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Mr. Cook: I am delighted to inform the right hon. and learned Gentleman that not only have waiting lists fallen by 125,000 in the past four years, but waiting times have also fallen. I am sure that he will wish to express full support for our NHS plan which proposes to cut the average waiting time of 13 weeks for an out-patient appointment.
I am rather surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have the gall to complain about the provision of NHS dentists. During the 18 years in which he supported a Conservative Government the NHS dentistry service went through a massive reduction. This Government have increased the dentist panels and are looking for an increase in and return to NHS dentists across the land in the way that should have been maintained under the Conservative Government.
Mr. Cook: All endowment mortgage holders should have been sent the FSA factsheet explaining the situation, and their right to complain and to take it forward if they are concerned. Indeed, I can confirm that the factsheet has been sent to a number of endowment mortgage holders because I received one myself.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Today, the Home Secretary is meeting 80 chief constables to talk about ways in which the performance of the police service can be improved. Will the Leader of the House invite the Home Secretary to make a statement on those matters in the light of the disturbing headline in the Lancashire Evening Post on Wednesday 11 July:
Mr. Cook: I am happy to assure the right hon. Gentleman that, come the autumn, there will be plenty of opportunities to discuss questions as to the competence of the judicial system and criminal procedures, because there will a number of pieces of legislation on those matters and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be at the Dispatch Box on a number of occasions.
In the meantime, I am pleased to tell the right hon. Gentleman and the House that he can take encouragement from the fact that in the past year, for the first time in a decade, which also embraces the period when his party was in office, we have seen a reversal of the decline in police numbers. Police numbers went up by 1,350 in the past year. I am even more pleased to tell the House that the number of people being attracted into training for the police has gone up by 75 per cent., so we can look forward to a much greater increase in future years, which will assist with the problems that he identifies.
Vera Baird (Redcar): Will my right hon. Friend consider holding an early debate on the wide implications of a recent Court of Appeal judgment? The court has decided that private trusts to which public tasks, such as care of the elderly and disabled, are transferred are not subject to the Human Rights Act 1998. Apparently, that is the case even though they are clearly carrying out functions hitherto undertaken by public authorities and are often subsidised by public funds. If there is to be a great increase in the use of private entities in public service delivery, will that not mean that our brand new, much-coveted human rights legislation will have less and less relevance to ordinary people?
Mr. Cook: I am not aware of the judgment to which my hon. Friend refers, but I will happily inquire into it and ensure that she receives a response. Plainly we take pride in the fact that we introduced the Human Rights Act for Britain
Mr. Cook: Obviously, not everyone agrees with us: in a sense, the hon. Gentleman's opposition fortifies me in the view that we were right to introduce the Act. We want to ensure that all citizens, whatever their condition and wherever they are, have proper and fair access to its remedies.
Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): Will the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to offer the House guidance about his views on Select Committees? Does he believe that they are a happy and convenient retirement place for sacked Ministers? Alternatively, does he believe that Select Committees perform a useful function in the
Mr. Cook: I would not seek to differ from the hon. Gentleman in his description of the vitality of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich. On his first point, I do not think that we should exclude the experience, energy and knowledge that those who have served in government can bring to the work of Select Committees. Indeed, I recall that when the hon. Gentleman's party was in government several of their former Cabinet Ministers also served on Select Committees. If I may so, I think that the then right hon. Member for Guildford, now Lord Howell of Guildford, performed well as the Chair of a Select Committee and served the House with distinction.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): May we have an early debate on the implications of the Government's devolution policies on the structure of government in Whitehall? Surely it is no longer justifiable for Scotland and Wales to continue to have Secretaries of State representing their interests in the Cabinet, given that they have their own Parliament and Assembly. Does not that further disadvantage the English regions, which do not yet have an assembly, let alone a Cabinet member, to represent their interests?
Mr. Cook: It is very important that the House and the Government should ensure that they have proper channels of communication to the devolved bodies. I have often found my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales to be of great value in ensuring that we work in partnership with the devolved organisations that represent the people of those two countries. I fully share my hon. Friend's concern to ensure that the north-east is fairly represented. That is why the Government have created the prospect of a regional assembly for the north-east and any other region that wishes to have one. That is the best way forward to ensure that the people of the north-east and other regions can have a direct say in who runs the local services that are directly relevant to them.
Mr. Charles Hendry (Wealden): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a ministerial statement or an early debate on the measures to prevent a repeat of last year's floods in Sussex? Is he aware that when the House returns in October a full year will have passed since those devastating floods, which affected Uckfield, Buxted and Hellingly in my constituency alone, and that there is growing dismay and despair that no work has been carried out to prevent their recurrence? May we have a statement to discover why so little money has been spent and why it has taken so long for anything to be done?