Legislative Programme

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Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): I echo other hon. Members in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths. It is right that the Committee should meet early in this Parliament and that we should discuss the Queen's Speech as it affects Wales. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) on his appointment as a Minister. We look forward to his winding-up speech. He and I have something in common: we have both stood in Neil Kinnock's former constituency, I in Bedwelty and he in Islwyn. He was marginally more successful, but he had the advantage that Neil Kinnock stood aside to enable him to secure election.

The Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) have referred to Conservative support in Wales at the general election which, at 21 per cent., was up by 1.5 per cent.—one and a half times greater than the increase in support for the Liberal Democrats or Plaid Cymru. I remind hon. Members that the 288,000 Conservative votes in Wales represent something like 43 per cent. of the vote secured by the Labour party.

Mrs. Lawrence: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's point and wonder whether he will put pressure on his Front-Bench colleagues to consider proportional representation.

Mr. Walter: If we had proportional representation, the hon. Lady would probably not be representing her constituency now.

Unfortunately, Labour won 34 seats and we won none—that is representative democracy, and I do not advocate any change in the electoral system. It is also the same representative democracy under which my Liberal Democrat opponent had licence to question my ability, having been born in Wales, to represent my constituents. That is the kind of racist comment that we tend to associate with the other minor party in this Committee.

Lembit Ipik: The hon. Gentleman will understand that I do not wish to comment on what my colleague may have said about his right to represent his constituency. However, I will look into the point that he made, although he has not asked me to, because it is not the sort of politics that we should pursue. In the interests of clarity, is he making the point about the percentage increase in his party's vote because he feels that the Conservatives were done an injustice in Wales in getting no seats? If not, can I have his assurance that henceforth the Conservative party will accept with good grace its absence from Welsh parliamentary politics on the basis that under the current system it is perfectly clear that the Welsh people do not want to allow Conservative Members to return to Wales?

Mr. Walter: No, I would not accept the extension of the argument that the hon. Gentleman has made. I simply restate that the Conservatives received one and a half times as many votes as the Liberal Democrats and we just have to live with the fact that they won two seats and we won none.

I want to speak about the Queen's Speech and most particularly the one Bill that relates specifically to Wales. The Minister told us that the Bill to reform the national health service in Wales would be presented in draft form initially. It nevertheless gives the people of Wales an opportunity to look at the failure of the NHS in Wales under both a Labour Government and a Labour Administration in Cardiff.

Under Labour, the NHS in Wales is in crisis. The Minister for Health and Social Services in the National Assembly is guilty of gross incompetence in her handling of NHS funding. The NHS in Wales epitomises Labour's failure to deliver on its promise to the Welsh people. Labour promised to deliver a health service that was fit for the 21st century, but after four years in Government the number of Welsh patients waiting more than 12 months for in-patient or day-case treatment has increased.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it can take anything from 10 to 15 years to train a consultant, from five to seven years to train a GP and from four to five years to train a nurse? For those personnel to be in place now, the decisions would have to have been taken under a Conservative Government.

Mr. Walter: It was the current Prime Minister who said that there were 24 hours to save the national health service, and that was four years ago.

The number of Welsh patients waiting for their first out-patient appointment has increased. The number waiting more than three months has increased by 232 per cent. The number waiting more than six months has increased by 771 per cent. Despite Labour's promises, the only measure that has shown a fall since 1997 is the total number of people waiting for in-patient treatment. That has fallen by just 735 since March 1997.

Last month, the number of people waiting for either in-patient or out-patient appointments in Wales rose on every measure. The Minister for Health and Social Services, Jane Hutt, put the increase down to a seasonal blip resulting from the Easter holidays and two bank holidays. She also revealed that she planned to send some orthopaedic patients across the border to have their operations in Cheltenham or Gloucester. Her failure to meet her annual target of reducing the numbers by 15,000—she was 4,000 adrift—while those waiting for the first out-patient appointment rose by 8,000 instead of being reduced by half, led to a Conservative censure motion in the National Assembly in April. Unfortunately, that failed after being opposed by Labour's Assembly allies, Rhodri's little helpers, the Liberal Democrats, and Labour has decided to drop its waiting list initiative in favour of concentrating on waiting times.

