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Mr. Sanders: No!

Shona McIsaac: That shows that the Liberal Democrats are not really committed to the matter.

I hope that, perhaps through the draft Bill on forfeiture, we can create a level playing field for people who live in leasehold flats and houses. Those who live in leasehold houses would thus get the right of first refusal to buy the freehold should the landowner dispose of the leases. That would make freehold purchase far cheaper for millions of people.

Like the hon. Member for Solihull, I want clarity on the purchase price of freehold. If abuses exist in my constituency, they concern purchase price. As I explained previously, it is wrong when one landowner asks for £2,000 and another, citing marriage value, for £20,000, for the freehold on identical properties. However, landowners get away with it because of lack of clarity. My hon. Friend the Minister said that she would like to consult on devising a mechanism whereby freeholders have to tell people how they determine a price. I would welcome that, and I am sure that she will hear from hon. Members, who, like me, will continue to campaign for further reform.

I thank all hon. Members who served on the Committee. Our proceedings were good humoured, even when the hon. Member for Solihull discussed the movies of Alec Guinness. I cannot remember how that subject got into the debate, but it was entertaining. I also thank the Whips, despite the criticism of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I believe that allowing so many Labour Members who are interested in the subject to serve in Committee shows that the Government let people have a voice.

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9.53 pm

Mr. Wiggin: I acknowledge with sadness the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) and the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) made. Although our proceedings have been illuminating and educational for me, it is a shame that Parliament's 81st attempt to reform leasehold leaves us with three sad deficits on freehold purchase, forfeiture and, perhaps most important, 100 per cent. unanimity.

Without the efforts of the shadow Attorney-General, it would have been difficult to make as much sense of the Bill as he clearly did. His efforts were gigantic, and I pay tribute to him. He is certainly to be congratulated.

Commonhold was to be the panacea for all the ills of leasehold tenure. By their insistence on unanimity, however, the Government have, staggeringly, neutered their own Bill. I am afraid, therefore, that we will be back for an 82nd attempt at reform, and it is a great shame that we have only tinkered with the edges of the problem.

9.55 pm

Ms Keeble: I, too, express my gratitude to the many right hon. and hon. Members who have made such a lively and constructive contribution to the debates on the Bill. That includes the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who has sometimes been a little curmudgeonly in his recognition of the Bill's merits.

The Bill is a complicated piece of legislation, and many hon. Members have repeatedly said that it is dry and technical. However, its underlying objective is simple, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) pointed out. It is to give people greater security in their homes, and we have achieved that in two ways: the introduction of commonhold, and providing more rights and safeguards for leaseholders.

When people reflect on the discussions in Committee and the House, they will see that we have introduced a great number of substantial reforms. They include, for the first time, the right to manage. That will deal with many of the abuses that have been mentioned, without having to go to enfranchisement, which some people simply do not want to do. The Bill also opens up the right of collective enfranchisement to many more leaseholders, and denies landlords the opportunity that they have previously enjoyed to obstruct the enfranchisement process and to jack up leaseholders' costs.

The Bill also tightens the requirements for safeguarding and accounting for leaseholders' money. It abolishes the requirement to use a nominated or approved insurer for leasehold properties, and extends the rights of personal representatives. It also introduces a whole package of reforms on forfeiture—perhaps not everything that everybody wanted, but they will dramatically reduce the scope for freeholders to abuse that process, and provide many more safeguards. These are major changes.

The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) should take some comfort from these substantial changes because, in the real world outside this place, they will produce real changes to the life chances of many thousands of our

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constituents. The Bill has demonstrated how the House can work well. My hon. Friends the Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) and for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) have pointed out that the process has illustrated the benefits of scrutiny, and the role that constituency Members, acting in the interests of their constituents, can play in improving legislation and providing safeguards and benefits for them.

My hon. Friends the Members for Brighton, Pavilion, for Bolton, South-East, for Cleethorpes and for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby) should take credit for what they have done, because, without their representations, many of the changes in the Bill would not have been introduced. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion mentioned the leaseholders' group in his constituency. Without the representations that that group made, both through him and directly to the Government, several of the safeguards that have been incorporated into the Bill this evening would not have been added. Dry and technical though the Bill may have been, it has nevertheless demonstrated the House working at its best.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East was right that there are issues to which we will have to return. There is still work to be done, and a number of measures will have to be dealt with by regulation, at which point further refinements and improvements will be made. We will also have to work with the leasehold valuation tribunals and use publicity to translate some of these benefits into action. We will work closely with the tribunals to ensure that people get the benefits of this legislation, and I hope that hon. Members who have brought pressure to bear on the Government to produce real improvements will also bring the same pressure to bear on the tribunals. It is one thing to enact legislation in this place and quite another to see it translated into action. I am sure that if we can translate this—

It being Ten o'clock, Mr. Speaker put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Orders [31 January and 11 March].

