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Mr Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab):
The Secretary of State has halted the reconfiguration of
services in south-east London, which was clinically led, the subject of detailed public consultation and approved by the reconfiguration panel. The outcome is to leave my PCT and hospital trust acutely troubled about their ability to deliver the improved health services that were promised under "A picture of health" and to meet their financial targets. What does that say about the Government's commitment to evidence-based policy making?
Mr Lansley: What we have done in London is to give those who would be most affected by decisions to reconfigure services the opportunity, where decisions have not already been made, to have a local say. That includes patients, the public and GP commissioners. The delay, in so far as there is any delay, need not be great if those proposals are fully subscribed to by local people and by their GPs as commissioners.
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Would my right hon. Friend accept that there is widespread anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of homeopathic medicines? There are 500 doctors in this country who use them, and nobody is obliged to have them if they do not want them. Will he therefore heavily discount the illiberal views of our hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert)?
Anne Milton: May I thank my hon. Friend for his question and pay tribute to him for his continued and persistent lobbying on this subject? I gather that he has been elected a member of the Select Committee on Health, so I welcome him to that position and I am sure that we will meet again at some point.
What is important is that decisions about treatment are made by clinicians, and they will base their decisions on the safety, efficacy, efficiency and outcomes that a particular treatment will provide.
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): The North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust believes that its strategy for one hospital to replace the North Tees and Hartlepool university hospitals is the right strategy, despite the project being dropped by the Government. Does the Minister accept that the trust's strategy to provide a new hospital and health facilities closer to communities to meet their health needs is correct, that the trust should be encouraged to press ahead with alternative funding models that could still deliver the new hospital, and that its members and the public at large can expect Government support to realise that strategy?
Mr Lansley: What I would look for is for the foundation trust to meet the criteria that I published on 21 May in relation to any reconfiguration of services that it proposes for its area. As a foundation trust, I would also expect that, having secured the freedoms associated with that status, it should not ask the Department of Health to meet the whole capital cost of whatever it proposes.
Mr Speaker: I will now announce the results of the election of members of the Backbench Business Committee. No ballot was required for the election of the following: Mr Peter Bone, Philip Davies, Jane Ellison, John Hemming and Mr Philip Hollobone.
In the ballot today, the votes cast for the candidates were as follows: Mr David Anderson, 99; Katy Clark, 57; and Alison Seabeck, 92. Mr David Anderson and Alison Seabeck are elected. I congratulate all those elected.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This morning we lost an hour and a half of valuable debating time in Westminster Hall on the issue of apprenticeships, when the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), whom I informed that I would raise this point of order, did not turn up at the appointed time. Incidentally, the Minister for apprenticeships, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), was not present at the appointed time either, and the debate fell. To lose one Member might be considered unfortunate; to lose two seems like carelessness.
Is there anything that you can do, Mr Speaker, to reinstate the valuable time for that debate so that hon. Members such as myself who took time to prepare a speech can have the opportunity to deliver it to the House and have it recorded in Hansard? Could you also have a word with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to see whether it will allow Conservative Members to claim for alarm clocks?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for giving me advance notice of it. I understand that Members are disappointed to have missed the opportunity to debate the national apprenticeship scheme. I have received a letter of profuse apology from the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), which I appreciate and I think the House will appreciate.
The smooth conduct of business requires keeping to set times for the start of debates, and it is important that all Members grasp that at the outset and keep it in the forefront of their minds. It is perhaps an object lesson for all of us early on in the new Parliament. I note the request that the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) made for the matters in question to be aired on another occasion. I cannot commit at this point, but I hope that there will be another chance for those important matters to be debated in the House.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I offer the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and the House the same unreserved apology that I gave you earlier for my poor timekeeping this morning?
Mr Speaker: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think that quite enough has been said. [Interruption.] Order. Members are getting ahead of me-or they think they are-but I know what I was thinking and they do not. They will now see what I was thinking, which is that it would be helpful for the House to hear from the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), who is in his place. I know that he will be happy to comment.
