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Julie Morgan rose—

Even the briefest assessment of the Welsh NHS illustrates massive failings. Wales now has an out-of-hours general practitioner service in constant and escalating turmoil. Patients are five times more likely to be given a pacemaker for their heart if they live in Poland than if they live in Wales. Despite the higher rate of heart disease in Wales, the use of less invasive treatment to tackle blockages in heart arteries is half of that in England.

Julie Morgan rose—
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Mr. Wiggin: MRSA rates are not improving and the number of cases has more than trebled since 1996. While 130 people unnecessarily block beds in Cardiff and 10 ambulances queue outside Royal Gwent hospital, a man suffering from a suspected heart attack spent nearly two days waiting for a hospital bed. As that gentleman said:

Julie Morgan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for finally giving way. He says that nothing is going right in the Welsh health service. Is he aware of the success of the   University Hospital of Wales in my constituency of   Cardiff, North? The introduction of day surgery for parathyroid disease, when tumours are removed from the neck, was piloted at UHW. The hospital has thus reduced an 18-month waiting list to one of a couple of weeks. Such pioneering work is leading the UK, yet the hon. Gentleman has the cheek to say that nothing is going right in the Welsh health service. What does he think that the staff who are working on that initiative and many others in the health service feel about such comments?

Mr. Wiggin: I have been pretty generous in taking interventions during the debate. I again cite the quote:

The hon. Lady should pay closer attention to what I   actually say rather than misquoting me and trying to make out that I said something that I did not. Her comment was most unfair. While I am delighted to hear that progress is being made in one part of the NHS, we cannot get away from the horrendous increase in waiting lists in Wales. The Welsh people will not entirely forgive her when she stands on the doorstep and tries to explain the situation regarding waiting lists with the example that she gave. Of course, I might be wrong about that—we have to wait and see.

Mrs. Betty Williams : While the hon. Gentleman is throwing out such comments, is he aware that ysbyty Glan Clwyd, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), and ysbyty Gwynedd, which is in my constituency, are two of the top performing hospitals in the whole of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Wiggin: I am delighted to hear that, but it does not change what was said in the quote:

I think that the hon. Lady will find that MRSA figures for ysbyty Gwynedd are not as good as she would perhaps like, and it is a great shame that it has taken so long for the figures even to be released. I do not think that I shall take any more interventions because I have been pretty generous. However, the hon. Lady should check the MRSA figures for ysbyty Gwynedd because they are a real tragedy that let the whole hospital down.

Never has the struggle facing first-class NHS staff been more obvious than in the horrendous vote of no confidence that the British Medical Association Cymru recently passed on the Welsh Assembly. No wonder there are unfilled consultant posts and more than 500 unfilled nursing vacancies in Wales. No wonder the number of temporary staff, who now cost £38 million a
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year, has increased by 192 per cent. since Labour took control. That is why it is time for action for the Welsh NHS, and action now.

We know, as Conservatives, that by giving patients choice and giving control back to doctors and nurses, who best know how to run their hospitals and surgeries, the Welsh NHS can improve. We also know that having more bureaucrats in the Welsh Health and Social Services Department than practice nurses in GP surgeries, as this Government do, is not the right way to go about that, just as the way to improve the education that children get in Wales is not by implementing half-thought-out ideas, such as the free school breakfasts fiasco. Some people may remember Dr. Chris Howells of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru describing that policy as a "dog's dinner". It has become obvious over the past few months that what Labour have in mind is scarcely even that—the policy was never intended to feed all children and is now costed at 30p per head. While taxpayers' money is wasted on such schemes, Welsh GCSE pass rates have not reached the Assembly targets for even three years ago, let alone last year. A teaching union has claimed that schools could afford five more teachers every year if they received as much funding as those in England. Wales also remains one of the worst areas in Britain for truancy. Expelled children are being shifted from school to school or, worse still, sometimes being returned to the same one.

If the Government will not listen to our calls, perhaps they should listen to the teachers themselves. The secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Cymru has said that there needs to be

Under the current system, children in Wales, as in the rest of the UK, are being denied chances that they are worthy of. Surely it is not difficult to understand that teachers need to have real control over their schools; otherwise, the cycle of disorder and lack of discipline will simply continue.

We can see the same thing occurring in terms of Wales's rising crime levels. Drug crime offences rose from 9,425 in 2001 to 10,268 in 2003; violent crime offences increased from 39,274 to 56,561 between 2001 and 2003; gun crime increased from 85 recorded offences in 1997 to 169 in 2004—and while crime goes up, detection rates go down. The total crime detection rate in Wales decreased from 41 per cent. in 2001 to 36 per cent. in 2003. More than six in 10 burglars escape unpunished.

This Labour Government make a pretence of being "tough on crime", yet they have introduced the option of an £80 fixed penalty notice for shoplifters, and for those who cause criminal damage up to the value of £500. They began an early release scheme that is almost criminal in itself, releasing criminals back on to the streets to reoffend, while the public live in fear. More than 3,600 crimes have been committed across the UK by criminals on early release.

Reclassification of cannabis has done nothing to help the people of Wales, where the number of deaths directly caused by illegal drug misuse almost doubled between
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1997 and 2002. A South Wales Echo report showed that almost 60 per cent. of 20 to 39-year-olds had taken illegal drugs. The assistant chief constable of the South Wales police has rightly said that cannabis, which is taken by 58 per cent. of this age group,

When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was Home Secretary, crime fell by 18 per cent. We know that the best way to stop crime in Wales, as anywhere in the   UK, is to make sure that it does not pay—a point that this Government do not seem to realise. Their figures show that Cardiff prison is operating with more   prisoners than it has capacity for. If innocent, law-abiding people in Wales are to stop suffering while the real criminals get away with it, we need more prisons, more police, more drug rehabilitation places and honest sentencing. Under this Government, that is not happening.

In Wales today, people are having to put up with standards of public services and economic strength far below that which they deserve. Yet what can they expect from a Government who have denied the Welsh regiments equal treatment in respect of their name, in a classic example of anti-Welsh double standards? What can they expect from a Government who have not even promised the people of Wales a referendum on their policy of devolved government, before any action is   taken? We have promised them their voice and their   choice. Under the Conservatives, the people of Wales will be free to decide the future of devolution in   Wales. We would leave the Welsh regiments untouched, as they deserve to remain, thereby safely preserving their proud history. By no means should they have to suffer the indignity of being deprived of the same concession in respect of their name as that given to the Scottish regiments.

We believe in being rewarded for hard work and in hard-earned money being spent wisely, not in its being frittered away on things that we never see the benefits of. The people of Wales, as of Britain, should be able to walk safely on their streets, to have clean hospitals and shrinking waiting lists, and to know that their children will be safe and well educated and given the chance to   grow into independent, successful adults with responsibility, freedom and choice. No, I do not intend to talk Wales down. I simply intend to point out the failings that the people of Wales should not have to put up with, and the disadvantages still facing so much of Wales, under a Labour Government who have got so much wrong, who have failed so many times, and who are taking Wales for granted and in the wrong direction.

7.3 pm

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