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Drug Rehabilitation

3. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales on the provision of local drug rehabilitation services in (a) the Cynon Valley and (b) Wales. [177356]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): I regularly meet the National Assembly's Social Justice and Regeneration Minister and tackling substance misuse in the south Wales valley communities is a subject that we frequently discuss.

Ann Clwyd: I recognise the Government's record level of commitment to funding for this problem, but may I point out that in the Cynon Valley there is a long waiting list for rehabilitation facilities, and urge my hon. Friend to press upon the First Minister the importance of increasing rehabilitation facilities for those who are seeking treatment for that problem?

Mr. Touhig: Access to treatment is a priority, which is why £2.5 million of funding has been provided through community safety partnerships in Wales in order to
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target the availability of treatment services. I am aware that there have been a large number of applications for treatment in my hon. Friend's constituency. A number have been from women who are pregnant, so they cannot receive treatment at that time, which has created a backlog. As I say, I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern and I will bring it to the attention of my ministerial colleagues.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is good to see my hon. Friend the Minister in fine health, which just goes to show that the NHS in Wales is doing a very fine job at present. However, has he had an opportunity to visit the new mental health unit at the Royal Glamorgan hospital, which serves both the Cynon valley and the Rhondda, or the mental health unit at—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is not relevant to the question.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Minister will be well aware that the Rhondda Cynon Taf local authority has a poor record in supporting drug rehabilitation initiatives, in the Cynon valley and the locality generally. However, is he aware of the Kaleidoscope project in Newport? It is an innovative project, based on respect for individuals, and it ensures that treatment is given within one week, if possible.

Mr. Touhig: I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for saving me from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) that I am aware of the matter that he raises, and that the Rhondda Cynon Taf community safety partnership has received more than £600,000 for its substance misuse action plan. I am also aware of the Kaleidoscope project, which I visited with the Welsh Assembly's Minister for Social Justice and Regeneration. I was very impressed with the work of the project, which provides a service for a range of different people. The project is known nationally and internationally for its pioneering community-based drugs treatment programmes. I commend it to other areas for examination, as it is a pioneering project that is breaking barriers and pushing forward the agenda involved in tackling the problem of drug misuse.

Miners' Compensation

4. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in respect of the deduction of contingency fees from miners' compensation awards. [177357]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry on coal health compensation matters, and I also attend the national monitoring group chaired by my colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths).

Huw Irranca-Davies: Will my hon. Friend convey my thanks to his counterparts in the DTI for their efforts in
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working with the Law Society to put pressure on those lawyers who, scandalously, have sought to deduct contingency fees from the compensation rightfully paid to miners, their widows and their families? However, does he share my dismay—not to say disgust—that other lawyers in south Wales continue to deduct contingency fees or part payments from money that rightfully should go to miners and their families?

Mr. Touhig: Yes, I most certainly share that disgust. Claims handlers and others who take a slice of compensation meant for miners and their widows are, in my view, nothing but parasites preying on the fears of elderly and vulnerable people. My message to them is simple. It is, "Give the money back. It does not belong to you; it belongs to the miners."

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Yesterday, I was contacted by my constituent Mr. Davies from Abercraf, who is conducting a claim on behalf of his late father. He is furious about the service that he has received from his solicitor, who has taken a long time to settle the claim, and has also submitted copies of wills and probates that refer to a claim being made by another family. Solicitors involved in such matters receive great fees from the DTI: when will those fees be deducted to reflect the poor service that claimants receive, and the stress that is caused to them when they do not get the money that they are due?

Mr. Touhig: On the whole, most solicitors handling miners' compensation claims have acted very well and have sought to process the claims as speedily as possible. However, I am aware that some solicitors are not in that category and that they have caused enormous grief, to my constituents and to those of other hon. Members. I shall bring the details of this particular case to the attention of the Law Society, as I have done on a number of occasions previously, and I shall ask it to investigate the problems that the hon. Gentleman's constituent is having with that firm of solicitors.

Denzil Davies (Llanelli) (Lab): Given that the activities of the claim handlers seem to generate claims and therefore more work for solicitors, would it not be fairer if their fees were paid out of the solicitors' pockets, and not by the unfortunate claimants?

