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10 Jan 2007 : Column 298

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): If the permanent secretary, on the conclusion of his inquiry into the matter, identifies the official who did not give the correct information in reply to the specific question posed by the Home Secretary, will that official be sacked?

John Reid: The hon. Lady makes several assumptions, one of which is that the relevant people might still be working in the Home Office. All I can say without prejudging the inquiry is that one of the reasons—not the only one—why I asked for it was that I found it inexplicable that such a backlog had not been brought to my attention when it was pretty obvious to everyone else, including hon. Members, that I wanted to identify the problems in the Home Office that we needed to address quite openly and then deal with them. Although I do not wish to prejudge the inquiry, we will deal with that when it comes out.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I thank the Home Secretary for his full statement and for initiating the investigation. Will he assure the House that he will ensure that this item will be on the agenda at the next meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council of the EU so that our partners are aware of the deficiencies in the provision of information? In respect of countries outside the EU, will he meet the Foreign Secretary to determine whether there is any way in which, through the posts abroad, she can help to lobby other Governments to ensure that they provide adequate information?

John Reid: I can say yes to both my right hon. Friend’s points. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), who has been dealing with the matter with me over the past 24 hours or so, will be attending the next meeting in the near future and will raise both those points with colleagues formally and informally.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): The Home Secretary outlined the situation up until the time of the agreement in 2005 in the European Union and tried to reassure the House that the stricter regime put in place after that, with a single national authority in each member state, would lead to the problem being much easier to control. The original situation occurred under a Council of Europe convention involving 46 member countries. The European Union has only 27 member states, which means that 19 countries, including large ones, such as Russia and Ukraine, and others with a large British expatriate population, such as Norway and Switzerland, are not covered by the arrangements. How many cases in the backlog involve us seeking answers from countries that are not required to have a single national authority and from which we are thus unlikely to get answers?

John Reid: We can approach several institutions and we can carry out work through Interpol. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman in advance how many of the 27,000 cases that have not yet been examined in detail are of a particular nature. I would hazard a guess that around half of them might not be sufficiently detailed for us to enter them on the police national computer
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because about half of the 540 more serious ones were not. If that pattern is repeated, it might well be that many of the cases involve pieces of paper with notifications that are in no condition to go on the computer. However, we will pursue every avenue.

The hon. Gentleman makes the simple point that while things might have got better under the new system, they are not perfect. I have not claimed that we have perfection. We have the European Union, beyond which there is the Council of Europe. Beyond that we have the world, so a couple of hundred countries will be sending us information that is not as perfect as it ought to be. I merely say that the system is a lot better than it was before and that it is among the best in Europe, along with the systems in France and Ireland.

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Protection of Listed Vehicles

1.27 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I beg to move,

The Bill has its roots in the well-supported campaign to ensure the preservation and, I hope, maintenance of a Concorde in a suitably airworthy condition to enable it to be flown on what might loosely be called ceremonial occasions. As I am sure that you are aware, Mr. Speaker, Heathrow airport is extremely close to my constituency. I frequently raise issues such as the noise and pollution that are an inevitable result of such a large airport and, indeed, my determined opposition to the construction of a third runway there. However, that does not mean that I was not a fan of Concorde. I never failed to be proud of it and concede that watching Concorde fly was a truly spectacular sight, despite its ear-splitting noise.

Of course, Concorde has now gone from our skies. The airframes were sold off to museums and collections around the world following its retirement in 2003. None are airworthy, and the ex-British Airways aircraft are in a worse state than the French ones, especially because of the decision by British Airways to order that all hydraulic pipes be drained and the electrical systems disabled on its seven Concordes. Jock Lowe, the airline’s former chief Concorde pilot and fleet manager, described that decision as an act of vandalism. I am not suggesting that Concorde should be returned to regular commercial service because that is no longer a viable option. However, many would like at least one Concorde to be restored to an airworthy condition, in a similar manner to the battle of Britain memorial flight, and would hope for it to be ready to fly in time for the 2012 Olympics. Currently, there is little hope of that happening. British Airways stated in a letter to my colleague the shadow transport Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), that

However, former technicians who worked on the aircraft, and independent observers, have stated that there is no reason why Concorde cannot fly again. If it were protected by vehicular listing, it should be possible to make BA think again about its policy towards what is a British icon.

