Finance (No. 2) Bill Debate

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Department: HM Treasury
Baroness Hazarika Portrait Baroness Hazarika (Lab) (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, it is my huge pleasure, although a bit of a scramble, to be making my maiden speech on the very last day of this Parliament. However, I have always liked cutting it fine in life. Indeed, I should thank the Prime Minister for calling this snap election because, as a journalist, I do respond well to a deadline. I am also very pleased to be making this important speech indoors; I do have an umbrella just down here.

The economy will take centre stage as citizens ponder who to vote for over the next six weeks, so I am very grateful to be able to contribute to this important debate. Before I address some of those points, I would like to thank everyone here in this House for being so patient and so kind since my introduction two weeks ago. I especially thank Black Rod, the House staff, the wonderful doorkeepers and the catering staff for making my friends and family feel so welcome. It was a day they will never forget. I would like to think that the sight of me in my ermine taking my oath was their highlight but, as they have all confessed, it was the visit to the gift shop. They have spoken of little else since. Sadly, my father is not in good health, but he was so well looked after here. Black Rod said to me, “He will not be a burden. He will be very much welcomed”; that meant the world to us.

I am incredibly proud to have been able to get agreement that my title would be Baroness Hazarika of Coatbridge. I grew up in Coatbridge in the county of Lanarkshire, near Glasgow. My father was the local GP there for many, many years. It was tough for my parents when they first arrived from a different country. People were very curious. One of my dad’s patients said to him, “What are you?” “A Muslim”, he replied. “Aye, but what kind? A Rangers Muslim or a Celtic Muslim?” That is about all the football banter you will get from me for the rest of my time in this House.

My mum and dad came from Assam in India, where the tea comes from. Many of you will have enjoyed a cup of Assam tea. It is an area to the north of the country where it rains a lot and they are fighting for independence. My parents fancied a real change of scene so they moved to Scotland, an area where—you get the picture. I am immensely proud to be the first person of Indian Assamese heritage to enter British politics. I thank everyone for all the good wishes I have had from so many people in India.

I am so glad that my parents chose to settle in Coatbridge. They say that to be Scottish is a gift and I very much believe that to be true. I feel truly humbled by my parents’ courage. Theirs is the classic story of the immigrant. They came here in the 1960s to work and build up the NHS, with £3 in their pocket, in a cold climate, yet they built such a good and happy life here for me and my brother. I pay tribute to them as first-generation immigrants for their work ethic, decency, good humour and desire to make friends with people from all different backgrounds—qualities that I hope to replicate in this House. On the big day, my father’s former receptionist, Monica, messaged me to say, “Ayesha, they are so very proud of you, but they do still wish you had become a doctor”.

I also wish to put on record my appreciation to my sponsors, my noble friends Lord Dubs and Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. They have introduced me to individuals who embody the best of humanity and who have very much inspired my politics. I would also like to thank my noble friends Lady Smith of Basildon and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, as well as their brilliant advisers, for all their support and advice. I have been here for only two short weeks but I have already been struck by how warm and courteous noble Lords from all across the political spectrum have been to me. I really thank you all for that.

It is so heartening to see that, although there is much spirited disagreement in this Chamber on so many issues, there is also a great deal of consensus and cross-party collaboration on so many others. The quality of the discussions, the rich and varied experience of so many noble Lords, and the focus on the big arguments and policy over just the raw politics make me feel immensely privileged to be here. In an era of polarisation and division, driven particularly by social media, it is important to show that, in this Chamber, although we may come from many different political tribes and none, as the late Jo Cox said, we have more in common. Although I am so proud to be here on these Benches, I have always enjoyed working across the political divide, whether in drafting policy on women and equality issues or on my Times Radio show, on which many noble Lords have appeared.

In that spirit, as we examine the Finance Bill at Second Reading, I welcome many of the measures that have been outlined, particularly the tax breaks for the creative industries, theatres, orchestras and the arts. However, I also make the important point that people all over the country, from different earning brackets—bar the super-wealthy—share a common lived experience: they are really struggling with their personal finances right now. It is of course a good thing that inflation has come down. This morning, we see a much-welcome reduction in the energy price cap, but fuel and food bills are still high compared with where they were. People are struggling with soaring mortgages, rents and childcare costs. Taxes are at their highest level in 70 years. For many in this great country, everyday life has become a financial endurance test.

As we draw proceedings to a close here today ahead of the general election, we must recognise and be honest that this is the first Parliament in modern history to see a fall in household incomes, according to the Resolution Foundation. Whoever wins the election, they must address the feeling of so many people out there that, no matter how hard they work, things are stacked against them; that, on a structural level, the economy does not work for them and their families. We must speak up for those hard-working people and small businesses.

I conclude by saying how happy, humbled and excited I am to be here with noble Lords. It is a great privilege and honour to be able to serve my country in Parliament. I hope I will live up to it; I know I will try, and provide a voice for people who are less fortunate than us. I look forward to working with noble Lords and learning from the great collective wisdom that resides within this House.