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Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): Is not it a shame that with all the opportunities facing Wales now, such as objective 1 and its bright economic future, the only thing that the hon. Gentleman can rant about today is the sheathing, swelling and length of his leek?
Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman will not have to wait long before I get to the meat. I just thought that I would start with what should be humorous but is all too serious. People will find it strange that, given all the problems that exist, bureaucrats in Europe are setting out rules and regulations that will lead to people going round shops with tape measures, making sure that leeks are the right size. I agree that that is a ridiculous waste of money.
I shall stay on agriculture, because the Secretary of State had much to say about it. The past twelve months have been the direst time that agriculture in Wales and elsewhere has seen. I raised the issue at Welsh questions yesterday and there has just been a scare of another outbreak of foot and mouth disease in north Yorkshire. Thankfully, that has not happened. Wales had 118 cases,
I agree with the Secretary of State that the full implications and ramifications of foot and mouth have yet to become fully known. I therefore find it strange that after an outbreak that devastated and blighted two industries and affected many others, the Government did not agree to a full and independent public inquiry. Much could have been learned. As hon. Members may have gleaned from my earlier remarks, I am not the greatest advocate for everything that the EU does, but I find it amazing that we now have to rely on it to set up an independent inquiry, which will visit Wales. It will gather information from farmers in Wales and elsewhere and make its own recommendations. It is shameful that our own Government could not have done that.
Farmers dearly want the cessation of the importation of substandard meat, but that will take more than putting a few posters up at the ports. The Secretary of State showed some sympathy on the subject yesterday, and I hope that he will have talks with the Minister for Rural Affairs and any other Ministers with influence on the policy, so that we can have strict controls on its importation. If that is how we believe that the last outbreak started, let us take action now to ensure that it never happens again.
The Secretary of State mentioned public services and dwelt at some length on health. While that is a devolved matter, he is right that the money is raised by this Parliament and passed on to the Welsh Assembly. The primary legislative powers also still reside here. However, I am staggered that he made no reference to the appalling state of some aspects of the health service in Wales. I do not implicate those dedicated hard-working nurses and doctors who work in an intolerable atmosphere, but the figures for patients waiting more than 18 months are shocking. In 1997, the number was 1,402, but today it is 4,248. The number waiting more than six months for a first out-patient appointment in Wales was 5,956 in March 1997, but by the end of December 2001, it was 68,000.
I am sure that many hon. Members will have constituents who come to see them or write to them regularly about problems with the national health service. We are burying our heads in the sand if we refuse to wake up to the real problems. A senior surgeon at the Royal Gwent hospital has criticised the increase in waiting times in Wales. He said that they were
Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman can give no explanation, but I will answer his response by quoting a headline from the Western Mail: "NHS is wasting millions, says former minister". I am talking about the former Minister
Mr. Evans: If the hon. Gentleman will listen for a second, I will quote a former Labour Minister, the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), who said that about £500 million could have been saved if the Government had followed some of the recommendations that he made when he was Minister.
Part of the problem is that there are differences between hospitals in Wales in the cost of operations. For instance, a Caesarean section would cost £547 at Glan-y-Mor hospital in Swansea but £1,945 at Wrexham Maelor. Hip and femur replacements cost £2,589 in Pembroke, yet at Llandough hospital in the Vale of Glamorgan each operation set its budget back by nearly £8,000. There are enormous differences in the cost of routine operations done in different hospitals. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bridgend, who is in his place, will have some contribution to make on the health service. He has said many interesting things in the past, and I am sure that he will say one or two more about that.
Enormous savings can be made by seeking ways to improve best practice. We should listen to practitioners in the health service as well, instead of coming back with some of the spin that we are used to from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) and his party.
Chris Ruane: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way on this issue. He complains about the length of waiting lists to see consultants and surgeons. Is he aware that it takes between 10 and 17 years to train a surgeon or a consultant, and that these people should have been put in place 17 years ago, under the previous Conservative Government?
Mr. Evans: When the Labour party first got elected, we were told that we had 24 hours to save the NHS. We have now been told that it takes 17 years. When the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) was Secretary of State for Health, he was told that it would take some time to turn the tanker round. The Government ditched that particular captain well before it was.
Mr. Evans: What I will not do is commend the Labour Government for cruelly raising expectations in 1997 that everything could be sorted out if only a Labour Government were elected; that clearly has not happened. Devolution was supposed to be the answer to everything. We know from some of the plans that have emerged from the Health Secretary that the reforms will be great news for pen-pushers but certainly not great news for those who work in hospitals. The hon. Member for Monmouth will also rememberI raised the issue the other day at Welsh questionsthat he was at the bottom of a very long list to try to get on an NHS waiting list for a dentist in his constituency, because there were no dentists whose list he could get on to immediately. The Government are failing not only him but many of his constituents.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He would do well to recognise some of the successes of the health service in Wales. For example, he might go with me to Velindre hospital in my constituency, the cancer hospital for my area, which leads the United Kingdom in trials for cancer care and is an exemplary model of treatment in every way for people suffering from cancer. Perhaps he might help the hard-pressed workers in the health service by recognising their successes in Wales, where they lead the UK.