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I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to examining the public interest test in the context of a new communications Act, but the rapidly changing digital age means that our media organisations need a modern regulatory framework sooner rather than later. Will he work with me to bring the legislation forward from 2015, as the Government propose, to 2012 or 2013 at the latest?

Media ownership and control is integral to our democracy. The integrity of our democracy depends on news being provided from a variety of sources with no one voice being dominant. As we have said all along, the decisions about this acquisition must be determined in the public interest via the due process laid down by Parliament, not through political deals. In the days ahead, I will engage with interested parties before deciding whether we believe that referral to the Competition Commission remains the most appropriate course of action. My party will apply the public interest test without fear or prejudice.

Mr Hunt: I am afraid that what we heard from the shadow Culture Secretary displays absolutely blind ignorance of a process that his own Government, when they were in power, set up under the Enterprise Act 2002. He talked about putting the interests of party first. Apart from asking him why the former News International-employed Labour party director of communications sent an e-mail round to all Labour Front Benchers asking them to back off from criticisms of this deal, let me just say this. I have been absolutely scrupulous in making sure that independent views were commissioned, expressed and published at every stage of this process, precisely because I wanted to reassure the public that this decision was not being taken on the basis of party interest. Those documents have been published today so that people can see for themselves that not only did I ask for that independent advice, and not only did I publish that independent advice, but, after careful consideration, I accepted that independent advice.

Let me go through some of the other things that the hon. Gentleman said. He partially quoted something that I said about this deal before I was even part of the process, but he did not read out the end of that quote, which he will have known full well, where I said that I would not second-guess the regulators. I have not second-guessed the regulators. I have listened to the independent regulators and I have accepted their advice.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the chair of the new company that is proposed to be set up will be independent. It is written in undertaking 3.13 that the chairman will be completely independent. There will be a board with majority independent directors. He asked what proportion of the new company’s revenue will be dependent on Sky. As things stand at the moment, it would be about 65%, but I think that any independent board of directors would be likely to want to reduce that dependence over a period of time, and they will have a 10-year carriage agreement with guaranteed income over that period in which to address that issue.

The hon. Gentleman asked who will be responsible for hiring and firing those who are responsible for the operation of Sky News. Again, it is clearly written in the undertakings that have been published today, in undertaking 3.16, that that decision will be the responsibility of the independent board. He talked about The Times and The

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, but I gently point out to him that this case is different because we will have an independent company that will be floated independently on the stock market with an independent board and an independent chairman—that is a huge difference.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to confirm whether the impartiality rules will remain in place. It is the Government’s policy that they should. On top of that, for the first time in this country, the new company will have in its articles of association that it must respect the broadcasting code, which includes the impartiality requirements. That is set out in undertaking 3.12.

The hon. Gentleman asked when I would consult other media organisations. What I am launching today is a 17-day consultation in which those media organisations will be consulted. This is a consultation and I will listen to what they say. The extraordinary thing in what he said today was the utter cowardice of a party that listens to a statement, criticises a process that it set up, and then refuses to get off the fence and say whether it agrees with what I have done. Last time, he criticised me for not following Ofcom’s advice. In fact, I did follow Ofcom’s advice then, and I am following it now. Does he agree with what Ofcom has said? If he is not prepared to say whether he agrees, no one will take any of his criticisms the remotest bit seriously.

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): Many members of the public are concerned about the potential for growing influence and control over news and current affairs in this country. Will the Secretary of State confirm that if this deal goes ahead, Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and News Corporation will have less influence and control over news and current affairs in this country?

Mr Hunt: My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. The detail that has been published today shows that News Corporation and James Murdoch have had to surrender a significant degree of control over Sky News to purchase the rest of the Sky shares. That involves the things that we discussed earlier, such as the independent chairman. At the moment, James Murdoch is non-executive chairman of Sky. That will change, with Sky News having an independent chairman. The detail includes the broadcasting code being written into the articles of association and that there must be a majority of independent directors. There is a whole range of safeguards that were negotiated not by me, but by Ofcom, which is the expert regulator in the field, precisely because it wants to ensure that there is not an over-concentration of media ownership in this country. That is fundamental in a free society.

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): The Secretary of State said that he used the procedures of the Enterprise Act 2002, but he has also told us that he looked at the decision based on plurality. He will know that had he used the Enterprise Act—I speak as a former competition Minister—there would have been concern, which I am sure he will hear about in his consultation period, that Sky’s retention of 39% of the ownership of Sky News negates all the guarantees that he has given. Will he look again at the detail of the Enterprise Act? If he considers it on that basis, as I am sure the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills would have done, he will see that this is clearly a competition issue.

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Mr Hunt: The Enterprise Act 2002 has a public interest test that can be invoked not on issues of competition, but on issues of media plurality, national security and, as it happens, the security of the banking system. What we are talking about is media plurality. It does not allow Ministers to intervene on competition grounds. Competition grounds were looked at extensively by the European Commission, which reported on 21 December that in its view the deal would not lead to a decrease in competition.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I gently remind the House that right hon. and hon. Members who came into the Chamber after the start of the statement should not expect to be called. That is a long-established tradition of the House.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): May I indicate a family interest, although not a personal one?

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his excellent statement. It is tremendously important that business is allowed to get decisions quickly, so that it can carry on. He has ensured that the pace of government has run at the pace of business, which is hugely to be welcomed.

Mr Hunt: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and I agree that it is important for Government to act as fast as possible. However, in this particular case I made it very clear to Ofcom and the OFT that they should take as long as they needed to come to the right recommendation for me to consider. I gave them as long as they needed, but they have worked to a very tight deadline and been able to ensure a much quicker turnaround than is normally the case.

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): The Government could have asked Ofcom to report on News International’s commitment to broadcasting standards. I now believe that evidence exists showing that journalists currently employed on The Times and The Sunday Times were involved in phone hacking, and that damaging revelations were printed in The Sun from information possibly collected by illegal hacking. We are told that the BBC has been bullied into delaying the broadcast of an edition of “Panorama” showing more sinister forms of illegal surveillance. If the Metropolitan police show the Secretary of State that evidence, will he change his mind?

Mr Hunt: First, the issue of phone hacking is extremely serious and very important, and someone has been sent to prison for it, but there is a judicial process and it is not appropriate for me to involve myself in it. As to whether I can ask Ofcom to examine those issues, my understanding is that legally, I am not able to do that at this stage.

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): Many constituents have expressed concerns to me about the deal. Can the Secretary of State inform the House as to how the corporate governance arrangements of the new company compare with those of other media organisations in the UK?