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

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Mr. Speaker: With permission, I will put together motions Nos. 3, 4 and 5.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Constitutional Law

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 117 (Standing Committee on Regional Affairs),

Question agreed to.

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13 Mar 2002 : Column 989

Specialised Hospital Services (North-West London)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Stringer.]

10.1 pm

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): If I return to a subject on which I addressed the House on the Adjournment before the summer recess in July 2001, a subject on which I have addressed the House during seven previous debates in the past four years—many of them moved by myself—I am genuinely not being personally obsessive. I do so because of the prolonged and agonising sagas that have afflicted Harefield, Mount Vernon and St. Vincent's hospitals, in my constituency. They have caused profound worry to my constituents, and to many thousands of others further afield. There has been the cost of many jobs already, and there will be the cost of many more. Patients in my constituency and for many miles around will be seriously deprived of excellent treatments in hospitals that they have loved and admired.

In my debate on 14 July 1999 on St. Vincent's hospital, I said that the Government's policy of dissuading health authorities from referring national health service patients to "private" hospitals could be fatal to the survival of the small, primarily orthopaedic, hospital of St. Vincent's, Eastcote, which was not private at all but a non-profit making medical charity run for many years by the religious order of the sisters of St. Vincent de Paul.

The Government ignored my warnings. The hospital duly closed, although the policy is at last changed. It is too late to save St. Vincent's, but at least NHS patients are now sent to the excellent private hospital, Bishopswood, on the Mount Vernon hospital site. However, Mount Vernon hospital is now at risk, thanks to the extraordinary way in which it has been treated by the management of the NHS and the Government, who should never allow the perpetuation of Soviet-style bureaucratic central planning which characterises the NHS today.

Soon after the Labour party were returned to power, so-called but frustrated consultation was initiated on the future of the regional burns and plastics unit at Mount Vernon, which the London region wanted to transfer to the new Chelsea and Westminster hospital in inner London.

After the most ferocious controversy, the proposal, which would have undermined the plastics unit and its complementary and supportive work for the regional cancer centre at Mount Vernon, and would have caused the move away from the hospital of the wonderful reconstruction and functional trust medical research charity, was modified in favour of a move to Northwick Park hospital in Harrow, north-west London. I pointed out that Northwick Park hospital was much too far from Mount Vernon for it properly to support the cancer centre. I said that the premises did not exist at Northwick Park hospital and that Northwick Park was already overstretched owing to its high work load as a general hospital.

Although some of the staff of Mount Vernon hospital's burns and plastics unit and that of the RAFT might be able to stay in their existing homes and perhaps keep their children in their present schools, it would be harder for

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the cancer centre at Mount Vernon to be supported. For staff, patients and their families, commuting to Harrow would be less than ideal. Many of the unit's skilled staff would probably leave.

To date, nothing has actually happened, although the move was due to take place this spring. The uncertainty has been bad for medical morale. Capital investment has been minimal. It has been difficult to maintain operating standards and the throughput of patients in operating procedures. Owing to the lack of investment, the premises are less than ideal. It is also much harder for the RAFT to raise private funds for its vital research.

I believe that London regions would still like our burns and plastics unit from Mount Vernon to go to Chelsea and Westminster hospital, in inner London. West Hertfordshire health authority, which has a big interest, since many patients come from its area and beyond, owing to Mount Vernon's location only a hundred yards from the Hertfordshire border, will probably not wish the burns and plastics unit to move, and certainly will not want it to move to Chelsea and Westminster hospital.

NHS eastern region is conducting a review of cancer services at Mount Vernon. It has identified three options that could have been written by a schoolboy on the back of an envelope in a moment of tedium during a dreary class. They are: to develop the existing cancer centre at Mount Vernon, to transfer services to newly developed facilities at an existing general hospital in Hertfordshire—Hemel Hempstead or Watford—and to construct a purpose-built new hospital on a greenfield site, probably south of St Albans.

On 11 March, an Under-Secretary of State wrote to me:

Does that mean that the burns and plastics unit is to stay at Mount Vernon at least until 2008 to support the cancer centre there, as it should? That is what I, at least, would infer from the letter.

The trouble with NHS planning is that the best all too easily becomes the enemy of the good. Mrs. Rosie Varley and her review team from eastern region, to her credit and on her initiative, presented a progress report to local MPs at two meetings at the House of Commons in the summer and the autumn of last year. All Members, regardless of party—except one "dissentient" on the second occasion—said that Mount Vernon was the ideal location for their constituents' cancer treatment, and praised the quality of the care that they received there.

The cancer research institute, known as the Gray laboratory at Mount Vernon, has made eminent submissions in favour of keeping the cancer centre at Mount Vernon—submissions which do not seem to have received the attention they deserve from the review team. I have had to bring them to the attention of the Secretary of State.

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People have become totally cynical about decision making in the NHS. Their experience tells them that decisions are made behind closed doors at a high level in advance, that specialist reviews are designed to build up usually specious arguments to justify those decisions, and that the conclusions are then presented to the public for so-called consultations which are in practice a charade, as they are a dialogue of the deaf with NHS officials who are reluctant to change their predetermined policy.

That was our experience with the Government's proclaimed intention, which is an official intention, for Harefield hospital, probably the most famous cardiothoracic hospital in Britain, which has done more heart transplants than any in the world. Following a Government diktat, its in-patient services are due to move by 2006 to a new hospital in Paddington, as yet unbuilt. Its out-patient services are due to move to extra facilities, as yet unconstructed, at Watford and Hemel Hempstead hospitals. Rumour has it that land has been set aside beside Hemel Hempstead hospital in hopeful anticipation.

Those of us who care for Harefield's future—I am glad to see the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) in the Chamber, because he has been a staunch supporter of its work—believe that, despite Her Majesty's Government determination to sell much of the Harefield site for a science park, their policy is expensive and fatally flawed, and will cost infinitely more than enhancement of Harefield's facilities in its excellent location—in fact, well over £100 million more.

By contrast, Hammersmith hospital's inner London cardiac facilities are to be built up. The cost is modest, as it is building up an existing unit: the cost is £13 million. Harefield, however, which is in outer London and serves a vast catchment area throughout the south of England, is ignored in favour of a new hospital at Paddington in one of the most inaccessible, polluted, congested and overdeveloped parts of inner London—indeed, it is on the edge of the Mayor's motor congestion tax zone.

It is not surprising that Westminster City council has not granted the necessary planning permission. It believes that there was an excess of proposed retail developments on the intended medical campus. The council is also unimpressed, as is anyone else who knows the situation, by the lack of parking spaces on the proposed site. Families could only easily visit their relatives and park there after staff had gone home in the evening. Paddington basin is to be the single biggest urban development in London since docklands, bringing 30,000 additional jobs to the capital—hardly the oasis of calm and pure air which cardiothoracic patients need in abundance and currently enjoy in full measure at Harefield.

The heart of the Harefield campaign, under the indomitable leadership of Jean Brett and her many friends and associates, whose efforts I salute, is convinced that, before 2006, Her Majesty's Treasury will realise that the cost-effective solution of building up existing centres for specialist excellence, such as those at Harefield for cardiothoracics and those at Mount Vernon for cancer, burns and plastics, is much better value for money and a wiser investment of public funds than grandiose projects such as the Paddington basin.

The new cancer centre in Hertfordshire also sounds like a grandiose project, as it is going to be an "ideal" cancer centre, possibly even on a greenfield site, which has not of course been revealed by Hertfordshire county council.

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No one knows exactly where it is, although notional journey times have been measured to it. From those notional journey times, we secured from the review team the admission that it had picked a site somewhere south of St. Albans.

The wishes of patients and their families should count in the NHS, but they seem not to do so at present. Even the representations to the Secretary of State of the former chairman of Harefield and Royal Brompton NHS trust, Sir Geoffrey Errington, were ignored. That fine public servant stressed the benefits of complementarity of heart research and treatment on the Harefield site.

I hope that the Secretary of State will grant Sir Geoffrey the interview that he requested, and which he fully deserves. The trouble is that Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster health authority was the lead health authority in the public consultation, and it had a blatant vested interest as a member of the development partnership for Paddington basin, even before the consultation began. As a consequence, the outcome was predictable. It prejudiced the decision-making process, and it merits much further examination, perhaps in terms of its permissibility under the Human Rights Act 1998. The health authority, like the Government, ignored all petitions, debates and representations.

In conclusion, the stories of the St. Vincent's, Mount Vernon and Harefield hospitals, as I have recounted them tonight, demonstrate all that is worst in the NHS today. Staff work nobly, often against a background of total uncertainty and inexplicable bureaucratic power-plays. Patients and local residents love their local specialist hospitals, and they are appalled. No notice seems to be taken of their views, and the taxpayer pays more for decisions that cannot be justified logically. It is time to put matters right, and I hope that the Government will do so as far as Harefield and Mount Vernon hospitals are concerned.

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