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9 Jan 2003 : Column 354—continued

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon): I would not want to disappoint the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), but I also believe in co-operation between health promotion bodies in Wales and those in England. After all, disease does not respect national boundaries, or any other boundary for that matter. However, I wish to point out some of the problems to which he has already alluded, as well as those that arise from the fact that the amendment uses the words,

Let us consider the media channels available. The hon. Gentleman has already referred to television. However, I contend that the amendment would constrain the Wales centre for health unreasonably because all the media channels that may be used would have to be agreed with bodies over the border. Any message that the centre wanted to broadcast in Wales would probably have to be communicated jointly with those bodies.

I shall list the media that might be used and comment very briefly on them. First, Sianel Pedwar Cymru—S4C, the Welsh television channel—is widely available as the hon. Gentleman has already said. I occasionally watch it when in London, and I understand that it is also available on the internet and can be watched all over the place. Radio Cymru and Radio Wales—the two national radio channels—are widely available in the west and north-west of England and in the midlands,

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as is witnessed by the phone-ins that they broadcast. People in many places listen to programmes on Radio Wales, so anything broadcast on those two media would then have to be communicated jointly with bodies in England.

Of course the internet is available universally. It is available to people in Caernarfon in my constituency and to those in Caernarfon in New South Wales; to Bangor in the constituency of the hon. Member for Conwy and to Bangor, Maine. We are talking about only England and Wales, of course, but information that the Wales centre for health might produce would be widely accessible in many areas outside Wales, and any such decision would be a matter of practicality.

2.45 pm

Mr. Wiggin: Can the hon. Gentleman suggest any reason why people in England would not agree to co-operate with the Wales centre for health?

Hywel Williams: Certainly not; people would be very interested in co-operating, but the question is whether such things should be stated in the Bill and whether the centre should be constrained not to use media unless it agrees to communicate jointly. That question applies not only to broadcast media and the internet, but to newspapers because, as many hon. Members will know, the vast majority of people in Wales read morning and some evening newspapers that are produced in Fleet street in England, and 80 per cent. readership for the Daily Post and the Western Mail is fairly modest.

Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman will also recognise that, for example, the Daily Mirror produces an edition for Wales called the Welsh Mirror, which predominantly carries Welsh articles on certain pages, where advertisements could be placed that would not infringe the provision.

Hywel Williams: Yes, indeed. I agree with the hon. Gentleman; that is a matter of fact. I am sure that hon. Members would be very pleased if the print media in Wales were developed so that we could have dedicated Welsh newspapers. However, that it not the case at present, so the amendment would constrain the Wales centre for health if it wanted to use, for example, The Sun, which has a wide circulation in Wales, or, at the other end of the scale, the Shropshire Star, which is now sold in Barmouth, Harlech and various other places on the west coast.

Those are the practical points that I want to make. I am entirely in favour of co-operation in health promotion; it is a vital function of the centre. I cannot see how the amendment would add anything to its operation. In fact, it would constrain it considerably.

Mr. Roger Williams: I am concerned about the amendment's practicality. During a short holiday in France, I had the great joy of watching S4C by some technical wizardry that enabled the owner of the property to watch club rugby while enjoying the finest wines available in the area. I do not know whether we would need the co-operation of various organisations in France to carry out the amendment's requirements.

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The Wales centre for health will have lots of organisations with which it can carry out its information campaigns, including the Brecon and Radnor Express—an excellent newspaper that is widely read throughout my constituency. However, the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) took things a little far when he said that the amendment would produce a reduction in surgery rage and hospital rage. I am not sure about the cost effectiveness of all the work that would have to be done.

Mr. Wiggin: Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that he does not want to see a reduction in hospital rage and surgery rage?

Mr. Williams: I would obviously want to see a reduction in any rage in surgeries and hospitals, but I am suggesting that the amendment would have a minimal effect in achieving such a reduction.

A number of my constituents face another problem. They do not turn their receivers towards England. The problem is that they cannot receive Welsh television, so the Wales centre for health would have a problem in communicating to those in that sector of Wales, which runs up and down the English border, who are unable to have access to television—the strongest and most important media in the country.

In addition, I thought that the driving force of the amendment may have been to inform people in England of a special circumstance in Wales. For instance, were there an outbreak in Wales of a communicable disease such as mumps, rubella or chickenpox, it would be unwise for children from England who were not vaccinated to visit the area affected. That information might be required to be put out to people living in England. In those circumstances, it would be in the interests of everyone if the health authorities in England were informed of that. Once again, that is something that can be achieved in practice rather than in legislation, and I look forward to the Minister's comments.

