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Wilberforce introduced motions on the abolition of the slave trade almost every year until the Act of 1807 and, as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks told us, at 4.30 in the morning, on Second Reading, the Commons voted by 283 to 16 to abolish the slave trade. What shines through reports of the debates is the emphasis on justice and humanity.

Not only should we admire Wilberforce for his persistence in continuing his campaign year in, year out, we must commemorate, too, the resistance of those who were enslaved. There is no doubt that the role they played in seeking to gain their freedom was crucial. The autobiography of the former slave, Olaudah Equiano, written in 1789, furthered the cause of abolition.

Yesterday, I was in Birmingham and was privileged to spend some time looking at the archives and the materials on the slave trade compiled by Dr. Andy Green. The role of the Quakers was central to the fight for abolition and many other Christians were involved, particularly those in the non-conformist churches. That was certainly true in Birmingham. There is also evidence of how visits to the city by former slaves, black abolitionists, influenced public opinion.

Today, we have heard today stories from around Britain. My hon. Friends the Members for Battersea and for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) and the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) all spoke of their experience in their area. I, too, have looked into experiences in my city, Sheffield. Many local merchants profited from the trade by manufacturing metal chains and shackles and agricultural equipment for the slaves to work the land in the plantations. However, Sheffield also voiced its strong opinion for the abolition for the slave trade. The city sent two significant petitions to Parliament: one in 1789 involving over 700 metal workers, and one in 1793 involving 8,000 signatures, which amounted to between 25 and 30 per cent. of the local adult population—an enormous feat by any standards. I pay tribute to the staff of Sheffield archives, especially Ruth Harman, who provided me with that information.

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The 1807 Act was a significant achievement, making the trade in slaves illegal on British ships. Slavery, of course, remained a reality in British colonies. Campaigning for the abolition of all forms of slavery continued up and down the country, including through co-ordinated boycotts of trade products, petitions and so on—something that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Ms Johnson) described vividly. Both Sheffield and Birmingham had ladies anti-slavery societies, which were very active. The ladies of Sheffield have certainly continued to be active, as I am sure hon. Members will know. Their techniques included writing poems and hymns, and, in Birmingham, selling bags into which they put information about the reality of slavery. They collected a large amount of money.

In 1833, the emancipation Act was passed, but a further period of apprenticeship followed, with many slaves only finally free some five years later. It is incredible that slave owners were compensated with £20 million, while the slaves received nothing. It is important to note that the slavery societies continued. I looked yesterday at records from the Birmingham society from 1918-19, when it was still campaigning on this issue throughout the world. Although the passing of the Act abolishing the slave trade 200 years ago was a landmark event, it was not the end of slavery.

I now come to the issue of human trafficking. Human trafficking is one of the main forms of modern slavery. It is an appalling crime, where people are treated as commodities and traded for profit. The problem is extensive. That was rightly raised by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and for Glasgow, North, and the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). As with the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, the British Government are seeking to lead the way in tackling the problem, both domestically and internationally. We have a comprehensive approach to human trafficking, involving legislation, enforcement, international co-operation and support for victims.

I should tell the hon. Member for Totnes, who asked a lot of questions, that the UK human trafficking centre, which is based in Sheffield, was established in autumn 2006 to support the overarching aim of moving the United Kingdom on in its prevention and investigation of the trafficking in human beings. It is built on the approach that developed through Operation Pentameter, to which a number of Members have referred. It will provide a response to trafficking on a national level and consists of a multi-agency representation. It will work with police forces and other agencies, while also working with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which will combat trafficking on an international level.

Hon. Members asked about the level of support. Many are familiar with the POPPY scheme, which provides secure accommodation. I reassure hon. Members that we have given additional money to the POPPY project to develop further outreach measures. As my hon. Friends are now aware, the Government will sign the Council of Europe’s convention on human trafficking and will publish their own action plan. A number of issues will be addressed when that action
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plan is published this Friday. That issue was raised by the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce).

Within the plan, we set out what we seek to do, but it does not represent a final position. We recognise that there are ongoing problems and concerns. We want to work with other countries and to learn from practice elsewhere. We want to have the best possible response to the dreadful crime that was so well described by so many hon. Members today. The Government take the issue seriously and have wanted to be in a position to have a plan to move towards ratification. Clearly, I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman any further details on that today, but we take seriously signing such a convention and are doing it with the intention of being able to ratify it as soon as possible.

Ms Abbott: Will my hon. Friend respond to the query put by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler) about introducing a national remembrance day for slavery?

Meg Munn: I certainly will. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said clearly—I think that it was on the record—that he is in favour of that. The Government are open to hearing people’s views. The issue can be debated throughout the UK during this year and we want to hear as many views as possible.

I wanted briefly to talk about poverty in Africa, but I am running out of time. Hon. Members have mentioned the importance that we place on providing support there. The contribution on this issue from my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) was enormously important.

