Previous Section Index Home Page

Following the public engagement, we were to have a consultation. On 3 December 2005, 5,000 people in Enfield turned out to march on a cold, windy Saturday afternoon. That is a significant turnout for quite a small town. They linked hands around the hospital. There were numerous petitions opposing the hot-cold solution, one of which had 18,000 signatures. The local medical committee—our general practitioners—opposed that hot-cold solution, and felt that the public engagement had been completely inappropriate, and that the public’s need for access to the engagement had not been met. The chief executive of North Middlesex University hospital made it clear that she had significant problems with the proposals, and that if they went ahead, they would cause real problems for the accident and emergency departments at North Middlesex University and Barnet
18 Dec 2007 : Column 751
hospitals. The proposed expansion of North Middlesex University hospital would need to be looked at all over again.

It transpired that there was no feasibility study underpinning the options, so a feasibility study was started. We cannot expect the public to have any confidence in a proposal that is brought forward with no notion of its financial viability, as was the case in this instance. I am pleased to say that in January 2006, options for formal consultation were delayed. There had been a public engagement and another set of options, but again there was to be no formal consultation. I am sure that hon. Members will be aware that there is a significant cost to such public engagements or possible consultations.

In January 2006, there was what was called a pause for thought. I was pleased to have that pause, which was due to the helpful intervention of my noble Friend Baroness Wall, who had become the chair of Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust; I am pleased that she did—she brought some common sense to the situation. The pause for thought was to be until May. In February and March that year, I met the Secretary of State for Health. Numerous other lobbying activities were going on, and people were trying to put forward a sensible position on Enfield heath care services.

In May 2006, no document was brought forward. We then discovered the existence of something called the project board. In September 2006, the project board brought forward 10 high-level scenarios. In October, it shortlisted four. If the House is beginning to lose the thread, I am not in the least bit surprised. Hon. Members can only imagine how local people felt.

Then came a report from the clinical, public and patient engagement groups. Nobody really knew what they were. It seemed to be something of an exclusive process to which most of the public had been given no access. At that point, the Healthcare Commission published a report that classified Barnet and Chase Farm hospital trust as one of only eight acute hospital trusts in the country that were weak in resources and some areas of service quality. That rating reflected the trust’s weak financial management, and so it is clear that we had gone from having no feasibility study to underpin proposals to having proposals based on information obtained from mismanaged finances. Confidence was totally eroded by that stage. We had had numerous other problems at the hospital. There were clearly serious management problems; we had three chief executives in some seven years.

We have since had a further formal consultation, and we have had the help of Professor Sir George Alberti, who was very helpful. He said that only over his dead body would the hospital close—closure was one option. I thought that that was rather a risky statement, given what had gone on so far. He also said that we needed some accident and emergency provision at the hospital. I sent out 30,000 letters during that consultation to help people to understand what was being proposed. We were willing to compromise. We were not saying that we wanted no change, but we said we wanted option 1, which was a hospital with all its elective surgery, some accident and emergency provision and a midwife-led birthing unit. We requested doctor-led, 24-hour local accident and emergency provision in line with what Lord Darzi recommends for a local hospital. We have
18 Dec 2007 : Column 752
just had the results, and option 1 is the approach that will be taken, but we have been given only 12 hours of local accident and emergency cover. That is not sufficient.

Will the Deputy Leader of the House ask Ministers in the Department of Health and anyone else who can have any impact on that decision to look at it very carefully? The people of Enfield have made it clear that they will work with local health authorities and Government and that they will accept some change, but we will not accept no accident and emergency provision during the 12 hours of the night. No cover is not acceptable—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I call Angela Browning.

2.12 pm

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): The Christmas pantomime at the Northcott theatre in Exeter this year is “Cinderella”. We can all predict that it will have a happy ending and Cinderella will marry her prince. However, the outcome for the theatre is much more serious. We have recently heard that Arts Council England intends to withdraw all its annual funding of some £547,000 a year. If that is withdrawn, it is almost certain that the theatre will close.

My next-door neighbour, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw)—the Minister of State, Department of Health—has set out clearly the reasons why, in his words, Arts Council England has made a most perverse decision. I agree, because although the theatre is on the campus of the university of Exeter, it is valued by the wider part of Devon, particularly eastern and mid-Devon, which I represent. I spoke only this morning to a theatre critic from the west country who has described the work of the Northcott theatre over the years as of quality. The performances at the Northcott are of a high quality.

The reason why the hon. Member for Exeter described the decision as perverse is that we have all been invited to a launch of the newly refurbished Northcott theatre in January—£2.1 million has just been spent on refurbishing it, of which Arts Council England contributed £100,000. It continued to pay more than £500,000 in revenue costs while the theatre was closed for refurbishment. Exeter city council, Devon county council, the university and private funders managed to raise £2.1 million to refurbish the theatre on the basis that Arts Council England supported and expressed confidence in the future of the Northcott.

