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Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

49. David Winnick (Walsall, North): To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, if he will make a statement on progress in appointing the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. [32386]

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission): As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) on 6 February 2002, the House of Commons Commission has nominated for the post Mr. Philip Mawer, at present the Secretary General of the General Synod of the Church of England and Secretary General of the Archbishop's Council. That nomination is subject to the approval of the House, and the Leader of the House has indicated that the motion will be before the House tomorrow, 13 February.

David Winnick: I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but will he confirm that the existing Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Elizabeth Filkin, carried out her duties in a conscientious way and was impartial in investigating cases? Is he aware that many of us, certainly myself, believe that she has been, in effect, fired for carrying out her duties in that way? She has been a splendid public servant and it is most unfortunate that she is leaving in such circumstances.

Mr. Kirkwood: The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but I do not share it. I refer him to the nomination paper that will be before the House tomorrow when the motion is moved to appoint her successor. At paragraph 5, it says:

That is decidedly the view of the House of Commons Commission.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a point of order, of which I have given you notice, in connection with a private notice question from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) last week. In column 748, the Foreign Secretary helpfully replied to my question by referring to the treaty of Utrecht, which, as hon. Members will recall, was drawn up in 1713. The House of Commons Library has helpfully furnished me with a copy of the treaty, which is in the original French.

I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as a number of right hon. and hon. Members will seek to debate the treaty in future. Are we allowed to quote liberally from the French version or do we have to request an official English translation?

Mr. Speaker: I draw the attention of the hon. Lady to "Erskine May", page 371, which states:

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. No one would have any objection to quotations, but it might be useful to have a translation of the whole treaty in the Library, since one of the things that it does is to exchange Gibraltar for Florida. If we are to reopen negotiations, we could perhaps consider having Florida back.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Lady has a point.

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Waiting Time for Discharge From Hospital

3.33 pm

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): I beg to move,

On 4 July last year, the Prime Minister told hon. Members that

According to the latest figures available—I have just been sent them—bed blocking has not got any better, nor has it stayed the same; it has got worse. Rather like Robespierre, the Prime Minister sees a wrecker around every street corner. His remarks on wrecking completely mystified those of us who have worked in the public services.

My Bill is constructive, for it deals with a situation that touches the lives of so many constituents as patients, carers and members of the caring professions. It sets a standard to which I believe no Government or no hon. Member could reasonably object.

"Bed blocker" is a horrible, pejorative term, but it has something of an advantage over the alternative term, delayed discharge, because it conveys something of the awfulness of what is going on.

The national beds inquiry found:

But all health statistics come with a health warning these days, for there are as many ways of tweaking the figures as there are hon. Members. Some bright spark recently realised that if the wheels were taken off a hospital trolley, it became a hospital bed and there were no more trolley waits. So it is better, then, to rely on the press. Indeed, it is thanks to the Daily Mail that the Government had to concede in October that, during the year, there had been more than 680,000 elderly bed blockers.

Our dear old friend the postcode lottery pops up to produce a huge disparity across the country and even between localities served by individual trusts. For example, the Royal United hospital, Bath, finds it more difficult to discharge my constituents than it does to discharge people from other districts. People wait to get out, so people have to wait to get in. The Prime Minister was forced to admit during last week's questions that the number of operations that had been cancelled has risen substantially since 1997, and it now emerges that that number has risen as a proportion of operations performed.

Last week, a London consultant told me that bed blocking was so bad in his hospital that patients regularly have to sleep on the floor. In the 21st century in Britain, patients are sleeping on hospital floors. Those of us with first-hand experience as in-patients will know full well that life on a hospital ward is unsettling whether or not people are fortunate enough to have a bed—for the elderly, that would be a gross understatement.

Hospitals cannot always cure people; they cannot always make them feel much better, but at least they can ensure that they do them no harm. Busy hospitals are

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dangerous, profoundly unsatisfactory places for elderly patients to be for a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. The consequences of delayed discharge—hospital-acquired infection, deep vein thrombosis and bed sores—may seem like small beer to the fit and healthy specimens in the Chamber, but they represent the grim reaper for many debilitated patients.

The Government will say that they are working hard to tackle bed blocking, but before we get too excited about increased funding, we should note that the King's Fund thinks that activity has actually declined, and the reason, very largely, is that the system is all blocked up. In response, the Government have tipped a wheelbarrow of extra cash on to social services, but the National Care Homes Association has said that that money represents little more than a sticking plaster.

The Health Act 1999 made my Bill possible. My cue lies with the increased flexibility as between health and social services that it introduced, but experience from Northern Ireland suggests that it is unlikely that the joint working arrangements that the Act encourages will alone magic away bed blocking. Funding increases for the national health service have far outstripped social services. Logically, that should drive up in-patient activity, but what happens downstream? The balance is clearly wrong, as the King's Fund has pointed out.

The bed blocking Bill would make two assumptions: first, that patients who are ready for discharge are better off supported in their own homes or in homely settings in the community; and secondly, that insufficient community care and support is the greatest single impediment to timely discharge. The Bill would facilitate a model based

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on the Swedish approach to delayed discharges. That hugely successful innovation provides for cash transfers and penalties between agencies to achieve bed blocking targets.

Bed blocking is not just the result of finite resources; it is the result of the resources being used inappropriately. My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) revealed that it costs £1,630 to have someone in hospital for a week and £319 for a week in a care home. Where is the sense in that?

The wait for admission is resource dependent, but the wait for discharge need not be, and both would be eased by a Bill that sets a maximum wait beyond an agreed discharge date. The date would be agreed by the relevant agencies on a case-by-case basis and would be supported by the cross-transfer of funds. This is such a reasonable measure that hon. Members who seek to wreck it will have a great deal of explaining to do in their constituencies, and I am very sure that there are no wreckers in this place. I ask the House to support my bed blocking Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Andrew Murrison, Dr. Richard Taylor, Mr. Mark Hoban, Mr. John Butterfill, Mr. Hugo Swire, Mr. Gerald Howarth, Mr. John Horam, Mr. Peter Duncan and Mr. Robert Key.

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