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Hospital-acquired Infections

13. Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): If he will make a statement on the incidence of infections acquired in NHS hospitals. [142555]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): We believe that around 9 per cent. of hospital patients acquire an infection while in NHS hospitals. The chief medical officer has published his report on how to prevent and reduce hospital infections, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has accepted the recommendations in full. We are confident that that will improve patient care in this area.

Mr. Lilley : Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State's refusal to make a proper statement in this House about his initiatives to tackle a problem that kills between 5,000 and 20,000 of our constituents every year is a disgrace? Is it because the initiative that he announced on the "Today" programme on Friday when the House was not sitting was treated with derision by doctors in my constituency who say that appointing another layer of management to an already over-managed health service is not the way to bring back the Florence Nightingale culture that we need?

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Ms Winterton: On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I am surprised that he should make such a statement. He knows very well that if this were new policy it would have been brought to the House. It is not new policy; it is a review of the policy that is being carried out, and my right hon. Friend has written to him to that effect. The right hon. Gentleman might like to think what effect his policy of compulsory competitive tendering had on hospital infection rates—

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is not for the Minister to worry about such matters.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): In contrast to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), I welcome the announcement that was made last Friday, particularly in view of the problems being experienced at Barnsley district general hospital. The cleaning contractor, Initial Cleaning Services, has this year had a turnover of 200 staff and has about 40 vacancies on the cleaning contract. It was recently forced to admit that it had lied to the hospital management about the methods that it was using to clean the hospital. Do we not need such an initiative to keep in check companies that abuse their contracts within the NHS?

Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the weaknesses of the policies introduced by the previous Administration. I am also glad that he has welcomed this initiative, which is not about introducing new bureaucracy but about ensuring that a health care professional has the authority to put together all the various issues, including hand washing, the environment and the design of buildings, to ensure that such infections are brought under control.

Maternity Services

14. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): What his policy is on the proximity of maternity services to patients. [142556]

The Secretary of State for Health (Dr. John Reid): It is up to local health organisations, working with their communities and other local partners, to provide high-quality maternity services that are as safe and as accessible as possible to women and their families.

Mr. Gray : The Secretary of State has noticeably failed to answer the question, which was about how close maternity services should be to patients. He will know that, thanks to chronic underfunding by this Government, the Kennet and North Wiltshire primary care trust is consulting on the closure of maternity services both in Malmesbury and the constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that it is important that at least antenatal and post-natal services should be situated as close as possible to the women concerned? Will he intervene with the Kennet and North Wiltshire PCT to try to ensure that it provides precisely what he has previously said he would like to see—services at close proximity to the women concerned?

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Dr. Reid: Of course, it is absolute nonsense to speak about reduced input, investment or finance being provided when this Government have provided historically high levels of finance. We want to see maximum choice and access for women and maternity services, but it is not possible always to maintain every single unit. The hon. Gentleman talks about Malmesbury, which is a very small maternity unit. Fewer than two births a week occur there and the total

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cost is almost £7,000 a birth, which is many times the cost of other births, even in the same area. Of course, we want maximum access and choice, but the primary care trust in the hon. Gentleman's area has a responsibility to ask itself whether that money is best spent in that fashion in that area, thus depriving other services. I think that the trust is conducting the public consultation very responsibly, and I only wish the hon. Gentleman was acting as responsibly.

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Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

12.31 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which took place in Abuja, Nigeria, from 5 to 8 December. Copies of the communiqué and declaration have been placed in the Library of the House.

Her Majesty the Queen attended the meeting in her role as Head of the Commonwealth and also paid a state visit to Nigeria, where she was warmly welcomed by the Nigerian people. The outgoing Commonwealth Chairman-in-Office, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, paid tribute on behalf of all Commonwealth members to the Queen's dedication and commitment to the Commonwealth. I know that the whole House will wish to join me in echoing that tribute.

Nigeria itself returned to the Commonwealth only in 1999, after a turbulent period of military rule. The Queen's visit and the holding of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting there underline the progress that has since been made in rebuilding a democratic and prosperous Nigeria. Britain is committed to supporting the reform programme led by President Obasanjo, on whose chairmanship of the summit I give sincere congratulations. In a difficult situation, he managed matters with great skill.

Commonwealth Heads of Government last met in Coolum, Australia, in March 2002. At Abuja, we reviewed developments since then. We agreed on the urgent need to relaunch the world trade talks, which stalled at Cancun in September, and underlined our collective commitment to a successful Doha development round. That commitment is significant. The Commonwealth represents one third of the world's population; developing and developed countries; large and small states; and agricultural, service and manufacturing-based economies. All have different perspectives and interests. The fact that all of us agreed on the need to relaunch the Doha development round and on the need for all parties to show flexibility in the search for agreement shows that a global deal is indeed possible. Everyone will gain if the talks succeed, but the biggest winners will be the world's poor; and if the talks fail, the world's poor will be the biggest losers too.

