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That this House notes the independent report by the Healthcare Commission which identified severe failings at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and the follow-up reports by the National Clinical Director for Emergency Care and the National Clinical Director for Primary Care which state that Stafford Hospitals accident and emergency department is now safe but that further improvements must be made at the Trust and lessons learnt by the whole NHS; further notes that the hospital has offered independent reviews of clinical records to all concerned; agrees that at the present time it would not be appropriate to establish an independent public inquiry; further agrees that management and staff at the hospital must remain focused on delivering high quality patient care; and further agrees that an independent public inquiry could add undue delay to implementing the recommendations of the above reports and therefore to the hospital delivering high quality and safe services for the local community.
That the draft National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Agriculture and Rural Development) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 1 April, be approved. (Mr. Blizzard.)
That, at the sitting on Wednesday 20 May,
(1) the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Secretary Hazel Blears relating to Planning: National Policy Statements not later than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; the Questions may be put after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply; and
(2) the Motion in the name of Mr David Cameron relating to the Communications (Television Licensing) (Amendment) Regulations 2009 may be proceeded with as if Standing Orders Nos. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents) and 17 (Delegated legislation (negative procedure)), were applicable thereto. (Mr. Blizzard.)
That Mr Nigel Dodds be discharged from the Committee on Members Allowances and Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson be added. (Rosemary McKenna, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
The Petition of members of City Gate Church, Brighton,
Declares that almost every minute of every day a baby is born with HIV, and that almost all of these babies are born in the worlds poorest countries; further declares that nine out of ten of all new HIV infections in children are as a direct result of mother to child transmission; further declares that the impact of HIV on infants is appalling and that without specialised treatment half will not live to see their second birthday; notes that in a number of countries, HIV and AIDS is the number one cause of death in under-five year olds.
Further declares that in rich countries the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies has been virtually eliminated due to the availability of health care and the right drugs; notes, however, that in many low-income countries pregnant women and their babies are not receiving the same degree of care and protection; further notes that despite efforts to increase coverage of services to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV, figures from 2006 show that in low-income countries only 1 in 5 pregnant women with HIV had access to the necessary antiretroviral drugs to protect their babies.
Further notes that this shortfall is now attracting global attention and that in 2007 leaders at the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm recognised the importance of preventing mother to child transmission of HIV and promised 1.5 billion dollars to provide access to services for all pregnant women; and believes that the UK has a key role to play in turning this G8 commitment into reality.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to outline how it intends to contribute to G8 commitments on preventing mother to child transmission of HIV, and to encourage other G8 countries to take similar action
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): It is a pleasure to open this debate. I have been seeking a debate on this subject for about five months, and I am delighted to have finally secured it, but it is disappointing that the issue has not moved on in those five months. We are still debating the funding of the crossing over the River Forth. This time five months ago, I was deeply concerned about the arrangements that were in place, and the worry that the issue was causing within the community in Fife. The slow pace of progress on this important issue is matched only by the increasing concern in the local community. The longer the process takes, the more that concern grows.
The Forth bridge was opened by the Queen in 1964, replacing the ferry from north to south. At the time, there were about 4 million crossings a year. Now the figure is about 21 million, which is much more than was expected when the bridge was constructed. That fivefold increase has put a huge strain on the bridge, leading to deterioration that means it cannot support the current volume of traffic for more than a further decade. If action is not taken to build a new crossing, we may be asking the Queen to return to launch a new set of ferries to secure the lifeline link between Fife and Edinburgh.
The bridge is a crucial part of the east coast transport artery. A blockage at Queensferry would have major consequences for the economy of the whole of Scotland. Many businesses locate in Fife because of the transport links to Edinburgh, Glasgow and the north, and because it has easy access to the east coast main line and the airport. Thousands of commuters have moved from Edinburgh to Fife to enjoy the benefits of living in Fife while maintaining their jobs in the capital. There is no doubt that the bridge is essential, no matter what some protesters say. We cannot do without the bridge at Queensferry.
The technical problem is that the hundreds of little cables that hold the bridge up are snapping. The deterioration is considerable, but the rate of decline is unknown, as the snapping was discovered only about four years ago. Current estimates are that the bridge has only another decade of life in it. Those estimates may change, however, as we get a better assessment of how the deterioration is advancing. If the deterioration is discovered to have slowed, the length of the life of the bridge will be longer. However, by the time that we know for sure how long the bridge has, it will be too late, so we need to construct the bridge as soon as possible.
Despite the need to start building the bridge in 2011, there remains considerable uncertainty about the funding package. I simply do not buy the assurances of the Scottish Government that they have the funding in place. Some may say that we do not need to have the funding in place until about 2011, but businesses crave certainty, especially in these difficult economic times. We need absolute certainty so that we can give businesses in Fife the confidence that they need.
On my tours of firms in Fife just after the new year and at Easter, I came across business after business that was deeply concerned about the crossing. They want an assurance that a bridge will be built, but they have not received one. Two years ago, John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, agreed:
However, the Government has yet to decide on the type of crossing that will be built and the method of financing. Those decisions will be made during the autumn
so that we can make early progress on the replacement crossing and avoid having a question mark over the existence of a Forth crossing in the future.
If we have a new bridge,
a bond issue is definitely the way to do it. Compared like for like, bond issue against PFI, the savings would be in tens of millions, maybe even hundreds of millions. Because its such an iconic project, that would have a wonderful take up and resonance not just in Scotland but worldwide.
