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Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): My hon. Friend has given the House absolutely brilliant news on Staffordshire ambulance service, and I am grateful to him and the rest of the ministerial team for listening to the people of Staffordshire. Will he confirm that Staffordshire ambulance service will remain operationally independent and that it will have its own trust board and its own chief officer, so that it can continue to run its system, which is completely different from those used by other ambulance services in the country? Will he also confirm that no merger will take place unless Staffordshire ambulance service
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agrees to it and unless the west midlands service comes up to the standard of the Staffordshire service, which delivers the fastest response times in the country?

Andy Burnham: I am grateful for another bouquet from the Back Benches, but, before I am accused of being a fraud for accepting them, I must point out that many people in my Department have been working on the proposals. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) has been in close discussions with people in the Department—I am, perhaps, the only person who has not been in detailed discussions with her, so it is not right for me to accept all the congratulations, which I shall relay to the rest of the Department. She knows health issues in detail—I have worked with her on other matters—and I know how passionately she believes in the health service in her area. She has run a good campaign and has expressed her concerns extremely well. We have said that a merger should be the eventual goal, and I am happy to give her the assurances that she seeks on the operating structures of the two services. My noble Friend Lord Warner will judge those issues, but it makes sense to have agreement in the region when any further change is made to the structure.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The consultation document on the creation of the North West ambulance service did not contain a business case with real numbers to justify the assertion that resources will be available for the service improvements that the Minister mentioned in his statement. When I asked the excellent Lancashire ambulance service for details on that point, it could not help either. The Minister must have seen a business case to convince him that his decision is right. Will he assure the House that the details will be placed in the Library, so we can all understand where the resources will come from and be sure that good services, such as Lancashire ambulance service, will not be drained of resources to prop up those that are not so good?

Andy Burnham: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will put into the public domain any information that we can to show the basis on which those decisions were taken, but he knows that the structure proposed by Peter Bradley commanded strong support within the ambulance service. People want to be part of a service that can invest its resources in front-line services and in improving the professional development of its staff. A unified ambulance service in the north-west will lead to an improved level of service for his constituents and for mine. I hope that we can share that information, but, as I have said, it is vital that residents across the north-west can look forward to service improvements as a result of the changes. However, the right hon. Gentleman must accept that savings can be made by merging the back-office functions of existing ambulance services.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): May I give two cheers for my hon. Friend’s announcement about Staffordshire ambulance service? It is the best performing ambulance service in the country, and it would have been inexplicable to have merged it. The
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Government deserve great credit for not forcing such a merger. Will my hon. Friend get a third cheer by giving the assurance for which he has been asked on several occasions—that no merger in future, whether in 2008 or at any other time, will take place until the standard of the service with which it is intended to merge has reached the standards, including the response time standards, of the Staffordshire service? That is the crucial guarantee that my hon. Friend has to give.

Andy Burnham: I thank my hon. Friend for his two cheers. Again, I will pass them on to others who have worked on this. The crucial test in judging changes to an ambulance service is, first, that the service is viable and, secondly, that it is providing a safe service to all the residents in the area. Those are the guiding principles on which any further changes will be made. As I said to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), any further change would be about ensuring that service standards could be further improved. We recognise the improvements in service standards that Staffordshire has reached; that is why we are happy to make the decisions that we announced. I hear what my hon. Friend has said. In going forward with any further change, we must be clear that it is about improving service standards to all the residents of Staffordshire and the west midlands.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): Can the Minister confirm that the effect of his announcement is that, in future, commissioning in the health service will be the responsibility of roughly the same number of regional health authorities that the Government inherited in 1997 and renamed strategic health authorities, of roughly the same number of health authorities that the Government inherited in 1997 and renamed primary care trusts, or importantly—in this I agree with the Government—when in the hands of GP
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fundholders renamed primary care commissioners? Does this mean that we got it roughly right?

Andy Burnham: I am intrigued by the right hon. Gentleman’s line of questioning. There are very important differences, as we said in exchanges across the Floor of the House last week, between GP fundholding and the Conservative model— whereby, for completely arbitrary reasons, people had differential access to hospital treatment—and the practice-based commissioning model that we are introducing through these new reforms. Under the right hon. Gentleman’s leadership, the NHS had a bizarre paper chase involving a whole process of red tape and people chasing invoices around the system. I am happy and proud to say that we will certainly not replicate that in our NHS.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on rejecting Trent strategic health authority’s aggressive campaign for a single Nottinghamshire-wide PCT and instead listening to the many thousands of my constituents who queued up to sign my petition for our PCT to remain on its own. Can the Minister assure the House that that practice of listening to the people will underpin the way in which we run the health service in future?

