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2.18 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): The debate has been extensive and interesting, with some surprising comments. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) was delighted with a written answer that he had not yet seen--a first for the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) told us that we should listen more attentively to each other--behaviour that we do not often witness in the House. For the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson)--a great lover of his constituency--outer London became rural Middlesex. We all love our own constituency.

The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) told me that I had been too polite and too helpful in the past. Perhaps I can keep up the good work. I shall continue the tradition of writing to all those hon. Members who I do not mention in my speech. I shall pass messages on to my colleagues and try to secure responses.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) started the debate in pole position on Cyprus, as he often does. He was well supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis). We do need to make progress. The Government are committed, as guarantor, to a settlement in Cyprus. We fully back the efforts of the United Nations. We take every opportunity to press human rights issues with the Turkish Government. Our view on the Ilisu dam has not changed since the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 21 December. Objective criteria have to be met and environmental concerns will be taken into account.

One of the major themes of the debate has been new technology. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mr. Fraser) said that the House could improve its telephone system. I think that he is right, and I shall pass on his suggestions. Change takes place so quickly that improvement will become inevitable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) made an important point about the possible problem of poverty of access to internet and e-mail systems. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes that issue very seriously.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster and the hon. Member for Southend, West talked about mobile phone masts and the Stewart report. Let me make it clear that the Government are committed to responding to the report and are consulting on new planning powers for local authorities. It is an important issue on which we want to make progress quickly.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) spoke about a problem with a computer firm, AllVoice, in his constituency. He had a reply from a Minister today. Using

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new technology, we have faxed the answer to the hon. Gentleman, so that he knows that the matter is in hand. I will not comment on the specific case, but there is the wider issue of the knowledge network and keeping intellectual and professional rights. He asked me specifically whether I would write to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the issue. I give him the undertaking that I will.

An announcement of major investment in the national health service was made yesterday. Real-terms spending will increase by 6 per cent. for the next six years--a growth over that time of a third in the money that will be spent. There will be major changes in practice and the need to modernise was expressed. Therefore, it is not surprising that the NHS has dominated our debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster spoke about the important need to bring social services and health together and to pool budgets and good practice. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) spoke extremely eloquently about the problems in Bromley and Bexley and about the consultation programme on amalgamation. I will, of course, pass on his comments; that is what they were designed for. I assure him that, given the scale of spending, all local authorities--whether they are above or below the index--will receive increased spending. Many of us challenge the index, so I can also say that it, too, is under review.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood made an important speech about an extremely valuable institution--the Harefield hospital. It is internationally renowned and has an international team of medical consultants. Ministers are talking to the staff team there, because it is important that it is kept together--that is where the knowledge is. The hon. Gentleman made his case powerfully and I shall ensure that his views are passed on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) spoke eloquently about the specific case of Wassan Khatib. I do not want to comment on that case or on the case of Alex Eady that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West. However, we can learn much from considering complaints and taking them seriously. I fear that, in the NHS and elsewhere, we do not learn from our mistakes or examine them properly or confidently enough, and that we are afraid of apologising when things go wrong. Several Members have said that the complaints system against medical practitioners is not adequate and does not have patients' confidence. I agree with them, and that is why the Government are talking to the profession about a better way forward.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West also referred to the provision of wheelchairs, which has been a Cinderella service. There has been a damning Audit Commission report and, given the level of investment in the NHS, we should be able to make progress.

In an authoritative and knowledgeable speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Dr. Naysmith) spoke about mental illness services. Those, too, have been a Cinderella service. A Green Paper has been published, and consultation is taking place. I want to pick up on two points that he made. First, we need to strengthen community-based mental health services and intervene at an early date, and secondly, new drugs and treatment are making mental health issues and problems far more manageable in the community.

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I agree with the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Sir R. Body) that there ought to be more women general practitioners. They bring sensitivity to the health service. Another form of sensitivity would be to allow alternative medicines and treatments to be available. Some health authorities do that better than others.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) spoke about the plight of pensioners. A lot has been achieved, but there is much more to be done. Pensioner groups in King's Lynn and elsewhere in north-west Norfolk, including Mr. Worth and Mr. and Mrs. Martin, will continue their campaign. I make my hon. Friend a promise: we will do more; a lot more needs to be done. Only yesterday, we made a major announcement about the provision of services and finance for residential and nursing care. In the autumn, as he knows, we will make a significant and important announcement on the pensioners tax credit. I suspect that when the next pensions increase is agreed and announced, it will be far in excess of the current year's agreement.

Another major theme of the debate was the environment. I know the site and area to which my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) referred. I will not comment on the specific case, but I stress the need to move away from landfill and to do more on recycling. If the Environment Agency has not been consulted on the specific planning application to which my hon. Friend referred, there are real grounds for concern.

On another transport and environment issue, my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster spoke about the need for proper access for people with a disability to the railways. As he said, we need to get people off the roads and on to high quality public transport. Both he and the Government support such a policy; it is important to do so sensibly.

The hon. Member for Cotswold spoke wisely about the A419 and the A417. Yes, there is a problem. There is a solution, but it is difficult to balance the needs of traffic and transport with the wider needs of the environment. That is, of course, also the case in Southend, West, where a bypass is desperately needed. Money has been made available for new bypasses just this week, but we have yet to resolve which schemes will go ahead. None the less, the hon. Member for Southend, West made his point extremely well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) spoke with great knowledge about the problem of abandoned cars. Some local authorities are at the forefront of good practice on the matter. We need to consider that and to use best practice, although, as he clearly recognises, we must move in the longer term towards manufacturers having ultimate responsibility for recycling.

I hope that the speech of the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) was not his last. He made important and significant points. I know of his commitment over many years to working with young people, giving them citizenship and education and developing and adding value to them. If we can achieve that, some of the problems with yobbish behaviour in our schools will die away. We must praise and support teachers and social workers, as the hon. Gentleman said. It is far too easy to be critical of people and not to strengthen them. That support and praise can go wider.

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As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) said, it is important that we offer housing assistance to public employees.

We have talked about tourism and holidays. On my ministerial duties, I shall be going to Cornwall, Skegness, Boston, north-west Norfolk and the Balkans during my alleged holiday. I will enjoy working hard, I will enjoy working hard in my constituency and I will enjoy a bit of a holiday. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and all your staff enjoy your well deserved holiday.

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