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Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : Nearly, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) is not here. He is senior to me, anyway.

I had no intention of intervening in this debate. Madam Deputy Speaker, if I had realised that you thought that I was the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party, I would not have done so. I have been provoked into so doing by the deplorable speech of the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who displayed all the reasons why he was fired as a Transport Minister some years ago. He displayed a total lack of any knowledge of the subject which we are discussing tonight, and he made a deplorable attack on some of us who are proud of having worked in the railway industry.

I am proud of my background and that of my father, who also worked in the railway industry.

I listened to the scoffs a few moments ago when my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) said that she was sponsored by the Association of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen. I wonder at some Government Members who are prepared to defend some of the things which takes place here and the conduct of their

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hon. Friends--particularly with regard to the events of the past week--yet sneer at those of us in the Opposition who are sponsored by industrial trade unions.

Anybody who knows me--including your good self, if I may say so, Madam Deputy Speaker--knows that I am hardly likely to be told either how to speak or how to vote in the House because the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers pays a sum of money to my constituency party to see that I am elected from time to time. It has never paid me a penny, any more than ASLEF pays my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate or the RMT pays my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell). Yet we continually suffer jibes during debates such as this, that we are somehow bought and paid for. It is, of course, not true.

There are genuine fears among railway workers about the future of their pensions. Those fears have not been caused by Opposition Members, but have arisen directly from the legislation which has so fragmented the railway industry and, in so doing, has fragmented the pension funds on which those workers will depend in later life. It is always interesting to listen to the emollient words of the Minister of State, who I hope survives the reported purge this week. It is not for me to rearrange the ornaments along the Government Front Bench, but some of us would welcome the Minister's survival, because he shows a genuine interest in and concern about the future of the railway industry and the pension funds.

I hope he will acknowledge that there are already deep-seated and genuine fears among not just the signalling grades, but all grades within the industry about the future of their pensions. The conduct of the Government and Railtrack during the current dispute has done nothing other than to exacerbate those fears.

Mr. Waterson : Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether he thinks that the future of the rail industry will be helped or hindered by the current industrial action by the RMT ?

Mr. Snape : The straight answer is that the future of the rail industry is in no way helped by the industrial action, and I wish that the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends would acknowledge that fact. The 5.7 per cent. offer which was made to the signalmen and withdrawn after the intervention of the Secretary of State does not help. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked me a straight question, and I have given him a straight answer. The future of the railway industry will not be helped by the intransigent attitude of Ministers, who reacted to the 5.7 per cent. offer by saying that it must be 2.5 per cent., and interfering as they have done to drag on the dispute.

There are various other grades within the industry which have settled and received payment for past productivity, which means that their pension entitlement is obvious, laid down and transparent under the terms of this order. That does not apply to signalling staff, and without being, I hope, unduly partisan--my sympathies are well enough known, and I shall reiterate them tonight--there are real and understandable fears among signalling staff that they are being coerced into a settlement for which many will not vote. If the dispute comes towards a conclusion, signalling staff who voted for a strike in the first place will have to vote on whether any offer is acceptable.

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They are enormously concerned that pressure will be put on them under the terms of the order to go back to work and see that the dispute is concluded by 30 September, or they will lose. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate pointed out that a considerable sum of money--£250 million--is involved in the order, which would be paid in pensions to drivers. That is not an inconsiderable sum by any stretch of the imagination.

So far as signalling staff are concerned, the pension fund will be considerably affected and altered under the provisions of the order.

I hope that the Minister of State will ignore some of the more inflammatory comments made tonight, especially those from the hon. Member for Eltham. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say something sympathetic about those who have voted for action. The action has nothing to do with the extreme left. In a poll conducted among 80 per cent. of signalmen, they voted 4 :1 for industrial action. Despite the terms of the order and question about the future of their pensions, the signalmen will not vote to return to work until they are satisfied that the efforts they have made are given some recognition.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will resist the temptation to make further propaganda and will ensure that the dispute is settled honourably, so that those signalmen too may benefit under the terms of the order, just as other railway grades, who have made equal contributions to the productivity of the industry, have already benefited.

11.29 pm

Mr. Wilson : With the leave of the House, I should like to reply on behalf of the Opposition.

We have had a useful debate, not least because it has kicked around some of the current issues. The one contribution that I exempt from that description came from the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley). When the dispute started, I remember taking part in a discussion with him on radio, although we were in separate studios. The following morning, I did another radio interview when a tape of the comments of the hon. Member for Eltham was played. I said that that must have been what he said the night before, but I was told, "No, no. That is what he said this morning."

