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Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:37 am on 8th February 2007.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 11:37 am, 8th February 2007

The reason the House is so keen to hold debates on the health service is that that is the only level of democratic accountability for the decisions that are taken. We share the concerns about community hospital closures and maternity units. I note that Dr. Sheila Shribman, the author of a report issued last week, said:

"If you have to travel to get the best care then families are more than willing to do that."

That shows a fine disregard for the fact that some families cannot do that, particularly in rural areas, where proximity is a key part of health care.

I add to those concerns the issue of dentists. We learned today that the number of calls to NHS Direct from people desperate to find an NHS dentist rose to well over 200,000 in the past six months. Some 2,000 dentists left the NHS last year, and a further 860 are in dispute. These are serious matters for our constituents and we ought to have the opportunity to debate them.

May we have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer—incidentally, can Government statements, which are pre-arranged, be arranged for days other than Opposition Supply days, which seems to have become a habit recently?—on the report from the National Audit Office, which reveals that of the £13.3 billion of savings trumpeted for the Gershon review, £10 billion are dubious or fictitious? This is a matter of some concern for the planning of Government finances.

May we have a statement on the outcome of the judicial review of the Government's refusal to accept the ombudsman's report on pension compensation? The Government have chosen to ignore the ombudsman, the European Court of Justice and the Public Administration Committee of the House. They surely cannot ignore a judicial review. In the interests of pension justice, we should have a statement.

The Leader of the House hinted a couple of weeks ago in response to a question of mine that we would have a debate on Scotland and the Act of Union. That seems to have gone by the bye. I anticipate that we will have a debate on St. David's day, 1 March, on Wales. May I ask for a debate on whales spelled with an h? Whaling is an important environmental matter, and one on which the Government have an extremely good record. In the past few days the Government produced a document that bears further scrutiny, which argues that the nations around the world that are engaged in the Whaling Commission should resist attempts by whaling nations to re-open commercial whaling. We should give the Government every support on that, because many people support the conservation of these special mammals.