One thing that emerges from the history of the abolition of the slave trade and the abolition movement is that Parliament matters; it makes a difference. The passing of the 1807 Act on the abolition of the slave trade marked the beginning of the end for the transatlantic slave trade. It was not only parliamentarians, but enslaved Africans and ordinary citizens throughout the country, who brought about the change. However, the passing of the Act was not the end of slavery. Although the legalised trade in human beings has been abolished, it persists today in contemporary forms such as people trafficking.

It being Ten o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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Better Healthcare Closer to Home Project

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

10 pm

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the future of the “Better Healthcare Closer to Home” project. The purpose of the debate is to enlist the Minister’s support in bringing to an end more than a decade of limbo in the national health service in my constituency of Sutton and Cheam and the wider south-west London area. That decade of limbo has compromised improvements in services and undermined investment in the local NHS estate. In particular, it has delayed the long-overdue replacement of St. Helier hospital, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). That hospital was conceived in the 1920s and built in the 1930s, and it is not fit for the 21st century.

How have we come to this particular pass, and why have we been stuck in limbo for so long? There are many aspects to the situation, but I want to trace events back to the publication some years ago by the Epsom and St. Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust of what it called a clinical services strategy. The strategy envisaged shaking up the way in which services were provided to safeguard accreditation by the royal colleges. It involved closing maternity services in Epsom hospital and moving them into St. Helier hospital, which became a particular focus of the plans and, especially, of public opposition to them. Suffice it to say, these plans received a lukewarm reception within the trust and a hostile reception from my constituents, which led to the review sinking without trace.

After several years of reflection and the coming and going of three chief executives of the trust, new plans started to take shape. They were entitled “Better Healthcare Closer to Home”, and, in 2004, a consultation process started, which involved a succession of stakeholder events and pre-statutory consultation on a grand scale—so grand, indeed, that many of the meetings took place at the Epsom grandstand itself. The proposals were groundbreaking. They envisaged a new model of care in which more health care would be delivered through primary care. The idea was to invest in primary care, establish a network of local care hospitals and build a new critical care hospital to replace the existing Epsom and St. Helier hospitals. However, a lack of detail about the purpose of the local care hospitals, the services that were to be provided in them and their locations left the spotlight on the location of the critical care hospital.

Throughout the process, other Members of Parliament and I questioned the affordability of the whole enterprise and whether it would be possible to make the sums stack up so that it would be possible deliver the vision of the “Better Healthcare Closer to Home” project. At the end of 2004, the majority of respondents to the consultation exercise backed St. Helier as the site for the critical care hospital. At that stage—after, rather than during, the consultation—the possibility of the Sutton site in my constituency becoming the preferred site started to emerge.

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Over the Christmas period in 2004, a report was written by the project manager who had been leading the process. In January 2005, it went to the boards of Sutton and Merton primary care trust, East Elmbridge and Mid Surrey primary care trust and the Epsom and St. Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust. I cannot help but conclude that it went to those bodies so that they could rubber-stamp the decision, rather than listen clearly to the many voices and representations opposing the recommendations in the report.

The “Better Healthcare Closer to Home” project was approved. It envisaged five local care hospitals, with a critical care hospital on the Sutton site. That decision was reached despite the report itself, which showed that the economics of the plan did not stack up, with more patients and income being lost by locating it at the Sutton site than would have been lost if it had been located at the St. Helier site.

There then followed a year of work, drawing up the detailed business case, including the commissioning of the Prince’s foundation for the built environment to embark on a community engagement and planning project, costing in the region of £60,000—probably more—to devise a plan for the Sutton site. It was an attempt to cajole the local community to buy into something that it did not wish to accept. At the same time as the local NHS was pressing ahead with the detailed business case, the Department of Health was considering what to do with the request from the London borough of Merton to call in the decision.

Finally, in December 2005, the Secretary of State gave her answer to the question. She issued a direction to the local NHS to draw up plans for a critical care hospital to be located at St. Helier. “Hallelujah” was the cry at the time, but it was a very short-lived cry of good cheer, because another year went by and although the local NHS was initially suffering from shock from the Secretary of State’s decision, it soon regrouped. After five months, it told the Secretary of State that, for planning and legal reasons, the St. Helier option could not be pursued.

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not having asked him earlier whether I could intervene. Is he also aware that through a freedom of information request, we discovered that the health service never accepted the Secretary of State’s advice about St. Helier? Quite the contrary: right up until the decision was finally withdrawn by the Secretary of State, building surveyors and structural and engineers were being instructed to go ahead with the Sutton site—the Secretary of State’s suggestions were flagrantly ignored.

