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27 Nov 2002 : Column 347—continued

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady, but this kind of complaint must be issued in writing, so it would be most helpful if she could do that.

Miss McIntosh: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Is it a different point of order?

Miss McIntosh: May I request that following the written response to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), the Speaker will take into account all instances going back to 1997?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I have no doubt that the Speaker will take the necessary steps when he responds to the hon. Member.

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Orders of the Day

Health (Wales) Bill

[Relevant documents: The Third Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 2001/02, on The draft National Health Service (Wales) Bill, HC 959, and the Government's Response thereto, HC 1215, Session 2001/02.]

Order for Second Reading read.

5.14 pm

The Secretary of State for Wales (Peter Hain) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

May I say what a pleasure it is having you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you are a Welsh girl yourself?

The Health (Wales) Bill builds on the reforms introduced in the Government's National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Act 2002. In bringing it forward, the Government are supporting the efforts made by the Welsh Assembly to improve the health and well-being of the people of Wales and to strengthen patient power in the health service. It is the first Wales-only Bill to be brought before this House, fresh from and improved by the process of pre-legislative scrutiny carried out not just by Members of this House but by Welsh Assembly Members, as well as by health professionals and patients. As such, it is an historic measure that marks another chapter in the process of constitutional change initiated by the Government with the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales.

The Bill achieves three purposes—

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): May I refer to a general issue that is not in the Bill but relates to the Secretary of State's comment that this is all about patient power? Is he willing to think back to the time when he and others were heading the referendum campaign for a Welsh Assembly? They were saying that, in order to have patient power, they would have a bonfire of the quangos. Can he tell me when that bonfire will happen, as I have not noticed it yet?

Peter Hain: My hon. Friend feels very strongly on these matters, as we all do. As he knows, a number of quangos have been abolished—

Llew Smith: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Peter Hain: I will give way in a minute, but I want to answer my hon. Friend's point by explaining how the Bill achieves the purposes that I set out—including a reference to independent public bodies—with which I do not think he would disagree.

Let us consider, for example, the proposals, first, to establish an independent Wales Centre for Health to disseminate research and provide multi-disciplinary advice and evidence to support decision making, and, secondly to establish Health Professions Wales, a body to quality-assure the training and education of health care professionals. I am sure that my hon. Friend does not think that those two bodies should not be established. I am sure that he supports an independent

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Wales Centre for Health providing the necessary research into health needs in his constituency and mine. I am sure that he also agrees with Health Professions Wales, and that he does not think that quality assurance of the training and education of health care professionals should be conducted by a body other than one that has the confidence of those professionals.

Llew Smith: The Secretary of State referred to the abolition of many quangos. Will he accept that there are as many quangos in Wales now as there were when the Welsh Assembly was first set up? Will he also accept that, under the new proposals, there will be even more quangos in the health service than previously?

Peter Hain: I think that my hon. Friend will recall that, when there was tremendous public opposition to quangos in Wales, it was partly because—I would argue that it was exclusively because—they were packed with Conservative place people. Because of that, they were not accountable in any way.

Two independent institutions will be established by the Bill. My hon. Friend has not told me yet whether he agrees with the establishment of a Wales Centre for Health or Health Professions Wales. I am sure that the whole House agrees with that, as all the pre-legislative procedures have endorsed precisely those new independent agencies, because they strengthen the health service in Wales and provide us with a platform for creating a genuinely world-class health service in Wales.

The third purpose—other than establishing an independent Wales Centre for Health, and the Health Professions Wales body—is to reform and strengthen community health councils in Wales and establish a statutory association that will support community health councils and have a performance management role. I am pleased to say that the Bill implements a commitment made in our Welsh manifesto last year to reform the CHCs in Wales to strengthen their role as community watchdogs.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment, and I have placed a bet on him to become a future leader of his party—but that is enough niceness for one day. Can he tell the House what is the total number of public service agreement targets set for the health service in Wales; how many have been met; how many have been missed; and what is he doing about the latter?

Peter Hain: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the debate on Wales. He is an articulate parliamentary performer.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): And he is on your campaign team.

Peter Hain: Indeed, he is on my campaign team. However, his bet is not very welcome, as I am happy doing this job and will do any other job that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would like me to do. The hon. Gentleman is a talented youngster, and it is a shame that the Conservative Front-Bench team is all the less talented for his absence. The Bill does not cover the specific matter that he raised.

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In our manifesto, we also pledged to build on the already successful legislative partnership with the Assembly and to continue to enact specific legislation for Wales where appropriate. That is precisely what the Bill does. It is yet another example of a Labour Government working in partnership with a Labour-led Assembly to deliver the means by which the national health service in Wales can be modernised and improved for the benefit of the people of Wales.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): The Secretary of State visited the National Assembly on Monday or Tuesday and he heard the complaints from all parties about the narrow gap for Welsh legislation. He has just talked about partnership, but why can we get through only one Welsh Bill a Session? This Bill is the one for this Session. Will the right hon. Gentleman work harder to see whether he can widen the gap and will he work with institutions in this Parliament, such as the Welsh Grand Committee, so that we can fast-track legislation and create an even better partnership between the National Assembly and the House of Commons?

Peter Hain: We do not need to measure the extent of Welsh legislation by the number of Welsh-only Bills in the Queen's Speech. A whole number of pieces of legislation have Wales-specific clauses in them—on planning, local government and several other matters. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the Licensing Bill, which deals with the costly and mischievous referendums that are called even though Sunday drinking and Sunday licensing are widely supported across Wales. He is a diligent Back Bencher, so I urge him to look at the clauses in all the Bills that have been drafted at the request of the Assembly. With the support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was the previous holder of my post, and the excellent assistance of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, they design into a raft of Bills coming before Parliament this Session provisions that cover the need that Wales has for Welsh-only clauses in general Bills that also apply to England. In this case, we have a Welsh-only Bill. I ask him to consider the facts rather than stick to the dogma.

When we came to office, the health service was crying out for a programme of sustained investment. The hospital-building programme had almost ground to a halt, and nursing shortages had resulted from cuts in training in the mid-1990s. The budget recently published by the Assembly, which draws on resources made available by the outcome of the Government's spending review and confirmed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon, will see the health budget in Wales rise next year to £3.8 billion. That is nearly £1,300 for every man, woman and child in Wales, and an increase of more than 70 per cent. since we came to power in 1997.

The number of staff employed by NHS Wales has risen by more than 12 per cent. since 1997, and the Assembly has announced plans for 6,000 extra nurses, 700 more consultants and GPs and 2,000 more health care professionals over the coming years. During the last five years, the number of medical students in training has increased from about 970 to 1,104. By 2004—in a couple of years' time—the number will have increased to

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1,385. They are all important increases in staffing in the health service in Wales and compare with the background of Conservative rule when there were cuts, after cuts, after cuts.


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