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Poverty and Heart Disease

13. Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley): What assessment he has made of the nature of the relationship between poverty and heart disease. [119066]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn): Poverty is a major cause of heart disease. The poorest working-age men are 50 per cent. more likely to die of coronary heart disease than men in the overall population. That is why one of the key objectives of our new national service framework for heart disease is to tackle inequalities in the incidence of the disease, and access to services dealing with it.

Mr. Michie: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. We are now more hopeful that we will get to the bottom of illnesses caused by poverty, particularly heart disease. Does my right hon. Friend think that health action zones will give information on the relationship between heart disease and poverty? By the way, the Sheffield hospital for women is on song, on target and on price.

Mr. Milburn: As always, my hon. Friend brings good news.

My hon. Friend mentioned coronary heart disease and the role of the health action zones. I can tell him that we consider dealing with the real problems that are intimately linked with deprivation--not just coronary heart disease, but cancer--to be one of the top priorities for those zones. I know that the local health improvement programme in Sheffield has prioritised the tackling of coronary heart disease, and I think that that is absolutely right.

We are providing better treatment through extra operations, the fast-track chest pain clinics that are coming on line, and faster ambulance response times enabling those who have heart attacks to get to hospital and be treated more quickly. We need, however, to emphasise the importance of prevention as well as treatment. That is why we have invested significant amounts in smoking cessation clinics, and in the provision of nicotine replacement therapy on the national health service. For the first time, that therapy will be available free of charge. We have enabled some of the problems to be dealt with at source, rather than being picked up when they occur.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): The Secretary of State has identified a disturbing connection between poverty and the high incidence of heart disease. How can he justify the proposed closure of Harefield hospital in my constituency, which caused a petition with 100,000 signatures to be lodged at Downing street last Wednesday, and gave rise to a procession led by an eight-year-old former patient who had been given a double transplant? Does not a hospital such as Harefield--unlike one in central London such as the Paddington hospital that is proposed for the future--offer an ideal location for poorer people? Their families--

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and they, as out-patients--can stay, at a reasonable price, in an accessible area. Harefield is the ideal locational hospital. Will the Secretary of State think again?

Mr. Milburn: I think the hon. Gentleman knows that consultation is still taking place on the future configuration of acute hospital services in that part of London. Let me place on record my tribute to the part played by the hon. Gentleman's right hon. and noble Friend Lord Newton in leading some of the discussions about the best make-up of hospital services in the area.I can go no further than that today, but I will consider carefully the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman and others.

Mixed-sex Wards

14. Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): What additional funding is being made available to health authorities in the south-east of England to facilitate the ending of mixed-sex wards. [119067]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Gisela Stuart): Nationally, we are aiming to invest a total of £2.6 billion in NHS buildings and equipment for this year, part of which will be used to address on-going work to eliminate mixed-sex accommodation. The south-east received about £191 million of the £1.9 billion allocated so far. Of that, about £4 million will be specifically invested this year to help to eliminate mixed-sex wards.

Mr. Loughton: In August 1997, Lady Jay threatened:


What is the reason for the Government's failure to meet their initial pledge to phase out mixed-sex wards within two years?

Ms Stuart: Unlike the previous Government, who expressed the intention of phasing out mixed-sex wards, but never set any targets or introduced any monitoring to establish what was happening on the ground, we have set

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the target of eliminating the number of such wards by95 per cent. by 2002. There is no reason to assume that we will not meet those targets. We could not set a target of 100 per cent., because, as the hon. Gentleman will know, major capital projects involving huge investment and rebuilding in five hospitals in his area mean that that target must be met slightly later, which is right and appropriate. However, the 95 per cent. target--progress on which we are monitoring, and can prove--still stands, and we will meet it.

Drug Rehabilitation Programmes

17. Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North): What action he is taking to improve the delivery of drug rehabilitation programmes. [119070]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Yvette Cooper): Action to tackle drug abuse is one of the key issues set out in the national priorities guidance for health authorities, which was issued last year. Drug rehabilitation forms part of our cross- government strategy on drug abuse. Better performance management and guidance on optimum models of care will ensure that more people get into treatment that really works, including residential rehabilitation. We are backing that with extra resources.

Ms Buck: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does she agree that one of the principal barriers to the effective working of drug rehabilitation units is the acute shortage of trained and experienced drug rehabilitation workers? What action are the Government taking to deal with the shortage of staff throughout the country, but particularly in some of our inner-city communities?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right. We are giving £70 million of additional resources to health authorities and local authorities over the coming three years, in addition to developing the national guidance to improve capacity, but one of the key issues is the work force, which is why we have launched a national recruitment campaign aimed at those who are not involved in drug treatment work. So far, we have received an extremely strong response.

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Demonstrations (London and Manchester)

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): Madam Speaker, with permission I should like to make a statement on the violence and disorder associated with the so-called anti-capitalist demonstrations over the bank holiday weekend in London and Manchester.

Yesterday's shameful violence was the culmination of a loosely organised series of events that took place from Friday to Monday. Although all the events were broadly described as protests against capitalism, they were organised by a number of wholly disparate groups.