Andy Burnham: I know that my hon. Friend has run a characteristically dogged and tenacious campaign on this issue and that he did indeed present a very large petition to the Department. As I said, that shows that the new PCTs have commanded a great deal of support and that people are identifying with those organisations as providers of health care. I will of course pass on to the Secretary of State the points that he raised. He is absolutely right to say that as the NHS goes forwards, it needs to show that it can listen and, where possible, make changes to respond to local communities.

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Point of Order

4.29 pm

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given you notice. What can you do to help us to restore the reputations of our constituents once they have been badly maligned in this House? I give you the example of a debate on the Child Support Agency on 17 January, when the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) referred to my constituent, a Miss Eva Peterson, as a Russian internet bride. He then went on to catalogue the failures of her partner for failing to provide for the child of a constituent of his. Miss Peterson is as far from being a Russian internet bride as it is possible to be. She is a professional woman, a PhD and a former mayor of a major city in Russia. The Petersons are also subject to a campaign of harassment from the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, which has resulted in a court order barring her from making further contact. What can you do, Mr. Speaker, to help us to restore that reputation; and is it not a convention of this House that if our constituents are going to be criticised by an hon. Member we should be informed in advance?

Mr. Speaker: All hon. Members are responsible for the words that they use in the Chamber, unless they are unparliamentary, in which case I will intervene. I cannot therefore be drawn into this matter. It would be impractical if hon. Members had to notify the constituency MP of everyone who was mentioned, be they the director of a company or an executive in a health authority, if they resided in another constituency. That would not be helpful or easy to do. However, the hon. Gentleman is the constituency MP concerned in this case, and he has now been able to put the record straight. That will help the reputation of his constituent.

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Housing and Commercial Development (Water Supply Assessment)

4.31 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I beg to move,

The House has not yet created a mechanism for declaring a non-interest. However, I should like to make such a declaration. As the chairman of a water company, I ought not to be keen on restricting the amount of water that can be sold. As we have seen from today’s newspaper headlines, however, we are facing a serious water shortage arising from a wide range of reasons. Because of global warming, our precipitation level is now lower, and the precipitation arrives in much more concentrated amounts. It therefore runs off the land into the rivers and out to sea much more quickly than before.

There is no doubt that we face real difficulties relating to our water supply. This comes as a surprise to people abroad, who think of Britain as a nation in which water is ever-present. I was in Paris on Monday, and a senior official there commented that he was now convinced about global warming largely because it appeared that it no longer rained in Britain. That might be an unusual, French way of looking at the issue, but it underlines the seriousness of the situation.

This is not a party political comment, but I was surprised to discover that there is no statutory reason why anyone building an estate or a commercial building, for example, should ascertain in advance that the water supply and sewerage infrastructure for the site will be adequate. He will want to know that connection is possible, but he does not need to ascertain whether the system will bear the additional weight of his development.

The Government are proposing to bring 750,000 more people into the Thames Gateway, yet, as far as I can discover, they have made no direct assessment of the ability to provide either a water supply or sewerage facilities for those new homes. Let us take the town of Ashford as a further example. At first, it was proposed to build a significant number of new houses there. Only when the local authority was able to prove that neither the water supply nor the sewerage infrastructure would be adequate was that number cut substantially. Throughout the country, development goes ahead without those fundamental questions being asked.

When introducing the sustainable communities document, the Government failed to discuss water at all with anyone. Several years of consideration of that document had taken place before formal discussions were conducted with Water UK or anyone else. That shows how unimportant water has been either in the psyche of the nation or in the Government’s understanding.

It is interesting that Members of all parties represented in the House are among the supporters of this ten-minute Bill, including nationalist, Liberal, Conservative and Labour Members. Among them are those who hold shadow responsibility and who have
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until recently held Government responsibility for environmental matters. One of the reasons for that is the divorce between what was the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and is now the Department for Communities and Local Government—I am one of the few who can remember that distinction—and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Since the sidelining of DEFRA, so that it no longer has a direct influence and control over these matters, issues such as water have become much less important than the aggrandisement of what was the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

I want to make sure that the seriousness of the current situation is brought home to the nation. To build without being able to provide water or sewerage facilities, often in areas that will also be plagued by flooding, is sheer folly. One of the things that many of our constituents do not understand is that we can have both drought and floods in the present circumstances. We can have a shortage of water and yet be plagued by a damaging excess of it. We must therefore start—and continue with retrofitting—with the new homes, office and factories being built. Unless we ask the fundamental questions, which the Bill seeks to ensure that we do, we shall not get the right answers. If we do not ask whether there is enough water for such homes, we only have ourselves to blame when such homes get constricted because of drought and water scarcity regulations.