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Mr Hunt: First, there are provisions with respect to corporate governance in undertaking 3.18. The board is required to set up a corporate governance and editorial sub-committee, which will be run by someone who has expert experience of what editorial independence is all about. To my knowledge, this is the first time that a media company in this country has had such corporate governance requirements enshrined in its articles of association. There will be a tougher requirement on it to adhere to those requirements than there is on other companies, because other companies are required to comply with the corporate governance code or explain why they are not complying, whereas this company will simply be required to comply with it.

Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): Is the Secretary of State aware that the most likely, probably inevitable, outcome of his statement is that within 10 years, and perhaps in a much shorter period, News International will own 100% of both BSkyB and Sky News? Is he aware that the only way in which he could avoid that, and give his statement some shred of credibility, would be to have a clear, cast-iron undertaking by News International, in the articles of association or elsewhere, that it will not be allowed to regain 100% control of Sky News?

Mr Hunt: Undertaking 6.1 states that News Corporation is not allowed to buy additional shares in Sky News without the consent of the Secretary of State. Even after 10 years, when that agreement expires, were it to wish to acquire new shares in Sky News, it would have to go through potentially exactly the same process that it has gone through this time. The Secretary of State would have the option of asking Ofcom to examine the matter and referring it to the Competition Commission. All those safeguards will remain in place.

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his assurance that the new company will have to adhere to a stricter governance regime than any other UK media company, but given the distinct lack of public confidence in the process, what assurances can he give the House that that governance system will actually be adhered to?

Mr Hunt: First, there are provisions in the undertakings that give the Secretary of State powers to ensure that compliance happens, so I have some sanctions.

With respect to the approach to the decision that has been taken, today I have published 14 documents, including the ones that I am statutorily required to publish and many that I am not. I am not aware that any Minister involved in a similar decision has ever published so many documents. They include a timeline with details of every meeting that has taken place as part of the process. We will publish the minutes of those meetings at the end of the process. I hope that that commitment to transparency, and the fact that I have sought, published and, after consideration, accepted independent advice at every stage of the process, will reassure my hon. Friend’s constituents of the total probity with which we have approached the decision.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I have to disappoint the Secretary of State, because many people will think that we have reached a new low in

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British politics today, as the Conservative party, which was backed by Rupert Murdoch before the election, has delivered this deal within months of being elected. To ignore the 250,000 constituents who signed petitions and e-mailed him to oppose this deal is to ignore the democratic wishes of the population. He could have reassured them by referring the matter to the Competition Commission, and he can still do so. I therefore urge him, in the interests at least of the probity of British politics, to refer the matter, because nobody believes that the undertakings given by Murdoch will be adhered to in the long term.

Mr Hunt: We have not ignored the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. They were concerned about an over-concentration of power over the British media in the hands of one or two people. The measures that I have announced today make Sky News more independent than it is.

On referral to the Competition Commission, I have sought independent advice from the expert regulator, Ofcom, which had a number of concerns—similar to those expressed by the hon. Gentleman’s constituents—about the risks of the concentration of power of ownership of the media. It has said—this is in writing and I have published it today—that it is satisfied that all those concerns have been addressed.

Finally, I remind the hon. Gentleman that The Sun supported Labour in 1997, 2001 and 2005. The Conservatives did not complain then of dodgy deals, so Labour Members should not complain either.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): For those of us who have constituents who are unhappy about this proposed acquisition, can the Secretary of State tell us how members of the public can best take part in this consultation to let their views be known?

Mr Hunt: We are happy to hear all views, whether they agree or disagree with the proposals. There is an e-mail address on my departmental website to enable anyone to contribute. I encourage members of the public—whatever their views—to take part in the consultation, and indeed I encourage all hon. Members to do so.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Whatever spin is put on this business today, there is no doubt that this is a disastrous day for democracy. The Murdoch empire—a political organisation—has now decided to gobble up this Government like it has gobbled up Governments before, which means that elected Members of Parliament have to play second fiddle to it. Is it not remarkable that Murdoch also operates the hereditary principle, and hands down power like a middle eastern despot from father to son?

Mr Hunt: In which case Mr Murdoch would not agree with my view on reform of the House of Lords. If the hon. Gentleman cares about freedom and democracy and looks at the details of the deal, he will find that if it proceeds—if I accept it after 15 or 17 days’ consultation—it will make Sky News more independent than it is at the moment. That strengthens media plurality, which should reassure the many people who are understandably

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concerned to ensure that no one person has too much control. If James Murdoch wanted more control over news media in this country, he would not have proceeded with this deal. It is in order to buy the shares in the rest of Sky that he must cede significant control in Sky News.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he has been engaged in not a political process but a quasi-judicial process under the Enterprise Act 2002, and that if now, or at the conclusion of the consultation process in 17 days, when he eventually makes a decision, anyone thinks that he has failed in that process, their remedy lies in judicial review?

Mr Hunt: My learned hon. Friend is absolutely right. In reality, we have to assume, because there are so many interests at stake, that any side that is disappointed with this decision will attempt judicially to review it. For that reason, at every stage of the process, we have sought to be completely transparent, impartial and fair, which is why today we are publishing all the documents relating to all the meetings—all the consultation documents, all the submissions we received, all the exchanges between my Department and News Corporation. People can thereby judge for themselves whether the process has been completely fair, impartial and above board.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): How does the Secretary of State respond to the literally hundreds of constituents in Brighton, Pavilion who have contacted me to express their concern about this deal and their belief that the so-called Sky News remedy is no more than window dressing? They also ask how it can be right to support a takeover that will give News Corporation even more power at a time when Rupert Murdoch already exerts such an unhealthy influence on our media landscape.

Mr Hunt: If the hon. Lady’s constituents are concerned to ensure that there is not an over-concentration of power over news media in too few hands in our country, I agree with them. I think that it is fundamentally extremely important. However, I would urge them to look at the outlines of what has been announced today. If they do, they will see that it actually strengthens the editorial independence of Sky News in a way that is completely unprecedented for any media organisation in this country. The second issue she raised, on the market power of News Corporation, is not one that I can consider in this quasi-judicial process, because this is about plurality in the provision of news. The market-dominance and competition issues in this country are decided not by Ministers, but at arm’s length. In this case, the EU had jurisdiction, and it made its ruling on 21 December 2010.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I recognise the Secretary of State’s commitment to transparency. In the light of the Government’s experience of this case, however, does he welcome the burdens placed on Secretaries of State in such cases, or does he see merit in the wider application of automatic triggers relating to market share, for example, in order to address issues and concerns about news media plurality?

