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The hon. Member for Chesterfield asked about information held by local authorities on registered blind and partially sighted people, and that was a very useful contribution. The issue has been raised by the Royal National Institute of the Blind, and we are discussing whether we can extend it into the Bill with the Department of Health and the Department for Constitutional Affairs. We shall certainly consider doing so if the issue is raised in Committee. Sadly, the sensible Conservative contribution came not from the Front Bench, but from the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale). As always, his speech was helpful and elucidating. His Committee has been tirelessly helpful in achieving a constructive approach to ensuring that digital switchover not only happens, but happens on time. It also recognises problems in an
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appropriate way and, more often than not, it usefully puts forward proper solutions. His Front-Bench colleagues might take his advice.

The hon. Gentleman has rightly raised the issue of private landlords time and again, and I want to continue to work with him on the issue, which is serious, as I said earlier. He invited me to be robust on the matter of targeted help provision by the BBC, and I assure him that it is our intention to be robust about it. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) did a good job of bringing hon. Members back to the point of the Bill. I say that because we have had a wide-ranging discussion, but the fact is that we are considering a modest, albeit important, Bill that deals with information provision. Although you have been generous enough to allow the debate to range far and wide, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at times it has ranged exceedingly far and wide, given that the Bill does not set the licence fee for the BBC.

I give my hon. Friend a categorical yes to his question whether we will work to reach everyone who is entitled to targeted assistance. He is absolutely right to say that what matters is getting it right, and it is particularly important that we reach groups such as the elderly and the 23,000 people helped by Sense—a group that I used to work with 20 years ago. We want to help them and it is the intention of the Bill to do that. As my hon. Friend recognises, analogue sets can be converted for as little as £20 and the digital tick logo supported by Government and Digital UK will ensure that people can identify the equipment that will work after switchover. None the less, his points about trading standards officers and enforcement are important.

The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) made a very useful contribution. He proposed the idea of an MPs hotline. I remember with sadness the famous cones hotline. Although we would not want it to go the same way, if it became apparent that we needed something like an MPs hotline in relation to digital switchover, we would consider it. I am happy to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman and with Digital UK.

My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed) is right to say that Whitehaven is leading the nation. We thank him, his local authority and his constituents for their help and co-operation in a project that is not a pilot, because there is no going back; it is the first stage of the roll-out of digital switchover. My hon. Friend has done a great job for his constituents, which will help to ensure that it is a success, not least because of the work that he is doing with the voluntary groups in his constituency. I look forward to visiting
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the constituency early in the new year and to capitalising on the use of local technological expertise, as he suggested.

We are grateful for the work that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has been doing with pensioners. What we learned from the trial in Bolton is that, whatever state provision we make, it is the work that families and friends do for their elderly relatives that will make the difference. Most of us have elderly relatives and friends. The digital switchover will be challenging for many people. We know that that is the group who will require most help out there, and the example that the hon. Gentleman has set by working with pensioners is one that all of us in the House would do well to follow.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) that switchover is a great opportunity, but it is essential that we get the settlement issues right in relation to that and to the BBC. If that means waiting, hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench should listen to my hon. Friend’s advice and wait so that we get it right.

The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) offered his support, I think, through most of his speech, although there were times when he seemed to join the hon. Member for East Devon in posing more questions than were relevant to the Bill. None the less, it is an important topic for discussion and I will write to the hon. Member for Hexham on one or two matters that he raised. I will not answer the questions now as he is no longer in the Chamber. I am grateful for his letter of apology explaining why he is not here.

Finally, the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) raised a number of points, the most important of which concerned rural areas. It is important to recognise the severe challenges posed by rural areas, not least the physical challenges of hills and transmissions. We are working hard with our partners to achieve digital switchover. I remind the hon. Gentleman of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said explicitly throughout her opening speech this afternoon—for the Government, the principle is universal access. People who live in rural areas are as entitled as anybody else to access, and we will work to that end.

The Bill is a modest but important piece of legislation. It will involve disclosure of personal data for a sensible and worthwhile purpose—assisting potentially vulnerable groups throughout the switchover process. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A (Programme motions),

Question agreed to.

8.53 pm

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. After my earlier intervention, the Minister kindly agreed to respond in his speech to the question of what would happen if there were overspend on the £600 million estimated cost of the digital changeover. He did not return to that and I wondered whether, through you—

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. We have concluded that debate and I have no intention of reopening it now.


Creaton Post Office

8.54 pm

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I have the honour to present a petition on behalf of Mrs. Caroline Gibbs and over 400 other customers who are worried about the future of Creaton sub-post office, which has been awarded the prize by the Countryside Alliance for being the best village shop and post office in the whole of Northamptonshire. Mrs. Gibbs and the 400 other users of this much-valued facility have signed the petition, which sheweth

Notwithstanding the announcement last week from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the pressure will continue to be applied to Her Majesty’s Government—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should now present his petition.

To lie upon the Table.

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New Hospital (Romford)

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

8.56 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): This month, the people of my constituency of Romford, along with all the people of the London borough of Havering and the neighbouring boroughs of Barking, Dagenham and Redbridge, have at long last seen the doors open at our brand new hospital located at Oldchurch park in my constituency.

This wonderful Christmas present for everyone in our part of Essex and east London is long overdue. As the MP for Romford, I am proud of all those who have worked so hard to make this new development a reality. I am truly grateful to Her Majesty’s Government and the chief executive of the NHS trust, Mark Rees, and his entire team at the Barking Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust for seeing this enormous project through to completion, and, of course, to the doctors, nurses and all the staff at the Oldchurch and Harold Wood hospitals for their dedication, duty, care for the people of my constituency and the neighbouring constituencies over many decades, and now for their patience as the transition from the old hospital to the new takes place. I know that there are many teething problems, as one might expect in a new hospital, with telephone and communication difficulties, lack of signage and disabled access problems, but I have every confidence that those slight difficulties will soon be resolved.

