Mr Lansley: Yes, in relation to the changes we are now bringing forward, I do indeed give credit to some of my colleagues—very much so—but I also give credit to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister for the time and trouble they have taken; they have spent a great deal of time listening, and engaging with people across the health service. We give credit, too, to the NHS Future Forum and the thousands of people across the NHS who have now made their contribution to the NHS’s future, and I think they will be very

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disappointed to hear Opposition Members just wanting to denigrate that, and to make political capital out of it, rather than supporting the NHS in its future objectives.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): GPs collectively throughout Oxfordshire told the Field commission that they wanted to get on with GP commissioning, and that they were wholeheartedly committed to it because they believed they could be catalysts for change and better design NHS services for local people. When are GPs in Oxfordshire going to be able to get on with GP commissioning?

Mr Lansley: I can assure my hon. Friend that I know his local GPs, and that they want to work with their professional colleagues across their area and to get on with that now. We will continue to be able to delegate commissioning responsibilities to all commissioning groups who are ready to do that; if they show that they are ready, we can give them the capacity to do it through existing NHS structures.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): This is not a U-turn; it is a body-swerve around the Liberals. The Secretary of State has spent the last year telling us that cherry-picking for profit in the NHS will not be possible under his Bill, yet today’s report has told us that he must take action to prevent such cherry-picking. Does the Secretary of State understand that this is now an issue of trust, and that nobody trusts him on the NHS—made in Britain by Labour, stolen by the Tories, and given away to his fat cat friends?

Mr Lansley: I will not attempt to compete with the hon. Gentleman on any driving analogies, but we have been clear that we will not countenance cherry-picking against NHS providers. The Future Forum has made recommendations on that, but they are not all to do with the Bill: for example, the processes I described of using a tariff lie outside the scope of the Bill. The Future Forum is making recommendations, and we are responding positively to them.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the discourtesy and mock anger from Opposition Members demonstrate why it is so important to take politics out of the day-to-day running of the NHS, so that we avoid this sort of political football nonsense every time we try to implement sensible reforms of this vital public service?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that may be why Opposition Front-Bench Members have not told us whether they agree with the Future Forum. The truth is that they know they have to agree with it, because it makes good sense, but they are also trying not to let their political opportunity drift away from them. People will be deeply disappointed, and in some cases angry, that they cannot abandon trying to turn the NHS into a political football.

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): Will the new, revised GP consortia still be allowed to outsource commissioning, either in whole or in part, to private health care firms, many of them probably American, which would create a major conflict of interest?

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Mr Lansley: The clinical commissioning groups will be statutory bodies, and will therefore not be able to delegate the responsibility for such commissioning to any other organisation, including a private sector organisation.

Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): My constituents will be reassured to hear the Secretary of State say that it remains the duty of the Secretary of State to deliver a comprehensive health service, but was that duty ever at risk?

Mr Lansley: It was always clear that we would retain section 1(1) of the 1946 Act, which states that the Secretary of State will have a continuing duty to promote a comprehensive health service in England. What has been asked of us is that the Secretary of State should have not only that duty but a duty to secure the provision of that health service and an oversight responsibility in relation to the national bodies charged with providing it, and we will respond positively to that request.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): This is a sorry tale of the Government going too far, too fast. What we have now is in danger of being a dog’s breakfast and the worst of all possible worlds. How much has this top-down reorganisation cost the UK taxpayer so far?

Mr Lansley: The listening exercise has to date—on 14 June—cost £36,640.97. The process of modernisation in the NHS is saving hundreds of millions of pounds every month. We know that we have to not only increase resources to the NHS but deliver continuously improving productivity and efficiency in the NHS. The Labour party always ignored that and failed on that; we will not fail on that.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Today’s proposals are clearly winning the support of the health professionals and of political colleagues, but to win the support of the public and the patients I hope the Secretary of State will be able to give one further assurance that these plans will give greater local democratic accountability for the NHS than ever before and will therefore mean no enforced local privatisation of services, which happened under the previous Labour Government.

Mr Lansley: Yes, I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance. He will know that in our response to the Future Forum we will strengthen the role of health and wellbeing boards, deliver more integrated care and ensure that the local health and wellbeing strategy is a central document in determining the shape of commissioning in the NHS, social care and public health. The powers, including those for service reconfiguration in an area, will be maintained so that they must continue to meet the four tests I set out last year. The public voice will therefore be at the forefront of the response to any changes in the local service.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Given that the Secretary of State is about to waste £2 billion on this reorganisation—money that would be better spent on patient care—will he give us an assessment of how many A and E departments will close over the next two years?

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Mr Lansley: That is pretty rich. When I became Secretary of State, I found that all over the country there were threats to accident and emergency departments and to maternity departments generated under a Labour Government. Let me tell the hon. Lady that this is about delivering continuously improving care and cutting costs. We set out very clearly that although there are costs involved in reorganisation, they will be recouped severalfold over the course of this Parliament, saving in total some £5 billion in reduced administration costs.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware that tens of thousands of families throughout my constituency are deeply concerned about the reduction of services at Fairfield hospital in Bury. Will any of the changes that my right hon. Friend has outlined enable that process to be reversed?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend and I have visited Fairfield hospital on a number of occasions and I have every sympathy with him and his constituents. He inherited as a Member of Parliament, as I did as Secretary of State, very advanced plans for changes to services at the hospital. What will now come to the forefront is the ability of the local authorities, through the health and wellbeing board and the clinical commissioning group, to bring clinical staff and the public together to say that in his area, north of Manchester, they can take greater ownership of the design of services to meet local needs.

Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): I am sure that I am not the only Member who noticed that the title given to the urgent question required only one consonant to be added for us to use it for the ministerial statement: “Wasted Review”—[ Interruption. ] Wasted review—was that the sound of a large penny dropping? Given that the Minister is constantly dodging questions about the cost of the review, will he tell us how many nurses and doctors could have been put in post using the money the review cost?

Mr Lansley: The latest figures on the changes in staffing in the NHS since the general election have shown a reduction of 3,800 managers, an increase of 2,500 in the number of doctors and no reduction in the number of nurses.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): In Dover and Deal, we have dynamic GPs, many of whom want to get involved in commissioning, but not every GP wants to do so. Will the Secretary of State confirm that no individual GP will be forced to be involved in the work of the commissioning group and that that was always the case under his reforms?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Many GPs across the country understand that clinically led commissioning is the right thing to do, but they do not personally want to be involved in that process. There are, however, leaders who do, and leaders across the country have already come forward through pathfinder consortia and will be a basis on which we can create much greater clinical leadership across the service. The Future Forum was very clear that leadership from within the service, from doctors, nurses and other health professionals, will be instrumental in improving care in the future.