The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr John Hayes):
That was literally irresistible. Of course, I should have been in my place as well. I arrived as the sitting was suspended by the relevant
member of the Panel of Chairs. I apologised to him then, and I have also dropped a note to you, Mr Speaker, as you know.
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I note that the particular bird has flown, but is it in order for a Member on the Front Bench to berate, scoff, scold and hiss at the Chair when a Member is trying to ask a question? Do you recognise that it is disrespectful to the House and the Chair, and, importantly, it also impedes a Member from asking a question and getting a sensible answer from the occupants of the Front Bench? Will the Speaker make it clear that his order covers not only Back Benchers but Front Benchers?
Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the last point. The writ of the Chair applies to all Members, irrespective of whether they sit on the Back or the Front Benches. On his particular point, I must say that nothing was recorded. I was focused at all times on the questions being asked, those seeking to ask them and Ministers answering them. However, respect for the Chair is important, and respect by one Member for another's right to be heard without interruption is extremely important. I hope that it will not be necessary in the course of the new Parliament and the new politics for that point to have to be made again from the Chair. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting an important matter.
"Today there are some families receiving £104,000 a year in housing benefit. The cost of that single award is equivalent to the total income tax and national insurance paid by 16 working people on median incomes. It is clear that the system of housing benefit is in dire need of reform."-[ Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 174.]
In order to drill down into that-I promise I will get to the point of order in a second-I asked, with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), a parliamentary question of the Department for Work and Pensions. I had a reply today, which said:
"The information requested is not available."
Has the Chancellor sought to rescind his statement about the £104,000 housing benefit? It has become common currency in the debate about reforming housing benefit, yet the Department tells me, as a Back Bencher, that the information is not available.
Mr Speaker: I thank the right hon. Lady for her point of order. I think that she is continuing a debate with some force, eloquence and insistence. She is an experienced Member and a distinguished former Minister, and the opportunity exists for her to table follow-up questions. I have a hunch that it will not be long before she avails herself of it.
Mark Lazarowicz: My right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) referred to the question on that subject that was tabled in my name. In fact, I have tabled a written question today asking the Chancellor to give the evidential basis for the statement that he made in the Budget last week. Could you urge him to give a speedy answer to that question, in order to reassure the House that his assertions in the Budget speech were based on fact?
Mr Speaker: I do not think that it would be right for the hon. Gentleman to seek to draw me into these interesting exchanges. He has tabled a question, and an answer might be forthcoming. I note his reference to the importance of evidence, and I simply note in passing that we would be establishing a new precedent in the House if we were to regard it as mandatory for a Minister to provide evidence for the arguments that he or she was making.
Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you or your office been notified as to whether the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport will be coming to the House to apologise for the distress that his unacceptable comments about the Hillsborough disaster have caused to the families of the 96 who died, and to people right across the political and football divide?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and I understand the very strong feelings-including those of constituents-that will have motivated him to raise it. In response, I would say that the remarks complained of-which I am neither justifying nor condemning-were not made in the House, and that my clear understanding is that the Secretary of State has apologised for them. He has made a public apology, and the question of whether he seeks to make an apology or any other comment on the matter in the House is a matter for him. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) for raising the matter, and I hope that he feels that I have given him at least an informative response.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): On an earlier point of order, Mr Speaker. In the previous Parliament, the Procedure Select Committee decided to establish a process whereby hon. Members could approach the Committee if they were unhappy with the nature of the answers that they received to written questions. I understand that, in this Parliament, we will continue to offer such an opportunity for people to put their complaints to the Committee, once it has been created.
Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab):
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that important announcements have been made today on the abolition of the regional development agencies and the setting up of new local government structures to replace them. May I implore you, sir, to use your good
offices to press Ministers to make statements of that nature in the House first, so that they can be properly debated?
Mr Speaker: I can say to the hon. Lady that I am aware of concerns about this matter, and there will be an opportunity to explore it. On the procedural point that she raises, I am conscious of and looking into the matter. I hope that that is helpful.
