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1.3 pm

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South): I listened with some interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker). I congratulate him on declaring an interest at the beginning of his speech. When he signed an amendment to the Gracious Speech about trade union rights, he did not, as a sponsored trade union Member, think it right to declare that interest.

Mr. Austin-Walker: I said at the outset that I had consulted the Table Office and registered that interest. It

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will appear when the motion is printed next and before the vote takes place. I made that abundantly clear at the start of the debate.

Mr. Marshall: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has now explained himself. When I raised the matter on a point of order yesterday afternoon, none of the sponsored trade union Members who signed an amendment dealing with trade union rights had declared that interest. We smoked out two yesterday afternoon, we have now smoked out a third and there are some more to be smoked out.

I was surprised by the hon. Gentleman's attitude towards the PFI. He asked who would benefit from it. As a London Member, I can tell him that hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens in the capital will benefit because the largest project under the PFI is the provision of new trains for the Northern line. As he should know, by the middle of next year there will be a significant number of new trains, provided under the PFI, taking Londoners to work on the Northern line. As a London Member, he should welcome that rather than criticise the PFI.

Mr. Spearing: Japanese owned.

Mr. Marshall: The owner is not Japanese--it is GEC, a good British company that provides hundreds of thousands of jobs, is a major British exporter, and is headed by Lord Prior.

The PFI succeeded in increasing the level of investment in London Underground, with the result that the Northern line will undergo a £1 billion modernisation project. Surely Labour Members should welcome that, not criticise it.

The debate shows that the Opposition do not understand what the PFI is about. It is not about Japanese companies running the NHS; it is about companies providing the property in which the NHS can provide care for patients. One does not need to be the property owner in order to run the hospital. Some of the greatest retailing companies do not own the shops from which they trade. Labour Members should come with me to Brent Cross in my constituency, where companies such as Marks and Spencer and Boots provide an excellent service from shops that they do not own, but rent. So will it be with the PFI. Someone will own the hospital and the local authority will use it to continue to provide a first-rate service.

Mr. Spearing: Surely under a national health service the people own the hospitals.

Mr. Marshall: It is a question not of who owns the hospital, but of who provides the service, whether it is a good service and whether it is free at the point of consumption. When a patient goes into the operating theatre, the last question he wants to ask the surgeon or anaesthetist is, "Who owns the theatre?" He wants the best possible treatment, as speedily as possible, with excellent after care.

The success of the Government's health policies is shown in a document from Healthcare Financial Management Associates which was reported in today's press. It shows that between 1988-89 and 1992-93 there

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was an increase of 500,000--8.6 per cent.--in the number of patients treated. The interesting point is that that increase occurred at a time when the number of NHS beds had been reduced by 18.4 per cent. The statistics confirm that the number of people being treated can be increased despite a decrease in the number of beds. Indeed, the figures relate only to the period 1992-93. Since then, the Government's NHS reforms have further increased the number of patients being treated.

I listened with amazement to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who spoke about a deterioration in health care. In fact, the statistics for the number of patients being treated, the length of time people wait for treatment and the nature of treatments under the NHS all show that the health service that she described is not one that the vast majority of patients would recognise. They have experienced the new treatments, the reduction in waiting times and the increase in the number of people being treated.

When I did a survey of my constituents, I included two questions. The first was, "Have you recently been treated by the NHS?" Everyone who responded yes to the first question was asked to move on to the second question, which was whether the treatment was good or very good or whether he had any other comment to make. Everyone who commented on the treatment received under the NHS said that it was excellent. Everyone was thoroughly satisfied with the service. It ill behoves Members to spend their time denigrating the quality of treatment given by dedicated NHS staff. The service is first rate, and the vast majority of those who go into hospital would confirm that.

I am amazed by the Labour party's attitude to general practitioner fundholding. Labour Members talk about a two-tier service and fail to recognise that fundholders are giving their patients a better service than they received four or five years ago. I would expect most Members to say, "I welcome this improvement for my constituents." That is not the Labour party's approach. Instead, Labour Members complain that their constituents are getting a better service through fundholders than before. That sums up the Labour party when it comes to the health service.

What has the Labour party to offer the health service? First, it would burden the health service with additional costs. It would introduce a national minimum wage. It is still at an unspecified level, but it would no doubt mean that the NHS would have to pay more in wages than at present. Given the Labour party's attitude to charges, there is no doubt that it would deprive the NHS of some revenue in future. Labour's future for the NHS is higher costs and less revenue through charges. We are told by the shadow Treasury team that there is no commitment to spend extra money. There is nothing in Labour's prescription for the NHS that will do anything to shorten waiting lists, to increase the availability of hospital beds or to provide an improved service for patients. It presents a dishonest prospectus when it criticises the Government. Labour does not have a penny more to spend, but at the same time it has additional costs to impose. It will, as I have said, deprive the NHS of revenue.

I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the consequences of the reforms that have led to an improvement in the quality of service within the NHS. There are, however, one or two issues that I wish briefly to raise.

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My right hon. and hon. Friends will, I am sure, have read early-day motion 3, which has 238 signatures. Some years ago, the Government decided, rightly in my view, that they should give help to haemophiliacs infected with HIV. I believe that it is equally right to give assistance to those who have been infected with hepatitis C. Some 600 or 700 of those people will develop sclerosis of the liver. When they do, they know that they have limited life expectancy. I ask the Government to reconsider the problem. If they were to limit assistance to those individuals who developed sclerosis of the liver, they would have to compensate about 600 or 700. They would do that over a number of years. The cost to the Exchequer would probably be about £40 million, no more. The compensation would not be very expensive and morally it would be right.

