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House of Commons

Wednesday 3 November 2004

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Health Trusts

1. Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op): What discussions he has had with National Assembly for Wales Ministers concerning the effects of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on the publication of data on individual health trusts in Wales. [194551]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have had no discussions with Assembly Ministers on the Freedom of Information Act in relation to the publication of data on individual health trusts, but I rather suspect that my hon. Friend has.

Mr. Jones: My constituent, Kelly Harris, contracted MRSA in the Heath hospital two months ago. Unfortunately, she has since had a toe amputated. For the past couple of months she has been trying to obtain information about her medical records, which the hospital has been reluctant to disclose. She is also trying to obtain information about the number of MRSA cases in the hospital, which she would have the right to do were it an English hospital. Does the Minister agree that not disclosing such information risks people believing either that Welsh people are too ignorant to interpret the data or that someone has something to hide?

Mr. Touhig: I express my sympathy for the ill health of my hon. Friend's constituent. The national public health service gathers and publishes data on health care-associated infections, including MRSA, in Wales. The information is not published in the same way as it is in England—it is anonymised—and it is for each individual trust to decide whether it wants to publish it. Given my hon. Friend's views, which other hon. Members will share, I will ensure that his comments are brought to the attention of my Assembly colleague, the Minister for Health and Social Services.
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Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I am glad that the Minister takes this matter seriously. Last year, NHS trust code D had 119 cases of MRSA. This year, it is estimated that 600 people will die from hospital-acquired infections in Wales. Even the Prime Minister has recognised that this is a problem. Keith Callaway of Bettws has twice suffered MRSA infections in hospital, and has lost his leg and suffered kidney failure and a cardiac arrest as a result. He said in The Western Mail that he is

and that he

I hope that the Minister will do a bit more than he outlined to make that happen.

Mr. Touhig: I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's point. As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), his view is shared by Members on both sides of the House and I will ensure that it is brought to the attention of the health Minister in the Assembly.

Mr. Wiggin: I am glad that the Minister will bring the issue to his colleague's attention. However, the Assembly could do a great deal more. In 1996, there were 152 cases of MRSA; by 2001, there were 342. Last year, the figure reached 481. We need more than just pretty words from the Minister.

Mr. Touhig: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am just uttering pretty words, because I do take the matter seriously. I remind him that when his party was in power no figures on MRSA were published whatsoever.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): My colleague Kirsty Williams, the Assembly Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, has been instrumental in bringing this situation to light in the Assembly. Does the Minister agree that unless we have accurate figures about the prevalence of MRSA in Welsh hospitals we are unable properly to scrutinise the policies that are put forward by the Assembly to address the problem?

Mr. Touhig: I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point. I am sure that he would agree that the Welsh Assembly is very transparent on a whole range of matters as regards giving information to the public. I share the concerns that hon. Members have expressed. I repeat that I will ensure that they are brought to the attention of the Assembly Minister.

Barnett Formula

2. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales on the impact of the Barnett formula on regeneration. [194552]
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6. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab): What consultations he has had with the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales on the effect of the Barnett formula on public expenditure in Wales in the next financial year. [194556]

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

David Taylor: When I recently drove to Holyhead via the A55 along the north Wales coast, I was hugely impressed by the scale of regeneration since my last visit a decade ago. The Labour Government and the Labour Assembly have much of which to be proud. However, will the Secretary of State acknowledge the role of the generous Barnett formula in all this? Should not national grant distribution be more needs-based so that my own region does not lose out; or does the English midlands need to be categorised as Powys, East before we get a fairer deal?

Mr. Hain: That is an interesting proposition—I look forward to adding Red Leicester to the list of fine Welsh cheeses. If my hon. Friend wants to apply to the Gorsedd of the Bards, I shall put in a good word for him.

The Barnett formula is a population-based share that changes according to comparable spending in England, including in Leicestershire. It is therefore triggered by what goes on in England. Wales has a lot of catching up to do. We are making great progress, but gross domestic product per head remains 78.8 per cent. of the United Kingdom average. That is why the additional funding that the Labour Government are investing, compared with the miserable Tory record, is so important.

Kevin Brennan: I am sure that the soon-to-be defunct Wales Tourist Board will be glad to make a film about North-West Leicestershire called "Last Quango in Powys". Is not the fact that we shall have Barnett-plus in Wales for the next few years a warning to those who appear to believe that the answer to every problem in Wales is to throw the baby out with the Barnett formula?

Mr. Hain: Yes—I assume that my hon. Friend is talking about the nationalists, who have consistently attacked the Barnett formula. That is not surprising as they want Wales to be cut off from the rest of the United Kingdom. They ignore the fact that, uniquely, we have £555 million over the next three years over and above the Barnett formula for objective 1 funding. Yesterday, Sue Essex, the Minister for Finance, Local Government and Public Services in the Assembly, announced that some £13 million from the business rates incentive scheme would go towards reducing the impact of council tax rises, as part of an increase of £60 million-odd in the coming years. That is proof that the Labour Government are genuinely delivering for Wales all the way.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): As the representative for Powys, Central, may I tell the would-be Member for Powys, East that yesterday the Assembly Finance Minister announced a Welsh local government
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settlement? On all independent projections, that will mean a big increase in council tax as a result of the poor settlement for local government in the Budget, due to the inadequate formulation of the Barnett formula. Has the Secretary of State any plans to address that? If so, when can we expect a reformulation so that local government in Wales is not squeezed, although it has been so far?

Mr. Hain: I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the additional money that the Labour Government in the Welsh Assembly announced yesterday to ensure that council tax rises are kept to a minimum, as they were this year. What would happen if the Liberal Democrat policy of massive hikes in income tax to replace the council tax were introduced? That would mean hard-working people, from police officers to nurses and teachers, paying a huge additional burden of income tax. That is the mad Lib Dem policy.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Not only the additional money but how it is spent is important to Wales. Will the Secretary of State hold discussions with the First Minister to ensure that more Barnett formula money is spent on attracting manufacturing investment into Wales, because thousands of jobs have been lost since the Government came to power? Is he not ashamed that there are fewer manufacturing jobs in Wales now than in 1997?

Mr. Hain: It is true that manufacturing has contracted in Wales as it has throughout the industrialised, modern world. It has happened elsewhere in Europe, in the United States and other places. The hon. Gentleman does not point out that employment in Wales is at record levels compared with a massive loss of manufacturing—around 100,000—and huge unemployment under Tory policies. Compared with that, we have a good record. We are doing more and more and the Welsh economy is strengthening week by week.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will recognise the scene that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) described of travelling along the A55, and especially of the regeneration that has occurred in my constituency of Conwy since 1997. However, will my right hon. Friend take every opportunity to discuss with the First Minister and other agencies in Wales the effectiveness of flood defences, given the serious flooding in the past two weeks? Businesses and householders were badly affected, especially in the Bangor area.

Mr. Hain: I am aware of the problems of flooding in the Bangor area and throughout Wales, including in my constituency. I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's concerns are brought to the attention of the First Minister and therefore the Welsh Assembly Government. However, as she acknowledged, there has been record investment and more and more jobs in her constituency and along the north Wales corridor, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) also referred. That is because Wales is working under Labour, compared with a Tory record of mass unemployment, mass bankruptcies and business collapse.
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