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19 Dec 2006 : Column 1313

But in my opinion, on the information that I have, that whole exercise is rigged, flawed and unacceptable. Why do I say that it is rigged? I do so because London NHS is not asking every area in London to undertake similar exercises; only four areas in London are doing so, and neither of the neighbouring boroughs, Newham and Hackney, nor the areas of Essex—where, for example, Harlow hospital is located—is undertaking a similar exercise. The exercise is constructed simply to look at patient flows and the local health economy of outer north-east London.

What is very interesting is that those involved have come up with proposals designed to reduce the services in some hospitals in my area, while no consideration is given to the neighbouring boroughs. We have discovered that there is, in effect, a preconceived agenda: as the new hospital is built up and established at Romford, it is a fixed point, and they are trying to create a situation where either the Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone or the King George hospital in Ilford is significantly downgraded.

The whole basis of the process is designed, of course, to create rivalry between neighbouring Members of Parliament and neighbouring communities. In those circumstances, it is very difficult to take an objective look at the overall situation. Those involved are failing to take account of the facts. I got these figures from the Library last week, and the facts are that the population of my borough, Redbridge, based on natural factors—fertility, demographics and the movement of people in, not additional house building—will increase over the next 25 years, from 2004 to 2029, by a total of 46,300. Havering’s population will go up by 14,700, and Barking and Dagenham’s by 12,000. Yet there is no provision for any new hospital facilities; on the contrary, there is a reduction.

At the same time, let us take account of proposed house building. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) referred to the Thames Gateway. At present, 1.5 million people live in the whole of that area, from east London to the south of Essex and north Kent on the other side of the Thames. Over the next 10 years, until 2016, something like 128,500 new homes are going to be built in that area. In just 10 years, the population is going to increase by15 per cent. That will mean 275,000 additional people in the Thames Gateway area. A large proportion of that increase is in the Thames Gateway area of the east London boroughs and alongside the Essex part of the River Thames.

In 2004, before the North East London strategic health authority was abolished and merged into the new London NHS, it said that, in the 10 years, there would be increases in population of 100,000 or 51 per cent. in Tower Hamlets; 99,000 or 40 per cent. in Newham; 7,000 or 3 per cent. in Havering; 17,000 or 8 per cent. in Waltham Forest—although that is outside the Thames Gateway area—and 21,000 or 9 per cent. in Redbridge. Most significantly, it said that in Barking and Dagenham, which is where people go from to King George hospital in Ilford, there will be 44,000 additional people—a27 per cent. increase in the population—in the next10 years.

There are no plans to build any new hospitals in the Thames Gateway whatsoever. From the Newham general hospital and the Royal London hospital right
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the way through to Basildon there are no new hospitals. Yes, there is the fantastic new state-of-the-art Queen’s hospital in Romford. However, it is proposed to take out of the equation several hundred beds from either the King George hospital in Ilford, or the Whipps Cross university hospital in Leytonstone. The way that decision is pointing is that the beds will be taken out of the hospital in Ilford, in my constituency. That is being done because it is argued that there are financial deficits, which is true. The Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust has a 4.8 per cent. deficit of £16 million on a turnover of more than£334 million. The neighbouring Whipps Cross university hospital has a deficit of £15.8 million on a turnover of £182 million, which is 8.7 per cent.—one of the largest in the country.

I am concerned, however, that if facilities in my constituency are closed, there is no guarantee that there will be improved primary care facilities proportionate to the closures that will be announced. The ongoing deficit at Whipps Cross will have to be financed. In answer to questions at the meeting on Friday, it was admitted that that deficit would take at least five years to eliminate. The Waltham Forest primary care trust has a deficit of £1.884 million to cover as well. We are facing a situation in which there is disinvestment in some services in Waltham Forest and disinvestment by Waltham Forest council in some of its social services spending. We in Ilford will presumably make a contribution in the form of the savings that the primary care trust will make overall by reducing services in Ilford.

I am conscious of time. I do not wish to go on too long, but I want to make an even more serious point. There is something bizarre about the process. On11 December, the chief executive of the NHS London region, Ruth Carnell, sent a letter to all London Members of Parliament in which she said that the NHS London region was commissioning a major document from Professor Sir Ara Darzi setting out a framework for

across London. That is to be published in spring 2007 and a final health strategy for London will be published in the summer. That seems bizarre and absurd: one starts the process to carry out cuts in services in one part of London and then one decides the strategy for the whole of London. It is bonkers. That is the wrong way round. I cannot understand why the NHS does not say, “In view of the decision to set up this work by Professor Ara Darzi, we need to look at London as a whole and then look at the sub-parts of London—the particular boroughs, outer London north-east, south-east London and west London,” rather than doing things this crazy way round. There is something seriously wrong with the way in which the matter is being approached.

