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6.45 pm

Roger Casale: I wish to make three brief points. At the end of our proceedings on the Bill, first, let us not lose sight of where the Bill came from. I certainly remember that afternoon in February 1996, before I was a Member of this place, when the Scott report was published and layer after layer of deceit was peeled away to reveal a rot at the core of our Government, which was the old decrepit system of arms control. All of us have a duty to restore public confidence in the transparency of our political system and in the Government's capacity to exercise a rational, fair and effective policy on the control of arms. I believe that the Bill goes a long way towards that end.

Secondly, the Bill is long overdue. The previous such Bill was passed before the second world war in 1939. Times have changed since then, but let us remember that times have also changed since 11 September. We started to consider the Bill before the events of that day. I hope that the Minister and the Government will recognise that times change, the world becomes a more dangerous place and we need all the time to keep arms control measures and legislation under review and up to date.

Thirdly, I welcome the spirit of many of the responses during the debate. Clearly, there is much work still to be done on parliamentary scrutiny, on end-use monitoring and in particular on ensuring that sustainable development is, if not in the Bill, very much part of the spirit of the legislation as it operates in practice.

It is a landmark Bill and it rightly has all-party support. Although we understand and support the Government's desire to ensure that the Bill works in practice, much work can still be done when we review the Bill's operation in the light of experience to keep the ideas and aspirations that lie behind it alive in the years to come.

6.48 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth: It looks as though it falls to me to be the tail-end Charlie in the debate on this important Bill. I entirely support the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who made a number of extremely important points about detailed aspects of the Bill. We shall follow with great care how the Government implement the Bill, if it manages to secure safe passage through the other place.

However, I think that it is wrong to pretend to the British public that there has not been a system of arms export control in place over the past 60 years—there has.

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It may not have been perfect, but Governments of all complexions have tried to operate an ethical foreign policy in respect of arms exports. It would be invidious to suggest that any previous Government had been cavalier in the way in which they allowed British arms equipment to be exported to other countries.

Despite my repeated requests for evidence from Ministers of where there had been any lack of integrity on the part of British defence exporters, virtually no evidence whatever was forthcoming, apart from the mention of Sandline. Certainly, none of our major companies in the UK, which employ so many of our constituents, has ever been cited by any hon. Member—any Back Bencher or Minister—as having shown any lack of integrity in the way in which it promoted its business overseas. Those who are engaged in these activities are generally people of integrity and the last thing that they would want to see is British equipment falling into the hands of those who might use it against our own armed forces.

The Bill generally commands support. We have had a system of export control, but it has been deemed inadequate. That is why we had the Scott inquiry, which made a number of recommendations that the Bill is seeking to implement.

BAE Systems has its headquarters in my constituency. It said:

It also believes that it should not be put at a disadvantage as against its competitors in the United States or the EU. It is a common view among Conservative Members that the Government must implement this legislation carefully to ensure that it is not our companies in our constituencies that are put at an unfair disadvantage.

On a point of principle, I believe that the supply of defence equipment to our friends and allies enhances Britain's interests and influence overseas. It helps to reinforce stability in potentially turbulent regions of the world. It reduces the unit cost of supplying British equipment to Her Majesty's forces and is an honourable thing to do.

The Government have frequently committed British troops to action and we stand poised now. Who knows the extent to which British troops will be called upon to act in defence of our interests and in the wider interests of freedom around the world in the coming weeks. Defence exports help to ensure that they can afford to go into battle with the best of British equipment, not with equipment that we have had to buy from overseas because we have reduced our domestic capacity to produce it. The Government must strive to operate this law without emasculating a vital component of British manufacturing industry. I hope that they will interpret the law in that way.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

8 Nov 2001 : Column 465

Kidderminster Hospital

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Pearson.]

6.53 pm

Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest): I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to raise the matter of the drastic downgrading of Kidderminster general hospital, which as most people know is the main reason why I am here. I am especially grateful that, at this time of international crisis, we can still consider important local issues. If we were deflected from that, terrorism would have won a battle.

On 12 September I was lucky enough to visit a local primary school. The joy, optimism and hope on the faces of the children restored to me a real feeling that the world was still a good place in which to live and that life had to go on. After introducing me, the head teacher asked a five-year-old what my job was. The five-year-old said, "He helps the Prime Minister." In fact, that statement has hidden depth. As an Independent, I have the huge privilege of being able to support the Prime Minister if he is right and being equally able, without the Whips leaning on me, to oppose him if he is wrong. It is a unique position.

I am now daring to say that Ministers were wrong in their decision about the reconfiguration of acute hospitals in Worcestershire. My job is to prove that to the House and to show that Ministers have based their decision on inaccurate and incorrect information. When I left the school, the small primary children sang a jazzy little number about David and Goliath. They did not realise how exactly apt that was.

The decision was to remove all acute in-patient beds and the accident and emergency department from an acute general hospital to a new hospital 18 miles away. Let us remember that there are nearly 100,000 people within four to five miles of the original site. They are now 18 miles away from the new site, and a further 25,000 people can be up to 35 miles from the new hospital. The acute general hospital had received a charter mark, most of its buildings are only six to 23 years old and, in the words of a distressed local lady, it is woven into the fabric of Kidderminster life—since, in fact, the 1820s.

How was the decision reached? I make no apology for referring to that because it allows me to alert other people facing threatened downgrading to the unscrupulous methods that managers may use to obtain their ends, and to why public consultation is in such disrepute. Divide and rule is one of the techniques; some are given enough to be kept quiet. That was shown by the responses to the consultation process. Of the 122 responses from official bodies, 50—nearly half—came from the 20 per cent. of the county's population living in the north-west part. Of those 50, 49 were rigidly against the plan.

The local medical committee, which represents all general practitioners in the county, rejected the proposals and found no evidence that they would provide a better, safer service. Another interesting response came from the hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith). She was reported by the Worcestershire health authority as saying that she supported the proposal for a new hospital in Worcester, but not one which would centralise basic services away from local people. That is just what the plan did for my constituents, but not for hers.

8 Nov 2001 : Column 466

Consultation has also been brought into such disrepute by the use of option appraisals. If hon. Members find them mentioned in hospital service reviews, they should beware. They are merely a method of wrapping up pseudo-statistics which are produced to confuse. In the Worcestershire case, the option appraisal was purely and simply a vote by the majority in the south and east of the county against the minority in the north and west.

What were the reasons for the decision? In these days of open government, we were staggered to find that communications between the NHS executive in the west midlands—now the west midlands regional office—and the Department of Health are entirely secret. Nobody can get at them. The reasons quoted are that the hospital would be unviable because of royal college guidelines for consultant specialisation and junior doctor training. That was absolute rubbish because the same guidelines were interpreted differently in many parts of the country.

Having forced through an unpopular decision, how does one realise it despite opposition? One allays the opposition—first, with spin.

Those were the words of the health authority, but one could not go there with appendicitis, a heart attack or pneumonia.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Fitzpatrick.]

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