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Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): Everyone knows that the Conservatives opposed the introduction of the national health service and that they brought it to its knees when they were last in power. Now they are trying to undermine it by wrapping it up in bureaucracy. With waiting lists increasing, what assurances can the Secretary of State give the House that they will not increase further as a result of the measures he is bringing forward in the Bill?

Mr Lansley: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to or heard the Prime Minister when he made absolutely clear our commitment to keeping waiting times low. Not only did the Prime Minister make that commitment, but it is in the constitution. In practice, the opportunity for patients increasingly to see the performance of the hospitals to which they can choose to go will help to drive increases in performance. As I told the House in response to an earlier question, waiting times are now lower for in-patients and out-patients than at the time of the last election. I am also old enough to remember that in June 1944, Winston Churchill, as the leader of a coalition Government, went to the Royal College of Physicians and set out an ambition for a national health service that would give everybody in the country access to the highest quality health care, free for all, regardless of means.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): The Cure the NHS group, founded by Julie Bailey in Stafford, has rightly stressed the importance of a culture of caring and zero harm to patients—something that my right hon. Friend has always emphasised. How does he think the recommendations of Professor Field’s report will help with embedding such a culture across the NHS?

Mr Lansley: As my hon. Friend knows, much can contribute to that change of culture, not least making safety one of the central domains for measuring outcomes in the NHS. In addition, it must be personal to each member of staff in the NHS that they have that responsibility. We have too often seen cases in which people have been professionally responsible but have not acted in line with that responsibility. A central part of what we need to do is not about organisations and structures but about creating that sense of personal responsibility in professionals across the service to look after their patients and those for whom they care and to blow the whistle if there is harm or abuse; and we must protect and secure that whistleblowing when it happens.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): The Secretary of State promised to reduce bureaucracy, but he has now spent more than £760 million on a botched reorganisation that gives us commissioning consortia, senates, a whole host of national quangos and PCTs being abolished to transfer their staff somewhere else. Is it not time he accepted that this is a botched reorganisation and withdrew the Bill?

Mr Lansley: Most of that was pure invention, including all the numbers. We are going to save money with these changes to the NHS. We are going to transfer resources from bureaucracy, management and administration into front-line care. Through clinical commissioning groups

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we are going to empower staff in the NHS, and abolishing two tiers of management in the NHS will save us, in total, a third in real terms out of administration costs.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that despite the existence of clinical senates the primary driving role in commissioning will remain with GPs, who know their patients best and know which services they require?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an important point. General practice—not just general practitioners but general practice—has a central role for patients because there is a long-term relationship with patients and an understanding of the whole population and the health of a whole area. However, GPs recognise that in order to get the right services for patients, they have to design services alongside the range of professionals whose job it is to deliver them.

Mr Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): Let us be clear: this is just a dog’s dinner and these amendments have proved it. What we have here is a slow-privatisation-of-the-NHS Bill that is backed by the Rag, Tag and Bobtail party—the Liberal Democrats. This is the beginning of the privatisation of the health service and it is time it stopped.

Mr Lansley: This Bill and our proposals were never to support privatisation; they are not to support privatisation and they will not be to support privatisation. The hon. Gentleman should have attacked the Labour Government who gave the private sector £250 million for operations it never carried out; they paid it 11% more than they would have paid the NHS for that. They tried to push the NHS out of the provision of services when it could have provided them and competed. The Labour Government did that, and we shall legislate to make it illegal for a Secretary of State or any regulator to engage in that kind of preferential treatment for the private sector in future.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): I welcome the revised proposals, in particular the focus on competition not as an end in itself but on informed—[ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise for having to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. Whatever feelings the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell) entertains in relation to the Liberal Democrats, who seem unlikely to feature on his Christmas card list, I urge him to exercise what modicum of self-restraint he can muster in the circumstances.

Gavin Barwell: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I welcome the focus not on competition as an end in itself, but on informed patient choice to improve patient care. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, unlike the Opposition, the Government believe that NHS patients in my constituency deserve the best that the public, private and voluntary sectors can offer them?

Mr Lansley: I understand. What my hon. Friend says is absolutely clear. We know that informed choice for patients is a serious contributory factor in improving outcomes for patients. When there is informed choice, of necessity we must have a diversity of providers to

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support it. There is no doubt that to that extent competition is an essential part of delivering improving care in the future, but it is not an end in itself. It should not be elevated to that point, over and above delivering the integrated services that best give patients the care they need.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): My constituent Rosie Edwards suffers from a rare congenital heart condition, known as Fallot’s tetralogy. Fortunately, for all her life, both as a child and now as an adult, she has had to have all her treatment at the Royal Brompton hospital in London. Unfortunately, the Government are proposing that that paediatric cardiac service is terminated—[Hon. Members: “Not true.”] It is completely true. There is no provision in the suggestions that have been brought forward for the service to continue. My constituents are asking whether, if reorganisation will cost a lot of money, it would not be better to spend that money on protecting those services.

Mr Lansley: I am sorry the hon. Gentleman tried to characterise that as he did. The joint committee of primary care trusts is conducting a consultation. The Government are not doing it; I am not doing it; the committee is doing it, and the consultation closes on 1 July. People across the country are quite properly making representations to the consultation, including on the Royal Brompton and other units. The committee has not made recommendations to me; it will come to its conclusions after that consultation, which has absolutely nothing to do with the structure of the proposals I am referring to today.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): My constituents will not be interested in hard left, old school scaremongering. They simply want to know whether the Bill will put local health services under a greater degree of local control.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will know that many of us in the House were deeply frustrated in the past that Ministers would say at the Dispatch Box that primary care trusts were responsible for local decisions, and then nobody found locally that the PCT was in any practical sense accountable to them or the population they represented. In future, there will be proper accountability: clinical accountability through the commissioning groups and democratic accountability through local authorities.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State apologise to the people of this country for a botched process that will lead to nothing but chaos and confusion in the NHS?

Mr Lansley: I think the hon. Lady should read the NHS Future Forum report where she will find that right across the service there is support for the principles we set out, and agreement that change is necessary. I do not know where she imagines that change will come from if not by going through a process of the kind we have engaged in.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): Public health continues to be an important priority, particularly in Cheshire East which, surprisingly, is ranked 15th( )in the

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league table for hazardous drinking. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what remit he is giving the Future Forum in this important area?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Future Forum has made recommendations in relation to public health. One of them, which I announced today, is that we want to combine the direct integrated work on health protection and response to emergencies through Public Health England with continuing independence for expert advice, so I am proposing that Public Health England should be established as an executive agency. What is critical is that we create through the legislation a greater opportunity for local authorities to lead health improvement plans locally, so issues such as alcohol abuse and problem drinking will need not only national leadership, which we will give, but local leadership, which the Bill will empower.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): Accountability is not at all clear. The Secretary of State said that clinical accountability will be in one place and democratic accountability in another. We are replacing one organisation—the PCT—with five. My constituents will just want to know where the accountability lies for important local NHS decisions. That has not become clear from the statement so far.