That is the so-called patriotic bonds speech. I can almost hear the pipes and drums battering away as the right hon. Gentleman made those remarks. Two years on, not one patriotic Scot has paid a single penny for those bonds. It is not because we lack patriotic Scots, but because there is a lack of sensible thinking in the SNP. As a result, the SNP has not built one school, one road, one railway or one hospital since it came to power, through that methodabsolutely nothing.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): I obviously want to stick to the narrow remit of the debate, but the hon. Gentleman will understand that the ability to take money for bonds is not permitted at the moment by the UK Government. I am sure he will confirm that the First Minister has since made the position clear, and has described the project as
publicly funded and procured through a conventional design and build contract.
I am highly sceptical about those remarks, because of the First Ministers hyperbole in 2006: he knew the ruleshe knew the gamebut he made those overblown, overcommitted comments, giving people confidence that things would happen. The hon. Gentleman should not be surprised that I do not have a great deal of confidence in the First Ministers remarks or in the Cabinet Secretarys comments that it would be through capital spending that the bridge would be constructed. The First Minister must give us a greater assurance, and must spell out the sacrifices required, which he has so far refused to do. If, over three years, we spend £700 million a year, there will be massive consequences for infrastructure projectshospitals and schoolsthroughout Scotland during that period. Almost nothing else will be built. The First Minister, however, has refused to spell that out, and will not name the projects that will be cancelled.
The hon. Gentleman will therefore understand why I do not have a great deal of confidence in the First Ministers remarks in that regard.
CECA is concerned that if the Forth Replacement Crossing is paid for during the course of the works Transport Scotland will find itself unable to do much else during the forecast...years of the bridges construction. This would mean cutting many smaller projects designed to enhance the fabric and safety of the transport network across Scotlandschemes not on the same scale as the Crossing, but of equal importance to...local communities and local economies.
I do not wish this contribution to be dominated by Scottish Executive powers, so I shall move on to the reasons why we need to reach some kind of resolution. If the SNP refuses point blank to use the powers it has within its grasp, we must seek alternative methods. After two years in power, during which the SNP Government pondered their Scottish future strategy and eventually decided that that would not be possible, they have come cap in hand to the Westminster Government for additional support. That is a humiliating U-turn on which, unsurprisingly, the SNP has gone silent.
I give credit to Gavin Brown, a Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament, for this analogythere seems to be a dangerous game of chicken going on between the Westminster Government and the Scottish Government. Who blinks first? Who ducks out of the road of the oncoming juggernauts? Meanwhile, uncertainty in Fife and the east of Scotland grows. Because the stakes are so high, it is essential that we achieve a resolution to the problem as soon as possible.
Stewart Hosie: When the hon. Gentleman describes a humiliating U-turn, I take it that he is describing the rather sensible proposal to go to the UK Government and ask to pay for a major capital project over a longer period than the two or three years for which the UK Government have allowed. I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is not humiliating. It is a rather sensible way to repay the cost of a major capital project.
Willie Rennie: Spreading payment over 20 years is not the way the Westminster Government usually work. I do not think most Governments would commit future Governments to such spending, so it is not particularly sensible. It is humiliating, because of the First Ministers overblown hyperbole in 2006 and 2007. That is why the SNP Administration should reflect on their ideological obsession with opposing public-private partnership. I am not a strong advocate of PPP, but I recognise that it is the only game in town. It is a way of delivering projects for our communities.
Rather than maintaining their ideological opposition, and their support for alternative methods, the SNP Administration should recognise that the bridge is more important than their ideology. Patriotic bonds sound great in opposition, but in practice they have turned out to be patriotic tosh. We need an alternative way forward.
I am almost pleading with the Westminster Government, who I believe have a significant responsibility. By offering £1 billion, they have accepted the principle that in the
present circumstance they should help the Scottish Government out of their difficulties. The trouble is that that was not new money. About £500 million was from Crossrail, which was coming anyway, and other moneys were always designated as Scottish Government funds. So the Westminster Government were not assisting with the difficulty. None the less, I welcome the fact that they have accepted in principle that they should help the Scottish Government out of their obvious difficulties.
I plead with the Minister to come up with a new package of support so that we can get this essential bridge built across the Forthsome real new money that would resolve the difficulty. The Westminster Government have accepted in principle. Now it would be nice to see some real cash that could get us out of the present difficulties.
However, there is a second option that the Minister could consider. If the Government were to legislate quickly, we could introduce new borrowing powers. They have been considered by the Calman commission which has been set up by the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Government. We are considering all the optionsall the funding mechanismsthat could be given to the Scottish Parliament so that it might have the real powers of a real Parliament. If the Scottish Parliament did have them, the Scottish Government would be able to use the borrowing powers to spread the cost of building that massive bridgeabout £1.7 billion to £2.3 billionover quite a long period. There would be a benefit in giving the Scottish Government the necessary powers to deliver the bridge on time, because building it on time is the absolute priority.
On behalf of the east coast of Scotland, I am therefore pleadingalmost beggingwith the Westminster Government to help the Scottish Government out of their difficulties, either by coming up with real money that will make a difference to the construction and the costs, or by considering, through the Calman commission, the possibility of new powers for the Scottish Parliament, so that it might spread the cost of borrowing over a long period. Such an offer would bring certainty to the businesses and commuters of Fife, who need it, and avoid the childish game of chicken that seems to be taking place between the Westminster and Scottish Governments.
The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Angela Eagle): I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie) on securing this important debate about funding for the new crossing over the Forth. I should clarify at the outset, however, that the Forth bridge is a devolved project, so its funding, as I think those listening to the debate will have worked out by now, is also a devolved matter. That said, everybody recognises the importance of the project and is keen to see it move forward.
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