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Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con):
There are times when it is a real pleasure to be in the Chamber. The previous two contributions were especially powerful and extremely interesting. Although the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Kari Mountford) said that she was not addressing her comments so much to the Secretary of State, I am sure that he was listening and will have heard her wise words.
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I applaud all those who work in the national health service and in education. As right hon. and hon. Members have said, those people work hard for themselves and, more importantly, for those whom they servechildren, students, parents and patients. We should never forget the contribution that they make and, in many instances, what they have to put up with. It is a great shame that the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has just left the Chamber because I was about to talk about the things that teachers have to put up with, but no doubt the Minister for Children, Young People and Families will be taking copious notes and will pass them on to the right hon. Gentleman.
I shall take up three particular issues. The first is medical research, which affects health and science, so it straddles both health and education. It also straddles the responsibilities of the Home Office, because I shall talk about a problem in my constituency involving animal rights activists. Secondly, I shall speak about the real problem of there being a two-tier health service. In an earlier intervention, I think that the Secretary of State for Health accepted that it exists, although he deplores it. Thirdly, I shall speak about an issue that the hon. Member for Colne Valley raised, which is smoking and health. I suspect that we share similar views.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Today's debate is principally about health and education. The hon. Gentleman perhaps understands that. It is in order briefly to mention other topics, but basically the debate is about health and education. If he cares to do so, I will allow the hon. Gentleman to mention the issue he has just raised, but I would like him to come back to health and education pretty quickly.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am not responsible for Members' awareness of these matters, but that is the position. The hon. Gentleman should talk about health and education. As I said, he may briefly mention the topic that he raised, but he should turn to health and education thereafter.
Michael Fabricant: Indeed. It is, however, a serious issue. I asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) how many animals are used for research on things such as household products. It turns out that 99.9916 per cent. of all research on animals is done for scientific purposes, primarily for the benefit of people suffering from diseases and to develop new vaccines and treatments in the health sector.
As I said, villagers in my constituency have been terrorised for five years. It is not just the people who breed the guinea pigs who are affected but newsagents and people who run a tennis club, where a member was
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threatened. I very much welcome the proposal in the Queen's Speech to introduce Home Office legislation to try and control the problem. However, existing laws such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Public Order Act 1986I could list more legislationenable the police to control the activities of animal rights terrorists. It is right to call them terrorists because they terrorise people. The police, however, cannot be everywhere, and I am concerned that the new legislation will not be sufficient to control the activities of animal rights extremists either because there are gaps in the legislationthe devil is always in the detailor because there are not enough police officers. I note, incidentally, the Conservative commitment to increase the number of police in Staffordshire by 670, which would certainly make a real difference.
Establishments that breed and supply animals such as guinea pigs are required to comply with standards of housing, welfare and care in codes of practice that specifically address the needs of breeding animals. The codes require that suitable environmental conditions are provided for different species and for different stages of development. Temperature, ventilation, and light and noise levels must be appropriate. The astonishing thing is that if the animal rights extremists were successful, the guinea pigs would have to be imported from countries that do not have such controls. It is important that animals are supplied from within the United Kingdom, because we have strict controls on the way in which they are bred.
Recently, I attended a Royal Society conference to hear about the genome project, with which the Department of Health is very much involved. The project has analysed every single gene in the human body, but researchers do not know precisely what individual genes and combination of genes do. Apparently, 80 per cent. of human genes are similar to guinea pig genes, so there is a clear overlap in the research needed to benefit mankind.
I am speaking about diseases that at present are incurable, such as diabetes, where we can treat only the symptoms. There is a real possibility of a cure for diabetes, whereby the islets of Langerhans could be injected into the pancreas and people would no longer need to take insulin regularly. I intended to speak at greater length on the subject, but I know that I would be trying the patience of Mr. Deputy Speaker and I would never wish to do that.
Let me move on to a second issue. In an intervention, I raised with the Secretary of State for Health the matter of my constituent who had a heart attack and found, after going to hospital, that he needed an angiogram. He was told that it would take three months before he could get on to a waiting list, and he would then have to wait a further three or four months for his angiogram. The angiogram was necessary to determine what damage there had been to the blood vessels supplying his heart and whether there was any damage to his heart itself. Waiting and worrying for such a long time might have brought on a second heart attack. He was advised that if he chose to have it done privately, he could have the
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angiogram in the next few days. So he chose to have the angiogram done privately and it cost him £1,800 because he did not have private health insurance.
