The business of the House for next week is as follows:
The provisional business for the following week will include:
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for
I am grateful for next week's business.
I am sure that the Leader of the House accepts that there is much to discuss after the recess. Does he agree that we need early opportunities to question Ministers and debate the things that are going badly wrong in the national health service? May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the financial crisis that affects many primary care trusts around the country? I am sure that the Leader of the House knows that vital services are being cut in many places, including mental health services in Oxfordshire, services to the elderly in Surrey and even operations for children at Great Ormond Street.
May we have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer about his strategy for getting value for money for taxpayers? Will he explain in particular why the NHS is cutting services in many parts of the country when overall NHS funding is rising fast?
Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 752, about the Government's programme of hospital closures?
[That this House recognises the excellent service provided by community hospitals in affording locally accessible healthcare; deplores the current programme of closures that conflicts with the Government's commitment to community hospitals given in its 2005 manifesto; notes the strength of public opinion in favour of community hospitals; recognises that the cost of treating a patient in a community hospital is often significantly less than the cost of similar treatment in a district general hospital; further notes the potential loss to the NHS of dedicated staff when a community hospital closes; further notes that bed blocking in large acute units is exacerbated by the absence of step-down care; and calls upon the Government to conduct a review of closures and to recognise the potential for community hospitals to carry forward its plans for locally delivered healthcare.]
Will the right hon. Gentleman provide an early opportunity in Government time to debate that early-day motion so that he and his colleagues have a chance to explain why, having given a commitment in their manifesto to support community hospitals, they have decided to close them instead?
Does the Leader of the House agree that the Public Accounts Committee should conduct an inquiry into why many NHS facilities, such as Bolingbroke hospital in Wandsworth and Westbury hospital, are being downgraded or closed soon after expensive upgrading programmes?
Will the right hon. Gentleman provide for a debate in Government time on the cost to the taxpayer of regular Government reorganisations? I am sure that he remembers the Government, shortly after coming to power in 1997, scrapping county-wide and regional health authorities and creating the smaller primary care trusts and strategic health authorities. Now, things are coming full circle. The authorities are all being merged to recreate the same bodies that the Government scrapped eight years ago. May we have a debate on why that is good value for taxpayers' money?
The hon. Gentleman obviously has not spent his summer recess productively or usefully. I would have been delighted for him to accompany me to see the remarkable changes that extra spending on the NHS is delivering throughout the country. I would be very pleased if the shadow Leader of the House came to Ashfield, where he would see plans for a remarkable new hospital. I have seen those plans for myself, and I know that similar plans are being replicated right across the country. That is the result of the extra spending that the Government have put into the national health service since 1997. That extra spending was desperately needed because of the underfunding by the previous Conservative Government.
Regarding the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we have just had an hour of questions to the Chancellor. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not organised his Back Benchers more effectively to raise the issues that he mentioned at such times. However, I am confident that the Chancellor has no difficulty in dealing with these rather poor questions about funding. It is absolutely clear that this Government are investing more in the national health service than any previous Government in history. That is the message that the hon. Gentleman needs to understand. If he would like me to, I will organise a programme of visits for him, so that he can see the excellent work that is being done right across the national health service.
As my right hon. Friend will know, we are now half way through our presidency of the European Union. Will he find time for a debate on the progress that has been made during our presidency, particularly on the decision to open talks with Turkey—we had a statement on that from the Foreign Secretary this week, but these are substantial issues—on progress with Croatia, and on the progress with the EU budget? At the end of our presidency, there will be a debate on what has happened during it, but would it not be a good idea to have it while the presidency is ongoing?
My hon. Friend and I have both had the privilege of being the Minister for Europe, and we know how difficult negotiations can sometimes be in the European Union. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the European Union, on succeeding in the negotiations on
I make no apologies for asking yet again whether we can have a debate in Government time on Iraq. Despite the welcome statement from the Ministry of Defence on Monday, there remain huge political questions about British involvement in Iraq and the military consequences of that. It is quite extraordinary that this Parliament has not yet had the opportunity to have a debate on this key subject while our Army is in the field.
