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Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lock: I shall not give way, because I do not have sufficient time.

Secondly, primary care groups, which have been criticised by Conservative Members, will at least mean that those people who are waiting will do so in an orderly and equitable queue, as opposed to fundholding being a charter for queue jumpers. People must be treated according to their health needs, not according to the status of their doctor.

Thirdly, we should reflect on the incompetence of the people who were put in charge of health services when the Conservatives were in power. For example, by last year, Worcestershire health authority was overspending by £8 million a year and had a cumulative deficit of about £20 million. Those serious problems are being addressed, and painful decisions are being taken, but it would have been better if they had been considered and difficult decisions taken before the general election.

Mr. Gill: Will the hon. Gentleman give way, on that point?

Mr. Lock: No, I shall not give way.

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The painful decisions that we are taking in Worcestershire will be considerably better for the extra £13 million, over and above spending figures that were published before the general election by the Conservatives, that has gone into the health authority as a result of decisions taken by the Government. There are options for the people of Wyre Forest, whom I represent, and the matter is with my hon. Friend the Minister, but if it were not for that extra money, there would be no options and there would be nothing for him to consider. Waiting lists in Worcestershire will come down, as they will come down elsewhere, as a result of decisions taken by the Government. For that reason, I shall support the amendment.

Mr. Amess: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a Minister to include in an amendment a statement that he has reason to believe is inaccurate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): The Minister is entirely responsible for amendments that he tables or statements that he makes in the House.

6.36 pm

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): The terms of today's debate may have been set by our motion, but the climate in which it has been worded was entirely determined by the pledge made by the Labour party in the run-up to the general election. Labour promised to reduce waiting lists, which has caused us to draw to the attention of the House the way in which that pledge has been betrayed.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has covered--rumbustiously, as always--most of the arguments that I want to make, none of which, needless to say, was answered by the Secretary of State. First and foremost is the spending climate in which he pretends that he is beginning to fulfil his pledge. The key point is that spending under this Government is less than it would have been had the Conservative party stayed in office.

The Secretary of State is unable to fulfil his pledge because, in his naivety, he has boxed himself in by making two conflicting pledges. On the one hand, he said, bogusly, that his Government would stick to former spending plans, but, on the other, he said that he would reduce waiting lists. Those conflicting pledges explain the predicament that he and his colleagues find themselves in. Worse, it has been announced today that inflation has hit 4.2 per cent., so his spending plans will be further eaten into by the Government's inability to stick to their economic targets.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) clearly knows her stuff--she spoke cogently, as ever, and the Government should listen to her. The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) clearly does not--he has become an apologist for something that will not please his voters in South Yorkshire. I doubt that he will honestly be able to hold his head high in the streets of Rother Valley again.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke a lot of sense. In discussing the deceit of this so-called early pledge, he joined us in pointing out the truth which Labour Members are not prepared to admit. The hon. Member for Harrow,

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West (Mr. Thomas) read his brief--he dwelt on the past, but seemed to have little vision of how his party will honour its pledge. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), as one would expect of a former Health Minister, brought expertise to the debate, helping us to understand the detail of waiting times and the importance of times rather than lists.

The hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) spoke as the House has come to expect of her. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) made a fluent and thoughtful contribution, which I trust Ministers will have noted. The hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) seemed reluctant to address the Government's failure. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) was, as always, clear and to the point. The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Lock) addressed the House with some gall. I wonder whether he campaigned on the Kidderminster hospital in the run-up to the general election. He is becoming an apologist for the reduction in services. Where does he stand with the voters now?

Miss Melanie Johnson (Welwyn Hatfield): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan: I shall not give way, because we are restricted on time.

The pledge on the health service--

Mr. Andy King: Does the hon. Gentleman use the health service?

Mr. Duncan: The hon. Gentleman has been barracking throughout the debate. The answer to his question is yes.

Given the Government's early pledge, 100,000 people should have been knocked off the waiting lists. Instead, they have gone up by 150,000. The Secretary of State and his chummy Minister are falling behind on their promise to the extent of almost a quarter of a million. To secure their fortunes and to recover from this panic--

Miss Johnson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan: I shall not give way.

Will the Secretary of State give a guarantee--which he failed to give the House when I asked him a week ago--that no other area of health provision will be pushed in the wrong direction to get the Government out of the hole they are in on their pledge? I see that the Minister is nodding. Let him put that on the record when he replies to the debate. Will he assure us that no other national health service indicator of performance will be pushed in the wrong direction to get the Minister and his team out of the hole that they have so deeply dug for themselves?

Miss Johnson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan: I have told the hon. Lady, and I shall not tell her again: I shall not give way, because we restricted on time. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady had been here throughout the debate, I might have given way to her.

The White Paper reforms are likely to make the Minister's problems worse. He should listen to what doctors say about primary care groups. They are being

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compelled to form groups of 60 or 80 doctors covering about 100,000 patients. According to a recent poll by the British Medical Association, that is against the will of an absolute majority of practising GPs. We intend to listen to doctors, and it is time the Minister did so, too. What he proposes to do with GPs and with primary care groups will make matters worse.

Mr. Barron: The hon. Member says that the position of primary care groups will make matters worse. How can he defend the fundholding system, which only 50 per cent. of doctors were eventually cajoled into? It created a two-tier system of health care.

Mr. Duncan: If the Government are concerned about a two-tier system, they should endeavour to level up, not level down. It is typical of the Labour party and the socialist philosophy always to prefer to level down rather than to level up.

What is the point of an early pledge if it is continually postponed?

Miss Melanie Johnson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan: I have made myself clear.

What did the Secretary of State mean by "early"? He chooses to talk to his Minister in an attempt to ignore me. What was "early" about his pledge? The Government promised that they would bring down waiting lists as a first step, but it is becoming a bit of a last step. What does the Minister mean by "early"? Early in the morning, just as the sun is setting? [Hon. Members: "Rising."] Morning has broken, blackbirds gone to bed? When the Minister replies, he should tell the House what he meant by "early".

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. In the county of Leicestershire, waiting lists under Leicester health authority have gone up by 15 per cent. In two years--which will be "early"--they will be just the same as they were when we left office.

Mr. Duncan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Nowhere in the country has the early pledge been fulfilled.

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