8.13 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Many hon. Members have paid tribute to Margaret Thatcher’s care for the armed forces. Thirty years ago, after my rifle company, A Company the Cheshires, was blown to bits, she flew into Northern Ireland and came with me to Musgrave Park military hospital. Thirty-five of my men had been wounded and six had been killed. She went around the beds and stopped, talked, wept, caressed, sat with and inspired those men. I was incredibly impressed.

A year later, again in Northern Ireland, Margaret Thatcher visited my company at Aughnacloy in south Tyrone. She flew in with the Special Air Service and I briefed her. I asked her, “Prime Minister, do you have any questions?” She said, “Make sure, Bob, that I meet all the soldiers who were wounded a year ago.” She did. My goodness, that lady—that Iron Lady—had the heart of a lion and that lion’s heart was made of gold.

8.15 pm

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): Shortly before he died, my father said to me, “If you get to meet Margaret Thatcher, tell her from me there were only two politicians in my lifetime who made a difference and she was one of them.” The other was Churchill.

My father spoke from personal experience. Born in Coventry, he left his council school at the age of 14. He got going in business with a single lorry and delivered coal from the black country around the Birmingham area. By 1963, he had built his business up into a publicly quoted company. By then, one of his interests was a car delivery business. Ten years later, the whole enterprise was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy thanks to the Transport and General Workers Union. “All out” was the familiar refrain and it meant that any money that anybody had any hope of making would disappear in ever more fantastic wage settlements, sustained by wildcat strikes, violent picket lines and the ruthless closed shop system.

There is much talk of Margaret Thatcher being a divisive figure. She certainly became a hate figure for those whose power she challenged and eventually overcame. I sympathise very much with people who lost their jobs

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in the manufacturing industries that declined in the 1980s. However, a myth has grown up—propounded, I am afraid, in this Chamber this afternoon—that the policies pursued by Margaret Thatcher’s Governments were responsible for the decline in manufacturing and the closure of industrial plant and coal pits. That is to deliberately ignore the fact that the decline began soon after the war and accelerated dramatically in the 1960s and 1970s.

The strikes, restrictive working practices and outrageous pay settlements led to a very negative climate for investment. Technological change was either resisted wholesale or was allowed on sufferance and, crucially, on condition that the same manning levels were maintained. Britain therefore lost and lost again in world markets.

By the late 1960s—a full decade before Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister—it was cheaper to import coils of steel than to buy them from the overmanned British steel works. By the mid-1970s, our old industries were kept going only by ever-increasing Government subsidy and by nationalisation. That was ultimately unaffordable and diverted money from investment in new industries and services that would provide employment in the future. To lay the blame at Margaret Thatcher’s door for all that is to shoot the messenger.

I did have the chance to pass on my father’s message. I did so in the presence of my late mother who, at the age of almost 90, finally got to meet Margaret Thatcher. All Mrs Thatcher could say to my mother was, “How kind of you to come.” She exuded such kindness and humility that I have never forgotten it. It is a shame that the public did not see more of that trait.

To conclude, the convictions, passions and principles that guided Margaret Thatcher came to be known as Thatcherism. Her determination to stand up for Britain in Europe, for the freedoms of those who were oppressed by the Soviet Union, for the working people who wanted a stake in their future and to get on, and, above all, for the pride of Britain, is unequalled in my lifetime. It was a privilege to witness it all and I am deeply grateful to have benefited personally, both politically and in business, from the policies that she pursued with such bravery and determination. May she rest in peace.

8.19 pm

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): I represent an old mining area, and, as folk might imagine, some of the e-mails that I have received have been quite lively. However, I have been reminded that unemployment in my area is now 2.8%. The old mines have gone. People remember the difficulties that arose between the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, whose members did not strike, and the National Union of Mineworkers, whose members did, but people now have jobs. People have reinvented themselves.

Some of the e-mails that I have received have been very passionate about the future that Mrs Thatcher gave to our country, and the aspiration that she gave to it. I certainly know that I am in this Chamber because of her. As a 17-year-old, I wrote a paper about why British Leyland should be privatised rather than nationalised, because it was losing £1 million a week. What an outrageous situation it was—although quite why a 17-year-old knew facts like that, I cannot imagine.

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The change in our country has been phenomenal, and all the groundwork was laid by Mrs Thatcher. I was so pleased to meet her, and I love the photograph that I have of her with me. When I finally became leader of our council—which had always been a Labour council—the first thing that I did was to put a portrait of Maggie Thatcher in my office. I do not think that there had ever been a picture of her in any of the council offices before, except on a dartboard. That was a major change, and it meant that South Derbyshire was turning around. The future was bright—the future was blue—and we owe her so much.

8.21 pm

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): We have heard some brilliant tributes from all parts of both sides of the political divide, and I hope to match them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), who was a friend of Mrs Thatcher, made a very poignant and very good speech, which I believe has been replayed over the airwaves while we have all been in the Chamber.

To me, Mrs Thatcher was a huge inspiration, not because of her willingness to make difficult decisions but because she made me feel, at a time of bleak prospects, that there was hope for the future. I started my first business as a Manpower allowance recipient, and, indeed, I entered my first job as a “yopper”. I do not know whether anyone else remembers the youth opportunities programme. At that time, after the late 1970s, we did not have much of an industry left. I grew up abroad because my father could not afford to live here in the late 1970s, but he came back after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, purely and simply because—as he said—“I can afford to live in my own country again”.

Those who are young and of no political persuasion whatsoever may start to understand that this country has a lot of good going for it, but no one seems to say that it has a lot of good going for it. I have lived all over the world, and I have seen unimaginable poverty. I have lived in places where families were begging on the streets. That experience is hard to describe. Then I came back to Britain, where there was a free health service and free education. Here I reach out to the Opposition: all that was begun by the Clement Attlee Government. However, Thatcher actually embellished it.

We are here today to honour a lady whose political legacy—as was said earlier—will outlive us all, and will continue well into the future. Today I was very disappointed to see, in the left-leaning press, reports of the shenanigans of young people celebrating her untimely demise. If those people had been around 35 years ago, as I was, they would understand what things were like in the late 1970s. Young people cannot imagine a time when the bins were not collected, when there were power cuts and a three-day week, when the dead were not being buried, and when—worst of all—our democracy was being held to ransom by the trade union movement. Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, they need not suffer from such appalling problems. She made higher education possible for the masses. Sadly, I did not benefit from it, but now I am here with you lot, which says a great deal.

We should see things in perspective. Eighteen months or two years ago, David Hasselhoff came to the House. Everyone remembers him singing on the Berlin wall

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when it came down. He turned to his manager and said “Larry, did I tell you I brought the wall down?” His manager said “I think it was that Iron Lady they are making a film about at this moment in time.” He said “You’re right, Larry. I should audition for the part of Ronald Reagan, shouldn’t I?” He is trying to save the wall for the sake of remembrance, but we should remember the legacy that Margaret Thatcher gave. As a child of the Thatcher era, I was privileged to grow up and prosper, and I am privileged to be here on this day as a Member of Parliament to—in a way—celebrate what she left behind.

8.24 pm

Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): Unlike many who have spoken today, I met Lady Thatcher only once, but I was nevertheless touched by her unique blend of resolve and kindness. She wrote to me after the last election, as she wrote to many of my new colleagues, urging us to

“carry the fight to our opponents whenever the time comes”.

Her twilight years never dimmed that most tenacious of spirits.