Mr Lansley: I repeat: from the public’s point of view, we know that what they wanted was genuine accountability, in the sense that the doctors, nurses and other health professionals who care for them should be able directly to design and influence the shape of services locally to meet their needs, but they also want a patient voice and a public voice. That has not existed in the past; we will enable it to happen. They will come together at the health and wellbeing board, where they will establish a strategy for their area.

Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): In the commendable listening exercise, was it not clear that there is now broad support for the principles of reform? Is it not better that we now take that forward, rather than being opposed to reform and opposed to the resources for the NHS, as the Opposition are?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is indeed the message that came through to us from the NHS Future Forum and its extensive engagement with the NHS and beyond. I will not go down the path urged on us by the Opposition, which for the NHS seems to be spend less, do nothing and let the crisis happen when it will.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): The Secretary of State is still talking about the Bill as if it is a way of promoting localism and local accountability, but is it not still the fact that most of the extension of locality commissioning that that would involve could happen without the Bill? I refer the Secretary of State to the role of the national commissioning board. What is that, if not a massive and bureaucratic centralisation of power?

Mr Lansley: With respect, the hon. Gentleman misses the point entirely. Without the legislation we could not transfer out of the hands of a managerial top-down

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bureaucracy into the hands of clinicians and local people, but he is right—it is not just the localisation of decision making. There is also in the NHS a nationally funded service with an expectation of national standards, and many services that require high levels of national consistency in commissioning. There is a job for the national commissioning board, which we will establish. That in itself will inject a considerable level of consistency in standards and quality, and considerable efficiency in commissioning some services.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on his reforms. I know how hard he has worked and conducted consultation across the political spectrum. That should be respected by the Opposition. The reforms empower our medical practitioners—doctors and nurses—and in doing so, as I am sure he would agree, will stop the litigation culture that has galloped away over the past 13 years under the previous Government.

Mr Lansley: I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making. We need—not least in a further emphasis on safety and some of the other measures that we as a Government, including my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice, have said we would bring forward—to try to offset a rising tide of litigation and cost associated with clinical negligence cases in the NHS. My hon. Friend is kind to me about working hard. I never imagined I would not do so, but if I have worked hard over the past eight weeks, it is nothing compared to the leaders of the NHS Future Forum who, in the space of just eight weeks, produced excellent work which will be of enduring significance.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Last year, the NHS in Wirral tried to respond quickly to the Secretary of State’s top-down reorganisation and has since spent months in uncertainty and stress. Will the Secretary of State apologise now to staff and patients on the Wirral for all the unnecessary problems he has caused them and all the money he has wasted?

Mr Lansley: I met many of the previous practice-based commissioning groups in the Wirral and south Merseyside, who came together to tell me how enthusiastic they were about the possibilities for designing clinical services more effectively in future. They are doing that. They want to get on with it and the Future Forum is right: we need to give them the opportunity to get on with that now.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): What assurance can the Secretary of State give that his plans will abolish the rigged market introduced by the previous Government that ended up giving £250 million to the private sector for delivering nothing?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will legislate to stop precisely that distortion and that favouritism to the private sector. The private sector must know that it will have to provide additional services to the NHS on the basis of quality, not on the basis of any preferential system, as under the previous Government.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): I remember that under the previous Conservative Government people died while on waiting lists. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] It is

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a fact. I was a Member of Parliament at the time and it happened. Labour’s targets transformed that. The Secretary of State has been forced today to retake responsibility for the delivery of the NHS. He has talked about what has been happening. Will he make a specific promise today about the future waiting lists under his jurisdiction?

Mr Lansley: I will make clear to the right hon. Lady, as the Prime Minister has made clear, that we will not let waiting times rise. We will continue to maintain downward pressure, but it is very important that we do not treat waiting times in the NHS as the only measure of performance. It is more than that: it is the quality of care that is provided, not just the access to care.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I am very sorry to say that the Secretary of State demonstrated a creative interpretation of the coalition agreement when he launched his policy last July. What can he say to the House to reassure us that he will not make the same creative interpretation of the Future Forum’s recommendations, particularly in relation to the risk of the marketisation of health services?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will know that when I came forward with the White Paper last year, or the Command Paper in December, or the Bill, we did so collectively as a Government, and I can assure him and all my colleagues that we will continue collectively to agree on the basis on which we take all these issues forward.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Some say that the reason the Secretary of State went too far, too fast and has now come up with a fix that is too little, too late is that he has a bit of a tendency to be pig-headed and cloth-eared when people disagree with him. I do not agree with those who say that, but could he now find the humility and courage at least to say sorry for the mess he has made?

Mr Lansley rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I remind the House of the wise stipulation in “Erskine May” that moderation and good humour are the defining features of parliamentary language.

Mr Lansley: In that spirit I thank the hon. Gentleman for the generosity of his remarks and encourage him likewise to apologise for the performance of a Labour Government in Wales who are cutting the NHS budget by 5% and seeing the performance of health care in the NHS in Wales deteriorate considerably relative to that in England.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): My constituency has borders with Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire. The NHS Future Forum has recommended that commissioning group boundaries should not normally cross local authority boundaries, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that my local commissioning consortia can work with doctors in other areas?

Mr Lansley: The Future Forum is perfectly clear that there is a benefit associated with integrating health and social care if clinical commissioning groups do not

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normally cross local authority boundaries. But it is clear, and we are clear, that they should be able to make a case to do so if they think it appropriate. We have the benefit of being able to look at the pathfinder consortia, of which there are 220 and I think that 16 cross local authority boundaries, so it is already the exception rather than the rule.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Will the NHS be the preferred provider of choice for health care services for my constituents?

Mr Lansley: No, I have said that we will legislate to ensure a level playing field, so her constituents should have access to whichever provider their clinical commissioning group views as best able to deliver quality care.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): The Government are incorporating the co-operation and competition panel into Monitor to advise the NHS on competition rules. Given that the Opposition seem to be engaged in collective amnesia this afternoon, will my right hon. Friend remind the House which party first established the CCP and the concept of competition in the NHS?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, because, as the Future Forum report acknowledges, the Bill does not extend the application of competition rules in the NHS, which were introduced under the Labour Government. The co-operation and competition panel was established under the Labour Government in 2009. The rules that we will maintain as a process of evolution, rather than revolution, are the ones that were consulted on in January 2009 and most recently published by a Labour Government in March 2010. To that extent, and despite all the hot air from the Labour party on competition in the NHS, we are adopting an evolutionary approach and starting precisely from the situation that applied under the Labour Government.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): In his earlier answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher), the Secretary of State, if I understood him correctly, said that commissioning consortia would have to do the commissioning themselves and could not franchise it out to private providers. Will he confirm that that is the case and that he has powers to limit the number of private patients who can be taken into NHS facilities under the regulations he is proposing in the Bill?

