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Enhanced co-operation between European countries is absolutely essential if there is to be a truly flexible European Union. I have become aware of some of those issues because of my membership of the Labour party's policy commission "Britain in the World". Being a pro-European myself, I cannot see how the amendments proposed by the Tories would do anything but restrict the Government's ability to negotiate. To exclude and not include seems quite daft.
My predecessor in the House was John Home Robertson, a diligent and hard-working Member who will continue to represent the people of East Lothian in the Scottish Parliament. He was first elected to the House in 1978, after the unexpected and untimely death of Professor John P. Mackintosh. He was also elected during a period, unlike now, when the then Labour Government had had difficulty holding marginal or even safe seats at by-elections. John served his constituency well, especially during the miners strike, when he raised more issues than most hon. Members.
As a Member of this place, it will be a great pleasure to work closely with John Home Robertson, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, and with Provost Pat O'Brien and the Labour-controlled East Lothian council. That combination will ensure that the people of East Lothian continue to receive the high standard of representation that they enjoy and expect from the Labour party.
I have already mentioned John P. Mackintosh, whose achievements in life as a professor of politics and campaigner for a Scottish Parliament are very well known. Perhaps less well known is that he twice gained the constituency from the Conservative party, and that on the second such occasion the defeated Tory Member was none other than the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). Suffice it to say that, like many other invaders in history, and similar to his bid for leadership of the Tory party, his sojourn to East Lothian was brief.
East Lothian is a stunningly beautiful part of Scotland. It is situated east of Edinburgh, north of the Lammermuir hills and adjacent to the Firth of Forth and North sea. It is therefore a community with natural boundaries. Talking about the Firth of Forth, I was fortunate enough to be brought up on the north side of the Forth, with a majestic view to the south. I now represent and bide in a constituency on the south side of the Forth with a monumental view to the north. All thatand now I discover that occasionally in this place I have yet another view, of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), albeit not so prepossessing.
East Lothian did have, and still does have, its troublesome times. Located where it is, so close to the English border, it was inevitable that it would become a route for, and battleground between, the military forces of Scotland and England. Many famous battles were fought on East Lothian soil. Mary Queen of Scots lost her cause in Scotland, at Carberry hill, in 1567. In the following century, at the battle of Dunbar, Oliver Cromwell's new model army decisively defeated Scottish forces sympathetic to the monarchy. The battle of Prestonpans was memorable, when Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobites were victorious against the Government forces led by
Speaking of battles and Government forces, in the general election campaign I was lucky enough to be supported by the Deputy Prime Minister. He was due to visit Prestonpans Labour club. The night before the auspicious visit, I was decorating the club and blowing up balloons, as one does, when the news came in that my right hon. Friend had an altercation with one of the British electorate, so I had no idea what to expect. We did not know what type of reception he would receive, whether it would be hostile or supportive. In the event, it was massive. It was a media circus. It was like a night at the Oscars, cameras and flashlights everywhere.
Although there have been revolutions as well in East Lothian, they have been relatively peaceful ones. Coal, the fuel of industrialisation, was mined in East Lothian from at least the 13th century. The conditions were extremely cruel, and for those people serfdom was not abolished until 1799. For many years later, until well into the l9th century, large numbers of women and girlssome as young as sixwere forced to work in the mines. Indeed, a parliamentary commission reported in 1842 that conditions in East Lothian were
I felt that I could not or should not make my maiden speech without mentioning my maiden name and paying tribute to my family, some of whom are here today. I was born Anne Moffat of the famous dynasty of Moffats who are steeped in the history of the Scottish miners trade union movement and who hailed from Fife and East Lothian. It is fitting that a Fifer is representing the good people of East Lothian.
The NHS plan agreed last year sets the right path for investment and reform. I have seen the Government's proposals for the next 10 years and I utterly refute the suggestion that they represent a privatisation agenda. Everything now being proposed was in that plan and the service bought into it. I have to be honest and say that I do not believe that in an ideal world the PFI would be the way to build hospitals. It is a fact, however, that the investment programme is based on harnessing private capital for public good. The question is whether the price is too high.
Nevertheless, I welcome the new pilot schemes which are designed to enable ancillary staff to remain part of the NHS team. Securing this change will make a major difference to staff attitudes. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health shares my view that the support and commitment of the staff in the health service who subscribe to the unfashionable belief in the public service ethos are crucial to the success of the Government's plans.
I lived and worked in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. It was a time of mass riots, hunger strikes and the killing of innocents. Bombs, bullets and mindless violence were an accepted part of everyone's life. I nursed, and I saw at first hand the sheer devastation. A return to those days for the good people of Northern Ireland would be a travesty. They are the warmest, kindest people one could ever hope to meet. I wish my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Ministerand, indeed, all those who are part of the processall the very best in their endeavours to maintain peace.
Before I conclude, it would be appropriate for me to mention that East Lothian crossed a threshold on 7 June by electing its first ever woman MP. Women in East Lothian have come a long way since they worked in the mines and led riots and I am very proud to have this honour bestowed upon me.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): I congratulate the hon. Member for East Lothian (Anne Picking) on delivering an excellent maiden speech, full of eloquence and obvious feeling for her constituency. She and I have in common a background in health and constituencies with strong martial traditions. I am hugely privileged to represent the Wiltshire county constituency of Westbury.
