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The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Ian McCartney): We are making excellent progress, as illustrated in "Citizens First--Open All Hours", the modernising government annual report, which was published in September.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) should be aware of the strong consumer focus of the London borough of Hillingdon. For example, as part of the best value review, the council consulted residents widely to ensure that proposals are geared to local needs. Those proposals include more foster carers, action to tackle fly-tipping and a telephone call centre operating out of hours.
Mr. Wilkinson: May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the aim of the modernising government programme was to involve public service users, not providers, more closely in matters affecting their lives? In that context, how can he justify the action of the NHS in ignoring so far the 100,000 petitioners who have urged that Harefield hospital be retained and built up? How is it that a vested interest, such as the Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster health authority, which is a member of the regeneration partnership, can lead the consultation on the future of the hospital?
Mr. McCartney: I have no detailed knowledge of individual hospitals and shall write to the hon. Gentleman. However, there has been a 6.7 per cent. increase in the NHS allocation in his area; £184 million has been allocated for next year, compared with the previous allocation of £169 million. More than £500,000 has been invested in modernising an accident and emergency unit; there is £500,000 for a new cancer network; and tens of thousands of pounds have been allocated to reduce the area's long waiting lists.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that has been made on developments in UK Online, especially the section on life events, which will provide a great service to the public at times of great need. May I suggest that one way of improving the site and monitoring its success would be to establish a link for Members of Parliament to feed in suggestions about how to develop it further?
The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Ian McCartney): We have appointed consumer champions in all the key central government services to find out and meet users' needs. I visited my hon. Friend's constituency on 15 March to launch the booklet "Citizens First--Open All Hours", which details progress to date on providing extended opening hours across the public services. We will provide electronic access to all relevant services by 2005. The UK Online citizens' portal went live on 4 December 2000.
Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply and welcome the Government's commitment to extending access to public services in health, education and employment. I was particularly pleased to welcome my right hon. Friend to the NHS walk-in centre in Slough--open 15 hours a day, 7 days a week--where he saw the work of Sally Patrick and her excellent team.
Can we look forward to other public services having an extended opening hours culture so that citizens who are at work--after all, there are many more of them under this Government than there used to be--can get access to public services?
Mr. McCartney: My hon. Friend is right, and I can give her a commitment that there will be a rolling programme for a range of services across the public sector, based on the "Open All Hours" document. Some of those services will be accessible 24 hours a day, some will be accessible at weekends, and there will be some early morning and late evening services. The basis of those changes will be feedback from consumers using local government and community services.
I ask my hon. Friend to pass on my best wishes to Sister Sally Patrick, who looked after us last week when I visited the Slough centre. It has already seen 10,000 patients in the first few months of operation and is now one of 40 NHS walk-in centres which provide a first-class health care service to people every day. Only four short years ago, such centres did not exist under the Tories. This Government, however, are modernising the health service.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Has the right hon. Gentleman read either of the EURIM--European Information Society Group--reports on e-government and the modernisation of government? One of the working parties involved was chaired by the hon. Member for Luton, South (Ms Moran). Is he glad to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has announced that it is Conservative party policy to proceed with suggestions such as those made in the reports? Will he make urgent representations
I am fully committed to IT provision over the next few years, not only in terms of modernising the House. That includes not only equipment, but training, in terms of services both in the House and at constituency level. If the hon. Gentleman has any views on the matter, I ask him to contact me, as he has a friend at court.
On the second issue, I have not read Conservative party proposals in detail, but if they have at last turned the tide away from the incompetence on IT that was demonstrated by the previous Government, progress will have been made. The current Government were left with a huge legacy of failure in virtually every IT system procured by the previous Government. That cost the taxpayers of Britain hundreds of millions of pounds and delivered few good services. We are at last turning that around and are at the leading edge in the delivery of e-commerce.
Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): Will my right hon. Friend go a step further on public services and see whether we can get the public to elect the people who run those services--especially the quangos?
Mr. McCartney: My hon. Friend raises the issue of democratising quangos. That is exactly what this Government have done. We have removed Tory placemen and women and replaced them with local people. We have removed Tory business men and replaced them with people from ethnic minority communities. We have replaced Tory placemen with local women. We will continue to ensure that quangos and other public bodies represent the communities in which people live, not merely Tory placements.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Marjorie Mowlam): The Government are undertaking research to develop a better understanding of the dynamics of the UK and international drugs market, which will improve our intelligence on the class A drugs threat assessment. The national treatment agency and pooled treatment budgets will come into effect on 1 April 2001. We announced in the Budget significant additional investment for targeted action at local and regional level. That will provide an opportunity to build on the experience of initiatives such as parents against drug abuse in south-west Cheshire.
Marjorie Mowlam: The Government are researching the issue to which the hon. Lady refers. That is the best way of tackling the question of driving under the influence of drugs, legal or illegal, and of providing ways to help the police enforce existing legislation more effectively. It is now being developed alongside other initiatives.
Jackie Ballard (Taunton): Does the Minister for the Cabinet Office agree that the members of the Runciman commission were respected and knowledgeable people who undertook a detailed, independent, scientific study of the problems of drug use and abuse? If so, why have the Government rejected each of its recommendations out of hand?
Marjorie Mowlam: The Government implemented a large number of the Runciman recommendations. The few that we rejected included one on cannabis. Our approach is clear: the scientific evidence is insufficient to convince us that the law should be changed. However, that does not prevent discussion and debate. If the scientific evidence changes, we will reconsider the matter.