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John Mann (Bassetlaw): I prepared for this, my maiden speech, with the most exquisite of cream teas at the village school fair this weekend. After it, I went to one of my house's outbuildings, where I rummaged through some of the junk of yesteryear. I came across a very old and dusty trunk, such as might feature in classic children's books--it is mysterious enough for Harry Potter to look at. With trepidation, I prised it open. I found a few historic gems and two old newspapers. One was a rolled-up edition of the Daily Mail from 1934. The paper was a broadsheet in those days, but its contents were familiar, with stories about an opium raid in London, concern over the school syllabus, the jailing of a gang of shoplifters--and about a professor calling for an integrated transport system. How times have changed!
Since 1934, the House has heard only two maiden speeches from hon. Members for Bassetlaw--from Captain Fred Bellenger in 1936, and from Joe Ashton in 1968. Captain Bellenger was reputed to have the most beautiful spouse of any hon. Member in the House at the time, and I am certain that that tradition has been upheld in this Parliament. My wife is a business woman, an occasional lorry driver, and an exporter to Europe, so I can be certain that I will be kept well informed about the concerns of business with regard to the price of diesel.
Captain Bellenger called for an increase in MPs' pay in his maiden speech, and Joe Ashton's autobiography reports that he took up the theme. Reputedly, his first words to Harold Wilson were, "Prime Minister, when do we get paid?" Like Fred, Joe served the constituency well for more than 30 years. The particular affection that local
Joe's autobiography has a foreword by the former Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook, who was, I am afraid, too busy to accept my invitation to Worksop during the recent election campaign. More's the pity, as I can announce today that the award for the top election breakfast in 2001 goes to May's cafe in Worksop. It provided a veritable feast--enough to sustain any politician through the rigour of the campaign.
One of the things least known about Bassetlaw is where it is. Well, north Nottinghamshire is Robin Hood country, although whether in his coup d'etat Lord Hattersley intends to star as Robin Hood or one of the merry men, I am not yet sure. We have a swathe of green across the constituency: it was once the dukeries, where landed gentry rested at leisure.
Let me return to the old trunk, for I mentioned a second newspaper. Pasted to the inside of the trunk is an 1880 edition of the Retford and Gainsborough Times headlined "Tories gain in Sheffield"--strange times indeed. I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) on an excellent maiden speech. I am sure that she will go well in the House. The year 1880--121 years ago--was the last time that Bassetlaw had a Member of Parliament who lived in the constituency, as I do. I live in the strawberry capital of Britain.
In 1880, my village had 40 dwellings, three of them pubs. There were two murders, one of them of a publican by the staff of one of the local pubs, and there was a severe alcohol problem. I have still to uncover any evidence of crowd incursions onto the village cricket pitch. Village life is rather more placid these days.
Swathes of red strawberries fill the fields during summer, and these are no ordinary strawberries. The best strawberries are hand picked and packed and then sent around the country to supermarket distribution centres. If I go to the local supermarket, I may find that my local strawberries have done a round-Britain trip. In reviewing our agricultural policy, I echo local sentiment--what a strange way to run the world.
My village has what every village needs--a school, a pub and a post office. I shall be looking to this Parliament for policies that sustain that basic social infrastructure of rural life. During the pre-election period, I lived on a large beef farm. I take this opportunity to congratulate those in my constituency and elsewhere who acted with speed and certainty to take precautions that have left Bassetlaw and Nottinghamshire foot and mouth free, unlike in 1967. We need a food policy that gives our farmers and rural communities certainty in planning, not merely for a year or two but for 20 years and more.
We also have the brown of many brownfield sites. With 4,500 job losses in the past 12 months--worse than in any constituency in the United Kingdom--we need sustained investment. We certainly have the land, especially at former colliery sites.
My forefathers came from Epworth, six miles across the Yorkshire border. They were saddlers and contemporaries of John Wesley. Bassetlaw is endowed with many fantastic Wesleyan chapels, and untapped tourist potential certainly exists. We are also the home of the pilgrim fathers. When Finningley airport is opened, as it surely must be, there will be tremendous potential for enticing American tourists. In February, large numbers of tourists come to Bassetlaw as part of the countryside turns white at Hodsock priory with the most beautiful white snowdrops one could find anywhere. I recommend it to everyone.
Communities of every type comprise Bassetlaw. The people are hard working and honest; they are grafters. In the war, they were the men who dug the coal, and those who fought for king and country, and the women who made the bombs, many of them stored in secret locations across my constituency. These are not an office-based people by tradition, but they can be, if given the skills.
I hope that I have given the House a bit of the kaleidoscope of the colours of my constituency--the greens, the reds, the browns, the whites. But in the last century, there was one other seasonal colour. Every four or five years, for about three weeks, every hedgerow, farmer's field and roadside verge turned a dark blue. That was until one spring in 1997, when that traditional blue was seen much less. In this new century, I am pleased to inform the House that not only has that unnatural visitor virtually disappeared from Bassetlaw's fields and hedgerows, but the farmers who once planted it with abandon now remove it on sight, should it spread to their land.
Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). He was among the first group of MPs that I met at Westminster, in a television studio, and all the new Members there made it clear that their prime duty would be to their constituents, which I found very welcome. I would argue about the best election breakfast, because I could recommend the Horse Fair cafe in Kidderminster, and I would argue about the strawberries--the strawberries of Wyre Forest are magnificent--but if that is a sample of the speeches that we shall get from the hon. Gentleman, I look forward to more.
I address the House as, I believe, the oldest new boy. I have had the ultimate compliment for the older generation in that the Fees Office, before it would pay me, demanded to see my birth certificate.
My predecessor, the former hon. Member for Wyre Forest, was the first Labour Member for the constituency for 40 years, and on election he took the welcome decision to move and to live locally. He was known as a very hard-working constituency MP, who took on many local personal and general problems with great energy and commitment. He achieved rapid promotion, but he took advice from politicians and civil servants and a small minority of local doctors about the hospital, the single local issue that meant most to his constituents. He genuinely believed that he was doing the best for his constituents in that and all matters.
Wyre Forest--rather like Bassetlaw, I do not think that anyone knows where it is--is in north-west Worcestershire, a large rural area with some towns, and suffering badly from foot and mouth disease, particularly in the neighbourhood of Chaddesley Corbett. The large towns are Kidderminster, known for its carpets, for the Kidderminster Harriers and for the Severn Valley railway; Stourport, known for its inland docks, being the Blackpool for the Birmingham residents; and Bewdley, sadly known for its floods, but also for its festival. Hon. Members who represent Birmingham constituencies probably do not realise that, in the middle ages, Birmingham was referred to as Birmingham by Bewdley.
The previous hon. Member for Tatton, whom I count as one of my friends and mentors, described himself as "An Accidental MP". I am exactly the opposite--an intentional MP but of late onset. "Late onset" to a doctor means late in life.
Recently, it has been my intention to become an MP because of an all-consuming passion, born out of an intense anger about the arrogant, dismissive and unfair treatment that my friends at home have had to suffer at the hands of unelected quangos and civil servants. I and the majority of voters knew that the voice of the people was not being heard, despite successes at local elections, and we decided to use the ultimate weapon of the democratic society--the ballot box. We demand that we be heard and that our views and needs be recognised and acted on.
I must mention the uniquely drastic, punitive and unfair downgrading of Kidderminster general hospital--an acute hospital of 300 beds that earned a charter mark for all its services. How has that been allowed to happen? Consultation was, I am afraid, a farce. The option appraisal was dressed up in pseudo-statistical clothes, but was, in reality, just a vote. The application for judicial review asked a simple question, "Is it lawful to consult on one preferred option only?" The answer, of course, was yes, so the quality of consultation was not revealed, only the quantity.
How has the change been allowed to progress unhindered? This is sinister. Following local doctors' initial documented and unanimous disagreement with the health authority, they have been effectively silenced. Three consultants across the county have bravely spoken in public about disasters and disadvantages, and they have all been censured by managers and politicians. Thus, doctors who opposed the downgrading have been effectively gagged and it was possible to promote the myth that local medical opinion was in favour of the changes.
The other myth that was devastating to us was that the downgrading took place because of royal college guidelines. That was not the case. Let us look around the country: the same royal college guidelines have been interpreted entirely differently, so more sensitive downgrading has taken place at Kendal, Bishop Auckland, Neath, Hexham and several other hospitals.
My constituents will not rest until it has been made possible to ensure the provision of emergency services locally. In the meantime, the scandalous waste of money planned for Kidderminster must be stopped. The newest ward block opened in 1995 at a cost of £14 million. It is about to be gutted at a cost of £13.7 million to provide one-stop clinics, which have been in place in existing buildings for 10 years. That local hospital issue is an example of the threat to local hospital services for rural and semi-rural communities throughout the country.
The wider issues on which I was elected are to campaign for fairness and openness in decision making and against the use of spin, and for a greater voice for ordinary people in major decisions that will affect them and to help them cut through red tape. I welcome the promises to improve education and to help the police to fight crime. In particular, I welcome the emphasis laid on foot and mouth disease today, because my constituents are badly affected.
I shall also campaign to protect the original ideals of the NHS. I am extremely worried by the threat of increasing privatisation of the NHS. Given my long experience as a doctor in the NHS, as a patient, a manager and, previously, a health authority member, my dream is to represent the patients' voice, which is so weak at present.
I must recount a moment of our campaign. Outside a middle school, I was besieged by children who all wanted my autograph. I was slightly amazed until I realised that they thought I was standing for election against the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)--the Prime Minister himself. I am pleased to say that that is not one of my ambitions. My ambition is much easier to achieve. I have already appointed myself my party's shadow health spokesman, against little competition. Above all, I shall prize my independence; I have no master save the people I represent, who returned me to the House with such resounding authority.