§ 2. Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)
What proposals he has for continued cross-border co-operation on health. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. George Howarth)
There has been a long and productive history of cross-border co-operation on health and social services matters, which has brought positive benefits to the people living in both jurisdictions. This will continue across a range of services including health promotion, food safety and cancer research.
§ Mr. McDonnell
The all-party group on the Irish in Britain recently considered the matter of health and is keen to encourage the sharing of best practice between clinicians. Will my hon. Friend assure us that cross-border co-operation will enable the sharing of best practice between clinicians north and south, and that there may 318 be some prospect of financial support for organisations, particularly voluntary organisations, that encourage the sharing of best practice?
§ Mr. Howarth
There are already significant clinical links between health services, both north and south. I accept that there is scope to develop those links further, particularly when it comes to sharing clinical practices and exchanging information. We believe that such co-operation has the potential to contribute to the quality and effectiveness of services on both sides of the border. Together with Ministers from the south, I have been anxious to promote such co-operation.
Given the right political climate and the right resources, there is also the scope for the voluntary sector to add to the work that is already under way. There will be opportunities for funding, although as any Minister would say in these circumstances, no guarantees can be given from the Dispatch Box about any particular project. However, I would certainly encourage such a development.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
The Minister has underlined that which is well known. Over the years, long before modern times, there has been good co-operation. It is equally true that when the board in Cork decided to purchase facilities in the Royal Victoria hospital, the local people objected.
I encourage the Minister to give leadership at the level to which he referred. However, does he agree that too many people may have accommodation addresses in Northern Ireland, and that they benefit from our health budget at a time when there is pressure upon the budget throughout Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Howarth
If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence to support that contention, I would be happy to look at it. He will agree that when someone is ill and needs attention, they do not object to receiving the most appropriate treatment in either the north or the Republic if there are appropriate exchange arrangements. Where one gets the best possible treatment is not an ideological issue, and co-operation is logical and sensible in delivering those objectives.
§ Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the cancer care services agreement signed last autumn with the Republic of Ireland and the Washington-based Institute of Cancer heralds a great future for health services in Northern Ireland and shows that cross-border initiatives are extremely important? Does not that give fresh impetus to the need for the political talks that are taking place in a few days to ensure the restoration of the Executive, so that the people of Northern Ireland can look forward not just to more peace, but to more security and prosperity?
§ Mr. Howarth
I agree with my hon. Friend, whom I congratulate on being the Minister responsible for taking that initiative forward. I had the good fortune last autumn to sign the memorandum of understanding between ourselves, the Americans and the Republic of Ireland, which, because of the severe cancer problems in Northern Ireland and much of the south, is a positive development. That is a good example of how co-operation can bring 319 force to dealing with the serious health problems that exist in the north and the south. It is important that we continue along those lines.