It would be remiss of me, on behalf of my neighbour the hon. Member for Exeter and other Devon MPs, not to draw the House’s attention to a decision that he has rightly described as perverse. In that part of Devon, we value the quality of work at the Northcott. It is well attended, with 80 per cent. attendance, which is very good for a provincial theatre. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will pass on to the relevant Minister the fact that opposition to Arts Council England’s decision has cross-party support in Devon. We stand shoulder to shoulder and will oppose the decision, because the loss of the Northcott would be a severe blow to the people of Devon.

I shall now move on to the subject of drugs. In certain cases, people have serious medical conditions and health care professionals believe that they should
18 Dec 2007 : Column 753
have access to drugs, but for one reason or another they are either denied access or, again rather perversely, even prevented from making some contribution, if they so choose, to help to pay for the drug.

I recently had a case in Devon where a young mum had a severe but rare condition. The difference in cost between the drug that she was allowed and the drug that her consultant in London prescribed—the condition is so rare that her case is overseen by a London consultant—was £6,000 a year. Although she was turned down on appeal by doctors who clearly could not have had any knowledge of the complexity of her condition, I took the matter up with the chief executive of our primary care trust and I am pleased to say that she has now been allowed the drug that her consultant prescribed. MPs and other such people should not be the only route to obtain drugs that health care professionals believe necessary.

We have seen in the press only this week the rather bizarre situation in which people who pay a proportion of their costs when they have a life-threatening or severe condition are then denied any access to the rest of their treatment on the NHS. That cannot be the fairness and justice that the Government talked about when they came to office in 1997.

I am sure that the House will want to return to the subject. I certainly shall, not least—as hon. Members who, like me, represent English seats will know—because of the battle to get Lucentis prescribed for our constituents with wet-eye age-related macular degeneration. I notice that the Prime Minister was asked about that point a week or so ago at Prime Minister’s questions. Ironically, the Prime Minister will not have the sort of postbag about this that I do, because his constituents in Scotland get the drug; mine go blind. In the interests of fairness and justice, I ask the Deputy Leader of the House: what is the point of research companies that produce wonderful, ground-breaking drugs that make such a difference to people’s lives if people in this country cannot afford them? Health care professionals say that those drugs are the help that people need, but, perversely, they cannot be obtained even if people are prepared to contribute some of their hard-earned money to help to pay for them. There is something seriously wrong with drugs prescribing in this country. I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to look into that.

Finally, I want to come to a point that I hope to bring back to the House in the new year. However, I must ask for the help of the Deputy Leader of the House. I wrote to the Minister for Housing, who is responsible for home information packs, on 19 October on behalf of my constituent, Mr. Dyke of Dunkeswell, who is aware that I shall raise the matter today. Mr. Dyke owns the kind of property that will be familiar to people who understand Devon architecture: a Devon longhouse. They are very old, very beautiful houses. This particular one was built in about 1500. He wanted to put his property on the market. Of course, since 1500 significant alterations and improvements have been made, including some to the thatched roof, and an additional part has been added to the building.

I do not think that any of us would oppose energy certificates in principle, although my party rightly opposes the whole of the home information packs operation.
18 Dec 2007 : Column 754
When the energy inspector arrived at Mr. Dyke’s house, he spent 15 minutes inspecting the property and asked no questions whatever of the home owner. Mr. Dyke was worried about that, because it is a complex building, and he volunteered certain information to the inspector and even walked him round, pointing out things that the inspector might have missed. The inspector made one or two notes and went away.

The property contains a solid fuel Rayburn, a Nouvelle Heatranger. On receiving the inspector’s report, and finding that he had received an F category energy certificate, my constituent was sure that the inspector had not taken account of the real fabric of the improvements that had been made to the property. Mr. Dyke obtained a copy of the assessors handbook produced for people carrying out such inspections, and—lo and behold—solid fuel boilers and heaters were not listed. Only gas and oil heaters were mentioned. Nor, for that matter, was there any mention of a building material with which we in Devon are very familiar: a substance called cob, which has quite beneficial insulation properties. I do not have time to go through the whole list of omissions.

My constituent has rightly described this situation as a farce. In the end, he had to ask for someone with more experience to come out and do the whole inspection again. So someone who until recently had been a chiropractor turned up to look at the construction of Mr. Dyke’s house. In the list of recommendations subsequently produced, my constituent was advised to fit a heating programmer, despite the fact that the system already had one. He was also advised that thermostatic radiator valves should be fitted, even though every radiator already had one. He was told that the hot water tank had no thermostatic regulator, although there was one. The list went on and on.

My constituent wants to sell his property, which is not unnatural, yet he is still being plagued by bureaucracy and inefficiency in what he has described as a farce. I wrote to the Minister for Housing about this in October, and I have sent her chasing letters since then. I have still not had the courtesy of a reply. Given Mr. Dyke’s experience, it appears that the people who are given the task of carrying out these inspections are not qualified or experienced enough to deal with older properties, but are trained to deal only with modern construction methods. I live in a house built in the 1600s made of wattle and daub—and I do not suppose that wattle and daub appear anywhere on the list of building materials that the Government deem it necessary to inspect.

