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2.40 pm

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): I wish to raise three issues in the 10 minutes available to me, the first of which is transport. At Transport questions this week, I raised with Ministers the reduction of services at Hartford station in my constituency. I now want to elaborate on the problems that we are experiencing there.

In 1988, British Rail issued a press notice that described Hartford station. It stated:

The notice described how the station served not only Hartford, but Northwich, Winsford, Middlewich, Knutsford and a wider area. It had 100 free car parking spaces, which recently had been extended. The press release explained a number of other services that went through Hartford. In 1988, Hartford was becoming a busy station.

Privatisation stopped all that. In 2001, Virgin Rail ended the west coast main line service that stopped at Hartford. The Virgin Cross Country services that used Hartford were stopped in 2002. Now, the Strategic Rail Authority has confirmed that the Liverpool to Birmingham service will no longer stop at Hartford, although it may well stop at peak periods.

What is most striking about this are the reasons given for the diminution of services at Hartford. A letter from the Strategic Rail Authority stated:

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The letter then mitigates the position, saying:

I find it hard to bring together what British Rail was able to do in 1988 with what the SRA is telling us now. I want more trains to stop at Hartford station to encourage people to leave their cars at home and use public transport.

Virgin Rail says that it has finished the Hartford stops, but that passengers can get a free train from Hartford to Crewe and then the intercity line from Crewe to London. However, the first train to leave Hartford will not get business men or women to Crewe in time to catch a train to be in London for 9 o'clock. They have a choice; they can either drive their cars to Manchester airport and fly or get on the M6 and drive. I am looking to Ministers and the Department for Transport to see what they can do to improve the services that use this excellent station in my constituency, and I look forward to that happening.

On a related issue, Cheshire county council has decided, in its wisdom, to cut £250,000 from school bus services. Three services serve my constituency, all of which are threatened. The Weaver to Helsby service takes a large number of pupils on a tortuous journey through my constituency to an excellent school. If that service is removed, the parents of those children will have a choice: they can take the children in the car or they can put them in a taxi, as it is far too far to walk. That is an ill-thought-out proposal.

The proposal to remove the services to Aston primary school in the north of my constituency is equally poor. The school is rural and the narrow roads that service it are not fit for children to walk along. Cheshire county council says that it wants children to get in their parents' cars to go to school, or to make a dangerous journey. That is not acceptable.

The third transport issue that I want to raise relates to the Competition Act 1998. Two bus companies serve the northern part of my constituency, Arriva and First North Western. On one route, from Helsby to Chester, one could until recently interchange tickets on that route. The inter-availability of tickets has been removed because of the transport companies' fear that they will fall foul of the Competition Act, because both companies charge the same price for the journey. That scheme has been in existence for about 16 years, from when the route was split between the two.

The scheme does not threaten competition but it serves my community well and has done so for many years. Because of the threat that the companies may be acting in contravention of the Competition Act, they have had to remove the inter-availability of tickets. I

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want common sense on the issue, rather than the red tape that is bringing about another diminution of transport services in my constituency.

The second issue concerns Cloughwood, a residential special school for boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties. I have been associated with the school for about 15 years. When I worked in special education, I visited the school, and I have kept a close association with it since becoming a Member of Parliament. It is the premier residential EBD school in the country. Its last Ofsted report said that it was an excellent school; Ofsted could find nothing to criticise in the school.

For boys aged from about eight to 11 who have failed everywhere else in the education system, the school provides a real opportunity to succeed. They do well in GCSE examinations; the school's league table position is there for all to see. The school is represented nationally in trampolining competitions, and the art work in the school is fantastic; the school has a charter mark for art. It is a first-class school, but it is under threat because Cheshire county council, short-sightedly, wants to save some money.

Since September last year, the council has reduced the number of admissions to the school and now says that there are surplus places. It wants to change the residential nature of the school into a mixed residential and day-care school. Anybody who has worked in special education will know that that mix does not work. The only way that one can succeed with boys presenting such problems at 10 or 11 is to have them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It has to be done that way and I am appalled that Cheshire county council has made the decision without properly consulting. I want to give notice that I shall oppose the move by the county council as vigorously as I can.

The third local issue concerns Halton hospital in my constituency. On 1 July this year, the clinical director at North Cheshire Hospitals Trust unilaterally, without consultation and without following due process, decided to close two intensive care beds in the hospital. He did so on the pretext that he did not have enough anaesthetic cover for the two hospital sites. Nothing has changed, as far as I can see, in the last two months.

Now, anybody in Halton hospital who needs intensive care must be moved through Widnes to Whiston, or through the southern part of Runcorn to Warrington general hospital. That is a diminution of service at Halton general hospital to which I am totally and utterly opposed. Efforts to get the clinical director to change his mind have so far not succeeded. However, I shall be looking to the North Cheshire Hospitals Trust and the Cheshire and Merseyside strategic health authority to come forward with a plan that will reinstate those intensive care beds to a hospital that serves my constituency well.

I am grateful for the House's attention to these matters.

2.49 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): As the House knows, two issues are so important to my constituency that I have promised my constituents that I will raise them at every practical opportunity on the Floor of the House. Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that they are

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the future of the royal hospital Haslar, and the risk that 400 young men may be accommodated on the Daedalus site in the inner Solent.

