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Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is making an extremely revealing speech. Does he think that such perverse thinking on the part of the central planners might explain why the massive increase in expenditure on the NHS has not been matched by a commensurate increase in clinical activity?

Mr. Wilkinson: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, but I see rays of hope. A new facility called the Anzac centre at Harefield has been opened. At last, more NHS investment is going in. At Mount Vernon, scanners are being modernised and extra facilities provided. An interim development is in process and, at long last, this is at the very least giving the NHS the option of going for a more cost-effective solution by building up the existing facilities. That is what my constituents and the patients who are treated at Mount Vernon would wish. It is important for plastic surgery and cancer treatment to be available on the same site so that we may have the totality of cancer care that Mount Vernon hospital provides. That is the desire of my constituents and in the weeks before the consultations conclude, I hope that such arguments will carry the day—they deserve to.

3.20 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): I am delighted to be able to participate in the debate. I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith), wish to put several points on the record.

I shall go straight to the Iraq war. Many of my constituents cannot understand why I have not spoken in any of the debates on the subject, so I now take my chance to do so. When I voted against the Government last March, I did so with a heavy heart. I am not one of the usual suspects, as they are called, but I have always been a party loyalist. I believe in collective responsibility, so I take some of the blame or credit for what has happened, depending on one's point of view.

The amendment that was moved during the debate in March echoed my own reservations about the war. It did not say that Saddam Hussein was not an evil tyrant or that he should not be overthrown. In my opinion, it was not the right time to go to war. The inspectors had found little evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and although I have no doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime had the capability to make and deploy such weapons, I thought that the process was at too early a stage to start a war.

I also thought that the war was being hurried because of external factors. I believe that the fact that the US presidential elections are to be held next year had a great deal to do with the timing. The proof of the Government's position still needs to be shown, but I am

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willing to wait, because finding the weapons could take some time. After all, our servicemen have been in Northern Ireland for many years and we have hardly found a weapon. Why should we think that it would be easier in a country the size of Iraq?

I supported the Government in the second vote on the Iraq debate because the motion contained a specific reference to United Nations involvement, about which I feel strongly. I was in Iraq between 10 and 12 June this year as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, and our people on the ground were disappointed by the UN. Distribution of water by the UN in the Basra area has been poor and irregular, and the armed forces believe that aid would be distributed regularly if they were in charge of it. That has not happened under the UN and, as a result, local people blame the armed forces for poor water and food supplies although it is the fault of the UN. I take my hat off to the armed forces because they are doing an excellent job in conditions that hon. Members would not believe.

We should now draw a line in the sand and look to the future. It does the people of Iraq no good when all we hear is politicians arguing over history and how it will be written. What those people want is their country back and to be fed and happy. They want a future to look forward to.

My next point is important to my constituents in Glasgow, Anniesland. There are 13,500 pensioner households in my constituency and about 18,000 over-60s—it has one of the highest concentrations of elderly people in Europe. I am always keen to ensure that the Government implement measures to increase financial assistance and support for our pensioners.

I recently met pensioners in my constituency specifically to discuss the new pension credit, which will be introduced in October. The credit is an excellent idea—anything that puts more money in pensioners' pockets is more than welcome. The overwhelming message that I am receiving is that pensioners welcome the credit but that there are worries about its implementation. Some letters that pensioners have received are complicated and should be simplified. We have yet to find out how the help systems will alleviate such problems, and I want an assurance from the Government that we will not have the same debacle that occurred with the new tax credits and that the system will be ironed out before October.

I wish to mention shipbuilding, which I have spoken about many times in the Chamber and Westminster Hall. Any Glasgow Member with a constituency that borders the Clyde knows that BAE Systems is important to the area because it employs more than 2,000 people. However, I was dismayed to read in this week's newspapers about an argument that is creeping up about how much the new carriers will cost. The situation is another example of BAE Systems misusing its power on Ministry of Defence matters. I hope that the Government will sort out the situation. It is a bit worrying that the price of an aircraft carrier can practically double overnight. I hope that the Government will ensure that the company adheres to the agreements that it made when it signed the contracts.

I chair the all-party group on telecommunications. I sighed with relief on Monday when we finished our consideration of the Lords amendments to the

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Communications Bill, which has now received Royal Assent. Over the past 18 months, we have addressed such issues as competition in the industry, regulation, the development and availability of new technology, conditions in the industry and consumer protection. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests.

I want to raise a couple of issues that were neglected during our consideration of the Communications Bill. When an industry such as the communications industry is buoyant, the problem is that highly trained people are headhunted by more profitable companies that place little value on training. The EU high level taskforce on skills and mobility reported that 80 per cent. of today's skills will become obsolete in 10 years. Employees who were once highly skilled do not undergo sufficient training in the industry at present. It was unfortunate that during our consideration of the Bill, we could not reach the same agreement on training for communication workers as we could for broadcast workers, who were covered by the Bill. I hope that the White Paper on skills will lead to a consideration of that. The White Paper's foreword says:

I hope that those matters will be considered for communication workers.

I hope that Ofcom will do a better job than Oftel. I raised that with the then Leader of the House, when I asked:

82 companies with "118" numbers

when the ballot was held on the new numbering scheme. I went on to ask:

The Leader of the House replied:

I am still waiting for a reply.

I have received communications from both companies, but neither is prepared to allow free unlimited access to other "118" numbers, and will do so only if a financial agreement is arranged. That is deplorable. The 5 million customers, some of whom are in my constituency, receive an inferior service. At best, they could pay through the nose. I hope that Ofcom will look after consumers better than Oftel. I, for one, will not be sad to see it go.

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Dr. Murrison: Does the hon. Gentleman share my regret that many telecommunication companies are not registered with the telecommunications ombudsman's excellent scheme? Will he join me in congratulating Virgin Mobile in Trowbridge on recently joining that scheme?

John Robertson: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on plugging his constituents.

When the "118" numbers for directory enquiries were auctioned off, no one was aware that 5 million people would not get access to them. The companies did not realise that they would have to make a deal with companies like Telewest or NTL for the numbers to be accessed. Five million is not a small number. After all, it is probably more people than voted Liberal.

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