That demonstrated conclusively that he was reading from exactly the same script. After six weeks, he has managed to learn it off by heart, which is progress, I suppose, in terms of the hon. Gentleman, but it is still the same rubbish and is completely unhelpful in terms of resolving anything.

Dr. Hampson : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You might rightly have been irritated by some of us on the Conservative Benches, who were getting extremely irritated by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr.Wilson), who was abusing the terms of the narrow order to score points about the industrial dispute. The hon. Gentleman has now started to do just that again ; he is deliberately using the debate to make points about the current dispute. He has just proved that by talking about events in past few weeks.

Madam Deputy Speaker : I think that the hon. Member may safely leave this in my hands.

Mr.Wilson : When the hon. Member grows up, he might make a speech on the subject.

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We have demonstrated to your satisfaction, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to that of the Minister, who has some understanding of the matter, that there is a connection between the order and the dispute. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr.Hampson) was perfectly right to draw attention to the narrow terms of the order.

I am not accusing the Government of using the pension arrangements as the motivating factor in perpetuating the dispute. The charge is that they are perpetuating the dispute anyway. The secondary charge is that, once they started the nonsense of threatening signal workers with £1,700 losses, as result of £50 million being taken out of their pension entitlements, it was necessary to show that there was another side to the dispute coin. There is a potential gain to the Government if the dispute continues. That is all we have sought to demonstrate. It is much more important to get the dispute settled than to set out that territory. That means that both sides in politics should step back from the dispute and that the negotiations take place

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is now referring to the general dispute, and is not linking it, as he did previously, with the order under consideration. I ask him to restrain himself.

Mr.Wilson : Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that that point has been made.

In the debate, we have proven conclusively that settlements take account retrospectively. We have also proved conclusively that the pension fund of signalmen and employees in other sectors of the railway industry is under threat if settlements are not reached by 30 September. We have linked that threat to the order under consideration.

We have no specific objection to that order, but we have made it absolutely clear that, although we do not contest it, we are not acquiescing with the general principle that has guided what has happened to the railway workers' pension fund. That outcome is a by-product of fragmentation and the potential, but not yet delivered privatisation.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) that one of the great dilemmas in this issue is whether the Government thought first of railway privatisation and then recognised that, as a by- product, they might get their hands on £4 billion of railway pension fund money, or whether they thought, first, that they would go for the pension fund, but, in order to do that, they would have to break up the railways.

We have won half the battle in that the Government will not directly get their hands on the railway pension fund money. We shall win the other half of the battle, which is to stop them privatising the railways.

11.34 pm

Mr. Freeman : May I correct some misapprehensions, so that pensioners and contributing members of the British Rail pension fund are properly informed about this debate ?

The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) raised a number of issues and asked me a number of questions. First, he referred to the change in employment patters and therefore the pension liabilities building up in the pension fund. He is right to say that the number of signalmen has been substantially reduced from

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7,600 in 1980 to 4,940 at the end of 1993. But, within the change in the total numbers employed and, therefore, the pension liabilities accruing, a dramatic change in grading has occurred. More signalmen are now on the top grades. In 1980, 22 per cent. of signalmen were on the bottom grade, grade A ; by the end of 1993, only 9 per cent. were on grade A. So a reduction in the number of signalmen has been brought about by substantial investment over the past 10 years, resulting in higher grading as signalmen perform more complicated tasks, better pay and higher pension-accruing liabilities. The tragedy is that that has resulted in an increase in basic pay, not in allowances.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman said that the Government briefed The Independent . The Government have not briefed The Independent and the figures to which the hon. Gentleman referred are not correct. He said that £100 million from the pay restructuring fund might be attributed to the signalmen ; I believe that the figure is closer to £30 million. And he obviously reaches the figure of £50 million by dividing that mythical £100 million by two and calculating what might go to the closed fund.

Mr. Wilson rose

Mr. Freeman : Let me first answer the hon. Gentleman's point. The £1,700 per head to which he referred is a figment of The Independent 's imagination.

The importance for the signalmen is to so restructure their pay that their pension calculation is improved. They should agree with Railtrack the restructuring of their pay and allowances not just for their pensions but for their mortgages, which are calculated on the basis of their basic pay, not their total pay because some of the allowances are not guaranteed.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the solvency pledge. The Government do not determine the allocation of the surplus. It has been determined by the two actuaries--the scheme actuary and the Government actuary. It has not been Ministers' responsibility to decide that. Simply to allocate part of the initial surplus to the closed fund does not help Government public expenditure because the more money that is allocated to the closed fund, the less is allocated to the open fund and the higher the subsidy required from the franchising director. This allocation was done strictly on the basis of actuarial neutrality.

