for all. That is why Liberal Democrats favour employee ownership so strongly.  It is sad that many unions do nothing t good be more re support to mutual and shared ownership when their own roots came from the co-operative movement

So my lords, liberal democrats welcome the constructive role that trade unions can play in the partnership that enables everyone to benefit from their labours. And in case anyone is thinking that I am unrealistic in my description of the working partnership I have outlined here today, I would point you to an example of what happened in Solihull when Jaguar Land Rover fell on difficult times, and we feared that either the Solihull or the Castle Bromwich plant would close, spelling disaster for our area and affecting the wider West Midlands.

Management and Unions worked together to agree a plan to reduce workers’ hours and pay, thereby enabling more skilled staff to remain in work, so the skills would not be lost when the hoped-for upturn arrived. And boy, did it arrive.  Since that terrible time JLR have become one of the most successful manufacturing companies in the UK, investing and building a long term future to guarantee the success and prosperity of all the partners involved.

That’s the way to do it, my Lords.  ‘Successful, long term  businesses are built on firm and committed  partnerships between owners and staff  and the relationship between JLR, its staff and their unions exemplifies this’

So I commend the spirit of this motion and I thank all noble lords and ladies for listening so patiently.

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One Comment

  • Neil Sandison 23rd Nov '15 - 5:41pm

    Sounds like a good time to get out some of our old policy on trade unions and partnership working review them for todays market and let trade unionist know there is a better way for co-operative working unattached from the labour yolk and without the open hostility of the conservative party.

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