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Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a powerful case on behalf his constituents and his local NHS. The James Paget hospital has achieved some outstanding innovations in the organisation of its surgeries. That is one of the reasons why it is performing so well. He refers to the reserves and the contribution that his PCT is making towards them. Of
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course, as I indicated earlier, those in his health community will have the ability to spend restored to them. That will be done as quickly as possible, and I have made it clear to the SHA that the areas in the greatest need should get their money back first.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): My constituency has never had a higher level of health care than we have at present. That is partly due to the funding coming from the Government, but is mainly due to the dedication and professionalism of the staff. However, what would the Secretary of State advise me to tell my constituents who are seeing a ward close—not as the result of inefficiency; the hospital is run effectively—while the salaries of the foundation trust’s chairman and board members are being doubled? Right across the country, every foundation trust’s non-executive members’ salaries will double. Sometimes, those people are earning more than £50,000. How can we justify sacking nurses and closing wards when we are paying unelected people those huge salaries? What added value do they bring to the system? Will she look radically at their work?

Ms Hewitt: Board members’ salaries are entirely a matter for foundation trusts. The hon. Gentleman’s foundation trust, like others, will have local members and a local governance arrangement, and it is up to the members and the governing council to decide what those salaries should be. He refers to ward closures. There are many reasons why a hospital might want to reorganise wards. It might need and want to reduce the number of beds. For instance, if it is doing more day case surgery or if it is bringing people in for an operation on the morning that it takes place rather than the day before, that is better for patients, but it has the effect that fewer beds are required and therefore resources can be released for use on other improvements in care for other patients. I thought that he would welcome that, as well as the strong leadership that is provided by those on the good board of any well-performing organisation, rather than criticising them in the shallow way that he did.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I am fed up to the back teeth with siren voices talking down the NHS. I have a lot to thank the cardiothoracic centre in Broadgreen hospital and the Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust for my health. I have been looking around at the fantastic work that has been done on GP referrals for cancer patients in my constituency. The figure is now up to 99.9 per cent.—a fantastic result. Let us talk up the NHS. However, on the PCTs in my area, will my right hon. Friend ensure, as part of her commitment to the more disadvantaged areas, that there is no disproportionate slicing of resources from mental services in the recovery programmes?

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the first point that he makes, and I can assure him that there will be no disproportionate impact on mental health services; they are being treated exactly the same as other services.

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Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Last week, the chief executive of my hospitals trust announced 150 sackings. Yet, only four years ago, the same chief executive told The Daily Telegraph:

Employment has gone up immeasurably in the past four years, only to have 150 sackings announced last week. Is that not a clear case of Labour’s boom and bust in the NHS?

Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman has fallen into precisely the trap that so much of the media have and that I warned against earlier: those are not sackings.
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[Hon. Members: “Yes they are.”] The hospital is making difficult but necessary decisions because it has a serious financial deficit and it is part of a broader health community in north-west London that accounts for a very large part of the deficit across the country, as he will see when he looks at the more detailed figures. Hammersmith hospital and the other hospitals in that part of London need to consider whether they are doing enough day-case surgery and organising their services in the best possible way, and they are already telling us that they can organise those services more effectively and continue to deliver patients very good care indeed.

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Points of Order

1.29 pm

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I should be grateful for your guidance on a point of order about the future of the Nuffield speech and language unit, which I raised with the Secretary of State on Tuesday 9 May and in which I declare an interest as the parent of a two-and-a-half-year-old boy who might in future require its services. I am not trying to make this point in a partisan way: I am simply anxious. The Secretary of State promised on 9 May to write to me directly, but has failed to do so, and I have still not heard from the Under-Secretary’s office about the meeting promised to me. It is most unsatisfactory when Ministers make promises and then do not keep them. [ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has raised this
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situation on more than one occasion. Ministers from the Department of Health are present and I am sure that they will have heard what he said. It is, of course, not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wrote a letter six weeks ago to the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Rosie Winterton) , asking for a meeting to bring local mental health charities to visit her to discuss cuts in my local mental health service. What can I do to secure a positive response and advance that meeting?

Madam Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order for the Chair, but the hon. Gentleman has made his point and Ministers from the Department of Health are present to hear it.

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Fire Safety (Reduced Ignition Propensity in Cigarettes)

1.31 pm

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

This Bill would require that tobacco firms modify their cigarettes so that they have a reduced ignition propensity. Essentially, that means that such cigarettes go out if left without being drawn on for more than a few seconds. The House is of course well aware of the toll of premature death and disease caused by smoking. As a result of recent debates, if nothing else, we are also now well informed about the damage that breathing in other people’s smoke can do to one’s health. However, there is a third element of the misery caused by smoking that is perhaps less well understood, and that is the number of deaths and injuries from fires started by cigarettes. I commend the Fire Brigades Union and Action on Smoking and Health for the work they have done to highlight the continuing risks associated with smouldering cigarettes.

Despite some success with “stub it out” campaigns, the number of tragic and avoidable deaths in such domestic fires has proved hard to drive down. The Government report “Fire Statistics for the United Kingdom” shows that in 2004, 3,500 fires in dwellings were caused by smoking materials, not including cigarette lighters and matches, and a further 1,600 in other buildings. Over the previous 10 years, the number of such fires totalled more than 60,000. Fires in dwellings caused in that way resulted in 114 deaths in 2004 and 1,260 non-fatal casualties. Smokers’ materials are the most frequent source of ignition causing accidental dwelling fire deaths, accounting for around a third of such deaths every year. The vast majority of those fires were caused by manufactured cigarettes.

The victims of those fires are more likely to be from low-income households and of course they include non-smokers as well as smokers, children as well as adults, and firefighters as well as members of the public, so this is no trivial matter. If the dry statistics are not enough, the human stories behind them are all too evident. For example, the Edinburgh Evening News of 16 May this year reported on a fire that left a child aged less than 18 months with burns over almost half his body, requiring the amputation of two of his toes. It also left his family without a home. By great good fortune, and thanks to the presence of a smoke alarm, no lives were lost. Investigators believe that that fire, like so many others, was most likely to have been caused by smokers’ materials.

Tobacco manufacturers have long dismissed the link between cigarettes and fire deaths as “merely a public perception”, but for more than 20 years, as internal industry documents clearly show, the tobacco industry has known full well that many of those fires could be easily prevented. It argues that the introduction of cigarettes with a reduced propensity to ignite would lead to more negligent behaviour, but that is not a valid
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argument as the changes needed to the cigarette are slight and unlikely to be noticed by smokers. There are also many examples of safety standards being imposed on consumer products to protect public health without triggering dangerous or irrational behaviour, such as seatbelts and airbags in cars. If that argument were accepted, nothing would be accomplished by any attempt by the authorities to impose safety standards on consumer products. To avoid misleading descriptions, I suggest the use of the term “reduced ignition propensity”—as used in Canada—rather than “fire safe” or “self-extinguishing”.

In January 2000, the tobacco firm Philip Morris introduced a reduced ignition propensity cigarette into the market, using small speed bands on special paper, which ensured that the cigarette rapidly went out if not actively smoked. In August 2000, New York state passed fire safety regulations requiring that all cigarettes sold there had to meet reduced ignition standards by June 2003. Early figures suggest that that may have reduced the number of fire deaths from smoking materials across the state by at least a third. Similar standards now apply in Canada, and the regulatory impact assessment there forecasts a reduction in the number of fires caused by manufactured cigarettes of up to two thirds. In the US, Illinois and Vermont have already followed the example of New York.

In this country, a fire research report done for the former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister estimated that, had cigarettes in the UK conformed to the highest standards in New York, the number of fires caused by cigarettes would have fallen by nearly two thirds. The ODPM figures suggest that that would have meant 78 fewer deaths in 2003 alone.

Such standards could be introduced across the European Union, under the general product safety directive. Indeed, the European Commission is believed to favour such a move. Therefore, I hope very much that we can now discount early rumours that officials at the Department of Trade and Industry might not support further progress on this issue, when the relevant Committee meets in Brussels on 13 and 14 June next week. I understand and accept that the DTI rightly seeks to protect business from unnecessary regulation, but I do not accept that the bulging bank accounts of the tobacco industry really need such diligent defence by Government officials. Surely the experience of that child in Edinburgh and the thousands of other victims of fires caused by cigarettes merit a little consideration.

If DTI officials are really so worried, let me reassure them that reduced ignition standards could be introduced at minimal cost to business and without threatening sales. Many of us may say in relation to cigarettes that that is not something to be given undue priority in any event. I hope that, now this matter has been drawn to the attention of Ministers, they will instruct their officials to take a more constructive approach. However, this House does not need to wait for the cumbersome processes of the European Union and the internal workings of Whitehall Departments to bear fruit. My Bill would require this simple and overdue measure to be introduced in the United Kingdom.

