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Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): When visiting my local police station, I discovered that many special constables want to see what the police force is like, with a view to joining it later. Allowing special constables to have that role would be useful in recruiting police.

Mr. Colvin: That could well have been my fifth point. My hon. Friend makes a most valuable contribution. Job tasting is an important part of recruitment and could be tried in the armed forces as well as the police service. Some Members of Parliament who are taking part in the armed forces scheme may be tempted from this place to serve their country in other areas.

In conclusion, I do not want to give the impression that Hampshire is a lawless place. It is not. Recorded crime continues to go down, following the trend established in the previous Government's term of office, but we do not know how much unrecorded crime there is. We do know, however, that there is a problem right across the south-east of England in recruiting and retaining the very high-quality police officers to whom we have become

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accustomed. I hope that my suggestions will be listened to seriously by the Government, and I look forward to hearing their response in due course.

7.49 pm

Ms Jenny Jones (Wolverhampton, South-West): My reason for speaking is to try to prevent an impending deadlock over the sale and redevelopment of the former Wolverhampton Royal hospital in my constituency. As we speak, important decisions are being made about the site's future, and the situation is not hopeful.

The former hospital is a grade 2 listed building in the middle of Wolverhampton. It dominates the All Saints area, and is situated in one of the most deprived wards of the west midlands. The area has been subject to regeneration initiatives for some years. The decision to close the hospital was taken in the early 1990s and was controversial, partly because the hospital contained the town's accident and emergency services, but partly because it was held in great affection. I was against closure, but by the time of the general election in 1997, the plan was too far advanced to be reversed. It seemed a more positive use of energy to seek to ensure that redevelopment would benefit local people and the whole of Wolverhampton.

From the outset, Wolverhampton council and the local community made it clear that the site's redevelopment required what planning jargon refers to as mixed use. In other words, there could certainly be commercial development that would bring in money, but there must also be social housing and facilities for local people. The redevelopment of the hospital site was seen as the focus of the area's regeneration, and the plans were enshrined in a document titled "Royal Hospital Development Area--Wolverhampton Town Centre Urban Village". The plans were also included in the council's unitary development plan, and were subsequently approved by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, a point to which I shall return.

When the hospital was handed over to estates officials of the national health service executive for disposal, they were made aware of the plans and of what the town, the council and the local people wanted. The site was first marketed in 1998, but that attempt was not successful. A second attempt to market the site occurred earlier this year. In between the two, I facilitated a round-table meeting in All Saints involving residents, council officials, councillors, churches, schools, voluntary groups, housing associations and the NHS executive. The purpose of the meeting was to highlight the expectations of the local community and the council, and to make officials aware of what people wanted from redevelopment. After the meeting, everyone was positive, feeling that a greater understanding of the community's needs had been achieved.

However, the result of the second attempt to market the hospital site has been disappointing. The NHS executive seems likely to agree to a food superstore. That option does not fulfil the needs of local people and, as it is counter to the council's unitary development plan, it probably will not receive planning permission. There is a supermarket 200 yd away, so the proposal does not seem to make sense, and the council has already earmarked a further site within half a mile of the hospital for a food superstore.

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The reaction of the NHS executive officials is that Government guidelines bind them to achieving the best value for money deal. The hospital has been closed for two years. The building has been vandalised. The executive has changed its security firm three times, and the costs of patrolling the building are likely to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. If the executive goes ahead with the plan for a food superstore, the council will probably not give planning permission, and we shall be locked into appeals to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The local community will campaign against the development, and the hospital building could stand empty for at least another year.

I have written to the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), to outline the problem. I asked whether his officials might be able to exercise discretion in the disposal of the site so that we could achieve mixed use. I wrote to my hon. Friend at the end of October and have not yet had a reply, although I am fairly confident that I shall receive one soon.

A food superstore is not what we need. My constituents and the rest of Wolverhampton deserve a lot better. The hospital was originally built and maintained by public subscription. The people of Wolverhampton built that hospital. It would not be acceptable if the NHS executive walked away from the site with maximum financial gain and without contributing to regeneration of the immediate area. I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office to pass on my message to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health, and, although I know that the latter is busy, I would like a reply to my letter.

A wider issue is at also stake. I cannot understand why a plan accepted by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions appears to be being thwarted by the criteria applied by the Department of Health--perhaps some joined-up government is needed.

7.56 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I am sorry to start on a carping note, but I regret the absence of the Leader of the House this evening. Those of us who served in previous Parliaments recall the tradition that the Leader of the House should attend this debate. That was a good tradition, and I hope that the practice is reinstated.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise two constituency matters that have a wider import. The first is the availability of beta interferon in Lincolnshire health authority's area. The second is funding of Lincolnshire police, on which I shall make some remarks not dissimilar to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin).

My interest in beta interferon arises from my concern about two constituents. I do not think it right to name them, so I shall call them N and E for the purposes of the debate. Both are young ladies in their late 20s, who have recently developed multiple sclerosis. Both have been seen by general practitioners and have been referred to the consultant neurologist responsible for decisions in this area, to whom I shall refer as Professor B. He is responsible for identifying those among those referred to him who would benefit from beta interferon.

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In both cases, Professor B concluded that my constituents would benefit from beta interferon. Having regard to their ages, he concluded that the treatment would be particularly appropriate. In a letter to the health authority concerning N, he wrote:

N. He continued:

    "We now know that treatment as early as possible in the disease course is critical in order to avoid long-term disability and I would be grateful if you can support additional funding for such patients."

In respect of patient E, her GP wrote:

    "The only available treatment for relapsing and remitting multiple sclerosis is beta interferon, which is indicated for the reduction of frequency and the degree of severity of clinical relapses. It is only effective if given in the early stages of the disease process. It is imperative that she receives the best treatment available. Clearly, at present this is not the situation. As her GP, she has my complete authoritative support and I think that the health authority should be responsible for and fund her treatment."

I regret to say that funding is not available. Lincolnshire health authority has ring-fenced a budget of £200,000, and it adopts the position that it cannot go beyond that sum. Mr. Jeavons of the health authority wrote to me about its policy. His letter stated:

    "Within the fixed sum available only Consultant Neurologists can judge which patients will benefit the most from treatment, and thus should receive priority. We cannot increase our level of funding for beta interferon because we face many competing demands for resources, most notably the rapidly rising demand for emergency medical admissions."

That is profoundly unsatisfactory.

Budgetary constraints operating in Lincolnshire--and, no doubt, elsewhere--actively prevent the prescribing of drugs to those for whom the clinical neurologist recommends them. A letter to me from the professor makes it plain that one cannot prioritise within the groups of people who satisfy the clinical criteria; all of them are equally eligible and would benefit to a like degree.

That is a clear example of rationing by budget--I have no doubt that it is true elsewhere.

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