Of course, that would entail an important role for the water company and the Environment Agency, which would together produce that assessment. If a water company says that it can provide water for a new development, that gives the owner of a new house or commercial premises a clear, bankable indication that he can carry on his home or commercial life without interruption. The fact that the Environment Agency will have to support that will ensure that there is a proper implied contract for the owner of a new home or commercial premises. At the moment, the day after a family moves into a new home, the local water company can say, “Frightfully sorry, but we haven’t got enough water for you.” I hope that that does not happen, but the situation is becoming increasingly sharp and difficult.

It is not possible to overestimate the state of our water supplies. Three local water companies are
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considering or asking for planning permission for desalination plants—in this country, Britain—which we thought were an unfortunate necessity in the middle east and beyond. That is one of the immediate effects of climate change. Given the inadequacy of the Government’s response to climate change, that will get worse, not better. Unless we take these practical, simple measures to ensure that such matters are highlighted, we will not be able to defend future generations from a water shortage that will leave them in a position that we never thought would be experienced in Britain in 100 years. Standpipes for much of the south and centre of Britain are something that we did not expect to see at all, yet we are proposing to inject into the area where standpipes are being threatened yet more housing, to the tune of up to 4 million homes.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Madness!

Mr. Gummer: In this context, “madness” is a very polite term. I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend, but I would put it more clearly. The Government must take this more seriously. I am sorry that it has been left to a Back-Bench Member of Parliament to propose the Bill. This is a simple matter, but it is a matter of gaining information that is necessary not only to the developer, the home owner and the owner of a business but to the nation as a whole, so that we do not develop where water is not available and where flooding is a real risk.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Gummer, Mr. Peter Ainsworth, Mrs. Caroline Spelman, Mr. Tim Yeo, Mr. Michael Meacher, Mr. Elliot Morley, Andrew Stunell, Hywel Williams and Mr. Nick Hurd.

Housing and Commercial Development (Water Supply Assessment)

Mr. John Gummer accordingly presented a Bill to require an assessment to be made, before construction, of the water supply requirements resulting from housing and commercial development. And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 14 July, and to be printed[Bill 182].

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Orders of the Day

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

[Relevant documents: First Special Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee, Session 2005-06,Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, HC 878.Second Special Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee, Session 2005-06,Government’s Response to the First Special Report on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, HC 1004.First Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 2005-06, Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, HC 894. Seventeenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2005-06, Legislative Scrutiny: Eighth Progress Report, HC 1062.Third Report from the Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2005-06, Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, HC 1033.]

As amended in the Standing Committee, further considered.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have just collected from the board a letter from the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. McFadden), dated 16 May, in which he says that during yesterday’s Report stage debate there was a discussion about the power in new clause 1 to remove or reduce burdens. It is reported in columns 782 and 783 of Hansard. He says

I hope that the Minister will have an opportunity to make that clarification now, so that we can reflect on it before we reach Third Reading later today.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I have seen the letter to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I am sorry to disappoint him, but my advice is that it would not be appropriate for the Minister to make such statements at this point in the proceedings. There are other ways in which he may do so.

Mr. Chope: Further to the point of order,Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you be prepared to indicate when it might be appropriate for the Minister to make the clarification available, so that we have it before the start of the Third Reading debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: There are a number of ways in which the Minister may do that. I cannot go through them all now, but clearly this is not the point at which he should do it. Matters have moved on since the measure was first debated in the Chamber, but there are ways in which this can be done, which the hon. Gentleman can discover for himself and of which the Minister will also be aware.

New Clause 2

Report on operation of act

‘Before the end of the six months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed and annually thereafter, the Secretary of State must prepare and lay before Parliament a report setting out his estimate of the extent to which orders, rules and schemes made pursuant to this Act have—

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(a) removed or reduced any burden,

(b) re-enacted any provision having the effect of imposing any burden, in cases where the burden was proportionate to the benefit that was expected to result from such re-enactment,

(c) made any new provision having the effect of imposing a burden that has affected any person in the carrying on of the activity, but was proportionate to the benefit that was expected to result from its creation, or

(d) removed inconsistencies and anomalies in legislation.'. — [Mr. Harper.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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