Of course she had her critics and her enemies—did anyone ever get anything done without them?—but this was a woman who won three elections by appealing across tribal political divides and across society. For me, what stands out about her legacy is the fact that she was an underdog fighting for the underdog. Yes, she was renowned for her economic leadership; yes, she reminds us today that we have a choice, and that if we rise to the challenge, our better days lie ahead and not behind us; but she would never have held office for so long had she not carried people with her.

She may have caused division within the Westminster village, but in the country, because of her, 6 million took a stake in British businesses, and 1 million bought their council homes. For many more—including refugees like my father, who came here with nothing—she nurtured the flicker of aspiration, inspiring people, regardless of their background, to believe that as a result of hard work, their dreams of prosperity and a better quality of life lay within their grasp. That message resonated not just in Britain, but around the world. As cold war historian John Lewis Gaddis has observed,

“It was a blow for Marxism, for if capitalism really did exploit the masses, why did so many among them cheer the ‘iron lady’?”

She was fired by a moral clarity that drove decisive action against perilous odds. We think of the Iranian embassy siege, and of the Falklands. Her most basic insight on Europe, shortly after she took office, remains prescient. She said:

“We believe in a free Europe, not a standardised Europe. Diminish that variety within the member states, and you impoverish the whole community.”

That neatly sums up the malaise that afflicts the European Union today.

As others have said, Margaret Thatcher made the political weather. She forged a new consensus. That is why, after the 1997 election, the cover of Time magazine pronounced her legacy the real winner. That is why Tony Blair wrote in his memoirs:

“Mrs Thatcher was absolutely on the side of history…in recognising that as people became more prosperous, they wanted the freedom to spend their money as they chose; and they didn’t

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want a big state getting in the way of that liberation by suffocating people in uniformity, in the drabness and dullness of the state monopoly… Anything else was to ignore human nature.”

When Caesar learnt of Mark Antony’s death, he lamented:

“The breaking of so great a thing should make

A greater crack”.

Today, we ensure that the passing of so great a statesman echoes from this Chamber. Margaret Thatcher was the ultimate conviction politician: our greatest peacetime leader.

8.27 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I remember experiencing, as a student in the 1970s, the power cuts and the three-day week. I remember studying by candlelight. I recall literally crying with sadness and shame as I watched rubbish piling up in our streets on television screens and heard of families who were unable to bury their dead. Then came Margaret Thatcher, a Prime Minister who showed remarkable political leadership in standing up to and ending that industrial anarchy. She restored our nation’s much-needed dignity, and my profound respect for her, and that of millions of people across our nation, was birthed then and has endured ever since.

Clearly, she blazed a trail as a woman, and as importantly for me, she stood out as a conviction politician. She had clear beliefs, and she lived and led by them, and in doing so inspired me and many others—beliefs such as the importance of personal and social responsibility and accountability; of hard work and enterprise; of the imperative of endeavouring to balance the books, whether with a household budget, a business or when managing public funds; of family and strong communities created and sustained by active citizenship; of a sense of duty, service and a moral code, no doubt influenced by her father, a Methodist lay preacher; and of a strong nation state, but not a state that nationalises society.

For me, having and adhering to those convictions as she did, distinguished Margaret Thatcher from a mere politician and raised her to the status of stateswoman. Just by being there as Prime Minister, she was a standard bearer for women, but she was very much a wife and mother too, and I would like to pay tribute to her and Denis for their enduring commitment to their strong marriage, which I am sure in large part enabled her to fulfil her role as the nation’s leader. As a woman, no doubt she was many times deeply hurt within herself by the outrageous slings and arrows that accompanied political leadership, but with Denis’s support she weathered them all with dignity and composure in the service of this nation, and for her brave example we owe her our thanks.

She must too have been hurt when her view of society was utterly traduced, after words she used in a magazine interview were quoted totally out of context. Of course she believed in society, and in strong, enduring societies made up of committed relationships of men, women and families, each playing their part. In that same interview, she spoke of our

“duty...to look after our neighbours”.

It reflects ill on those who misinterpreted her on this issue.

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Likewise, to attribute to her the excesses of materialism, selfishness and greed, as some in the media have done, is wrong: an equally gross distortion. Enterprise, as I learnt from her over the years of building a business, is about creating something that contributes to the welfare and well-being not just of the individuals working within it, but of the community and country. It is about having a sense of social responsibility as to what to do with success, if that follows.

Margaret Thatcher epitomised for me the fact that one individual, given hard work and commitment, can make a remarkable difference. I am sure that even she would have agreed that no one gets everything right all of the time, but her example has inspired me to believe that whether at home, at work or in our communities, whether in voluntary groups, public service or further afield, every single individual has the potential to make a real and positive difference and a remarkable contribution, whatever their circumstances, sphere or start in life.

It has been a privilege to pay tribute in this place to Margaret Thatcher, one of the greatest leaders our country has ever known. In closing, may I reflect again on the kindness that she exhibited to so many. May I finish with a tribute from several ladies who serve in the Members’ Tea Room? I asked them today whether they knew her, and unprompted they immediately responded, “Oh, she was lovely. A true leader. A wonderful lady. We loved her.”

8.32 pm

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I am glad to be able to add my voice to the warm and proper tributes paid to this most remarkable of Prime Ministers. I joined the Conservative party back in 1985 in south Wales in the middle of the miners’ strike. It was another world politically. We have heard a lot about the politics of division. The truth is that the country was a different place and the issues at stake were pretty visceral. I played my part in campaigning for the Conservative party that I believed in then and believe in now and with which I am proud to be associated.

At a time when politicians seemed to loom very large in the lives of us all, Margaret Thatcher loomed the largest. Thinking about it, the role of politicians now looms somewhat less in our lives precisely because of what she achieved. She came to power in an age when far too many of the major decisions affecting day-to-day life in this country were made directly by the state, which possessed far too much control over too many of the levers of power in Britain. Her greatest legacy is that she ceded control over many of those levers and gave power back to the people.

Margaret Thatcher’s uncanny knack of understanding the aspirations and concerns of the people of this country was reflected in her deep commitment to wider home ownership and her passionate belief in trusting families and individuals to make the most of the key decisions affecting their lives. She shared the instinctive suspicion of the British people for those who wielded and abused unaccountable power. Her fight to tame militant trade unionism here at home and her fight against Soviet hegemony abroad were testament to that innate understanding. The message for us today, in the House and beyond, is that we should not shy away from

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facing up to those who abuse power, whether in the form of a poorly regulated banking sector or monopolistic self-interest.

Much has been made of Margaret Thatcher’s background as a scientist, and there is no doubt that that was important, but she was also a lawyer. She was a qualified member of my profession, and I firmly believe that that honed her skill not only for debate but for analysing evidence and for testing it in argument before putting it to the people. She developed policy by debate and discussion, but once her mind was made up she was determined and took action. She did not shy away from the maxim that it was deeds, not words, that mattered.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) described Mrs Thatcher as a Gladstonian Liberal, but she was far more than that. She was driven by ideas but not ideology, which makes her very firmly a Conservative. She understood the value of meaningful tradition, and her beliefs in freedom, the rule of law and the old Tory slogan, “Trust the people”, shall and must endure.

8.35 pm

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): I will keep my remarks short as many other hon. Members wish to contribute. I should like to focus on one specific policy that affected my life. Having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles), I know that my story is not unique.