Mr Lansley: I reiterate that the clinical commissioning groups will be statutory bodies with a statutory responsibility for commissioning, so it would not be legal for them to delegate that to another body that was not subject to the same obligations. As far as access to private patients is concerned, we have made it clear—I do not believe that the Future Forum makes any recommendations on this—that foundation trusts, which often have arbitrary rules relating to limits on their income from private patients, should have that cap lifted, but we propose to put additional safeguards in place to make it clear that, if they do so, not only must that income be separately accounted for so that there is

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no subsidisation from NHS facilities, but the trusts must demonstrate how that will support their continuing primary purpose of providing services to the NHS in England.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Having very much supported the listening exercise, I know that for many of us the most important aspect of these reforms has always been the new focus on outcomes, as illustrated by the inclusion of the one and five-year cancer survival rates in the outcomes framework. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the Future Forum’s suggestions will in no way detract from that new focus on the quality of care?

Mr Lansley: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Indeed, I can go further and say that one of the reasons the Future Forum has made no recommendations on the outcomes framework is that it found enthusiasm across the NHS for focusing on quality and outcomes and nothing but approval for the framework. Of course, the Labour party ignores the fact that, as stated in the White Paper we published last year, that is one of the central aspects of what we are setting out to do. He is right that the focus on outcomes, which enables people to see how this country performs in health, relative to other countries, and continuous improvement in health outcomes, rather than just a small number of focused targets, is instrumental in continuous improvement.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): The Secretary of State is aware of the situation faced by Trafford acute trust. Will he reassure my constituents that there is no prospect of Trafford General hospital being either broken up or taken over by a private company?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady will have a further opportunity to discuss that shortly. She will know that the NHS trust in Trafford is examining whether it might merge with one of two possible foundation trusts and whether it might change its corporate configuration, as it were, but entirely within the NHS.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Last Friday, I met two members of the local Labour party in my constituency who presented me with an apparently independent petition on the NHS reforms. At that meeting, they told me that it was a fact that our reforms would lead to the removal of a comprehensive health service; we now know that that is a load of old nonsense. They also told me that it was a fact that these changes would open up the NHS to European Union competition law in a way that it is not at the moment. Is that a fact, or is it just shameless scaremongering?

Mr Lansley: It is entirely scaremongering. My hon. Friend might like to look at what the Future Forum report says in relation to choice and competition, which sets out very clearly that the extent to which EU competition rules apply in the NHS will not change as a consequence of this Bill.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): So far, £768 million has been wasted on this failed reorganisation. In my region, Freeman hospital’s cardiac unit for children is under threat,

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South Tees Hospitals trust has had £20 million removed by the Government, and the Government are proposing a national commissioning board that sits in private, is unelected, produces no minutes, remunerates itself and sets its own sub-committees. Where is the front-line quality of care for people?

Mr Lansley: I am afraid that that is a further repetition of invention by Labour Members, who appear to have been given one or two figures of their own. It is complete nonsense. In the impact assessment associated with the Bill, which we will now revise to reflect these changes, we explained that there was an estimated £1.4 billion total cost of reorganisation, but that that would lead to a £1.7 billion recurring annual benefit in savings, which would accumulate to more than £5 billion over the course of the Parliament.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Building on the question from my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), HealthEast pathfinder consortium in my constituency crosses two district councils—in fact, it crosses two counties—and it might be appropriate for GPs from a third council area to join it. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that no barriers will be put in the way of what should be effective care for patients rather than simply political boundary lines?

Mr Lansley: As I have said, we will expect, and the Future Forum says, that commissioning groups should not normally cross local authority boundaries—in this respect, boundaries for social authorities—but they should be able to make a case for doing so based on benefit to patients. The one thing I would urge is that they are very clear with their local authorities about how they can secure the continuing integration of health and social care at a local level.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Is not the reason the Secretary of State has so much support from the right wing of his party that they know that this will lead to privatisation of large parts of the NHS, as he confirmed in his answer on preferred suppliers?

Mr Lansley: I hope that my colleagues would support me in saying that I have support from colleagues right across the coalition, because the coalition Government are supporting the NHS in enabling it to deliver improving services. That is what it is all about.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): It is appropriate that I am last, because I come at this from a different direction from everybody else. Given that no extra cash is available—we know that—how will the watering down of Monitor’s duty to promote core competition help to deliver the efficiency gains that are the future of the NHS? How will the Secretary of State now achieve that?

Mr Lansley: I say three things to my hon. Friend. First, let us be clear that there is £11.5 billion of additional cash available to the NHS over the course of this Parliament—but we have to use it better and deliver greater quality and effectiveness. The job of the commissioners and Monitor together is to deliver that—partly through tariff development in ensuring that they

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get those efficiencies by the price that they set, based on benchmark-to-best practice prices, but also through using their commissioning strength to design services. We all know that if we simply said every year to the NHS, “You must save money by cutting the price of what is paid to you”, its response would be to cut services, cut staffing or cut quality. In fact, achieving greater quality and effectiveness is about the redesign of clinical services—the transfer of services into the community and keeping people well at home rather than through emergency admissions to hospital. It is about clinical leadership and clinical redesign, and that is what these proposals will bring to the forefront.

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): Given the Secretary of State’s manifest interest in Wales, I invite him to come to Wales to meet some Welsh patients with me to find out at first hand which party they trust to safeguard the heritage of the NHS—Labour or the Tories. I suspect that the answer would be revealing for him. How much Welsh taxpayers’ money has been wasted on this needless reorganisation of the NHS?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman must know that the money available to the NHS in Wales is available to the NHS in Wales, and that it is separate from England. The Labour Welsh Assembly Government have made their own decisions about the priority that they attach to the national health service in Wales, and the result is, as the King’s Fund says, that they plan to reduce its budget by 8.3% in real terms. We are going to increase the NHS budget in real terms. The result can be seen in waiting times, which we were talking about. In England, the proportion of patients admitted to hospital who are seen within 18 weeks, according to the latest data, is 89.6%. He might like to reflect on the fact that the figure for Wales is 64.5%.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): Although it has been difficult to hear during this debate, I would like to address my comments to the statement made by the Secretary of State.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): Question.