Mr. Wilson : I cannot pursue all the points that I would wish, but on the £50 million vis-a-vis £1,700, we agreed earlier that £600 million is left in the fund. Will the Minister confirm that the two categories still to be settled out of it are the drivers and the signalmen ? If they divide numerically on roughly a 4.5 :1 ratio and the figure is not, as I suggested, half of £100 million, which is £50 million, where does the rest of that fund go ? My figures, which are the same as those which The Independent arrived at, are logical. There seems to be a large gap in the figures that the Minister suggested.

Mr. Freeman : We have no idea what the drivers may settle for in terms of restructuring their pay and allowances. Those negotiations have been desolatory and have been continuing for a number of years. I hope that they will reach a conclusion. I repeat what I said at the outset of the debate : it has long been held to be a sensible target to create a new joint industry scheme effective from 1 October. The signalmen's strike occurred long after that target was set. If the dispute is settled before 1 October, a

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portion of the pay and restructuring reserve can attach itself directly to the earnings of signal men and women, and their pensions will benefit.

That is a statement of fact. If the drivers do not settle, they will have a claim on the generality of the surplus allocated to their own sections in the joint industry scheme. I have spelt out the truth as clearly as I can.

I shall briefly mention the other contributions to the debate. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) that we want a modern railway industry, with a modern pay structure, because that means that one gets a decent pension scheme, which means that railwaymen and women can look forward to a decent pension in retirement. It also means that they are able to borrow properly from the building societies on the basis of higher basic pay and lower allowances.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) spoke about the responsibility for creating fear of exploitation and the loss of assets. That charge cannot be levelled at the Government. The Government have not been creating the fear in the minds of pensioners. I think that other politicians have done so. It certainly does not help the peace of mind of pensioners, who do not understand the details and complexities of the reform of the pension scheme. The hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) spoke about the Transport Act 1980 payments. They will not cease ; they will continue. Fifty per cent. of the payments to the closed fund will continue, fifty per cent. will be deferred, with interest attaching to that deferment, and payments will be made in order to honour the guarantee of RPI indexed pensions. That is an excellent provision for the closed section of the pension scheme.

Mr. Heppell rose

Mr. Freeman : Will the hon. Gentleman let me finish now ? Finally, there is no truth in the allegation that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) makes that the Government want to seek to drag out the signalmen's dispute until September, in order to benefit in some unexplained way from the reorganisation of the pension fund. Every strike day costs £10 million. That is a loss to the railway industry and to the country. The sooner that the strike is settled, the better.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Railway Pensions (Transfer and Miscellaneous Provisions) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 7th July, be approved.-- [Mr. Freeman.]

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).


-- That the draft Pesticides (Maximum Residue Levels in Crops, Food and Feeding Stuffs) Regulations 1994, which were laid before this House on 14th June, be approved.-- [Mr. Mackay.]

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Stonebridge Housing Action Trust

-- That the draft Stonebridge Housing Action Trust (Area and Constitution) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 14th June, be approved.-- [Mr. Mackay.]

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Education (Inter-authority Recoupment)

-- That the draft Education (Inter-authority Recoupment) Regulations 1994, which were laid before this House on 17th June, be approved.-- [Mr. Mackay.] Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Insurance Premium Tax

-- That the Insurance Premium Tax (Taxable Insurance Contracts) Order 1994 (S.I., 1994, No. 1698), a copy of which was laid before this House on 30th June, be approved.-- [Mr. Mackay.]

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 102(9) (European Standing Committees).

Postal Services

-- That this House takes notes of European Community Documents Nos. 7390/92 and 7133/93, relating to the development of the single market for postal services ; supports the Government's view that the deregulatory thrust of the Commission's Green Paper should be welcomed, whilst reserving judgement on the proposals to liberalise direct mail and all intra-Community and international mail ; and urges the Commission to make progress on the formulation of specific proposals.-- [Mr. Mackay.]

Question agreed to.

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Oldchurch Hospital, Romford

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn-- [Mr. MacKay.]

11.42 pm

Sir Michael Neubert (Romford) : I greatly value the opportunity of raising on the Adjournment the issue of the proposed closure of the accident and emergency unit at Oldchurch hospital in my constituency at Romford. I have lost count of the times that I have had to mention threats to Oldchurch hospital on the Floor of the House before Ministers during the 20 years that I have served here, but once again I find it necessary to do so on behalf of my constituents, and many other people outside my constituency, who have expressed their outright opposition to the latest proposal.

In January, in response to a parliamentary question from me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) stated that the Secretary of State had received a petition of about 46,000 signatures and about 17,000 pre-printed letters and postcards from members of the public, as well as letters from individuals, and of course hon. Members.