My mother was widowed at an early age and forced to raise me on her own. She was a Labour voter. She worked in a factory and she was a trade union member. She often had to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to catch the bus, determined that she could give me the best possible chance in life. A good education and stability were important to my mum. Balancing working shifts and doing her own child care was always a huge challenge. One of Margaret Thatcher’s key policies provided my mother with a huge lifeline. I refer, of course, to the assisted places scheme, for this policy had a huge benefit in my life. People from my background in Scotland did not go to private school, nor did they go to university, and the scheme gave me and others that opportunity. It not only allowed private boarding school education to become affordable to someone like my mum but succeeded in broadening my horizons at an early age.

While private education is not necessarily the best option for everyone—indeed, Lady Thatcher herself showed what can be achieved through the grammar school system—I know how fortunate I was to receive a place on the scheme. It certainly gave me confidence and a jump-start in life that would never have been possible without Lady Thatcher’s hard work and belief in the power of education. I almost certainly would not be in the Chamber today without that push. As I say, my story is not unique. Some 800,000 children were ultimately supported by the assisted places scheme between 1981 and its abolition in 1997, with an average of £10,000 in total spent on their schooling—just a few thousand pounds per year.

Like many in this Chamber, I was privileged to meet Lady Thatcher on a number of occasions, but none sticks out in my memory as much as the first time I met her, when I was a teenager. I was nervous, and she was prime ministerial, but she took time to talk to me, and

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she made me feel like the only person in the room. One thing I never did was to say thank you for the assisted places scheme, so may I, Mr Deputy Speaker, correct that mistake now? Through the auspices of the Chair and through this tribute debate, I say thank you, Margaret Thatcher, for the assisted places scheme and for giving children such as me an opportunity that we would never otherwise have had.

8.38 pm

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): It is a great privilege to speak in this tribute to the noble Baroness Thatcher. We have heard many eloquent speeches from hon. Members.

I would like to make three brief personal points about how Baroness Thatcher touched my life and why so many loved her and will miss her. First, Lady Thatcher was the embodiment of aspiration. She studied science when few women were doing so. She was one of only 25 women to be elected in 1959, when only 4% of MPs were women; now, there are 146, or 22%. Lady Thatcher was someone who absolutely believed in aspiring to the highest levels, and she proved that it could be done and that nothing was impossible. My parents always brought up my sisters and me to believe that we should aim high, work hard, try our very best, give any task 100%, and fulfil our potential. Baroness Thatcher was the epitome of this—that it does not matter who you are, where you come from, what your background is or what your gender is. You can absolutely succeed and achieve your goals and dreams, and it is what you deliver and do right now that count in life.

Secondly, Lady Thatcher was an inspiration to me and to a generation of women in this country, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) and also from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who said that Baroness Thatcher kicked the door open even for Labour women in Parliament. I was a child of the Thatcher era and was in school and university when Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister. I did not think it strange or unusual to have a female Prime Minister. It felt natural. After all, we also had a female monarch. Lady Thatcher made me believe that anything was possible. If a woman could be Prime Minister, surely other women, too, could rise to the highest levels in business and in politics. As President Obama said,

“As a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered”.

It was Baroness Thatcher who inspired me to become a Member of Parliament, and it was she who kept me going when it took me 13 years to get into Parliament. I was told then that Lady Thatcher went through more than 40 interviews to get selected for Parliament. If it took her that number, then another rejection that I received was always that much more bearable. She came to help me in my election campaign in March 2010 because she really wanted me to win my seat. She came to Chiswick with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) and her presence filled the room. She inspired everyone, from the youngest to the oldest. I believe that generations of women across this country and around the world will always remember her. She led the way, and it is now up to women around the country to follow her example and rise to the challenge too.

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Thirdly, Lady Thatcher showed what it was to be a politician of clarity, confidence, conviction and courage. What an incredible role model she was. She knew clearly what she wanted to do and achieve, and she delivered it. She said in 1989:

“I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.”

She had a strength that was second to none. She had the courage to do what was right and not always popular. She had a vision for Britain and transformed this country. She had many tough fights to battle through, but she held to that vision and her conviction. Her courage and strength were seen in so many ways, and in 1982 she said about the Falklands war:

“Defeat? I do not recognise the meaning of the word.”

Our country will always need more politicians like her. That is why I will always encourage more women to stand for Parliament, people who have a clarity of purpose and a passion, conviction and courage to deliver real change.

In conclusion, we have lost an incredible leader. We have lost a great reforming former Prime Minister. We have lost a great woman and a great friend. Baroness Thatcher was a wonderful example to all right hon. and hon. Members here today to be politicians of passion, strength, courage and conviction and to fight for Britain’s interests every step of the way. As she said herself,

“Where there is despair, may we bring hope.”

Her legacy will continue to inspire not only us, but generations to come.

8.43 pm

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Just a year after the momentous Conservative victory of 1979, a newly elected MP, having won a Labour seat with a fairly slender majority, thought it would be a good idea to invite the Prime Minister along to his constituency. The newly elected MP was my father and the constituency was the one I represent today. I thought it would be interesting to look at the local paper’s report.

The Prime Minister undertook a walk-about in Rugby town centre, much as the current Prime Minister was to do 30 years later. The 4 July 1980 edition of the Rugby Advertiser tells us that there were some hecklers in Rugby town centre. As a conviction politician, she attracted opposition. The paper tells us that some of the people were star-struck. There were emotional tears from supporters, and others asked, “Is that really her? Are you sure it isn’t Janet Brown?” As some Members will remember, that was the comedienne impressionist of that time. The paper tells us about Mrs Thatcher’s caring side—she signed the plaster cast of a lucky seven-year-old. And finally, it tells us something about her humility. The final sentence in the report is:

“As a delighted PM got into her car outside Rugby School—more than an hour late for her next visit to Daventry—she remarked: ‘There were even more people here than I expected’.”

I have asked my father about his recollections of Lady Thatcher from his time here, and much of what hon. Members have said today rings very true. He told me how supportive she had been when he talked about the concerns of a local manufacturer at Prime Minister’s questions. She invited him into her office to discuss

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what more could be done to support that company. He also told me about the late-night votes that took place at 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning. Members in this intake apparently have it easy, with our votes at 7 and 10 o’clock. He told me how Mrs Thatcher would appear at 2 or 3 o’clock—not a hair out of place, as fresh as paint and full of life—to keep up the spirits of the parliamentary party.

Many Members have spoken about Lady Thatcher’s input into their political careers. Her effect on my career related more to the business sector. In 1982, when I was in a secure job as a sales manager for a successful company, I heard her speeches referring to the provision of fair incentives and to rewards for skill and hard work. That kind of environment sounded good to me, and those speeches helped me to decide to risk my future by setting up and running a small business.

I eventually decided to aim for a political career, however, and my finest moment was when I joined one of the small groups referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) and had the opportunity to meet the great lady herself. It has been a great honour for me to pay my tribute to her today.

8.46 pm

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Mrs Thatcher was an icon of the 20th century, as many Members have said, but her real legacy will be the way in which her policies changed the lives of ordinary people such as my grandparents, who were among the hundreds of thousands who bought their council house, the workers who were given the right to decide whether to strike or whether to join a trade union and the many people who started their own businesses during the Thatcher years and were given opportunities that had been beyond the reach of many people in the past. There are thousands of legacies and thousands of stories across the country to illustrate how people remember her.

The one big thing I want to mention today, as the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, is Mrs Thatcher’s determination to do big and bold things that other Governments had struggled with in the past because the objections to them had seemed insurmountable. Among those was the decision to press ahead with the channel tunnel. That was controversial at the time, but the economic regeneration of east Kent and the benefits of the high-speed rail network through the area have all stemmed from that decision. I was interested to read the statement made by Jacques Gounon, the president of Eurotunnel, after Lady Thatcher’s death. He said:

“Without the vision and drive that were so characteristic of Lady Thatcher throughout her life, the Channel Tunnel, probably the greatest infrastructure achievement of the 20th century, would never have been built.”