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Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend asks a very important and pertinent question. The Ofcom report sent to me on 31 December 2010 pointed out that Ministers’ ability to intervene in the public interest on grounds of news plurality can be triggered only when there is a corporate transaction. It cannot be triggered when, for example, a news organisation grows its market share organically. That is different from competition law, under which it is possible, through the Office of Fair Trading, to trigger a Competition Commission inquiry. It is reasonable to ask whether we should look at whether we have the triggers we need for this very important issue. I said in my statement that I will do that as part of our review of communications regulation for potential inclusion in a new communications Act this Parliament.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I am sorry, but I think that this is a particularly shabby deal, and I think that it has been brought to us by a Secretary of State who made his mind up a long time ago. I say that because he told me so in East Grinstead last September, before this process even started. What would he say to my constituents in the south Wales valleys who suffer from Murdoch’s virtual monopoly in broadcasting, particularly in respect of certain channels in south Wales, and in the provision of many channels and sporting opportunities? They are deeply concerned that the guarantees that have supposedly been given are no stronger than those made in relation to The Sunday Times and The Times, and will not stand the test of time.

Mr Hunt: It is not a question of what I think as much as what independent regulators who have been involved in every stage of the process have said, and whose advice I considered before making my decision. I not only considered their independent advice, but, as it happens, followed it. It has been extremely important to do so, because in this decision, of all decisions, people are understandably suspicious of the motives of politicians. That is why I have involved independent people at every stage of the process. I would say to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents that it is very important that we have a competitive market in the media. It is very important that we have competition, and we want to ensure that that is the case. We have a competition regime to ensure that it happens, and we will continue to police that regime diligently.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about sanctions. Will he say a little more about the monitoring procedures for the new company?

Mr Hunt: In the undertakings published today the Secretary of State has the right to intervene to ensure full compliance with all the undertakings that have been made, and it is important that that should be the case. It is impossible to predict every situation that might arise in a market landscape that is changing as rapidly as the media market. The issue has been looked at carefully by independent experts—they are far more expert than I am—who are confident that, in so far as it is possible to envisage all future situations, those undertakings will secure the independence of Sky News for the 10-year period of the carriage deal.

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Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Since the news broke this morning, I have had a significant number of e-mails from constituents. One says:

“The promises made by Mr Murdoch are not worth the paper they are written on”.

Another says:

“Rupert Murdoch will still have directors on the board of Sky News, he’ll still control the flow of cash to Sky News and the distribution network…It’s smoke and mirrors, and media plurality is still under threat.”

It is clear that they are not reassured by the Secretary of State’s professions that the process has been strictly impartial and fair. What else can he tell me to reassure them, because, to be honest, I do not think he can?

Mr Hunt: Let me address the two points that the hon. Lady raises. First, the majority of the directors of the new company will be independent, as will the chairman. That is different from the situation now, where the non-executive chairman of Sky is James Murdoch. The second issue that she raised was the flow of cash from News Corp. That is part of the 10-year carriage agreement that is negotiated at the very start of the process. In a way, it is like the licence fee negotiations with the BBC, in that it secures the new organisation’s cash flow for 10 years. Sky cannot get out of supplying that cash except in extreme conditions, and where there is a dispute about it there is a dispute resolution procedure involving independent arbitration, so the new organisation will be as sure of that cash flow over the 10-year period of the carriage agreement as anyone could be.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I should also declare an interest, in that I have a brother, Charles, who is a cricket correspondent for Sky television and, I am told, can be seen nightly presenting the world cup highlights.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that should the deal not go through for some reason, the Murdoch family would not have to dispose of their interest in Sky News to such an extent?

Mr Hunt: I am trying to make sure that I have understood that question. If the deal does not go through, we remain with the status quo, which is that Sky will be 39.1% owned by News Corporation. On the other hand, the independent safeguards and guarantees for Sky News envisaged in the deal would not be put in place.

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): I, too, have received a huge amount of correspondence from constituents on this issue. Independence is clearly key, but in practice it will be extremely difficult to achieve. Does the Secretary of State really think that it will be possible for the board to sit aside, independently of its biggest shareholder and biggest customer? Will he also say whether News Corp-Sky will be permitted to buy advertising air time on the new Sky News channel, and, if so, whether that revenue stream is included in the 65% figure he gave earlier?

Mr Hunt: The 65% figure is based on the carriage agreement, which is the fee that Sky would pay to Sky News for providing the news service that would be

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broadcast on the Sky platform. It does not involve any advertising to my knowledge. That is the first point. The second point that the hon. Gentleman mentioned—

Mr Umunna: But is it actually possible in practice?

Mr Hunt: I thank the hon. Gentleman for kindly reminding me of the first part of his question. There is no doubt that someone with a 39% shareholding in a company has significant influence in the way it is run. For example, ITV has a 40% shareholding in ITN. However, the independence that the new board will have is unprecedented. It is enshrined in the articles of association of the company in a way that the independence of ITN, for example, is not. Despite the fears of many people, Sky News has been run with pretty sound editorial independence for the past 20 years while under a much greater degree of potential control by News Corporation than has in fact been exercised. So it is possible to have confidence that Sky News will continue to be run with proper, full editorial independence. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his forbearance.

Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): Given that Ofcom initially believed that it would need to refer this case, due to concerns about plurality, will the Secretary of State tell us what elements of these arrangements convinced it that it should not do so?

Mr Hunt: Yes, I am happy to do so. There are a number of things, but I shall outline the main thing that has reassured Ofcom since its first report, which was delivered on 31 December. That report stated that, under the original deal proposed by News Corporation, Sky News would cease to exist as an independent media entity. That will not be the case under the new structure that has been proposed and published today. Sky News will be a separate company. It will not be majority owned by News Corp, and it will have an independent chairman. A huge number of safeguards will be put in place to secure the editorial independence that has been a key part of its success to date and that needs to be protected in the future for reasons of news plurality.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): I, too, have received a huge volume of correspondence from constituents who are concerned about the plurality of the media following this deal. I should declare an interest: up until the election, I worked for Ofcom. I am therefore very familiar with the real difficulties involved in monitoring and policing behavioural undertakings of this kind. The Secretary of State said that he gave Ofcom the time that it needed to make its recommendation. Will he promise to give the public the time that they need to gain confidence in these undertakings?

