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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I remind the right hon. Lady that she is straying on to issues that will probably be dealt with later on?

Miss Widdecombe: My point is that I fear that we will not be able to deal with such matters later on. It is because the Government do not wish to deal with those matters later on that they have tabled this allocation of time motion. The motivation behind the motion is to prevent

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discussion of the overwhelming arguments for substituting waiting times as the measurement of success of the NHS for the ludicrous waiting lists, and of the slavishness with which the Government compel clinical priorities to be distorted to deliver an ill-thought-out political pledge. I am sorry that we will not have time to discuss that important issue.

It is also important that we discuss the necessary and adequate regulation of the private sector, but that issue comes even further down the list than waiting lists. The Government's unwillingness to discuss that is evidenced by the fact that they slipped out a press release at 3 am. I do not know who was up slipping out press releases at 3 am, but it does not smack of a Government who want their press releases to be noticed.

Mr. Dobson: It was not me.

Miss Widdecombe: I believe the Secretary of State for Health, because he was not even present yesterday for the debate on the Health Bill. He absented himself and we were told why. The Minister of State said that the Secretary of State had better things to do. He had better things to do than to come to the House and to debate this important Bill.

Mr. Dobson: Quite right.

Miss Widdecombe: That comment is wholly in tune with the Prime Minister's attitude to Parliament. He thinks that this House does not matter, that debate in this Chamber does not matter and that the exercise of this House's democratic function does not matter. That is now also the view of the Secretary of State for Health. It is a poor show.

It is important to allow enough time to discuss the regulation of the private sector. In another place, they added a new clause to the Bill to extend the functions of the Commission for Health Improvement to cover the private as well as the public sector. When the Government are using the private sector to deliver their waiting lists pledge and when NHS patients are sent by GPs to the private sector because the NHS cannot meet the demand, it is right that the private sector should be regulated as the public sector is. We should be able to discuss that, but we will not be able to do so because of the allocation of time motion.

When a Secretary of State resorts to pushing press releases out at 3 am, he really does not want to discuss the issues. Nor will we be able to discuss the abolition of fundholding, which comes even lower down the list. Of course, fundholding has already been abolished, but the Government are now seeking the consent of Parliament. They anticipated the consent of Parliament and went ahead, and that is another measure of their dismissive attitude to Parliament.

We also wanted to discuss, in new clause 25, a duty of partnership with the private sector. The Government believe that such a partnership is inimical to the interests of the NHS. It is not: it would enhance the NHS by increasing the total sums available for spending on health. We want to debate that important proposition, but cannot because the Secretary of State is afraid.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): My right hon. Friend is making a powerful point in support of

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centre-right policies and the constructive engagement between public and private sectors. Did not last week's elections reveal that the desire for such policies is shared by people across Europe?

Miss Widdecombe: My right hon. and learned Friend is right. Thursday's election results amounted to a massive endorsement of Conservative policies in this country, and the same was evident across Europe. Throughthe introduction of proportional representation, the Government were able to save themselves from the humiliation that they should have suffered. They would have won even fewer seats if the elections had been conducted according to the system that the Home Secretary prefers.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady. I seem to be losing my memory a little, so will she tell the House whether she was a member of the previous Government, who brought in large numbers of guillotines on important legislation? Did she ever oppose that practice, or am I thinking of someone else?

Miss Widdecombe: As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the most extraordinary thing about the motion is that it is a double guillotine. It affects a Bill that the Government alleged was not making progress, and also a completely unrelated Bill. I do not think that the hon. Lady will find that that was common under the previous Government.

Mr. Ivan Lewis (Bury, South): If sufficient progress were made to permit a debate on the relationship between the private sector and the national health service, would the right hon. Lady articulate the view of the wing of the Conservative party that believes that the private sector should have an enhanced role, or that of the Leader of the Opposition, who considers that such an approach is inappropriate if his party is ever to get re-elected?

Miss Widdecombe: The hon. Gentleman's understanding of Conservative party policy on this matter is as poor as his understanding of new clause 25. I suggest that he examines our policy so that he can achieve a more informed view. If he continues to interrupt, we will be unable to discuss the extremely important issues involved.

I shall sum up what I have said. First, the double guillotine motion is unusual and has not been justified. Secondly, those who will suffer, apart from the Opposition, are those Labour Back Benchers who wish to speak on the Immigration and Asylum Bill.

Thirdly, the Government have flooded the amendment paper with many new clauses and amendments. They are curtailing debate even though those new clauses and amendments will take precedence over matters that they do not want to debate. When they were in opposition, the Government accused their Conservative predecessorsof playing the race card, so I can understand their embarrassment at their own proposals on immigration and asylum. I can also understand their embarrassment at longer waiting lists, and why they do not want to debate the validity of their measurements and the Health Bill's impact on the medical profession.

Finally, the proposal reveals the Government's profound arrogance and contempt for the House. Democratic procedures are not well served when debate

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is curtailed because there is too much debating going on, nor when a completely unrelated debate is also curtailed because the Government see an opportunity to wriggle out of embarrassment.

I look forward to hearing the Home Secretary's reply, and to many more exchanges with him over the next couple of years.

4.59 pm

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): I am glad to be able to speak in this debate on the allocation of time. We must make it clear to the Government and the country how difficult it will be to discuss all the important matters before us in the time available. Perhaps the most serious crisis facing the national health service concerns junior doctors' hours. The Government seek to restrict the time that we can spend on that important matter.

The utterly excessive hours that junior doctors are expected to work without sleep or rest require immediate intervention by the Government. I do not say that the problem is a new one. It was already serious in 1991 when the previous Government introduced the new deal. However, 8,500 junior doctors continue to work, on call, for periods that, during the week, frequently begin at 9 am and continue until 5 pm the following day. At weekends, they work from 9 am on the Saturday through the night on Saturday and through day and night on Sunday before finishing at 5 am on Monday.

The only rest that doctors can take during that 54-hour period is approximately four or five hours of protected sleep won simply because of the courtesy that some doctors cover for others. Either on the Saturday night or on the Sunday, a doctor's colleagues cover for him so that he might hope to be in bed by 1.30 am and stay there until 7 am. Except for those four or five hours of sleep, there is absolutely no rest. Doctors go through that gruelling experience one weekend in every four, and during the following week, they must again spend a full night on duty, working from nine o'clock one morning right through the night until the following afternoon.

It is a scandal that the Government are not allowing us time to debate this matter and bring it to public attention. We need time to debate it because the position isnot sufficiently understood, even within the medical profession, for which I have the highest regard. Long hours are required for training, but the situation today is more serious than it has been in the past.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): I am interested by what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says. Does he realise that the Liberal Democrats have tabled a new clause on this matter and that we will reach it if he spends less time discussing the guillotine? It is among the early amendments to be discussed, and I shall be interested to see whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman stays to participate in that debate on a Liberal Democrat proposal for legislation on junior doctors' hours.

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