We in east Kent are all grateful for her determination to push ahead with that project, the economic benefits of which we will enjoy today and in the future.

I was pleased to hear that the Government have today announced their support for the expansion of Lydd airport in my constituency. That is another important infrastructure project, and I am grateful for the support of the Prime Minister and the Government for it today.

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8.48 pm

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I should like to express my thanks to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition not only for their good words and tributes but for the amount of time that they have spent in the Chamber today when I am sure there is an awful lot going on outside.

I do not want to spend a great deal of time talking about the fact that Mrs Thatcher was the first woman Prime Minister, or about the high regard in which she is held by the veterans in Plymouth, from where part of the taskforce set sail for the Falklands. Nor do I particularly want to talk about her training as a research scientist, which enabled her to understand the effect of chlorofluorocarbons on the environment and the ozone layer, or about her time as a tax barrister, which enabled her to understand that the amount that people were taxed had a significant impact on the economy and on our pockets. No, in the next few minutes, I want to talk about the slight part that I played in the 1980s and very early 1990s, because as a Conservative party agent in the highly marginal constituency of Mitcham and Morden, I felt that I was able to play a small part. It was a pleasure not only to be in her campaign team, but to ensure that we won and held on to the Mitcham and Morden seat in 1983, 1987 and 1992.

While I was thinking about what I was going to say today, I spoke to a very good friend of mine, Michael Love, who used to be Mrs Thatcher’s agent. He told me a very amusing story—I thought it amusing, others may not find it so. On the eve of the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister and party leader used to make sure that she addressed the Conservative agents. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister continues this great tradition, which, I am told, she started. She said to Mike, “Could you kindly give me some pointers that I might be able to use?” He said, “Yes, one of the things that you should understand”—a secret I might share with the House—“is that agents see all parliamentary candidates as the ‘legal necessity’.” She duly took notice and included it in her speech, saying, “I do know that some of you think that we, as parliamentary candidates, are nothing more than legal necessities, but I have to tell you that some of us are more important than just legal necessities.” I think that went down incredibly well.

During the course of the 1983 general election, I had to organise her visit to Mitcham and Morden. It was a marginal seat and we needed to ensure that we held on to it. We were going to take her to Morfax, which manufactured wheelbarrows used to blow up bombs in Northern Ireland. We suddenly realised that we could not take her there, because it was also responsible for creating bits of the Exocet 2, which were used during the course of the Falklands war. Instead, we took her to Renshaw, which manufactured marzipan. She was told in no uncertain terms that she had to wear a hairnet, and that everybody else, including the press and the media, had to wear a hairnet. She was brilliant and did so superbly. As one can imagine, however, members of the press and the media took no notice whatever of the health and safety regulations and decided not to, and so the whole morning’s production had to be thrown in the bin, as the company was concerned about hair in the Christmas cakes.

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I just want to say thank you very much indeed; it has been a real privilege to have had the opportunity to serve the Conservative party and to have been a part of that campaign. Mrs Thatcher empowered individuals by making sure that they had the right to buy their own homes and through the local management of schools. There was the national curriculum. Putting money into people’s pockets was a magnificent thing to have gone and done, and a lesson we have to learn. We on the Government Benches need to recognise that we must be loyal to our Prime Minister—that is the one thing the Conservative party did during the course of the 1980s. We must back our leader and ensure he has our full support, because if we do not, we will be in trouble. Mrs Thatcher was an inspiration who made sure we are in a position to do that.

8.53 pm

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): We have indeed lost a great Briton, and many here today on the Government and the Opposition Benches have lost a great friend. I myself was a mere acquaintance, but like many others I felt I knew her before I met her. My childhood memories are full of her and the vibrant colour she brought to political life. Her ability to escape the normal bounds of politics and penetrate our day-to-day lives is evidenced by the fact that when I was six, and when she had been Prime Minister for less than a year, I had perfected an uncanny impression of her, which led to Mrs Thatcher to be written into my primary school production of Dick Whittington. Within three years, her leadership, resolve and reassurance would provide vision and comfort to many of my classmates in Portsmouth, as their fathers set off to retake the Falkland Islands.

In her later years, Lady Thatcher supported me and many others as we strove to get elected to this place. I was struck by her kindness and her interest in people and what they wanted to achieve. She took time to speak to me and to write to me and other Conservative parliamentary candidates when we won or, perhaps more important, when we lost. Her principle, her courage and her vision for Britain meant that she was able to motivate long after she left office.

Mourning the loss of Ronald Reagan, her great friend and western co-architect of the demise of the cold war, Lady Thatcher said:

“We here still move in twilight. But we have one beacon to guide us that Ronald Reagan never had. We have his example.”

We have hers: her confidence that a conviction politician could lead her country; her unshakeable belief in the best of human nature; her optimism that this country could be led back to international respect and renown; her focus on making a real, tangible difference to people’s lives; her self-confidence, not founded in arrogance but in belief in equal access to opportunity and in meritocracy; her ambition that others should achieve their ambitions; and her courage to do what she believed to be right and to take responsibility for it, to face down terrorism and the foes of freedom.

Margaret Thatcher was a warrior who fought for freedom of the individual and of nations. She believed in the nation state, but where her opponents could see only the state, she saw the nation. She believed in Britain and the British people, in our history, our destiny and our capacity to play a leading role in the world.

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For those who were born after Lady Thatcher’s premiership—a vast cohort that now includes many young adults—her legacy may be hard to comprehend, for the simple reason they have only lived in the Britain she forged. Nowadays, talk of freedom when freedom can be taken for granted seems overblown, the nearness of danger in the cold war now intangible, the destructive power of the unions so distant as to seem always doomed, triumph over an invading dictator predestined and Britain’s high standing in the world an unshakeable fact. Yet personal freedom, victory in the cold war, proper industrial relations and a dynamic market economy, triumph in the Falklands and respect for Britain’s voice in the councils of the world were not inevitable accomplishments. That is why they were accomplishments —her accomplishments.

As we mourn Lady Thatcher, I hope she will inspire us afresh. We should take pride in her life, her achievements and what this country was able to do under her leadership and henceforth as a consequence of it. We should celebrate a remarkable life of service and a remarkable woman.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. We will now get everybody in. It has been a huge privilege for me to chair this debate.

8.57 pm

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): There can be no doubt that Baroness Thatcher served our country with great distinction and honour. Her devotion to advancing at home and abroad the causes of freedom, democracy, enterprise and property ownership will serve as an inspiration for generations to come. Her record in office and her numerous political achievements are unmatched in modern history and will stand the test of time. There is no doubt that she will stand alongside the great statesmen who have graced this earth—Churchill, Disraeli, Gladstone and Pitt—as one of the finest Prime Ministers in our history, and alongside Ronald Reagan as one of the most important and influential world leaders of the 20th century.

I was proud to grow up during the Thatcher years and to see at first hand the inspirational way in which she introduced powerful changes to improve our country. As a young girl in the 1970s, and the daughter of immigrants, I was fully aware of the disastrous state this country was in. Our economy, society and politics lay crippled after decades of decline. We had become the sick man of Europe and we were seen as weak across the world. Hope, aspiration and entrepreneurship were being suppressed by the instruments of the state—militant trade unions and vested interests that stood opposed to change and reform.

Margaret Thatcher was different. She broke away from politicians who thought the status quo was the norm, and an option, and that we should just go along with the managed decline of our country. As my father always said, she ushered in a new era of hope and optimism, and she was a strength for our country.

