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Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): When may we have a debate on the increasing incidence of tuberculosis in many African countries? When I visited Kenya with other Members, it was shocking to hear of the 16 per cent. annual increase there and the fact that 50 per cent. of cases are not detected, although the disease is entirely curable. That will of course affect achievement of the millennium development goals. When may we have a debate on this important issue?

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right to raise what is indeed an important issue. I arrived in the Chamber towards the end of Treasury questions. As my hon. Friend will know, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has launched an important initiative to help developing nations in that regard. It is obvious that the Government take the problem extremely seriously, and I hope my hon. Friend will accept that assurance.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): Should the Government not welcome a debate on the health service? It would enable them to rejoice in the triumph that after eight years the Oxfordshire pain unit
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faces closure, the mental health trust is about to announce redundancies among consultant psychiatrists, and disabled children's facilities and a ward in the Nuffield orthopaedic centre are to close. It would also give us an opportunity to ask why the strategic health authority's response has been simply to propose the privatisation of service commissioning in Oxfordshire. For the first time that is to be proposed throughout the country, and it is a major issue for patients in Oxfordshire.

Mr. Hoon: I made it clear earlier that the Government would welcome a debate on the national health service. We have a very good story to tell about the extra funding, the continuing reforms and, indeed, the treatment available to the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I have no difficulty in accepting the challenge, and if any Opposition party wishes to table a motion for such a debate, Ministers will be delighted to take the opportunity to set out the record.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): In spring this year, the then Health Secretary told the people of Broxbourne that if they voted Conservative, Chase Farm accident and emergency service would close down. They should have listened to him because they did vote Conservative and Chase Farm accident and emergency is to be closed. Will the right hon. Gentleman bring the new Secretary of State for Health to my constituency, particularly to Cheshunt and Waltham Cross, at the earliest opportunity to explain herself and to reassure my constituents that it has all been a joke and that accident and emergency services at Chase Farm will continue in good health in the near and distant future?

Mr. Hoon: Everyone takes the provision of accident and emergency services extremely seriously, but the hon. Gentleman knows that there are different ways of providing those services and that it is necessary to provide them efficiently and effectively. One of the most important aspects of an accident and emergency service is that it has the necessary back-up available across the medical spectrum in order properly to treat those people who are an emergency. It is no good taking someone to an accident and emergency facility if the support necessary to treat the person properly is not available.

There are a variety of reasons why, from time to time, accident and emergency facilities are required to close. The hon. Gentleman presents an extremely simplistic picture of the overall way in which the health service deals effectively with people.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): May we have a debate on the work of the Assets Recovery Agency and the resources allocated to it? Right hon. and hon. Members will be well aware of the agency's fine work, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in tackling the criminal empire of organisations such as the IRA—we have recently seen evidence of the extent of its empire—it is imperative to recognise that it will take not only considerable time but the resources necessary to get to grips with such organisations?

Mr. Hoon: It is fair to say that the allegations made against the gentleman in question caused a great deal of concern. It is also fair to say that once upon a time I was
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concerned about his activities; I shall not go into any more detail than that, but the hon. Gentleman will know what I am talking about. It is indeed important to continue to support the excellent work of the Asset Recovery Agency. The particular incident in question demonstrates how effective it can be.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Further to the many questions put by my right hon. and hon. Friends, does the Leader of the House understand that we would happily accept his invitation to join him on a visit to Ashfield hospital to see what is happening in his constituency if he would reciprocate and accept our invitation to come and see what is happening in our constituencies? Has not the Leader of the House detected in the last half hour a growing appetite for a debate on the NHS? Many of us believe that many issues need to be addressed and the right hon. Gentleman believes that he has some answers, so does that not already have the makings of a rather good debate?

Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Even with my rather slow reaction to events, I had noticed that Opposition Members were to some extent co-ordinating their questions on this matter. I congratulate them on increasingly effective opposition—long may it continue.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Four more years.

Mr. Hoon: Yes, at least four more years. I would certainly be willing to visit the right hon. Gentleman's constituency and his local hospital, and I look forward to receiving the invitation.

