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9.50 am

Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton): I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I have heard many excellent speeches by so many Members who, like myself, are new to the House. It seems strange that it should be such a daunting task when many of us have been used to speaking at council and public meetings in our constituencies. Some, like my colleague the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), could not wait to make their first speech. Others, like myself and my predecessor for the constituency, Sir Ivan Lawrence, chose to approach the task at a rather more leisurely pace.

Sir Ivan made his maiden speech on 1 May 1974, and went on to make the longest continuous speech on the Floor of the House in this century--some four hours and 27 minutes. I may have emulated him on the time that it has taken me to make my first speech, Madam Speaker, but I promise I will not follow his latter example, although I commend him for his fortitude.

Before the recess, I wanted to tell the House how delighted I am to have been elected to represent the Burton constituency. I came to live in the constituency in 1968, when I married my dear Alan, who was my inspiration in politics. In those 29 years, the people of the Burton constituency have shown me their warmth, friendship and support, and I thank them for the great honour that they have given me in electing me to the House. I must also thank those who worked so hard to get a Labour Member elected for Burton for the first time since 1945, when Arthur Lyne gained the seat for Labour.

Other Members for Burton have been named Bass, Evershed, Ratcliffe and Gretton. Yes, as the name of my constituency suggests, the largest town is that of Burton upon Trent, the home of brewing--the world capital of the brewing industry. Brewing grew up in Burton because the monks of the local abbey discovered the special qualities of the local well water. By 1880, there were around 40 breweries in Burton. Now we have four--Bass, Carlsberg Tetley, Marston's and the smaller Burton Bridge Brewery.

The brewers may not now be the major employer in Burton, but the breweries still encompass large areas of the centre of the town. Many fine buildings owe their legacy to the brewing industry. The history of that industry is best displayed at the Bass museum, the home of the famous Bass shire horses.

Burton upon Trent has many qualities, including the Trent washlands, which provide a uniquely attractive informal parkland in the centre of the town. Burton upon Trent has its problems, however. It has the highest unemployment rate of all the main settlements in Staffordshire, and six of the most deprived wards in the west midlands outside the conurbation are in the town centre.

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I commend the local authorities and industries and all those who are working closely in partnership to try to overcome the high unemployment levels and improve the quality of life in those wards. Single regeneration budget and European regional development fund moneys are particularly important to the regeneration of the centre of Burton, as are the Government's welfare-to-work proposals.

We all know that there is work that needs doing, that there are homes that need improving and insulating, and people who need to use their abilities and develop their talents. In my constituency, 366 young people who have been unemployed for more than six months, and 489 long-term unemployed will benefit from the Government's policies. The 16,500 pensioners in the constituency will benefit from the cut in value added tax on fuel and, whether my constituents live in Burton upon Trent, the villages and rural areas or our other town of Uttoxeter, they now have new hope for the future.

I mentioned the breweries in Burton, but Uttoxeter is famous for its race course, one of the best small courses in the country. Four breweries and a race course--can any other constituency boast of such icons of leisure? Uttoxeter is always classified as a market town, but has always been more than just that. It has always been a working town as well and has weekly cattle and retail markets, which attract visitors from a wider area. Its industries have developed from the agricultural area by which it is surrounded.

Uttoxeter used to be the home of Bamford's agricultural machinery company and a dairy that, even in the days before refrigeration, sent milk by rail up to London. Sadly, both Bamford's and the dairy closed in the 1980s and Uttoxeter lost many local jobs. Elkes Biscuits has continued to grow, however, and is now the largest employer in the area.

The town of Uttoxeter has not only a heritage centre but a memorial to Dr. Johnson. Hon. Members will know of Dr. Samuel Johnson's skill in compiling the first dictionary, but they may not be aware of his connection with Uttoxeter. His father ran a bookstall in the marketplace. One day, when he was ill, he asked young Samuel to stand in for him. Dr. Johnson refused; so, when he was 70, he returned to Uttoxeter and, as an act of penance, stood bareheaded in the rain.

I am not too sure what Dr. Johnson would have thought about the election of a woman Member of Parliament, or the fact that there are now 120 of us in the House. He was known to make disparaging remarks about women. One of his most generous was:

I am unsure whether Mary Queen of Scots was kept in silence, but she was certainly imprisoned in Tutbury castle for 18 years. Tutbury is a charming historic village, which is famous for its Tutbury crystal. Close by, near the village of Hanbury, is the site of the biggest explosion ever to take place in this country. The Fauld explosion on Monday 27 November 1944 was caused by an underground bomb store exploding. A farm house and other buildings just disappeared, and 70 people were killed.