Like Margaret’s parents, my mother and father were small shopkeepers. Without Margaret Thatcher’s economic reforms, which liberated and transformed this country,

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my parents would not have become the entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals that they went on to become.

There is no doubt that in Margaret Thatcher we had a Prime Minister who not only understood the importance of hard work—she herself had a tremendous work ethic that my family certainly looked up to—but obviously understood sound money, what it meant to be aspirational and, importantly, what it meant to be a wealth creator. She recognised what it meant to the people of this country to be allowed to get on with running their own lives and to have politicians take a back seat.

Margaret Thatcher was determined to smash the obstacles that held people back. She was a champion of opportunity, battling against the forces of privilege and the establishment. In my view, she was the ultimate warrior for the working class and for aspiration. She knew how to unlock Britain’s strength to empower individuals and businesses. She laid the foundations for council tenants to buy their homes, lowered and simplified taxes, reduced the deficit, secured the rebate from Europe and brought democracy to the trade union movement. She worked alongside the great Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev to end the cold war and liberated the Falkland Islands.

Advancing the cause of freedom to empower people was always at the forefront of Mrs Thatcher’s conviction, her political beliefs and ultimately her actions. We had a Prime Minister who demonstrated that anyone from any background could, through strong beliefs and hard work, rise to the pinnacle of their chosen profession. To me, as a young woman growing up during the Thatcher era and as an MP now, seeing how she led the way has been inspirational. She showed that women could smash through the glass ceiling by reaching the highest political office.

Mrs Thatcher was an inspiration to me and a great source of political advice as I embarked on my political career. I had the privilege of knowing her and of having her political counsel on many occasions. She was, ultimately, a real Conservative. She knew what it meant to be one—to be a patriot and a true leader of our nation.

Like many in the county of Essex, my constituents felt that they could trust and support Margaret Thatcher to safeguard the interests of this country and defend it. There is no doubt that they are saddened by her death, but as we mourn the passing of this tremendous human being—a great Prime Minister and a wonderful person—people in Britain and worldwide can take great comfort from knowing that her legacy will continue through the millions who have benefited from what she brought to this country and through the freedom that she gave millions overseas. We will remember that tremendous legacy for generations to come.

9.2 pm

Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): It is a great honour to speak in this debate paying tribute to Baroness Thatcher. Many colleagues have spoken with great eloquence about their personal experiences of Baroness Thatcher and her kindness. I did not know her personally and that is my personal loss. However, she was an inspiration to my family, my parents and me.

My father often remarked that Margaret Thatcher was not just the first British female Prime Minister, but the first British Asian Prime Minister. He was not

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joking—he does do jokes, but never about Baroness Thatcher. He always said that she might not look like us, but she absolutely thought like us. What he meant was that she shared and empathised with our values, experiences and ethos. She faced prejudice not because of her race but because of her gender. As the Prime Minister said earlier, in his moving tribute, she understood what it took to break through the glass ceiling. For immigrant families such as mine, she was aspiration personified.

The Prime Minister and the Government are absolutely right to push forward policies to rebuild an aspiration nation. Baroness Thatcher was the original architect of the modern British aspiration nation. She believed in people working hard and being rewarded for it. She believed in education as a great leveller. She believed in helping entrepreneurs, business and the private sector to create the wealth to pay for our public services. She believed in respect for the rule of law. Those are all values espoused by many immigrant communities, such as the one I come from.

My parents started their own business in the late ’70s. As anyone who has run a business or tried to run one knows, it is pretty hard work when it first gets started. My parents certainly went through some pretty tricky times, but the one thing of which they and I am absolutely certain is that if it were not for the economic policies that Margaret Thatcher and her Governments followed, they would not have prospered—and without them, I would certainly not be here today.

Americans often talk about the great American dream, and I can say that Margaret Thatcher inspired the great British dream. What she said to all of us, whether we were from the working class or were immigrants from wherever it might be, was that it was possible for each and every one of us to reach to the stars in Britain. That is something of which I am incredibly proud. Margaret Thatcher is someone to whom my family and I have an enormous debt of gratitude, and there are millions of families like mine up and down this nation who feel exactly the same way.

It was because of Mrs Thatcher that I got involved in the Conservative party. That is why I, like many other colleagues, started delivering leaflets for the Conservative party at the age of 11. I rejoiced in her victory of 1979 and I rejoiced again in her historic victory in 1987, having spent a few weeks being the bag carrier for my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) during the general election campaign.

Her leadership was aspirational, inspirational and transformational. She was a global phenomenon—a towering international leader who profoundly touched and affected people across the globe, not just in this country. When the sad news came that she had passed on, I—along, I am sure, with many other colleagues—received messages from friends throughout the world. Let me end by reading a short text I received from a friend who is a female politician in Indonesia who never met Margaret Thatcher. This is what she said:

“My deepest condolence for the passing away of Baroness Thatcher, who is a great inspiration, especially for many women. May she rest in peace.”

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9.7 pm

Simon Reevell (Dewsbury) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to make a few observations on this special occasion.

I have been struck over the last few days by the number of times I have heard the word “divisive” being used on the television—as if every one of Margaret Thatcher’s policies created division, especially so in the north of England. That is not right. There are no complaints in Dewsbury about us taking on Argentina and throwing foreign invaders out of the Falklands, or about us helping to throw Iraq out of Kuwait. In Kirkburton, no one moans about us standing alongside the USA and against the USSR in a process that saw democracy come to countries of the former Soviet bloc. In Mirfield, there is no suggestion that IRA prisoners should have had political status, and in Denby Dale they do not say that the trade union legislation should be repealed so that the unions become so powerful that it is possible to turn up for the night shift with a sleeping bag and expect to get paid. Across the whole of my constituency, people nodded their heads as warnings of European federal ambition from over 20 years ago were replayed on Monday night’s television.

Of course there are differences of opinion. The gentleman in Thornhill who told me he would always be grateful to Maggie because being able to buy his council house changed his life had a different outlook from that of a man in Emley who was kind enough to tell me I seemed a nice lad, but then explained that as an ex-miner he could not vote Tory. Of course, it is the latter area—industrial policy—where controversy might lie. In the early 1980s, when I had had so many problems with my Austin Metro that they sent a man from Longbridge to look at it, he shrugged his shoulders and said it was a Friday car—built at the end of the week when people were in a hurry to be away. That was not Margaret Thatcher’s fault. They did not have Freitag cars at VW, and VW still builds cars. None of the manufacturers in my constituency would be thankful if the clock was turned back to the 1970s.

But what of the coal industry? On Monday, I watched an old clip of a younger Mr Scargill on television. He was telling his audience that a miner’s job was not just that miner’s job; it was his son’s job and his grandson’s job. No it wasn’t: my granddad was a Yorkshire miner and he worked in conditions that were said to be cruel for the pit ponies but okay for the men. He was blown up underground twice, each time going back to work as soon as he was healed. He did not do that in the hope that his children and grandchildren would still be doing it for decades to come; he worked like that to try to ensure that his children and grandchildren would not have to work underground, swallowing dust and dirt and facing the threat of explosion and even drowning. And he was as big an NUM man as anyone else in the pit.

I remember the miners’ strike because members of my family were caught up in it. For some it was about jobs, but for others it was about power—about who ran the country. The democratically elected Government run the country, and from 1985 everyone understood that. That does not mean that there were not mistakes, but the Britain of 1990 was a far better place than its counterpart of 1979; better in the sense of who we were, of how we saw ourselves, and of how others saw us.