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): I know that I am new to the House, but I am flabbergasted by the expressions of Government Members. The right hon. Gentleman says that he does not recognise what is going on in the health service in the south-east. He goes on and on
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about how much money the Government are investing, but he appears to pay no attention to what is coming out at the other end. In my own area, the Guildford and Waverley primary care trust now faces a huge budget deficit—

Mr. Speaker: Will the hon. Lady please take her seat? Perhaps because of the time that I have spent in the House, I never get flabbergasted, but I must tell the hon. Lady that she must ask a question. She must put a question to the Leader of the House about next week's business. If she does so, I will allow her to continue—without being flabbergasted.

Anne Milton: My apologies, Mr. Speaker. My question is this: would you like to come down to Guildford so we can open your eyes and show you what is going on? That would take the smile off your face.

Mr. Speaker: I will come down to Guildford one day.

Mr. Hoon: I would not want to get in the way of Mr. Speaker's visit. I have recognised on previous occasions, as now, that there are legitimate questions about the way in which different health authorities allocate their resources. What there can be no question about is that those resources have increased significantly under the present Government. If the hon. Lady would like to debate the allocation of those resources, I have already said that there is every opportunity to do so in the amount of time available to the Opposition for Opposition day debates. If the issue is as important as the hon. Lady says, perhaps she should direct her remarks to the shadow Leader of the House, who has some responsibility for deciding the subjects for Opposition days. He may have noticed that many Conservative Back Benchers want to talk about the health service: they could have done so on Wednesday.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order.
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Northern Ireland

12.6 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about developments in Northern Ireland during the summer recess period. First, however, I know that the House will want to join me in marking, with sadness, the passing of two very significant figures from the Northern Ireland political stage: Mo Mowlam and Gerry Fitt. They were politicians of great courage, passion and, above all, humanity and we all in different ways feel their loss.

On 28 July we saw the statement by the IRA that its leadership had ordered an end to its armed campaign. As I said in my letter to Members at the time, that was important—indeed, historic—but it was crucial that the words were carried through in actions, which had to be independently verified. Two weeks ago, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning reported that the IRA had placed its arms completely and verifiably beyond use.

Not so many years ago, Unionists and republicans were agreed on one thing at least—that the IRA would never give up its guns and never give up its explosives: "not a bullet; not an ounce". But the impossible has happened and the war machine that brought death and destruction to thousands of people in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and beyond—indeed, to this House—has gone. It is something that all Members of this House have wanted to see happen for many years and that many feared they never would see.

However, immensely significant as IRA decommissioning undoubtedly is, there is more to be done in demonstrating that the IRA has put paramilitary activity behind it for good. The next formal report from the Independent Monitoring Commission, focusing on paramilitary activity, is expected in the next week or so. That will give an indication of whether progress has been made in meeting the equally important requirement for a verifiable end to all paramilitary and criminal activity. As it will only have covered several weeks since 28 July, the two Governments have asked the IMC to produce an additional report in January to reinforce the crucial verification process.

The Government believe that the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland are best served by local decision making through a devolved Assembly. That requires the rebuilding of trust and confidence and we recognise that that will take time. If the IMC reports confirm an end to IRA activity, the time will have come to move the process forward.

The summer also saw a murderous loyalist feud, vicious attacks on the police and Army by loyalist paramilitaries and sickening sectarian attacks, including obscene threats to desecrate graves in Carnmoney cemetery—all of which disfigured Northern Ireland in the eyes of the world. Of course, that outrageous behaviour appalled the overwhelming majority of people in the Unionist community and I greatly welcomed the opportunity to stand with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) in his constituency, which had seen sectarian attacks on
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schools, and join him in condemning such barbarous behaviour. It has taken a long time for the republican movement to acknowledge that violence does not pay. It is high time that the loyalist paramilitaries learned that too. My decision last month to specify the Ulster Volunteer Force/Red Hand Commando sent out a clear signal to those who would persist with that philosophy that they are wrong and that they must stop immediately.

There remains outstanding the question whether a financial penalty should be imposed on the Progressive Unionist party following the recommendation made to me earlier in the year by the IMC. I intend to watch developments carefully over the next few months, in particular the role that the PUP plays in attempting to secure peace and stability in the loyalist community, before reaching a decision on this in the context of the January report from the IMC, to which I referred earlier.

