Health and Social Security

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:55 pm on 27th November 1989.

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Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley , Caernarfon 7:55 pm, 27th November 1989

I shall not follow the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) down the road to Northern Ireland, although I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House join him in hoping that there will be growing peace in the Province.

I shall first take up a point made by the hon. Member for Hampshire, North-East (Sir D. Mitchell) in respect of the possible conflict of interests that might arise in the allocation of National Health Service resources—whether they would be better spent on patients or on people making wage claims. I suggest that such is an artificial divide. If patients are to receive the level of service that they need, they must enjoy back-up facilities such as the ambulance service. I place it on record that the ambulance workers of Wales and particularly of my own county of Gwynedd have my wholehearted support for the stand that they are making. I cannot fathom why the Government are not prepared to go to arbitration, other than to dictate that ambulance workers must be employed on the Government's terms alone and because the Government are not prepared to yield an inch even if independent arbitration attempts to move them in that direction.

The right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), the Father of the House, referred to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which I understand will go first to another place before coming to this Chamber. I hope that the House will give the utmost consideration and sympathy to those people who are experiencing difficulty in having children and who need to resort to in vitro fertilisation techniques—techniques that would not be available today had the restrictive clause that is now to be considered been on the statute book 30 years ago.

I ask the House to consider also the plight of those families with children suffering from genetic diseases. There is hope of progress being made in respect of conditions such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis, and it would be a tragedy and a crime if we were to close the door to the research that is now being undertaken. I regret that questions relating to abortion and to implementation of the Warnock report should be mixed together in one Bill. Both issues are important, but they should be treated on their own merits. I hope that that may yet be the case.

I want to set the question of the Health Service, social services and care in the community in Wales in the context of the politics of my country and of the Queen's Speech. The Gracious Speech had little relevance to Wales. We are governed by the Welsh Office, which has a budget of £3·5 billion per year. The Secretary of State for Wales has 2,500 staff, yet as a Department the Welsh Office has not brought forward any legislation in the past 10 years. There are different aspirations in Wales, as can be seen from the political pattern of election after election.

I do not mean to be unkind to Conservative Members, but never in 120 years have the people of Wales elected a majority of Conservative Members of Parliament. Nevertheless, we are governed by a Welsh Office that is headed by someone akin to a governor-general, who promotes policies that may suit the hopes and aspirations of south-east England but which certainly do not suit the hopes, aspirations and community values of the people of Wales.

We celebrated only last week the 25th anniversary of the Welsh Office, which has responsibility for health in Wales, and I hope that its Ministers will take heed of a comment made yesterday on radio by a former senior civil servant from their midst, Mr. Richard Hall-Williams, that the overriding question now is how democratic accountability can be achieved for the Welsh Office, which currently is not democratically answerable to the people of Wales.

We hope that, in the course of the parliamentary year, policies relevant to Wales will be developed. Regrettably, the priorities of the NHS Bill are not those that we seek. Only a handful of doctors' practices in Wales would cross the 11,000 threshold, and none of our hospitals has shown any interest in self-government. The first part of the Bill is irrelevant to Welsh circumstances, while the second part does not appear to have responded to the Welsh community care angle.

The Secretary of State for Health today said candidly that he spoke as Health Secretary for England, and that explains much of what we see, and do not see, in the Bill. A few weeks ago, at the Conservative party conference, he made considerable play of the importance of cottage hospitals, whose protection, he said, was part of the rationale for the legislation. It is ironic that the present incumbents in the Welsh Office are rapidly closing down community hospitals in Porthmadog, Caernarfon and Llangefni in my constituency—and, indeed, throughout Wales. Last week the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist)—the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales responsible for health—said that the Welsh Office did not recognise the concept of the cottage hospital. There are times when I would take the word of the Secretary of State for Health in England before I would take that of the Welsh Office.

The White Paper on care in the community—published only a few hours before the Queen's Speech: this must be one of the most rapid metamorphoses from White Paper to legislation—contains a section relating to the needs of Wales. The latter section referred to those needs in detail, and said that a separate section to deal with them was necessary because of the different circumstances of Wales; the Bill, however, makes no independent provision for Wales.

Conservative Members have raised another matter that affects health care—that of housing standards. A housing crisis is developing in some areas, including mine. Housing waiting lists are shooting up: in the past two years they have risen from 800 to 1,400 in the Arfon borough, and from 350 to 550 in the Dwyfor district, both areas in my constituency. People who have bought their council houses have found themselves in difficulties, and have been forced to sell them and go back on to the council house waiting list; young people with no hope of being able to buy their houses are unable to rent in the private sector because rents are too high. Given the available resources, surely we can overcome our housing crisis.

We hoped that the Queen's Speech would deal with regional economic problems by attempting to redress the balance between the overheating of the economy in the south-east of England and the continuing high unemployment levels in many of the Welsh valley areas, as well as rural north-west and south-west Wales. Unfortunately, it made no reference to such problems. When unemployment is between 10 and 12 per cent. in some areas and down to 2 per cent. in others, something is clearly wrong. As we approach 1992, and as the forces of the European Community superimpose themselves on the centralising forces that already exist, we need a much more radical regional policy if we are to retain a semblance of balance between developments in the various countries and regions in these islands.

The Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986—of which the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) was the author—has still not been fully implemented, although, as other hon. Members have pointed out, many parts of it are an essential feature to any provision for community care. That Act should be implemented in full. If the Government do not intend to give the starting orders for that to happen, they should spell out clearly what alternative provision is made in this or other legislation to meet the needs of disabled or mentally ill people who are transferred from hospitals into the community.

The Queen's Speech is largely irrelevant to Wales; the NHS Bill does not meet our needs. Until Wales has its own Parliament, which can make decisions in line with the needs and hopes of its people, we do not believe that we shall be given the justice that we deserve.