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2 Jun 2010 : Column 539
9.29 pm

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): What a great note on which to end. We are sure that will come to pass.

I begin by congratulating the Secretaries of State for Health and Education on their new positions. I also welcome back to the Department of Health the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), who left it in 1997. I trust that he finds the NHS in much better shape than he left it all those years ago. Whatever policy differences we may have, I do not think that any Opposition Member would doubt the conviction or the depth of knowledge with which both Secretaries of State speak in their new roles. The two Departments that they now lead have established impressive collaborative working in recent years, particularly on children's health, on promoting children's activity and on child safeguarding, and I hope that I can begin on a non-partisan note by encouraging them to build on that track record. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) and I rarely missed an opportunity to promote joint working between our two Departments, although we can probably both admit now that jumping on a rope swing was, in retrospect, a promotional step too far.

Ed Balls: I enjoyed it.

Andy Burnham: I beg to differ.

We heard from another former Secretary of State today, praising Labour's investment in the NHS-the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell). When the Education Secretary spoke, he really laid bare the difference between the two sides of the House. He boasted of the funding settlement that he had secured for this year, but under questioning from my right hon. Friend, he could not answer tell us about future years. Nor could he say whether it extended to 11-year-olds and beyond.

The big difference between us is that we on the Opposition Benches recognise that improving the health of the nation depends on investing in far more than the NHS. It involves investing properly in local government and in our schools to ensure that we have public services that are able and equipped to work together. The Government have made their commitment to increase health spending in every year of this Parliament at the expense of other crucial budgets on which the NHS depends. It is a judgment that has more to do with political positioning than with sound and good policy making, and they will come to regret it.

It is important for me, on behalf of all Opposition Members, to put something on the official record at the start of this Parliament. Labour has left the NHS in its strongest ever position. That is a fact, and no attempt by the Government to rewrite history will change that. The NHS is substantially rebuilt and renewed. It has an expanded, skilled and fairly rewarded work force, able to meet the expectations that today's patients have. Waiting times are at an all-time low and infection rates are right down; consequently, patient satisfaction with the NHS is at an all-time high. That did not happen by chance. It happened because of decisions taken by Labour Members in the teeth of opposition from the new Secretary of State and Conservative Members. Because we took those tough decisions, we have left the NHS in that position. We shall be watching the Government's decisions closely to ensure that the NHS continues to move forward in this period.

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I have never doubted the right hon. Gentleman's commitment to the NHS, but I am less sure about the people behind him and around him. Last August, a ComRes survey of prospective Tory parliamentary candidates found that an amazing 62% disagreed with their Front-Bench policy to increase NHS spending in real terms during the course of this Parliament. [ Interruption. ] I do not know whether the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) was one of the respondents to that survey, but it was an amazing statistic that so many people could not agree with the policy that Conservative Front-Bench Members were putting forward. We have not heard from them today, but I suspect that there are a few more members of the Daniel Hannan tendency on the Government Benches. I am sure that we will come to know and love them as the weeks and months go by.

With apologies to some of the older hands in the House, in the time remaining I would like to concentrate on some of the 23 maiden speeches today. All hon. Members spoke with great authenticity, and it is refreshing for Members who have been in the House for some time to hear such speeches made with real sincerity and passion, and before people learn the tricks and artifices of this place which we all know so well.

Let me mention some of those speeches. The hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) spoke of his ancestors advising Henry VIII on divorce, and the thought crossed my mind that the family's skills might be of some use if the fabled married men's allowance ever reaches the Floor of the House. We had a second maiden speech from my hon. Friend the new Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). I have just been out to check, and I can assure the House that the second was much better than the first- [ Laughter ]-but the first was quite good as well, actually. He made mention of the wonderful, international institution that is Alder Hey hospital, and all Members, not just north-west MPs, look forward to its successful rebuild in the coming years. It really is a true, national jewel in the crown, and we look forward to seeing that scheme make progress.

The hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) praised the beauty of his constituency, and it is indeed a wonderful part of the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) praised the huge change that took place in his constituency after Labour came to power and, particularly, the progress that the university of Bedfordshire has made. Perhaps others have said this to him since his wonderful victory, but I was musing on the idea that his victory speech was the shortest ever given at a count, with just the words: "That's life." I am sure that that was the speech. It did not need to be much more than that.

The hon. Member for Totnes is a very welcome addition to the House. We have lost a GP in Howard Stoate, whom Opposition Members will remember very fondly, but the hon. Lady brings back to the House the experience and voice of a general practitioner. She brings also some experience of wider public involvement in the political process, which is a good thing, too, and she spoke very knowledgeably about the real problem and threat that alcohol misuse poses to our society.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) rightly praised Ken Purchase, who made a distinguished contribution over many years in this House, not least in securing the redevelopment of
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Wolverhampton's New Cross hospital. My hon. Friend said that she hoped to follow in the proud tradition of women MPs who have come from the area, particularly Renée Short and Jennie Lee, and I am sure that she will keep up that fine tradition.

The hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) made a very fair-minded and good maiden speech, talking of the need to improve educational opportunities for all. She praised her predecessor, Doug Naysmith, who was also very warmly regarded by Opposition Members and, I am sure, by Members from all parts of the House for his crucial work on the Health Committee and on mental health.

The hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) made a very strong maiden speech. "Croydon born and bred," he said, and he talked about the town's image problem. However, on that outing he has already done his bit to reverse that idea and is already an excellent ambassador for his home town.

My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) gave a very insightful and measured speech. Again, born and bred in his constituency, he spoke knowledgeably of the casino culture in the City and of the gap between rich and poor. It is still too wide, and Opposition Members will renew our efforts to narrow that gap. He talked also of the former Member for Streatham surfing in Cornwall as we met here today, and I think we could all hear his trademark laugh echoing around the House as we imagined that scene.

We then had a very rare moment in the House: a most impressive and incredible maiden speech. The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) followed his leader in speaking without notes, and as he can see not all of us can manage to do that, even after nine years in the House. However, he gave a most confident speech, mentioning that he is the first former pupil of a special school to take a seat in the House and, indeed, the first Member with cerebral palsy. He made a huge contribution this evening and a huge impression, and nobody could fail to be moved by it. We all want to hope that people can fulfil their ambitions, whatever difficulties they face in life, and he will make a distinguished contribution in the years to come. His praise for Joan Humble was very well received by Opposition Members, and I do not know whether he makes any connection between Blackpool's recent promotion to the premier league and his recent election as Member for the town, or indeed whether it is too early to make such a claim, but Everton look forward to picking up six points when the new season begins.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) spoke passionately about the importance of co-operative values and she was right to do so. In the age that we live in, the public are looking for organisations that embody something different and give the public something that they can trust. She made that important point well. My hon. Friend also mentioned Des Browne, whom we all remember well. He made a huge contribution to public life and will continue to do so in another place.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) praised David Drew; I believe that the hon. Gentleman comes from his constituency and is well known there. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) made an important point, and I ask the Secretary of State for Health to consider it. She spoke of the important need to rebuild the Royal Liverpool hospital.
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The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I approved that decision not long before leaving the Department of Health. There can be no question but that the hospital redevelopment is essential for the city of Liverpool. It is not only the hospital trust that is involved; there is also a partnership between the university of Liverpool and the pharmaceutical industry. The hospital desperately needs to be replaced and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will encourage the decision back out of the Treasury and allow it to proceed quickly. The scheme is much needed to improve the health service on Merseyside.

The hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) stressed the significant effect of deprivation on a whole host of factors, including life chances. We may feel that he is more in sympathy with us than with his new friends on the Conservative Benches. My neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) made an excellent speech praising my good friend Neil Turner. She mentioned the importance of rugby league in our borough and rightly said that our borough is only now recovering from the effects of the recession of the '80s and '90s. That is why it is so crucial that the Government should continue to help the North West Development Agency and others to develop the jobs of the future in boroughs such as Wigan. We will hold the Government to account for the decisions that they take on that.

The hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) spoke of the importance of Toyota to the Derbyshire area and I am sure that she was right to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) paid tribute to another good friend, Richard Caborn, who will be remembered most as a very distinguished Minister for Sport. My hon. Friend also reminded the House of something that we may want to file away and come back to a few times before the next general election-how his neighbour, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), now Deputy Prime Minister, was wandering around his constituency right until polling day warning people that they should vote Lib Dem if they did not want the Tories. We need to remind the right hon. Gentleman of that.

The hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) praised Brian Jenkins, who made a distinguished contribution to the House, and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) made a distinguished speech. Finally, she is in this House in her own right, and she is very welcome. She will make a huge contribution. The hon. Member for Norwich South (Simon Wright) paid tribute to Charles Clarke in a distinguished speech.

There was a spirited and passionate speech about Walthamstow from my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). I do not know whether, as a former Health Secretary, I can admit to having been to the dog track there, but I have. It was a wonderful place and we need to ensure that she fulfils her ambitions for her constituency. She made a wonderful speech. The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) spoke passionately about the fulfilment of his dream. Finally, I turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith). We could not give him the black and white of Ponty rugby football club, but we have given him the green Benches. We hope that they are good enough. His first speech shows that he will have a great career in this place.

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In the time that I have left, I want to tell the Health Secretary that we will come back time and again in this Parliament to the commitments that he made during the general election campaign to remove NHS targets. That is the biggest difference between us. I am picking up whispers that, having spoken to the civil servants in the Department, he is having second thoughts and thinks that that is not such a good idea after all. That was the whisper in the trade press. However, this afternoon at the Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister said that the targets would be going. Let me tell the Health Secretary directly that if those targets are removed from the national health service, people everywhere who depend on a good service from the NHS will no longer be able to count on that. Those standards, which Labour introduced, have given us a national health service that provides a good standard of care to people right across the country. They are good standards to have in a national health service.

The Secretary of State needs to come clean at the Dispatch Box. Is he going to back up those standards, or does he have something else in mind? Is he going to keep the 18-week target, the two-week target for cancer, and the four-hour A and E target? He needs to give a direct answer. If he is not going to do that, he will leave lots of people without the peace of mind that they need and that tells them the NHS will be there for them when they need it. I can tell him that if he removes those standards in a time of financial pressure in the NHS, then as sure as night follows day, waiting lists and waiting times will begin to increase, and Labour Members will hold him and his colleagues responsible for that. We have given the warnings. We do not want to see the progress made in the NHS lost in the months and years ahead, and we will hold him to ensuring that commitments given will be honoured. He said that he will take the NHS forward, and we will ensure that that is indeed what he delivers.

If the Secretary of State makes those changes and leaves people without the peace of mind that they need from the NHS, and if the Education Secretary and the Business Secretary go ahead and take away people's life chances by restricting access to university and the future jobs fund, it will not be a case of, "We're all in this together", but of leaving people who have least and are in a much deeper hole than the others without the security and peace of mind that they need from a strong NHS and, for young people looking for a job, the ladder to get up to a better life. We will hold this Cabinet to account for those decisions, and we will ensure that the excellent progress that we have made is not threatened or jeopardised by this Government.

9.46 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Andrew Lansley): It is a great privilege to be able to come to this Dispatch Box for the first time as Secretary of State for Health, after six and a half years as shadow Secretary of State. I thank the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for his kind words about me and my team. I am very proud of the team that we have at the Department of Health. I was proud when the Prime Minister spoke of us in warm terms today, and we will fulfil the responsibilities that he has placed on us.

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Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman, in return, that I thank him, on behalf of the NHS, for his commitment. From the days when he began as a Minister in the Department and then went, as it were, back to the shop floor, I think that nobody has doubted his personal commitment to improving standards in the NHS, nor, indeed, that of his outgoing ministerial team. He is on his own in the shadow health team- [ Interruption. ] Oh, I beg their pardons. However, he has lost his fellow Ministers. I will not go on at length, but I know that they were all committed to their jobs. I want especially to mention Ann Keen. As a nurse, she showed her personal commitment to the NHS and to nursing as a profession. My colleagues, including the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), and I will ensure that we continue the work of identifying how we can take nursing forward as a profession. That includes the work that she and the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), have done in looking at nursing as a profession for the future.

As Secretary of State, it is my privilege to be able to represent those who work in the national health service. We have reason, all of us, to be grateful to them every day. People in Cumbria, especially today, have reason to be grateful to the north-west ambulance service, to local GPs, and to those who work in North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, particularly those at West Cumberland hospital, whom I have twice visited. I know the responsibility that they feel, even on a day-to-day basis, for providing hospital care-acute care-to patients across that part of Cumberland, which is at a great distance from other hospital locations. I know that people in Cumbria will be deeply grateful for the service that they have provided to look after them today.

It is a privilege for the shadow Secretary of State and I to respond to this debate, which has included 23 maiden speeches and, indeed, some fine speeches by Members who are not new. Before I respond to those speeches in detail, I want to say that it was very encouraging to hear the commitment to improving quality expressed on both sides of the House.

It was particularly encouraging to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and other Members on these Benches demonstrate that what we need to achieve that quality is a change from a command-and-control, top-down system of running our schools, hospitals, health care and social care services to one that is built on standards of delivering quality. We need to understand that if we are really going to achieve that, we have to give parents greater choice and control over the education that their children receive. We have to give patients greater information, choice and control over the health care that they receive, and in all the public services that we are talking about, we must provide those who deliver them with a much greater sense of ownership.

It is all very well for the right hon. Member for Leigh to talk about what has been achieved in the NHS over recent years, and I have never been one to diminish what has been achieved. However, many who work in the service, notwithstanding the fact that they are better paid than they were and know that they have had an unprecedented increase in resources to deliver improvements, still feel demoralised and that they are
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not in control of the service that they provide. They cannot give the care that they want to give, and they know that they are not yet matching the standard of care that they could achieve given the opportunity to do so. It is our responsibility to make that happen and I do not doubt the commitment of Government Members to do so. I visited 62 constituencies during the general election campaign and, without exception, I met candidates who were committed to delivering improvements in health care, not least because in many cases they had personally campaigned for years to deliver improvements in health care services. That is why we will not let Labour's debt crisis, which we have inherited, mean that we cut the NHS and make the sick pay.

When the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State, he commissioned McKinsey to go off and publish a report. It produced a report for him stating that on average, something like 10% of those employed by a provider of health care with 300 staff should be taken away, mostly clinical staff. That was the recommendation given this March to my predecessor as Secretary of State, but that is not the way we should go. We must move towards a change in priorities from a service that was increasing the number of managers three times as fast as the number of nurses to one that deploys clinical staff on the front line to deliver the care that patients need.

Andy Burnham: Just for the record, the report was not commissioned by me or by Ministers but by the former director of commissioning in the Department, who left before I arrived.

Mr Lansley: Let me put it like this: I inherited a Department in which the report had been produced but not published, so I published it. I published the report on London and will publish all the reports that were prepared before the election, such as the prescription charges review that the Secretary of State commissioned from Professor Ian Gilmore, which was not published before the general election. As far as I am concerned, we are committed to transparency and getting that information out.

I have immense respect for the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron). He and I do not agree about the specific issue of minimum unit pricing on alcohol, and he knows why-I do not believe we have seen the evidence of its benefit compared with cost, particularly for low-income households. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) is absolutely right that we must do something about the matter. We must acknowledge the scale and severity of the problems resulting from alcohol misuse, and we must tackle supply, pricing and problem drinks. We must ensure that we enforce legislation properly, but we must also recognise that it is not just about restricting the availability of alcohol. We must change our relationship with alcohol as individuals and as a society, and we will address that issue.

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