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26 Jan 2010 : Column 675

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): Earlier, the Minister for Housing told the House that when local authorities decide to reject permission for infill and back garden land developments, they win in four out of five cases. However, does he not understand that councils tend to act defensively, granting permission because they feel compelled to do so by Government policy, as a consequence of which cases never get to appeal? Will he therefore give my constituents in Sutton and Cheam, Worcester Park, the assurance that his announcement last week really does afford them the protection that they want from predatory developments?

John Healey: It does, and it is in the hands of the hon. Gentleman's council to provide that protection for itself against appeal and, more importantly, for residents against unwelcome developments. If his council is falling back on Government guidance, it is failing to put in a place a local plan for policies that suit the area of Sutton. That is the council's responsibility. The report that I published last week confirms on the basis of the research that where councils do that, they are in stronger position to protect local residents and deal with any appeals that might crop up.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Can I tell the Secretary of State that one of the hallmarks of this Government, whom I have been proud to support over 11 years, is also a downside: their obsession with reorganising that which they have reorganised? They insist on putting in layers of bureaucracy where they are not necessary. Can I urge him to stop putting the Thames Gateway development corporation under the Homes and Communities Agency? It is unnecessary and will cause bureaucratic inertia.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Shahid Malik): I fully understand and respect my hon. Friend's concerns. The decision was taken after much consultation with all the stakeholders, and we have come to a consensus that we genuinely believe is in the best interests of the Thames Gateway, of the staff involved, and of regeneration in that area.

T9. [312981] Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Violent extremism needs to be tackled in all communities, including those who want to curtail freedom of religion, despite the protestations of the Minister for the West Midlands. Does the Secretary of State believe that the Government's current policy on preventing violent extremism is working?

Mr. Denham: Yes. We need to accept that the task of strengthening the ability to resist the ideas of al-Qaeda-type extremists that are targeted at young people is something that we will have to sustain and develop. Looking back over the first two years of the Prevent programme, we are seeing an increasingly rich range of local initiatives up and down the country, all of which have as their outcome the idea that it is less likely that a young person in this country will get drawn into support for that kind of violent extremism. I believe that our programme, which we are developing all the time, is on the right lines. We continue to learn from best practice across the country and to strengthen the programme month by month.

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Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister will be aware that campaigners in areas of high student occupation, particularly in houses in multiple occupation, are looking forward to the Government's announcement on use classes orders. When can we expect that announcement?

John Healey: Soon.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): When Ministers set out new requirements for local councils in the field of information technology that involve the roll-out of new software, what account do they take of the effect on small district councils that have to hire consultants and spend hundreds of thousands of pounds as a consequence? Are these wise decisions to make in the middle of a recession, given their effect on hard-pressed taxpayers?

Mr. Speaker: Quite cheekily, the hon. Gentleman got a second question in at the end.

Mr. Denham: The Government's approach to making the vast amount of data currently held by local authorities more freely available on the web in real time is crucial to the efficiency and accountability of local services. I would say to the smaller district councils, which defend their role vigorously, that they need to face the fact that they are going to have to share services and work collaboratively with other small district councils, in order to show that the autonomy that they value does not come at an unacceptably high cost to local taxpayers. They will have to deal with such issues by working with others to achieve the cost-effectiveness that everyone wants.

Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): Despite the Government's very good track record on supporting rough sleepers, I am alarmed at the number of people in London who are on waiting lists to get into a hostel, and at the number in my own constituency who seem to be in a constant circle of finding supported housing and then going back to rough sleeping. Can the Minister please tell me what further work is being done to alleviate the situation? Perhaps we could have a meeting to discuss the matter.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Ian Austin): I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this matter. I have visited Stoke and met some of the organisations that provide services for homeless people, and I would be happy to go back to meet him and have a look at the problem in depth. I can tell him that, as a result of the record levels of investment that this Government have put in since 1997, however we calculate it, and by whatever measures we use, the numbers of rough sleepers have been cut dramatically-more than has ever been achieved in the past.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): The Secretary of State has put forward an article 14 directive in relation to London Southend airport. It would be helpful to the local community if he could tell us roughly when he will make a decision on that matter, and whether there will be a need for a public inquiry. The sooner the better.

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Mr. Denham: I understand the hon. Gentleman's comments, but he will understand why I cannot reply to his question this afternoon.

Several hon. Members rose -

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Mr. Speaker: Order. I will come to points of order in a moment. I am sorry that a tiny number of colleagues missed out. My appetite for hearing colleagues' questions and Ministers' answers is insatiable, but I am afraid that we have to move on.

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Points of Order

3.34 pm

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 24 November last year, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) used parliamentary privilege to say the following about the noble Lord Lawson of Blaby:

That statement, while being surprisingly amusing for the right hon. Gentleman, is not correct. Indeed, if delivered outside the House, it would have been actionable. Lord Lawson has written to the right hon. Gentleman asking him to correct the record; he has not done so. If he had said that about any Member of this House, we would have been able to defend ourselves, in this House. That privilege is not available to a Member of the other place. I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the statement is a reflection on a Member of the other place, which is prohibited, except on a substantive motion, by the rule enunciated in "Erskine May", page 439. I ask you to rule on the matter.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving notice that he intended to raise a point of order. What I would say to him at this stage is simply this: I am happy to examine the passage in the Official Report in the light of his reference to the rule about casting reflections on a Member of the other place. That I shall do.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There must be an election on the way, as the courtesies normally applied in the House are not being observed by some hon. Members. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) visited my constituency to try to explain away why the Tory council wants to build
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hundreds of houses on our green belt and floodplain, but she did not inform me at all. She is the third senior Tory to do that. Do I smell panic?

Mr. Speaker: Something tells me that the hon. Gentleman seeks to entice or inveigle me into a debate. He knows that that is not a proper thing to do. On his point of order- [Interruption.] I am grateful to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) for his chuntering from a sedentary position, but if he would allow me to rule on the point of order, I should be pleased to do so.

Everybody in the House knows that there is a long-established, important and generally respected convention that one Member visiting the constituency of another Member on public business should do that other Member the courtesy of offering prior notification. That is all that needs to be said. In these competitive times, I hope that those courtesies will be observed, and that it will not be necessary for us continually to return to this point.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I visit many councils each week and, normally, I faithfully inform the Member concerned, as I am sure Members will testify. In this case, I appear to have made a genuine mistake, for which I apologise. I hope that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) will accept that apology.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for such a prompt and courteous reply. I have the impression that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) has noted and accepted it. A simple nod of the head will suffice.

Bob Spink indicated assent.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The matter can rest there, and we can all now happily proceed in a constructive spirit.

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Ambulance Response Times (Local Reporting)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

3.38 pm

Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): I beg to move,

I thank all those Members across the House who have sponsored the Bill. I am sure that they would wish to join me in recording our gratitude to all those who work on the front line of our ambulance services for their valiant and valuable work on our behalf.

My Bill would help to bring greater transparency and proper accountability to bear on the performance of ambulance services across England, in an effort to assist ambulance trusts and primary care trusts in addressing deficiencies and variability in their current service, and to improve outcomes for patients. The seeds of the Bill were metaphorically sown in the town of Nantwich in my constituency, almost two years ago. In the face of what were called "operational decisions" by the North West Ambulance Service to downgrade and deskill the service provided by community first responder volunteers in Nantwich, a local campaign erupted in opposition, not least because to the local community the value of community first responders in helping to reduce response times and save lives by plugging the gaps that mainstream operations were unable to fulfil was all too apparent. Two years on, the campaign continues apace, testament in no small part to the unstinting commitment to his local community demonstrated by Nantwich community first responder Gavin Palin and to the resolve of local councillors in fighting for a better service.

This drawn-out saga has also raised serious doubts about the current performance standards required of ambulance trusts across England as a proper measure of outcomes for patients. Following the review of ambulance performance standards in July 1996, the categorisation of calls according to clinical urgency was introduced, whereby category A calls-those deemed immediately life-threatening-should receive an emergency response within eight minutes in 75 per cent. of cases. Category B calls-those classed as serious but not immediately life threatening-should receive a 19-minute response in 95 per cent . of cases. Category C calls-those neither immediately life-threatening nor serious-should be met through locally determined standards. Given that the number of ambulance call-outs has risen by over 100 per cent. in the past 10 years to 7.48 million in 2008-09, we should recognise that the national performance targets are robust, but rightly so.

However, the 1996 review also recommended that those standards should be based on health authority rather than ambulance service areas, as that would mean that standards could be related to smaller areas. That recommendation was not implemented, and so we remain in a regional rather than local response time system of performance accountability, despite the fact that the number of ambulance service areas has been reduced from 37 in 1996 to just 13 today. The report went on to say that there was a risk that the needs of
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smaller localities within larger geographical areas could be neglected. That is exactly what has happened in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies in other parts of the north-west and beyond.

Regional targets are distorting and disguising enormous local variations within a region, where local performance can be patchy all the way through to grossly substandard. If we take response times for 2008-09, the percentage of category A incidents that resulted in an emergency response arriving at the scene within eight minutes in the north-west region was 74.3 per cent., just below the national standard. Yet when the data are broken down into more localised figures, the picture is very different. For Central and East Cheshire PCT-it serves my constituency-the percentage drops to 65.2 per cent. For the CW5 Nantwich postcode, it falls further to 52.1 per cent. For the CW3 Audlem postcode, which crosses the border into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien), the percentage is just 14.3 per cent. or fewer than one in five life-threatening cases.

Even taking into account the inherent geographical difficulty of reaching more rural areas than urban areas, those are unacceptable responses. Without extracting the information through freedom of information requests, as I have done, the public have no meaningful way of establishing how their local service is performing and, in turn, as set out in the 1996 report, local communities are not provided with the freedom to adapt forms of response to local services and patterns of service such as the community first responders whom we have in Nantwich.

Such locally focused information should not have to be made public through the costly FOI process. Regional figures are already published and the North West Ambulance Service was able to respond within 24 hours to my FOI request for local response times, based on the fact that it already holds the information on its database. A senior North West Ambulance Service manager has told me that this information is available at the push of a button, so let us see it published online, on a monthly basis, by primary care trust and postcode area, at minimum cost. Where the call targets are missed by a significant margin, let us have an explanation as to why. That is already provided in Wales, so that people can identify the gaps and fill them by improving the local service through partnerships between the public, the voluntary sector and the emergency services.

The North West Ambulance Service and its chief executive, Darren Hurrell, are starting to understand the benefits of that approach. In the likely event that this Bill does not become law, I therefore hope that these proposals will form part of the common practice across the North West Ambulance Service and the other 12 ambulance trusts in England. I recognise that response-time requirements are not enshrined in primary legislation, and this mechanism of introducing new requirements on ambulance services may not be the most adept way of achieving my aim. Indeed, I am also acutely aware that there is a question as to whether response targets are an effective measure of patient care and outcomes, as what matters for the patient is not just the speed of response, but what level of medical attention is received on arrival, in transit and in hospital, and the quality of after-care service. I accept that fully, but I hope that my Bill will begin to address the absence of
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proper local accountability across the ambulance service and, in doing so, help to improve the outcomes for patients, wherever they happen to live. I commend this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr. Edward Timpson, Mike Penning, Mr. Stephen O'Brien, Graham Stringer, Mr. Ben Wallace, Geraldine Smith, Alistair Burt, Mr. Frank Field, Mr. Tobias Ellwood, Paul Rowen, James Duddridge and Mr. Lindsay Hoyle present the Bill.

Mr. Edward Timpson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 March and to be printed (Bill 55).

Mr. Speaker: We come now to the programme motion, and I call Secretary Jack Straw to move it formally.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is about the formal moving of the programme motion. Our understanding is that the programme motion appeared until very recently to be debatable, but at the last minute a new Order Paper seems to have appeared to explain that it is not debatable. I wonder whether it could be explained to the House why that is the case, because we would wish to debate it, in view of the fact that the Government have now changed the programming of this Bill on a number of occasions and we appear to be on a magical mystery tour without having any understanding of where we are going.

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