Caroline Lucas : 1st Green MP : House of Commons maiden speech

This is the text of the speech that Caroline gave May 27, 2010 at 3.30pm 


Mr Speaker,

I am most grateful to you for calling me during today’s debate.

The environment is a subject dear to my heart, as I’m sure you know, and I’ll return to it in a moment.

I think anyone would find their first speech in this chamber daunting, given its history and traditions, and the many momentous events it has witnessed. 

But I have an additional responsibility, which is to speak not only as the new Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion, but also as the first representative of the Green Party to be elected to Westminster.

You have to go back several decades, to the election of the first Nationalist MPs in Scotland and Wales, to find the last maiden speech from a new national political party.

And perhaps a better comparison would be those first Socialist and Independent Labour MPs, over a century ago, whose arrival was seen as a sign of coming revolution.

When Keir Hardie made his maiden speech to this House, after winning the seat of West Ham South in 1892, there was an outcry.

Because instead of frock coat and top hat, he wore a tweed suit and deerstalker.  It’s hard to decide which of these choices would seem more inappropriate today.

But what Keir Hardie stood for now seems much more mainstream.

Progressive taxation, votes for women, free schooling, pensions and abolition of the House of Lords.

Though the last of these is an urgent task still before us, the rest are now seen as essential to our society.

What was once radical, even revolutionary, becomes understood, accepted and even cherished.

In speaking today, I am helped by an admirable tradition – that in your first speech to this House, you should refer to your constituency and to your predecessor.

David Lepper, who stood down at this election after thirteen years service as Member for Brighton Pavilion, was an enormously hard-working and highly-respected Member whose qualities transcend any differences of Party.  I am delighted to have this chance to thank him for his work on behalf of the people of Brighton.

It is also a great pleasure to speak about Brighton itself. It is, I am sure, well-known to many Members, if only from Party conferences.

My own Party has not yet grown to a size to justify the use of the Brighton Centre, although I hope that will change before long.

But I can say to honourable members who are not familiar with it,  that it is one of the UK’s premier conference venues; and there are proposals to invest in it further to help ensure that Brighton retains its status as the UK’s leading conference and tourism resort.

There are also the attractions of the shops and cafes of the Lanes and North Laine, the Pier and of course the Royal Pavilion itself, which gives its name to the constituency.

And beyond the immediate boundaries of the constituency and the city, there is the quietly beautiful countryside of the South Downs and the Sussex Weald.

Brighton has always had a tradition of independence – of doing things differently.   It has an entrepreneurial spirit, making the best of things whatever the circumstances, and enjoying being ahead of the curve.

We see this in the numbers of small businesses and freelancers within the constituency, and in the way in which diversity is not just tolerated, or respected, but positively welcomed and valued.

You have to work quite hard to be a “local character” in Brighton.

We do not have a single dominant employer in Brighton. As well as tourism and hospitality, we have two universities, whose students make an important cultural, as well as financial, contribution to the city.

There are also a large number of charities, campaigning groups and institutes based there, some local, others with a national or international reach, such as the Institute of Development Studies, all of which I will work to support in my time in this place.

I would like also to pay tribute to those wonderful Brighton organisations that work with women. In particular I’d like to mention Rise, who do amazing work with women who have been victims of domestic abuse.

Many of my constituents are employed in the public and voluntary sectors. They include doctors and teachers, nurses and police officers, and others from professions that do not always have the same level of attention or support from the media, or indeed from politicians.

But whatever the role – social workers, planning officers, highway engineers or border agency staff – we depend upon them.

I’m sure that members on all sides would agree that all those who work for the State should be respected and their contribution valued. In a time of cuts, with offhand comments about bureaucrats and pencil-pushers, that becomes yet more important.

There is also a Brighton that is perhaps less familiar to honourable members. The very popularity of the City puts pressure on transport and housing and on the quality of life.

Though there is prosperity, it is not shared equally. People are proud of Brighton, but they believe that it can be a better and fairer place to live and work.

I pledge to everything I can in this place to help achieve that, with a particular focus on creating more affordable, more sustainable housing.

Brighton was once the seat of the economist Henry Fawcett who, despite his blindness, was elected there in 1865. Shortly afterwards he married Millicent Garrett, later the leader of the suffragists, a movement he himself had supported and encouraged.

So he lent his name to the Fawcett Society, which is still campaigning for greater women’s representation in politics.