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Smoking is a lawful activity in a free society, but it brings with it terrible problems and it is surely our job as legislators to ensure that they are minimised as far as possible. In this case, we could introduce reduced ignition standards without affecting anyone’s freedom to any significant extent. The number of fires would be reduced. The number of deaths and serious injuries in fires would fall too, and insurance costs would fall with them. The Department of Health would be assisted in its hugely important aim of reducing health inequalities. The Department of Communities and Local Government would be helped to meet its equally crucial public service agreement target of cutting the number of deaths from fires in the home by a fifth by 2010. And fewer young children like the Edinburgh toddler would be exposed to horrific accidents and injuries.

In my own county of Leicestershire, a 55-year-old Anstey man would still be alive today if this Bill had been on the statute book, as would a 70-year-old woman from Fleckney. Residents in Thringstone and Ravenstone, wards that I have represented at various stages in my local government career, would not have had some serious fires occur in their homes—so it is not surprising that the Bill is supported by firefighters who, all too often, have to risk their own safety to deal with fires caused by cigarettes. That is especially true for those in the Leicestershire fire service, whom I thank for their research into one element of the Bill.

In short, everyone would gain from my Bill—and even the tobacco industry would barely notice its effect. The recent historic votes in this House on the Health Bill show that there is overwhelming support for action to reduce the burden of death and disease caused by
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smoking. We must disregard the rather odd conclusion reached yesterday by the Economic Affairs Committee in the other place, which suggested that we should have legislated to prevent passive smoking in the home—how on earth would we do that?—instead of taking the historic step of eliminating it in workplaces and enclosed public spaces. I chair the all-party group on smoking and health, and I respectfully suggest that their lordships are somewhat detached from reality on this issue.

I recently tabled early-day motion 2290, which draws attention to the hundreds of lives being lost in fires caused by smoking-related materials. I am gratified at the extent of support already shown by parliamentary colleagues for that motion.

Where we cannot persuade people to quit smoking altogether, we can—and must—act to reduce the harm caused by that habit and addiction. My Bill is a simple and overdue measure that is designed to achieve precisely that. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by David Taylor, Norman Baker, Mr. Kevin Barron, Mr. Peter Bone, Colin Burgon, Mr. David Drew, Dr. Ian Gibson, Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, Helen Jones, Mr. Gordon Prentice, John Robertson and Bob Russell.

Fire Safety (reduced Ignition Propensity in Cigarettes)

David Taylor accordingly presented a Bill to align cigarette manufacturing standards with international best practice so as to reduce the number of fires and fatalities in the home caused by cigarettes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 October, and to be printed [Bill 192].

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Opposition Day

Tax Credits

[Relevant document: The Sixth Report of the Treasury Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 811, on the Administration of Tax Credits .]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not chosen either of the amendments tabled to this motion.

1.42 pm

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): I beg to move,

The incompetent administration of tax credits touches the constituents of every Member of this House. This debate could not be more timely: last week, the Inland Revenue revealed that almost half of the 6 million people in receipt of tax credits were paid the wrong amount. That is a staggering level of error, and an increase on the previous year.

I welcome to the debate the Chairman of the main Treasury Select Committee, and his counterpart on the Treasury Sub-Committee. The Treasury Committee, of course, is made up of Members from all parties. Yesterday, it published a report identifying Government error as a key cause of the overpayments. In its briefing for this debate, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux reminds us that, four years after the introduction of tax credits, it continues to see

Yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer still lacks the courage to defend a policy that he designed and implemented. We are told that he is at ECOFIN—the first such meeting that he has attended since December. Two days ago, he was planning to send the Paymaster General. We know that because we have the list of the week’s events produced by No. 10 Downing street. It clearly states:

Then this debate was called and, for some reason, the Chancellor of the Exchequer changed his mind. Is it not strange how the right hon. Gentleman is always around to take the credit if things go well, but always happy to let others take the blame when things go wrong? Not once in the past year has he made a statement, taken part in a debate or even answered a question on tax credits. It is the policy that dares not speak its name, from a Chancellor who dares not open his mouth. Prime Ministers need many qualities, but political cowardice is not one of them.

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