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Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the exact situation that she describes applies in Dorset? We have a massive bed-blocking problem, which has got much worse over the past year. [Laughter.]

Miss Widdecombe: Indeed. Dorset, Oxfordshire, Warminster and Wallingford are merely examples. We shall hear far more during the debate, but we should note that the response to my hon. Friend's intervention was laughter on the Labour Benches. I do not think that that laughter will be shared by the patients who fear that their hospital will be closed, or in my hon. Friend's constituency or throughout the country when people realise how deceived they were by the Government. The Labour Government said that there would be shorter waiting lists, but lists have risen to record levels. The Government said that there would be no closures, but they are now closing right, left and centre.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (Telford): Will the right hon. Lady tell the House how much more money she wants spent on the health service?

Miss Widdecombe: We did not plan to close those hospitals, so we would have spent the money to keep them open. We spent 3.1 per cent. more every year, but the Government have spent 2 per cent. more. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): The point is that hospital reorganisation can be very expensive. The proposed rundown of Kent and Canterbury hospital in my constituency, which my right hon. Friend visited this morning, is a good example. The community health council has pointed out that Kent health authority's figures for the likely costs of the closure are wholly unaudited, unsupported and grossly understated.

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I intended to make those very points when I turned to Kent, as there seems to be a misapprehension that all of Kent is swimming in new Government money.

As my hon. Friend said, I visited Kent and Canterbury hospital this morning. It is an acute--not a community--hospital with an award-winning cancer unit. Local people cannot believe that there is any question of that hospital being axed, with all the in-patient facilities scrapped. People will face a 100-mile round trip for radiotherapy if the oncology unit is scrapped, for example. I must admit that I am interested in that myself as the nearest oncology

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centre is Maidstone. If the oncology unit at Kent and Canterbury hospital is closed--I accept that it is only a proposal at present--I want to know what extra resources will be made available to Maidstone to enable it to cope with the people who will be forced to make that long round trip.

People feel let down and disillusioned. The 465 beds at the Kent and Canterbury are threatened with a reduction to 65. How does that square with anything that Labour said before the last election? People never believed that Labour would close their hospitals; they never believed that Labour would preside over record waiting lists. They were led to believe that there would be increased funding, reduced waiting lists and hospitals kept open. The Government have failed in each and every one of those areas--and they have failed dismally.

Let the Secretary of State now make several things clear and we shall listen very carefully--I shall not be ambitious and ask him to apologise. The Secretary of State needs to tell us if and when he will meet his pre-election pledge on waiting lists. He needs to tell us how much more than his original estimate of £100 million it will cost to meet that pledge, however late it may be. He needs to tell us--he has been asked this many times during Health questions, but has dodged the issue every time--whether he will guarantee that no other areas of our health service will suffer as a result of the Government's panic reaction to tackling the waiting list problem that they have created.

If the Government eventually reduce waiting lists at the expense of other investment in our health care system, they will not have delivered on their pledge. To cut back or to marginalise other core areas of health service activity would be to cheat all hospital users. The Government have fudged and bungled their early pledge: it has been broken and twisted beyond repair. There will come a point when the Secretary of State must realise that he cannot turn around his supertanker fast enough and that he is heading on to the rocks of Labour's pre-election early pledge. When he reaches that point, I suggest that he considers whether he should follow the example of all decent captains and go down with his ship.

Mr. Ian Bruce: I must apologise, as my voice is going--I should obviously consult our wonderful national health service. Does my right hon. Friend realise that both the Department of Health and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions have had to accept that money has been cut from social services budgets in places such as Dorset? The process of unblocking beds by putting people into community care is falling down completely in Dorset--it is not just a matter of its maintaining previous levels. The Secretary of State must tell us what he is doing to ensure that the other Departments' budgets are not being cut in that way.

Miss Widdecombe: Indeed. My hon. Friend gives a great deal of flavour to my point, which is that we are already receiving intelligence from various parts of the health service, from chairmen and chief executives, who are telling us--

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Labour chairmen.

Miss Widdecombe: If they are Labour chairmen, Labour Members should listen carefully to what they are

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telling us because it is not very helpful. They are telling us that there is such a frantic demand for statistics coming from the Government, and so much fear and panic over trying to make it look as if the Government can keep their waiting list pledge, that staff are being prevented from getting on with the job in hand. That information is coming not from politicians, but from those who are responsible for running the health service, and who are faced with the sack by the Secretary of State if they do not deliver.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The right hon. Lady knows that I am sympathetic to her attack on the Government for postponing their early pledge on waiting lists--if not looking as if they are in great difficulty in delivering it. However, the implication of the right hon. Lady's attack is that her party would put in the money to ensure that waiting lists were reduced. If that is now her party's policy, will she explain why, last Thursday, the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer accused the Chancellor, when he announced more money for the public services, of going soft on public spending?

Miss Widdecombe: The Labour party made twin promises, as the hon. Gentleman will know.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Answer the question.

Miss Widdecombe: I am answering it. The first promise was, "We will stick to the previous Government's spending plans." The second promise was, "We will reduce waiting lists." The Labour party made twin promises at the same time. That being so, the Government cannot now blame keeping one promise for breaking the other.

How does the Secretary of State respond to the motion? He responds with exactly the same manipulation of fact--I put in no higher than that.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe: No. I shall make some progress and I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once. It was not a particularly intelligent intervention last time, and I do not suppose that he has learnt anything in the short time between because he has not been listening. That being so, I am going on.

How did the Secretary of State react to the motion? He did so by making the statement that appears in the amendment, which is that the House


I say that again. The amendment states that


    "no-one in England was waiting over 18 months for treatment".

Naturally we wondered what surveys had been done to establish this, and we asked. We were told that it was established through management intelligence. That is, I think, a ring-round.

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There is at least one case of a schoolboy who has been waiting not 18 months, but 19 months for a simple throat operation. His mother wrote:


so this is a reasonable parent--


    "but it has been 19 months and that is too long for a little boy. Two months ago I wrote to St. Thomas's because I hadn't heard anything since I took him to the doctor's in 1996. They came back saying that they had looked into my complaint and they gave him an appointment to have his tonsils out on 10 June. On 28 May I got a letter saying that he could not go in because there was an emergency case coming in, but how did they know that 12 days in advance?"

That is the situation, so the statement to which I have referred is untrue and I expect the Secretary of State to withdraw it.


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