The task of ensuring that Parliament better reflects the people that it represents remains work in progress – and as the first woman elected in Brighton Pavilion, this is work that I will do all that I can do advance.

I said when I began that I found this occasion daunting.

Perhaps the most difficult task is to say a few words about the latest radical move that the people of Brighton have made – that is, to elect the first Green MP to Parliament.

It has been a long journey.

The Green Party traces its origins back to 1973, and the issues highlighted in its first Manifesto for a Sustainable Society – including security of energy supply, tackling pollution, raising standards of welfare and striving for steady state economics – are even more urgent today.

If our message had been heeded nearly 40 years ago, I like to think we would be much closer to the genuinely sustainable economy that we so urgently need,  than we currently are today.

We fielded fifty candidates in the 1979 general election as the Ecology Party, and began to win seats on local councils. Representation in the European Parliament and the London Assembly followed.

Now, after nearly four decades of the kind of work on doorsteps and in council chambers which I am sure honourable members are all too familiar, we have more candidates and more members, and now our first MP.

A long journey.

Too long, I would say.

Politics needs to renew itself, and allow new ideas and visions to emerge.

Otherwise debate is the poorer, and more and more people will feel that they are not represented.

So I hope that if, and when, other new political movements arise, they will not be excluded by the system of voting. Reform here, as in other areas, is long-overdue.

The chance must not be squandered.   Most crucially, the people themselves must be given a choice about the way their representatives are elected.

And in my view, that means more than a referendum on the Alternative Vote – it means the choice of a genuinely proportional electoral system.

Both before the election and afterwards, I have been asked the question: what can a single MP hope to achieve? I may not be alone in facing that question.

And since arriving in this place, and thinking about the contribution other members have made over the years, I am sure that the answer is clear, that a single MP can achieve a great deal.

A single MP can contribute to debates, to legislation, to scrutiny. Work that is valuable, if not always appreciated on the outside.

A single MP can speak up for their constituents.

A single MP can challenge the executive.  I am pleased that the government is to bring forward legislation to revoke a number of restrictions on people’s freedoms and liberties, such as identity cards.

But many restrictions remain. For example, control orders are to stay in force. Who is to speak for those affected and for the principle that people should not be held without charge, even if it is their own homes?

House arrest is something we deplore in other countries. I hope through debate we can conclude that it has no place here either.

A single MP can raise issues that cannot be aired elsewhere.

Last year Honourable Members from all sides of the House helped to shine a light on the actions of the international commodities trading group Trafigura, and the shipping of hazardous waste to the Ivory Coast.

There was particular concern that the media in this country were being prevented from reporting the issues fully and fairly.

This remains the case, for new legal actions concerning Trafigura have been launched in the Dutch courts, and are being reported widely in other countries, but not here.

Finally, I would like to touch on the subject of today’s debate.

I have worked on the causes and consequences of climate change for most of my working life, first with Oxfam – for the effects of climate change are already affecting millions of people in poorer countries around the world – and then for ten years in the European Parliament.

But if we are to overcome this threat, then it is we in this chamber who must take the lead.

We must act so that the United Kingdom can meet its own responsibilities to cut the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that are changing our climate, and encourage and support other countries to do the same.

This House has signed up to the 10:10 Campaign – 10% emissions reductions in 2010.  That’s very good news.  But the truth is that we need 10% emission cuts every year, year on year, until we reach a zero carbon economy.

And time is running short.  If we are to avoid irreversible climate change, then it is this Parliament that must meet this historic task.

That gives us an extraordinary responsibility – and an extraordinary opportunity.

Because the good news is that the action that we need to tackle the climate crisis is action which can improve the quality of life for all of us – better, more affordable public transport, better insulated homes, the end of fuel poverty, stronger local communities and economies, and many more jobs.

I look forward to working with Members from all sides of the House on advancing these issues.

Historic first for UK Greens : Caroline Lucas elected to House of Commons


Prof. Arnold Cassola, Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party Spokesperson on EU  and International Affairs, stated: ‘I have had the honour and pleasure of working for nearly seven years with Caroline Lucas in the European parliament and have witnessed personally her commitment to Green politics.   The electorate in Brighton has decided to abandon its allegiance to the two big parties, based only a question of family tradition, and rightly decided to reward a politician of proven competence on the basis of merit rather than of family allegiance.  We look forward to such thing happening in Malta, the last bastion of subservience to the climate of clientelism and patronage, as created by the PN and PL over the past half century’.

