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Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham) (Lab): The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) is absolutely right—I have worked with him on a number of all-party    initiatives, particularly on animal welfare, demonstrating that we are at our best when we work together.

This is probably the last occasion on which I will make a contribution in this Chamber. As ever, I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. Having decided to stand down after 22 years as an MP, I have been intrigued by the degree of surprise expressed by many colleagues at my decision. Of course, it is far better that people are surprised that one is going than surprised that one is staying.

One of my Labour colleagues, who will remain nameless, asked me, "How seriously ill are you?" I was tempted, as it is easy to give way to such temptation, to say that I had only a few weeks to live, but I thought that I might be tempting the fates were I to do so, although I might get run over on the way home this evening. It still took a while to convince him, however, that I was in the rudest health and looking forward to exploring new challenges and possibilities. Of course, it could all go pear-shaped, and I might end up busking on the underground. If that happens, I hope that colleagues will take pity on me and drop the odd guinea into my cap.

I want to use this Adjournment debate to draw the attention of the Deputy Leader of the House, and of the whole House, to some of the dangers and problems that I believe we face as MPs. The coming general election will be only the second in which I have not been a candidate since 1970. It will be an odd feeling to be on the sidelines, but not a wholly unwelcome one. It will be pleasant to think that the election campaign might be an opportunity for a searching and constructive debate on the big issues of the day. Of course, it will not be, any more than the preceding election campaigns have been. Individually, we would all wish for that rational debate, but when it kicks off, we will find ourselves drawn almost involuntarily into some fairly unseemly brawls.

Unfortunately, the more we kick lumps out of each other, the more those malevolent reporters of political events sneer, and the more our stock falls in the estimation of the electorate. Of course, we expect journalists to be snide and insulting—that is what they do. We also expect to be told by loudmouths in bars that all politicians are incompetent, venal and self-serving. In fact, I remain constantly surprised by the number of people who seem to know precisely how best to run the country, but unfortunately, they are either to busy writing for some two-bit rag or propping up a bar to find the time to get round to doing it.

As MPs, obviously, we have our political differences. We should not, however, sell each other short. Each and every one of us comes into this place committed to try to improve the welfare of our constituencies and our country. In the process, undoubtedly, we make mistakes. No one in his or her right mind, however, would seek election in order deliberately to make matters worse. We give succour to our enemies and further undermine respect for Parliament if we attempt to score political points by accusing each other of bad faith or venality. Parliament might seem a robust
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institution, but it is constantly being undermined by forces outside, and it would be a tragedy of epic proportion were we also to allow it to be undermined from within.In this country, we enjoy one of the least corrupt political systems in the world, but no one who reads our newspapers could be blamed for believing the complete opposite. We are not being incestuous when we stand up to defend our position as Members of Parliament. If we are not prepared to advocate the work that we do and the reputation of this place, how can we expect those outside to do it for us?

Every time we accuse one another of bad faith, we further undermine the already dangerously low levels of confidence in us among the electorate. We have not really enjoyed democracy for long enough in this country to be confident beyond any doubt that it is strong enough to withstand any attack made on it. In rightly exercising our political differences, we should never forget that part of our collective duty and responsibility relates to the protection and enhancement of this vital and still vulnerable institution.

It has been a privilege to serve in this place, and at times I have probably sorely tried the patience of both my constituents and my colleagues, but I also know that in politics we are never given the benefit of the doubt. Unless we tell people what we have done or are doing, they will presume that we have done little or nothing. I have therefore compiled, for the record, a short statistical account of my 22 years in the House.

Since my election in 1983, I have maintained a full-time fully staffed constituency office in the east end. Together with my fantastic staff, I have dealt with thousands of personal cases, not always with success but always with our best endeavours. There are those who maintain that I have only worked to ban hunting—a cause that I am proud to have played a part in achieving. Let me disabuse them. Since 1983 I have introduced 20 ten-minute Bills covering a range of subjects including fixed-term Parliaments, a ban on war toys, a compulsory national community service system, and the introduction of a directly elected mayor for London. A number of those Bills eventually surfaced as legislation, and I expect that a number more will do so in due course.

During the same period I have tabled 7,540 written questions and asked 719 oral questions. In fact, following the business statement it is now 720. I have tabled 340 early-day motions and made 1,383 speeches and interventions—1,384 once I have sat down, which I shall do shortly.

