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The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) asked about private sewers, but primary legislation is not required in order to effect the transfer. We will consult on draft regulations as soon as possible. In effect, what we are doing is creating a national insurance scheme by passing that responsibility from local authorities-thus relieving them of a cost, so that the money can then be applied to deal with surface water flooding and the
other responsibilities put on them in the Flood and Water Management Bill-to the water companies that will pick it up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) made a stirring speech and I probably owe him another letter on the subject of Tunnel Tech, but I think he will find that feed-in tariffs will in part answer the point he raised about the incentive to put small-scale renewable energy into people's houses.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) for his support for the Flood and Water Management Bill, although I have to correct him in one respect, as there are no vegans on the Front Bench. There will be a new 26th offshore round next year in the North sea.
My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) talked about sustainable population and I thought she made a very important contribution on a subject for which she has been a passionate advocate for many years indeed.
I agreed with half of what the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) had to say, if I may be generous. He praised my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in relation to clean coal, but when he got round to attacking renewables his remarks were very much out of sync with those of his hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells, who speaks from the Front Bench for the Conservative party. It would be nice to know what the Conservative policy is.
The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) spoke eloquently and knowledgeably about North sea oil and gas. I agreed with a little of the speech made by the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb), particularly when he talked about the need for a balanced energy supply.
One phrase used in the debate was seized upon by a number of Members and it sums up the challenges that we face. It came from the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East in talking about mass sustainability. In truth, to address the points raised by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), he is right about the changing climate and the more extreme weather in the UK.
Let me take this opportunity to give the House an update on the latest information about Cumbria. Rain has fallen during the day and 52 mm has been recorded in Honister. The heaviest rain is expected somewhere between about 54 minutes ago and midnight. The campsite in Keswick now has a flood warning, while Cockermouth and Keswick may need to have further warnings and there could be further property flooding-although not, on current indications, on anything like the previous scale. All are currently warnings as opposed to severe warnings. I can also announce that in the past few days 63,500 automated warnings have gone out as a result of people having registered on the floodline and the warning system. We will, of course, look into particular cases. People will not get a warning of surface water flooding, for the reasons that I set out a few moments ago, but we are trying to develop our understanding.
May I pursue the point about warnings of surface water flooding? It was clear even two and a half years ago in Gloucestershire that predictive abilities
provided by Met Office technology would have allowed more precise predictions of intense rainfall-if only a few hours beforehand-and it is clear now that that predictive capacity has become even more precise in the intervening years. Even a few hours' warning for householders of that level of flooding and heavy rainfall would have allowed an awful lot of property to be saved.
Hilary Benn: I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about our improved capacity to warn. One of the benefits of the flood forecasting centre that was established following Michael Pitt's excellent report is the provision of a unified forecast, including an extreme rainfall alert.
Let me stress that when we watch the weather forecast on television at night and it says "Severe weather warning-heavy rain", all of us who live in an area for which that is forecast need to pay attention. I know that people would like to be told whether the flooding will happen exactly where they live, as opposed to a mile down the road. The Environment Agency and others are trying to improve the level of warning, but that warning means something, and we should all pay attention to it.
The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs was, of course, right about the more extreme weather and the changes that we shall have to learn to live with. The Flood and Water Management Bill seeks to deal with that. It is a timely and important Bill, which builds on a great deal of what we have done since the 2007 floods. I am talking about increased defences, the protection of Carlisle, better warnings, funding for local authorities to start work on surface water flooding-the Bill will provide a statutory responsibility for them to take the lead on that-a grant scheme for household protection, and better water rescue capability.
I believe that the Bill, which we will no doubt scrutinise carefully, gives clear responsibility in the way that Sir Michael Pitt recommended. It will also-this picks up the point made by the hon. Gentleman-help us to better conserve supplies in drought. It may seem strange to talk about drought in the wake of the last three summers, but the hon. Gentleman was right to draw attention to the two drought summers that we had before those.
Mr. Lilley: Does the Secretary of State share the extraordinary complacency of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change about leaked documents from the Climate Research Unit which show that civil servants have been trying to avoid the Freedom of Information Act-which is potentially a criminal offence-have been conspiring to prevent publication of dissenting views, and have been modifying their own data? Would he allow such behaviour by officials on his Department's payroll?