May we also have a statement or a debate on the preparedness of this country to deal with avian flu, particularly the lethal H5N1 strain that is now developing across large parts of the world bordering Europe and has the potential to become a pandemic? We need to know whether we are fully prepared, and the degree of international co-operation in which we are engaged, in order to avoid what could be an extremely serious threat.
Lastly, could we have a debate on the new ministerial code? I note, having read it with care, that it says that
"every effort should be made to avoid leaving significant announcements to the last day before a recess."
Certainly, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are significant military and political questions arising in relation to Iraq. That is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence took the first opportunity available to come to the House and make a statement on that question. We are looking forward to the referendum taking place in Iraq. Its political implications will be considerable, whichever result emerges. Obviously, we are hoping for a positive endorsement of the constitution but, equally, we shall have to recognise that if it is not supported, that is what happens in democracies. There would then have to be a consideration of how to take forward that difficult question.
The hon. Gentleman raises the important subject of preparedness for avian flu. I shall certainly ask the Secretary of State with responsibility for that matter to write to him to set out the arrangements that are in place.
On written statements, a number of Members on both sides of the House have experience of ministerial life and they will know that Departments are focused on delivering material on Friday afternoons and, indeed, at the end of a Session. That is a part of the civil service culture that even this Government have not yet been able to change.
Will the Leader of the House ensure that any report from the Cabinet Sub-Committee that is looking at electoral reform is brought before the House for debate, so that the House can quickly come to the conclusion that there is nothing representative about proportional representation? If any Members support proportional representation, perhaps my right hon. Friend will confirm that they can use their European travel allowance to visit Berlin to see it in action?
The House will have been surprised by the response from the Leader of the House to my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House in asking for a debate on the health service. Is it not clear that the Leader of the House views these matters with a detachment and ignorance that do not match what is going on in the country? It is clearly true that the Government have invested very substantial sums in the health service, but in the south-east of England there is a major crisis, which our constituents demand should be debated in the House so that the Government may be held to account for the failings that are causing considerable difficulties.
I simply do not recognise the description that the hon. Gentleman has given. The amounts of money available to the south of England are consistent with those being made available elsewhere. Indeed, I have seen figures for the reduction in waiting lists, the improvement in treatment and the investment in wards and hospitals, which is available in the south of England as much as in other parts of the country.
In those circumstances, if the hon. Gentleman or other Opposition Members believe that there should be a debate on the health service, the Government will certainly welcome the opportunity to set out, as I did earlier, the significant investment that has been made. It is open to the Opposition to use their Opposition days—there will be two such opportunities in the near future—to debate this important question. The Government will be delighted to have such a debate.
We have just had 60 minutes of Treasury questions during which, for whatever reason, there was not a single question about the most important influence on the health of the British economy, which is the price of oil. Leaving aside the implications of the war in the middle east and the consequences of the hurricane for American refinery production capacity, is there not now a growing consensus that we are rapidly reaching the peak of global oil production? Is it not important that we have a debate about not just the price of oil, but the consequences and causes of the high oil price and the likely trajectory of oil supplies in the years ahead?
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall not forecast the price of oil, or indeed the availability of supplies, but it is clear—I emphasise this—that the Government take very seriously the question of energy. We are urgently looking at alternative sources, both renewable and otherwise, to ensure that this country has the energy available to meet its requirements. That is obviously something that we do, both on our own account through the European Union and globally with other G8 countries.
Given the importance that the Government place on education, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the serious consequences of cuts in school budgets in Northern Ireland? In particular, primary school principals are having to pay off teachers and classroom assistants, and, even more worryingly, cannot afford to keep on current or replace retiring school crossing patrol personnel, which is the case at Brooklands primary school in my constituency, thus leaving vulnerable children at great risk.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that the near trebling of Government funding for affordable housing is very welcome. I should be grateful, however, if he would consider scheduling a debate about the balance of housing, given that in London, and particularly in my constituency of Hackney, there is a severe need for family properties.
Certainly, the Government take seriously the requirement for affordable housing. My hon. Friend will be aware of the efforts made by the Deputy Prime Minister to ensure that there is a determined effort to deal with the various obstacles that have got in the way of providing affordable housing, particularly in relation to planning matters. The Government take that issue seriously, and I know that she takes it equally seriously.
