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The Secretary of State for Health (Dr. John Reid): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

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This is a good old week for conspiracies. I thought at one stage that the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) was going to demand an investigation by John Stevens into the murky deeds that he outlined. Let me make two things absolutely clear at the start. First, I—and all Labour Members—take allegations of this nature very seriously.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): You do not.

Dr. Reid: Yes, we do.

Mr. Lilley: Then why are you laughing at it?

Dr. Reid: Because we do not treat them naively—I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his useful intervention. We are not naive about why such allegations are sometimes made. Today's Opposition day debate is not really about the failings of any Minister, the NHS, the star rating system, or NHS staff. We are under no illusion about why the debate was hyped up, as it was before the holidays. Incidentally, no regard has been paid to the two replies that have been given to the previous demands for an investigation, which amazes me, but I shall come back to that. Today's debate is about the failure of the Tory party—

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Dr. Reid: For goodness' sake, let me at least start. I know that Conservative Members want to pre-empt every investigation—their leader pre-empted the Hutton investigation today—but rational people without malicious intent allow the other side to have a say before intervening. [Interruption.] Conservative Members do not necessarily benefit from shouting down a speaker either.

Today's debate is much more about the Tory party's failure to come to terms with one simple fact: the national health service has improved, is improving and will continue to improve. If I may use a metaphor, that is really what gets up its nose. [Interruption.] Opposition Members may say, "Rubbish", but we know that that is true, courtesy of the revelation of the former Opposition spokesman on health—now the half-chairman of the Conservative party—who was candid enough to tell us explicitly what his party's agenda was. He knows that if the improvements continue, and if people outside the House see them, Tory plans to undermine the national health service will themselves be undermined. His quaint words were:

I do not know what the final word beginning with "F" is—it is presumably "foxed". We know the Conservative party's agenda and why on every occasion it attempts to denigrate any achievements by people working in the health service, as it does with the case

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that we are debating. Although we take the subject seriously, we do not do that naively. The debate is a politically motivated personal attack to harm the national health service as well as the Labour party.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows that I have been critical of the new health trust in Durham and the way in which it has been managed—I continue to have those reservations. However, three hospitals have been built in Durham since 1997, so does he agree that the situation is different from that under the Conservatives? A new hospital opened in my constituency last year, which replaced a hospital that was the old workhouse. There is a new £97 million hospital in the city of Durham and at Bishop Auckland. That represents a true record; the actual disgrace is the fact that the Conservatives never bothered about health care or investment in the county of Durham.

Dr. Reid: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The reality of the record is there for all to see. However, the Conservatives minimise any achievement in the NHS, maximise and magnify any failure—failures do happen—and put every success down to fiddling managers, cheating staff or, now, corrupt Ministers because they cannot stand to see the improvements. Let me turn to some of the details.

Andrew Selous rose—

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con) rose—

Dr. Reid: I shall give way if the hon. Gentlemen allow me to go through some of the narrative on this.

The motion attacks not only my predecessor as Secretary of State—I wish that the hon. Member for South Suffolk had read the motion, which was presumably written for him and tabled in his name—but targets, performance indicators and the whole system of evaluation. The Opposition consistently attack performance targets and indicators, but the targets have been absolutely essential to the improvements in the NHS over recent years. They have resulted in our drive that has achieved 14,000 more doctors, 15,000 more nurses and almost 400,000 more operations. They have resulted in a 10 per cent. reduction in cancer mortality for under-75s and a 23 per cent. reduction in cardio-vascular related deaths among people aged under 75. Speedier operations are reducing waiting times. The Government stand by the achievements and the way in which we managed them, which was partly through the targets and performance indicators that are attacked by the Conservatives.

Andrew Selous: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Dr. Reid: I will give way after I have concluded my introductory comments. The motion for which the hon. Member for South Suffolk asks us to vote also attacks the transparency that we have introduced. That transparency is the basis for increased patient power. The wider availability of patient information, which for the first time since the formation of the NHS increases vastly the control exercised by ordinary members of the public over their health service, is dependent on that transparency.

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The Conservatives also attack star ratings, which, for the first time, provide information about local health services and focus attention on what is important to patients and the public. None of their attacks arises by accident, and I shall continue to try to illustrate why they arise and go through the narrative of what happened during the events to which the hon. Member for South Suffolk referred partially, but not fully.

Andrew Selous rose—

Mr. Blunt rose—

Dr. Reid: In fairness, I shall give way to the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) first.

Andrew Selous: Will the Secretary of State assure the House that there will be no further use of terms such as "high-profile trusts" from anyone in his office merely according to the seniority or status of the relevant Member of Parliament? If our constituents think that health care is allocated according to the eminence or otherwise of their MP, it is an extremely serious matter.

Dr. Reid: I do not know whether that is a major question, but I shall treat it seriously although I have misgivings about whether it is actually serious. I take it that the hon. Gentleman has looked at the e-mails. If he checks them, he will see that the phrases were introduced not by anyone in the private office of the previous Secretary of State or, indeed, the previous Secretary of State, but by another official. That official does not work in the office of the Secretary of State or, indeed, Richmond House, but in Leeds. The phrase "high-priority" was shorthand and a completely innocent way of referring to several trusts.

Secondly, the phrase was not meant to define the trusts with major or high-priority politicians. If the hon. Gentleman reads the e-mails again, he will see that several other trusts are mentioned in that context—for example, from memory, the e-mail mentioned Great Ormond Street. When the former Secretary of State responded to it using the phrases and phraseology solicited from him, he referred to not one but nine trusts, one of which was subsequently moved up. That trust happens to be the local trust of a prominent Conservative Member, although she had nothing to do with the process. The interpretation of partial analysis of fragmentary so-called evidence by the hon. Member for South Suffolk is therefore utterly unjustified.

Mr. Blunt : The issue is the political manipulation of the health service, and the right hon. Gentleman should be aware that his Department and his predecessor have a record in that regard, not least in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt). Our hospitals were put together in a trust following an organisation programme agreed by the Department, which was unpopular in Crawley, as services were moved to my constituency. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor ordered a moratorium two months before the general election in 2001 at a cost of £50,000 a month, as we established through parliamentary questions. The Department has refused to let me have the advice given

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by the trust, which was against the moratorium, both in principle and because patient safety was involved. If the Secretary of State is going to address the need for greater transparency in the health service, will he give an undertaking that I will get a copy of the advice that the trust gave at the time of his predecessor's decision?

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