Rosie Cooper: Question, sorry. [ Interruption. ] Let us get to the point and stop playing around. The Secretary of State said in the statement that consortia will now have one nurse and one secondary care doctor and that:

“To avoid any potential conflict of interest, neither should be employed by a local health provider.”

How will the Secretary of State apply that rule to GPs? Would not the Secretary of State and his reforms be best described as like Schrodinger’s cat—in a state of uncertainty and both alive and dead at the same time?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady misses the point. If GPs were providers as well as providing primary medical services, they would be unable to make decisions about those responsibilities because of a conflict of interest. Of course, as primary medical services providers in their area, they are not commissioned by the clinical commissioning groups—if the hon. Lady is listening to the answer at all—because the commissioning of primary medical services is undertaken by the NHS commissioning board, not by the local groups.

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Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State accept that he would not be in the position he is in today had there been proper pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill? Will he recommend to his Cabinet colleagues that that process is used for all future legislation? It is a case of more haste, less speed.

Mr Lansley: We as a coalition Government are engaging in more pre-legislative scrutiny than any of our predecessors. In this instance, I do not accept the hon. Lady’s proposition. What has been done by the NHS Future Forum could not conceivably have been achieved in pre-legislative scrutiny, because it was essentially about engaging people across the service in how we will implement principles that are widely supported across the service. It is very much of the here and now, rather than something that could have been done in advance.

Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): I ask the Secretary of State to answer a straightforward question with a straightforward answer. How much money has so far been outlaid on this NHS reorganisation?

Mr Lansley: I have made it very clear that the impact assessment set out that we expect the total cost of the reorganisation—these figures will be revised because of the changes—to be about £1.4 billion, but that it will deliver recurring savings of £1.7 billion a year, leading to something approaching a £5 billion net saving in administration costs over the life of this Parliament.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. All 65 Back-Benchers who stayed in the Chamber and sought to catch my eye were successful in doing so. I hope that the House’s inquisitorial appetite has been satisfied on this matter, at any rate for today. I was going to come to the ten-minute rule motion, but not before we have entertained a point of order from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—nothing new there.

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Point of Order

5.19 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hate to do this, but yesterday, when questioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), you mentioned the fact that it would be inappropriate for a Minister to make announcements about changes to such an important policy as we have just discussed before they were made in the Chamber. Yet the Prime Minister went ahead, at 12 o’clock today, with a press conference at which large amounts of the statement were announced. There is no point in the House continuing to say that we deprecate this if we do not do something about it.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I well recall—I would have a serious problem with my short-term memory if I did not—the exchange that I had with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) yesterday. I made it clear that policy announcements should be made first to the House. The Government tabled a written ministerial statement this morning, which is not unprecedented but is a common practice, and there has been a full oral statement this afternoon. I hope that it has been noted, and is approved of by the House, that every Member who wanted to take part in the exchange had the opportunity to do so.

Chris Bryant: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: No, I am going to leave it there. [Interruption.] No, I am not going to debate the issue with the hon. Gentleman. He and I have known each other a long time, and if he is dissatisfied, he can always contact me again. If he wants to pursue the matter on subsequent occasions, that opportunity will exist for him. [Interruption.] Order. I would not for one moment seek to deny him that opportunity, but I cannot have a debate with him on the Floor of the House. He has made his point, and I am happy to reflect on it further. If he feels strongly he will probably write to me, and who could deny him the chance to do so? However, today we really must move on to the 10-minute rule motion, for which the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) has been waiting patiently.

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Private Landlords (Register and Duties)

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

5.21 pm

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for a register of private landlords; to require private landlords to take certain actions in the event of anti-social behaviour by their tenants; to give additional powers to private landlords and local authorities in cases of anti-social behaviour by tenants; to establish a community fund to which private landlords must contribute; and for connected purposes.

In every community, the number of private landlords and the size of the private sector are increasing. It has been estimated that, by 2020, 20% of the UK’s housing stock will be private lets. At the beginning of the 21st century, about 10 years ago, 3% to 4% of the housing stock in Sedgefield was private lets. Today the figure is about 11% or 12%. In inner-city areas of London such as Camden and Newham, it is as high as 30%. Shelter estimates that the proportion of households in private lets stands at 15%—an increase of 40% over five years. Such households with children have grown at an even faster rate, increasing by 16% in just 12 months.

With proposed changes to homelessness legislation, cuts to housing and high house prices and deposits, private renting will be under increasing pressure, especially at the lower end of the market among the most vulnerable groups. The private rented sector is rife with problems. Some 36% of Shelter advice queries come from private renters, more than double the proportion in the population at large. Satisfaction is lower, and accommodation is more likely to be of a poor standard. According to Julie Rugg’s investigation of the private rented sector in 2008, 50% of privately rented properties failed to meet the decent homes standards.

The expansion of buy-to-let lending over the past decade saw a much wider range of individuals become landlords, many of them with little or no experience, knowledge or understanding of their responsibilities and the complex legal framework of renting. In fact, the buy-to-let sector includes more than 650,000 homes that could have been in the owner-occupier market, and the fact that they are not has helped to force up house prices.

Where there are high concentrations of private lets, some have caused a blight on the local community, especially in low-demand areas. In Sedgefield, where there are several ex-colliery villages with rows of terraced housing, private landlords have moved in. In some streets up to 40% or 50% of the properties are private lets. In others half the landlords are absentees, with some even living abroad. Over the past four years I have had numerous cases of private landlords who have neglected their properties and tenants. Antisocial behaviour has become a major problem in the affected areas, and some of the residents who have lived in the streets in question for years now do not feel part of the local community that they have known for a long time.

Two areas of Sedgefield—Dean Bank in Ferryhill and an area of Chilton—have been designated selective licensing areas, in which private landlords have to sign up to special conditions and protocols. They have been successful, but more needs to be done.

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The basic problem is not private landlords. Some are a problem and some are very good landlords, but the vast majority are amateurs without the skills and wherewithal to deal with being a private landlord. The buy-to-let market has led to a huge increase in such landlords. The market has grown because people saw it as an opportunity to make capital gain, for example, from increased profits from the value of properties.

To help the huge number of private landlords, it is in their interest for a national register to be set up. With satisfaction lower in the sector than in others, and problems with private renting leading so many people to seek advice, it is clear that private renting is not securing the needs of households and communities. The universal cover of a national register will be a significant help to local authorities in identifying and targeting rogue landlords, and in enabling better joint working between local authorities to tackle such landlords across multiple areas. Serial offenders could be struck off the list.

In the immediate future, however, the private rented sector is under increasing pressure and there is a need to strengthen local authorities’ response to tackle rogue landlords and the many amateur landlords who need help as much as anything else. The purpose of the register would be distinct from licensing. It would be mandatory and its purpose would be to enable local authorities to get a handle on the local private sector so that they can work with landlords. The register could be run by local authorities or housing associations, or it could be outsourced to a third party. A fee could be charged for administrative costs. Sanctions for failing to register could be preventing landlords from serving section 21 notices, rent payment orders or fines.

