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6.27 pm

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): I, too, shall be brief. I want to raise several matters that affect my constituents, whose concern for people elsewhere in the world I find very heartening.

The city of Edinburgh is my home city, and that of the Deputy Leader of the House. It is hard to believe that a year has passed since the Make Poverty History marches took place there. Hopes were high and promises were made, but since then the World Trade Organisation talks have collapsed, with trade-distorting subsidies by the EU and US remaining as a barrier to helping poor countries trade their way out of poverty.

A number of constituents have contacted me about the situation in Lebanon after watching the daily television images of the conflict there. The images have been gruesome enough, but they are merely a sanitised version of what is really happening on the ground. Other hon. Members have spoken about their concerns in this debate, but my greatest fear is that Israel’s policy in respect of Lebanon is the single biggest threat to its own future as a state. It cannot carry on as it has, and the Governments of the UK and the US should change their approach and put pressure on Israel. The Prime Minister says that he has a special relationship with the US President: if so, he must use it to that end.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) made an excellent speech, and I disagree with very little of what she said. If time permits, however, I too intend to mention the question of nuclear power.

Various hon. Members this afternoon have spoken about access to water, which is an important matter for many countries in the developing world. I am fortunate enough to be a member of the Select Committee on International Development, and we will look at the matter later in the year. We are in the middle of a long, hot summer and think that we are suffering, but I am pleased to say that many people are aware of the serious problems that arise further afield.

I am pleased that the Government have taken action on the Child Support Agency. I was elected five years ago, and hardly a week has gone by without constituents turning up to my advice surgery with serious complaints about the CSA. The shake-up will be of little comfort to their families if it is only a fanfare of Government spin and the new system does not adequately pursue the errant fathers or ex-partners who do not pay the money due to mothers and to their children.

Throughout the past year, with the support of a number of local community groups in my constituency, I have raised their problems in organising local events. They are being hampered by their battle against the red tape that stifles too many of their good efforts. I should like to go into more detail, but unfortunately time is against me.

The Chernobyl disaster occurred 20 years ago, and I want to record my opposition to a new generation of nuclear power stations and to reinforce the importance
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of investing in energy efficiency, microgeneration and renewable energy. There are many more things I could say, but time is against the House and I want to give other Members the opportunity to contribute.

6.30 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I shall be brief. First, I want to mention endowment shortfalls, which a number of my constituents have raised with me. The House and the Government are not taking the issue seriously. Statistics tell us that many endowment policies will come to fruition in the next five to 10 years, and a large number of our constituents will find themselves in serious financial difficulty. The Treasury Committee should look into the matter and might encourage the industry to consider how to deal with the shortfalls. The Committee could also consider whether unclaimed assets might be used, as they should be for people whose pensions have collapsed.

My second point is that parents should choose whether their child attends a special or a mainstream school. It is outrageous that parents are forced either to keep their child in a mainstream school when they think the child would do better in a specialist school, and vice versa. Parents know their children better than anyone else—certainly better than any local education authority official. We must reach a position where parents decide on their child’s school.

My third point is the need for an index of social and domestic cohesion. That sounds like a bit of a mouthful, but the House will have an opportunity to do something about it when the Bill on the Office for National Statistics is introduced in the autumn. It is a curious fact that the social exclusion unit lists eight indicators of social deprivation, one of which is family breakdown. All the other seven indicators are reflected in the indices of deprivation published in the ONS neighbourhood statistics, but family breakdown is not. There is no reason for that omission and we could rectify it in the House in the autumn. I urge my Front-Bench colleagues and the Government to consider the matter when the Bill comes before the House.

Lastly, I want to raise my concern that the Prison Service has closed the inner change programme in Dartmoor prison. We know that such programmes reduced recidivism rates from 55 to 8 per cent. in several American states. The inner change programme could have been treated like the alpha course, which runs in many prisons, but the Prison Service chose not to do so, which is a tragedy. I am unhappy about what I have learned about that case and shall raise it on other occasions, because it needs to be examined.

