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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths):
This has certainly been a most wide-ranging debate: from the Make Poverty History campaign to the tsunami; from the NHS and policing to the Royal Mail; from Iraq to hill farming, sugar beet production and fishing; from mental health to defence. Opposition has been expressed to wind farms, to police reorganisation and to tax on petrol in rural areas. The phrase "wide-ranging" does not do justice to the scope of Members' contributions.
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The contribution that moved me most was that by the hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson), who spoke out at length about the problems faced by people with mental illness. The House listened to her in some silence and with great interest. I was also impressed by the central point made by the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson): the importance of leadership in schools and leadership from the police force and individuals. That is the key to making public services work, just as it is the key to making good companies effective in the private sector.
Since much was said about health, I thought it worth starting with that subject. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), echoing the words of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), asked, where has all the money gone? The hon. Gentleman hinted at a paradox. Let me tell the House where the money has gone nationally before I deal with individual constituencies. The money has gone on the 79,000 or so more nurses, on the 27,000 more doctors created since 1997 and on ensuring that waiting lists are now at their lowest level since 1988. It has gone on the 532,000 more operations that are done a year compared with eight years ago. That will affect some of the cases raised today, as will the 165 extra CT scanners and the almost 160 extra MRI scanners installed in the NHS since 1997.
I took the words of the hon. Member for The Wrekin to heart, so he will join me in welcoming the 221 more consultants in his constituency, the 643 more doctors and the 2,092 more nurses. Like him, I want to know from the health authority why they have not been deployed more effectively to allay the concerns of his constituents and of the hon. Member.
The same is true for the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who raised the problems in his area. We must ask what has happened to the 142 more consultants that Cumbria and Lancashire strategic health authority has had, as well as the 543 more doctors and the 5,400 more nurses.
The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) stressed his concern as well, raising the specific case of a cancer patient. His authority has had 382 more consultants, over 1,000 more doctors and nearly 3,000 more nurses.
Nigel Griffiths: Let me tell the hon. Member about the prescription of the drug by the 1,100 extra cancer consultants that we have, a 38 per cent. increase since 1997. Locally, groups of consultants and medical practitioners are involved. Some may have drawn an inferenceI am sure he did not intend thisthat some sort of bureaucrat or unqualified person was taking the decisions, but they are being taken by people with some medical expertise. It is important to know that that expertise is available and to ask quite rightly what the impact of the 1,100 extra cancer specialists is.
We certainly know that cancer mortality rates have dropped by more than 10 per cent. because of those extra consultants and more effective treatment, saving an estimated 33,000 lives. We also know that, in 1997,
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only 63 per cent. of suspected cancer cases were seen within two weeks; now the figure is 99 per cent. All of those have helped the hon. Member's constituents.
Since the issue of cancer care and palliative care was also mentioned, I want to join all hon. Members in paying tribute to the work of the hospice movement. In my constituency, I have the Marie Curie clinic at Fairmilehead and I know that, at this time of year, the work that it does is more valued than ever.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) made an excellent contribution and stressed his concerns about the common agricultural policy and the EU budget. He asked for more to be given to the hill farmers in his area and, brought up as I was in a hill farming area, I listened with some concern to what he was saying. However, I was surprised that hon. Members who asked about the Government's negotiations during our presidency failed to acknowledge that the EU budget deal agreed under my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is some €160 billion cheaper than the original Commission proposals of February 2004. Moreover, it is certainly below the level proposed in June by our predecessor in the presidency, Luxembourg. Some speakers neglected that important fact, which should be noted.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin called for more money for sugar beet farmers and stressed the importance of biofuels. We concur: that is why, in his pre-Budget report of two or three weeks ago, the Chancellor reinforced the impetus that he has given to the promotion of biofuels.
All speakers seemed openly hostile to wind farms. I declare my support for them, both onshore and offshore. They have a part to play and I am pleased that this Government, and the Department for Trade and Industry in particular, have managed to exceed their target for making wind generators available for community centres, community housing groups and individuals. The target was to have 2,300 such generators installed between 2003 and 2006; in fact, that figure has been almost doubled, and the funding is still available.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) raised the vitally important issue of Iraq. I want to pay tribute to all our service men and women for the role that they have played in that country. I stress to my hon. Friend that it is important to continue that engagement: more than 8 million Iraqis took part in January's elections, 10 million took part in the referendum on the constitution in October, and 15 million were registered for the more recent election there. Britain is one of 27 countries providing personnel for the multinational forces in Iraq. Those forces will remain there, at the invitation of the Iraqi Government, until that job is done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) spoke about the issue of asylum. Many asylum seekers are genuine, having faced horrendous experiences at home, while others mistakenly apply because they think that that will allow them to stay here, whereas they really want to be here for economic reasons. The issue has to be treated with compassion, and I stress that all Members of the House treat asylum and the plight of asylum seekers in that way.
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However, I am concerned when constituents of mine tell me that they are faced with deportation and that they want to put their children in the firing line that the asylum process represents. I think that is wrong, and that is what I tell them. The appeals procedure is paid for by the taxpayer: it is of a very high and fair order, and allows people to pursue appeals or reviews after they have submitted their initial applications. Some people, once the process has been exhausted and a decision reached, say that they are not willing to leave because they have children in this country. However, that cannot deter us from ensuring that they are returned to a country that has been ruled proper to receive them.
Not surprisingly, given that we are approaching its first anniversary, the issue of the tsunami was raised in the debate. I am not dismissive of what the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) said, but the National Audit Office report on the tsunami showed 90 per cent. approval of the way that things were done. However, it did highlight some areasthe hon. Member may have witnessed themwhere there were grounds for improvement, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been making sure that those improvements have been made. It was, after all, a massive disaster that claimed the lives of 250,000 people, including 149 from Britain. My constituent, Dominic, a bright young architect, and his girlfriend, Eileen, were among those who lost their lives. His family is on the way out there as part of the programme of help from the Government, endorsed and supported by all parties, to ensure that as many relatives as want to go to as close as possible to the place of the disaster can do so. We all support that.
This has been the year of "Make Poverty History", which has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. We have managed, I think, to reinforce the leadership that we must all give to tackling poverty in Africa and elsewhere, and to tackling and eradicating disease. We go into 2006 revitalised, knowing that we can do more to make the world a better place.
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