The register could help local authorities to determine how many private landlords there are in a given area. If the number reaches a certain level, I believe that landlords should pay a community levy, especially in those areas where they dominate the housing stock. If people take out of the community, they should put back into it. If, for example, 25% of homes in a given area are private lets, or if one landlord owns several properties in an area, a community levy should be payable into a fund to put towards the upkeep of the area. Local people, in the spirit of localism, could decide how the fund is spent, whether to help with policing, environmental issues or whatever. Social landlords already do that, so why not private landlords? Again, the levy could be administered by a local authority, housing association or another arm’s length organisation. The more efficiently the community levy fund is administered, the more money will be available for investing in community programmes.

If in nine years’ time—by 2020—one in five of our homes is a private let, the whole sector will need to be professionalised. The private rented sector is the only sector that is currently expanding. The sector is necessary, but it needs to live up to its responsibilities. I have seen that for myself in my communities.

The sector needs regulation. Even the Rugg report says that market forces alone do not adequately police management quality in the sector. Therefore, intervention is required, not only for our communities, but for tenants and private sector landlords themselves. The Bill goes some way towards redressing the balance. In any event, I hope it raises what is a growing concern to many in the House, but more importantly, a growing concern to the people and communities whom we represent.

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Question put and agreed to.


That Phil Wilson, Tom Blenkinsop, Mrs Jenny Chapman, Nic Dakin, Lilian Greenwood, Graham Jones, Ian Mearns, Owen Smith, David Wright, Stella Creasy and Lyn Brown present the Bill.

Phil Wilson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 November, and to be printed (Bill 201) .

Armed Forces Bill (PROGRAMME) (no. 2)


That the Order of 10 January 2011 (Armed Forces Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 4 to 6 of the Order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be taken in two days in accordance with the following provisions.

Committee of the whole House

3. Proceedings in Committee of the whole House shall be taken on the first day and shall be taken in the following order: new Clauses and amendments relating to call out of reserve forces; Clauses 1 to 14; Schedule 1; Clauses 15 to 26; Schedule 2; Clauses 27 and 28; Schedule 3; Clause 29; Schedules 4 and 5; Clauses 30 to 33; remaining new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill.

4. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the first day.

Consideration and Third Reading

5. Any proceedings on consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be taken on the second day.

6. Any proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours before the moment of interruption on the second day.

7. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of those proceedings or at the moment of interruption on the second day, whichever is the earlier.

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Armed Forces Bill

Considered in Committee

[Mr Roger Gale in the Chair]

New Clause 12

Call out of reserve forces

‘In section 56 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 (call out for certain operations), after subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) Where—

(a) work is approved in accordance with instructions issued by the Defence Council under the Defence (Armed Forces) Regulations 1939 as being urgent work of national importance, and

(b) the Defence Council have by order under those Regulations authorised members of any forces to be temporarily employed in such work,

the Secretary of State may make an order authorising the calling out of members of a reserve force for the purposes of carrying out such work.”’.—(Mr Robathan.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

5.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Andrew Robathan): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Roger Gale): With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 14 and 15.

Mr Robathan: The new clause reflects the importance that the Government place on their reserve forces, and amendments 14 and 15 are concomitant with it. The new clause is designed to align more closely the circumstances in which reservists may be called out in the United Kingdom with those in which regular personnel may be used. It would enable reservists to be deployed in the UK more widely than at present so that their skills can be used in a wider range of circumstances.

Legislation has been in place for some time allowing our reserves to be called out to serve on warlike or humanitarian operations worldwide. Indeed, it is worth stressing that there have been more than 24,000 reservist mobilisations in support of operations both at home and overseas, including Iraq and Afghanistan, since 2003. I am sure that the Committee would wish to pay tribute to those reservists who have deployed on operations—with some losses, I fear. During those operations, 27 reservists have made the ultimate sacrifice.

In the UK, local reserve troops were mobilised under existing legislation to provide assistance during the Cumbrian flooding in November 2009, and helped to build Barker bridge—so-called after the tragic death of Police Constable Barker during some of the worst UK flooding in living memory. This assistance could not have been provided so quickly and efficiently without the excellent support of reserves from the local Territorial Army unit. However, we do not have legislation in place to allow us to use the numbers of reserves available or their specialist skills in all appropriate circumstances. The Secretary of State’s power to call out reservists in the UK is currently limited by the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to the defence of the realm or

“the alleviation of distress or the preservation of life and property in time of disaster or apprehended disaster.”

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There are many circumstances falling short of “disaster or apprehended disaster” in which reserves could make a valuable contribution, but under the existing legislation, they cannot be mobilised. I have in mind a number of examples. The first is the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001, when we could not call out reservists because the work that needed to be done was not to alleviate distress or preserve life or property. The second is a major disruption to the road and rail network, such as we saw at the beginning of this year, when reservists could not be mobilised to deliver vital food and blood supplies to a large number of people over a wide area, and when we had to resort at the last minute to volunteers. The final example is a requirement for unarmed, low-level support to the security operation for the London 2012 Olympic games. Currently in such circumstances, it would be possible to use regular forces because there is a power to use regulars for urgent work of national importance. This power has been used for a wide range of activities, such as dealing with the consequences of flooding, heath fires, severe snow, hurricanes and the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001.

I propose to amend the 1996 Act so that reserve forces, like regular forces, can be called out for urgent work of national importance. The amendment represents an improvement to the existing position, where there is one test governing whether regulars can be used, and another slightly different test governing whether reserves can be mobilised. Being able to mobilise reserve forces would offer a number of important practical advantages. First, there are more than 30,000 committed individuals in the volunteer reserves. Secondly, reservists are based in every part of the UK and can bring to bear important local knowledge in relation to local problems. Thirdly, this would enable us to draw on a range of specialist skills held in the reserves that do not exist in the regular forces—for example, medical skills, meteorological expertise, and rail and maritime expertise. Over the last decade, we have seen the ever greater integration of the reserves into our force capability. The new clause is proposed in that developing context. The Future Reserves 2020 study, which will report to the Prime Minister this month, is taking a wider look at the role of the reserves and making better use of their specialist skills. I expect the study to recommend that we should make more of the strengths and skills that reservists offer. The new clause represents a first step towards that.

Mobilisation is an essential tool for two reasons. First, it gives the Department the guarantee of the reservists’ service; secondly, it activates statutory employment and financial assistance safeguards for reservists and their employers. These help to minimise any disruption that mobilisation may cause. Under the new clause, as now, no reservist will be out of pocket as a result of mobilisation, and every employer will have the right to apply for financial assistance that will allow him temporarily to replace any member of staff who is mobilised. In addition, existing restrictions on both the length of mobilised service that an individual can be required to undertake and the frequency of mobilisation will apply. Furthermore, reservists and their employers will be able to appeal against mobilisation under the proposed new power, just as they can under existing powers. There is also a further appeal to a tribunal that will be independent from the Ministry of Defence. In reality, the MOD works with employers to identify potential concerns at the earliest stage and support the employer throughout.

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I hope that I have covered the major implications and benefits of the new clause. Let me stress that this change to the legislation strengthens the role of reservists in our armed forces and society more widely.

Government amendment 14 provides that the provisions in the Bill relating to the call-out of reserve forces will come into effect two months after it receives Royal Assent. That is the standard period of time for bringing provisions into force, and we see no need to deviate from the norm in this case. Government amendment 15 changes the long title of the Bill. The amendment is necessary because the new provision about the call-out of reserve forces is a subject that would not be covered by the long title as it stands.

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): Let me begin by paying tribute to the men and women who serve our country as reservists. They show immense dedication to serving our country. As the Minister said, we have only to look at the vital role played by reservists in Iraq and Afghanistan to understand the importance of reserve forces.

The Government are undertaking a review into the future of reserve forces. If we are to believe what we read in the newspapers, reservists are likely to be given greater responsibility in the coming years. Indeed, the logical conclusion to draw from the strategic defence and security review is that we must seek to make the most of the assets that we have, and that includes the reserve forces. In bringing forward these amendments, the Government are perhaps pre-empting the conclusion of that review. The amendments give the Secretary of State greater powers to call in reservists. That is something that, in principle, we are more than happy to support; indeed, the Minister gave some good examples of the circumstances in which such powers would be useful. However, the Government need to be honest with the men and women of the reserve forces. If they are to ask them to do more, they also need to provide the necessary protection and support in the workplace. We are talking about people who join up to serve their country, and we have a duty to protect their jobs when they are mobilised. It is in this area that there are some questions for the Government to answer.

We know that the Secretary of State is not necessarily on the best of terms with the Prime Minister and his other Cabinet colleagues. I wonder whether there is much joined-up thinking taking place in Government about the role of reservists and the duty of care that we owe them. The Cabinet Office has a Red Tape Challenge website, which consults the public on legislation that could or should be scrapped. When launching the site, the Prime Minister wrote to all Ministers to say:

“We know we have inherited far too much costly, pointless, and illiberal government red tape.”

In the employment law section of the website, item No. 1 in the list of legislation up for being scrapped is the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985. The Act states that reservists have a liability to be mobilised and provides two kinds of protection. The first is protection of employment, providing protection from unfair dismissal and making it a criminal offence for an employer to terminate a reservist’s job without their consent solely or mainly because he or she has a liability to be mobilised. Secondly, there is a right to reinstatement. The Act provides a legal right to the reservist to be reinstated in their former job, subject to

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certain conditions. When pressed on this matter by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) at the most recent Defence questions, the Secretary of State refused to deny that those provisions were under consideration. The Government are therefore considering scrapping legislation that protects reserved forces employment on a day-to-day basis and when on a tour of duty.

Mr Robathan: The hon. Lady is making a good point, but I have to say that I am unsighted of the 1985 Act. I thought that it had been superseded by the Reserve Forces Act 1996. She obviously knows a great deal about this, but I thought that that was where the current regulations sat. Will she illuminate the matter for the Committee?

Gemma Doyle: Unfortunately, the Secretary of State did not make that clear when asked about this matter. If he or the Minister could give the Committee a concrete commitment on the protection of employment for reservists today, that would be very welcome. It cannot be right for the Government to consider asking more of the men and women of our reserve forces while cutting the protection that they need in their place of work. Will the Minister make an unequivocal commitment not to scrap the vital protection provided by the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985 or, if he believes that it has been superseded, will he clarify the position? We support the new clause, but the Government must be clear about retaining the support and protection that the reserve forces expect and deserve.

Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): I should like to speak briefly in support of new clause 12, but I must start by declaring my interest as a member of the reserve forces.

My understanding of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 is that it contains three separate sections under which a reservist may be mobilised: section 52, under which no one has been mobilised to date; section 54, which involves war fighting, and under which I was mobilised to Afghanistan; and section 56, to which the new clause relates directly, and under which I have previously been mobilised to Kosovo and Bosnia. I want to underline the points that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan) made in his opening remarks. It might seem odd that I am supporting a new clause that could result in my being mobilised even more often, but this amendment to the Act is long overdue.

Speaking from my experience as an explosive ordnance disposal operator, I want to add to the examples that the Committee has already been given. During 2003-04, under Operation Telic in Iraq, we found that as the threat from improvised explosive devices continued to grow, the call on our EOD operators also increased. The Committee might be aware that, here in the UK, we continue regularly to dig up world war two munitions. That constant threat is covered by a 24-hour operation known as Operation Midway, which is based in Wimbish, in Cambridgeshire.

The problem that we faced in 2004 was that, as the threat of IEDs grew in Iraq, our qualified bomb disposal officers were slowly being drawn out into theatre and we

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were struggling to cover the UK threat. Under section 56, members of the Territorial Army were mobilised to go and sit in Wimbish to cover the Operation Midway threat. It might surprise the Committee that most munitions are normally dug up on a Friday afternoon. They are invariably found on building sites, although probably not on a Friday afternoon. No one wants to interrupt the works, however, so the munitions magically seem to turn up on a Friday afternoon, which is an ideal time for the members of the Territorial Army who come in to play at weekends to deal with the munitions.

The terms of section 56 are clear. Subsection (1)(a) states that a reservist may be mobilised only

“on operations outside the United Kingdom for the protection of life or property”.

Clearly, the UK disposal of munitions under Operation Midway does not count in that regard. Subsection (1)(b) states that a reservist may be mobilised

“on operations anywhere in the world for the alleviation of distress or the preservation of life or property in time of disaster or apprehended disaster.”

Now the problem was that although that might cover UK operations at the time, was it fair to say that the potential digging up of a world war two munition in London was a potential disaster? It was very much a grey area. What tended to happen was that people were mobilised under section 56; they sat in Wimbish for a number of months and then, right at the end of their mobilisation, they would be deployed out to theatre in Iraq simply so they could be “covered” under the mobilisation. That was obviously nonsense, which is why I believe it is so important for the Government to introduce the new clause so that in such specialised situations—along with examples that the Minister provided—we can allow reservists’ actions to continue.