Even worse is the way in which the Government have set up these certificates, with an inspection matrix that allows certain tick boxes and not others, obviously not taking account of the diversity of property construction, especially in parts of the country such as Devon, with a great mixture of old traditional properties containing a wide range of building insulation and materials. The Government really must intervene on this issue, and I would like the Minister to respond to this point.

My constituent Mr. Dyke has spent a lot of money improving the insulation and energy efficiency of his very old property. No one who has looked at it so far has been capable of giving the building a true assessment. It is outrageous that such people should have to undergo all this additional stress, anxiety and bureaucracy when they want to do something as simple and straightforward as selling their home.

18 Dec 2007 : Column 755
2.24 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning). She usually ends such speeches by inviting hon. Members to visit her constituency during the recess, although I am not sure what she would want us to look at. Perhaps it would be Mr. and Mrs. Dyke’s central heating, or the theatre that is about to close down. I shall have to give it a miss on this occasion. One place that I shall not be visiting is Cheshire, and certainly not in the company of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, for fear of what my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) might do to us if we were to arrive together.

I have only a few points to make in this Christmas Adjournment debate: two are local issues, and two are of national interest. The first is a matter that has already been raised by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith)—the closure of post offices. He gave a good account of the closure programme, which will also affect my constituency. There have been 52 post office closures in Leicestershire, Rutland and Northamptonshire, and one that I am particularly worried about is the post office at Willow Brook road and Bushby road.

I went to that post office last Friday to accept a petition from Mr. Shah and the local residents, which I will present to the House at 7 o’clock tonight. I hope that hon. Members will want to stay for the presentation of the petition. In it, local residents express their grave concern about what might happen to local facilities if the Willow Brook Road post office closes. A lot of elderly people use that post office, as well as a lot of lone parents, and mothers who cannot go into Leicester city centre to access postal services. This post office is of vital importance to the local community.

I know that all hon. Members can make a case for keeping their local post offices open, but I want to ask the Minister to make a special plea, through her good offices, to the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. McFadden) to re-examine the case. I invite him to come to Leicester over the Christmas recess—Wolverhampton is not that far from Leicester—to visit Mr. Shah and the local residents and to hear for himself their real concerns about these proposals. I have faith in the system, and I know that we have Postwatch, but I am worried because every time we have written to Postwatch or the Government about a post office closure, the closure has still taken place. On this occasion, I hope that the Minister will come to my constituency.

The second point that I want to raise relates to a site at the junction of the A46 and the A6—the road that leads from Leicester to Nottingham. It is a large landmark site that has been occupied for more than 60 years by GE-Thorn. One in every two light bulbs in Europe were once made on the site. A decision was made last year to close GE in Leicester, after it had operated there for more than half a century, resulting in more than 400 employees being made redundant. At the time, the local people accepted that the proposed redundancy package was quite impressive, and although they wanted to keep their jobs, they were happy to go along with the package on offer.

18 Dec 2007 : Column 756

My concern relates to the fact that the site has remained empty, and that GE has no plans to market it. It is an important local community resource, and I am worried that it will become derelict. The company replied today to my letter of 15 November—I do not know whether it knew that I was going to raise the matter in the House today—to say that it would look into the marketing of the site. I hope that it will do so quickly, so that the site can be used for housing or other amenities for the people in Rushy Mead. I know from discussions that I have had with Ross Wilmot, the leader of the city council, that he is keen to ensure that something is done about the area.

My two final points concern national issues. The first relates to the announcement made today in a written statement by my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration concerning the proposed changes to visitors visas. I was watching a parliamentary programme last week when I saw the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons jump up to the Dispatch Box to reply to an hon. Member who was complaining about the number of Government announcements being made to the press before they were made to Parliament. She replied that she had no examples of that happening, at which Mr. Speaker said that he had a number of examples. Here is yet another example. All over the weekend those proposals were trailed in the national newspapers, and they were trailed yesterday on television, yet we have only just had the written statement.

I believe that there are some good things in these proposals, but I am a bit concerned about the proposal to introduce a bond system. We tried it seven years ago and it was not particularly successful, though I appreciate that the emphasis will now be on the sponsor in this country rather than the applicant abroad. That is welcome, but my problem, which other Members will share, is where many people are coming to a very big wedding—as in Leicester, where 20 or more relatives often attend them every weekend—how is the sponsor going to be able to pay for 20 bonds, if they are to be set at the level of £1,000 each? That is a lot of money.

Although I welcome the fact that the Minister for Borders and Immigration has sought so carefully to ensure that there is proper discussion and debate about these issues—the consultation period will last three months—I worry about one or two aspects of the bond system. I hope that the Government will listen to local communities and to hon. Members who have large immigration case loads and hear what they have to say about their experiences. I do not support the removal of the right of appeal. I think that a robust independent judicial appeal system is vital for the success of the visa regime, but I have no particular problems with reducing the length of a tourist visa from six to three months, as three months is plenty of time to visit relatives in this country.

Next Section Index Home Page