Michael Briguglio, AD Chairperson, added: ‘The election of the first ever Green to Parliament represents a truly historic moment. Hundreds of thousands of Green voters across Britain now have, for the first time, a voice in Parliament, and genuinely progressive views on issues such as the economy, health, and the environment will now be heard’.

‘AD has written to the Greens in the UK to congratulate them on their success. The election of the Greens in  the British parliament confirms that positive swing of Green parties across various European countries, including not only established Green constituencies such as Germany and France, but also the magnificent results in other elections such as the first-ever election of Green MPs in Hungary a few weeks ago. Greens are currently in Government in Finland and Ireland and are an important and principled group in the European Parliament’.

‘The British election shows that the first-past-the post voting system used for general elections is utterly discredited. Caroline Lucas will be strongly backing calls for a referendum to replace it with a form of proportional representation that properly reflects the needs and views of 21st century voters. AD supports such calls and aims to have a similar and fair truly proportional system in Malta’.

The Nature of Green Politics

published on September 13, 2008


On being elected leader of the Greens in England and Wales last week, MEP Caroline Lucas stated: “There is a huge number of people out there who want to hear our message and we want to get better at getting it across. I want to get our message out about social justice. Everyone knows we are the party of the environment. What fewer people know is that if you are looking for the real progressive force in British politics today, it is the Green party”.

During the March 2008 general election, the PN took on board most of AD’s environmental policies. The MLP is now taking on board AD’s campaign on civil rights: divorce, gay rights, local council voting at age 16. AD’s campaign on rent reform has borne fruit. A consensus seems to be developing around AD’s electoral proposal on the energy surcharge: having a low or no charge for basic use and a high charge for excessive users.

An impressive contribution by a political party which has not yet made it to Parliament!

It is to early to state whether the PN and/or the MLP are trying to be greener than the greens. The emerging interest of the PN and the MLP in Green politics is positive as, in fact, this is coalition building by the back door!

It is to be borne in mind that Green parties are not restricted to environmental issues although, as stated by Ms Lucas, the environment is that area of politics with which Greens are mostly associated.

The Charter of The Global Greens, approved in Canberra in 2001, in fact identifies six principles forming the basis of Green politics: ecological wisdom, social justice, participatory democracy, non-violence, sustainability and respect for diversity. Viewed together, they form the basis of Green politics. All six are enshrined in the policy positions taken locally by AD.

Humankind is part of the natural world. We must respect all the other species forming part of this world. All forms of life are to be valued as all belong to the same natural world. This signifies that we must learn to live within the ecological and resource limits of planet earth and that we must ensure fulfilling the basic duty to respect biodiversity and life-support systems. Where we have little or no knowledge we must be cautious and tread carefully, thereby ensuring that we do not prejudice present and future generations. Basic to the achievement of social justice is the equitable distribution of resources. Social and environmental justice are thus intertwined.

Green parties the world over are firm believers in subsidiarity. AD will by the time of publication of this article have made public its proposals for a reform of local government. AD will argue for a strengthening of local government in Malta through devolution of additional responsibilities, clearer funding rules, Green tendering procedures at a local level and the need to introduce a referendum to decide on development projects having a significant impact on the locality.

The Greens respect diversity. Diversity of opinion. Ethical pluralism. Diversity in gender orientation. This has to be reflected in everyday politics. Hence, the Greens stand up against homophobia and support the right of gays and lesbians to be treated as equal persons of our community to which they too contribute through their daily toil.

The Greens favour divorce in contrast to those who believe in the theocratic powers of the state of imposing the beliefs of a section of the community on the rest. Those who believe in the indissolubility of marriage have a right to freely practise their beliefs. However, they have no right to impose their beliefs on the rest of the country. The state in Malta is still theocratic in this respect. It is about time that the winds of change open up the doors of ethical pluralism. Divorce has been recognised in Malta since 1975 but only for those who have the financial means to proceed to a foreign jurisdiction.

The effects of the March 2008 electoral campaign will take some time to sink into the psyche of the Maltese voter. It is not just about electoral promises which will not be fulfilled. Nor about scandals such as the Mistra one or the reversal of dubious pre-electoral decisions such as that on the development at Transfiguration Avenue in Lija. Voters are realising that the major parties avoided issues in March but subsequently had to face them. The shipyards debacle is a case in point wherein government intransigence had to give way to a civil society insistence on dialogue. Common sense eventually prevailed.

In the months ahead, the Greens in Malta will continue to face the issues and present to the public the progressive options which lie ahead.