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Mr. Michael: Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that violence against the person has increased by 6 per cent. in Wales, compared with a combined England and Wales average of 11 per cent.? Is he aware of steps taken by, for example, the Cardiff violence reduction initiative, which demonstrates that we can succeed in reducing violence? The Home Secretary is rightly encouraging such developments throughout England and Wales.
Mr. Evans: I welcome any initiative to tackle crime in Wales. A leaked report from the Home Office states that the Department is carefully considering reducing custodial sentences of a year or less to three months. That, together, with early release of prisoners, sends the wrong signal to criminals. We must carefully examine the early release of prisoners, because several have gone on to commit further crimes.
Mr. Bercow: I do not want my hon. Friend to understate his case. Does he agree that it is especially outrageous that more than 200 people who were convicted of assaulting a police officer and were sentenced to five months' imprisonment have, under the terms of the ludicrous early-release scheme, been let out of jail after serving only six weeks? Is not that testimony to and eloquent proof of the fact that the Labour party does not believe in supporting our police?
Mr. Evans: I am not usually accused of understatement; perhaps I am guilty of it only in comparison with my hon. Friend. However, he is absolutely right. I was a victim of crime before Christmas, and I have spoken to many other victims. I am sure that,
The national health service has been mentioned. Again, people feel badly let down. The Government are good on slogans; we shall be tough on the causes of slogans. We all remember, "24 hours to save the national health service", but the latest statistics are damning. On 31 March 1997, the total number of Welsh residents waiting for in-patient or day-case treatments was 67,609. By 31 January this year, that figure had increased to 75,415. In 1997, 6,274 patients waited more than 12 months for treatment; today, the figure is 11,002. In 1997, the figure for patients waiting more than 18 months was 1,402; today, it is 4,818. Those increases are startling.
In March 1997, the total number of Welsh residents waiting for a first out-patient appointment was 101,000; today, that figure is 179,440. When the Government came to power, 28,401 patients waited more than three months for treatment; today, the figure has increased to 93,773. In 1997, 5,956 patients waited more than six months for treatment; today that figure is 48,506.
The Government promised people so much on the health service, but little has been delivered. In Wales, more people are waiting longer for treatment. That is hardly surprising. An article in the Western Mail entitled "Heart patients 'dying needlessly'" stated:
Dr. Davies and his . . . colleague consultant cardiologist Dr. Mike Stephens said heart patients' appointments were cancelled every day as the winter beds crisis worsened . . .
'People are dying because of a lack of beds,' said Dr. Davies".
I visited the Heath hospital in Cardiff less than two weeks ago. Someone told me that £5 million was needed for a children's hospital, yet the Labour party's Administration in the Welsh Assembly is wasting between £30 million and £40 million on a new building. The Government would prefer to spend the money on pampering politicians instead of treating patients, especially vulnerable child patients. Their priorities are skewed.
Mrs. Lawrence: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments on hospital beds. Not long ago, "Newsnight" carried out a survey, which showed that, during the Tory years of 1982 to 1995, the number of acute beds in British hospitals decreased from 144,000 to 109,000 as a result of the former Government's policies. Is not this an opportune time for the hon. Gentleman to apologise for that?
Mr. Paul Murphy: If the Conservative party formed a Government, and Mr. Crabb became Member of Parliament for Preseli Pembrokeshire, what would happen to the pledges of the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), the shadow Chancellor? He said that he intended to make cuts of £16 billion in public spending. Does not the hon. Gentleman understand that that would mean a severe cut in the block grant to Wales? Whatever he says about buildings, cuts of £16 billion are bound to affect the national health service. Does not he accept that they would have an adverse effect, and does not he understand that the Government have put more money into the health service than any Government since its inception?
Mr. Evans: The amount of money that was invested in the national health service increased throughout the Conservative years. That would continue under a Conservative Government. The Secretary of State mentions the figure of £16 billion, which is completely false. No journalist accepts that it bears any resemblance to reality. We will match the money that is being spent on the national health service, education and law and order. We will cut out the wasteful expenditure of £8 billion that the Government are prepared to perpetuate, and we will increase vital public service expenditure and ensure that the money is effectively spent.
Although the Secretary of State has a diminished role post-devolution, he has twice as many special advisers in his Department as David Hunt had when he was Secretary of State and had much more to do. Money could be saved by cutting out useless administration, and better spent on front-line services. We will do that. The Secretary of State had an opportunity to say that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West and the Assembly were wrong to spend so much money on a new building for politicians and that he would have preferred it to be spent on patients. However, he did not say that. He is justifying the mis-spending of millions of pounds on a new Assembly building in Wales that could have been so much better spent on patients.
The hon. Gentleman denies the existence of the £16 billion cut that the Conservative party has proposed. The genesis of the matter is to be found in a press release from Conservative central office issued on 18 July 2000,
Mr. Evans: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was late, because he missed my informing the House that the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe predicts that the hon. Gentleman will lose his seat at the next general election. The figures that the hon. Gentleman is coming up with mean absolutely nothing. The scare tactics that Labour is using--
Mr. Evans: Well, if that gets the hon. Gentleman to sleep at night, that is fine. However, he will have more time to sleep after the general election, if the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe is correct. The hon. Gentleman is using scare tactics. We will increase the amount of money being spent on essential services. No one now believes the £16 billion figure that the Labour party has dreamed up, because it is completely false.
Mr. Llwyd: May I take the hon. Gentleman back to what he said about the cost of the new Assembly building? Is he not being slightly hypocritical in saying that that money is not being well spent, when he is ensconced in a palatial office in a building that cost £250 million?