New dangers in a changing world

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Indy Politics
15.59 - John Major: "Madam Speaker. As I rise to speak I am conscious that around me collect the shades of great Tories past; of leaders such as the Iron Duke, such as Benjamin Disraeli, such as Randolph Churchill, such as Arthur Balfour, leaders who - like me - rose in this House to oppose changes to our historic, unwritten constitution, and to save the nation from the damage that such thoughtless change would inevitably create.

Let me start with the so-called Great Reform Act, which would do away with many historic seats - constituencies like Dunwich that have lasted a thousand years - on the spurious basis that they have no voters in them. But Dunwich is still there! Still part of this United Kingdom (albeit under the sea)! And as for abolishing pocket boroughs, would this not sever the organic and ancient link between the local squires and parliament? Has the honourable gentleman considered the effects on the country's pot- wallopers and burgage tenants of the removal of the franchise? No. I say - New Whigs, New Danger!

Let us move on to the pernicious suggestions (of a small band of disgruntled and disaffected radicals) for altering the whole basis upon which members sit in this House and are elected. Consider the effect on the necessary trust between elector and elected of the introduction of secret ballots. Or the venality loosed by any decision to pay MPs. Or the dangers inherent in an extension of voting to anyone, no matter how small their stake in the country and its economy. New Chartists, New Danger!

I turn now to the break-up of the United Kingdom - and most specifically to the proposal for Irish Home Rule. For 10 centuries now, our destiny and that of our Irish brethren has marched in tandem, our unity has strengthened both nations. To that end, Irishmen have served the Empire, and laid down their lives for its unity. To break that link will inevitably mean the end of the United Kingdom entirely. New Nationalism, New Danger!

But what, Madam Speaker, about the reform that would sow disharmony and discord in the very bosoms of the families of Britain, and set husband against wife and brother against sister?

I refer, of course, to Votes for Women. When the husband has come to a conclusion about which vote would best represent the interests of his family and his country, is this to be cancelled out by the woman who stands most to gain from his choice? This is the high road to disaster. No, Madam Speaker. New Suffrage, New Danger!

It is hardly surprising then, that I must also oppose suggestions to devolve power outside this House and away from this government, to enact unnecessary and inhibiting Freedom of Information Acts, to curb the rights of peers who sit in the Lords by right of birth, to in any way alter the present voting system. All such change would be immensely damaging to this country, and we will leave no fear uninvoked, no argument unused and no nit unpicked in our crusade to defeat such change. New Labour, New Danger!

Not, Madam Speaker, that we are opposed to all reforms. We did away with a body to represent London. We signed the Single Europe Act. Hardly a year has passed without an alteration to the powers of local government. But none of these impinged upon the ability of the Government to govern. And that, Madam Speaker, is the ultimate test that we must apply to all such attempts to change our ancient British constitution. I beg to move." (Tory benches: Hear, hear)