Mr Hunt: If the hon. Lady used to work at Ofcom, she will understand that there is a big difference between behavioural remedies and structural remedies. We are talking here about structural remedies. They are not a promise of good behaviour; they are remedies concerning the structure, the articles of association and the board of directors of a new company. They involve obligations that are legally enforceable, and they are therefore much stronger. Ofcom has said that it is happy that the requirements are strong enough to satisfy its concerns. Of course we want this to be a full consultation—it is

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very important that we do that—but I am satisfied that the 17 days will give people enough time to look at the deal and voice their objections. We have already had a number of e-mails on the issue, as I am sure the hon. Lady has. We will consider fully all the opinions that are expressed to us before coming to a final decision.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Having spent 12 years of my life before being elected to the House working in regulatory compliance, I know that the monitoring arrangements are critical in cases such as these. Will my right hon. Friend tell me who will be responsible for the monitoring of these undertakings and, specifically, who will monitor the share dealings for the new Sky News company to ensure that neither Rupert Murdoch nor his nominees purchase shares in the company in order to acquire a monopoly within the 10-year period?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is written in black and white that they are not allowed to purchase any additional shares in the new company without the consent of the Secretary of State. Were they to be in breach of that, they would threaten the entire deal that, if it goes ahead, will allow them to purchase the remaining shares in the rest of Sky. So the sanctions are very considerable indeed, and we will monitor the deal very carefully to ensure that there is compliance. My hon. Friend will see, when he looks at the undertakings, that they contain a number of explicit provisions to ensure compliance. Those provisions have satisfied the Office of Fair Trading and Ofcom, and that is why I have confidence in them as well.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): The deal that Mr Murdoch really wants—the buy-out that gives him control of BSkyB—might well have happened by the time that the circumstances described have taken place, so where is the real sanction? Might it not be better from the public point of view if it were not the Secretary of State but an independent person who had any say on further buy-out shares?

Mr Hunt: I recognise the hon. Lady’s concerns. When she has a chance to look in detail at the undertakings, she will find that many of them have to be delivered before the purchase of the Sky shares is allowed to go ahead. We have been very strict on the timelines and want to ensure that as much of it as possible is delivered as quickly as possible. As for who should be the final decision maker, all I will say is that because I have been so conscious of the public’s worries about the motivations of politicians in these kinds of decisions, I have sought independent advice at every stage before taking the decisions in this process, and if I am required to make any similar decisions I will continue to seek independent advice in the future.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State explain what will happen if, at some time in the future, News Corporation wants to cancel the carriage arrangements for the licensing deal after the transaction has taken place?

Mr Hunt: If News Corporation were to do anything like that, a dispute resolution procedure is specified in the undertakings, which it would be obliged to follow.

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In the end, if it is followed through, it leads to independent arbitration, so I am satisfied that it will have to be good for its money and honour the spirit of the carriage and brand licensing agreements as laid out in those undertakings.

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Members on both sides of the House were disappointed that a statement of such importance was taken in the middle of the afternoon, but out of respect for our Ulster Unionist friends we have tolerated that decision. What I believe is intolerable is the fact that the Secretary of State saw fit to parade around TV studios before making the statement to the House. Has he availed himself of the opportunity to ask whether he can apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House for this discourtesy?

Mr Speaker: The short answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is no. The timing of the statement is not quite what Members had expected, which was evident during earlier exchanges in the presence of the Leader of the House. The circumstances that led to the timing of this statement were explained: there is a balance of considerations, and it was felt important to protect the Democratic Unionist party’s half-day debate. When I became aware of the situation, it seemed to me that such protection must be guaranteed. I confess, however, that I had rather expected—and had indeed been led to expect—that although announcements to the stock exchange would be made, no media interviews would be undertaken before a statement was made to the House. I was led to expect that and the Secretary of State knows very well that I was led to expect that, so the fact that interviews have taken place is a notable disappointment and it might be regarded by some as a discourtesy to the House. In those circumstances, I feel sure that the Secretary of State will want to be aware of that discourtesy and will take the opportunity to express his regrets to the House.

Mr Hunt: I am, of course, prepared to apologise if there is any element of procedure that I have not followed correctly. I would like to explain that I did one clip under embargo and the deal I made with the media organisations was that they should not use it until after the statement had been made. However, because the issue was referred to in oral questions earlier today, some of those media organisations took that to mean that the issue had been addressed in the House and

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went ahead and broke that embargo. I made the position very clear and I did no media interviews other than that one clip under embargo. I want to make that clear so that the House can understand what happened.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Secretary of State for the explanation that he has kindly offered to the House. There is no doubt that the situation had not been fully anticipated and has not been the subject of the range of internal exchanges that would ordinarily be expected. I know he is aware of that, and what he has said is courteous. I am happy to leave it at that.

Chris Bryant: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Does that not show that undertakings made by media organisations are not necessarily all that helpful or reliable?

Mr Speaker: Very good point. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept, however, that I am not responsible for such undertakings, which is probably as well. I think I will leave it at that.


Rail Services (Melksham, Wiltshire)

3.50 pm

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I present a petition begun by Melksham Oak community school and supported by pupils at the school. The petition has now been signed by more than 300 of my constituents. Melksham deserves a better train service, and vast improvements could be made at minimal cost through the allocation of a small number of carriages to the TransWilts line.

The petition states:

The Petition of Melksham Oak community school and the people of Melksham in Wiltshire,

Declares that Melksham has one of the poorest train services in the country for a town of its size with only two services a day each way at times which are impractical for commuters; notes that travelling to work, school, or even visiting friends could be made easier with more trains on Wiltshire's railway; and further notes that the Government will be reallocating a number of trains no longer needed in London and the South East to other parts of the rail network.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls upon the Government to allocate additional carriages for use on the TransWilts service between Swindon and Salisbury, calling at Melksham.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


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Children's Heart Surgery (Leeds)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Dunne.)

3.52 pm

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to hold an Adjournment debate to discuss the Leeds children’s heart unit.

Before being elected, I spent a considerable part of my career in the children’s hospice movement. During that time, I built up a great deal of understanding of the issues faced by families who have a child who is very poorly. Leeds MPs are working as a cross-party group to do the best for our city. We have each taken on a role, and mine has been in relation to health. During the Christmas recess, I spent two days at the two hospitals in Leeds. I was particularly interested to see Leeds general infirmary’s children’s services, which have recently been reconfigured and are all in one place. It was my first opportunity to visit the heart surgery unit there. At that point, I learned for the first time about the safe and sustainable review of heart units across the country: at the moment, there are 11 units in the United Kingdom, and the national health service propose to reduce that number to six or seven.

The review has already published four options, and I am surprised and disappointed that Leeds features in only one of those. It is my belief that if the Leeds unit closes, it will leave a huge gap in provision, from Leicester or Birmingham in the south, to Newcastle in the north, and Liverpool to the west. It will mean that children from Yorkshire, north Derbyshire and north Lincolnshire will have to travel long distances, at considerable expense to their families. Indeed, I am aware of families in your constituency, Mr Deputy Speaker, who have been using the service. People from far and wide are dependent on the service at Leeds, so there is an effect not just on Leeds but across Yorkshire and neighbouring counties.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having secured this timely debate. Like him, I spent some time observing children’s heart services in Leeds a few months ago. Only this week I was contacted by a constituent who expressed concern about the impact of closures. That constituent’s daughter is now five years old. When she was eight days old, she was able to undergo important surgery in Leeds. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Leeds is particularly well placed, and that its expertise and critical mass of children’s services make it very necessary for it to continue its excellent work?

