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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Yvette Cooper): The Government are committed to ensuring that everyone who needs it can have access to NHS dental treatment. To support that, NHS Direct is now advising people on how to find dentists willing to provide NHS treatment in their local area.
Mr. Chapman: Does my hon. Friend agree that everyone has the right to be on the list of an NHS dentist? Does she also agree that the best way to improve dental health, not least in poorer areas, is to increase further the number of available dentists? What specific plans does she have to retain or to recruit more dentists who are willing to provide a high-quality NHS service, rather than do as they currently dowhich is to spend an ever increasing amount of time on private practice?
Yvette Cooper: I assure my hon. Friend that we are committed to increasing access to NHS dentistry. The number of dentists working in the NHS is increasing, and primary dental services have been established in his area. Through the use of dental access centres as well, we are increasing access to NHS dentistry for people in low-income areas. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that inequality issues also need to be addressed.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Despite the assurances that we have been given over the years, is it not true that there are still huge gaps in NHS dentistry provision, not least in my county of Somerset where people still come to me because they cannot get an NHS dentist? Do we not best serve the interests of acute and long-term care by concentrating on primary care and making sure that we have the practitioners available in dentistry, optometry and general practice to provide universal and comprehensive primary care for our constituents?
Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that catching dental problems at an early stage is far better than palliative work later, and that the position varies across the country. We need to improve access at an early stage. However, we would be in a considerably better position now if hundreds of dentists had not left the NHS in the early 1990s, when the Conservative Government changed their contracts. We are putting in place incentive payments and improving things so as to bring dentists back into the NHSbut we would not be in this situation if previous decisions had not been taken.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears): The creation of the single Leeds teaching hospitals NHS trust in 1998 provided an opportunity to improve service configuration across the city. Two major capital schemes are in PFI procurement: a major new wing at St James's university hospital to house mainly cancer services, and the redevelopment of Wharfedale general hospital at Otley.
Mr. Hamilton: Does my hon. Friend agree that the already excellent oncology services based on the St. James's university hospital site are in urgent need of upgrading, and that it is important that the PFI scheme that is currently on the books be moved on quickly, so that the services provided to the citizens of Leeds and outlying areas can be extended to the whole of west Yorkshire and beyond?
Ms Blears: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The new wing proposed at St. James's is a £160 million PFI scheme. I understand that building is to start in mid-2003 and that it will open at the end of 2006. It is crucial that swift and effective progress be made with the scheme, which is in line with our national priorities to modernise
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Although the Minister is right to focus the Government's attention on that form of specialisation, does she share my concern that even if the patients are not travelling, the specialists are, as they move between three different hospitalsHarrogate, Leeds and York? Does she not see enormous difficulties in that?
Ms Blears: It is always a case of achieving a balance between the need to provide centres of excellence and local access to facilities, and either patients or consultants have to travel. It is for the local health community to design the optimal service for local people. It is right, however, that specialists and consultants should travel to see patients if that is the appropriate way to organise the system. That problem is yet more evidence of the need to reform the way in which services work. We need to put patients at the centre and design the service around their needs rather than around those of the professionals or of the system itself, as happened all too often in the past. This illustrates the need for investment and reform.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that there are strict rules regarding the use of the Lobby when the House is sitting and governing who may or may not come into it and what they may do when they are there. Are you aware that at least one Lobby pass issued by the BBC has not been issued to a journalist and has been used at least onceI understand from others that it has been used many more timesnot to gain information on Lobby terms from Members of Parliament but to influence them to vote in a way that favours the BBC's corporate interests? Is that not a gross abuse of the Lobby pass? Will the House of Commons investigate the circumstances surrounding that and issue clear guidelines defining when a journalist is indeed a journalist?
In common with other hon. Members, I am an animal lover. Indeed, when I return to my home the only thing that I can guarantee is that all my animals will be pleased to see me, pleased to be taken for a walk and pleased to be fed. The only sight more inspiring than my good wife bringing me a cup of tea in bed, which may or may not be laced with arsenic, is seeing wild animals in their natural habitat, and unless the House, the mother of Parliaments, takes endangered species seriously, we will no longer be able to enjoy seeing them in that habitat.
I wonder how many hon. Members realise that it is possible to be arrested for poaching a pheasant in the United Kingdom, but not for selling a tiger, and that it is possible to be arrested for poaching deer or even salmon, but not for trading in ivory or rhino horn, which are derivatives of some of the most endangered species on the planet. Under current UK legislation, trading in endangered species is not an arrestable offence, and that is what the Bill attempts to amend.
