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Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): I hope that the hon. Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) will forgive me if I do not take up her remarks, except to say that having heard them I now fully understand the meaning of the expression "Blair's babe".
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) on raising this important issue for debate. First, I shall take up the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) about the allegations that have been made throughout the debate and at other times that the Opposition, when in government, would want to privatise the national health service. That is not true and is deeply offensive to all of us who believe passionately in the
We believe in the NHS, in the way that the vast majority of people do. They want the national health service and they are content to pay their taxes to finance it. I wish that Ministers, Labour Members and prospective parliamentary candidates would stop this nonsense of suggesting that we would not keep the NHS on the basic premise on which it was established.
Such strands of propaganda are not unique in history. It is thought by some that if a big enough lie is spread often enough, the drip, drip, drip effect will convince people that there is some truth in it. I was outraged by a document that was put through my constituents' letter boxes two months ago, "Labour Rose", published by the Labour party at Millbank. It categorically tells people that, under the Conservatives
The Conservative party believes in the national health service, as it has shown not only in every general election since 1948 but in the way that it put more and more money into the NHS during its stewardship and sought to raise standards of patient care.
Labour Members may, with total sincerity, disagree with some of the reforms that Conservative Governments have implemented, but they were introduced with the most sincere of motives--to improve and enhance patient care. Labour Members will say that we want an expanded private health sector to work with the NHS. If individuals wish to spend their money on private care, they are entitled to do so. I certainly do not believe that anyone should be made to do so and we have no such proposals. It causes me no problems if people want to spend their money on private health care--no more than if any Government, including the present Administration, want to spend some of the taxpayer's money on treatment in
I hope that nonsensical claims about privatisation will stop, because we do not believe in it. Privatisation is not going to happen and it is not the sort of thing that hon. Members such as me would agree to or vote for in the Lobby in a month of Sundays.
Mr. Burns: I will answer the hon. Lady's question in my own way. She will have to ask my hon. Friend but, not wishing to duck the issue, I will give my interpretation and understanding of his remarks. If private health insurance companies covered such operations for people who have voluntarily taken out policies, it would relieve pressure on the NHS for the more expensive operations. That is very different from saying that my party insists that individuals take out private health insurance to cover cataract and other relatively minor, non-emergency treatment to relieve the financial pressures on the NHS and fund major operations.
Mr. Burns: For elderly people. I do not have a problem with that policy if it would help more elderly people, for whom tax relief would make all the difference by allowing them to afford private care. That is a matter of individual choice.
The bottom line is that I could not under any circumstances support or agree to the privatisation of the NHS. I do not doubt that my party has no intention whatever of seeking to privatise the health service. I hope that Labour--and the Liberal Democrats, who have always enjoyed getting into the gutter to attack both the Government and the official Opposition--will stop pursuing that tack, as the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) was doing this afternoon. There is no truth in it.
A matter of particular concern to my constituents is hospital waiting lists. Notwithstanding the national figures, there are problems in parts of the country. Waiting lists in my trust area are probably among the
That is unacceptable, particularly because of the promises that were made to my constituents by my Labour opponent, by Labour shadow Ministers at the time, and by the then Leader of the Opposition, the current Prime Minister. My constituents believed that the promised improvements would happen for them, but sadly, whatever is happening elsewhere seems to be passing them by.
I passionately hope that the Government are successful in getting the waiting list down in mid-Essex. I am sure that Ministers do not want my constituents to wait longer than most other people in the country for hospital treatment, if only because an improvement would shut me up and they would not have to listen to my speeches any more. I am united with them. I want the waiting list down because I do not want my constituents to have to wait so long.
Like the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), I hear tales at my surgery and in correspondence, of pensioner constituents of mine having to use their life savings for non-emergency private treatment of painful conditions, because they cannot face the pain while they wait nine months, 15 months or whatever for a hip replacement operation or other treatment on the NHS. It is unacceptable.
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government are enormously politically partisan and that there has been a vendetta against the home counties? The appalling situation that my hon. Friend describes is shared by my constituency and many others.
Mrs. Bottomley: I am amused to hear the hon. Gentleman's merriment. I know that he does not have one in nine people waiting more than a year for in-patient treatment. I know that the figure is only one in 50 in the Prime Minister's constituency. However, there has been a severe deterioration in the home counties because of the squeeze on social services and the changes to the funding formula. The problems in the home counties are very severe indeed. Labour Members laugh or say how successful--