There are many attractive villages in my constituency: Marchington; Draycott; Newborough, with its well dressings; and, to the north, Ellastone, Stanton and

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Mayfield, which border Ashbourne and the Peak district. The rural areas are not without their problems; the six most northerly parishes are part of the SRB 5 area, and the BSE crisis caused much distress to many of my constituents.

One of the greatest success stories is the JCB factory at Rocester. It is set in superb grounds, with lakes, statues and a vast complex of buildings that blend in with the countryside around them. The company is world renowned and has become a symbol of British industry at its best; it has invested in its plant and developed other factory sites around Staffordshire, including one in Uttoxeter, and continues to develop new machines to meet the needs of customers throughout the world.

Next door to Rocester is the pretty village of Denstone, which is the gateway to the Churnet valley and Alton Towers. I am lucky to represent an area of such diversity and I look forward to continuing to work with all those who are involved with the communities in the Burton constituency, including the voluntary sector and our schools, which have welcomed the extra money in the Budget. I will work with local authorities and businesses.

My constituency is truly in the heart of England, ideally situated for inward investment and industrial and commercial development. Now that I have taken hon. Members on a tour of the delights of Burton, I hope that I will have whetted their appetites and that, during the recess, some might think it an ideal spot to visit; whether at the world barrel rolling championships at the Burton festival in September, or at the races in Uttoxeter, they will be given a very warm welcome.

10.1 am

Mr. Thomas Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I congratulate the hon. Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean) on her maiden speech, which was thoughtful and composed; she gave us many reasons to visit her constituency, not least the breweries that are based there, and I am grateful to her for not emulating her predecessor by talking for four hours or more.

I should declare an interest in my topic, albeit a non-pecuniary one. I want to discuss the accident and emergency unit at St. Helier, which is the local hospital at which our first child was born two weeks ago. In the past three years, the hospital has been in and out of the news and in the public eye.

Some hon. Members may remember a story that appeared six or nine months ago about a patient who spent 72 hours waiting on a trolley before being moved into the hospital proper. A petition calling for the A and E unit to be kept open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was signed by 2,500 local residents, as the unit was having to shut its doors at peak times because of overcrowding.

There is no doubt that conditions at the A and E unit will improve, as an extension is being built, but unfortunately, according to the nurses there, it is a case of too little, too late, and they are expected to ballot for industrial action within the next couple of weeks; they have already received approval from the Royal College of Nursing council to go ahead.

I am afraid to say that I am assured that the results of the ballot are a foregone conclusion: the nurses will take industrial action. I hasten to say that the action will be

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limited and that there is little, if any, risk to patients. The nurses intend to withdraw their good will, which means that they will not work during lunch breaks, as they currently do, or provide cover at short notice.

Why are the nurses taking action? It is not about pay and conditions at the hospital but about their concerns about the quality of care that patients are receiving at the A and E unit. They are worried because the out-patients department is being used an overspill area for the A and E unit. Even the children's waiting area--there is a separate children's unit--is being used for adults because of overcrowding.

The action could start within the next four weeks. I raised the matter with the Secretary of State for Health, but I am afraid that his response was quite blunt: to paraphrase, he said that it was nothing to do with him and was a matter for the hospital management. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) raised the matter at Prime Minister's Question Time and got a more conciliatory response, although I think that the underlying message was the same: that it was down to the hospital management.

I accept that the hospital management bears the brunt of responsibility, but the St. Helier trust had a couple of million pounds cut from its budget recently and the Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth health authority, the main purchaser in the area, has a deficit of more than £10 million, so neither of those organisations will be in a position to help the A and E unit or the nurses, and I am afraid that that leaves the Secretary of State for Health in the firing line.

I hope that we will not be told about jam in the next financial year. The A and E unit is under threat this year and the nurses propose to take industrial action this summer--not next year, but probably within the next four weeks. I hope that the Leader of the House will convey my great concern to the Secretary of State; there is still time for him to take action. He can still take an interest in the dispute and help to secure a painless outcome for patients, staff and management at the hospital.

There is still time to stop the RCN taking action. It should be noted that it would be the first time that the RCN has taken action because of concerns about the quality of patient care. I hope that my plea will not fall on deaf ears and that the Secretary of State will show that the national health service really is safe in the new Government's hands.

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