Although I was thinking initially about Concorde, it occurred to me that very little status is given to the protection of certain vehicles of historical and cultural value. Over the years, there have been some notable success stories, such as the preservation of HMS Belfast and HMS Victory, and of the battle of Britain memorial flight that I mentioned earlier. More often than not, however, aircraft, steam engines and ships have struggled to achieve the necessary protection.

Ships of historical importance, such as the RMS Queen Elizabeth—which played a vital role as a troop carrier during the second world war and which was instantly recognisable as Cunard’s premier liner—have
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been lost to the nation in the past. We are in danger of losing vehicles and vessels of similar historical and cultural importance if no action is taken.

A prime example of that is the SV City of Adelaide. Built in 1864, she is the last remaining example of a composite-built passenger sailing ship. Although she is located at the Scottish maritime museum, the BBC has reported that her restoration will be abandoned and that she will be broken up and scrapped. Similarly, I am informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill), who I am delighted to see in his place today, that steamrollers are gradually disappearing. He tells me that owners find that, if they convert them to showmen’s road locomotives by replacing the rollers with wheels, they can double their value. I am never adverse to a bit commerce, but it would be a great shame if there were no way for us to ensure that some examples are preserved for posterity in their original state.

I am sure that hon. Members could think of many other examples, but I am anxious not to delay the House further as there is some very important business that Opposition Members want to discuss. In a nutshell, the aim of the Bill is to try to prevent any further loss of historic and culturally significant vehicles. Too many have been lost for good. It is time for us to take good care of our vehicular culture, just as we do of our architectural heritage. We owe that to future generations.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Randall, Kelvin Hopkins, Mrs. Janet Dean, John Thurso, Mr. Greg Knight, Mr. Gerald Howarth, Mr. Robert Goodwill, Michael Fabricant, Andrew Rosindell, Mr. Julian Brazier and Mr. Greg Hands.

Protection of Listed Vehicles

Mr. John Randall accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for the establishment of a scheme to promote the maintenance and preservation of certain vehicles of cultural value; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 2 February, and to be printed [Bill 44].

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Opposition Day

Community Maternity Services

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): We now come to the first debate on the Opposition motions. I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister, and that he has imposed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

1.34 pm

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): I beg to move,

Thirteen years ago, in a report entitled “Changing Childbirth”, the previous Conservative Government set out principles for the improvement of maternity care. They stated that the woman must be the focus of maternity care, that she should be able to exercise control over her care, that maternity services should be readily accessible, that they should be planned with the involvement of women, and that resources must be used efficiently.

Since then, Ministers have added to those principles. At the time of the last general election, the Labour manifesto stated:

Subsequently, a date of 2009 was set for the achievement of that commitment.

The Opposition motion effectively reiterates the commitments that I have set out, which I think are shared by hon. Members of all parties. They are based on the following principles: that, wherever possible, childbirth should be normal and governed by the exercise of choice by the mother and her partner; that the services that provide maternity care must be accessible, with continuity of care wherever that is possible; and that that maternity care must be safe and effective.

However, good intentions are not enough. We have to deliver. The motion recognises the NHS staff involved in that delivery—the midwives, maternity assistants, obstetricians, neonatologists and others—and thanks them for their hard work, the support that they give to mothers and the quality of service that they provide. But they know—as do we—that there is a long way to go. This week, the Royal College of Midwives expressed its concern about maternity services when it said:

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The RCM this week published a survey of heads of midwifery that paints a very worrying picture. It found that two thirds of midwifery units are understaffed, that qualified midwifery posts are being left unfilled or replaced by maternity care assistants, and that training budgets are being cut.

