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House of Commons

Wednesday 8 May 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Mersey Tunnels Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Wednesday 15 May.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Tuberculosis (Cattle)

1. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): What recent discussions he has had on the risk of the further spread of tuberculosis in cattle to England. [53143]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet the Assembly Rural Affairs Minister to discuss a wide range of issues. Policy responsibility for bovine TB in Wales is a matter for my colleagues in the National Assembly, while in England it is the responsibility of Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Ministers and officials in the Assembly and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs maintain close contact on the issue.

Mr. O'Brien: With more than 6,000 cattle slaughtered in Britain in 2001, 2,000 of which were in Wales, this is a desperately serious issue for the dairy and cattle farmers of my Cheshire constituency, who are in the front line of the battle against the spread of bovine TB from across the border in Wales and the west midlands. Even the Labour-dominated Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has called for Government action. Should not the Minister now stop dithering and put in the resources necessary to combat the massive backlog of TB testing in Wales and England, following the suspension of the badger culling trials because of the disastrous foot and mouth epidemic? Why are the Government weak-kneed and complacent about the issue? They should resume the badger culling trials, vaccination research and the transmission tests.

Mr. Touhig: The hon. Gentleman uses 20 words when he could manage with one. Bovine TB is just as likely to

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spread into Wales from England. Indeed, in Montgomeryshire, the type of TB commonly associated with Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and west Gloucestershire is prevalent. Bovine TB is a problem and it has been spreading. My colleagues in the Assembly and in DEFRA are taking the issue seriously, but it is important to stress that it does not pose the same contagious problem as foot and mouth disease. Resources are being put in to catch up with the backlog that the hon. Gentleman mentions, because the veterinary service had to be used to cope with the more immediate problem of foot and mouth. Measures have been put in place to restrict cattle movements and cattle on farms that are being restocked following foot and mouth culling are being tested. Key measures are in place to speed up matters, but it will take time. I admit to the hon. Gentleman that the problem will not be put right overnight.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): There has been a serious outbreak of bovine TB in the Raglan and Llantrisant areas of my constituency and certain farmers have had their stock culled, while others are unable to trade or face serious movement restrictions on their livestock. Will my hon. Friend work with his colleagues in DEFRA and the National Assembly to do everything possible to halt the spread of bovine TB?

Mr. Touhig: Yes, I will certainly do that, and I am aware of the problem in Raglan. Indeed, we have seen recent outbreaks in south Ceredigion, central Carmarthenshire, Montgomery and Denbigh. As I said earlier, resources are being made available to speed up the testing of cattle and I can assure my hon. Friend that colleagues in the Assembly and in DEFRA are wasting no time in doing everything that they can—including providing the resources—to tackle the problem.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): The problem of bovine TB is a worrying issue for which the Minister has some responsibility. Is not it the case that Ministers have kicked farmers in the teeth by refusing to claim money from the European Union that would be a great help in addressing the problem? Why have the Government rejected the EU agrimoney package, which amounts to some £72 million? Does the Minister realise that farmers are under siege from all directions, including lower prices, bovine TB and the after-effects of foot and mouth? Now, thanks to his actions, they will be denied European help. The real reason the Government have refused the money is that the Treasury would have to part-finance it. Will the Minister see the Chancellor of the Exchequer and tell him to get out of his office in Whitehall, go to Wales, meet some Welsh farmers and apologise to them?

Mr. Touhig: The right hon. Gentleman is right to underline the concern that we all feel about bovine TB and the impact that foot and mouth disease and other problems have had on the farming industry in the past 12 months. However, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the European Commission has yet to confirm how much agrimonetary compensation will be made available for the livestock sector. When the amounts have been confirmed, we will consider appropriate cases for payment. Spending on tackling the problem in Wales is now running at about £1.6 million. That shows that the

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Government are putting in resources to cope with the problem. As soon as we get information from the European Commission, we will consider where it might be appropriate to add further compensation.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told me today that a number of instances of TB have been traced to increased movements of animals around the country as a result of restocking and the reopening of animal marts? Is not it likely that badgers are not responsible for the new increase in cases as they stay in single, small habitats, whereas animals are being moved the length and breadth of the country? Should not we return to the position of a few months ago, when the numbers of animal movements were restricted? At that time, farmers were successfully and cheaply selling animals over the internet and by other means. Such methods did not cause suffering to animals, and avoided the extra risk of infection involved in going to animal markets.

Mr. Touhig: I can tell my hon. Friend that I am given to understand that the most recent outbreak in Denbigh has been among cattle that have just been moved into the area. The Krebs badger culling trials started in 1998, and have been continuing. We expect the results in about 2004. It will then be up to the Government to consider whether those results prove that badgers have been a cause of bovine TB. There is a strong view in the farming community that badgers are responsible, but there are those in animal welfare groups who insist that they are not. Until we have substantive evidence, I cannot comment further.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House is getting very noisy. It is only fair to the Minister and those asking the questions that they be heard.

Health Provision

2. Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): If he will make a statement on ministerial discussions on the effect of the Budget on health provision in Wales. [53145]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have spoken with the Assembly's Minister for Health and Social Services about the increase to the Welsh block consequential on the increases on Government spending on health announced in the recent Budget. The resulting amount for the block for 2007–08 is some £1.8 billion over the next five years, and I am pleased to say that the Assembly intends to spend the full amount on health in Wales.