The other thing that worries me is that the local “fit for the future” team seem to have given only cursory consideration to the impact of the changes that they are making on the neighbouring areas. I have already referred to Newham and Hackney, but there is also the possibility of movement of some patients to other hospitals in London, such as the North Middlesex university hospital. We were told at the meeting on Friday, which was attended by five Members of
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Parliament, that those involved had written in October to ask for information from those neighbouring hospitals, but the people had not got any detailed information to give us. It does not seem that there is any sense of co-ordination, particularly given the massive increases in population that are going to take place in Newham and Tower Hamlets as a result of development in the Thames Gateway.

Those involved have also done an odd exercise with regard to consideration of travelling to hospitals. I asked, “Have you done detailed studies of how a woman with four young children and a pram, who does not have access to a car, will get to the hospital in Romford or Whipps Cross university hospital from the south of Ilford or even from Barking and Dagenham?” I was told, “Well, we’ve done some simulation exercises of journey times.” However, the information is not public and I suspect that, as with everything else in this case, there is a preconceived outcome and a rigged process.

I asked the Library of the Commons for some data on travel times and the number of households that do not have access to a car. Interestingly, the wards in my constituency furthest from the hospitals are the ones with a higher number of people who do not have cars. It is odd, because the document produced by the “fit for the future” team says that “fit for the future” is supposed to be “addressing local health inequalities”. Yes, it is true: it does address local health inequalities—it addresses them and makes them worse. Some 38 per cent. of households in Loxford in my constituency do not have access to a car. In Valentines the figure is also 38 per cent. and in Clementswood it is 35 per cent. The figures are slightly higher in the wards in the neighbouring borough of Barking and Dagenham. However, in leafy Monkhams, in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), which is up near Whipps Cross university hospital, only 16 per cent. of households do not have access to a car.

If services at King George hospital are run down and decimated to make it available for ambulatory care—as it is called—only, people may well have to amble there, travelling several miles, and then find that they have a more serious ailment and be rushed by ambulance to another hospital several miles away. It is a ridiculous situation. We need to stop the process. Either the London NHS should stop the whole process now or the boards of the primary care trusts—particularly Redbridge—should vote down the proposals so that they cannot go through and are referred back. Alternatively, if we go through this exercise, I hope that tens of thousands of local people throughout Redbridge, Barking, Dagenham and elsewhere will come out and say loudly, “No, we do not want King George hospital to be closed.” If that does not work, Redbridge council’s scrutiny committee should refer the matter to the Secretary of State so that we can deal with this nonsense.

I believe passionately that the Government have done a lot of good things to improve investment in the NHS, but we have a set of self-serving, bureaucratic, accountant-minded managers who are coming up with proposals that are not in the interests of the poorest people in the poorest communities, including those in my constituency. These mad proposals have to be stopped.

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3 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): I would have thought that the passionate pleas of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) for proper health care in his constituency do not sit very easily with the Secretary of State for Health saying that this is the best year yet for the national health service. The hon. Gentleman might want to read yesterday’s Hansard and reflect on the totally inadequate response of the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), to the Adjournment debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). I wish the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee well in his endeavours, but I think that he will have a lot of persuading of his ministerial colleagues to do.

We will today adjourn for the Christmas recess and go back home to be with our loved ones and families. That is very different from what will happen to a large number of young men and women serving in our armed forces, especially those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I want to draw the House’s attention to yesterday’s inquest into the death of Sergeant Steve Roberts, at which the coroner, Andrew Walker, said:

You will recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that back in March 2003, Sergeant Steve Roberts died because he did not have lifesaving body armour, which had been denied him by the then Secretary of State for Defence. Mr. Walker went on to say:

The coroner had requested that the then Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), come to give evidence at the inquest. That did not happen. Instead, the Ministry of Defence sent David Williams, who is its director of capability, resources and scrutiny. Mr. Williams said that buying large numbers of body armour sets would have

What an unbelievably cynical and outrageous remark to make. Does that mean that if we ever order more bullets and guns, we are telling our enemies that we might be about to engage in conflict? That was a totally inadequate response.

I found it amazing that the current Secretary of State for Defence did not come to the Dispatch Box today to make a statement in light of the coroner’s remarks. It was quite unacceptable that the right hon. Member for Ashfield delayed for eight weeks before agreeing to the request that the body armour be made available. The right hon. Gentleman should be seriously considering his position. Frankly, having spent 25 years in this House, I do not see how he can remain as a Minister—you will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the right hon. Gentleman still serves in a non-Cabinet capacity as Minister for Europe.