Stuart Andrew: I entirely agree. I was about to deal with that point. I believe that there is a very strong case for Leeds. It has the capacity to expand, and is within a two-hour drive for nearly 14 million people. It has one of the highest population coverages among all the units in England, with 5.5 million people in the Yorkshire and Humber region. Leeds is, of course, centrally located in the north of England, and can accommodate patients from outside the current catchment area.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing a debate on an issue that is vital to the people of our city. Leeds is not

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only central, but has been described as the motorway city. It has excellent rail links as well, which makes speedy access to the hospital possible.

Stuart Andrew: I am beginning to think that some Members have already seen my speech. I am getting ahead of myself. We have the M1, the A1, the M62 and excellent rail links, which make Leeds very accessible. The Leeds Hospitals NHS Trust has centralised children’s services, which I think meets the requirements of the Department of Health’s critical interdependency report. On 18 February the British Congenital Cardiac Association, which is a leading support organisation of the safe and sustainable review, released a statement saying:

“For these services at each centre to remain sustainable in the long term, co-location of key clinical services on one site is essential.”

Leeds General Infirmary is at the forefront of work on inherited cardiac conditions, and has an excellent record of providing safe, high-quality children’s heart surgery. The Yorkshire region has significantly higher birth rates than other parts of the country, particularly the north-east, and there is no doubt that demand will increase.

The review is informed by the overall opinion that a reduction in the number of centres is the best way in which to secure a safe and sustainable future service. It is guided by four principles, and I believe Leeds more than meets their requirements. The first is quality. The paediatric cardiac service at Leeds General Infirmary extends from pre-natal diagnosis to the treatment of congenital heart disease in adults, with excellent clinical outcomes. It has high standards and a personal service, and, as I have said, is located very centrally.

During the assessment process, Sir Ian Kennedy and his assessment panel visited every children’s heart surgery unit in England. They produced individual assessment reports on each of the units two weeks before the presentation meeting at the joint committee of primary care trusts on 16 February. At the meeting, the four reconfiguration options were presented. They were based on a number of factors contained in the panel’s assessment reports. However, I understand that there are significant factual inaccuracies in Sir Ian Kennedy’s report on the Leeds unit, and that its representatives were given no opportunity during the process to comment or request amendments of the factual inaccuracies before decisions were made about the configuration of the options for consultation.

At a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on heart disease on 9 February, when asked when units would be able to challenge and amend inaccuracies in their reports, Jeremy Glyde, the programme director of the safe and sustainable review, said that that could be done during the consultation process.

The reports that the reconfigurations were based on contain fundamental inaccuracies, but they can be challenged only during the consultation period to decide which option is preferred. For Leeds, these inaccuracies include the following. Sir Ian Kennedy’s report documented that Leeds has no transition nurse and separate paediatric intensive care unit; neither point is factually accurate, to the extent that his assessment panel actually met, and talked to, one of the unit’s three transition nurses. The joint committee of primary care trusts advised at its meeting on 16 February that Leeds had stated that it could not do more than 600 operations. Again, that is

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factually incorrect— Leeds was never asked—but it was stated as the reason why two of the 14 options that were considered were discounted. The commissioners have acknowledged that this was an assumption and not based on what Leeds had said. In the pre-consultation business case for Leeds, start-up costs were reported as £2 million. That figure was not provided by Leeds, and is not representative of the accurate costs provided to the safe and sustainable review panel.

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. A young constituent of mine, Libby Carstairs, was in a poorly state and spent more than six months in the Leeds heart unit. The beauty of her being in Leeds was that her parents, her grandparents, and sometimes even some of her friends, could come over to aid her recovery process. Also, her head teacher from Carr Green school had the privilege of being able to go there with cards from her friends. Does my hon. Friend agree that the value of that to young Libby’s recovery process far outweighs any monetary value?

Stuart Andrew: I completely agree. When I worked at Martin house, we found that one of the big problems was the travelling distances—some people lived on the coast in Scarborough, for instance. It is very important that families are able to get to a centre quickly, because when a child is sick they want their mum and dad there—and we want that when we are a bit more than a child too. These facilities must be accessible, therefore.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): I too congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate for our region. Many of my constituents in York are very concerned about the potential closure, which would mean that they would go to Newcastle, so my hon. Friend makes a good point when he says this is about the whole region. Because of the lack of transport links on the eastern coast of our region, it could be greatly affected by the closure, and I do not think sufficient account has been taken of that.

Stuart Andrew: Given the location of Leeds and the extent of the population all around it, it seems very odd that Leeds is not being considered.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): I cannot think of a better colleague to lead this debate than my hon. Friend. Earlier today, I received an e-mail from Lois Brown, whose daughter Amelie was born with half a heart. She and her surgeons believe that her daughter would have died if Leeds had not been geographically close. Does my hon. Friend agree that the presence of LGI is the difference between life and death for many children in North Yorkshire, one of the most rural counties in England?

Stuart Andrew: I absolutely agree. For hearts, time is of the essence. We need to be sure that people can get where they need to be quickly. I met my hon. Friend’s constituent the other day, and she spoke very powerfully and emotionally about what that meant in her case. I cannot imagine how families in these situations must feel. It is imperative that there is a facility close by.

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Returning to the reviews, there are also inconsistencies in the application of some of the principles. So, for example, Liverpool and Birmingham are in all the options because of density of population and access for patients, but the same does not seem to apply to the Leeds case. That is odd and I do not know why the Liverpool and Birmingham cases are different.

Not enough emphasis has been given to co-location. The facility at Leeds general infirmary is wonderful now—I am given to understand that it is the second largest children’s service in the whole country—so taking away its heart unit and the expertise that has been gathered there over the years is strange. This is not just about children’s heart services, because the process has failed to seek views from adult congenital patients. The doctors who operate on the children also operate on the adults and it appears obvious that wherever the children’s heart services go, so, too, will the services for adults. Will they have had an opportunity to be consulted on what was going to happen to those services? This is about a much wider point than just children’s services.

Alec Shelbrooke: My hon. Friend may be coming to this issue, but could he comment on the fact, which has been put forward every now and again, that Newcastle is favoured because its facility performs adult heart transplants? We recognise that surgeons have equal skills and just because somewhere does the adult heart transplants, it does not necessarily mean that we should move the children’s heart surgery to that department.

