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House of Commons

Wednesday 30 November 2005

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 Service (Capital Investment)

1. Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the First Minister on capital investment in the health service in Wales. [31667]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I have regular discussions with the Assembly Minister for Health and Social Services on a range of issues including the capital investment programme in Wales. The Assembly budget provides for NHS capital investment of some £674 million in the three years to 2008. That investment is aimed at key NHS priorities including the reconfiguration of hospital provision, the diagnostic strategy underpinning those services, provision of mental health services and the improvement of patient access times.

Mrs. Moon: I thank the Minister for that response. Will he encourage the First Minister to tie in the generous capital allocation mentioned in his response with consequent revenue resources, to enable those high-performing trusts such as Bro Morgannwg NHS Trust in my constituency to forge ahead with the exciting "Designed for Life" agenda in Wales?

Nick Ainger: Generous revenue spending is planned by the Assembly, which builds on its record in that the Assembly has spent £4.3 billion on health in Wales, which is almost double the 1997 figure. That funding means an extra 450 consultants and 7,300 qualified nurses. By 2010, the Assembly plans to employ 700 more consultants and GPs, 6,000 more nurses and 2,000 other health professionals. That demonstrates a clear commitment to the NHS, which is sadly lacking from the Conservative party.

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): Given that NHS trusts across Wales are severely in the red, and with the axe hanging over services at numerous good hospitals such as the excellent Withybush hospital in Pembrokeshire, will the Minister accept that devolution simply has not worked for the NHS in
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Wales? As many health service professionals will tell him, health services in Wales are being allowed to decay because of ideological roadblocks at the Assembly.

Nick Ainger: That is not the case, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has said that, bearing in mind that, as I understand it, he is a supporter of the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who yesterday endorsed the devolution settlement and said that he might even consider taking it further. However, he refers to Withybush hospital, and I am well aware, as I am also a relatively local Member to that hospital and a considerable number of my constituents use it, of the real problems there. I am aware that clinicians are concerned about the hospital's future. Following discussions with the Assembly Minister for Health and Social Services, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there are no plans whatever to downgrade Withybush hospital. The generous additional funding that that and many other trusts throughout Wales have received—the local health board in Pembrokeshire has received a 28 per cent. increase in the past three years—means that they should be able to manage. The Assembly's track record on investment in the NHS is excellent—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that the decision to invest £108 million in a new hospital in Caerphilly is eloquent testimony that health policies are working in Wales?

Nick Ainger: Absolutely. This year, capital expenditure will be £186 million, next year it will be £220 million, and in 2007–08, £309 million. Surely that shows the rapid increase in investment in the NHS throughout Wales, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on receiving substantial investment for a brand new hospital, which will be able to reconfigure a number of    smaller hospitals to improve services for his constituents.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Investing in "Designed for Life" will require a great deal of capital spending, but that will be subject, as I understand it, to capital charges of between 7 and 10 per cent. That was a great problem with the new Alltwen hospital in Tremadog. The danger is that current services will be cut in order to meet those charges. Can the Minister give us any hope that he might press his colleagues in the Assembly to freeze those charges in order to avoid such cuts?

Nick Ainger: I have discussed that issue with the Assembly Minister, and it is an issue that the Assembly can consider. The fact remains, however, that revenue investment from the Assembly is way above the inflation rate. The choice that a trust has to make is whether to opt for that investment. Because the revenue investment has been so generous, they are certainly able to pay for the capital charges.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): We have heard from the Minister about the spending, and we have heard him say that the trusts should be able to manage. Can he tell us why there has been a 17 per cent. reduction in the
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number of beds over the past few years, why there has been an 18 per cent. increase in the number of complaints during this year alone, why one person in 10 is still on a waiting list in Wales, and why there do not seem to be any NHS dentists?

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): He is on his way out!

Nick Ainger: I am not sure whether that is true. Certainly the result on Monday may affect the hon. Gentleman's future.

The hon. Gentleman must explain to the House why he fought a general election on a manifesto that proposed the introduction of patient passports, which would have cut—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister is well out of order. He must not talk about the Conservative party's manifesto. Perhaps he will now answer the question.

Nick Ainger: It was a temptation that I could not resist, Mr. Speaker. I apologise.

Wales is addressing its problems. [Interruption.] Yes, there are problems; no one is denying that. All of us, as constituency Members, know that there have been problems—but they are not due to a lack of resources: that is the issue. The hon. Gentleman and his party have no plans whatever to address the issues. That is the point.

Rail Services (South Wales)

2. Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): If he will make a statement on improvements to rail services in south Wales. [31668]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I welcome improvements made to rail services in south Wales, such as the reopening of the Vale of Glamorgan line. I look forward to further improvements across Wales as a result of the introduction of the new Arriva Trains Wales timetable on 11 December.

Mrs. James: Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the deterioration of punctuality and reliability on First Great Western trains from Swansea? At the beginning of November the managing director was forced to apologise to her customers

Today she has had to apologise again.

Between 1997 and the end of the current financial year—[Interruption.] Hold on! Between 1997 and the end of the current financial year the company has received £335 million in public subsidy, yet it has paid only £17 million in penalties. In view of that huge public investment, will my hon. Friend make representations to the company about its poor performance?

Nick Ainger: I am very conscious of the number of recent disruptions on services between south Wales and Paddington. My hon. Friend the Member for Halton
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(Derek Twigg), the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, has already held meetings with First Great Western and Network Rail to discuss the problems.

As my hon. Friend will know, the agreement for the new Greater Western franchise will contain strict targets for year-on-year improvements in punctuality. The Government are determined to respond properly to any failure to meet those targets. We are investing £87 million a week in rail infrastructure. Unfortunately, as with road repairs, that sometimes causes delays, but the fact remains that we are making the investment.

Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Does the Minister agree that one line that lacks investment is the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth line? Will he join local campaigners in calling on those responsible to reinstate an hourly service?

Nick Ainger: The hon. Gentleman may wish to take that up with Andrew Davies, the Minister for Economic Development and Transport in the Welsh Assembly, as the Assembly now has powers in relation to assisting and improving rail services. As he will know, the new budget was announced last night—or was it this morning? It is clear from that budget that the Assembly now wishes to improve services for rail passengers throughout Wales, and I am sure that it will be able to consider the line to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): What representations is the Minister making to Arriva Trains about what I call the peapod train—a minuscule green train that runs from Llanelli westwards and never has enough places for its passengers?

Nick Ainger: I will certainly make representations on behalf of my hon. Friend, but the new timetable that Arriva will be working to from 11 December will introduce an additional 950 services a week across the network in Wales. There will be more seats on peak time services, a 28 per cent. increase in Sunday services and a number of new services from stations in Wales. We should all welcome that. It is clear that the Government's investment is now being reflected in improved services, with more and more passengers using them.

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