Mr Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. To move the motion, I call Mr Grant Shapps- [ Interruption. ] I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon; I apologise. I call Mr John Denham.
That this House regrets the decision of the Government to introduce £1.165 billion of cuts to local government funding in England in the current financial year; regrets the Liberal Democrat members of the Government supporting cuts they opposed during the general election campaign; notes the promise in the Coalition Agreement to "ensure that fairness is at the heart of those decisions so that all those most in need are protected"; regrets that this programme of cuts fails to meet this test of fairness, as they fall disproportionately on the hardest-pressed communities; notes with concern the principle set out by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State on 10 June that "those in greatest need ultimately bear the burden of paying off the debt"; condemns the failure of the Secretary of State to tell the House or local authorities where £504 million of cuts to funding will fall; further regrets the failure to consult local government on the allocation of the cuts; further notes with regret that the Government's further decisions on the Future Jobs Fund, housing and support for neighbourhood policing will weaken the ability of local councils to shape and deliver services in their areas; regrets the failure to make any progress on implementing the previous administration's commitment to Total Place, enabling local authorities to deliver real efficiency savings and contribute to reducing the deficit while protecting frontline services; and resolves that decisions affecting local government spending should be based on the principles of fairness, protection of frontline services and promotion of growth.
I was interested to hear the earlier exchanges about Ministers not turning up for debates. May I say how disappointed I am that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has not bothered to turn up for this one? In 10 years as a Minister, I always respected the strong convention in the House that if a shadow Secretary of State chose to lead an Opposition day debate, the Secretary of State would respond. I am very disappointed that, on the first Opposition day debate on a Communities and Local Government topic, the Secretary of State could not be bothered to be here. The truth is, of course, that he is too scared to be here. He is too scared to explain the series of blunders that he has already made over these cuts. He is so scared of defending what he is doing that he prefers to treat the House with disdain. So we shall have to make do with the Minister for Housing, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) instead.
I remember when my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and I insisted that building firms who took public money to build social housing should train apprentices. When they did so, the current Minister described it as ludicrous and counter-productive. We have all seen the minutes of his meeting with the Prime Minister's adviser on local government, the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham
council, at which it was agreed that it was a priority to raise rents in the social sector to equalise those between social housing and the private sector. So we know where he is coming from-he has got form.
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I have something of an interest in what goes on in Hammersmith. I heard the Minister for Housing say from a sedentary position that he was not at that meeting. Perhaps he would like to clarify that, because my understanding is that he was not at the main part of the meeting, discussing the demolition of council estates and the ending of social tenancies-although he has learned the lesson and is now proposing to do just that-but he did get there for drinks and canapés at the end.
Mr Denham: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Indeed, he owes his re-election to the awareness of his constituents of exactly what the Tory agenda for local government was in his constituency. I will return to that point later.
Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): While reflecting on the past, would the right hon. Gentleman like to apologise for the unprecedented situation that occurred when he was Secretary of State and his own permanent secretary disavowed the key policy of unitary status for various areas? The permanent secretary had so little faith in that policy that he went public with his view that it was a waste of public money.
Mr Denham: I am sure we all wish the former permanent secretary at my Department well in his new position as permanent secretary to the Scottish Government. I took the right decision on Norwich and Exeter, and I was right to back the desire of those cities to run their own affairs. It was a decision that I reached after many months of careful consideration, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne. I have to say that it was all too typical of this Government that, within two days of the new Government being formed, the Secretary of State-who talks about localism-decided to quash the aspirations of those councils to run their own affairs, in a timescale that meant that he could not possibly even have read the evidence that had been submitted by so many councils. I will return to the attitude of the Secretary of State in due course.
On 10 June, the Secretary of State announced £1.165 billion of cuts in local government spending in England in the current financial year. Because those cuts were so big, the Secretary of State should have come here to defend them. They were part of the £6 billion of cuts proposed by the Tories during the election. We opposed them as too early and too damaging to economic recovery. The Liberal Democrats also opposed them. As the right hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne)-now a Liberal Democrat Cabinet member-said during the election campaign:
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