As hon. Members might expect, Europe features prominently among the concerns of my constituents. In particular, the prospect of an autonomous European military capability that was championed by the Prime Minister at St. Malo and fleshed out at Nice is viewed with unease. The threat that the proposed Euro force might pose to one of the most successful post-war organisations, NATO, and to our symbiotic relationship with the United States has surely not been adequately
I am sure that hon. Members are looking forward to the end of term and to the opportunity of taking a summer break during the recess. The Prime Minister's announcement that he intends to flout tradition and spend at least some of his vacation in Britain is really welcome. Our benighted tourist industry in the south-west has been badly affected by foot and mouth and it needs all the support it can get. I genuinely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear Wiltshire in mind when drawing up his holiday plansas a tourist he can be sure of a warm welcome.
The "Anglo Saxon Chronicle" records that in 878, at a high point near Edington in my constituency, King Alfred finally defeated the Danes and in so doing founded the kingdom of Wessex. Therefore, I have a legitimate claim that my constituency is the crucible of England, and in representing this giant among parliamentary divisions I am more honoured than I can possibly express.
My constituency straddles much of the territory that lies between Bath and Salisbury. It is an area of handsome small towns, attractive villages and deep verdant countryside. To the north lie the thriving county town of Trowbridge and the outrageously beautiful small town of Bradford-on-Avon. Nestling under the escarpment of Salisbury plain is the ancient settlement of Westbury with its famous chalk white horse. Further south still lie the attractive market and garrison town of Warminster and the undiscovered little gem of Mere, close to the border with Dorset. It is truly a diverse constituency. Indeed, to misquote Dr Samuel Johnson, when a man is tired of Westbury he is tired of life, for there is in Westbury all that life can afford.
West Wiltshire's very obvious physical charm conceals real problems that I suggest would match those faced by the constituencies of many Labour Members. Hon. Members should never for a moment suppose that the English shire counties are untroubled by relative poverty, for that is not so. My constituents have all been victims in one way or another of changes to the formula used in the standard spending assessment. Wiltshire's schoolchildren, road users and social services are suffering badly. Please may we now have fair funding for Wiltshire?
It is most agreeable to have another doctor in the House. The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) and I well understand the importance to our patients and our constituents of health care delivered close to home. One of the salient features of the NHS in west Wiltshire is the presence of four excellent community hospitals, but recent bed closures have resulted in considerable hardship, particularly among my elderly constituents. The villains are not just politicians, but those who advise themhealth service planners and those in health professions, with their ingrained centralist tendencies. In designing secondary, intermediate and primary health care we must listen to what the paymastersour constituentswant and be less driven by the needs and aspirations of the medical establishment.
Not so keenly missed was our predecessor, the colourful Sir Mannaseh Lopes, Baronet. Sir Mannaseh was convicted in 1819 at Exeter assizes for distributing £2,000 in brown paper envelopes while out canvassing. Shortly after his release from jail, this 19th century political comeback kid resurfaced as the Member of Parliament for Westbury, but he proved unpopular with the upright citizens of the town. Somewhat ironically, in 1826 he was replaced by Sir Robert Peel, founder inter alia of the Metropolitan police force.
Last week, two soldiers lost their lives in a Challenger 2 tank in my constituency. It was a dreadful reminder of the hazards faced by our service men in both peace and war, and of the debt of gratitude that we owe our armed forces.
When I left the medical branch of the Royal Navy in October last year, I was likened by one of my more thoughtful colleagues to a rat leaving a sinking ship. The analogy was a little unkind, but the point was well made. Our armed forces are in a truly parlous state that contrasts sharply with that enjoyed by many of our allies.
There are 29 anaesthetists on the books, and there should be 120. There are eight orthopaedic surgeons, and there should be 28. There are three casualty doctors, and there should be 23. It is ironic that one of the least moribund specialties in the defence medical services is pathology. It is small wonder that nearly 10 per cent. of the Army is currently medically downgraded. Nearly one soldier in 10 is not fighting fit.
What is surprising is the remedythe closure of the Royal hospital, Haslar, which serves many of my constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) has fought a tireless campaign against the closure, and I pay tribute to his sterling work.
If the closure of our last military hospital were not bad enough, we are now faced with the removal of the royal defence medical college from its location near Portsmouth to a new centre for defence medicine in Birmingham.
Birmingham is a truly wonderful city, but most people join the defence medical service to serve the front linewhich is billeted in Hampshire and Wiltshire, not in the middle of Birmingham. It is little wonder that esprit de corps and retention are at an all-time low.
Military medicine, European or otherwise, is an integral part of the defence effort, yet we are allowing the already fibrillating heart of Britain's defence medical services to drift irrevocably towards asystole. If we allow that to happen, our ability to prosecute even the sort of conflict in which NATO, according to many Labour Members, might reasonably be involvedbut not directlywill be severely limited. If I may issue a cry from the heart: may we please think again?