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6.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): We have had an interesting debate, although it has been somewhat curtailed because of the time available, on the important subject of the NHS. To answer the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) immediately, I am here as the Under- Secretary of State for Wales because we are a United Kingdom Parliament. There are Labour Members who are interested in Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland health

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matters and issues in a UK context. I recognise that the Conservative party does not have seats in any of those places, but it is important for us to look at the health service in the context of the UK. As hon. Members can see, the amendment has been tabled in the names of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland, for Northern Ireland and for Wales, whereas the Conservative party motion refers to the UK as a whole.

Some central themes have been raised: change, funding, modernisation and reform. However, there has been a marked divergence between the approach of the Conservative Opposition and that of Labour Members. Interestingly, the three Members who spoke from the Conservative Back Benches were the right hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). They were all Cabinet Ministers in the Conservative Government, who were in office for 18 years and caused many of the problems that we face today.

The Conservative Opposition have suggested that there is under-funding in the NHS. They have made some imaginative suggestions about increased involvement of the private health sector in funding the NHS. Alternative ways have been suggested to allow the private sector to take over some of the responsibilities that are funded by taxation. All those ideas are contrary to the spirit of what the Government believe in, to which Labour Members have referred. It is interesting that, while serving their party in government for 18 years, those three Conservative Back Benchers supported the NHS by reducing its funding. They now come forward--

Sir Raymond Whitney: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hanson: In a moment.

Those Conservative Members reduced NHS funding in overall terms--

Sir Raymond Whitney rose--

Mr. Hanson: I will give way in a moment.

Those Members reduced funding in overall terms--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. We cannot have such behaviour. The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) should not shout across the Chamber.

Mr. Hanson: In that time, those Conservative Members reduced the NHS's real funding and caused difficulties, but they now suggest using the private health sector as an option for funding.

Sir Raymond Whitney: Will the hon. Gentleman retract the misinformation that he has just given the House? The figures show that, in the 18 years of Conservative Government, real-terms spending on the health service increased by 75 per cent.

Mr. Hanson: This Government will be providing additional resources to the national health service, over

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and above what the Conservative Government provided. As a constituency Member of Parliament, my experience has been--[Hon. Members: "Withdraw."]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There is no point in hon. Members shouting withdraw. The Minister is in order. Had he been out of order, I would have been the first to say so.

Mr. Hanson: My experience as a constituency Member of Parliament is that, when the previous Government were in office, the number of beds in my constituency and overall NHS real-terms funding were reduced.

In today's debate, my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) and for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) have offered real alternatives in ensuring modernisation, commitment and long-term funding of the NHS and in tackling the consequences of the Tory record on the national health service. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford expressed strong views on illness prevention, a primary issue that will have to be addressed if we are to ensure that the NHS is strongly supported.

In this debate, there was, as ever, disagreement among Liberal Democrat Members. The hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) certainly welcomed the Government's plans to achieve additional expenditure on health services, so that it matches the similar expenditure of our European partners. However, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), who has left the Chamber, did not particularly support his comments, or those of Conservative Members, on private-sector involvement.

We have had an interesting debate, in which hon. Members have raised various issues, but the themes developed by Conservative Members--on the private health sector and on underfunding--have not chimed with it.

I am proud to be a member of a Labour Government--such as the one who founded the national health service. The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea mentioned Bevan's founding of the health service, but not the fact that Conservative Members voted 51 times against its founding. I am proud to be a member of a Government who are committed to modernising the health service and to looking forward.

There is great pressure on the national health service, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and others recognise that pressure. However, we should remember that, over Christmas, hundreds of people across Wales, Scotland and England received emergency care and were admitted to hospital, and that hundreds of thousands of people received other support and help from the NHS.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The hon. Gentleman relies on his own constituency experience to deny the 75 per cent. real funding increase provided by the Conservative Government. My constituency experience includes a 75-year-old lady who, on Christmas eve, was turned away from the Redhill hospital and sent to find an intensive care bed in Great Yarmouth. What does the Minister tell her and her family about the treatment that she received?

Mr. Hanson: As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, there have been problems--no one denies that.

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At the start of 2000, there were 190 cases of flu per 100,000 population in Wales, whereas four weeks previously only three people per 100,000 had flu. It was a major increase in a short time. We have to recognise that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford said, people are now suffering from flu for longer--on average, 10 to 12 days rather than four to five days--and that more older people are suffering from it.

Certainly in Wales, and probably also in England, the pressures are the greatest in 25 years--[Hon. Members: "No."] The Government have provided extra resources in England and Wales--[Interruption.] Pressures on health services in my part of Wales are certainly the greatest that they have been for 25 years, due largely to the number of people who have had flu--[Interruption.] We need to--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I cannot allow the situation to continue. The Minister is entitled to a hearing.

Mr. Hanson: Pressures on the health service have increased substantially because of the flu, but those pressures are being dealt with. We have provided additional resources to deal with winter pressures and undertaken severe long-term planning to deal with them.

Today's debate gives us an opportunity to focus on the future, not simply on the current winter crisis. Since the general election, the Government have increased real- terms spending on the health service.

Dr. Brand: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hanson: I shall give way in a moment.

Since the general election, an additional £1.9 billion has been pledged in England and, in the next three years, another £18 billion of extra expenditure will be provided. In those two years, in my part of Wales £291 million over and above the resources planned by the Conservative Government has been provided, and £1.3 billion of expenditure is pledged for the next three years. It is about the need to ensure long-term planning, modernisation, change and funding--which is the exact point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley.

Mr. Wilshire: If there is so much extra money sloshing around, why has my health authority been ordered to cut £20 million of its spending in the next three years?

Mr. Hanson: As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health said, there have been huge deficits in some health authorities.

We should consider the Tory record. Under the previous Government--and the stewardship of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who was Secretary of State for Wales--Wales lost 1,200 hospital beds, inpatient waiting lists increased by 5,800, and 300 nurses, midwives and home visitors were lost.

Mr. Hammond: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hanson: No; time is pressing. [Hon. Members: "Give way."] The hon. Gentleman overran his time.

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We should focus on the Labour initiatives that the Government have taken in Wales and elsewhere. To date, NHS Direct has received almost 1 million calls. In Wales, NHS Direct has received--

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