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Earlier this year, I raised the question of prescription fraud with the Department of Health, and was told that recent checks introduced by the Government had reduced the cost of patient prescription fraud from £117 million to £69 million a yeara significant decrease, but still an unacceptable figure. More importantly, that cost is unnecessary; the problem could be tackled.
Responsibility cannot, of course, lie with health professionals or dispensing chemists. They should not have to refuse to dispense drugs because a patient cannot produce sufficient evidence or demonstrate an exemption from prescription charges. As things stand, the simple declaration on the back of the prescription form will suffice. Given the sheer volume of prescriptions processed every day, it is inconceivable that every one could be checked. The cost of checking and enforcement would be astronomical.
However, the presentation of an ID card containing information about the holder's eligibility or otherwise for benefits would leave no room for dispute. Presentation of such a card could be required to prove an exemption from charges for the dispensing of drugs and medicines.
Likewise, it is not for health professionals to check the status of those who present themselves at hospitals or GPs' surgeries for treatment. However, for the sake of managing and planning resources, it is imperative that we know how many people are entitled to free health care and can identify those who do not qualify and need to pay.
I deal with a lot of visas, and I know that the terms of the visas of people who enter the country as visitors specifically say that there is to be no recourse to public funds. Similarly, people granted leave to enter the country as spouses will have no recourse to public funds for two years; that is the probationary period now.
I do not believe that health professionals presented with a patient give any thought to his or her immigration statusnor should they. However, should one of us have an accident or become ill while on holiday and require medical assistance, we would be asked whether we had medical insurance, and, if we were in an EU
I am not suggesting that the use of identity cards is the answer to all our social problems. Those problems, and their potential solutions, are much more complex. To be honest, as someone who has advocated and fought for human rights for the whole of my adult and political life, my instinct is naturally opposed to the idea. In an ideal world there would be no need for identity cards, but we now live in a global village. The ease and accessibility of international travel, coupled with a stronger tendency to economic migration, inevitably means that it is becoming more difficult to ascertain who is in any particular place at any particular time.
I am an old-fashioned socialist who has always believed in the benefits of a planned economy, and if we do not know how many people are eligible to be cared for, educated, supported and protected, how can we ever plan accurately for the future? What is the point of making plans, only to allow them to be undermined by those who are not entitled to reap the benefits?
The arguments in favour of ID cards are not all based on the principle of control and management. For example, I remember all too well that when my first husband was killed in a car accident his organs were not used to save someone else. Had he been carrying an ID card that could provide access to his wishes, I am sure that I would have been given some measure of help in knowing that something positive had come from such a tragedy.
In Keighley many children go to school at the age of four without a word of English, and sometimes never having heard English. Sure Start is one way of introducing such children to the world beyond their own street and their own community. They hear other childrenwhite childrenand white women, the helpers at Sure Start, speaking English. That prepares them a little for the day, which can be a terrible day for them, when they have to leave their mother and their community and go to a school where there are strange white women who dress in a strange way and speak a strange language. Sure Start is an excellent scheme. It is working well in Keighley, and is greatly appreciated by all who use it.
Ann Cryer : I agree; I was one of the women who had small children when pre-school playgroups were being introduced. I am going back a long way now; my son is nearly 40what a terrible thingbut I know how difficult it was then to get playgroups going on a voluntary basis. We ran one in an old Church school, and we had to have jumble sales and all sorts of other activities to raise funds to keep it going. It was at Oakworth, in my constituency, and it is still running 36 years on, so such arrangements do work. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but by and large, in the areas where Sure Start is being introduced there are many very poor families, and we must give them priority.
I am probably one of the few Members of Parliament who experienced that sort of thing in the past, not because I was a studentI left school at 15, and did not have the advantage of a university educationbut because my late husband was. He went to Salts grammar school in west Yorkshire, which was then called the West Riding. The county council had a peculiar view about giving grants, and my late husband was not given one, so he had to borrow some money from the education authority, and from a bank, to go to university. That meant that for the first three years of our marriage we were struggling to pay back those loans, which is not easy for people who are bringing up two small children and taking on a mortgage for the first time.
The proposed child trust fund, or baby bond, is an excellent idea that will help even poorer families to contribute to their children's adulthood and put some money in the kitty for when the children leave school and want to buy a house, or whatever.
When my first grandson, Conor, who is now 11, was born, I bought him a national savings children's bond, to which I add every year on his birthday. However, I now have six grandchildren, so I have to do the same for all of them. September, when I top up all their savings bonds, is an expensive time for me, so I think that it is terrific that the state will be helping out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) mentioned the measures to modernise laws on domestic violence. Earlier this year, the Lord Chancellor's Department held a conference in Bradford to discuss domestic violence in the Asian community. Of course, the problem is not greater in the Asian community than it is in the white community, but the Asian community is still in a state of denial; people do not think that domestic violence occurs in their community.
The conference was most successful. The vast majority of the people who attended were from the Asian community, and many of the speakers had suffered domestic violence. The conference pushed the problem up a notch or two on Bradford's agenda, which is a good thing as it had not been discussed previously.
This summer, during the school holidays, I held a conference at a primary school in my constituency, which was attended by about 100 people, including head teachers, teachers who deal with domestic violence problems, social workers and community workers. We discussed the proposals published by the Home Office, and as a result I am convinced that the problems must be talked about in schools, as my hon. Friend pointed out earlier. We cannot discuss domestic violence too early; it is difficult for children brought up in the presence of domestic violence to understand that it is wrong, that it should not be happening and that there is another way. Schools should be discussing such problems even with young children.
Ilkley used to have a lovely council estate, but nearly all the houses have been sold off. I am not knocking the tenants who bought their housesthey were fully entitled to do sobut young married people in Ilkley are having to move out to Bradford, Shipley or Keighley to find affordable accommodation.
I look forward to the possibility of more housing associations being set up in areas such as Ilkley to provide accommodation for such people at the beginning of their married life. Affordable housing is fine if it means houses that continue to be sold cheaply, but in fact a house is only affordable once. In Ilkley, as soon as a house goes on to its second owner, the price shoots up and poorer people, and even the reasonably waged, can no longer afford it.
Bradford council often challenges that builder, who is doing a lot of work in the Keighley area. Many of my constituents are upset about the matter, as I hear in my advice surgeries, so they will be pleased that I am mentioning it in Parliament. I should like "greater community participation" to mean that people in my constituency will have a fairer say in developments and that they will no longer be told by the local authority that there is nothing it can do, that it is too expensive to stop the builder in his tracks, that the process will become protracted and that it is all too difficult. I hope that some of my constituents will be able to put their ideas to the local authority when it makes decisions on planning permission so that such situations do not occur in the future.