Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): The Minister‘s claim to be improving maternity services will ring pretty false in my constituency and in neighbouring constituencies, as it coincides with the announcement that Hemel Hempstead maternity services are to close, with all women‘s and children‘s services being transferred to Watford. How can anyone be expected to believe that that closure is temporary, as the Government have claimed up to now, when today‘s announcement makes it clear that Hemel Hempstead will be the only hospital not to receive a penny for improvement or investment in its maternity services? Can the Minister tell us, hand on heart, that that unit will reopen in due course?
Jacqui Smith: Changes to the local provision of services can be difficult for individual areas, but they are matters for local discussion. It is for health authorities and trusts to decide on service provision, taking into account local people‘s needs, evidence of effectiveness, and available resources. However, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the new and independent reconfiguration panel will take those factors into account on reaching decisions on any future changes in local maternity services. Clear criteria exist for the assessment of any proposed changes, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that they will be applied.
16 Oct 2001 : Column 1039-40