6.33 pm

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): I want to draw attention to my local authority’s campaign, which I endorse, for a fair deal for Croydon. The campaign has a cross-party basis, with the involvement of the three Croydon MPs and the parties represented in the London borough of Croydon. It may have been modelled on a cross-party campaign in the London borough of Sutton, which successfully argued for proper area cost adjustment treatment for the local authority. Indeed, so successful was that campaign that Sutton residents receive £29 a head more than Croydon residents.

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Many of our troubles financially in Croydon are down to our own errors and mistakes in holding a referendum on council tax. After the referendum, we had a 27 per cent. increase in the council tax four years ago. However, the director of finance at Croydon council now predicts that a 71 per cent. increase in council tax will be required over the next four years. The situation is unreasonable when compared with that in a borough such as Ealing, which has a similar rate of unemployment, the same rate of owner occupation, the same number of council tenants and a fairly similar proportion of black and minority ethnic communities. The rate of payment is £422 per head in Ealing, but only £306 per head in Croydon. I have asked many questions over the past year about Government funding streams for Croydon and they have shown that we get a rate much below that which is available in other parts of London. We are going through dynamic change in terms of our population make-up and I hope that the fair deal for Croydon will get a fair hearing in the next Session.

6.35 pm

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Until a month ago, plans were at a very advanced stage for a massive £160 million expansion of Colchester general hospital. Planning permission had been given and the general public—not to mention all those involved with the national health service locally—were looking forward to the much-needed development and facilities being provided. There were hopes last year that work would start in January this year. It did not. Then, without any notice, last month the plug was pulled. The scheme had been aborted.

It is not my intention today to engage in the blame game. What I and my constituents want is not answers relating to what went wrong, but answers relating to what the Department of Health is going to do to provide the people and town of Colchester, and the wider area of north Essex, with the hospital facilities and services that, up to last month, they had been promised, and that those responsible for the NHS at a local, regional and national level had concluded were of great necessity. Why else had so much time, effort and money been spent on taking forward an officially sanctioned £160 million expansion?

As a result of parliamentary questions that I tabled, last week it was revealed that the Department of Health has not even bothered to talk to Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust, which is responsible for Colchester general hospital, about the collapse of the expansion scheme. The information that I gleaned prompted the Colchester Evening Gazette last Friday to publish a comment article headed “Sort this mess out now”.

A senior member of staff at Colchester general hospital has used much more colourful language to express his seething disapproval of what has happened. He told me last night:

I am no fan of the private finance initiative to fund public services and buildings. They tend to end up costing the public purse more—mortgaging future generations with huge debts—and operate on the basis of generating profit for the private sector companies at
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the expense of public services, to the disadvantage of both those working in the public services and the public who use those services.

Colchester is growing rapidly. There are extensive residential developments not only in the town but throughout north Essex. We have a bigger population and an increasingly ageing one. The present hospital facilities are simply inadequate. There has to be expansion. The cost of the abandoned expansion has been put at £10 million wasted. Of that, about £3 million has been lost by the NHS—by the local Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust and the NHS centrally—and an estimated £7 million by the private sector partner. However, it has been reported that the private sector partner will seek to recover the £7 million it has spent, which, if the Department of Health caves in and agrees, will see the total loss to the NHS being anything up to £10 million, without anything to show for it.

The situation is so serious that last week Colchester borough council registered its deep concerns, with all three political parties tabling motions on the subject. The council resolved to invite the Secretary of State for Health

There are real fears locally that unless cancer services are centralised at Colchester general hospital, as had been agreed, many of those services will be transferred to other towns. An urgent assurance is therefore sought that the promise of improved cancer treatment services centred on Colchester general hospital will be delivered. There is, however, a sliver of a silver lining to the dark cloud, because scrapping the privately funded £160 million expansion will save taxpayers from a financial millstone. They would have had to foot the bill over the next 30 years.

The big issue now is what happens next. We have to make up for four years of time and effort that has been wasted on the costly PFI adventure, and to seek funds directly from the Government to pay for the developments that have been identified as being required. For decades, under successive Conservative and Labour Governments, residents of Colchester and north Essex have received less than their fair share of NHS funding. In 2001, after two years of local debate, the then Secretary of State for Health approved a £2.4 million grant for the local trust to embark on the Government’s recommended and approved PFI process to obtain the finances to underpin a truly centralised and modernised service.