Mr. Touhig: The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) felt that I was not at my best in the last debate. He was not persuaded by my argument or my oratory. I am sure that he will forgive me, however, if I point out that 300 people were, and they followed me into the Lobby, while barely 70 followed him.

Mr. Wiggin: They were not watching.

Mr. Touhig: They were all listening or watching on the monitor.

I also note the point of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) about communications and how he was watching club rugby and drinking good French wine. I did exactly the same in the Dordogne last year. Long may those methods of communication, and French wine, continue.

The previous debate centred on the links between the health protection agency and the Wales centre for health. What is extraordinary about the amendment is that it will put a complete block on a key area of collaboration and communication between the health protection agency and the Wales centre for health.

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The amendment would impose unjustified restrictions on the Wales centre for health's ability to make information available to the public in Wales. It will prevent the centre from publishing information in any way that might lead to it reaching people anywhere outside Wales, without first getting the specific agreement of those public health information bodies responsible for the communication of health information in that area, as the amendment states.

The amendment raises two issues: the role of the Wales centre for health in communicating with the public; and the need for the centre to collaborate with other bodies. On the first issue of the role of the Wales centre for health, there may be some misunderstanding. Let me clarify the matter. The role of the centre is to assess evidence and provide information and advice on public health issues to the public, to the Assembly and to other public sector organisations in Wales, including the new national public health service. It will also monitor trends and undertake surveillance, identify gaps in information and data and encourage action to fill those gaps, build partnerships with other bodies in the public, voluntary and academic sectors, and develop the skills and knowledge base that underpin public health practice.

What the centre will not do, however, is conduct health promotion programmes, as it appeared that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) was suggesting when he spoke a moment or two ago. That will remain the responsibility of the Assembly together with the national public health service in Wales, which will take over the health promotion work done by the health authorities when they are abolished later this year. There are already several campaigns in Wales addressing such issues as smoking, HIV and sexually transmitted infections in accordance with the Assembly's national health promotion strategy, XPromoting health and well-being". There has been no need to impose restrictions on those campaigns in terms of the media used, nor do they cause cross-border problems. There can be no justification for imposing such severe restrictions on the freedom of the Wales centre for health to provide information to the public, if it wished to use such media.

The amendment refers to

That would include publications such as newspapers and magazines, including medical and professional journals, radio and television channels and the Wales centre for health's website. Many of those can be readily received in areas outside Wales. The amendment would therefore prevent publication through numerous media popular within Wales simply because they are, or could be, accessible in England, as the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) pointed out.

I made it clear at column 58 in the second sitting of the Committee that the centre will have its own website, which will provide an important means by which it provides information across the planet. The amendment would prevent the centre from being able to post valuable information on its website simply because it would be accessible to people outside Wales. It could only overcome that embargo if it could secure joint publication with public health providers in the rest of the world. It is hard to see what form of communication

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would be accessible to the centre. Even locally distributed leaflets could stray across national boundaries: a wind might blow them across the border into England, and the centre would be in trouble. That shows the quality of the amendments being tabled by the Conservative party.

At a time when communications have never been more fluid, nor information more accessible, the amendment would impose unacceptable and unreasonable restrictions on the Wales centre for health. It would restrict the free flow of information across Wales' borders—information that could benefit the rest of the United Kingdom.

On the second issue of collaboration with other bodies, on which part of the debate on the previous group of amendments focused, I can confirm that the centre, in its shadow form, is already taking steps to co-ordinate its work with other bodies. For instance, it is to seek partner status with the public health observatories in England, and it is in contact with the Public Health Institute of Scotland and the Institute of Public Health in Ireland. It will work closely with the Health Development Agency in its development of a public health evidence base.

Paragraph 20 of schedule 2 gives the centre the power to co-operate with other public authorities. The Assembly intends that it should do so with other bodies in Wales and in other parts of the United Kingdom and with other countries in the world. The centre will co-operate with other bodies in providing evidence and information. The amendment, however, would place severe restrictions on the means available for the centre to do so. It would also restrict the means by which public bodies outside Wales could learn of the information provided by the centre.

The amendment is too prescriptive and is unworkable. The Bill requires the centre to make information about matters related to the protection and improvement of health in Wales available to the public in Wales. It must be up to the centre to decide how it intends to make that information available within Wales. I can only suggest that the author of the amendment must have been somebody related to comrade Ceaucescu.

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