Pregnant women in my constituency cannot get 12-week ultrasound scans on the NHS and are being told to get them privately, despite the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence issuing guidelines in October 2003 stating that all women should have this service available to them. Indeed, in neighbouring Frimley Park and Guildford, the service is available. I therefore call on the Leader of the House to have an urgent debate next week on the primary care trust funding crisis that we face in places such as north Hampshire, where basic services are simply not available to my constituents.
I do not doubt in any way the concern that the hon. Lady expresses on behalf of her constituents. Indeed, I recognise that it is important that women have that treatment available as is recommended. In one sense, however, she answers her own question by referring to a neighbouring PCT. The question that she should ask is: why is one PCT able to manage effectively the considerable extra budget received in order to be able to deliver this service, while a neighbouring one is not? That might be more relevant than challenging the Government, who are making significant extra spending available.
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to remarks that our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made last night on "Newsnight", which appeared to suggest that British forces in southern Iraq are free under certain circumstances, and with the approval of local commanders on the ground, to operate over the border with Iran? That is a serious matter, which, notwithstanding the statement made by our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence last week, must be clarified to the House as soon as possible.
I, too, watched "Newsnight" last night, and thought that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary handled a series of extremely difficult and sometimes emotional questions with his usual very considerable skill. I did not interpret his remarks in relation to British soldiers in the way that my hon. Friend does.
Can we have a debate in Government time on the operation and, indeed, the future of the Child Support Agency? It remains the most dysfunctional and chaotic of all Government agencies—we found in the summer recess that for every £1 that it collects, it costs the taxpayer 54p, and that £1 billion of unclaimed maintenance was written off. Surely it is now time to have a root-and-branch reform of the CSA, if not to pull the plug on it.
All Members of Parliament recognise that there are difficulties with the CSA from time to time. All of us, at our routine surgeries and in our mailbags, get regular complaints. Inevitably, we get complaints when problems arise and things go wrong, but that does not highlight the way in which the system generally works successfully for most people. Certainly, the Government have taken the matter seriously, and we have reformed significantly the system that we inherited, which was complex and confusing. One of the challenges for the CSA today is to ensure that those older cases are transferred to the new arrangements, because only by having those simpler, more straightforward arrangements can the system work much more effectively for everyone. That is to be taken seriously.
Has my right hon. Friend read about the excellent "Stamp It Out" campaign launched by The Sun? It draws attention to the amount of cruelty to domestic animals in Britain—animals that are tortured and often killed. Is it not time we had a debate in which to discuss how that cruelty can be ended, and how it can be ensured that the penalty fits the crime?
I too saw the front page of that newspaper this morning, and I think that the campaign is extremely important. The pictures were truly shocking and revolting. That is why the Government take so seriously their responsibility to deal with cruelty to animals.
I make no apology for repeating the comments on NHS funding made by my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) and for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller).
Two weeks ago, 34,000 people—constituting no less than 49 per cent. of all patients registered with NHS dentists in the Greater Peterborough primary care partnership area—were deregistered and told that they could no longer receive NHS treatment. The area crosses my constituency and that of my hon. Friend Mr. Vara. When will the Leader of the House arrange a proper debate on the enormous crisis that is developing in NHS dentistry? It is having a major impact on poorer families and older people throughout the country, not just in my constituency.
We have been addressing that as a matter of urgency. I apologise for not having up-to-date figures in my head, but the July figures showed that there were about 400 new NHS dentists who were trained as available to the service. That number was expected to increase to 1,000 by the end of the year.
I recognise that there are problems in a number of parts of the country, as does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. That is why we are taking urgent action to ensure that new dentists are available to the service.
Is my right hon. Friend surprised or concerned at the fact that the Adam Smith Institute has enthusiastically embraced the latest NHS shake-up, saying that it will provide huge opportunities for the private sector? Will he comment on the fact that the proposals were published not on the last day of term,
It would be a scandal if we did not have a proper, considered debate on the huge structural changes that the Government are about to introduce.