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The period from ’79 to ’90 was overwhelmingly one of positive achievement, and it is nothing short of remarkable that one person was the driving force behind an entire nation rediscovering its pride and re-establishing itself in the world.

That is why I, along with many of my constituents from Dewsbury, in Yorkshire, in the north of England, will pay our respects on Wednesday of next week.

9.11 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): It is a great privilege to contribute to the debate. I have spent the past several hours, since 2.30 pm, here in the Chamber listening to the extraordinary speeches. I want to single out my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who spoke so eloquently and movingly about when Mrs Thatcher visited troops in a military hospital in Northern Ireland. I also want to thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. This may sound like a bit of creeping; it is not intended to be. As on many occasions he just got it right, as in the mixing in of lightness, reflecting the personal touches that Margaret Thatcher brought to her role as Prime Minister in Downing street and in Parliament. I also want to thank the Leader of the Opposition. He paid a very generous tribute today, and reflected well on the element of statesmanship that we should all aspire to.

There is no question but that Margaret Thatcher defined politics for a decade, if not a generation, if not a lifetime. There are two other people I want to thank today. I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the debate to happen. I also want to thank the chaplain for the prayers that were said, which I thought were very special.

Margaret Thatcher was certainly an inspiration to many in this place, and many in the country. Even now, the polls after her death show that more than half the population thought she was a great Prime Minister; any party leader and Prime Minister would hope for such ratings. I expect that every Conservative Member elected in 2010 mentioned Margaret Thatcher as an inspiration in their selection speech. In fact, I expect those people who did not probably did not get selected. Dare I say it, although the great lady of course left office in 1990, her legacy lived on, and there is no doubt that the members of our party loved Margaret Thatcher, and I believe they were right to do so.

Of course Margaret Thatcher broke through the glass ceiling, becoming the first woman Prime Minister. It is said that she found it harder to become a Member of Parliament than she did Prime Minister, but both were herculean tasks, which she achieved, with the help of her male friends, some mentioned already—such as Airey Neave, who was assassinated—and the help and support of others. To her end she would encourage people to enter public and political life, and I think many women in Parliament today are here for that reason.

Of course, Margaret Thatcher was the only science graduate to be Prime Minister. History or perhaps thinking about the weight of history was not for her. In fact, she made history. Her skills as a scientist, in the use of data and rigorous analysis, were an important part

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of what persuaded her. Her view could be changed if someone had the facts, rather than the emotions of other subjects.

I read chemistry at Oxford and I chose her college, because I had fallen in love with Margaret Thatcher by then. I had done so because I grew up in Liverpool. Hon. Members have talked about communities transformed, and we have heard about the success of entrepreneurs and small business. Opposition Members may think that we look back through rose-tinted spectacles, but people’s lives really were changed. People were released; they were allowed to choose, to get on and to be free.

Of course there were impacts on communities, particularly those reliant on one major employer or industry. I lived in Liverpool when the riots happened. They did not affect my neighbourhood but they affected school friends, one of whom was supposed to come to stay with us to get away from the horrendous things that were happening. I also remember Derek Hatton, who said the most despicable thing yesterday. What I remember of him is that he destroyed my city. Militant Labour was the employer involved, and my parents, both teachers, were among the 30,000 who received their redundancy notices overnight. I have been hearing about how people were cast aside, but militant Labour tossed aside the clerk, the cleaner and the street sweeper, as well as the teacher. That is when I woke up and realised that politics mattered, and the following year I got involved in a by-election. Admittedly, the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) won that, but I stood up; I saw that Margaret Thatcher was leading the country and making a huge difference to people’s lives, and I wanted to be part of it.

The constituency I now represent perhaps benefited from some of the issues arising from the militancy of the dockers’ strike in Liverpool. Similar things happened elsewhere. Felixstowe grew as a port during that time. When Mrs Thatcher came to Felixstowe in 1986 to speak at the Conservative central council she referred to the modern industrial relations that the good trade unions had with their employers at the port of Felixstowe. We see the same thing now in much of our manufacturing industry, where some of the unions are working well. However, one thing she did was to ensure that it was the democratically elected Government who ran the country, bringing to an end to the closed shop, the “all out” and the flying pickets that crippled industry at the time.

I do not believe that Margaret Thatcher hated the state. What she hated was the state telling the people what they should want. She wanted the state to serve the people and put their needs first. She trusted people to choose. Her very first speech was about the private Member’s Bill in which she opened up council meetings to the press and the public; she made sure that happened. She also did things such as putting parents on school governing bodies so that they were involved in the direction of the schools. She had backed the police, of course, but she had recognised that there was trouble there and that there was a need to reinstate trust, so in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 she introduced the tape recording of evidence sessions. She started to bring those kinds of reforms in where they were needed.

Above all, Margaret Thatcher put the “Great” back into Great Britain, at no time more so than during the Falklands war. She believed in ideas and she trusted the people. She put that choice to the electorate three times,

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and the British public backed her, with an increasing number of votes from 1979 to 1987. She was truly my heroine. Margaret Thatcher, may she rest in peace.

9.18 pm

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): Two people in the political world had the biggest influence on me. The one who made me a centre-right politician was Ronald Reagan—I will talk about that another time—but Margaret Thatcher did three important things to me and formed who I am, as a child of the ’80s. First, she did not just abolish the glass ceiling that had been there from time immemorial—she smashed it to smithereens. That is why I, like a great number of my hon. Friends, stand here as a child of a comprehensive school; our parents had very normal jobs and we did not go to a fee-paying school. I ended up with an engineering degree and I am now a Conservative Member of Parliament, and my sister is an orthopaedic surgeon. We went through that comprehensive school system, and Margaret Thatcher said to us, “If you work hard, there is no limit to what you can achieve.” We took that on. It was about a work ethic.

There are five comprehensive schools in my constituency, and when I visit them I tell the children, “I went to a comprehensive school, too, and nothing can stop you achieving whatever you want.” Margaret Thatcher did for me what the tabloid press have done for children these days, who think that if they go on “The X Factor” they will become a pop star. She made us realise that if we worked hard we would achieve our dreams and that it was not just about fame and fortune.

Conviction was very important. It is about standing up for what we believe in, rather than taking the path of least resistance. Political history around the world is littered with leaders who took the path of least resistance. Conviction politics is vital. I want to give a live example for people out there today: the privatisation of British Telecom, which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) mentioned earlier. It is not just that before privatisation people had to wait six months to get a telephone line, or that they needed permission from British Telecom to put an extension in their house. We look today, after the death of Margaret Thatcher, at how advanced telecommunications have become in our society.

She did not privatise British Telecom in the 1980s because she foresaw that we would all be using Twitter, Facebook, the internet and e-mail and have constant access to news; she did it because she knew that the state could never do for those industries what commerce and people with experience of running businesses could do for them. All those people who have used Twitter and Facebook to make the most vile comments in recent days should remember that they can do so because they have easy access. They should try to imagine what it would be like if they had to wait six months to get a mobile phone before doing so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), in an excellent speech, said that he did not disagree with a single one of Margaret Thatcher’s policies, except her decision not to stand in the second round. I agree. I do not think that I disagree with anything she did, but there is a lesson that I think we could learn on something that was not done. I passionately believe that

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she was absolutely right to tackle the union menace that had crippled this country and made us the laughing stock of Europe. When we look at the growth factors in western Europe and what was happening in this country, we see that we were doomed. That culminated in the miners’ strike. There were rights and wrongs, but that is not a debate for today. However, I will say that it was wrong that more was not done after those communities lost their mines.