Labour pledged to invest £12 million in orthopaedic care to ensure that no one should have to wait more than 18 months in pain for orthopaedic treatment by July 2002. Let us remind ourselves that Labour promised to improve the operation of the NHS in Wales. In the 1997 general election, one of its early pledges was to cut waiting lists as a first step—it was on Labour's famous pledge card. Two years later, in February 1999, the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who is now in Westminster Hall sorting out the English countryside, said:

    ``We promised to bring down NHS waiting lists and to tackle underfunding. We have made a start, and we will fulfil our pledge''——[Official Report, 25 February 1999; Vol. 344, c. 542.]

He also told the House that his aim was to re-establish the NHS as a dependable service that provides care when it is needed. He described the NHS in Wales as Labour's pride and joy.

Despite all that, Labour's record on the NHS in the past four years has been lamentable. The latest hospital waiting list figures for the period to the end of May 2001 were published on 27 June. They revealed that in May the number of people waiting for in-patient and day-case treatment rose by 500—an increase on the month of 0.8 per cent. Of those, the number waiting more than 12 months rose by 193, and the number waiting more than 18 months by 170—an increase of 4.3 per cent. The situation for out-patients was even worse: the number waiting rose by 6,700, an increase of 3.7 per cent., and the number waiting more than six months rose by 2,024, an increase of 6.2 per cent.

Mrs. Williams: My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) asked the hon. Gentleman how long it takes to train a nurse, a doctor, a general practitioner and a consultant. The hon. Gentleman gave us a list of statistics. Will he remind the Committee of the situation in May 1997, when the Labour Government took office?

Mr. Walter: I am about to relate the current figures to the figures for May 1997. I shall also relate the performance of the national health service in Wales to the performance of the NHS in England.

As I presume the hon. Lady was about to point out, Labour's record is even more shocking when the latest figures are compared with 1997. For in-patient and day-case treatments, the number waiting overall has fallen by 735 since March 1997, but the number waiting more than 12 months has increased by 2,822. On the in-patient and day-case list, 13.6 per cent. of patients have been waiting longer than 12 months for treatment, compared with less than 10 per cent. when Labour took office in 1997. Similarly, the number waiting more than 18 months has risen by 2,761 to 4,163. Those are absolute increases over the four-year period.

If we examine out-patient figures, we can see how Labour's failed waiting list initiative has distorted clinical priorities and resulted in a huge increase in the number of people waiting to get on the official waiting list. There is now a waiting list to go on to the waiting list for the waiting list. Despite the fact that Labour has now dropped its commitment to the initiative, the effects of the policy remain all too evident. The number of Welsh patients waiting for a first out-patient appointment has increased since March 1997 by 87,118—an increase of 86 per cent. to a total of 188,426. Of those, 94,334 have been waiting more than three months—an increase of 232 per cent. since 1997.

The increase in the number waiting longer than six months is truly staggering, as 51,887 people have been waiting more than six months for their first out-patient appointment, as compared with just 5,956 in March 1997—an increase of 45,931, which is 771 per cent. That figure represents 29.5 per cent. of the entire waiting list.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): I am sorry to interrupt such an interesting list of statistics.

Mr. Walter: They will all be in the record.

Mr. Jones: I am sure that they will. Will the hon. Gentleman add to the record by telling us how much longer the waiting list would have been if his party's £20 billion of cuts had been made?

Mr. Walter: As my party did not have a £20 billion list of cuts and as none of the £8 billion that appeared in our manifesto affected the national health service, it would have made no difference. If we were responsible for day-to-day management of the NHS, our proposals for its management would make a positive impact on the figures.

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Prepared 3 July 2001