I welcome and applaud the decision taken in 1999 to construct a new hospital in Romford. It was desperately needed, with the Oldchurch hospital becoming increasingly outdated and unfit for the modern medical needs of the 21st century. At this point I would like to pay tribute to a number of individuals who worked tirelessly throughout the 1990s to campaign to defend health service provision in Romford and throughout the London borough of Havering, and who fought to persuade the Government of the need for a new hospital in Romford.

My predecessor as MP for Romford, Eileen Gordon, was a champion for health care in Havering. She led the save the Oldchurch hospital campaign, and she worked unstintingly to highlight the need for improved health service provision over many years. She was never afraid to speak out on this vital subject. I applaud the work that she did and would like, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to thank her publicly for her efforts on behalf of all the people of Romford. Her dedication and that of her late husband, Tony, along with her close friend, the late Councillor Sheila McCole, will not be forgotten by me or the people of Romford. Eileen and I were opponents, as one might imagine, but I will always acknowledge that her work on health issues during her time as MP for Romford made a significant impact and helped to lead to the achievement of today as we celebrate the opening of our new, modern hospital in Romford.

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Thanks to the first-rate, world-class doctors and nurses of Romford, Essex and east London, our new, long-awaited hospital will undoubtedly provide an excellent state-of-the-art service to local people for which I am extremely grateful, as are my hon. Friends the Members for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) and for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire). This fantastic new facility, developed to meet the modern stresses of the 21st century, will replace Oldchurch and Harold Wood hospitals.

Although I welcome such a splendid improvement to our local health service provision, I am concerned that it will contain only 939 beds. That is somewhat disappointing, because it is only four more than the 935 beds currently contained in the two hospitals that are to be closed. This development was supposed to relieve the stresses of population growth, of which we are more aware in London than anywhere else, to serve the increasingly elderly population of the London borough of Havering, and to replace outdated care provision and redundant and obsolete service buildings. The Minister might like to consider whether an extra four beds will be enough to meet those inevitable strains, despite the tremendous efforts of our exceptional medical staff.

All this is even more disturbing given the decision to close Harold Wood hospital, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster, and the worrying rumours about Whipps Cross and King George hospitals, which are of great concern to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott). Does not the Minister think that when the strategic health authority reviewed the planned development, the priorities should have been more foresight, more strategic planning, more beds to meet a rapidly growing local population, and more careful consultation? All my constituents in Romford welcome the new facility enthusiastically, but they, like me, are somewhat bewildered as to why the issue of beds has been so woefully misguided and misjudged.

The opening of a new hospital is not an occasion that comes around too often. Many of my constituents want to celebrate it, and we hope that next year the official opening will be a great day in the history of our Essex market town. However, many of my constituents have legitimate concerns, which I share, that there was not more effort to consult the wider community on the naming of the new hospital. I understand that the Department for Constitutional Affairs made the decision and gave its instruction to the local NHS trust. The name that the trust wanted was rejected, and the DCA granted the name, Queen’s hospital.

Many of us have serious concerns about the way in which that was decided and about the name itself. Should the hospital have been named after Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in this her 80th birthday year, we would have been deeply proud and honoured. However, the Queen’s does not seem to represent any particular monarch—our current queen or a previous one. It is a vague title that means very little. I and many others are also disappointed that such an important decision should be made without consultation, and it seems against the wishes of the NHS trust itself.

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Other names that have popular support are, for instance, the royal hospital Romford—the Romford royal for short—or the Oldchurch park hospital. Both of those names indicate a geographical location, which is also important to local people and demonstrates historical links in Romford and the London borough of Havering.

Surely local people should be given the opportunity to express their views on that, and surely there is still time to reconsider the name of the new hospital in advance of the official opening next year. This is not a trivial issue. A name is important, and something that we will have to live with for probably another century. I ask the Minister to allow local people the chance to have a say and let us choose the most appropriate name that everyone can feel proud of for our new beloved hospital.

As the MP for Romford, I have therefore made representations to both the NHS trust and the Lord Chancellor at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and I hope that the Minister will support my view that local people should have an input into the name of their local hospital. There is time to change the name, so will the Minister please allow the people of Havering and the surrounding areas to have a say in this very important decision?

A new hospital of course brings new hope that our health services in Romford and Havering, Barking and Dagenham and Redbridge will improve. They certainly need to. The Government’s statistics place Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust well below the average in waiting times for hip replacements, removal of cancerous breast lumps, keyhole knee surgery, knee-replacement surgery, removal of bladder growths, removal of kidneys and so on. There is a feeling—highly justifiable in my view—that Romford and Havering are victims of the Government’s health postcode lottery. Perhaps people should not be placed in that unfair position, and should be given fair and equal access to health care regardless of which constituency they reside in.

Our doctors, nurses and support team perform nothing short of a miracle every day. I believe that they are among the finest medical professionals to be found anywhere in the United Kingdom. Indeed, they saved my life at the Oldchurch hospital when I was only five. I am one of thousands of people in Romford who have received excellent health care from local hospitals, but sadly not everyone has had the same experience, and I could give many examples of that.

In the Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust there are only 36.5 doctors per 100 beds—well below the national average of 45. Likewise, as it stands, there are only 128.1 nurses per 100 beds, well below the national average of 136. I hope that Romford’s new medical facility will improve the Government’s health statistics, but I fear that, like a plaster over a wound that requires stitches, this new development, although welcome, may provide only a superficial and temporary solution to a problem that clearly runs deep throughout the national health service. If we are to give every person in this country the same high standard that I believe all British people deserve from the national health service, it is time that the Government embraced the radical reform that is needed.

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