I should have thought that my hon. Friend and other Members—indeed, anyone who approves of NHS reforms—would welcome changes that are having a measurable impact on the lives of my hon. Friend's constituents, my constituents and every other constituent in the country. Waiting times are being reduced, the way in which treatment is made available is being improved, and more treatment is being made available in new hospitals and new wards. That strikes me as an outstanding success, and if any organisation welcomes those changes and reforms I shall be delighted to join it in the fold.
Under the last Conservative Government, there were many NHS dentists in Wellingborough. Under the present Government, my constituents must go out of the county to obtain treatment.
Let me reinforce what other Members have said. May we please have a debate, or at least an answer to the question of why we are not being allowed a debate on a serious policy change that amounts effectively to the privatisation of dentistry in my constituency?
As I made clear in response to an earlier question, the Government have recognised the importance of making NHS dentists available across the country, and have taken urgent action to ensure both more training and more recruitment. I gave the figures earlier, and I do not intend to repeat them, but significantly more dentists are available to the NHS since 1997. Given that picture, I find it puzzling that the hon. Gentleman should persist in suggesting that there is a continuing crisis.
Given the importance that the House ascribes to international development and the work of the Department for International Development, is it not time that we extended the half hour allotted to DFID questions to a full hour, thus giving international development the same status as other Cabinet responsibilities? Will my right hon. Friend look into that anomaly as matter of urgency?
Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the tremendous work done in the past few days by officials from the Department for International Development, assisted by Foreign Office officials, in responding to the earthquake in south Asia. They were able to move equipment and people within a very short time to help in the emergency. Certainly no Minister doubts the importance of DIFD's work, and I will consider my hon. Friend's suggestion carefully.
During the recess, a major crisis has developed in our prisons. Overcrowding appears to be leading to the early release and tagging of a significant number of prisoners who pose a potential danger to the public and would not otherwise be released. In those circumstances, is it not essential for the Home Secretary to make a statement in the House very soon?
I expected that question, in view of the publicity given to it this morning.
I still need to identify some practical issues, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman of two things. First, there is existing capacity in the prison system. We have still to establish whether there are specific problems in certain parts of the country as a result of administrative difficulties, but overall there are still places for prisoners. Secondly, no one has been released early as a result of any overcrowding. That simply is not the case.
Does the right hon. Gentleman understand the dismay that will be felt in Lincolnshire at the complacent way in which he has refused to arrange a debate on the NHS? Is he aware that in the hospitals of Lincoln, Grantham and elsewhere in the county, a number of wards are being closed and jobs are being lost? Is he also aware that NHS dentistry has ceased to exist for most Lincolnshire residents?
I simply do not accept the picture that the right hon. and learned Gentleman paints—although I recall Members of the then Opposition before 1997 making precisely the same observations about ward closures. The answer given then was that there had been a significant change in the way in which people were treated, and that is the case now. People no longer spend as much time in hospital as they once did; people are no longer even required to go to hospital for out-patient treatment to the extent that they once were. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that we do not need the same number of wards.
I urge the right hon. and learned Gentleman to look at the figures. It is clear that more patients are being treated and more conditions being dealt with, and that the overall service provided by the NHS has significantly improved.
When may we have a debate on the increasing incidence of tuberculosis in many African countries? When I visited Kenya with other Members, it was shocking to hear of the 16 per cent. annual increase there and the fact that 50 per cent. of cases are not detected, although the disease is entirely curable. That will of course affect achievement of the millennium development goals. When may we have a debate on this important issue?
My hon. Friend is right to raise what is indeed an important issue. I arrived in the Chamber towards the end of Treasury questions. As my hon. Friend will know, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has launched an important initiative to help developing nations in that regard. It is obvious that the Government take the problem extremely seriously, and I hope my hon. Friend will accept that assurance.
Should the Government not welcome a debate on the health service? It would enable them to rejoice in the triumph that after eight years the Oxfordshire pain unit faces closure, the mental health trust is about to announce redundancies among consultant psychiatrists, and disabled children's facilities and a ward in the Nuffield orthopaedic centre are to close. It would also give us an opportunity to ask why the strategic health authority's response has been simply to propose the privatisation of service commissioning in Oxfordshire. For the first time that is to be proposed throughout the country, and it is a major issue for patients in Oxfordshire.