I welcome the determination of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to listen to public opinion before determining what he will do about future hospital closure programmes. Sometimes we have gone for the technically very advanced when many local communities would have much preferred their local hospital to remain. I support many of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson).

My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) talked about preserved rights for the small group of relatively elderly people who were in homes before community care came into effect. Currently, we have seen threats to some of them: they would get assistance only if they were moved from one home to another. It seems quite wrong to threaten to move a lady or gentleman of 75, 80, 85 or 90 to another home before giving assistance under the community care policies. Those elderly people have all helped themselves until their funds ran out. I do not think that the Government should look at that problem in quite the way in which they have.

I am pleased to see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security will be winding up the debate, because there are two issues about which I feel strongly in respect of the social security budget. The first is the level of housing benefit, which is a rapidly rising cost that distorts the housing market, forces up rents in the private sector and acts as a severe disincentive to those who receive it ever to get off benefit. The second problem is the size of the bill for single-parent families. It is currently just under £10 billion. Our noble Friend Lord Lawson once talked about the need for fiscal neutrality. I believe that there should be neutrality between families and one-parent families, but our benefit and tax systems do not do that at the moment, and there is a perverse incentive for single-parenthood rather than for married couples. I hope that my right hon. Friend may in a few days' time be able to give us some knowledge about some of the single-parent benefits. There is a strong case for saying that in the future single parents should be deprived of some of those benefits. There is an equally strong case for freezing them for existing recipients.

Strong social security and health measures depend on a strong economy. We must emphasise the way in which the Government have managed to transform whole rafts of British industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley said, by privatising sectors of the economy, which has led to vast increases in productivity, huge increases in investment and a much better quality of service for the customer. Industries such as BT, British Airways or British Steel have all been transformed since

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they came into the private sector and are no longer the subject of state subsidies and state intervention. Some of us can remember the quality of service that we had from BT in the early 1980s. In those days, most payphones-- two thirds--did not work. Today, there are many more payphones and they actually work. Today, the cost of telephone calls is dramatically lower than it was at the beginning of the 1980s. Industry has become much more profitable and contributes much more to the Exchequer. By improving the basic infrastructure of industry, telecommunications, steel and so on, we have helped to encourage other companies to come into this country.

I am glad that the Gracious Speech gives encouragement to grant-maintained schools, because the first such school in London was Hendon school, in my constituency. The second was Queen Elizabeth's boys school in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor). I remember taking him to Hendon school. After he had gone around it, he met some of the teachers. One of them came up to him and said, "Mr. MacGregor, I am a member of the Labour party." One wondered what would happen next. He then said, "But the best thing that happened to this school was that it became grant-maintained." When Hendon school was under local authority control, it was severely under-subscribed. Today, it is heavily oversubscribed. I am glad that it has become one of the first language academies in the country.

I shall refer briefly to the proposed asylum Bill. This country has had a very long history of providing a haven for victims of persecution, be they the Huguenot refugees or those who came to this country in the late 1930s under the "kinder" transport scheme from Germany and elsewhere. Many of my constituents came to Britain in 1938 and 1939 as refugees from Nazi persecution. Obviously, they are entirely sympathetic to genuine refugees; but, as all of us know from our constituency cases, the current arrangements are being abused.

I shall always remember a telephone call that I received on a Saturday in February this year. My children told me, "Father, it is Downing street on the line." They thought that something was going to happen. In fact, Downing street was on the line asking whether I would take a telephone call from a firm of solicitors. The firm of solicitors told me that a certain individual, who had been an illegal immigrant for some years, was due to be deported at 10 o'clock the following morning--but, I was told, a telephone call from me would save him.

When I made my telephone call, it did not have the effect that the solicitors had expected. The next morning I telephoned Heathrow again, and was told, "You may be interested to learn that he was due to fly out at 10 o'clock this morning, and that at 9.5 am--after a conversation with his solicitor--he applied for asylum." The clock started to tick all over again: that meant that that person would have a significantly longer period in the United Kingdom.

We must all have felt ashamed recently when it was divulged that some Algerians who had applied for political asylum were using the hospitality of the British people and the Department of Social Security, in the form of income support and housing benefit, to plan bombing raids in Paris. Hon. Members may have read in one of the leaders in last week's Mail on Sunday that that hateful organisation HUT, which seeks to foment hatred and racism on our university campuses, is another asylum

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seeker and is receiving income support and housing benefit from the British taxpayer. Only today, the press reports that President Mubarak of Egypt is complaining to the British Government that we are supporting opponents of his regime who are seeking asylum in this country and misusing our hospitality.

This is not a question of racism. Our immigration controls are being circumvented by individuals who come here as economic migrants. They frequently do not apply for asylum when they arrive. They may apply a month or two after their arrival; or--as in the examples that I have given--they may not apply until they are found out and told to go home.

It is, perhaps, significant that 95 per cent. of appeals launched by those who are refused asylum are turned down. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security is surely right to say that it is no longer proper for applicants to continue to receive income support and housing benefit while their appeals are being considered. Let us suppose that, by some mischance, my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) applied for income support, and was turned down. While the appeal was being heard, he could not receive income support. Why do we put asylum seekers on a higher level than everyone else?

I believe that the Government's proposals are fair and right, and that they will be accepted by 99 per cent.--if not 99.9 per cent.--of people in this country.

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