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

Mr. Harvey: I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. Clearly, that policy would be a betrayal of the NHS, and the British people do not want it. Liberal Democrats will continue to expose those plans for what they are.

Conservative spokesmen have talked several times in recent months of the increasing role for private insurance and the fact that they want to divert funds into it. This very afternoon, the Conservative spokesman drew a distinction at the Dispatch Box between the services that one and the same patient might expect to get in the NHS and those that he or she might look to private insurance to provide.

I am sorry that the Conservatives do not see that policy for what it is. The debate underlines the principles of the NHS as they have always existed. We will continue to take on the Conservatives on that issue in the next few months and into the election. Those are the facts of the matter. The Conservatives may not like it, but that is the meaning of their policies and we will continue to explain that to the British people.

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

Mr. Harvey: I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman has already made his point at the Dispatch Box and we have heard enough of that.

Liberal Democrats remain committed to the NHS. Clearly, if sustainable reconstruction can improve the quality of health care, the funds ought to be made available to the NHS to do so. Our party remains committed to reform and modernisation, welcomes much of the general direction of what the Government are doing with the help of doctors, nurses, the professions allied to medicine, managers, patient groups and others. There are signs of the beginnings of an emerging consensus on the matter. The Liberal Democrats welcome that consensus of all the stakeholders in the NHS about its future and what it might achieve. Only by going forward on the basis of consensus can we deliver what the majority of the people want and all the people need.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that Madam Speaker has placed a 15-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches and that that will apply from now on.

2.58 pm

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I will try to be brief. There was little substance in the Opposition's attack today and more than a whiff of hypocrisy. The reality is that the Tories left us with a two-tier system--fundholding and non-fundholding--and now I am not sure whether they

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want a two or a three-tier system, with the private sector and, perhaps, a return to fundholding and non-fundholding too. They do not want a unified system; that is obvious.

We all know about the effects of the internal market. We all knew that it was unfair. I presume that all hon. Members have advice surgeries. In those, we learned of the problems that that market was creating. We also know that it was one reason why the Conservatives lost the election. We did not have enough staff in the health service, the buildings were poor and it lacked capital expenditure. I think that 50 per cent. of NHS buildings were built before the war, which is 50-odd years ago. Also, the number of doctors and nurses in training was at a record low.

The Tories believe that all that is forgotten. They believe that people have short memories, but that is not true. We had all those problems in my constituency. On top of that, we had been waiting for a brand new hospital for over 20 years. We were promised one in the late 1970s. We needed it for two reasons: first, our old one was in part of an old Victorian workhouse and was built at the beginning of the last century. It is now a listed building and will provide a very good campus for our new teacher training college, but it was inadequate as a hospital. Secondly and more seriously, the maternity unit was three miles away from the paediatricians and anaesthetists.

The Tory Government received a report saying that young babies in my constituency were dying because of the split site, but nothing was done. The right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) is in her place. Perhaps she can explain why on one occasion when she was Secretary of State, her Government withdrew the contract for building Carlisle hospital a week before it was due to go out to tender. That is what my people remember about the Conservative Government's record.

Let us contrast that with what has happened under the Labour Government. They were elected on 1 May 1997. I went to see the Secretary of State in June and put the case for Carlisle being a priority. In July he agreed with me and announced the intention to build a new hospital. In September the contract was let. In November, on one of the happiest days of my life, I cut the sod to mark the start of the building of our new hospital.

It may take three years to train a nurse and five years to train a doctor, but it took fewer than three years to complete our brand new district hospital. It was delivered in April, on budget. One of the problems that we had with its funding was that it was delivered before time. There was not a precedent for that--nobody could remember a hospital being delivered before time. A fortnight ago my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister came to my constituency and opened the hospital.

The hospital was started under a Labour Government and completed under a Labour Government, and it is only the first of many. We are talking not just about a new building but about new operating theatres, new equipment, everything being brought on to the site, a new hydrotherapy pool and more intensive care beds--an extra £500,000 was invested in them. A new nurse consultant was announced during the Prime Minister's visit. That shows the contrast between what the Conservatives did not do and what a Labour Government have done in my constituency.

