Big Issue founder John Bird makes maiden speech in House of Lords

In an "astounding" maiden speech, Baron Bird of Notting Hill spoke of the work of The Big Issue in preventing poverty in Britain

The Big Issue founder John Bird electrified the House Of Lords today with a maiden speech that spoke of his decades of fight to beat poverty, indicated that he wants to bring lessons learned to bear during his time as a peer, and also left some members a little confused. 

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,” said Bird, who was named a crossbench peer last autumn.

“We held hands [of 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, another important change-maker in the House of Lords.

Wootton was one of the first women admitted to the House of Lords. In a curious association with the new Lord Bird, 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. Without her influence his rise may have proved impossible.

“I’d like to think if she was alive today she’d rush over and give me the biggest hug I’ve ever had,” he added.

“Lord Bird has been at the forefront of bringing about innovation and change. He has made it clear that old strictures have to change,” said Baroness Barker introducing the new Baron Bird of Notting Hill.

There were also some curiously knowing laughs when The Big Issue boss added: “Some people have asked me, ‘How did you get into the House of lords.’ And I say ‘By lying, cheating and stealing.’”

The speech drew a rapturous response in and out of the chamber.

“You have educated the noble lords in words they haven’t heard in decades!” said 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: