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25 July 2006 : Column 822

Lastly, I want to say a few words about planning. My background is in architecture and over many years I have watched towns being blighted by poor planning decisions. I am talking about coming into a town and having to see the back end of a supermarket because the planners were not prepared to opt for a more attractive front. The Government are able to help in respect of Government and local government buildings, and I urge them to improve the planning quality of some of their buildings.

To provide one example, a fire station was built in Teignmouth in a prime location for tourists entering the town. It is a beautiful spot. There is nothing particularly wrong with the design of the fire station; it is competent enough, but being in such a prime location, it should have been a lot better. When I argued that the fire authority should provide a better design, it said that there was no time or money to do so. That was nonsense and the problem is that the station will be there for years to come.

6.3 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): Yesterday, the Healthcare Commission published the results of its investigation into outbreaks of clostridium difficile in Stoke Mandeville hospital. Its report describes the most appalling human tragedy. There were more than 300 cases of people taken ill between 2003 and 2005 and more than 30 people have died either definitely or probably as a result of that infection.

Stoke Mandeville is the local hospital for the great majority of my constituents and it is the biggest employer in my constituency. To make my personal interest clear, it is the hospital at which all four of my children were born and on which my family rely for our own medical care.

The Healthcare Commission’s report described in pungent terms serious failings and misjudgments by the local management team. It is important that those lessons be clearly learned and that procedures are followed in future to avoid that shocking sequence of events happening again. However, the commission’s report also includes recommendations that clearly require a response from Ministers.

On page after page of the report, the commission describes occasions on which the wish of the infection control staff at Stoke Mandeville hospital to ensure that the control of infection and the isolation of patients was given priority over other things came up against the insistence of the hospital management that Government targets on case management, waiting times and finance had to be met first; and against a sincere, strongly held belief on the part of senior hospital management, which I know from my constituency experience is by no means confined to Stoke Mandeville, that failure to deliver on those Government targets would put people’s jobs at risk and lead to serious financial penalties being imposed on the hospital.

In the time available, I am unable to list as many examples, drawn from yesterday’s report, as I would wish. I will confine myself to one example. On page 89 of the report, the commission states:

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It continued:

I have visited the hospital, both as the Member of Parliament and in a private capacity as a visitor, on many occasions over the past 14 years. I have full confidence in the professionalism and dedication of its staff, from cleaners, nurses and doctors to the management. I believe that its staff can learn the lessons of the report and reassure my constituents that they can expect high-quality care when they are treated there, but I also believe that what those staff want from the Government is less insistence on inflexible targets imposed from the centre and much greater trust in the professionalism and skill of the staff at the front line to deliver the care that they have devoted their working lives to providing.

6.8 pm

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): I realise that time is short, but I should like to refer to three issues in my constituency, one of which has been mentioned already by the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster), who is no longer in his seat, and it is “Creating an NHS fit for the future”—a consultation document released by the strategic health authority in my constituency. I am slightly staggered that anyone could possibly believe that that document is entirely the responsibility and in the ownership of the SHA.

In my view, that document has been produced in response to pressure from the Government to make substantial savings. Without doubt, the document will put the Royal Surrey county hospital in Guildford at serious risk. There is no doubt that services will be reduced. There are rumours about maternity services and paediatrics, and reductions in the provision of accident and emergency services are also on the cards. What is distressing to my constituents is that there is no doubt that their health will be put at risk. At a recent public meeting that I and my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) organised, it was clear from the concerns of the clinicians, the GPs and other doctors that lives will be on the line if there is any downgrading of accident and emergency care.

Another point about accident and emergency departments that is sadly often overlooked is that when they are downgraded, it is often downgrading by stealth. When accident and emergency departments shut, the services that sit behind them fall as well, like a line of dominoes: research opportunities fall, as does much of the acute work taken on by the hospital, and that hospital’s ability to attract staff is greatly diminished.

Another issue that I want to raise is the funding formula. Many references have been made to the loss of hospital services in various constituencies, but I wish to draw attention to the funding formula that we are all subjected to in order to get our NHS budgets. It is commonly believed by the Government that a lot of the financial problems are due to poor management. However, I draw the Government’s attention to work done in
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Suffolk, and in Plymouth by Professor Asthana, which suggests precisely the opposite, which is that constituencies such as mine, which are essentially rural and slightly more affluent than most, are being chronically underfunded—so my constituents’ health is not worth as much as the health of those in constituencies such as the Prime Minister’s.

Let me briefly mention another issue that is of huge concern to many of my constituents in places such as Hurtmore, Eashing and Shackleford, as well as to a wider population: the inclusion of Eashing farm in a draft minerals plan. Let me explain what is sad about such issues: because this site has been included in a draft minerals plan, residents will be facing blight for the best part of two or three years, while waiting for a decision finally to be made. The area I have mentioned is close to a site of special scientific interest, and there will be increasing amounts of traffic and a significant impact on the local hydrology and the flow of spring water. There will also of course be noise and vibration from the extraction and associated activity; and then at the end, what will be put in the huge hole that remains? That draws attention to a problem that many of my constituents face: they feel completely powerless to have any impact on the decision making. They are faced with this tremendous blight on their homes, and they can do nothing about it.

In my constituency, people’s faith in consultation is running very thin. We have recently had decisions to close community hospitals. Decisions have been made to close the day hospital at Cranleigh, beds at Cranleigh, and the rehabilitation centre at Milford; 94 per cent. of people said that they did not want that option to go ahead, but—lo and behold—that is the option that goes ahead.

As ever, planning issues generate a huge number of concerns, which I am sure many of my hon. Friends share. Such issues include mobile phone masts, town cramming and overdevelopment of back gardens. Another issue that has not been stressed as often as some others is the cumulative effect of planning applications. There are areas to the north of Guildford where the roads are actually quite narrow and each year, bit by bit, there is planning creep; more and more applications come in, and ever more of them are accepted. There is exponential growth in that area, without the infrastructure to cope. We now have a situation in which motorists are mounting the pavements and are putting children walking to school at risk. That draws attention to the fact that local people want to have their say on planning applications. They make good decisions when given the opportunity to do so. The problem is that current planning legislation does not allow local residents to have their say.

6.15 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), who commented on something that the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster) said earlier. I must say that I sympathise with him in having to face these difficult headlines at a time when so much money is being put into the health service, yet none of it appears to be producing the desired effect. Of course, his accident and emergency unit is under threat because the cost of providing such a unit has risen as a result of, among
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other things, implementing the European working time directive and not putting enough money into the health service locally to cover doing so.

I do have a word of congratulation for the national health service and for the Government, however. They have taken account of the special circumstances of the Isle of Wight in providing a united primary care trust and national health acute trust, which will be launched very shortly. I am grateful to them for taking account of my constituents’ feelings on that issue, and I wish that they would take equal account of their feelings on the shortage of dentists on the island. Some 24,000 people are still awaiting allocation to an NHS dentist, but even when they have been allocated, in two years’ time half my constituents will still be without an NHS dentist. So there are some congratulations, and some pleas for the Minister to pass on to his colleagues in the Department of Health.

I want to mention two other local issues, the first of which is pet cemeteries. Members may recall that during the first Prime Minister’s questions after the last general election, I raised with the Prime Minister the closure of a pet cemetery on the Isle of Wight as a result of licensing fees set by the Environment Agency, which was licensing it under the European landfill directive. I am pleased to say that the Prime Minister and other Ministers intervened. They all whizzed round, the Environment Agency got involved and it sent someone to visit the pet cemetery. Many months ago, I was assured that a decision had been reached and that everything in the garden was going to be rosy. In the past week, however, I received a written answer from the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), saying that the situation had not quite been sorted out yet, but that he hoped something would be done shortly. Well, he now has until early September not to be pestered by me by means of written questions. I hope that the next time I ask him a question, he will be able to assure me that the situation has been sorted out.

The final local issue that I want to raise is concessionary fares for public transport users. I know that the Government recently introduced significant concessions for elderly people using public transport. In the run-up to the election, they introduced free local bus travel after 9.30 am, and since the election they have introduced free national local bus travel—as it were—after that time. I am pleased to say that my local authority, of which we took control in 2005 after 20 years of Liberal Democrat control, has extended that free concessionary fare so that it applies 24 hours a day, and extended it to the trains. Furthermore, it has implemented a 50p flat-rate fare for people aged under 19 who are in full-time education, so that they can travel anywhere on the island, by train or bus, for that fare.

Those are great achievements, but my real concern is that the Government seem to think that there is only one mode of public transport: the bus. I visited the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) when she was a transport Minister, and I invited her to think about whether there should be concessions on water-borne transport, as well as on buses. She said that it was not up to her, and that the Chancellor had thought about that issue. It is clear that the Chancellor does not know that there are such things as ferries,
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despite living in Scotland, so no money was available in the first tranche of concessionary fares for users of ferries.

Sad to say, the Chancellor did not get the message from the Department for Transport in time for the introduction of the wider range of concessionary fares, so there are still no such fares for elderly people travelling by ferry, apart from those provided through the benevolence of the ferry operators. Will the Government consider whether it is fair that one can have free or concessionary travel on a bus, but not on equally important journeys to hospital, the shops, school, university or work if one happens to need to travel by ferry? I hope that the Minister will pass that on.

