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9 Jan 2003 : Column 351—continued

Functions of the Centre

Mr. Evans: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 21, at end insert—

'provided that it shall not use media channels widely accessible in any area outside Wales for the communication of such information unless that information is communicated jointly with those public information bodies responsible for the communication of health information in that area;'.

Obviously, I am disappointed that we did not win the vote on amendment No. 2. I must wholly disagree with the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) that the Minister was not at his best during the wind-up to the debate: we have never seen the Minister at his best, so I do not understand how my hon. Friend could arrive at that judgment. However, we shall move on.

Amendment No. 1 is straightforward; it relates to the promotional activities with which the Wales centre for health will be involved. We are not dealing at this stage with its role in research or the development of training.

Clause 3 provides that:

Our amendment would add the words

That is a common-sense amendment.

2.30 pm

In many ways, the amendment builds on the Minister's earlier suggestion that, in practice, the WCH will work with several other organisations, even though that is not specified in the Bill. The Minister will remember that, in Committee, we tried to include a provision that would force the centre to work with similar bodies elsewhere in some of its campaigns. The amendment would do that, in another guise, inasmuch as we recognise that once the WCH is properly and fully established, it may embark on television campaigns that impinge on people outside Wales.

As we know, a considerable number of people in Wales—north and south—turn their aerials away from Welsh television stations for all sorts of reasons. People

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living in north Wales who were born in England may be more interested in what Granada has to offer, or people in parts of south Wales may point their aerials in the direction of Westcountry television, which is owned by Carlton, rather than watching domestic Welsh services.

The Wales centre for health might embark on a campaign of precautions and warnings against smoking—something that we would all welcome. We know that obesity is a problem, so the centre might launch a campaign for better eating habits, perhaps coupled with the promotion of health exercise. Again, we would support that, especially if the campaign was targeted on people who were vulnerable to those problems.

I do not think that there would be a great problem if such advertisements were broadcast on HTV Wales and also seen by people in Bristol who can receive that channel. However, there might be other campaigns where we should want the centre to collaborate with other bodies and co-ordinate its work with them. That is only common sense.

In Swansea, for example, there is a problem in getting mums and dads to take up the MMR inoculation for their children. Several GPs are so worried about that lack of take-up that they fear that there will be an outbreak of disease. The centre could set up a campaign targeted on the Swansea area, or even nationally throughout Wales. There might be no problem in doing that, but it might run counter to messages coming from England.

One of the beauties or strengths of devolution—so we are told—is that there can be policy differentiation between Wales and England if that is what Wales wants. For example, England already has a diabetes strategy, but Wales is still waiting for one. I am bewildered by that decision and hope that the Government will get on with a proper diabetes strategy for the whole United Kingdom and that all organisations will work together to ensure that it is sensible.

However, the situation could be reversed: Wales might have a strategy on something while England did not. If there was an advertising campaign in Wales on the issue, some English residents might think that it was also English health policy. Such differentiation in policy might not be a strength—it could cause confusion.

Confusion can also arise when we hear references to the XHealth Minister", because, as hon. Members know, the title XSecretary" in the National Assembly for Wales has been replaced by that of XMinister". When that job title is mentioned people do not know whether it means the UK Minister or the Welsh or Scottish one.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): Surely, the diabetes strategy is an example of devolution working well. It was not an English initiative but a Scottish one. England took it up and Wales will do so later on.

Mr. Evans: I do not dispute the fact that the strategy started in Scotland and that it followed in England. The question that I want to stress is why Wales is last. People in Wales who suffer from diabetes have been pushing hard for such a strategy; indeed, even in England we waited too long for its implementation.

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There is huge confusion even about simple things, such as the roles of county councillors, MPs and MEPS. We do not know who does what. We are trying to bring back some sanity and coherence. That is what the amendment is about.

There is a problem with flu jabs, for example. Due to the recent cold snap, one hospital in Wales stopped all non-emergency operations until February to tackle the problem. Although we would endorse a campaign to encourage more people to take up flu jabs, we also know that in some areas doctors have run out of vaccine in the past. A campaign might be initiated in one part of the country but seen on television in another area where no vaccine was available. That would be a gross waste of time and extremely inefficient.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): Does my hon. Friend agree that it would cause huge frustration if people saw on television that they are supposed to get themselves inoculated against flu but when they turned up at their local GP surgery they found that there was no vaccine? There are already far too many attacks on people who work in the health service. Such campaigns could increase frustration with NHS staff, even though they were incapable of carrying out inoculations due to the lack of vaccine. The amendment would prevent such dilemmas.

Mr. Evans: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. The frustration would be worse if people were told in a television campaign to go to their surgery, only to find when they did so that there was no vaccine. That has happened in the past, so we are not even talking about a worst-case scenario.

If we can get everyone to work together on such matters it would be not only efficient, but would also save money. As we have said in the past, the duplication of television campaigns can be hugely expensive. Of course, I can almost read the Minister's mind as he sits on the Treasury Bench. He thinks that everything will be wonderful and that everyone will work together in their best interests. We have heard it all before, but we want such things to be stated in the Bill to ensure good practice, for goodness' sake. Much of the Bill is common sense in many ways—for example, some of the requirements that the Wales centre for health will be asked to meet—but we still think that it should be stated in the Bill none the less. That is what we are trying to do with the amendment.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): The amendment says that the Wales centre for health

but how wide is wide? Are we talking about 2 or 202 square miles? The amendment must be precise; otherwise it is meaningless.

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman quotes only part of the amendment, which goes on to say that the proposal should apply unless the centre is in dialogue with its sister bodies in England. We are trying to make that dialogue the norm, so that such problems would not arise.

There are various ways in which the centre should try to get its message across. For example, it could use regional newspapers. There are several very good daily

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morning and evening newspapers and even weekly newspapers in Wales, and they get their message across. Using the South Wales Evening Post would be a perfect way to get the message on MMR across, especially in areas that face the problem, such as Swansea. There would be no problem in doing that, and I suspect that it would be far more cost-efficient.

The use of television is the main problem because it does not respect boundaries, as has been rightly said. Many people could receive pictures from elsewhere. Of course, with digital television, people living in England can receive Welsh television, and vice versa. Satellite television, the internet and e-mails could be used, and I am sure that there is even a role for texting on telephones. All those things have to be considered.

We feel very strong about this issue. Although we failed in Committee when we tried to get those bodies to work together to achieve coherence and joined-up thinking, the campaigning aspect for the Wales centre for health will be vital. I can imagine that Members of Parliament will get in touch with the centre, saying XThis is a particular health problem in my area. Please will you look into it, and do some research and campaigning on it?" That would be a perfect and appropriate role for Members of Parliament, but, surely, given the limited amount of money that the Wales centre for health will have at its disposal, we want to ensure that it at least talks properly to similar organisations elsewhere.

We want to ensure that the campaigns are properly costed, work together and are rolled out where appropriate, so that we can save money and be far more efficient than if we leave things as they are and simply pray that the bodies will talk to one another and work together. Why do we leave that to chance? Let us include such things in the Bill and ensure coherence.

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