"Working for Patients"

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:02 pm on 11th May 1989.

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Photo of John Smith John Smith , Vale of Glamorgan 6:02 pm, 11th May 1989

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that you and hon. Members will bear with me while I make my maiden speech in the course of this important debate. I should like to start by thanking you and all hon. Members for the wonderful welcome that I was given on Tuesday when I took my seat and also to thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for the individual welcomes that I have received. I hope that the warmth that has been shown towards me will continue for many years.

It is customary in a maiden speech to pay tribute to one's predecessor and, if possible, to avoid controversy. The first custom I am sure that I can meet without difficulty, but I am not so sure about the second custom, given the controversial nature of the debate. But I thought that a safe formula would be to refer to my predecessor's maiden speech in 1951. Unfortunately, it was controversial. Sir Raymond Gower referred not only to the burning issue in Wales of devolution, but to the unbalanced economy and the adverse effect that that was having on his constituency and south Wales.

Therefore, I went even further back, to the maiden speech of Dame Dorothy Rees. Surprise, surprise, I found that she discussed the crisis in housing, homelessness and the problem of eviction, a major issue at the time, and the unbalanced economy. I was going to go back even further until I was told that Lynn Ungoed Thomas was an expert on the NHS and its introduction, so I thought that it might be better to miss that as well.

It is a great privilege for me to pay tribute to Sir Raymond Gower. He commanded tremendous respect within his constituency for 38 years, not least my respect as I had the honour of standing against him at the last general election. During that time, he helped his constituents tremendously. He was definitely a consensus politician and most certainly a one-nation politician. That is why he gained so much respect.

The best tribute that I can pay to the man is to refer to an experience that I had in 1979 when I contested a local election and we had the general election at the same time. I was canvassing for myself when I knocked on the door of a family who referred to themselves as Labour supporters all their lives. They said that they would vote for me in the local election but for Sir Raymond in the general election. I asked why. Surprisingly, they did not say that it was because he had helped them on a particular issue or that he was a good constituency Member of Parliament. Instead they said, "He is a friend of the family." For constituents to refer to their Member of Parliament as a friend is a great tribute, and if I can live up to that I shall be very proud indeed.

My constituency is a beautiful one, as many hon. Members know, having been there in the past three or four weeks. It is made up of the industrial town of Barry, which is celebrating its centenary this year and comprises approximately 50 per cent. of the population, and the beautiful rural Vale of Glamorgan with its rolling green hills, lush farmland and one or two nice suburbs.

My constituency has done reasonably well. It enjoys a higher than average household income and wealth in Wales, and the majority of people there consider themselves middle class. That was why I was delighted to be elected by them last week.

I have no doubt that one of the major issues in that election—in fact, the major issue—was the NHS. The matter is simple. With few exceptions, one's level of income or social status do not matter. My constituents, and, I believe, the British public, recognise that private medicine cannot meet the nation's health needs. In particular, it cannot meet the health needs of the chronically sick, the disabled and the elderly. That message came across clearly during my campaign.

My constituents were not concerned just about the reform of the NHS. My constituency already has major long-standing health issues with which to deal. For example, my constituency does not have a major casualty unit and that is completely unacceptable. It is dangerous in two ways. First, people have to travel long distances to receive emergency treatment, and, secondly, should there be an emergency or accident in the home, mums will often wait until the following morning to go to the local part-time minor casualty unit, thinking that they are doing the best thing by not putting pressure on the Health Service. That can be dangerous, because the hours immediately after a knock, a scrape or an accident are important.

We do not have, and have not had for some time, an adequate ambulance service in the constituency. In the western Vale of Glamorgan, one ambulance serves the entire area between 6 pm and 10 pm and between 12 midnight and 8 am. If there is more than one emergency, it has to be decided to which one to send the ambulance, and I have pointed out the problem of long distances. It was heart-rending when, during the by-election campaign, I spoke to a local lady, Mrs. Margaret Taylor, who told me how she lay in the road in Llantwit Major town centre for 45 minutes awaiting the arrival of an ambulance following a road accident.

In addition, we are faced with the proposed closure of the children's orthopaedic unit in Rhydlafar hospital, which is on the border of my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) but which is used by my constituents. We are also faced with a proposal to shut the most popular hospital in the Vale of Glamorgan, Sully hospital, because clearly, in view of its location, it is a prime development site. It is a beautiful hospital and my constituents do not want it to be closed.

The proposed reforms in the White Paper were the icing on the cake. All the problems to which I have referred are problems of under-funding and none of them will be met by the proposals in the White Paper. Indeed, when I had the privilege of having a private meeting with general practitioners in the constituency, before making any reference to the proposals in the White Paper they made it clear that under-funding was the major problem facing the NHS.

It has been a privilege to have this opportunity to make a short and non-controversial speech in a most important debate. I wish to thank my hon. Friends for all the help that they gave me during the by-election campaign, and I extend special thanks to the Secretary of State for Health for the assistance that he gave me. I look forward to making far more controversial speeches in the future.