Stuart Andrew: That is a very valid point and I shall shortly discuss something that was said the other day because it will comment on that.

I shall conclude now because I know that a couple of other Members have expressed an interest in speaking in this debate. I understand that this process is going to be difficult and that there is a need for a review. Severe problems have been experienced in parts of the country and it is right that a clinically led decision is made, but I want that decision to be made on the basis of facts that matter to local people and that are accurate. As I have mentioned, there are real problems with the assessment and the options that have been mentioned. Emotions will of course run high, because this is a very emotive subject. It is incredibly moving to listen to the families I have been speaking to since this matter first arose. They describe how their children and their babies were so close to death but how, thanks to the expertise that was provided at this location, which they were able to reach, their children are at least here and receiving the wonderful care that is provided, although they may be poorly.

There is a case to be made for the facility at Leeds in terms of geography, population and access. We like to tick boxes in this country and everything is ticked in this case for Leeds. I would be grateful if the process could be examined. Some powerful comments were made and cases were mentioned at a meeting held with parents and clinicians here on Tuesday. They are desperate for this unit to remain open. As someone said at that meeting, the doctors should move where the patients are; it should not be the other way round.

4.8 pm

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing this debate and I thank hon. Members on both sides of

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the House who have signed early-day motion 1459, which expresses the views that we have just heard in his eloquent speech—he has really made the case.

I simply wish to say a couple of things, the first of which is that I have the honour to represent Leeds general infirmary and I had the opportunity, as the hon. Gentleman did, to visit the heart surgery unit about a month ago. I met the staff, who with care, compassion and enormous skill look after very sick children and their families, and I had a chance to talk to some of the families themselves. It is, as he said, a very stressful and difficult time for the families and children, particularly when the children reach an age at which they become aware of what they are about to go through and see other children who are sick—but they are in very capable and reassuring hands.

The case that has been made by all who are concerned that the unit at Leeds general infirmary should remain open is overwhelming. I wanted to put that directly to the Minister, and it is good to see him here. For all the reasons that have been set out, which I shall not repeat, there is a clear case for keeping Leeds open. Like the hon. Member for Pudsey, I do not for a second argue with the basis of the review and its origins. Clearly, for anyone who has responsibility for ensuring that children’s heart surgery is as safe as it possibly can be, not least the Minister, it is right, given what has happened in certain places, to look at the things that will tell us that we have that safety and security for patients. We from Leeds and the region are not campaigning for anyone else’s unit to close, and I share others’ disappointment that Leeds figures in only one of the options. We are simply saying that the Leeds unit should remain open and that that should happen alongside other decisions that the Minister and others have to take. That is a heavy responsibility to bear.

My final point concerns the meeting that took place earlier this week and I thank the hon. Member for Pudsey for giving us the opportunity to come together. I, too, listened to Amelie’s mother speak and the room was absolutely silent as she described what she had been through. I want to convey to the House the depth of feeling about and the strength of support for the Leeds unit. The determination of the thousands of parents whose children’s lives have been saved by the unit and of the millions of parents who hope that the unit will continue should their children face the same difficulties is very powerful. This debate, which is very timely, is part of the campaign we are waging because we are determined that the Leeds unit should remain open. The Minister will soon get a request to receive a delegation from the large number of Members who represent constituents who have benefited from the unit’s work and who hope to benefit in the years ahead; it is good to see so many of them here. We will not rest until the unit is declared safe for the future in the interests of the people whom we have the honour to serve.

4.12 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing this important debate. It is a strong reflection of hon. Members’ commitment not only to their local health service but to the Leeds hospital and its facilities and services that so many are present. I am particularly pleased to see my

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hon. Friends the Members for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) and for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker). I am also pleased to have heard from the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and to see the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) here. Their presence reinforces their commitment to their local health service and the facilities in the local hospital.

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the dedicated NHS staff who work in children’s heart services in Leeds and across the country. They do a fantastic job for which we are all incredibly grateful.

As I know my hon. Friends and Opposition Members will appreciate, this is a complex and, understandably, highly emotive area, but it is worth reminding ourselves of the genesis of this review. For years, experts in the field, including professionals and national children’s charities, have urged the NHS to review services for children with congenital heart disease.

Although there has been no specific problem, concerns have been raised about the risks posed by the unsustainable and sub-optimal nature of smaller surgical centres. Experts agree that, with small centres, there are issues with the recruitment and retention of surgeons and that there is a risk that those who are recruited find themselves working in isolation in units that are not up to date with modern techniques and clinical practice. Smaller centres struggle to train and mentor junior surgeons, making such units less attractive to the surgeons of tomorrow.

The provision of children’s heart surgery has been a cause of concern since the Bristol inquiry in the late 1980s. Understandably, there has been considerable pressure from national parent groups to ensure that children receive the best treatment. The Monro report in 2003 set out standards of care and pointed to the need for reconfiguration to concentrate expertise. That need has become ever-more pressing with the increasing complexity of treatment.

In the light of clinical concern in June 2006, Roger Boyle, the national clinical director for heart disease and stroke, and Sheila Shribman, the national clinical director for children, young people and maternity, chaired a consensus workshop of service providers, specialised service commissioners and relevant parent groups. The unanimous view was that there should be fewer, larger centres of excellence. The workshop concluded that the current service configuration was not sustainable and that a long-term national view of how services might be reorganised should be developed.

In 2008, the NHS medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh —a heart surgeon—asked the national specialised commissioning group to explore how the reconfiguration of children’s heart surgery services in England could improve the sustainability of the current service and lead to better clinical outcomes for children. The national review, known as “Safe and Sustainable”, aims to ensure that children’s heart services deliver the highest standard of care regardless of where patients live or which hospital provides the care.

I must emphasise that the review is clinically-led and that both it and the case for change are supported by parent and patient groups and by clinicians working in the service and their professional associations, including

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the Children’s Heart Federation, the British Heart Foundation, the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Congenital Cardiac Association and the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery in Great Britain.

Julian Smith: Does the Minister agree that, as well as the importance of the clinical need, distance is vital and that the points made in the debate for this most rural and sparsely populated area of our country must be taken into account in the decision?

Mr Burns: Distance is one of a number of factors that, of course, will be considered by those people who are involved in the consultation process, although I advise my hon. Friend that some of the organisations involved in such medicine have certainly told me—I have met some of them personally—that many parents think not so much about the distance that must be travelled as about getting the best treatment for their children. They are prepared to travel further to secure that fine treatment for their children than we may think from what our constituents who want to have district general hospital treatments tell us. The question of distance must be put into perspective, and it is not an overriding factor that secures any decision one way or another solely on that basis.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I recognise what the Minister says about distance. Parents want good outcomes for their children—that is why parents in Scunthorpe travel to Leeds—but distance can have an impact on clinical outcomes. Certainly, when the weather was terribly bad around Christmas time, the distance to travel to get good clinical outcomes made a difference. Distance and clinical outcomes are related.

