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19 Nov 2002 : Column 577—continued

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): I am listening carefully to what the hon. Lady is saying. Does she accept that the guaranteed 6 per cent. real-terms increase in social services funding over the next three years will do something to address the problems that she highlights?

Sue Doughty: In fact, that 6 per cent. real-terms increase will come off the other end—through the money that goes to the county council—so we will not see all of that increase. We have been working hard

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within the NHS, and with social services, to invest wisely the additional Government funding that we have received: in the provision of care places, and in training people to provide care of home. With respect, that 6 per cent. will have to go a long way before it deals with the problems that I am outlining. Too much of my surgery time is taken up in dealing with these issues. It is not a question of social services failing, as has been suggested in respect of some areas; they are being run ragged trying to secure those places. They are working with the NHS, but they are not succeeding.

The Gracious Speech makes no reference to one of the saddest issues that I have to deal with. In that sense, the Speech offers no cause for hope. Last month, I had the honour of attending the official opening of Christopher's, a hospice for life-limited children from counties surrounding Guildford, and from south-west London. If it were not for the shortage of time, I could talk at length about the wonderful work that it does looking after children—and their families—at this particularly difficult, final stage, and even afterwards. The things that it achieves are truly breathtaking. Christopher's was built with lottery money and funds raised privately; it certainly was not built with any NHS money. It has to pay for services that it receives from the local primary care trust. It has a wide catchment area, and there is only a small number of children in each of the PCTs, so it does not figure at all in budget lines. When I raised that point with the then Minister earlier this year, I was told that the cause of children's hospices would be picked up by the national service framework for children. Even so, the cause of life-limited children is simply tacked on to that of children with disabilities. Their numbers are small, and they do not figure sufficiently.

Children's hospices do not expect the NHS to pick up the bill—that is the nature of the hospice movement, and children's hospices are no different. However, the cost of the necessary medical care at Chistopher's—the nurses and doctors—is about #300,000 a year. It should not be paid for by fundraising. Medical staff should be paid for through the NHS. It is a simple problem to solve and capping could be put in place. We need more Government support.

Mr. Dawson: Does not the hon. Lady think that she is a little too quick to dismiss the national service framework for children when it has not yet been published? Would not it be more advisable to communicate her concerns about the issue to Professor Aynsley-Green who is preparing the framework?

Sue Doughty: I am disappointed to hear that intervention. This issue has been rumbling around for some years and has been raised by the all-party group on hospices and the Chase Children's Hospice Movement. Hospices need to plan their finances and they need to be able to budget. Despite going to see the Minister and visits with Government representatives, I am sorry to say that we have seen nothing. We thought that we might see something from the cancer cash, but fortunately, owing to improvements in cancer treatment for children, only 8 per cent. of childhood deaths are from cancer, so that will not be a source of money. The subject needs serious consideration and I look forward

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to the national service framework, because we need to see a commitment to the treatment and care of children in hospices.

7.51 pm

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): I welcome Her Majesty's most Gracious Speech. As we have heard, its emphasis is very much on crime and antisocial behaviour. I welcome that, because every week constituents from some of the poorest parts of my constituency attend my surgery to complain about antisocial behaviour. I am particularly pleased that there will be measures to control airguns. I recognise that there are many other important measures in the speech, not least those on devolution, on which I wish to concentrate in my speech.

The Gracious Speech refers to a new Bill for health services in Wales. The Bill is significant because the Welsh Assembly proposed it. It has been debated in this House in pre-legislative form, but the ideas came from Cardiff, and that is important in constitutional terms.

The Gracious Speech promises legislation for referendums in English regions where there is deemed to be a demand for devolution. I welcome those measures because my interest in devolution goes back many years. I remember the alternative regional strategy, which was proposed in 1982 by the right hon. Member for Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). In the 1990s, I remember Bruce Millan, a former Secretary of State for Scotland and European Commissioner, coming up with ideas through the Labour party's regional policy commission. I recognise that the recent White Paper and the reference in the Queen's Speech is the culmination of many years' work.