With my deputy the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), I have been visiting loyalist communities and meeting community representatives, clergy, teachers and local residents. Where any community has legitimate concerns, we will address them, but it is equally important that there is political leadership to enable those communities to join in the huge progress that Northern Ireland has made in recent years.

The summer also demonstrated beyond doubt that there is one organisation that we can all rely on to uphold the right of everyone to live in peace. Officers of the Police Service of Northern Ireland displayed exemplary courage and professionalism in protecting life and preserving order, despite being attacked with live rounds, blast bombs, petrol bombs and other missiles. We should be under no illusion, following the Whiterock parade, but that loyalist paramilitaries were clearly intent on murdering police officers. Police videos also showed some Orangemen taking off their collarettes and hurling rocks at the police front lines—behaviour that I know that the vast majority in the Orange Order deplore.

Even with those vicious attacks on them—and let us not forget that nearly 100 officers sustained serious injuries in a single weekend—the police remained committed to their task. However, they can be effective only if they receive the support of all sections of the community in Northern Ireland. Time and again, those officers have demonstrated their determination to protect all the citizens of Northern Ireland. It is time that everyone in Northern Ireland—from Sinn Fein to the Orange Order to loyalist communities—acknowledged that and got behind the police to support them in doing their job.

The transformation of policing in Northern Ireland in line with the Patten reforms is one of the great success stories of the Good Friday agreement. It has led to the policing arrangements in Northern Ireland being admired around the world as a model for change. We remain fully committed to that model for the future.

A key element in that success is the role played by the Policing Board. I can tell the House today that I have decided to reconstitute the board from 1 April 2006, with political appointees selected in proportion to the 2003 election results using the d'Hondt formula.
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So what do the months ahead hold for Northern Ireland? The Government will continue to do all that we can to facilitate progress towards restoration, but we hope that all Northern Ireland's politicians will seize the opportunity that this summer's developments present. The Government will also take forward work to implement those aspects of the Belfast agreement where work is incomplete or ongoing. We will, for example, continue to support those bodies and institutions that work for the benefit of Northern Ireland on a north-south, east-west basis.

Some areas of the joint declaration of 2003 were dependent on acts of completion by the IRA. Difficult though some of those will be for some people to accept, there should be no surprises, as the Government have long made it clear that certain developments would follow on from such acts of completion.

First, normalisation: in the 2003 joint declaration, the Government set out proposals to normalise the security profile across Northern Ireland when there was an enabling environment. Following the IRA statement, I published an updated programme, on the advice of the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding. I want to assure the House that my first and overriding priority—and that of the Chief Constable and the GOC—remains the safety and security of the people of Northern Ireland. We will not do anything that will compromise that, but the security arrangements that we have in place must be in proportion to the level of threat. The normalisation programme published in August, a copy of which I have had placed in the Library, will see the creation of an environment that will allow the return of conventional policing across Northern Ireland, something which all sections of the community should welcome.

The other commitment set out in the joint declaration was that we would reinvigorate discussions with the political parties on the shared goal of devolving criminal justice and policing. The Government will want to explore the scope for doing that over the months ahead. In the meantime, we will bring forward enabling legislation for later implementation, when there is agreement among the parties in Northern Ireland. We will also take forward plans to appoint a victims commissioner. I very much hope to make an announcement about that shortly, because the many victims of Northern Ireland's troubles deserve much better recognition and support. We will never forget them.

The House will know that we have undertaken to legislate to deal with the position of individuals connected with paramilitary crimes committed before the Belfast agreement, dealing with those suspects categorised as on-the-runs. As the House will recall, the proposals were published alongside the joint declaration more than two years ago, in May 2003. This is not an amnesty: nevertheless, the implementation of those proposals will be painful for many people. I fully understand that, but the Government believe that it is a necessary part of the process of closing the door on violence forever.

Notwithstanding the recent turbulence, huge progress has been made this summer. We need to build on that progress. The people of Northern Ireland have shown
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remarkable patience and resilience over the years. We owe it to them not to be deflected from doing all that we can to see a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland, in which all traditions are cherished and respected. They deserve no less.

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