Globally, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth more than £5 billion a year, second only to illegal trafficking in drugs. It is estimated that in excess of 520 million animals and plants are traded each year, and about a quarter of the wildlife trade is thought to comprise illegal items.
The United Kingdom, to our shame, is a major consumer of endangered species. For example, in a police operation involving a series of raids across the United Kingdom on premises selling traditional east Asian medicine, more than 20,000 medicinal products containing derivatives of rare and endangered species were seized. A survey by the wildlife trade monitoring programme, TRAFFIC, of Chinese medicine shops in the UK in 2000 found that 64 per cent. sold products that contained protected animal and plant species, including leopard, bear, musk deer and costas root.
The impact of that trade on endangered species is huge. For example, the decline in the black rhino population is an appalling case study in the demise of an endangered species. In the early 1970s, the population was in excess of 65,000, but it has now fallen to just 2,500. The decline is partly due to poaching to fulfil the demand for rhino horn, primarily for traditional east Asian medicine. In 1998, a man was found to be in possession of 127 rhino horns, worth £2.8 million. Although he was found guilty of conspiracy to sell the rhino horns, they were returned to him on appeal. In 1998, the Metropolitan police raided a shop in Islington which was selling stuffed tiger cubs less than one week old; they were stuffed and mounted on a branch, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and I saw them earlier today.
In another case reported last week in the Daily MailI know that many hon. Members have talked about thisrare birds of prey were wedged into six-inch diameter plastic tubes in a bid to import them illegally from Asia. Twenty-three birds, all with their feet bound and with no access to food and water, had endured a 14-hour trip when they were discovered in two suitcases by customs officers.
The trade in exotic pets, especially reptiles and amphibians, is flourishing. Every year, millions of wild animals are trapped for use in the exotic pet trade; most die before reaching the pet shops. The World Wild Fund for Natureto which, along with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, I am indebtedbelieves that that behaviour threatens the survival of many endangered species and damages their fragile ecosystems and habitats. Killing those animals denies local communities in their native countries the right to a sustainable livelihood. The aim of the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild flora and fauna is to restore the balance between humans and nature to ensure that people's use of wildlife is managed carefully so that it does not threaten either wildlife or the people who rely on it. The trade in endangered species seriously jeopardises that balance.
Bringing those animals into the UK puts the public at risk. RSPCA inspectors helped police to uncover a collection of eight deadly snakes in a raid on a Sheffield flat last February. Unbelievably, a four-foot alligator currently in the Heathrow animal reception centre was abandoned in a telephone box, only to be found by a member of the general public. As the Minister knows, it is also possible that many of these animals could bring in diseases infectious to humans, crops or farm animals. A variety of birds and reptiles can spread very dangerous diseases.
Yet the penalties for these crimes do not reflect their gravity. The company selling the shahtoosh worth more than £350,000 was fined only £1,500. The tiger cub trader was sentenced to only three months for selling a species that numbers only 5,000 in the wild. The maximum sentence for buying or selling an endangered species in this country is only two yearsand the maximum sentence has never been awarded. Most criminals who are prosecuted for their crimes receive a fine that the World Wide Fund for Nature believes to be no deterrent whatever. Since these crimes are not arrestable offences, the police, who are responsible for enforcing international legislation protecting endangered species, cannot arrest these criminals. Bizarrely, they can only invite them down to the police station for questioning. Furthermore, as the offences are not arrestable, the police do not even record the statistics on these shocking crimes.
In conclusion, I believe that the House can address this anomaly by increasing from two to five years the maximum sentences for offences concerning illegal trade in endangered species. That would make the offences arrestable. An arrestable offence carries with it not only powers of arrest, but other powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which would provide the police with powers of entry without a warrant, powers of search and seizure and the ability to charge and bail people to court with conditions where appropriate. All hon. Members enjoy watching films about dinosaurs, but it would be a disgrace if the House were to do absolutely nothing and add to the number of dinosaurs. I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Amess, Norman Baker, Mr. Ian Cawsey, Mrs. Helen Clark, Jane Griffiths, Mr. Mike Hancock, John Mann, Linda Perham, Mr. John Randall, Angela Watkinson, Miss Ann Widdecombe and Mr. Bill Wiggin.