Hilary Benn: I fundamentally disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's accusation of complacency, because that is not what my right hon. Friend said. He said that he was in favour of maximum openness, and that is a view that I entirely share.
The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs raised the subject of wildlife corridors. That is what the Lawton commission, which I have just established, will
consider. Having completed the original list of national parks-I shall return to that in a moment-and having passed the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which is hugely significant for the coherence of the protection of our biodiversity, we do indeed need to look at ways in which we can connect those developments more effectively.
As the hon. Gentleman spoke, I felt that what he was saying reflected the work that my colleagues and I have already done. As he will know, one of our latest actions has been to designate the South Downs the last of the national parks. I was sorry that he described that as the wrong decision, and said that it had been rushed for political reasons. I would simply point out as a matter of historical accuracy that the South Downs national park was first proposed 62 years ago. That hardly constitutes a rush. What it shows is that this party-for it was Attlee's Government who did it-has been on the case for 60 years in protecting our biodiversity. We celebrate the park's 60th anniversary this year.
That the Business Rate Supplements (Rateable Value Condition) (England) Regulations 2009 (S.I., 2009, No. 2542), dated 18 September 2009, be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee. -(Mr. Mudie.)
(1) Standing Order No. 14 (Arrangement of public business) shall have effect for this Session with the following modifications, namely:
In paragraph (4) the word 'eight' shall be substituted for the word 'thirteen' in line 42 and in paragraph (5) the word 'fifth' shall be substituted for the word 'eighth' in line 44;
(2) Standing Order No. 90 (Second reading committees) shall have effect for this Session with the following modification, namely:
In paragraph (2) the word 'fifth' shall be substituted for the word 'eighth' in line 21; and
(3) Private Members' Bills shall have precedence over Government business on 29 January; 5 and 26 February; 5 and 12 March; 23 and 30 April; and 7 May. -(Mr. Mudie.)
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I rise to present a petition on behalf of my constituents in Bexhill and Battle who are continuing to suffer from the injustice of the situation regarding Equitable Life.
The Petition of residents of the constituency of Bexhill & Battle in the East Sussex region of the U.K. regarding the Government's response to the Parliamentary Ombudsman's reports on Equitable Life,
Declares that the petitioners either are or they represent or support members, former members or personal representatives of deceased members of the Equitable Life Assurance Society who have suffered maladministration leading to injustice, as found by the Parliamentary Ombudsman in her report upon Equitable Life, ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 16 July 2008 and bearing reference number HC 815; and further declares that the petitioners or those whom they represent or support have suffered regulatory failure on the part of the public bodies responsible from the year 1992 onwards, but have not received compensation for the resulting losses and outrage.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to uphold the constitutional standing of the Parliamentary Ombudsman by complying in full with the findings and recommendations of her Report upon Equitable Life.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I am raising the very important question of the future of King George hospital, Ilford. Ilford has had a maternity hospital since 1926 and has had a district general hospital since King George V opened it in 1931. I want to place on record my strong support for the record investment in the national health service under this Labour Government and for the modernisation that they have carried out, including the new polyclinic in Loxford in my constituency. I was pleased to meet the first patient of that polyclinic in June.
I also believe that as technology changes, it is important that we have more community-based facilities and services. Unfortunately we should not allow those people who run the bureaucracy of the NHS, and even those who believe they know what is best for our communities, to make decisions that have an intense impact on many poor people in the poorest communities of our country.
Three years ago, the NHS bureaucracy came up with the misnamed "Fit for the Future" proposals, which would have led to the closure of the accident and emergency and the elective facilities at King George hospital, Ilford. A vigorous local campaign was mounted. I myself organised a petition and we presented 28,000 signatures. The local paper, the Ilford Recorder, organised its own petition. Other local MPs supported us in that campaign. In 2007, Professor George Alberti produced a report in which he said that the proposals were "clinically unsound" and that those concerned had to go back to the drawing board. He also said that King George hospital should be developed as a first-class local hospital. It took them a long time; there was then a review of health services in London. Eventually, the NHS bureaucracy decided to go ahead with another attempt. I am afraid that because of arrogance and the "we know best" approach the people behind this-whether they are on the clinical bodies or are the "joint responsible owners", to use the jargon-have come up with proposals that do not take account of community needs.
At the time, I asked the chief executive of Redbridge primary care trust, Heather O'Meara, to give me an assurance that the "Fit for the Future" proposals were dead-that they were not going to be revived in some other form. I was simply told that they had been stood down. It seems that they have now been reactivated under another guise. It is true that this time we are to keep elective operations at the King George site, but at the price of losing all our maternity services as well as our accident and emergency functions. At Upton Park this afternoon-as a West Ham United season-ticket holder I am very disappointed that this venue was chosen-a joint committee of inner north-east London and outer north-east London primary care trusts has been meeting to rubber-stamp proposals to go ahead with a public consultation starting on 30 November and running for 14 weeks until 8 March 2010. I understand, however, that for some reason no decision will be taken until after the general election. If this is so urgent, we might wonder why they do not make the decision straight away, or why they do not defer the whole thing until
after the general election, but this is how NHS bureaucracy seems to work. It is planning to have a consultation, which in my opinion will be about as free and fair as a rigged Afghan election. It is clear that they have not listened to what the community said three years ago. It is now again going ahead with proposals that will significantly downgrade services for people living in Ilford, and that will mean that each year several thousand women who are due to give birth will have to go to Romford. Children will not be born in Ilford any longer, unless they are born at home or in the back of taxis or cars driving them to other hospitals; they will be born in Romford and elsewhere in London.
It is said that this proposal is clinically led, but it is admitted in the small print of the documents that the engagement exercise builds on previous exercises including "Fit for the Future". It is therefore clear that "Fit for the Future", which was rejected because it was financially driven and not clinically sound, is part of the basis of the decisions that are going forward.
This is a hidden agenda to save money, dressed up as a clinical exercise. We have big financial deficits in north-east London. The Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust has serious management and financial problems. I would argue that most of those problems relate to the expensive private finance initiative Queen's hospital, which has been open for three years. My constituents in Ilford are therefore being made to suffer as a result of problems from the other hospital in the trust.
The documents also say that the proposals are based on "Healthcare for London", which Professor Lord Ara Darzi produced. He talked about a local hospital serving a population of between 200,000 and 250,000 people. Under these proposals, neither Barking and Dagenham, with a population of 182,000, nor Redbridge, with a population of 264,000, will have a local hospital. All other boroughs in east and north-east London have a hospital, but we will no longer have a hospital serving our populations. This is a disgrace. We could lose up to 488 beds at King George hospital, and the consequences would be very serious in terms of added pressure on other hospitals in the region.
I believe that this is financially driven, but interestingly the small print of these documents talks about the proposals saving £19 million a year and a modelling exercise showing that if the accident and emergency facilities at Newham general hospital were closed instead of those at the King George hospital, £27 million a year would be saved. For some reason, the bureaucrats have chosen not to go down that route and that confirms the preconception of the "Fit for the Future" option 4, which was to downgrade King George hospital; even though the financial figures give a different result, they are still going ahead on that basis.
Serious financial deficits are predicted. The deficit for outer north-east London is predicted to be £140 million by 2016-17, whereas the one for inner north-east London is predicted to be £150 million. It is estimated that even with what are described as "aggressive savings", the total deficit for all the trusts and all the health economy will be £140 million, as opposed to £290 million. That is a serious amount of money, but of course there will be some income. If a major acute hospital can be run
down, people can sell off a lot of land. There is a lot of land on the King George hospital site that would undoubtedly be prime for housing development, thus adding to the population of Ilford and to the number of young mothers who would have to go to Romford to give birth to their children.
We face a serious problem as a result of these proposals. Members of Parliament have been kept out of the loop on this discussion. The first time I saw any documentation by the primary care trust was when I received an e-mail about 10 days ago supplying me with a document dated February 2009. I saw the documentation that was going to today's meeting only on Friday by e-mail and yesterday in hard copy. It seems that because the elected representatives played such an effective role in stopping the proposals three years ago, we have been deliberately kept out of the process so that we cannot stop the consultation before it starts this time.
I wish to say something about the consultation, because it is based on a certain amount of information being put forward about issues such as travel patterns, how many miles people will have to travel and so on. Interestingly, the bureaucrats are supposed to have produced something called an "integrated impact assessment", which should take account of the impact on ethnic minorities and women, on the carbon footprint and on other matters. Page 23 of their documents admits:
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