Several other hon. Members have raised my final issue, so I shall abbreviate what I intended to say. I feel most profoundly that the Minister for the Middle East sounds as if he cares about what is happening in both Israel and Lebanon. He spoke like a Minister who cared, not a Minister who was speaking in code or who sounded like the speaking clock. We have spoken of the troubles and how they were caused, and I do not wish to go into that because we have said enough about it today.

I regret profoundly, however, that the United Kingdom has lost its role as honest broker in the middle east—a role that it had redeveloped since the Suez crisis 50 years ago—largely as a result of the Prime Minister behaving like Mr. Bush’s poodle and as a result of his frankly ridiculous stories about why we should invade Iraq, stories that, I am pleased to say, some Opposition Members did not believe. We are now in the terrible position of apparently simply parroting the words of Mr. Bush. Last week the Minister for the Middle East said that we should not simply call for a ceasefire. On Sunday, Condoleezza Rice said that we should be calling for a ceasefire, so yesterday the Prime Minister said that we should call for a ceasefire. That is behaving more like a parrot than a Prime Minister and leader of a serious nation.

My greatest concern is the hostility to this country that has arisen across the Arab world and, in particular, among the 1.6 million Muslims in this country. It is profoundly distressing to see people on the streets of this country defending either of the participants in a foreign war. We should not have foreign wars fought out, even figuratively speaking, on the streets of this country by adherents on either side. If people come to this country, they should expect to support what is in the best interests of the United Kingdom and its people, not what is in the best interests of the countries from which they came or the religions to which they belong. I hope that the Minister will take back to the Prime Minister the need to show more balance in the treatment of both sides in the terrible events in the middle east.

6.22 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Under previous Governments no one in clinical need would be refused treatment by the NHS. But the new NHS denies treatments to sufferers from Alzheimer’s disease, and it denies anti-TNF treatments to those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. This rationed NHS is becoming less humane.

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Depriving brain tumour patients of drugs that can prolong their lives condemns people to a premature death. I declare an interest as my son is a neurosurgeon. The fact that we have come so far from an NHS based on clinical judgment is evidenced by the 36 neuro-oncologists who wrote to the Secretary of State for Health to ask that two treatments—temozolomide and carmustine implants—be made available to all brain tumour patients who need them.

It may be time to ensure that the methodologies of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence are based on scientific evidence and that NICE takes into account the wider economic, societal and human costs or benefits when making its decisions. Why do other countries achieve palpably better outcomes on health and associated matters? For instance, buphenorphine stops morphine being taken up by the cell receptors and helps addicts come off drugs. It is used in France, where they achieve a retention rate of 88 per cent., with only a 7 per cent. delinquent rate on follow-up. But in the UK, only 28 per cent. of drug treatment and testing orders are completed satisfactorily and reconviction rates are 80 per cent., opposite figures to those achieved in France. Why are survival rates in the UK for brain cancers so low, compared with other parts of Europe? How has Australia managed to identify 80 per cent. of its chronic hepatitis C cases, compared with only 23 per cent. in the UK? I am sure that many excellent colleagues from all sides of the House will join me in pushing the Government to review their policies on NICE.

In addition, I ask the Government to remove the uncertainty over Remploy, which is causing great concern. Although I understand that the Southend branch that employs so many of my constituents is not at risk, I hope that Ministers will make a statement—over the recess, if necessary—so that the minds of vulnerable people can be put at rest.

We must welcome the trilateral talks on Gibraltar and its constitutional reform, to which Gibraltar’s First Minister Peter Caruana has adopted a very positive approach. In addition, we must praise and thank Cyprus for its contribution to the international effort on the evacuation of people from Lebanon. The UK must support both communities in Cyprus in the work to get a just settlement through the UN process agreed by Tassos Papadopoulos and Mehmet Ali Talat. That process should begin immediately and involve bi-communal discussions of all the issues. The UK must support and help Turkey in every way in its bid to join the EU, as it is probable that that will be one of the catalysts to the achievement of a solution to the Cyprus problem.

Finally, I always hoped that the UK would be able to retain its sovereignty in the EU and bring about root-and-branch reform from within, but I now accept that Sir Teddy Taylor was right all along and that I was wrong. Our rebate and national sovereignty are under threat, as waste and corruption increase in the EU as a result of the increasing failure of accounts and controls.

Nowadays, two thirds of our laws are made in Europe and not in this Parliament, but there is no proper scrutiny or democratic accountability. Therefore, I now accept that the best—the only—way forward for the UK is to withdraw from the EU. That
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would enable us to protect our borders better, and to generate more jobs and wealth. We would then be able to take better care of our citizens, especially those vulnerable people who, like the Remploy employees, are deeply worried about their jobs.

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