I think that a lesson has been learnt. Our current Prime Minister has picked up on the idea of the big society and, by looking at what happened in the 1980s as a whole, what it means to help whole communities. Yes, they were the right decisions to make and the convictions were right, but there are always consequences that must be dealt with. He rightly describes himself as a one-nation Conservative, and I agree. It is about managing for the whole country. However, I believe that Margaret Thatcher’s intention was to do that. It cannot be said that she was there only for the rich, because she empowered the poorest people in society and, as has been said, she knew that education is the great leveller.

Conviction is the hardest form of governance. It will never be popular, but it is the only honourable way to govern. As the Prime Minister said recently, he is here not to be popular, but to do what is right. We owe Margaret Thatcher so much. She literally saved this country from becoming, in the current context, probably worse than Greece, Spain and Portugal are today. May she rest in peace; she certainly deserves it.

9.24 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I have been sitting listening to the debate for some seven hours now; I worried that some of my anecdotes about Margaret Thatcher would have been used by others, so I am grateful that they have not. As we sit in the Chamber on almost the 21st anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s ceasing to be an MP and leaving the House of Commons, it is right and proper that we should honour her legacy and her life, both political and personal.

I remember the early days. Most anecdotes have been from when she dominated the House of Commons, but I well remember that it was a difficult time for her when she was first elected as leader of the Conservative party. As a fresh-faced young student, I attended one of her first speaking events after she had been elected as leader, at the Federation of Conservative Students’ conference. At the time, the FCS was dominated by a Heathite element and there was deep suspicion about what Margaret Thatcher would do to the party and the country if she became Prime Minister. She espoused firm principles and a belief in free enterprise, sound money, strong defence, individual responsibility and, above all, personal liberty. As she addressed that conference, one could see the ripples of change among the young people attending the conference, probably for the first time. She transformed many of us so that we became clarion calls for change across our campuses. We fought the battle for four years after she became leader and we got our reward in the 1979 general election. We fought a war of ideas on campuses and in universities and we won, with her support and her firm view.

One anecdote that has not been told concerns the fact that when she was first elected leader and went on that first speaking tour, a brief went out from Conservative

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central office that she was teetotal and abhorred alcohol. As many Members will know, that was not the case. She attended a meeting at a Conservative club in the north-west and, of course, the briefing had not reached them. She had been around a series of different events, and the chairman of the club said, “Mrs Thatcher, would you like a drink—a whisky, perhaps?” The person from Conservative central office shook, thinking that there would be an explosion, and Mrs Thatcher said, “Thank goodness there is someone in this party who enjoys a drink.”

I well remember the 1979 general election, the changes that came and the squeals of horror as the first Budget was unveiled. Next week, we will no doubt continue the rather anodyne debate about whether the top rate of tax should be 45% or 40%. We should remember that in those days it was 98%, and 68% on earned income. She abolished that penal taxation and changed the position of society once and for all. It was decisive—and quite right, too. She embodied everything that modern people aspire to and that is her lasting legacy to us.

We should also remember the terrible times that have been mentioned, with the battle for the recovery of the Falkland Islands and the personal dilemma about sending our troops to war possibly to die in defence of their country and our dominions. That decision was not taken lightly. No doubt she lost many hours of sleep when that was going on.

I well remember leaving the Grand hotel in the late hours in October 1984 and hearing subsequently about the blast that had gone off. At the time when that happened, during the early hours of the morning, none of us knew whether the Prime Minister or the members of the Cabinet were still alive. It was with great relief the following day that we found out that the worst had not happened. It could have been so different. I am sure that that, together with the impact of losing dear friends in this place, impacted on her view of the policies on Ireland.

We should remember the lasting legacy of Margaret Thatcher, whether it is the 2 million people who own their council houses as a result of her policies, the 20 million people who bought shares when she produced a shareholding democracy or the millions of people in eastern Europe who owe their fundamental freedoms of democracy and liberty to the iron will of the Iron Lady. That is her lasting legacy.

9.29 pm

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): It is a privilege to make the last Back-Bench speech in this debate. I had decided not to speak, but I thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to do so now.

I came to the debate before Prayers and found that there was nowhere to sit on the Benches, so I sat just to my right on the floor. Just above me to the right was my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns). He told me—I was not aware of this—that that was the seat on which Margaret Thatcher sat after she stopped being Prime Minister. I felt that it would be a privilege to sit through the seven and a half hours of debate and tributes, and that I would not seek to speak, but I wish to address one area.

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The day before yesterday, the noble Lord Bell said that Margaret Thatcher believed in principles, which perhaps set her apart from virtually any politician of today. I am not sure that that is fair and I believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and many who sit behind him, were inspired by Margaret Thatcher, and that many of the politics in which she believed have found its way into our Government. In different ways, I believe that we are taking forward her legacy.

When I was at school, perhaps my oldest friend was Daniel Hannan, who is now an MEP. Together we observed the progress of the Thatcher Government, and we took a greater and greater interest, particularly in Europe. At the time, I was beginning to take an interest in economics and seeking to understand the interface of politics and economics. At the time, Margaret Thatcher and the now noble Lord Lawson were involved in a disagreement about shadowing the Deutschmark, and on that issue I believe that Margaret Thatcher was simply right. Even at the time, it seemed to me that it was just too good; we had had a consumer-led recovery, but as a teenager in my naive way I thought it was getting out of control. Nevertheless, I heard that there could not be a problem because the pound was at the same level against the Deutschmark and we had cut interest rates to keep it below three Deutschmarks. There was a disagreement between the Chancellor and the Prime Minister that I think was resolved terribly unfortunately for our country, but it was the Prime Minister who was right.

Towards the end of Margaret Thatcher’s time in office, Europe became the central driving issue. There is too much of a trend to say that in the last days of her premiership she had somehow lost her touch or that the man-management was not there. The issue of Europe did not develop afterwards; it was there in the central disagreement on economic policy in her Government.

I do not believe that Margaret Thatcher’s personal split with Geoffrey Howe was about personality. On 25 June 1989, Geoffrey Howe with the noble Lord Lawson said to Margaret Thatcher that unless she set a timetable to join the exchange rate mechanism, they would resign. She believed that Geoffrey Howe was behind that, and a month later she removed him from his post as Foreign Secretary. Eighteen months later she made a statement when she came back from the Rome summit, which we recall for “No. No. No.”, and which led to Geoffrey Howe’s resignation and his later speech that set in train the events leading to Margaret Thatcher’s downfall. Listening to that debate again this morning, what struck me was how she answered Tony Benn when he said to her, “You now say this, but how do we know that this is any more than you seeking partisan short-term advantage by wrapping yourself in the flag? It was you who took us into the ERM without consulting the British people, you who signed the Single European Act, and you who sat in a Cabinet that took us into the Common Market without a referendum.”

Margaret Thatcher answered him and said that she would have used different words. In essence, however, she agreed with him. There was a mea culpa. On those issues, he had been right and she regretted the stance that she had taken. She said those things while she was Prime Minister, and I believe that it set in train the process that led to her fall. However, she also inspired a new generation of politicians. There is the question

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whether we will ultimately be part of an ever-closer union in Europe or again be an independent country. Margaret Thatcher at least kept open that possibility by restoring our national strength, so that it could once again be resolved in favour of independence.

