The Big Issue founder John Bird today spoke of his decades of fighting poverty through street papers in his maiden speech to the House of Lords, the second chamber of UK Parliament.
In a colourful and fierce 13 minutes, which, said Lord Patel, “will go down in the records of maiden speeches as astounding and eccentric”, Bird raised laughs by thanking his probation officer, raised eyebrows when he said “bugger” and focused on the achievements of The Big Issue.
“The Big Issue invests in 320 social businesses throughout the UK, trying to prevent the next generation of Big Issue vendors. This experience and practise I hope to bring to the service of this house,” he said.
“We held hands [with those who came to us] and we still hold their hands. We want to give a hand up not a hand out.”
Looking back at a difficult upbringing, Bird also paid tribute to the late Baroness Wootton, one of the first women admitted to the House of Lords.
During her time as a judge, Wooton sat on the bench when a certain young “troubled London slum boy” was up in front of her over 50 years ago.
“Baronness Wootton was a very important person offering me reform rather than simple punishment, education rather than the stick,” said Bird.
“I’d like to think if she was alive today she’d rush over and give me the biggest hug I’ve ever had.”
Introducing the new Baron Bird of Notting Hill, Baroness Barker said: “Lord Bird has been at the forefront of bringing about innovation and change. He has made it clear that old strictures have to change.”
“You have educated the noble lords in words they haven’t heard in decades!” added crossbencher Lord Patel. “The noble Lord Bird has inspired millions. He’s a trailblazer, he’s a social entrepreneur. It truly is a Big Issue day.”
On social media the reaction was equally upbeat.
“Lord Bird, what a speaker, if you read nothing else this weekend, check Hansard online and read his maiden speech. Simply the best one ever,” tweeted Lib Dem peer Lord Goddard.
“Fab maiden speech,” said Baroness Royall, the Labour peer and Shadow Leader of the Lords.
John Bird was named a crossbench peer last autumn.
Watch his speech here: