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13 Nov 2002 : Column 111—continued

9.31 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): Last year's Gracious Speech followed a massive Labour victory in the general election. Hon. Members can well understand Labour's enthusiasm to set out its clear legislative programme, but the Government have been found wanting in all respects. They were strong on rhetoric but short on delivery. I have no doubt the same will be true of this Gracious Speech.

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I want to say a word about today's ceremony. The state opening of Parliament is precious and dear to the country. I am very proud of our Head of State. The golden jubilee celebrations were splendid. I regret the fact that the royal family has recently entered choppy waters. I hope that our precious gift of the sovereign and the state opening of Parliament is not going to be spoiled. We read in the newspapers that certain elements want to change all that, but it would be an absolute tragedy if anything were altered.

I have looked carefully at the Gracious Speech and have to ask: what is the point of any legislation? Given that laws are not enforced, we are in great danger of becoming a laughing stock. What is the point of meeting here as legislators, working hard on Bills that become Acts of Parliament, only to discover when we ask questions that laws are not being enforced? I have been fortunate to sponsor two private Members' Bills. The first, the Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act 1988, was a long time ago. A few weeks ago, I asked how many times that law had been enforced. I am still waiting for an answer. But I still get letters from constituents complaining about horses, ponies and donkeys abandoned on wasteland. I cannot chide the Government for not enforcing the other Act with which I am associated, the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, because we are still hearing what they plan to do to deliver the programme of ending fuel poverty within 10 years. I am, however, worried about the general lack of enforcement of Acts that we put on the statute book.

The Government are concerned about their performance on public services, but is there anything in the Gracious Speech to help to retain and recruit people in our key services? As a result of the Bills on which we will deliberate, will more women and men be in our police forces; will more of them work in our hospitals; will more teach in our schools? Sadly, I think not.

The centrepiece of the Gracious Speech is the criminal justice Bill. Oh dear, here we go again—more rhetoric, more gimmicks. There is absolutely nothing new in the detail of the proposals to combat antisocial behaviour. I find it bizarre that at the same time as the Government are telling us that they will deal with antisocial behaviour, we will see a relaxation in our licensing laws. I am proud to say that I enjoy a drink, but I am concerned that unless the Government later reveal something that we have not already read about in the newspapers, the proposal will place huge pressures on our already stretched police forces.

In Southend there is a pilot scheme for on-the-spot fines. That is wonderful, and I hope it works, but I am not aware that the Government have provided Southend police with any extra people to enforce the fines. It would be a brave police officer who tackled some of these yobs, if that is the idea of the pilot scheme, without being in fear of his or her life. The policy is another example of gesture politics.

Still on the subject of the lack of enforcement of existing laws, I know that some hon. Members are not interested in pro-life matters; I am. If we do not regard life as precious, I do not know what the House of Commons is about. Sir John Bourn of the National Audit Office tells us that, under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, #600,000 of licensed

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treatments took place but were not billed. Are the Government doing anything about that? They are doing absolutely nothing.

Of course, some laws are being enforced. Today, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) received an answer saying that, in 2000, nine babies were aborted at up to 24 weeks' gestation because they had a cleft palate. What a disgrace for the mother of all Parliaments. Even more shockingly, a baby with a cleft palate was aborted after 24 weeks' gestation. I hear absolute drivel talked about the reform of our working hours, which I regard as an absolute disaster. How on earth are we properly to scrutinise legislation if we are to work short hours? No doubt some of the measures on which we voted a week ago are good, but overall the reforms further diminish the worth of this, the mother of all Parliaments, and I despair of them.

The health and social care Bill is also splendid, but I have been advised by my local authority in Southend that fining local authorities who are not responsive in dealing with delayed discharges will cause them serious problems. The Health Committee on which I serve spent a great deal of time discussing delayed discharges, and we learned from our visit to Canada and America that it helps if one person is commissioned to ensure that people do not take up a bed unnecessarily.

It is very unfortunate that the Government are targeting local authorities. The idea comes from Sweden, but that model is not a good one. There, the measure was introduced gradually over two years and an enormous amount of money was put into sheltered homes. If the Government want to know why so many people are lying in hospital beds unnecessarily, it is because of their short-sightedness about the standards that they imposed on private and local authority residential homes, many of which, regrettably, are now having to close.

The Government believe that education is at the heart of all their proposals, and I welcome several of the measures in that respect contained in the Gracious Speech, but if the Government really want to know why truancy is so prevalent, they need look no further than parenting skills. I see nothing in the Gracious Speech that will address those serious issues. I regret that there is also nothing to deal with the issue of AS-levels. I should have thought that after the embarrassment that we all felt a few weeks ago, the Government would have recognised that AS-levels are not the right way forward and that they would have quickly inserted into the Gracious Speech a measure to change that examination. Unfortunately, however, nothing has been presented.

In local government, we in Southend have a splendid Conservative-controlled council, but it is struggling in several respects. Councillors are doing their best, but they tell me constantly that this centralising Government are taking away more of their powers. We have a housing crisis because so many people are being sent to Southend, mainly from London boroughs. My constituency, Southend, West, is a tiny urban area and there is no land on which to build. We ask for Government assistance. The chairman of the housing committee, Councillor Gwen Horrigan, has worked extremely hard on the problem, but we desperately need support from the Government.

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I am concerned about the proposals to change our planning laws. It occurs to me that although the Government use the rhetoric of involving local residents in planning matters, the details of their proposals suggest that in future local people are to have even less of a say than they have now.

I conclude by listing a few Bills that I would have liked included in the Gracious Speech. Every Member of Parliament says how shocking the issues surrounding mobile phones are—they are worried about the health scares, they do not want any more of those ugly masts to be erected, and they are concerned about the number of people who drive while using their mobile phone. My local authority tells me that it has no powers in that respect—so who has the power to do something about the overuse of mobile phones?

I have tried to persuade the House to accept a Bill to protect endangered species. Surely we can find time to do something to protect exotic animals? It is no good Members of Parliament saying how terrible rhino hunting and other such activities are when we in this country import—albeit illegally—a huge number of exotic animals which are slaughtered.

Any number of Members of Parliament have talked about fireworks, and I eagerly awaited an announcement of legislation on that issue. Only this afternoon, a constituent faxed me to say that fireworks were going off nearby at 3.30 in the afternoon, scaring her family and the animals. Again, there was nothing in the Queen's Speech about that.

The Government are supposed to be extremely keen on energy efficiency, but sadly, their record on climate change is slipping backwards—in fact, the latest figures show that carbon dioxide levels are now higher than when Labour came to power. I would have liked to see in the Gracious Speech binding targets for energy efficiency improvements; energy efficiency surveys on new house purchases; cuts in VAT on energy saving materials; and energy efficiency measures in offices. Sadly, none of that is in the Gracious Speech. All Members will have had a briefing from Age Concern saying that it would very much have liked a proposal in the Gracious Speech to deal with age discrimination.

Yet again, the Gracious Speech is strong on rhetoric, but will be short on delivery. However, if any of the proposals that we shall spend the next year discussing are to be worth while, it is about time that we looked at Acts that are unenforced because of the lack of woman and manpower.

9.45 pm

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) for being brief—I am sure that he could have spoken for another hour. I shall try hard not to be macho, assertive or aggressive, but I shall be brief of necessity.

I really enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), which was lively, entertaining and everything that speeches in the House often are not: perhaps—dare I say it?—that was partly to do with the fact that she is a woman. My hon. Friend was elected on the same day as me and the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) and the Under-

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Secretary of State for International Development who has just left the Chamber. We were among the 101 women Labour MPs elected five and a half years ago. None of the other parties has come anywhere near to achieving such electoral success for women, and I take great pride in the Labour party's achievement.

As I am short of time, I shall concentrate on the three paragraphs in the Gracious Speech that deal with the health service. The sentence that refers to

warms my heart. I cannot think of a better example than a tiny hospital in my constituency, Ilkley Coronation hospital. If anyone knows Ilkley, they will realise that it is hardly a Labour heartland—I do not get many votes there, but it is my priority to keep that small hospital open. It provides excellent services, including physiotherapy, a dietician, an X-ray department, family planning—much appreciated by young ladies from the centre of my Keighley constituency—and day care. It used to have a minor injuries unit, but, in anticipation of wider closure, it has been closed by Airedale NHS trust. We expect the whole hospital to be closed, but that decision will be for the primary care trust. Until then, there will be a consultation period, and I shall campaign to keep the hospital open, as it is a basic ingredient of what the NHS should be. I know that there are other important health issues, to which I shall turn shortly, but it is a gem of a hospital, and I shall come down next Tuesday with the chair of Ilkley parish council to see the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith) to try to persuade her to help me to keep the hospital open for the people of Ilkley.

The hospital was purchased with public subscriptions from the people of Ilkley and built about 100 years ago. I visited it a few months ago. It is not at all seedy—it is a good little hospital providing an excellent service. I am not going to be dogmatic. If someone says that they can provide all those services at the Springs medical centre virtually next door, I shall be quite happy.

The Gracious Speech also mentions giving

I am not certain what that refers to, but no doubt it has something to do with giving greater freedom to good, successful and probably acute hospitals.

Airedale general hospital is also in my constituency. It is the biggest employer in my constituency, so it is extremely important to me and my constituents. It provides a range of services not only to my constituents, but to people who live as far north in the dales as Bentham, towards Clapham, past Settle and in the other direction, in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie), as far down as Bingley. The hospital is therefore very well used, and I intend to keep it that way. I do not want anything else to be hived off from it and put into one of the mega-hospitals that seem to be growing in city centres, although I appreciate the facilities that they provide.

A few weeks ago, I opened a new pathology department at Airedale general hospital. It was a real pleasure for me to be there and see the work going on.

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Today I wanted to highlight the work of that pathology department. Too often, we see the glamorous side of our health service—the surgeons and the big hospitals—but we do not know much about the background work that goes on. I suppose it is the equivalent of the background work that goes on in Select Committees in this place, with the surgeons as the equivalent of the Members who make the big speeches in the Chamber, and even Ministers.

I pay tribute to the work of the pathology department. Various bits of me have gone through it at various times, and I very much appreciated its findings. I will not say that it was lifesaving, but it undoubtedly improved the quality of my life from time to time. I recognise the need for regional centres of excellence, such as the one that we have in Leeds that is part of the Leeds teaching hospitals trust, which is made up of Leeds general infirmary and St. James's hospital.

In the Chamber we do not often speak of our personal experiences, but perhaps we should do so more often. Instead of speaking about myself as a constituency MP and my constituents, I shall touch on the fact that my partner, John, has been struggling with cancer for 15 months now. Two weeks ago—I hope that none of the hon. Members present is too squeamish—he had a liver resection in St. James's. He was diagnosed with that fifth cancer only two weeks before he had his operation, so, yes, there are waiting lists in the health service, but when someone's back is to the wall and he has a cancer in the liver that needs to be removed quickly, it happens. It happened with John, and I can assure the House that it had nothing to do with my position as a Member of Parliament. I am sure that Mr. Lodge, the surgeon, did not know who I was when we went to see him the first time, although he may do so now. It was excellent for us that, within two weeks, John was in St. James's and having the operation.

That was terrific, but we must watch out for too much of the health service gravitating towards city centre hospitals. As I said, I recognise that John had specialist surgery, which clearly cannot be provided in every cottage hospital throughout the country. Specialist services must therefore be provided in city centres, but I warn against too much movement. I want Airedale general hospital in my constituency not just to survive, but to prosper. It is in an attractive part of the Aire valley. If we start to siphon off services from there to the Bradford hospitals or the Leeds hospitals it will endanger my wonderful Airedale general hospital. I do not want that.

Airedale hospital has a great advantage over city centre hospitals, in that nurses, doctors and ancillary staff there can work within a short journey of their home, and that home will be reasonably priced and in a beautiful area of the Aire valley. That means that Airedale has no trouble whatever in recruitment. If we start moving more and more towards city centres, we may start having greater problems with recruitment because people do not want to commute great distances and may not want to live in city centres, although I recognise that Leeds is a wonderful city, which I appreciate.

The Queen's Speech states:

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That is not just about bed blocking; it is also about the quality of life for those who have had surgery in an acute hospital such as St James's. I do not want to knock St James's, but it was built on a small site and it has grown and grown. Ward 63 was where my partner John was with two other men; it is a small room with a window about 1 m by 1 m that overlooks a brick wall. Recovering from a third operation for cancer is about not just one's physical state, but one's mental capacity to recover. The worst part of cancer surgery is the depression that can set in because it is such a difficult period, so it is important not to become depressed.

I really appreciate what was done in St James's. Ten years ago John would have died because we did not have the advantage of MRI scans or lasers, and liver operations could not have been performed. Therefore, I appreciate what has been done, but hospitals are more than operating theatres; they are also places where people recover, so their spirit needs to be uplifted. A wonderful tonic for John would have been a window through which he could see a bit of sky, not just a brick wall. There is not much that can be done about that. For historic reasons, St James's has developed on its present site, which is too small and congested and restricted by factors such as traffic. But health service planners should pay more attention to locations so that there is room for improvement and expansion without putting patients into a ward where they can see nothing.

We need to consider the future of the health service. I am proud of the health service, particularly in my area, but hospitals cannot develop and grow on one small site. We must be aware of the need for a little space. From Airedale general hospital there are wonderful views across the Aire valley. Patients recovering from major surgery would be helped by having a good view across such a valley.

I am proud of the health service, but it could be better. I do not say that small is beautiful because that is not always the case, but there is room in our health service for tiny hospitals such as the Coronation hospital in Ilkley, medium-sized hospitals such as Airedale hospital in the Aire valley, and for huge hospitals such as Jimmy's in Leeds. Let us concentrate on all those areas of the health service. They can all be improved on. Within the health service, we should be able to have a good quality of service in all those three different types of hospitals.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Ainger.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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