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The other place is considering the Government’s Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. I would suggest that if this was the real world and the private sector, the right hon. Gentleman could well be up on a charge of corporate manslaughter. Part of the Bill, which will soon return to this House, says clearly that a person who has left their job and moved to another position has no excuse—that person can still be prosecuted. When the Deputy Leader of the House makes his winding-up speech, I hope that he will, at the very least, give us some assurance that the current Secretary of State for Defence will report back to the House when we return in January and that he will convey the concerns of many right hon. and hon. Members to the right hon. Member for Ashfield and ask him to consider his position.

The situation in both Afghanistan and Iraq is grave. Many of us have been deeply uncomfortable with the fact that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have not been prepared to come to the House to brief us adequately in recent weeks. I am sure that you would agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the first duty of the House is to ensure that the people in this country have confidence in us and that we reflect people’s real concerns in our debates, questions and proceedings on statements in the House.

You will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Prime Minister immediately flew to Washington—quite rightly, in my view—to be with President Bush straight after Secretary Baker published the Iraq Study Group report. The report is hugely significant. It could change the way in which we are conducting war in Iraq and it might have grave implications for our fighting men and women in Iraq. The Prime Minister saw fit to take questions at the press conference in Washington, but after returning to this country on the Friday, he made a speech in Birmingham on a completely unrelated subject. He was not prepared to come to the House to make a statement on developments following the publication of Secretary Baker’s report. That is quite unacceptable.

Although I have huge respect for the Leader of the House—I realise that he was in a difficult position earlier in the week—I gently suggest to him, through his deputy, that to say rather vaguely that there will be a debate on Iraq some time before the end of January is just not good enough. When hon. Members questioned him about that debate and said, “Presumably, of course, the Prime Minister will open that debate,” the Leader of the House gave the clear impression that the debate would be opened merely by the Foreign Secretary. Again, I would suggest that that is not good enough. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will convey that to both the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister.

This is an extremely awkward time in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I have already mentioned. I do not think that the House can ignore today’s Chatham House report, which says not only that it was a terrible mistake for us to go into Iraq, but that the Prime Minister was woefully negligent to take so long to realise that the Taliban were resurging in Afghanistan. Most of us accept that the redeployment of allied troops from Afghanistan to Iraq at the time of the invasion of Iraq gave the Taliban a wonderful opportunity,
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which it has exploited to the full, to the huge detriment of the people of Afghanistan and our brave men and women who are fighting out there.

I conclude by suggesting to the Deputy Leader of the House that he, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister take a long, cool look at the report thatDame Pauline Neville-Jones and her team published yesterday, which is a constructive critique of foreign and security policy in this country. Their conclusion was that it was high time that with our foreign policy and diplomacy there was a little humility and patience. That has been sadly lacking. It was particularly lacking in the characteristically arrogant remarks of the Foreign Secretary, who dismissed the Chatham House report of Victor Bulmer-Thomas as

Chatham House is a hugely influential and respected institution, which is totally non-political and unbiased. To have its report dismissed in such petulant, damning terms by the Foreign Secretary frankly says more about the Foreign Secretary than it does about Chatham House.

3.12 pm

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I start by wishing a merry Christmas to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Speaker, the staff and the Members, particularly those who have stopped here for the graveyard shift this afternoon. I especially want to wish a merry Christmas to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). I hope that he has a nice day here tomorrow; I certainly intend to be getting off a train in Durham before 10 o’clock tonight.

I want to return to a matter that I first raised in the House in the summer recess Adjournment debate in 2005. I expressed genuine concerns about plans that had been put to Gateshead borough council to allow a local contractor to mine open-cast coal from a site in my constituency known as Skons Park. I do not intend to recall all the points that I made on that occasion, but I want to state on the record that the issues raised that day are at least as relevant now as they were then. To some extent, this is an update, but for the vast majority of people in my area, it is an update that they would rather not have.

Following my debate and with the support of thousands of people in the area, the local council, in unanimous agreement, threw out the application in March 2006. The relief and joy at that decision was shared not only by thousands of people living in and around the Derwent valley, but by the National Trust, which owns the nearby Gibside estate, of which more later. Gateshead council, Derwentside council, Durham county council, English Heritage, local political parties, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Wildlife Trust, the Woodland Trust and Friends of the Earth were all opposed to the application.

Special mention should also be made of the campaign run by the group DRAMA, Derwentside Residents Against Mining Application, led by local man Eddie Stringer, and the Derwent Valley Preservation Society, led by Alderman Pitch Wilson, a man with a hugely impressive track record in defending our corner of this green and pleasant land going back well over 30 years and, coincidentally, in that time seeing off nine open-cast applications.

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