As well as the debate that has been taking place in England and on a United Kingdom basis, we have also seen the fruition of debates in London, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. If devolution is good enough for Scotland and Wales, it should be good enough for the English regions. I say that because I do not believe that devolution is about nationalism; I believe that it is about democracy. Speaking as a Welsh Member, I believe that the Welsh Assembly has been a success. Some people might say that there were one or two hiccups at the beginning, but very few people now doubt the value of its existence. It has become the focal point of Welsh politics and is being seen increasingly as an example of good practice for other parts of the United Kingdom to emulate.

It is notable that both Wales and Scotland have unitary systems of local government. That seems to be the natural way forward when there are regional tiers of government. That is a logical proposal that was aired in the White Paper. We should also recognise that some hon. Members have expressed concern that devolution to the English regions might mean a loss of powers for local authorities. We should look at the evidence. That has not happened in Wales. In fact, we have seen a strong and constructive partnership between the Welsh Assembly and local authorities; they work well together.

As I have said, the rationale for devolution is democracy, but I believe that a further strong argument in favour of devolution is the economic imperative.

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Over the past 20 years, we have seen widening disparities between different regions of the United Kingdom. Labour Members recognise that there is a need for a strong regional policy. We do not want the type of regional policy that we have had in the past, with winning companies being picked out or benevolent civil servants deciding in London what is best for the regions. We want a regional policy that is rooted in the regions and is developed according to specific needs and specific circumstances.

We should take note of what has happened in many European regions over the past 20 years. It is no accident that some of the most prosperous and dynamic European regions have strong, proactive regional administrations.

Angus Robertson: Will the hon. Gentleman concede that sub-state legislatures across Europe and Governments tend, universally, to have more powers than either the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament? If he concedes that, will he mention one power that the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament has to end the relative economic decline of Wales and Scotland, compared to other parts of the UK?

Mr. David: Across Europe some legislatures have more powers and others do not. It is difficult to come up with a mechanistic formula and say that it is simply cause and effect. What we see in many European regions is a focus for their identity. We see a lever at regional level that provides a focus for the effective development of new partnerships.

Andrew George: The hon. Gentleman referred to European regionalisation. I am sure that he will have noticed that appendix E of the White Paper provides a number of examples, all of which demonstrate variable geography and variable geometry? He mentioned identity. To what extent does he believe that the standardised government regions properly reflect regional identities?

Mr. David: They do to a large extent, but it is not perfect.

The White Paper suggests that the issue will be looked at and that there will be consultation. As I understand it, nothing is cast in stone. We need a constructive debate, but at this stage it is important to establish the principle, which is absolutely sound.

France has traditionally been one of the most centralised countries in Europe, but Prime Minister Raffarin is proposing the devolution of power to the regions. Many parts of the UK draw successfully on European structural funds. The White Paper recognises that there is a need for regional intervention at European level so as to articulate the needs of specific regions. There is also a reference to the single programme document, which is an important strategic document that draws up the plans for the use of the funds in a particular area. I remind hon. Members that, since the last European election, Members of the European Parliament have been elected on a regional basis. We will therefore see greater co-ordination and a partnership between MEPs and regional authorities.

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Some hon. Members may still claim that the assemblies will have few powers. I beg to disagree. My reading of the White Paper is that the new assemblies will have significant strategic powers for sustainable development, planning, transport, housing, culture and, of course and crucially, economic development strategies. The proposed assemblies might even have greater financial powers than the Welsh Assembly. It is suggested in the White Paper that regional assemblies might have the power to borrow to fund capital expenditure and for cash management purposes. The Welsh Assembly does not have those powers, so people should not dismiss the powers that the English regional assemblies may have.

Regional devolution will provide the opportunity for greater democracy and more dynamic regional economic policies and will reinforce the unity of the United Kingdom while at the same time celebrating its diversity. I hope that the Queen's Speech will receive the full support of the House, especially its proposals for regional government, which should be warmly received.

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