I made it clear earlier that the Government would welcome a debate on the national health service. We have a very good story to tell about the extra funding, the continuing reforms and, indeed, the treatment available to the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I have no difficulty in accepting the challenge, and if any Opposition party wishes to table a motion for such a debate, Ministers will be delighted to take the opportunity to set out the record.
In spring this year, the then Health Secretary told the people of Broxbourne that if they voted Conservative, Chase Farm accident and emergency service would close down. They should have listened to him because they did vote Conservative and Chase Farm accident and emergency is to be closed. Will the right hon. Gentleman bring the new Secretary of State for Health to my constituency, particularly to Cheshunt and Waltham Cross, at the earliest opportunity to explain herself and to reassure my constituents that it has all been a joke and that accident and emergency services at Chase Farm will continue in good health in the near and distant future?
Everyone takes the provision of accident and emergency services extremely seriously, but the hon. Gentleman knows that there are different ways of providing those services and that it is necessary to provide them efficiently and effectively. One of the most important aspects of an accident and emergency service is that it has the necessary back-up available across the medical spectrum in order properly to treat those people who are an emergency. It is no good taking someone to an accident and emergency facility if the support necessary to treat the person properly is not available.
There are a variety of reasons why, from time to time, accident and emergency facilities are required to close. The hon. Gentleman presents an extremely simplistic picture of the overall way in which the health service deals effectively with people.
May we have a debate on the work of the Assets Recovery Agency and the resources allocated to it? Right hon. and hon. Members will be well aware of the agency's fine work, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in tackling the criminal empire of organisations such as the IRA—we have recently seen evidence of the extent of its empire—it is imperative to recognise that it will take not only considerable time but the resources necessary to get to grips with such organisations?
It is fair to say that the allegations made against the gentleman in question caused a great deal of concern. It is also fair to say that once upon a time I was concerned about his activities; I shall not go into any more detail than that, but the hon. Gentleman will know what I am talking about. It is indeed important to continue to support the excellent work of the Asset Recovery Agency. The particular incident in question demonstrates how effective it can be.
Further to the many questions put by my right hon. and hon. Friends, does the Leader of the House understand that we would happily accept his invitation to join him on a visit to Ashfield hospital to see what is happening in his constituency if he would reciprocate and accept our invitation to come and see what is happening in our constituencies? Has not the Leader of the House detected in the last half hour a growing appetite for a debate on the NHS? Many of us believe that many issues need to be addressed and the right hon. Gentleman believes that he has some answers, so does that not already have the makings of a rather good debate?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Even with my rather slow reaction to events, I had noticed that Opposition Members were to some extent co-ordinating their questions on this matter. I congratulate them on increasingly effective opposition—long may it continue.
I know that I am new to the House, but I am flabbergasted by the expressions of Government Members. The right hon. Gentleman says that he does not recognise what is going on in the health service in the south-east. He goes on and on about how much money the Government are investing, but he appears to pay no attention to what is coming out at the other end. In my own area, the Guildford and Waverley primary care trust now faces a huge budget deficit—
Will the hon. Lady please take her seat? Perhaps because of the time that I have spent in the House, I never get flabbergasted, but I must tell the hon. Lady that she must ask a question. She must put a question to the Leader of the House about next week's business. If she does so, I will allow her to continue—without being flabbergasted.
I would not want to get in the way of Mr. Speaker's visit. I have recognised on previous occasions, as now, that there are legitimate questions about the way in which different health authorities allocate their resources. What there can be no question about is that those resources have increased significantly under the present Government. If the hon. Lady would like to debate the allocation of those resources, I have already said that there is every opportunity to do so in the amount of time available to the Opposition for Opposition day debates. If the issue is as important as the hon. Lady says, perhaps she should direct her remarks to the shadow Leader of the House, who has some responsibility for deciding the subjects for Opposition days. He may have noticed that many Conservative Back Benchers want to talk about the health service: they could have done so on Wednesday.