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House of Commons

Wednesday 17 July 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Health Services

1. Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): What recent discussions he has had with the National Assembly concerning the specialised health services commission for Wales consultation paper. [67872]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have frequent meetings with the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales, and health is a matter that we regularly discuss.

Adam Price: The Secretary of State will be aware of the strength of feeling in west Wales about the proposal to centralise paediatric services in University hospital Cardiff. He will also be aware of the South Wales Evening Post petition, which has received more than 72,000 signatures. How has the specialised health service commission allocated its budget to date between the different regions of Wales? Does he agree that the Labour and Liberal Democrat Administration in Cardiff should base their health strategy on networks of excellence that are accessible to patients in all parts of Wales, not just to those in Cardiff and the south-east?

Mr. Murphy: Of course I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman the details of how the specialised health service commission for Wales operates because that is a matter for the National Assembly, not the Government. I agree that we need centres of excellence throughout Wales, but I am sure he is aware that the commission, which was established by the health authorities in Wales, is composed of specialists and they are giving the issues careful consideration. No doubt he is also aware that the matter is subject to public consultation. I am aware of the strength of feeling that he and other hon. Members have about the issue, but we must await the verdict of the consultation.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): My right hon. Friend will be aware that I have lobbied him on the deep anger that exists in Swansea and south-west Wales because of the threat to the paediatric neurosurgery unit at Morriston in my constituency. The anger is evidenced by the magnificent campaign of the local newspaper, the

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South Wales Evening Post, which has received more than 70,000 signatures. Does he realise that many local medics say that the consultation process is flawed? Does he agree with me and, I hope, the First Secretary that devolution should not mean centralisation in Cardiff? Centralisation was wrong in London; it is equally wrong in Wales.

Mr. Murphy: Devolution of health services to local communities is a main feature of the new reorganisation of the health service in Wales. That is what it is about, and I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend on that. I know he understands that we have to balance the importance of achieving excellence in the delivery of medical service, which is recommended by the experts in that sector, with the issues that he raises. I am sure that his concerns, together with those of other hon. Members, will be made clear to the First Minister and the Health Minister. However, I emphasise that the decision will be made by the commission rather than the Assembly.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): The Secretary of State rightly says that the matter is subject to public consultation. As we heard, more than 70,000 people have signed the petition organised by the South Wales Evening Post. The unit is important not just for Swansea, but for the surrounding areas, including west Wales. We know that there is a good road network to Morriston hospital. It has a helipad, which Cardiff does not, and skilled staff whose commitment and dedication save lives. Will the right hon. Gentleman discuss the provision of that facility with the Health and Social Services Minister? Cardiff does excel in some specialities, as do other areas, but when paediatric neurological experts state that first-class care is needed within a two-hour period, the facility cannot be allowed to move on health grounds alone because the consequences will be grave.

Mr. Murphy: Of course I give an undertaking to talk about the issue with the First Minister and the Health Minister in Cardiff. The hon. Gentleman understands, as a native of Swansea, how important it is that medical services are of highest standards in west Wales. He can rest assured that I will take up the matter.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West): Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the health service commission that many of us in the House regard its approach as hypocritical? It holds it against Swansea that it does not have intensive care beds, but it refused to allow the hospital to have those beds despite a recommendation by the Welsh Office in 1998.

Mr. Murphy: The fact that my right hon. Friend has added his voice to the campaign is significant. He, too, can rest assured that I will raise his specific point with the Health Minister.

Regional Airports

2. Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): What discussions he has had with the First Secretary of the National Assembly regarding assistance for regional airports. [67873]

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The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have regular discussions with the First Minister about matters affecting Wales, including a wide range of transport issues.

I was delighted to hear the recent announcement that BMI is to use Cardiff International airport as a base for flights to the European mainland. That is a tribute to the airport operators as well as to the Assembly and its partners in marketing Wales as an attractive place to do business.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: Many people from Somerset use the airports at Bristol and at Cardiff, where BMI is now an operator, to go abroad, and one problem with getting to both those regional airports is the road system. Given that the regional consultation document will come out later this year, will the Minister do what he can, when the consultation is over, to make sure that people who want to use the airports, in an area that is not well known for easy access, will have the chance to do so?

Mr. Murphy: Obviously, I will do what I can. In the job that I hold I cannot promise that I can do much for Bristol, but I can probably do a little more for Cardiff. I take the hon. Gentleman's point that in south-west England, which includes his constituency, and south Wales there is a need for the road and rail system to integrate with the air transport system. He made valid points, and I shall certainly make sure that I raise them when I discuss the matter with the First Minister.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): I agree with my right hon. Friend that the best way to boost regional airports is to attract low-cost airlines, such as bmibaby, which we have just secured as an operator at Cardiff International airport. That will mean an increase of up to 1 million passengers a year coming through Cardiff, but it could also mean 500,000 traffic movements on the road to the airport, so it will present challenges concerning access. Will my right hon. Friend look into that matter?

Mr. Murphy: The point made by the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) is exactly the one made by my hon. Friend. I agree with him about the numbers. He will know that about 1.5 million passengers a year use Cardiff International airport, and with BMI coming on board that figure will rise to 2.5 million. That is good news for Wales and for my hon. Friend's constituency.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): The experiences of the south of Ireland have shown that the economic development of regional airports directly stimulates economic development around them, and that has been very beneficial. Is the Secretary of State aware that Welshpool and other regional airports in Wales have strategic plans to, for example, extend runways and terminal facilities? Is he willing to lend Wales Office support to the inevitable consultation with the Civil Aviation Authority as those airports seek to extend their operations?

Mr. Murphy: I very much take the hon. Gentleman's point about regional airports as well as the other airports in Wales that I have mentioned, and I have been to Welshpool airport. The Under-Secretary of State for

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Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), who deals with these matters, have been in discussion about the regional air services study, which will come out shortly. It will examine the need for road and rail links to airports in Wales, as well as their potential for economic growth. They are indeed magnets for such growth, and the hon. Gentleman can be assured that we will take up those matters.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): Will my right hon. Friend use his position to ask the management of BAe in Broughton in north-east Wales if it will open its runway to commercial private use for airlines in Wales? After all, BAe has received £250 million of public funds to help it to develop the airbus, and the least that it could do is open the runway.

Mr. Murphy: I will be in north Wales in a few weeks, and I shall certainly make sure that I raise the issue. It is important because although many people in north Wales use Manchester airport, a regional airport in north-east Wales would be a great advantage to my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Evans: Will the Secretary of State congratulate Air Wales on its new routes from Cardiff to Edinburgh and Glasgow, which are a great boost to Cardiff in the light of British Airways's reduction and withdrawal of services from the airport? In recognising the importance of regional airports such as Swansea and Cardiff, will he set up and chair a working party including, for example, the Welsh Development Agency and local authority chief executives and development officers, who can drive forward and assist regional airports in Wales so that the whole of Wales, especially the outer-lying areas, can fully benefit from the extra business opportunities that this will bring?

Mr. Murphy: I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a special interest in the airport at Swansea, and he is right to point out that Cardiff has new services to Glasgow and Edinburgh. I am aware of the aspirations to have a service from Swansea to Scotland, which would be good news for west Wales and indeed for Wales in general. As to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that I chair a working party, it would be a good idea for him and other hon. Members who are interested in these issues to meet me to discuss the way forward.

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