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I know hon. Members on both sides of the House are looking forward to the happy day when their new local hospitals are built.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield): We have been waiting since 1962.

Mr. Martlew: My hon. Friend, who is the Chairman of the Select Committee, has been waiting since 1962, and I am sure that his constituents believe that a Labour Government will deliver where the Conservatives never did in 18 years.

Everything appears to be improving. The Labour Government have delivered on more than a district general hospital: they have built a new psychiatric unit and closed the old Victorian asylum. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) complained that NHS Direct had not been tested. We cannot win, can we? If we wait and double or treble check to see if everything works, we are accused of not delivering; when we go ahead with a good scheme, we are accused of being hasty. However, that is what we expect of the Liberal party.

We are looking forward to NHS Direct operating from my constituency from October. It will employ 30 nurses and provide a valuable 24-hour service to Cumbria and north Lancashire.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey): As the hon. Gentleman has such a splendid situation in his constituency, what advice could he give to a Member of Parliament who now has one in 10 constituents waiting more than a year for treatment, and where the number of one-year waiters has trebled since the general election?

Mr. Martlew: Is the right hon. Lady saying that that is what is happening in her constituency? If so, she should take some of the responsibility, as she was Secretary of State for many years.

Mr. Hinchliffe: Go private.

Mr. Martlew: As my hon. Friend says, the Conservatives' option is: go private.

There is still more. On Saturday the News and Star ran the headline:

and wrote about a Government boost for Cumbria health teams. It has nothing to do with the Prime Minister's visit, although the local paper did him proud; it shows what the Labour Government are delivering. People will see developments. Perhaps my constituency is ahead, but the Government will deliver. Developments will take time to come through the system, but it is working. The difference is that in 18 years the Tory Government never delivered. They had the opportunity; the economy was right; they could have spent the money--but they refused, basically because they did not believe in the NHS.

Everything is improving, but not everything is right. Hon Members would not expect me to speak without reminding them of what needs to be done. I represent a constituency in a rural county and we have been pressing the Home Secretary to give us extra money for sparsity.

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It appears that we will get that extra money for police funding. If the case has been made for the police, it must be made for the health service, too.

We have two district general hospitals, although in terms of numbers we probably justify only one. However, they are 40 miles apart: one is in Whitehaven in the Copeland constituency and the other is in Carlisle. That difficulty needs to be addressed if we are to attract top-flight consultants and maintain a first-class service. I am sure that Ministers are looking at that.

I want next to raise my concern about reorganisation. In the late 1970s I was chairman of the health authority. Since then there have been about six or seven reorganisations. The present one is reconfiguration. I have reservations about it for our acute trusts. That is not the real issue, however--it is the primary care trusts that concern me. Although we have a relatively small population, it appears that a decision is being taken to go for three of these trusts. There is no justification for it. We will end up with duplication of management: we will have three sets of management where one or possibly two would be right. That will take money away from patient care and create all sorts of confusions for community services. I will write to my hon. Friend the Minister, but I hope that he has noted my concern.

The choice is clear: it is between a privatised NHS where--let us accept what the Tories say; we do not want to scare people--people who need life-saving operations will receive them, but people who need cataract operations or hip replacements will have to go on an extended waiting list. [Hon. Members: "Who said that?] I thought that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) had made his speech. People will go on an extended waiting list--that is what the Tories said--unless they have private insurance. The Tories will give away taxpayers' money, probably £1 billion, to subsidise private insurance for those who are employed or can afford it. Poor people who cannot afford it will have to go on an extended waiting list. There is no argument about that. Of course, the vast majority of people who use the NHS are of retirement age--they are over 65. What is the Tory message to pensioners? It is to go on an extended list because, as we all know, they cannot afford private insurance.

We have the option of a privatised service--[Hon. Members: "No."]--or, under the Labour Government, our offer, in my constituency and throughout the country, of a modernised, well funded health service that will serve the old, the sick, the poor and everyone else.

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