Mr. Burstow: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who I know has also campaigned on this issue for a number of years. She is right to highlight the ignoble nature of the conduct of some local elements in respect of decisions about this issue and the attempt to thwart the wishes of local people and the Secretary of State’s direction by pursuing a completely contrary course of action. The freedom of information request provides clear evidence of that. Frankly, the planning and legal obstacles put in the way of the people’s wishes and the Secretary of State’s direction were red herrings. They were a distraction from what should have been happening.

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By August 2005, NHS London entered the stage and the planning and financial issues came to the fore. Those were cited yet again as a reason for revisiting the whole matter. At that point, the Secretary of State agreed to withdraw her direction and hand the matter back to the local NHS for a review of the affordability of the whole plan. That review has now reported and it concluded that the “Better Healthcare Closer to Home” project was not affordable. Indeed, when set againstthe backdrop of payment by results, practice-based commissioning and the introduction of independent treatment centres, it is hard to see how the local health economy could ever have afforded those proposals.

The review now proposes a smaller number of local care hospitals, centred on existing NHS estate, and a local general hospital rather than a critical care hospital. Furthermore, the review is now to continue through to June to recommend the preferred location for the general hospital somewhere within the London borough of Sutton—either at the Sutton or St. Helier site.

The review raises a number of questions, though not necessarily questions for the Minister to answer tonight. I wish to lodge those questions with him, but I am also posing them for the people who have conducted the review. For example, will the new plans be viable, given that Surrey primary care trust is no longer seen to be part and parcel of driving the changes forward and is not expected to commission services arising from the project? Indeed, will the income and activity generated from within Sutton and Merton PCT be enough to ensure the sustainability and deliverability of the proposals under the guidelines issued by the Department in respect of the use of the private finance initiative and capital funding?

There are further questions. If the St. Helier site does emerge as the preferred site for a general hospital and a local care hospital is co-located there, what happens to the Sutton site and the range of services, including mental health services, currently provided there? Is there a spectre of that site being disposed, perhaps without regard to the longer-term needs of the community for community-based facilities, particularly health care facilities? Is the outlined coverage of local care hospitals right, given that the plans envisage moving from five to four such hospitals, leaving the south and west of the borough—and particularly my constituency—largely uncatered for?

Finally, and most important, there is the future of accident and emergency services. The review envisages an A and E department that does not deal with major trauma, but it is far from clear where it will sit on the emergency care spectrum. Indeed, at present it is not clear what the emergency care spectrum looks like, so it is hard to enter into a meaningful debate about where A and E will sit on that spectrum.

Many of my constituents are alarmed at the prospect of St George’s taking on the role of a major trauma centre. They draw attention to the congested road network, fearing delays as their loved ones are carried in ambulances past St Helier to St George’s. The evidence will have to be compelling and the case persuasively made if my constituents are to be convinced of the need of a change of status for the accident and emergency department.

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After 10 years or more of uncertainty and limbo, we face a further period of uncertainty over sites and the configuration of health care services in my area, followed by yet another round of consultation ending in a further outline business case submission to the Department.

I said that my purpose in seeking the debate was to enlist the Minister’s assistance. Given the Secretary of State’s previous involvement, I hope that he will be prepared to do three things. First, I ask him to meet me, and other local Members of Parliament on both sides of the House, to explore further how we can ensure that the NHS is not left in limbo for another 10 years, or indeed for another year or more. Secondly, I ask him to act expeditiously, and not to let a year go by between local decisions and the Secretary of State’s intervention in or confirmation of such decisions. Finally, I ask him to recognise that there are lessons to be learned from this sorry saga about effective consultation, board-level accountability and decision making.

As I go around my constituency consulting people about the proposals, I often ask those who might be expected to have some knowledge of the workings of their local health service questions such as, “Who is the chief executive of your local trust? Who is the chair of your local trust board? Who are the members of your local trust board?” No one knows. Who are these people who make decisions on our behalf, behind whom many hide and who are ultimately not accountable to us, the local people, for decisions that affect our lives?

The fact that the review of “Better Healthcare Closer to Home” has concluded that the proposals for a critical care hospital are not sustainable—and, I dare say, were never sustainable—calls the whole process into question. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds have been spent on consultation, consultants, stakeholder events, staff salaries, public meetings and citizens’ juries—and for what? There should be an inquiry into just how much has been spent and how much time has been wasted on this enterprise to date. I ask the Minister to consider that request seriously.

I hope that after waiting for so long, my constituents and hard-working NHS staff will see light at the end of the tunnel, and that rather than its being a train coming down the track towards them, it will be a new hospital and better health care closer to home, which is what they all want.

10.13 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Andy Burnham): I will begin with the last point made by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow). I think that he described what everyone seeks to achieve: the best possible outcome for his constituents, and for those of my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh). I pay tribute to both Members. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the measured way in which he spoke on matters which are hugely significant to his constituents, and also on his balanced approach to bringing a long-running issue to a satisfactory conclusion.

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