The background to the Haslar hospital problem is that the Government decided in 1997–98 to investigate the clear deficiencies, particularly in respect of senior consultants, in the Defence Medical Services. Those deficiencies were well known for some time, and a committee comprising no medically trained staff decided that the way ahead was to build a new centre of medical excellence—along the lines, they hoped, of Guy's hospital in London or the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford—and to close the only remaining military hospital in the United Kingdom, the royal hospital Haslar in my constituency.

When they pressed ahead with the plan, they found that, apart from Birmingham, there were no takers for the new centre of medical excellence. I have to say that it is with some considerable reluctance that medical staff are now being moved to Birmingham as the plan proceeds. I have met all the senior people involved and I know that they are capable. They are not medical but military people; if they had been tasked to take Basra, no doubt they would have taken it. However, they were tasked to close Haslar hospital and to move defence medicine to Birmingham: they are getting on with it efficiently.

The question for the future is what will happen to defence medicine and to the royal hospital Haslar? Defence medicine is not thriving at the moment in the key faculties of general medicine, general surgery and orthopaedic surgery and there are dramatic shortages of anaesthetists. There are only 23 anaesthetists out of an establishment of 120, and only 18 general surgeons out of an establishment of 44. Clearly, things are not going well in the field of defence medicine.

Of course we must all wish the Ministry of Defence well and hope that it is successful in its innovative plans to increase pay and retention payments in an attempt to ensure that doctors who join the Army, Navy and Air Force actually remain there. The problem is not recruitment—people are willing to enter the armed forces and be paid for their training—but retention. It often seems more attractive for doctors to move outside the services once they have received the qualifications that they want. We wish the Ministry of Defence well in the task of retaining doctors, nurses and other staff. I for one am convinced that, if Haslar hospital were retained as the centre of esprit de corps of the Defence Medical Services, it would have a significant effect on retaining medical staff.

I move on to the civilian side, because the Haslar hospital has served the civilian population, as well as the Army, Navy and Air Force, for many years. It is an integral and necessary part of the medical establishment in the area. I received an assurance from the then Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) in a letter of 28 January 2003. She said:

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The problem is the proviso,

Currently, there has been no arrangement between the Ministry of Defence and the NHS on the use of the site, and without that agreement the Ministry of Defence remains locked into owning a hospital that it does not want to run, and the NHS has superb facilities available to it, but cannot come to a final conclusion.

As we sit here today, a private finance initiative bid is being considered for the other local hospital, the Queen Alexandra hospital, Corsham. Once the hospital trust sorts that out, it will be able look into the longer-term position. I maintain that, with the superb diagnostic imaging treatments available at Haslar, the MRI scanners and the ultrasound facilities, which are built into the structure of the building and are incapable of being moved elsewhere—quite apart from the 280 beds and other facilities—the NHS will not be able to cope without Haslar's facilities. I maintain that the Minister should follow through her commitment of 29 January 2003 and confirm that arrangements are being put in hand to transfer Haslar hospital from the ownership of the Ministry of Defence to the NHS, and then the NHS hospital trust could plan ahead. That having been done, I am confident that the Ministry of Defence, recognising that the Haslar facilities remained and would not be closed as currently projected in 2007, could examine its own plans further and continue to use the royal hospital, Haslar as a centre for medical excellence and esprit de corps in the Defence Medical Services. That is my plea today.

The second issue is the Daedalus site in Lee-on-the-Solent. It came as a bombshell in February this year when the Home Office announced that it was considering, initially, 550 families, and subsequently 400 young men, to be located at the Daedalus site, a former naval air station at Lee-on-the-Solent. The area of west Lee-on-the-Solent has been in shock ever since. A local estate agent told me that he has not sold a single house there since the announcement was made. Yet when I tabled a parliamentary question asking the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration what consultations she had undertaken with local estate agents before stating that the identification of the site of the accommodation centre would not have an effect on house prices or sales—her assurance was that she had no reason to believe that it would have such an effect—the answer was, of course, none.

The truth is that it has affected local house prices and the transferability of houses. I feel particularly sorry for a constituent who e-mailed me yesterday saying that he was under threat of redundancy and might need to sell his house, but could not afford to do so at a reduced price. Clearly, other areas where accommodation centres are under consideration—namely, Bicester and Newton—will affect decisions about the Daedalus site. The decision on Bicester, which was expected two or three weeks ago, has been delayed until the autumn. I believe that the delay may be due to the inspector's reservations about placing an accommodation centre in a quiet rural location next to a small village. It seems that the decision on Daedalus will await the Bicester decision. I regard waiting as good news because we

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know that the Government are considering the screening of applicants for political asylum outside the UK as urged by the Conservative party. If the Government are capable of pursuing that proposal, it will put off completely the need to have accommodation centres.

I end by saying that siting an accommodation centre in Lee-on-the-Solent and placing 400 young men in a quiet seaside retirement area is viewed locally with horror. Local residents are worried about security because there are many military establishments in the area. They are concerned about pressure on resources. They know that young men from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and the former Republic of Yugoslavia would not integrate locally. They are vehemently opposed to the plan. I hope that the Home Office will take my plea into account before taking a decision on Daedalus.

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