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6.22 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) on her magnificent speech. It greatly cheered Conservative Members. I must be careful how I phrase my next sentence, but I am not sure that the Secretary of State for Health knows quite how to deal with my right hon. Friend. Certainly, we Conservative Members look forward to future battles.

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I should say something kindly about Health Ministers. They are courteous, which is more than can be said of all Ministers. They reply reasonably quickly to letters, which again is more than can be said of all Ministers. However, their policies are deeply flawed.

The idea that the Minister of State can go ahead and press his amendment is bizarre. If he reads the amendment carefully, he will find that it states clearly that no one has had to wait more than 18 months for treatment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald drew the attention of the Secretary of State to a case of someone who had waited 19 months. I think the right hon. Gentleman said that he would reflect on the matter. That being the case, it surely would not be right for the Minister of State to press ahead with the Government amendment.

A bizarre feature of the debate is that anyone would think that Labour had not won the election. I thought that the Labour party won the election and formed the Government over a year ago. As we reflect on what has taken place over the past two and a half hours, it seems that the Labour Government are responsible for nothing over the past year and that it is all the fault of the Conservatives. Time after time, Ministers have blamed Essex county council, which was Conservative for only a month, for everything that is wrong is the county. Yet the Government, who are now in their second year of office, apparently are to blame for absolutely nothing. That is bizarre.

I resent the insinuation from Labour Members that Conservatives do not care about the health service. We all know how cynical Labour is about the health service. We can all remember "Jennifer's Ear" and the other propaganda coups that went wrong. That is why I was drawn to read the Daily Mirror two weeks ago, when the headlines were less than flattering about the Secretary of State for Health. The right hon. Gentleman's relationship with the Daily Mirror now seems to be a little sour.

Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Amess: I think the agreement is that the Minister of State will start his reply at 25 minutes to 7. That being so, I do not think that he would be too pleased if I gave way and took extra time. The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), will start the winding-up speeches soon. It would be unfair on the two remaining speakers if I took extra time.

The Labour party has been cynical in the way that it has used the health service. I and my family use the health service. We do not have private health care but, given the way that the Government are continuing, we shall need it. They have been cynical in so many ways. I was proud to be associated with Lord Moore and Mrs. Edwina Currie when they were involved in the Department of Health. I learned at first hand what an excellent national health service we have. That can be proved by the ages to which people are living now and the stage at which babies can be saved. Things thrived under 18 years of Conservative government.

I heard my previous constituency referred to in a seated observation. I was proud to be associated with the health service in my former constituency.

Helen Jones: Not proud enough to stay there.

Mr. Amess: I shall come to that in a moment.

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When the accident and emergency unit in my former constituency was due to be closed, I joined the march. The unit was supposed to be closed on the Friday. I had a row, first, with one of the Conservative Health Ministers and, secondly, with the chairman of the health authority. After a meeting two days before the unit's proposed closure, the health authority decided to keep it open. The following year, it wished to remove the gynaecological section. I again did battle with the then Minister. That section is also still in my former constituency. I was proud to lay the foundation stone for the cancer unit and for the hospice in my former constituency.

I am pleased now to be associated with the various services in my new constituency. It is wrong for Labour Members to sneer and allege that Conservatives do not care about the national health service. Let us consider the record for which Labour Members are responsible since 1 May 1997. During the general election campaign, my opponent said:

Labour Members know only too well that they misled people. They pretended that waiting lists would be reduced. They did not lead the British people to expect them to be increased, and the British people never understood that the new Secretary of State for Health would say, "They have gone up but we shall get it right eventually." Who is kidding whom on that issue? The Labour party misled the British people.

In my constituency, I am pleased that our hospital is a centre of excellence. It is the only hospital in Essex that has acquired associated university teaching hospital status. It is now a cancer treatment centre of excellence. It has received the King's Fund accreditation award. However, let us consider what has happened to hospital waiting lists in my constituency. Last year, there were 9,745 people on waiting lists. In only a year, the numbers have risen to more than 13,000. That is entirely the fault of a rotten Labour Government. The weasel words of the Secretary of State do not wash with me.

I draw the attention of the Minister of State to waiting lists because I have no doubt that, when he receives his brief, he will tell us that they do not really matter. I was very impressed by an article that appeared in the Health Service Journal, and I shall quote from it. The author wrote:

I wonder whether my hon. Friends can guess who the author is. He is none other than the Minister of State, Department of Health who, in a few moments, will try to

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justify what the Government have done since 1 May 1997. I agree with every word that he wrote in that article on 26 March 1998.

We all know what is happening with waiting lists. Waiting list money is being spent on less serious cases, because other cases have an impact on social services, which themselves have insufficient funding. That means that seriously ill people, including those waiting for cardiac surgery, are not having their wait shortened and may die while on the waiting list. Day case surgery, which is relatively cheap and not life-threatening, but performance of which reduces waiting lists dramatically, is taking place under the new Labour Government--that is their priority. Patients often wait in excess of 12 months for joint replacements and have severely impaired quality of life in that time. Some are being forced into the private sector, using their life savings.

A year ago, Labour celebrated at the Royal Festival hall, with the clarion call, "Things can only get better." They are not getting better for people who are struggling to pay their mortgages with increasing interest rates, who send their children to schools with increasing class sizes or who are waiting to have operations. The Government have let the people down.

6.32 pm

Mr. David Lock (Wyre Forest): First, may I reflect on why this subject has been chosen for debate? The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. Was it chosen because Conservative Members are concerned about waiting lists, because people on waiting lists are suffering or because people on waiting lists pay taxes for the national health service without receiving treatment to which they are entitled? No. She said that waiting lists were the subject for the debate because the Labour party had made them the subject. My party did that because they matter to people, to people in the NHS and to people who are suffering, which is why they were an election pledge and why they are important.

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