9.34 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): It is a privilege to close this debate on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

We have heard excellent contributions from right hon. and hon. Members on the Back Benches of both sides of the House, and from all parts of the UK. Because of time constraints, I cannot mention them all, but I want to single out just four. We heard thoughtful contributions from those who served under her, such as the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood). We heard from Members who knew her personally. The hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) made a deeply felt contribution. He spoke with eloquence and emotion, particularly about his experiences of her in her later years.

However, while we recognise Baroness Thatcher as an extraordinary figure, we have heard many right hon. and hon. Members speak with great feeling and conviction about her influence on them and their constituencies, including my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson). I represent a former mining community in Scotland, and I believe it is only right that the House has heard from Members who represent similar communities. The debate has shown the wide-ranging views in the House. I am sure that Baroness Thatcher, as a great parliamentarian, would appreciate how the debate has been conducted.

Today has been an opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to express their condolences to Baroness Thatcher’s family and close personal friends. The Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken of her political achievements. She was the first woman to lead a British political party, the first female British Prime Minister, the winner of three general elections, and a leader who certainly knew her mind.

The House has heard memories of Baroness Thatcher from the world stage to the domestic stage, and the debate has been a fitting tribute to her.

9.37 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): It is a great privilege to bring this debate in tribute Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven to a close.

The tributes to Margaret Thatcher give a compelling testimony to her remarkable character and achievements. Her family and her many friends will be very grateful for the condolences offered in many remarks. They will be grateful to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Prime Minister for their remarks, and grateful to many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and particularly my Conservative colleagues, who gave personal testimony not only to her political, public and international achievements, but to her private warmth and kindnesses, and even, contrary to the myth, to her sense of humour.

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The debate captured the essence of Margaret Thatcher. We have not had the opportunity to do so in the 21 years since she left the House, but it is fitting that we could do so today. The descriptions of her achievements fully justify what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said of her—he has said that she is a great Briton and our greatest peacetime Prime Minister.

I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues for their generous remarks. The Leader of the Opposition was followed not least by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who was characteristically thoughtful and generous. Margaret Thatcher did indeed break the consensus—that was her purpose and her achievement. It is perfectly possible, as he and other Opposition Members have said, to disagree with her policies but recognise the character of that achievement. The hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) said that history will judge her as a great Prime Minister, and indeed it will.

Other Opposition Members who opposed her policies did not necessarily engage in quite the same generosity of view. Margaret Thatcher would not have been surprised. She always expected her convictions and determination to achieve change to lead to opposition and argument. As my hon. Friends have said, she always relished that argument. In fact, when I was listening to the hon. Members for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) and for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), I could practically hear her at the Dispatch Box enjoying herself—she would have wanted to be here participating in that argument. She knew that the principles for which she always stood firm had to be fought for not just by her generation, but by every generation. That is the tribute that she would most want. It has been demonstrated in many speeches today that those values are recognised, are being upheld and will be pursued with the same conviction in the future.

Many Members have given great testimony of her public character. Not least, we have heard about her courage in the face of terrorism, whether it was the IRA and the Brighton bomb or the murders of Airey Neave and Ian Gow. We have heard about her courage in facing up to the invasion of the Falklands and taking the decisions that were never easy, but were entirely necessary to see off a dictatorship.

We have heard about Margaret Thatcher’s beliefs and convictions. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), in a remarkable speech, said that she described politics as philosophy in action. Her convictions did not change. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) made clear, her convictions were formed in the elections in 1974 and pursued with determination thereafter.

As my hon. Friends the Members for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) and for Dewsbury (Simon Reevell) said, Margaret Thatcher’s convictions did not divide this country, but in many ways united people who had never before been supporters of her party. I think that it was in the 1987 election that more trade unionists voted for Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative party than for the Labour party. They recognised, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) said, that she had faced up to the harsh realities and did what was right. They supported her for doing what was right.

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Many hon. Friends, including my hon. Friends the Members for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), remarked on Margaret Thatcher’s patriotism and love of this country. I particularly liked it when my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) said that Margaret Thatcher’s love of this country extended to a love of Worcestershire and the music of Elgar. I was pleased to hear that.

Margaret Thatcher was a radical and a reformer. Her achievements were the result of turning her conviction into a determination to achieve change.

This debate is remarkable not least for capturing a sense of her personal kindnesses and support. Of course, she was the first women Prime Minister and leader of a party. That is at the heart of how she inspired so many in the House, particularly women Members of Parliament, and women in politics across the world. She not only inspired women in politics, but supported them. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing), the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) and many other Members who said how they had been helped and supported by her. I note that Margaret Thatcher’s support and kindness extended to many Members of the 2010 intake. They might not have served in this House with her, but they were inspired by her and even personally supported by her. That is remarkable.

We have heard good examples of Margaret Thatcher’s humour. I loved the example from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who said that when he met her in the Lobby during a 10 o’clock vote, he asked, “Should I follow you?”, to which she said, “People do.” I shall carry that wonderful thought with me.

Margaret Thatcher inspired loyalty, a point which my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) captured. He worked for her loyally, as did so many in this Chamber and beyond. She inspired loyalty among her staff and extended her loyalty to others, including by recognising people’s service and sacrifice. The House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) for describing how she supported the wounded in the military hospital in Northern Ireland.

Many people in this House were inspired by Margaret Thatcher and worked with her. I had that opportunity myself. In 1979, I heard her speak in support of John Hannam in Exeter. She set out her objectives of breaking the power of the trade unions, restoring sound money and making Britain great again. She did those things. It is a remarkable thing in politics to be able to say “I am setting out with certain objectives” and then to do those things. However, she did so much more, and we have heard about so many of those things during today’s debate.

Years later, when I was director of the Conservative Research Department and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I were at the receiving end of demands for briefing and policy work, I witnessed that ability. Margaret Thatcher had a compass to steer by. A meeting with her was not a meeting at which people

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offered a range of views and she tried to assess where the balance lay; it was a meeting at which she adduced all the evidence and arguments, and applied her principles and convictions to them. She might express her support for free enterprise, for instance. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester described her support for freedom and liberty against an over-mighty state. She might express her support for personal liberty, as distinct from the idea that all responsibilities could be handed over to some society without a sense of the responsibility of individuals, families and communities to step up and do what needed to be done. My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) illustrated that by means of a full quotation.

I saw all that for myself, just in that last year before Margaret Thatcher ceased to be Prime Minister, and I found it remarkable, but what I also found remarkable were her private warmth and kindnesses. When I was private secretary to Norman Tebbit at the time of the Brighton bomb and immediately after it, she extended to Norman and Margaret Tebbit innumerable kindnesses. They included looking after Norman Tebbit at Chequers while Margaret Tebbit was at Stoke Mandeville just down the road.

It has been made clear by so many contributions from the Government Benches today that we understand how Margaret Thatcher steered this country out of decline and hopelessness. She enabled what had been the sick man of Europe to gain international respect and subsequently admiration, and even to be seen as a country to be emulated. She transformed this country, and, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) pointed out, she even transformed the Labour party. The tribute that we can best offer her is not just to remember that, but never to go back and always to build on her achievements: to be a country that is strong, free, respected and enterprising, and to be a people who are responsible, knowing, as my colleagues said more than once today, that the best for this country is ahead of us rather than behind us. That was her conviction. She was convinced that, given the principles that sustained her, that could be true.

Margaret Thatcher served in the House for 33 years, and she served this country every day of her life. Today, in recognition of her service and her achievements, we in the House have paid our tributes. Next Wednesday, as a country, we will have a chance to offer our thanks and to say our farewells.

I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of tributes to the Rt Hon Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG OM.

Sittings of the House


That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn till Monday 15 April––(Mr Swayne.)

9.48 pm

House adjourned.