I can give another example of someone I know in Wales, who had a tumour behind his eye. Again, he was advised to have an examination done privately, so that the diagnosis could be made quickly and treatment could start sooner. That cost him in the region of £2,000, and again he had to pay out of his own pocket. Last year there were 250,000 such procedures, where people were told that if they wanted to be diagnosed or treated quickly, they would have to pay for it themselves. It does not behove those on the Government Front Bench to say that it is the Conservatives who want a two-tier health system. We do not, but the sad fact is that we have a two-tier health system already.
Mr. Hopkins: Is not the hon. Gentleman's argument just a symptom of the fact that we have an under-resourced health service? If it had been fully resourced by his party when it was in office, the private sector would have dwindled away because nobody would have needed to pay for private treatment. They could have had their operations done publicly, free of charge. That is the position in France, where there are twice as many doctors and twice as many beds.
Michael Fabricant: It is fallacious to say, as the hon. Gentleman claims, that demand will always be met by any health service in any country. I can tell him that there certainly are waiting lists in France, despite the fact that, as he rightly points out, more money is spent on the health service thereconsiderably more than in the United Kingdom.
I was with someone last night from Iceland, which has a population of only 280,000. He explained to me that they have a voucher system. I am not advocating thatit is certainly not Conservative party policybut it is interesting. In Iceland one has to pay £3 every time one sees a doctor. That teaches people to respect doctors' appointments. All the rest is subsidised by the state. Once one has seen the doctor and is referred, the treatment is free. But there are waiting lists even in Iceland, as there are in France.
I do not think any Government will ever provide sufficient money for people to be treated instantly, but there is a huge discrepancy between the types of treatment available. We need honesty among all parties on questions such as where a private health care system is or is not appropriate. I was rather pleased with what the Secretary of State for Health said. He ended up by espousing much of what the Conservative Government were saying in 1996 and 1997that there is a role for private health care and there should be that choice. As the right hon. Gentleman said to me after my intervention, the choice should be whether one wants to have the treatment privately for convenience or whether one does not mind waiting for the NHS. When it comes to a matter of life and death, however, or at least of being treated in the NHS within a reasonable time, it is wrong for NHS people to say "Look, you will have to go to private health care."
The person whom I mentioned was also told that he would not be put on the waiting list for a good three months. The fact that that happens time and again
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demonstrates how the waiting list figures are fiddled. If somebody is not included on the waiting list, the overall time that they have waited is not counted in the total waiting time. That is a real problem that I know both main parties would wish to address, but we have to be honest about this matter, and I feel that we are not at times.
Let me now move on briskly to smoking and health. I am disappointed that the Queen's Speech does not announce legislation on the control of smoking. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House I suspect that they are on the Opposition Benches in particularwill disagree, and say that there should be freedom of choice as to whether people smoke. I argue, however, that there should also be freedom to decide whether one can breathe clean air. The hon. Member for Colne Valley rightly pointed out that individuals must exercise responsibility, as well as the Government.
We have a duty of care, and there is no doubt whatever that smoking kills. I could be cruel and say that if somebody continues to smoke despite an excellent television and radio campaign by the Department of Health, it is up to them to make the decision. If the activity kills others through passive smoking, however, it has to be wrong, and I do not understand how people can argue that the state should not intervene in this instance. Indeed, I well remember that, when I worked in broadcasting, it was a Conservative Government who introduced legislation through the Independent Broadcasting Authority, as it then was, to ban cigarette advertising on radio and television. So there is nothing inconsistent with Conservative policy in saying that that approach should be extended elsewhere.
The issue needs to be addressed; indeed, it is a popular issue as well. Recently, research was undertaken to determine whether people would oppose a proposal to introduce anti-smoking laws in this country. Some 54 per cent. of respondents said that they strongly supported a smoke-free law, as they called it, while a further 35 per cent. said that they would tend to support such law if they knew more about the detail. In other words, 89 per cent. of the population believe that it is right that people should be allowed to eat in restaurants or work in an environment where they are not forced to breathe in other people's smoke. I believe that it is right and proper for any Government to introduce legislation of this type.
There are those who say that such legislation would not work, but that is plain nonsense. Studies in the United States have shown that banning smoking in restaurants has either a neutral or a beneficial effect on the economy and, indeed, increases tourist business. We would not be doing anything new in introducing such measures. There is smoke control in Australia, Canada, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands and the states of California and Minnesota. Anybody who has visited New York city will know that it has very strict rules on smoking, but they certainly do not stop people going to restaurants.
I am going to stop speaking now because of your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I could not speak on my main subject, which would have been animal rights activists. I welcome the Home Secretary's legislation, although the devil will be in the detail, but I believe that
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it could be better enforced with the 40,000 extra police officers that are being promised from a Conservative Administration.
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