Mr. Touhig: I have sympathy with that view. Indeed, I have written to the Law Society on behalf of a couple of my constituents who have paid £5,000 to claims handlers. When I wrote to the solicitors handling the claims, I was told that they dealt merely with the process of the claim and that my constituents had signed an agreement to pay that money to the claims handlers.

I have asked the Law Society to investigate the matter because one part of the agreement that my constituents had to sign states that the payment is needed to meet any legal or medical fees. In fact, claimants have to pay no such fees, as the Government are meeting them all. The solicitors know that, and they should act appropriately. I have every sympathy for the point made by my right hon. Friend. Solicitors should be encouraged to help get the money back.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): In the Minister's discussions with the Department of Trade
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and Industry, did he also ask why it is financing the miners' compensation scheme from the surpluses it receives from the miners' pension fund? As the Minister himself said, "Give the money back. It doesn't belong to you; it belongs to the miners."

Mr. Touhig: Plaid Cymru is taking an interest in miners? There must be an election on. The hon. Gentleman has raised this issue recently and gained much publicity as a result. He has created alarm and concern among miners and their widows, who think that their pension fund is at risk because of the issues he has raised. He has not discovered anything new: the issue that he raises was made public by my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Mrs. Liddell) on 8 December 1999. The hon. Gentleman alluded to the guarantee. At the moment, the miners' pension scheme is in deficit and the Government are putting in millions of pounds to overcome that deficit. If he asks any miner in Wales, they will tell him that the guarantee of their pension security is a godsend. They welcome it, and they know that it guarantees that their pensions are safe.

NHS Funding

5. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): What discussions he has had with the National Assembly for Wales about funding for the NHS in Wales. [177358]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I regularly meet the Assembly First Minister and the health service in Wales is one of the topics that we frequently discuss.

Mr. Swayne: The Audit Commission reported in April that the NHS in Wales was unsustainable, out of balance, unable to meet the needs of the future, and applying the wrong remedies in the wrong place for the wrong reasons. What can it possibly have meant?

Mr. Hain: The Audit Commission made some recommendations that the Welsh Assembly and the Minister for Health and Social Services are now implementing. It also recognised that great progress has been made by the health service in Wales, some of which I identified earlier. The hon. Gentleman will also appreciate, as a Conservative Member, that the people of Wales know that they face a choice between cuts, privatisation and charges under the Conservatives, or increased investment, more provision, more nurses, more doctors and a better health service under Labour.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the funding for NHS breast cancer surgery will spread much further because of a pioneering new technique developed by the University of Wales College of Medicine, in my constituency, that reduces the need for drastic and invasive surgery when cancer has spread under the arms into the lymph nodes? Will he join me in congratulating the staff involved on a tremendous achievement, which means that Wales now leads the field in that area?

Mr. Hain: I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the staff of the university on their
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fantastic, innovative and pioneering research and their contribution to tackling a serious problem that has affected far too many women over the decades. We now have the opportunity to introduce a proper, preventive strategy to provide the protection to which women are entitled.

Mr. Speaker: I call Mr. Bellingham.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con) rose—

Mr. Speaker: I am sorry, I have made a mistake. I call Mr. Wiggin.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I sympathise, Mr. Speaker, and so should the Secretary of State. His hearing is not up to much because he did not hear the points that I made about spending. He said that great progress had been made, but can he explain why hospital activity has increased by only 6 per cent., the backlog of maintenance on NHS buildings in Wales has increased by £147 million, and the total repair bill now stands at £465 million? There is a chronic shortage of consultants, with the British Medical Association estimating that 150 posts are unfilled. What has Labour done with the money? Could it have gone on the doubling in the number of civil servants in Jane Hutt's Department, or the 96 administrative bodies that she has set up since 1999? Labour's policy of taxing and spending and failing is letting Wales down.

Mr. Hain: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his enthusiasm for coming back for second helpings, even if the recipe was the same. He ignores the fact that the health service in Wales is now seeing 250,000 more patients—a quarter of a million more—and that is where the money is going. It is going into recruiting 4,000 more nurses, 300 more whole-time equivalent consultants and building more hospitals, compared with the 70 closed under the Conservatives. That is where Labour's investment in health is going, compared with the cuts, cuts and cuts that we had under the Tories.

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