Mr Burns: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which in many ways reflects that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon. I was making a simple, factual point about the view of many parents at present. As a Minister, it is certainly not for me to interpret and give a view on that, because, as will become apparent later in my remarks, the consultation is being done by others. It would be totally inappropriate for me, as a Minister, to seek to interfere, prejudge or prejudice any outcome of the consultation process. I hope that both my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman will appreciate the position that I am in in, that respect.

The review wants to ensure that as much non-surgical care is delivered as close to the child’s home as possible through the development of local congenital heart networks. The joint committee of primary care trusts agreed the shortlist of four options for the future of children’s heart surgery on 16 February 2011. The committee was set up as the formal consulting body for the review and to take decisions on the issues arising from it. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey will know that Leeds general infirmary is included in one of the shortlisted options that went out to consultation on 1 March, and the consultation will continue right through until 1 July. There are also public events taking place during the four-month consultation, and there is one in Leeds on 10 May at the Royal Armouries museum. I urge all hon.

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Members and as many individuals, not only in the local community, but those interested in the services that Leeds provides for patients, to attend.

I want to pick up on the point that my hon. Friend made about inaccuracies in Sir Ian Kennedy’s report. In response to the safe and sustainable interim report last summer, the report’s team received correspondence from the trust about concerns on inaccuracies. The team thought that they had addressed those in the final report in December, and I can only assume that that information is correct, because the trust has made no further approach to the team on the concerns about the information in the final report. I hope that that clears up the problems identified between the interim report and the final report in December.

I also want to emphasise that no decision has been made on which centres should continue to undertake surgery. That will be decided only after the responses to the consultation have been properly and fully considered. I give that assurance to hon. Members today. It is also important to recognise that the safe and sustainable review is only one element of a larger NHS review of congenital cardiac services in England. The NHS is also reviewing the provision of services for adults with congenital heart disease, and I understand that the designation process to determine where the adult services will take place will start later this year.

There are powerful clinical reasons driving the review. The trend in children’s heart care is towards increasingly complex surgery on ever smaller babies. This requires working in surgical teams large enough to provide sufficient exposure to complex cases so that surgeons and their teams can maintain and develop their specialised skills. Larger teams also provide the capacity to train and mentor the next generation of surgeons and other staff.

Hilary Benn: Does that not strengthen the argument for looking at centres where there is co-location of services, because, as the Minister will recognise, a sick child with a cardiac condition might have a bowel obstruction, for example, and the ability to call on a skilled surgical colleague straight away to deal with that on the same site is a powerful argument for retaining the unit at Leeds, where co-location of services is found?

Mr Burns: I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. He puts me in a slightly difficult position, because I genuinely do not want to be unhelpful. A consultation is ongoing through the joint committee of primary care trusts, however, and it would be totally inappropriate to start debating the rights and wrongs, the pluses and the minuses, of any one individual hospital or centre. It would be inappropriate—it might be construed as trying to influence, pre-judge or prejudice the consultation process—and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees wholeheartedly that it would be totally unacceptable for Ministers to start getting involved in that way. I hope he will accept that, for the best of intentions, it would be inappropriate for me to start debating that issue with him, however right or wrong he might be. I can tell him, none the less, that he has ample opportunity during the consultation process to make those very points to the JCPCT.

Stuart Andrew: I understand that, before the consultation document came out, one member of the steering committee

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gave her personal view of which unit should stay open. Does the Minister not agree that that might give some cause for concern?

Mr Burns: My hon. Friend is pushing me and tempting me, but I shall be up front and straightforward: I am unaware of that situation, and it would be unwise of me to start commenting on something that I do not know the background to or—if the conversation was had or the statement made—the circumstances of it. I hope he will forgive me if I do not go down that path.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): I thank the Minister for giving way, because I know that he wants to make progress.

As part of the process, may I ask that the support facilities for families will be considered, because, at a time when one is dealing with sick children, families are under very great pressure? There is a new facility at LGI, Eckersley house, which has been in existence for a while, but it has moved to a new location and opened only last year. It provides 22 rooms for families to stay in while visiting sick children, it is a key part of the broader provision of support that is necessary and I know that it will be a very welcome development for families.

Mr Burns: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that facility, which I have no doubt is not only welcome but extremely helpful to families, particularly at a very difficult time in their lives. Again, it would be inappropriate for a Minister, in a top-down way, to start decreeing what should or should not happen; I believe that decisions about such services and facilities must be taken locally. I am sure, however, that the relevant authorities will not only learn of my hon. Friend’s contribution, but no doubt benefit from his expertise in lobbying them to ensure that the service continues.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister take a very quick view from the Opposition Benches? We are old friends.

Mr Burns: Yes.

Mr Sheerman: Some of us were rather caught short, because we did not realise that the debate would start so early. For someone who lives in Huddersfield with a child who needs specialist care, the common sense consideration seems to be accessibility. Why do we not get more specialists in Leeds, so that we can access the vast population in our parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire?

Mr Burns: The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced parliamentarian, and I do not say this in any rude way, but he was not present when his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central spoke. That is not a criticism, but I shall make to the hon. Gentleman the same point that I made to his right hon. Friend: the consultation process and review is being carried out not by Ministers and politicians, but by the JCPCT. As we are engaged in the consultation process, it would be inappropriate and wrong of me to pontificate from this Dispatch Box on the merits or demerits of one case or another. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that that is meant to be a helpful reply, even if it is not the answer that he

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was seeking.




Fair enough. I am not criticising; I just want him to understand the position that I am in, because I do not want—




Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. We cannot have chit-chat across the Chamber in this way.

Mr Burns: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman is indeed being nice to me, and I appreciate it.

As I was saying, smaller surgical units often struggle to recruit and retain new surgeons. They also find it difficult to provide a safe service around the clock.

Under the auspices of the review, an expert group has developed a comprehensive set of service standards, taking into account the contributions of parents and professionals. The standards cover the whole of children’s heart services. They also reference other relevant professional standards and guidance, including the co-location of other clinical services that are interdependent with children's heart surgical services, the need for larger surgical teams to be able to provide a 24/7 emergency service, and the development of clinical networks of providers to ensure a coherent service for children and their families. I think that in some ways that picks up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey. The current centres have been visited and assessed against these standards by an independent expert panel.