Mr. Wiggin: On 10 April—Hansard, volume 382, columns 3-4—the Secretary of State kindly agreed to ensure that the Minister for Health and Social Services in Wales was aware of the terrible bed shortages in Hereford hospital. Will the right hon. Gentleman say how he got on in those discussions?

Mr. Murphy: We are still in correspondence, obviously, with the Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services. The hon. Gentleman will know that the movement of patients, especially across mid-Wales, to

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hospitals in Hereford, Shrewsbury and elsewhere is very important. Arrangements are in place to deal with such matters. The hon. Gentleman may rest assured that, when we receive the result of our correspondence, I shall be back in touch with him.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that, in many instances, Wales leads the way. However, given the Budget announcements on health, will he urge the Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services to follow the English example and have independent audit and inspection for health services in Wales to ensure complete transparency?

Mr. Murphy: In both Wales and England, we understand the importance of ensuring that investment goes along with reform. We cannot achieve improvement in the health service unless those two factors go together. I have talked to the First Minister about such matters, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales has also talked to the Minister for Health and Social Services. The Assembly Cabinet and the First Minister are, in principle, very content with and relaxed about the idea of ensuring that there should be a proper audit regime. That regime should be proactive, and not necessarily retrospective on its own. These matters will be discussed in the next few months when we deal with the legislation framing the bodies involved, but my hon. Friend may rest assured that the principles underlying the reforms of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health are the same as those that underlie what the Assembly wishes to do.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Will the Secretary of State say what is the logic in devolving health to the National Assembly for Wales and establishing an audit body that is responsible to this House?

Mr. Murphy: I would have thought that the most important thing is that the patients come first in Wales or England. There is nothing wrong with people in Wales looking at best practice in health trusts in England, comparing notes and seeing what happens. It would be foolish if Wales, a country of 3 million people, did not look across the border to England to see what best practice occurs there. The hon. Gentleman is aware that in other respects, the Assembly is free to do what it wishes. At the end of the day, it is up to the Assembly to decide how best to implement health reform in Wales, but when it sees sensible reform here in England, it should include that as well.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): Is my right hon. Friend aware that some excellent health care is provided to my constituents by, for example, the Countess of Chester hospital in Chester and the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic and District hospital in Gobowen? The sensible way ahead is for us to work together with English health authorities to bring about the best possible provision of care for my constituents.

Mr. Murphy: I was conscious of that in my reply to the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), when I said the same thing. There is an important link between

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English health trusts on the border and Welsh health trusts. It is important that we learn from each other, and that applies in north Wales as much as in south Wales.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): In recent days, we have learned the shocking news that patients heading for the accident and emergency unit at the Prince Philip hospital in Llanelli after 5 o'clock were diverted to other hospitals at Swansea and Carmarthen, miles away, because of a lack of anaesthetists, and that patients in need of life-saving pacemaker operations have to wait longer in Wales than those with a similar need in Poland because of a lack of heart specialists in Wales. Are the Government to blame or is the Welsh Assembly?

Mr. Murphy: I would have thought that the Conservative party was to blame as well. [Interruption.] Tory Members hold up five fingers, but it was 20 years of Tory Government that led to the underfunding of the national health service.

Of course the hon. Gentleman is right to point, as the Western Mail did yesterday, to those two distressing stories. Of course it is important to address those issues. As we heard in the previous exchange, health matters are devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, which has to deal with them as it thinks best. However, things are not as bad as the hon. Gentleman says. Only a week or two ago, the Assembly met its target that no patient should wait more than 12 months for heart surgery. More than 400 extra doctors and 500 extra nurses are being trained this year, and by 2004, more than 4,300 nurses, midwives and health visitors will be coming out of training. Of course it will take time. The Government have given the National Assembly for Wales the biggest increase ever in public spending on the health service. The Assembly itself will carry out reforms. Between the Assembly and the Government, we will have the best health service in the world.

Mr. Evans: Part of the problem is that we have heard all this before. When the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) was Secretary of State for Health, he said:

Since then, the tanker has sunk. In Wales, up to March 2002, the number of patients waiting between 12 and 18 months for a first out-patient appointment had risen by 69 per cent., the number of those waiting more than 18 months is up by 118 per cent and there is a nine-year waiting list for children needing non-cosmetic plastic surgery, yet Government expenditure on the NHS in Wales is £102 more per person than in England. When will the Government ditch the spin, realise that patients will get treatment not through promises but through action, and deliver on an improved health service for the people of Wales?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman knows that the national health service in Wales will receive an extra £2 billion in five years' time. At present, the Assembly spends just over £3 billion on the health service. In five years' time, the figure will be nearly £6 billion. Of course we are putting the investment in, but the hon. Gentleman knows that to ensure that we achieve delivery and

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improvement, we have to reform the health service. Yet he and his colleagues voted against the reforms of the national health service in Wales in this Chamber some months ago. He cannot have it both ways. When will he tell us what proposals his party has to improve the health service in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom?

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