Time is against me, but let me just conclude with the comments of my source:

It is to be hoped that the Department of Health will do the decent thing and fund the £160 million expansion that, as has been proved, is clearly needed at Colchester general hospital.

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6.39 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): We must have had a record number of speakers and a record number of issues raised in a summer recess Adjournment debate. I start by referring to the comments made by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) about our former colleague, the late Kevin Hughes. He was indeed a decent and hard-working Member of the House, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.

It is not surprising that a large number of speeches were about the health service. The debate was kicked off by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who bemoaned the cut in funding for hospital redevelopment in his constituency, and he particularly mentioned Leicester general hospital, which will not get the money it was expecting. That theme was continued by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), who referred to the lack of provision and the rationing of treatment, particularly for Alzheimer’s and rheumatoid arthritis. As a patron of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, I share his concerns on that point.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) mentioned the uncertain future of community hospitals, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) echoed what he said, pointing out that many community hospitals have provided excellent care but face an uncertain future. That is a problem not just in Cumbria or Kent, but across the country, as many community hospitals are under threat. Although the Government have offered capital funding for community hospitals, the issue is not capital but revenue. As Jim Hacker found out, there is not much point in building a new hospital if one cannot treat the patients. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) echoed some of those concerns in his references to boom and bust in the health service.

Concerns about the health service were shared by the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell)—at least I think he was talking about the health service in that amazing display of fast talking. From what I gathered, in his area, too, there is a hospital development that is now not being funded. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) talked about the Government’s need to accept the impact of their policies at grass-roots level. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) mentioned the specific problems of oxygen supply—like many other hon. Members, I have received complaints from constituents about that, as many people have been left in considerable difficulties as a result of the way in which the Government let the contract.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) spoke in measured terms about the report published yesterday on the outbreak of a deadly infection in Stoke Mandeville, which led to 30 deaths. He also drew attention to the need for clinical decisions to take priority over Government targets, and I understand that that theme runs through the report.

There was a note of praise for the health service—my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) was grateful to the Government for listening to local people in relation to the arrangements for the Isle of Wight primary care trust, but he pointed out—as he has assiduously in a number of debates, and in other ways
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in the House—the problem of the lack of access to dentists for many of his constituents. That problem is echoed in many constituencies across the country.

The most amazing contribution on the health service was made by the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster), who seemed to say that everything was fine and the problem was just the media, despite the fact that he has a petition with 20,000 signatures complaining about potential cuts in health services in his constituency. That suggests that there are problems there, rather than their simply being raised by the media. Jobs are being cut; we are not simply talking about headlines. He asked, in so many words, where all the money has gone. He said that many of his constituents felt that lots of money had gone into the health service—indeed it has—but in many areas the money is not being spent on improving care. In many areas hospitals are under threat of loss of services or, indeed, closure. What I thought was amazing about the contribution was that the hon. Gentleman ignored the fact that many of the cuts are a direct result of Government policy. It is the constant structural change, bureaucracy and targets that are wasting so much money and taking it away from where it should be spent, on improving patient care.

It is not surprising that many hon. Members referred to the middle east. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) spoke with passion about his view of the response of the international community. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) who, sadly, contributed to a recess Adjournment debate and is not present at the end of it, focused on the plight of civilians who bear the brunt of hostile action. The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) spoke about the crisis, as did the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), who was concerned at the Government’s position—an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight as well. Many of us were concerned at the Prime Minister’s reported stance in discussions with the US President at the G8 summit, where he appeared to be willing to follow in the wake of the United States.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton made a crucial point when she spoke of our need to provide proper resources for our troops. We send men and women out to fight on our behalf. It is only right that we should provide them with the resources necessary to do the job.

Development issues, particularly garden grabbing, were highlighted by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) and for Guildford. The hon. Member for Teignbridge also mentioned planning design standards and affordable housing, especially as it affects certain rural areas.

Economic issues were discussed by a number of hon. Members. We had an interesting history lesson from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) on the past development of the city. He promoted Hartlepool as a tourist venue, and I wish him all the very best in encouraging greater numbers of tourists to visit it. I congratulate those who worked to ensure that Hartlepool will be the venue for the tall ships in the future.

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