The Government have responded to that with complacency. They say that maternal and infant mortality rates are continuing to fall, and that is true—to the continuing credit of those who work in our maternity services. The Government say that that demonstrates the underlying safety of care, but mortality rates are not a sufficient measure of outcomes for the vast majority of mothers. Achieving a reduction in mortality rates is not the same as achieving quality.

Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman said that outcomes had improved in terms of mortality rates, and of course that is due in part to the dedication displayed by staff. However, does he agree that that is also due to increased funding? Why did his party oppose that increase?

Mr. Lansley: The long-term reductions in maternal and infant mortality rates are due to more than increased funding. There is a long-term trend across the range of mortality rates, and the Prime Minister said as much earlier today when he talked about cancer mortality rates. The matter is much more complex: it involves funding, the organisation and quality of the care that is provided, the technology that is applied and the skills of the staff. I do not accept that the problem is simply one of resources.

However, resources—that is, inputs—matter, as do outputs. The availability of midwives is an important factor. The Government amendment says that there are 2,400 more midwives than there were in 1997. That is on a head-count basis, but a calculation based on full-time equivalent staff shows that there are only 896 more midwives than there were in 1997. Full-time midwives now work 37.5 hours as opposed to 40 hours, which means that there are fewer midwife hours available now than was the case in 1997.

Moreover, the number of midwives is significantly smaller in relation to the number of live births. To begin with, the increase in the number of midwives under this Government was in the context of a falling birth rate nationally, but what has happened in the past five years? In that time, the number of live births in England has risen from 563,644 in 2001 to 613,028 in 2005. That is a 9 per cent. increase, so it is little wonder that midwives are hard pressed.

Has the number of midwives risen or fallen in the past year? The answer is that 36 fewer midwives are employed in the NHS, according to the most recent work force census.

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab) rose—

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

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Mr. Lansley: I shall give way first to the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), and then to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound).

David Taylor: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but is he not distorting the statistics to a certain extent? It is true that the live birth figures have risen since 2001, but they are subject to cyclical trends and remain roughly what they were in 1996. The hon. Gentleman is right that the number of live births oscillates around a slightly rising trend, but he exaggerates the position.

Mr. Lansley: I am sorry but I do not accept that at all. If the hon. Gentleman reads the record, he will find that I said that there was a falling birth rate when the Government took office, but that it has risen substantially since—a 9 per cent. increase.

Did we not see in the past couple of weeks just how good—or I should say how bad—Government work force planning is? The departmental internal documents showed how poor it had been. The equivalent documents produced in 2004 were junked within two years, before most of their predictions ever came to pass. The Government are not enabling the service to match the number of midwives to the task in hand. Increasing the supply of midwives is absolutely central to delivering the objectives on which we all agree—for example, one-to-one care and continuity of care from midwives to mothers and the availability of midwives to enable women to exercise choice and have either home births or named midwife-led care. The supply of midwives is instrumental if those options are to be available.

Stephen Pound: No one would disagree with the points that the hon. Gentleman has just made. No one would disagree with him in respect of valuing the work of midwives and paying tribute to them. No one would disagree with the words in the motion to the effect that the House

However, it is one thing to value that work, but quite another to show admiration and respect for it by providing the highest ever rate of increase in resources in the history of the NHS. The one thing that has increased massively since 1997 is the rate of salary paid to midwives and other health professionals. Surely, the hon. Gentleman cannot argue with that.

Mr. Lansley: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that his point would have been a lot stronger before the publication of the internal Department of Health document two weeks ago, which made it clear that the Department was planning how to reduce the real-terms wages of NHS professionals on account of the embarrassment of financial deficits into which it has plunged the NHS. So I will not take the hon. Gentleman’s point.

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