The closure has been condemned by the London borough of Havering, of which Romford is a part, and by the London borough of Barking and Dagenham. It is opposed not only by myself, but my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), who, as a Minister, has to observe ministerial silence in this place on the subject. It is also opposed by the newly elected hon. Members for Barking (Ms Hodge) and for Dagenham (Ms Church), who I hope may be successful in catching your eye during the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. If public consultation is to mean anything, the verdict can be seen only as an emphatic thumbs down. Of course, it is not a Government proposal ; its sponsor is the Barking and Havering health authority, which acts as purchaser, aided and abetted by the Havering hospitals trust as provider. My hon. Friend the Minister, whom I welcome and thank for being here tonight, is required to act as arbiter and judge between the local managers of the national health service and the public they are there to serve.

The strategy has now been approved in principle by the North Thames regional health authority and passed to the Secretary of State for decision. The region was the original author of the strategy. It is a tale not of two cities but of two hospitals--Oldchurch hospital in Romford in my constituency and Harold Wood hospital in the Upminster constituency. Throughout the 1980s repeated attempts have been made to close services at Oldchurch in favour of Harold Wood. Capital investment has been largely directed towards Harold Wood, widening the gap between the two hospitals and hastening the day when Oldchurch hospital can be closed, or virtually closed.

That is the point that we have now reached. Once the accident and emergency unit goes, other major specialties will go too and we will effectively have one district general hospital for a district of more than 400,000 people and an above average instance of ill health in parts of the district.

When the proposal for the Havering hospitals trust--note the plural, Madam Deputy Speaker--was brought forward as recently as February 1992 by the previous chairman, it was accepted that there would need to be some rationalisation of services between the two sites, as took

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place, for example, in the case of the ear, nose and throat service. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), who is in his place tonight, was with me in expressing concern when we discussed that prospect with the chairman at the time.

At that time it was stated that

"no significant change is envisaged in the disposition of accident and emergency"

and that

"trauma and orthopaedics will be retained on both sites as there is a close clinical link with accident and emergency services." Yet within weeks of the trust coming into force, A and E was targeted for rationalisation. The two hospitals are now officially described as hot and cold sites and Oldchurch at Romford is the one to get the cold shoulder.

On 9 June 1992, my right hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) wrote to me as follows :

"You implied that the unit could be trying to achieve a single site strategy through the back door. Havering hospitals final application for NHS Trust status describes a twin site strategy. If we approve the application, then the NHS Trust will be required to abide by that strategy."

The trust was approved and Oldchurch may be retained as a site, but reduced in size. On present plans, it will be not much more than a hi-tech cottage hospital providing out-patient clinics and elective day surgery.

So much for the background. The community health council, whose resolute stand on the issue of accident and emergency services is the sole safeguard against the strategy being rubber stamped, has conceded a reduction of two A and E units to one, but believes that if there is to be one it should be centralised at Oldchurch. That is the position that I support tonight. It is not the least irony that it is proposed that all A and E services in the district should be centralised at Oldchurch while expansion proceeds at Harold Wood. That compounds the waste of public assets implied by the abandonment of past investment at Oldchurch hospital.

The nub of the argument was set out in my question in April this year :

"Should not ease of access by road and proximity to the main centres of population be the overriding factors in determining the location of casualty departments ? Does not that consideration point to the continuing need for Oldchurch hospital in that all important life-and-death role ?"-- [ Official Report , 26 April 1994 ; Vol. 242, c. 93.]

There is also the question of capacity. Other hon. Members may speak of that, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall), who has concerns relating to his local hospital.

Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North) : I do, indeed, have concerns. We have a new hospital, the old one having closed approximately a year ago. Our A and E cases increased by 13 cases in the first year. If the A and E unit goes from Oldchurch, it is expected that that figure will increase by a further 25,000 cases in a year, which would mean a further 100 beds to our hospital. That would certainly mean a very large expansion programme on a new hospital that has just been built.

Sir Michael Neubert : I am indebted to my hon. Friend for those figures and for painting a rather wider picture than I can from the vantage point of Barking and Havering health district. We know that the ricochet effect of the closure of A and E services, say, from Bart's eastward out as well as from Oldchurch westward in, could have on other hospitals in the wider area of north-east London.

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I return now to the two main considerations that I have highlighted. Romford is at the centre of a strategic road network, and Oldchurch hospital is on a dualled ring road close to the centre of the town. Access is easy from east London and Essex--it has to be, for Romford to have acquired the reputation of a thriving commercial and retail centre. Harold Wood, by contrast, is some miles to the east and reached only by roads which were once and are now not much more than country lanes. Romford is much closer to the densest population, where, on average, accidents are more likely to happen, and to those areas of above- average illness and deprivation, which are a major feature of the district.

