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Mr. Speaker: That is the case. The content of any White Paper should not be given to anyone until it is put to the House. I would disapprove of giving someone sight of a White Paper or of any discussion of its content. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman.



Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Nick Brown, Mr. Secretary Murphy and Mr. Mike O'Brien, presented a Bill to make provision about hunting wild mammals with dogs: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 2].

Vehicles (Crime)

Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Marjorie Mowlam, Mr. Secretary Byers, Mr. Charles Clarke and Jane Kennedy, presented a Bill to regulate motor salvage operators and registration plate suppliers; to make further provision for preventing or detecting vehicle crime; to enable the Lord Chancellor to make payments in respect of certain costs relating to magistrates' courts which are attributable to vehicle crime; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 1].


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 107 (Welsh Grand Committee (matters relating exclusively to Wales)),

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 108 (Welsh Grand Committee (sittings)),

Question agreed to.

7 Dec 2000 : Column 133

7 Dec 2000 : Column 135

Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Second Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6 December],

Question again proposed.

Health and Social Security

12.15 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn): First, Mr. Speaker, I inform the House that, owing to prior engagements, I shall not be here for the winding up of the debate, as I have already informed you and the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox).

The twin pillars of the Government's legislative programme for the year ahead are the creation of an opportunity economy and a responsible society. Those are the basis for the better Britain that we seek to build.

First, the opportunity economy will be built on the firm foundations of stability, extra investment, low inflation, cheaper mortgages, falling unemployment and rising employment--where work, not welfare, is a genuine pathway out of poverty; where the performance of local schools is central to the performance of the national economy; and where all groups in our society and all parts of our country share in rising economic prosperity.

Secondly, a responsible society will be built on respect for the law, founded on strong communities and strong families, strengthened by good neighbours--where people look out for one another; where young people know the difference between right and wrong and act accordingly; and where an injury to one is an injury to all.

We are introducing 15 Bills and four draft Bills--on crime and fraud, on homes and health, on care and children, and on security and justice--to improve public services and strengthen public protection. Measures such as the tobacco advertising and promotion Bill will honour the Government's manifesto commitment to ban tobacco advertising in this country once and for all. That ban was opposed by the Tories while they were in office; it was blocked by the European courts and will be implemented by the British Parliament to help to save thousands of British lives.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech. I hope he will deal with the fact that a Bill on adoption and a review of mental health legislation are absent from the Queen's Speech. Why do the Government give the Bill on tobacco advertising a higher priority than the long overdue reform of adoption and the important review of the Mental Health Acts?

Mr. Milburn: The ban on tobacco advertising was a manifesto commitment, and it is important that we honour

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such commitments. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that that is the right thing to do--at least for the Labour party--even though his party never quite managed it.

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that there will be a White Paper on adoption before too long and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given a commitment to legislation next year. These are key issues; I certainly think that Members on both sides of the House regard the strengthening of adoption law and procedures as an extremely important priority.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford): I remind my right hon. Friend that smoking kills 125,000 people a year in this country. It is the biggest single preventable cause of ill health, so I am very pleased indeed that the Government are introducing such an important and useful measure to reduce the enormous burden of deaths caused by such an avoidable condition.

Mr. Milburn: As a GP, my hon. Friend is well versed in these issues and is well aware of the impact of tobacco on health. As he rightly points out, about 120,000 people a year die from tobacco-related disease. Our best estimate is that bans on tobacco advertising--like those in countries such as Finland--have contributed to a reduction in smoking. That is good. Our best estimate is that about 3,000 lives a year will be saved as a consequence of measures to ban tobacco advertising.

Cancer and coronary heart disease rates are of common concern in the House, so I hope that all hon. Members will support a measure that will make a real contribution to tackling those two big killers.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): Did the Secretary of State see a television programme last night that showed that, as a consequence of the enormous differential tariffs on tobacco, large quantities of cigarettes--of an infinitely more lethal quality than those that we allow--are being smuggled into this country? What are the Government going to do about that?

Mr. Milburn: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he will be aware from his experience of representing a constituency in the south-east that this is a very real problem. And it is not just a problem for the south-east; in my own part of the world there is increasing evidence of an illegal trade in imported, smuggled cigarettes of the type that he describes.

I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the measures that the Government are taking to strengthen the Customs and Excise effort, so that such issues may be tackled more effectively. I also very much hope that the Conservative Front-Bench Treasury team will be able to give a commitment to match our increased spending on Customs and Excise officers. I note that, to date, they have failed to do so.

These are measures, then, to build on the foundations that we have laid for a stronger economy and a fairer society: Bank of England independence, the new deal, a statutory national minimum wage, the working families tax credit, record increases in child benefit, extra help for pensioners, and investment in our key public services. These are the foundations that we have laid--each and every one of them opposed by the Conservative party.

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The Conservatives said, in opposition to the national minimum wage, that it would destroy 1 million jobs. Since we came to office, the policies that we have pursued have helped to create 1 million jobs. The Conservatives said that the extra cash for health, education, transport and the fight against crime was reckless, madness, irresponsible. As recently as Tuesday 5 December, the Leader of the Opposition described the comprehensive spending review as "a great strategic mistake".

The Conservatives obviously believe that our spending plans are beyond what the country can afford. Well, they are certainly beyond what they could afford. For 18 years, they short-changed the health service. Growth in NHS budgets was just 3 per cent. a year--in their last Parliament, even less. In their last year in office, they even managed to cut spending on health in real terms: cuts for the short term, causing lasting damage for the long term; cuts in nurse numbers, cuts in nurse training places, cuts in beds, cuts in GP trainees, cuts in spending on buildings, and cuts in spending on equipment.

There can be no greater contrast between Labour and the Tories than our records on this issue. In the last Parliament, capital investment in the national health service was cut by an average of 2.1 per cent. a year. In this Parliament, it will grow by an average of 8 per cent. a year. Step by step, we are putting right what they did wrong. In these five years, the NHS budget will grow by one half in cash terms and one third in real terms--the biggest growth that the national health service has ever seen.

Yes, it will take time for the resources to produce results, but after decades of neglect, the NHS today is moving in the right direction. Provisional figures show that there are at least 6,000 more nurses working in the NHS than a year ago. Since the general election, nurse numbers have risen by more than 16,000. The number of nurse training places is up by 5,000 since 1997, and applications for nursing and midwifery courses rose by 73 per cent. last year.

Let me make this clear: no one, least of all the Government, is claiming that every nurse shortage problem is solved. It is not, but the Government are straining every sinew to bring nurses back into the health service. With more nurses from countries such as Spain, where standards are high but shortages are few, more pay--particularly in areas where the cost of living is highest--more flexible working, more power and more resources for nurses to spend, we are now turning the corner on nurse shortages.

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