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Maiden Speech in House of Lords

November 4, 1958 — House of Lords, London UK


My Lords, it was with great trepidation that I put down my name on the list of speakers for the debate this afternoon. It is only a week since the new Life Peers were introduced into this House and it might seem presumptuous on my part to speak so early in this august Assembly. But I have always found in life that if there is something difficult to do it does not get any easier when you do not do it but put it off. I am very conscious of the importance of the first speech to be made by one of the Life Peers. . . . 

Before I say any more, however, I should like to respond to the very kind remarks of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, and also of the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, in opening this debate, and thank them for the generous welcome which they gave to the Life Peers. I think I can say that all of us who so recently joined the House would wish to express our gratitude for the welcome which has been accorded to us. This Assembly has the reputation of being the greatest debating Chamber in the world; but what has not been said is that this Assembly is also the friendliest assembly in the world. It is, indeed, a great honour to have been chosen to sit with your Lordships and take part in the work of the House, and I hope that we shall not disappoint you too much in the contributions which we shall endeavour to make from time to time.

This is a maiden speech, my Lords, and I would crave your indulgence. I would ask you to follow the suggestion of Matthew Prior, a Member of the other place in 1701: “Be to her virtues very kind,” “Be to her faults a little blind.” In case your Lordships should be nervous at all, I have been studying the Standing Orders of the House of Lords, of which I am sure everybody here is very cognisant, and No. 29, passed in 1626, and No. 30, passed in 1641, are well in my mind at the moment. Indeed, I am very conscious that, except for Her Majesty’s gracious Opening of Parliament, probably this is the first occasion in 900 years that the voice of a woman has been heard in the deliberations of this House. . . .

In the gracious Speech we read: “My Government will neglect no opportunity to promote the advance of the Colonial territories and the increasing association of their peoples with the management of their own affairs.” This is a principle which wins for us great support in the councils of the world. I was present in the General Assembly when Ghana took her seat as an independent country, and the Federation of Malaya, and even the most caustic critics of the colonial system stayed to praise on that occasion. all the world is searching for a way to govern in freedom. We have all seen authoritarian methods, both of the Right and of the Left. Never have I been more conscious of the differences that stand between the free world and the Communist world than in New York, sitting there, as we do, in alphabetical order, with the USSR on one side and the USA on the other, and around the Assembly the representatives of the Commonwealth — free, independent, voting as they wish, steeped in the traditions of democratic govt, while the Soviet satellites all vote as they are instructed by the USSR and no one dares raise a voice in dissent.

In this world search for the art of government I believe that the Commonwealth countries can play a great part. They stretch all round the world. The Far East for us is the New North of Australia; and everywhere, all over the world, there are centres which are linked to the Commonwealth. The leaders of our Commonwealth countries have, in many cases, been educated in our universities. They value their independence and they develop their own traditions, but they are weed to the free world and not to the Communist world. Wherever Mr Speaker takes the chair, whether he be African, Indian, Malay, Ceylanese, Canadian, Australian or New Zealander, he presides over a free Parliament where the rights of the Opposition to object are as rigorously safeguarded as the rights of the Government to govern. What is more, i many of these assemblies the words of the great Elizabethen prayer, which we listen to every day in parliament, here, are heard in the language of the country before the Parliament begins its deliberations . . . 

In the great division which separates the free world and the Communist world the nations off the Commonwealth are on the side of the free world. There are many nations, both old and new — and one sees them and meets them in New York — in the category of “uncommitted” as between this great issue which faces the 20th century world. I am convinced that we must try, through the Commonwealth countries, through our experience, and through our “know-how”, to lead those countries into the free world, and not allow them to slip into the Communist world. We can do much to lead the world in the future as we have done in the past. 

My Lords, I thank you for the kind and courteous manner in which you have received what I fear is a rather inadequate contribution to this important debate. I suppose that in some way, poor thought it be, it has made history as the first speech made by a woman from the Benches of your Lordships’ House. I hope, however, that we who are women may be regarded as having come here not because we are women bu rather because women are now admitted, and because, like others of your Lordships of first creation, Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to confer Life Peerages upon us in the same way as upon the distinguished gentlemen who are in this House to-day. I beg to support the Motion.