As distance and travelling time are of the essence in an emergency, Romford is much the more suitable place to have the only A and E department if there is to be only one. Let me illustrate the point by specific reference to the annual report of the director of public health, 1993, entitled "Bringing Health to Life in Barking and Havering". It states, on page 31 :

"In Barking and Havering, there are major contrasts between the localities."

It takes as a yardstick mortality from coronary heart disease at ages under 65. The current national average is 58 per 100,000. The district average is 57, but that represents a twofold spread from 39 per 100,000 in one part of the district to 71 per 100,000 in another. The report goes on to point out :

"at ward level variations are even sharper,"

and cites 97 per 100,000 in Goresbrook compared with 25 per 100,000 at Upminster, which is very comparable with what it calls "more affluent Harold Wood".

The conclusion is clear. If I am under 65, live in the west of the district and suffer a heart attack--I am three or four times more likely to have a heart attack in the west than if I lived in the east of the district--I would want the A and E department to be at Romford rather than Harold Wood. The extra travelling time might well prove fatal.

The health authority defends its strategy by all kinds of arguments : from paramedics attending every emergency, to green field helicopter sites, to minor injury units around every other corner. But my constituents are not convinced that that represents the real world, and, unlike the authority, they do not believe in the priority of "timescale financial and logistical reasons" to use the phrase used by the authority in defending its proposal.

My constituents believe that the patient should come first. It would be irresponsible not to put health needs higher, when two recent press reports record Havering hospital trust as bottom of more than 30 authorities for assessing people quickly in the A and E units--now, before two units are reduced to one.

The London ambulance service is the slowest in the country in responding to 999 emergencies. The North Thames regional health authority, in a debate which, it is reported, raised many doubts, approved the strategy in principle, but hedged it about with such an extraordinary number of caveats --I could list them if there were time, as set out in its letter of 21 June to the chief executive of Barking and Havering health authority--that one wonders how approval could be given on such a conditional basis. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, for his part, will not be prepared to accept such a flawed strategy. Meantime, he may be interested to know that the region has

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apparently given permission for preliminary building work to start at Harold Wood. So much for the process of consultation.

11.54 pm

Ms Judith Church (Dagenham) : I thank the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) for giving me a moment to speak tonight and for raising this important matter. Although Oldchurch hospital is in his constituency, it is only a few hundred metres from my constituency. The proposed closure of the accident and emergency unit at Oldchurch hospital is yet another ill -judged decision which has been thrown up by the national health service market that the Government have created. Why is it closing ? It is closing to save money. The people of Dagenham need the accident and emergency unit. To get to Harold Wood, which will be the nearest alternative, will take an extra 15 minutes. That is an extra 15 minutes on a Sunday morning when there is little traffic. In peak periods, it will take considerably longer.

Last week, in a two-hour period, 59 people attended the accident and emergency unit at Oldchurch suffering from asthma and other breathing difficulties as a result of the dreadful air pollution over the city. If the accident and emergency unit at Oldchurch hospital closes, people will lose their lives as the ambulances do not get through to Harold Wood.

I hope that the Secretary of State and the Minister will reconsider the proposals when they come through and that this hopelessly ill-judged decision will not be taken. It is a decision against which the people of Dagenham voted significantly in the recent by-election.

11.56 pm

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking) : I thank the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) for allowing us to participate in the debate. Although Oldchurch hospital is in his constituency, it serves the needs of people from my constituency. I ask the Minister to consider rejecting the proposals that have been put to the Secretary of State for the closure of the accident and emergency departments at Oldchurch hospital.

The Government's reforms have the stated objectives of putting the patients first. I suggest that the basic principle behind the proposals is that we push the patients to the bottom of the pile. I should like to raise two issues briefly with the Minister. First, the proposals reflect broken trust. When the Havering hospital trust was first established, those responsible for so doing gave an undertaking that they would not proceed with the closure of the A and E department at Oldchurch. Within weeks of attaining trust status, the trust started consulting on the proposals.

Secondly, the trust has stated that the closure of the A and E department will not lead to the closure of the Oldchurch hospital. I do not believe that. If the A and E department of any hospital is closed, that hospital is condemned to a slow and painful death. I should like an assurance from the Minister that, if he accepts the proposals, we shall still have Oldchurch hospital as a district general hospital to serve the needs of the locality.

The closure is predicated on false assumptions. It is predicated on the assumption that GP facilities have improved. They have not. They are among the worst in the country, and none achieve high status. It is predicated on

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