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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. If the hon. Gentleman is making an intervention, he should relate it to his right hon. Friend. He should not make a speech that he hopes to deliver later in the debate.

Mr. Dobson: In order to save time, I shall not comment at length on my hon. Friend's excellent and accurate intervention.

Mrs. Mahon: As my right hon. Friend has said, Halifax is to get a new hospital after 30 years--thanks to this Government. Is he aware that local Liberal Democrats--there are no Liberal Democrats on Halifax council, just a defector from the Tories--have opposed the new hospital root and branch, even though they know that it is in the health interests of the people of Calderdale, Halifax and Calder valley? Those people need that new hospital, but the Liberal Democrats have fought it tooth and nail.

Mr. Dobson: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's efforts in that area over the years. She has been joined bymy hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Ms McCafferty) in her attempts to ensure that a new hospital, which is desperately needed, is built in Halifax. No hospital was forthcoming, except under the private finance initiative. It is perfectly legitimate for the Liberal Democrats to express doubts about the PFI--which will raise £1.3 billion for hospital building programmes--but it is also legitimate for me to ask: where would the Liberal Democrats get that £1.3 billion to pay for those hospitals?

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) rose--

Mr. Dobson: I give way to the hon. Gentleman with the beard.

Mr. Allan: I am glad to see that some of us still uphold these venerable traditions.

I should like to record my thanks on behalf of the people of Sheffield for the proposal for a women's hospital in Sheffield and for getting on with it. The Government have taken great steps to sort out some of the mess caused by the previous Government's dallying over the PFI, but our gratitude for the capital investment in the proposed Sheffield hospital does not detract from our principal argument about year-on-year revenue funding of the NHS.

Mr. Dobson: The hon. Gentleman rather spoiled his intervention towards the end.

17 Nov 1997 : Column 35

We have introduced measures to end two-tierism, with its unfairness and inequality. We have started to tackle the problem of assaults on staff. We have switched money from bureaucracy to patient care. We have started to overhaul the breast and cervical cancer screening systems, which have scandalously let women down in some parts of the country. We have opened up the NHS appointments system to every elected Member of the House. We have opened up trust meetings to the public.

We face major problems in the health service. The 1 million people who work so hard in it day in, day out every hour of the working day face problems. We have inherited waiting lists--the highest ever, rising faster than ever before. As I have said, waiting lists are rather like a supertanker. It will take time to slow them down, to stop them, to turn them round, but turn them round we will. Tomorrow I shall announce further measures to tackle waiting lists. They will include a task force in each national health service region to target attention on hospitals with special problems, trying to bring the worst performers up to the standard of the best by getting the best people to give them the best advice. Those measures will draw on local experience and will depend on the expertise and enthusiasm of local professionals. I believe that we shall manage that.

As well as getting on with the practical job of turning round the waiting lists, the regional task forces will provide solid information on which to base sound and achievable targets for future reductions, and those reductions will come about.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I do not know whether the Secretary of State recalls--I certainly do--that, during the general election campaign, Labour opponents such as mine had five little cards, which they kept next to their heart. One said, "Cut waiting lists". It was an absolute pledge. I saw mugs with various pledges on them on sale at the Labour party conference, and "Cut waiting lists" had been replaced by "Treat more patients".

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is straight out of a scene from "Nineteen Eighty-Four"? This is a pledge that the Labour party clearly could not make, but instead of honestly admitting it, it is now trying to change history.

Mr. Dobson: The hon. Gentleman must be a mug if he is going round trying to find out what is written on mugs at Labour party conferences. The fact is that we promised that we will cut waiting lists, and we will.

Mr. Bercow: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Dobson: Not any more.

All the measures that I have talked about deal with problems that we inherited. We inherited the problem of winter pressures. We are addressing that. The Under-Secretary of State for Health has been going round the country, ensuring that social service departments and the national health service work together this winter, getting down the Berlin wall between the two services to ensure that people are properly dealt with.

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As a result of the very hard work of the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), we shall shortly publish our White Paper on the new national health service, spelling out what we are doing--not just to end the unfairness and bureaucracy of the competitive system so stupidly introduced by the Conservatives. We shall go much further than that. We are committed to raising the quality, reliability and fairness of the national health service; spreading best practice, clinical and managerial, in partnership with the staff, who are dedicated to quality, reliability and fairness. We shall ensure, with their help and in partnership with them, that we enter the new century with a modern and dependable health service that will provide the best services for all, that is the best for all. We shall ensure quality and equality. That is the basis on which the Labour party founded the national health service, and it is the basis on which we shall renew it.

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): While we are talking about the origins of the NHS, I should just like to mention that Beveridge was a Liberal.

The Secretary of State has spoken about his inheritance from the Conservatives--the mess in which they left the national health service--and the fact that the NHS is in crisis. We agree about that, so, in those circumstances, why has he decided that the budget that the Conservatives left is suitable for the new Government? The spending targets that have been identified by the Chancellor are those which the Conservatives put in place before the election. Given the crisis in the national health service, why has it been deemed appropriate by the Secretary of State and the Government to keep to the previous Government's budget levels?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I try to regularise matters? First, that intervention was far too long and, secondly, the Secretary of State surprised the hon. Gentleman and surprised the Chair by finishing and sitting down, but perhaps he might care to respond briefly to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Dobson: I would do anything to help whoever is in the Chair--I may be dependent on your good will, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at some time in the future.

The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) made the same point, admittedly more briefly and cogently, as his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, and I offer the same reply. We have found £300 million extra for this winter and £1.2 billion extra for next winter. That is not what the Tories were going to spend--it is an awful lot more.

4.31 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): The speech of the Secretary of State was such fun.

Two weeks ago, I took part in a television debate with the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, whom I am pleased to see in his place this afternoon. He invited the audience to take note of the influence that his party has had on the Labour Government since 1 May. It therefore comes as no surprise that, having formed an alliance with the Labour Government, marked by the announcement on 23 July this year of the formation of a joint Cabinet Committee, Liberal Democrats in Parliament are rightly seeking influence with the Government.

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Last year, on "Breakfast with Frost", the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), when asked whether his party would join a formal coalition, said:

Of course, they have done just that. Yesterday--

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): Where is my card?

Mrs. Browning: The hon. Gentleman has just heard about the pay-off from the Secretary of State, who spoke about how many of his hon. Friends are mentioned in dispatches and receiving preferential treatment in the health service.

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