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Mrs. Beckett: That gentleman might have sent a copy of his letter to the Minister, but he has not sent one to me--and, by the way, I do read all my letters.

Mr. Bowis: Perhaps that explains why the right hon. Lady has not responded to that man--why he has not had the courtesy of a reply. I am sure that the letter is somewhere in the right hon. Lady's postbag. If she gets her office to work on it, she will have to decide whether to raise that man's testimony on the Floor of the House. I suspect that she will not.

Everything that we have heard from the Labour party today shows that it seeks only to knock the NHS. Knock, knock, who's there? It is the Labour party saying its prayers, longing for disasters and praying for delays.

Let me return to Labour's policies. That is a little difficult to do. We have waited courteously and patiently for the right hon. Lady to master her new brief. We have looked forward to debates and Question Times in which we might see a glimmer of policy emerging from her lips, or even a glint of policy from her eyes. I even combed the right hon. Lady's article today in the Evening Standard looking for policies.

Perhaps the Newcastle minder imposed on her by the Labour leader has not allowed her to come out. Can I persuade her tonight to be brave, and to loosen those apron strings? Will she just say a word about her policies? Will she tell us a little--not a lot? Will she give us a soupcon, an appetiser, a tantalising and titillating taste of things to come under a Labour Government? Let me tempt her, if such a phrase is not unparliamentary, to give us the Labour policy tune.

We remember a penetrating response from the former Labour leader, who said that where you stand depends on where you sit. So let the right hon. Lady tell it to us from

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where she sits. Let her perm any two from four. Is the Labour party in favour of NHS trusts? It used not to be, but then it nearly was and now it does not know. Will it keep GP fundholding? It said that it would not, then said it would and now thinks that it will not. Will the Labour party stick by the pledge of the right hon. Lady's predecessor as health spokesman to raise NHS spending by £6 billion? Is it now £10 billion or £12 billion, or has the computer broken down? If it is any of those figures, how will the Opposition pay for it? The right hon. Lady suggested that no such pledge has been made. I refer her to the pledge of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) to spend 7 per cent. of gross domestic product on the NHS--an extra £6 billion.

What about bureaucracy? How many layers are the Opposition planning? There will be Government Departments, regional assemblies, regional health authorities, district health authorities and hospital authorities. If one puts on that many blankets, one will smother the patient. The Opposition policies certainly will not do the NHS much good.

I am not asking for much. If two answers out of four are too much, I shall go for one. Surely to goodness, Alastair Campbell will let the right hon. Lady come out with one policy. Is not the truth that health is the sop to the left? Has not health been given a spokesman of the left, and will not health have policies of the left? We must never forget an early Beckett line:

"I have my faults, but changing my tune is not one of them." The words are those of Samuel Beckett, but that is the theme song of his namesake who seeks to lead her health troops to the left, left and left again, back to days when the Confederation of Health Service Employees, and not patients, felt comfortable in the NHS. The record of our health service is the envy of the world. During our stewardship, the facts speak for themselves. The facts are sometimes the statistics of improvements--for example, the fact that, under the new NHS since 1990, the average waiting time for hospital treatment has fallen from nine months to under five months; the fact that the number of those waiting for more than one year for hospital treatment has fallen from more than 200,000 to under 65,000; the fact that NHS hospitals see and treat over 3,000 more patients every day than they did three years ago.

Those are facts, but facts are not just statistics. They are the reality that I see as I go around the country--the children cured of diseases which would have cut short or wrecked their young lives only a few years ago, the young adults helped slowly and painfully back to normal life by drug and alcohol rehabilitation units and the independent living awards which are helping to advance the horizons of technology for people with disabilities. They are the elderly living in a nursing home environment of comfort, care and dignity, instead of a geriatric ward, or those who are able to live in their own homes with a package of care from the health and social services. They are the former residents of antediluvian institutions who are now able to live in sheltered homes in the community.

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One must talk to families to hear how similar moves have transformed the life of their son or daughter, and how a light in the eyes of someone without articulate speech shows new awareness of the surroundings. The new light shows the happiness within.

That is the health service of which I am proud, the health service to which I feel proud to be able to contribute, as a Minister and the health service on whose behalf I feel angry that all I hear from the Labour party is sniping and carping and not a single word of support. The NHS deserves better than that and better than this negative and nasty Labour motion--it deserves the support of the House and the House's overwhelming support for the amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question: --

The House divided: Ayes 263, Noes 300.

Division No. 59] [9.59 pm


Column 950

Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Mrs Irene

Ainger, Nick

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Allen, Graham

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Ashton, Joe

Austin-Walker, John

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret

Beggs, Roy

Beith, Rt Hon A J

Bell, Stuart

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, Andrew F

Bermingham, Gerald

Berry, Roger

Betts, Clive

Blair, Rt Hon Tony

Blunkett, David

Boateng, Paul

Boyes, Roland

Bradley, Keith

Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)

Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Burden, Richard

Byers, Stephen

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)

Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)

Campbell-Savours, D N

Canavan, Dennis

Cann, Jamie

Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)

Chidgey, David

Chisholm, Malcolm

Church, Judith

Clapham, Michael

Clark, Dr David (South Shields)

Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clelland, David

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Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coffey, Ann

Cohen, Harry

Connarty, Michael

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin

Corbyn, Jeremy

Corston, Jean

Cousins, Jim

Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)

Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davidson, Ian

Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Denham, John

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Donohoe, Brian H

Dowd, Jim

Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eastham, Ken

Enright, Derek

Etherington, Bill

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Ewing, Mrs Margaret

Fatchett, Derek

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fisher, Mark

Flynn, Paul

Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)

Foster, Rt Hon Derek

Foster, Don (Bath)

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galbraith, Sam

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

George, Bruce

Gerrard, Neil

Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John

Godman, Dr Norman A

Godsiff, Roger

Golding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, Mildred

Graham, Thomas

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

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