None of the organisers was willing to discuss preparations in advance with the police, who therefore had to make their plans on the basis of the best information obtained by them. The police response in London was a joint operation conducted by the Metropolitan police service, the City of London police and the British Transport police, using a joint command structure based in New Scotland Yard.

The events held by protesters on Friday, Saturday and Sunday passed off relatively peacefully, both in London and in other centres. As had been expected, however, the main challenge to public order occurred yesterday. In Manchester, up to 400 protesters caused damage to shops and disruption to the tram system. Twenty arrests were made.

The protests in central London began at around 10 am when about 500 cyclists made their way to Parliament square from Hyde Park corner. By 11 am, about 2,000 protesters were in Parliament square, many of them engaged in digging up the turf.

The first incidents of violence were reported at about 12.25 pm, when police and private vehicles were attacked by protesters close to Parliament square. About an hour later, 1,000 or so people moved into Whitehall from Parliament square and demonstrated outside Downing street, when missiles were thrown at police guarding the barriers. It was at around that time, I understand, that vandals desecrated the Cenotaph and defaced the statue of Sir Winston Churchill. [Hon. Members: "Disgraceful."]

Shortly after 2 pm, the Whitehall branch of McDonald's was attacked by a crowd of about 80 people. Some injuries to the police were sustained, as was serious damage to the premises.

At about 3.15 pm, there was serious disorder and violence in Trafalgar square, including the throwing of missiles at the police. At that point, police in riot gear moved to control and to contain the crowds in the square, which they continued to do for the rest of the afternoon.

Separately, about 500 demonstrators crossed the river and congregated in Kennington park, about a mile south, where missile attacks were made on the police. From about 6.20 pm, police began a controlled dispersal of the crowd remaining in Trafalgar square. At around that time, about 150 protesters attacked commercial premises and vehicles, including police vehicles, in the Strand. The crowds in Kennington park were dispersed by 8.30 pm, and a crowd off Waterloo bridge, where protesters in the Strand and Trafalgar square had gone, was held at bay and finally dispersed by the police just before 9 pm.

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I regret to tell the House that nine police officers were injured, including one who was struck in the face by a brick. He was taken to hospital but, thankfully, there was no need to detain him. I understand that the police are aware of injuries to nine members of the public. Thankfully, those injuries were, I understand, all minor.

I am informed by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that 97 people were arrested in the course of yesterday's events on charges including public order offences and assault. A major investigation by police to detect other offenders--including the perpetrators of the desecration of the Cenotaph and the defacement of the memorial to Sir Winston Churchill--is already under way.

Everyone in our democracy has a right to demonstrate peacefully, but no one has a right to demonstrate violently. Yesterday, there was a peaceful demonstration in London by more than 2,000 people: it was organised by the Trades Union Congress to commemorate international workers day and to campaign for the saving of jobs at Rover's Longbridge plant and elsewhere in the west midlands. However, those entirely peaceful demonstrators were physically denied their right to use Trafalgar square, as they had arranged, because of the mindless violence of the groups that were by then occupying the square.

What was witnessed yesterday in central London was criminality and thuggery masquerading as political protest. In our democracy, there is neither reason nor excuse for such appalling behaviour.

As the House has already indicated, a particularly shocking aspect of yesterday's events was the defacing of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament square, and the desecration of the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Yet without the sacrifice of the millions who gave their lives in the service of this country to defend our freedoms, no one yesterday would have been enjoying any right to protest at all.

The fact that the statue of Sir Winston Churchill has already been cleaned up and, I am told, no lasting damage has been caused to the Cenotaph is of little comfort to the public for the huge affront caused by that vandalism. It will be of little comfort especially, but by no means exclusively, to those ex-service people who served and saw comrades killed in those wars.

Planning by police for the weekend's events occurred over many months and took account of all the contingencies that they could identify. The planning also took into account the lessons learned from the very serious violence that occurred in the City of London in June 1999.

The police devoted greater resources--5,500 officers--to yesterday's situation than they have done for any comparable situation in the past 30 years. Knowing the determination of some of those involved to perpetrate serious violence and disorder, the police had to make the fine judgment that it was better to contain the trouble--as they did--in confined areas than seek to bar people from those areas, with a high risk of wholly unpredictable outbreaks of even more serious violence affecting the public as well as the police and property virtually anywhere else in central London. Police had to make equally fine judgments on precisely when and where to deploy officers in riot gear.

In our system of policing, those decisions are properly ones made by chief officers of police. For the avoidance of any doubt, I make it clear that that will continue to

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be the situation in Greater London after the mayor, the Assembly and the Metropolitan Police Authority have come into office on 2 July.

I should like, however, to tell the House that the Commissioner had and has my full support and confidence in respect of the very difficult decisions that he and his colleagues had to take. As with any large policing operation, the Commissioner will be reviewing what happened yesterday and will be discussing those matters with me. I shall of course be ready to respond to any recommendations that he or his fellow chief officers make to me.

I am sure that I speak for the whole House in offering our thanks and gratitude to all those police officers in Greater Manchester and in London who dealt so professionally, diligently and courageously with the entirely inexcusable violence that occurred yesterday.


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