We discussed other development issues. Heads of Government agreed on the need to accelerate progress to meet the millennium development goals, which aim to halve the proportion of people living in poverty by 2015. I reaffirmed the UK's own strong commitment to that goal. Heads of Government also underlined their concern at the spread of HIV/AIDS, which now threatens not only Africa but, increasingly, Asia and other parts of the world. Three million people will die of the HIV/AIDS virus this year alone, and two in three of the people infected live in Commonwealth countries. It poses one of the gravest threats not just to health but to sustainable development.

We agreed on the need to redouble our efforts to fight this threat. Britain is playing its full part, including through our own call for action on world AIDS day, and we are now the second largest bilateral donor in the world as regards HIV/AIDS, after the United States of

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America. Our bilateral aid amounted to more than £270 million in the last financial year alone—a real demonstration of commitment on behalf of the people and Government of Great Britain.

The last Commonwealth summit was postponed following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Since then, the terrorists have continued their indiscriminate campaign. We agreed in Abuja that terrorism threatens everyone, regardless of nationality or faith, and that all Commonwealth members should stand together to meet and defeat this challenge.

The meeting considered the situation in the two countries that have been suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth: Pakistan and Zimbabwe. On Pakistan, Heads of Government welcomed the progress made back towards democratic governance. They expressed the hope that the Pakistan Parliament would soon pass the necessary measures to allow the lifting of Pakistan's suspension.

Where Pakistan has moved forward since Commonwealth leaders last met, Zimbabwe has gone backwards. The country was suspended from the Commonwealth in March 2002, shortly after elections that the Commonwealth's own observers concluded were neither free nor fair. Since then, there has been yet more violence and intimidation against the opposition MDC party—the Movement for Democratic Change—against lawyers and human rights activists, and, indeed, against anyone speaking up against President Mugabe's oppressive policies. Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, The Daily News, has been closed down, despite court orders in its favour.

Meanwhile, ZANU-PF's ruinous economic policies are driving the country further and further into chaos. Inflation is now over 500 per cent., and Zimbabwe's GDP has halved in five years. The International Monetary Fund decided last week to begin procedures to expel Zimbabwe, because of its appalling economic policies. Half the population now needs food aid—but it is worth saying that Britain remains the leading cash donor for the UN's humanitarian programmes in Zimbabwe. In the last two years, we have given $100 million in food aid to the people of Zimbabwe.

In those circumstances, I and others argued that it was inconceivable that Zimbabwe could be readmitted to the Councils of the Commonwealth, and that, on the contrary, it should remain suspended until we saw concrete evidence of a return to democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law—the very principles on which the Commonwealth is founded.

I am glad to say that this approach was agreed. It was decided that Zimbabwe should indeed remain suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth, that President Obasanjo as Chairman-in-Office, together with the Commonwealth Secretary-General, will seek to facilitate progress inside Zimbabwe, and that if sufficient progress is made on the issues of concern he will report, via a representative group of six Commonwealth members, to Heads of Government. Heads will revisit the issue in the light of that report, and take any decision on the lifting of the suspension by consensus.

This is the outcome that we wanted. It is also the outcome that Mr. Mugabe worked assiduously to avoid. Incidentally, it gives the lie to one of his most outrageous

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claims—that the Commonwealth's approach to Zimbabwe is a white conspiracy led by the UK against black Africa. The fact is that every single Commonwealth country signed up to the Abuja statement on Zimbabwe, including the other 19 African members of the Commonwealth, despite the strongly held doubts of some of those countries—nor did any African member of the Commonwealth take up Mr. Mugabe's invitation to boycott the summit meeting. The outcome in Abuja was hard-fought, but in the end it was a victory for Commonwealth values.

Mr. Mugabe's reaction—to withdraw Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth—shows clearly that he does not accept Commonwealth principles. It was a decision taken without regard for the wishes or well-being of the Zimbabwean people. ZANU-PF's isolation will be increased, but the strong bonds that exist between the Zimbabwean people and the rest of the Commonwealth remain. There will always be a place for a democratic Zimbabwe in the Commonwealth.

The summit also re-elected the present Commonwealth Secretary-General, Don McKinnon, for a second and final four-year term. We welcome that outcome. The Secretary-General has done an excellent job in his first term. He will continue to have our full support in his second.

Finally, I participated in the Commonwealth sports meeting. We looked back to Manchester's successful hosting of the last Commonwealth games in 2002, and forward to the next in Melbourne in 2006. I highlighted the UK's future sporting priorities.

At this Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, a group of more than 50 countries came together to discuss the issues that matter most to their peoples—prosperity, security, sustainable development, and the fight against terror—and agreed a common approach on all, in the interests of all. The group discussed more controversial issues such as Zimbabwe, on which it is no secret that there were, and remain, a range of differing views among member states. But here too, through serious discussion and debate, the Commonwealth was able to reach a consensus on the way forward.

I commend the outcome to the House.

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