I would like to go into a little more detail on a few of these standards to clarify areas which cause particular concern. On the standard on the number of procedures and surgeons, I can assure my hon. Friends and Opposition Members that there is convincing evidence from this country and overseas that larger centres, seeing more cases, are better able to consolidate their expertise and deliver better clinical outcomes. The recommendation on the number of procedures—between 400 and 500 a year—is based on the level of activity needed to provide good-quality care around the clock while enabling ongoing training and mentoring of new surgeons. This recommendation is based on the outcome of international research on minimum numbers of procedures in surgical centres. It has strong professional support in this country, including from the steering group of professional experts that was convened under the auspices of this review. In addition, there is a consensus among professional associations on minimum staffing levels that four surgeons in each centre should avoid the risk of surgeons not being able to maintain and develop their skills.

At this point, I would like to pay tribute to the commitment and dedication by talented NHS staff delivering congenital cardiac services. We have a responsibility to ensure they are supported as well as possible, and that includes ensuring that they do not risk burn-out if left to practise alone. Transforming a service from one that is “adequate” to one that is “optimal” requires sufficient volume, expertise and experience to develop what Sir Bruce Keogh calls “accomplished teams”.

Co-location, which I mentioned earlier, refers to the proximity of other critical services to the children’s heart surgery service. In this context, these services include specialised paediatric surgery; paediatric critical care; paediatric ear, nose and throat; and paediatric anaesthesia. The accepted definition of “co-location”—services either on the same hospital site or on a neighbouring hospital site—and which services should be co-located

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was set out in the 2008 publication, “Commissioning safe and sustainable specialised paediatric services: a framework of critical inter-dependencies”. This guidance is endorsed by the relevant professional associations, including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Physicians. I can assure hon. Members that the safe and sustainable review has correctly applied the accepted definition of “co-location”, as set out in the guidance, as meaning either on the same hospital site or on a neighbouring hospital site.

Hilary Benn: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. It would be very helpful for the Members present who care about Leeds if he could clarify whether it is the case that to figure in any of the options—obviously Leeds figures in one—the units that are listed must have met the test that he has just very helpfully described to the House. If that is the position—he cannot say this, but we will—it further strengthens the case that we have been making this afternoon.

Mr Burns: I am just giving a moment’s thought to that, partly because I do not want to interfere. Probably the most helpful thing that I can do so that I do not mislead the right hon. Gentleman is to write to him shortly with a definitive response to that important question.

On the question of travel times, which has been raised in this debate, I recognise that there may be concerns that with fewer centres, people will have to travel greater distances. However, the review has consulted parents around the country, and they have said repeatedly, as I mentioned to the House earlier, that issues of quality and good clinical outcomes are paramount in the treatment of their children. The review team recognises that this is a significant issue, and I have sought and received assurances that it has been looked at extensively as part of the review process. We need to recognise that although some families will have to travel further for elective surgery, the review proposes to reduce journey times for non-surgical care by bringing assessment and follow-on care closer to home through the development of congenital heart networks. I have also been assured that all the options comply with the Paediatric Intensive Care Society standards, which have been developed by experts in the field and stipulate maximum journey times for children who require emergency retrieval by ambulance.

The review has taken account of other criteria such as a centre’s physical location in relation to others and the impact of reconfiguration on other important services, such as paediatric intensive care services and heart transplant services.

For the information of hon. Members, who I think will be interested, I will briefly answer the question of who will take the final decision. Once the public consultation has been concluded, the decision on the future number and location of surgical centres in England will be made by the joint committee of primary care trusts on behalf of local NHS commissioners. There are circumstances in which the Secretary of State for Health may be called upon for a decision. However, as we are currently in the consultation period, it would be premature to consider that further at this point.

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Julian Smith rose—

Mr Sheerman rose—

Mr Burns: I knew that it was probably a slight mistake to be quite so helpful. I will first take my hon. Friend’s intervention and then the hon. Gentleman’s.

Julian Smith: I thank the Minister for giving way yet again. Given that PCTs are in the last phase of their lives, does he agree that it is concerning that PCTs, whose eyes may not totally be on the ball, are making this critical decision?

Mr Burns: I can see where my hon. Friend is coming from and I appreciate that he may have concerns. I hope that I can give him the reassurance that he seeks. I do not think that PCTs are in a situation where they have not got their eyes completely on the ball. First, from all the evidence that I see, day in, day out, of the work of PCTs up and down the country, they continue to be highly professional and to do a first-class job. Secondly, the date when PCTs will cease to exist because of the modernisation of the NHS is not so close that they will not be able to fulfil their functions properly. I have every confidence in the JCPCT doing a first-class job of carrying out the consultation and reaching its conclusions in a highly professional and acceptable way. I hope that reassures my hon. Friend.

Mr Sheerman: I understand entirely where the Minister is coming from and that he must leave the matter to those with expertise. We had a similar situation in relation to maternity services in Huddersfield and the number of cases there had to be for people to be fully trained up. At the end of the day, it will always be a political decision. What if all the experts said that there could be only one unit—in London or somewhere else? Surely that would be politically unacceptable to the Minister and he would have to intervene.

Mr Burns: The hon. Gentleman is trying to tempt me to go places where I should not stray. I believe that the premise of his intervention is incorrect, and that the situation he describes will not happen, because the outcome will not be the recommendation of just one site in the whole of England.

I hope my remarks over the past few minutes have reassured the hon. Gentleman that in the lead-up to the consultation process, the drawing up of the final report and the options has been carried out by people who are very familiar with this specialised and sensitive area of medical care and with clinicians. They have come up with recommendations in which I have confidence, to be considered and consulted on. What we have to do now is use the consultation process so that everyone who has an interest, whether they are clinically qualified people in the NHS or members of the public, patients or Members of Parliament, can get across their views and arguments. In that way, the right decisions can be made at the end of the process, within the framework that I have outlined in the debate.

I reinforce the point that the review is being undertaken in response to the concerns of parents and professionals about the future capacity and capability of children’s heart services. I can give the assurance that it is a

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genuinely open process and the outcomes are not predetermined. The options have been arrived at by a thorough and comprehensive process that has the support and endorsement of the professional associations and national children’s charities. I thank all those involved for their time and their input into the review so far. Children deserve the best possible care, and we are determined to provide it.

Finally, I make the plea again that in this crucial matter, we have to get the finest quality care for a vulnerable group of patients—very young children. We

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have to ensure the best outcomes because, frankly, that is all that matters to parents when their children are suffering. I urge everyone who has an interest, a view and a contribution to make to take part in the consultation and help ensure that the right decisions are taken to achieve the aims and ambitions on which we are all united.

Question put and agreed to.

4.43 pm

House adjourned.