Without doubt there has been quantity in my endeavours. I will leave others to judge their quality. It has been an enormous honour to be a Member of this House, and I stand down with grateful thanks to my party, my constituents and all my parliamentary colleagues—and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

3.12 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): It is indeed a privilege to follow the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and for West Ham (Mr. Banks). Both have made a major contribution to the House in their different ways, and they have always done so with sincerity. I have always enjoyed the contributions of the hon. Member for West Ham. I particularly remember
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the delight and surprise when he was made Minister for Sport: he seemed as surprised as the rest of us. He made a major contribution at that time.

I make no apology for raising the issue of the Royal Hospital Haslar. Colleagues whom I have met over the last couple of days asked if I proposed to speak about it, and I replied that I did. It is a source of amusement to some of my colleagues that I can go on pursuing such an issue, but I am going to do so now. It really matters to my constituents, and there is nothing at all amusing about it for them.

There are three strands to the issue. First, the Royal hospital Haslar is a military hospital. Indeed, it is the last military hospital in the United Kingdom. When it was announced that the hospital would close in December 1998 and move to a new centre for defence medicine, there was shock and disappointment in the area, and the announcement was greeted by a rally and march of some 22,000 people. The Royal Centre for Defence Medicine has indeed moved to Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham, and the planned development there of a £200 million new centre has been cancelled, leaving the Defence Medical Services spread across Birmingham in penny packets. They have no centre for messing and recreation, and are in different units of accommodation all over Birmingham. The key specialties—general surgery, orthopaedic surgery, general medicine and anaesthetics—are still seriously undermanned. There is a serious problem in defence medicine.

The second strand is the civilian strand. The overall plan in South Hampshire is to develop Queen Alexandra hospital in Portsmouth through a private finance initiative. It was initially thought that it would cost about £70 million; the latest estimate is about £200 million, and it is some 15 months late. There is no commercial or financial closure, and no immediate prospect of either.

The third strand is what is planned by the primary care trust in Fareham and Gosport, which has now been merged with East Hampshire. The PCT had planned to build secondary care around the PFI bid at Queen Alexandra hospital, but the bid is faltering. As I have said, it is 15 months late and nowhere near completion. The PCT presented plans based on a consultation process, which involved focusing on either the Haslar hospital or on Gosport War Memorial hospital. The PCT consulted widely, and held a number of public meetings. Throughout those meetings, it received feedback from the area that it wanted the Haslar hospital to continue, yet eventually, despite a public meeting of 700 people at St Mary's church, Alverstoke, which I chaired and which unanimously required the retention of the hospital, the PCT decided to press ahead with the proposal to close it and focus on Gosport War Memorial hospital.

The next stage was consideration of the PCT's decision by the overview and scrutiny committee of Hampshire county council. The committee decided to refer the matter to the Secretary of State for Health because he has the opportunity, if he so chooses, to refer the matter to an independent reconfiguration panel which can look at health care in the area as a whole and come up with conclusions. The panel has been invoked only once, in East Kent, where it decided that the focusing of all attention and resources on the PFI bid at
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a larger hospital was wrong and that existing hospitals should be used instead. The situation is very similar to that in South Hampshire, where we also maintain that too many resources and initiatives are being put into a PFI development. We need the reference to the independent reconfiguration panel. It is the only way in which the juggernaut of the PFI bid and the PCT's proposals can be derailed.

I asked for a meeting with the Minister of State for Health, and a meeting was eventually arranged for 22 March, last Tuesday. I proposed to take with me representatives of each of the parties from Gosport, which would demonstrate to the Minister that there was all-party support for the reference to the panel and an opportunity to examine the whole issue again. The Minister cancelled the meeting, with no more than a day's notice and giving no particular reason other than that he now had another meeting to attend.

This is the current position. A decision made by the primary care trust is widely unpopular in the area. It is believed that it will not be possible to continue with the PFI bid and the retention of Queen Alexandra hospital as the only main hospital in the area, which would involve fewer operating theatres and fewer beds than we currently have. We have no alternative date fixed for the meeting. I wrote to the Minister on Tuesday telling him that I proposed to raise the issue during this debate, and asking him for an early meeting. I drew his attention to the case of Wyre Forest, where an independent candidate stood for election on the basis of the campaign to save Kidderminster hospital. I need hardly remind the House what happened in that constituency, where the views of the local community were flouted and the Labour candidate was defeated by a massive majority.

It is monstrous that, as we approach the likely date of the election, we should have to deal with a cancelled meeting and no restitution of that meeting, and that my constituents do not know what will happen. I warn the Government that the issue of Haslar hospital will play a large part in the coming election, and I urge them now, even at this late stage, to rearrange that meeting so that people of all parties in my constituency can make their views known to the Minister and ensure that there is to be a reference to the independent reconfiguration panel.

3.19 pm

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