5.45 pm

I would like to pick up on a couple of points that the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) made about protection of the reserve forces. We must be careful when we use these powers. Few people in the reserve forces are not prepared to be mobilised, but when we start mobilising people for the second, third or fourth time, reservists are forced to answer an important question: are they prepared to give up their first career for a second career? Protections are in place so reservists can go back to resume their employment, but many employers, who might be incredibly supportive of the reserve forces, sometimes feel quite strongly about who they should promote.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman feel from his personal experience that if people are constantly going to be asked to serve, it could act as a disincentive to joining the reserve forces?

Mark Lancaster: I am making the point that we must be careful how we use these powers. The point I was coming on to was that an employer might have to give the job back to an employee who has been away on mobilised service, but he does not necessarily have to promote him. Who is going to be promoted—the person permanently at work or the person who comes and goes every two or three years? I support the extension of these powers, but I add the caveat that we must be very

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careful how we use them. We should not use them in a manner that could act as a disincentive along the lines that the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) suggested.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): My hon. Friend is quite right to say that we should be careful how we use these powers. Does he agree that we should also be careful how we communicate them to potential employers, so that they know exactly how the powers might be used and will not disadvantage people in the reserve forces?

Mark Lancaster: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I would like to commend both this Government and previous ones for the amount of support they have offered to SaBRE—the organisation that does so much to communicate with reservists’ employers.

My final point, on which I seek some reassurance from the Minister, is that the new clause will make no amendments to section 57 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996, which deals with the duration for which a member of the reserve forces can be mobilised. Although it is a fairly complicated clause, the basic point is that a member of the armed forces can be mobilised for a maximum of nine months beyond their enlistment. If I read it correctly, that means mobilisation could run for a period of three years and nine months. It is unlikely that that has ever happened—I know of no example of it happening—but given what the new clause is intended to do for localised UK operations that are likely to be short in their enduring operation, I would ask whether the Minister is happy about the absence of any amendment to section 57 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I, too, pay tribute to the work of the reserve forces. Some time ago I was in Iraq and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the commanding officer at Baghdad airport was a reservist. Much good work is done by the men and women of the reserve forces. No doubt there will be greater calls on their time in the future, bearing in mind the likelihood of an announcement in the coming week or two.

Subject to what the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) said, I think the amending provisions are perfectly reasonable. Indeed, if we think of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, they are perhaps overdue. Unfortunately, we in the United Kingdom are subject to increasing natural disasters, with which I am sure the men and women of the reserve forces are more than adequately equipped to deal. They may well prove a useful addition to the powers that we already have to deal with what are, unfortunately, frequently occurring natural events.

Subject to the points raised by the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire, I think that the new clause and amendments are perfectly reasonable, and that the Government were right to table them.

Mr Robathan: I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) and to other Members who have spoken for their generous support.

I do not know where the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) gets her ideas. As far as I am aware—and I have seen them together—the Secretary of State is on very good terms with the Prime

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Minister and, I am sure, with his other Cabinet colleagues. They are probably on better terms than the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), and the leader of the Labour party, although I am not sure about that. It is just what I read in the newspapers. Perhaps I am wrong, because one should not believe everything that one reads in the newspapers. When I last said that at the Dispatch Box I got into terrible trouble, not least because a newspaper correspondent was sitting in the Press Gallery. He wrote about me in a way that was not entirely polite. Anyway, I am sure that my right hon. Friends are on very good terms.

I can confirm that the new clause has been discussed with other Departments, and I understand that it has been cleared by the Cabinet, but it was discussed in particular by the Home Office, which deals with civil contingencies. I do not think that the hon. Lady need worry about that. As for the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985, I will write to her about it, but I can tell her now that we have absolutely no intention of removing employment protection from reservists. Unlike the hon. Lady, I am not an authority on the Act, but I will write to her—I am looking at my officials now—to confirm that there is no intention of repealing the Act. The protection must, of course, continue.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster), on the basis of personal experience. He gave the excellent example of Operation Midway, of which I had not known because, needless to say, it took place under the last Administration. As for the duration of deployment, I think that were we to deploy any reservist for three years and nine months, the House would have quite a lot to say about it. I am not minded to change the legislation, but I do not believe that circumstances would ever arise—apart from general war, which I hope we are not expecting—that required the mobilisation of people for that length of time. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is smiling. I hope that we are not expecting it, and I do not think we are, at least not in the review.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): We are not.

Mr Robathan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his confirmation.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 12 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 31


Amendment made: 14, page 29, line 3, at end insert—

‘(1A) Section [Call out of reserve forces] comes into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.’.—(Mr Robathan.)


Amendment made: 15, line 4, after ‘Naval Medical Compassionate Fund Act 1915;’ insert ‘to make provision about the call out of reserve forces;’.—(Mr Robathan.)

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

14 Jun 2011 : Column 681

Clause 2

Armed forces covenant report

Mr Llwyd: I beg to move amendment 2, page 2, line 5, leave out ‘Secretary of State’ and insert

‘Minister for Former Armed Services Personnel’.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr Roger Gale): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 16, page 2, leave out lines 8 to 12 and insert—

(a) education;

(b) accommodation;

(c) healthcare;

(d) mental healthcare;

(e) pensions and benefits;

(f) employment and training;

(g) support for reservists and their employers;

(h) the running of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme;

(i) progress on Armed Forces rehabilitation services; and

(j) such other fields as the External Reference Group may determine.’.

Amendment 3, page 2, leave out line 11 and insert ‘including—

(a) the operation of section 359C (Former Armed Services Personnel Rights Charter),

(aa) the operation of section 359D (Former Armed Services Personnel Support Officers),

(ab) the operation of section 359E (Financial Support for Former Armed Services Personnel Welfare Groups),

(ac) the operation of section 359F (Former Armed Services Personnel Policy Forum),

(ad) the effect of the following issues upon service people—

(i) welfare benefits;

(ii) housing;

(iii) healthcare;

(iv) education, including educational courses and training;

(v) employment advice;

(vi) budgetary and life skills;

(vii) debt management;

(viii) alcohol and drug treatment;

(ix) relationship skills/domestic violence courses for perpetrators and victims; and’.

Amendment 17, page 2, line 11, after ‘housing’, insert—

‘(aa) in the operation of inquests’.

Government amendments 11, 12 and 13

Amendment 4, page 2, line 12, at end insert—

‘(2A) The report shall include expert recommendations on improving the welfare of former armed services personnel.

(2B) Expert recommendations shall include a timeframe in which these recommendations should be implemented.

(2C) If the Secretary of State will not implement any of the expert recommendations as directed then he shall lay a report before Parliament explaining why they have not been implemented, within 40 days of the laying of the armed forces covenant report.’.

New clause 2—Minister for Former Armed Services Personnel

‘After section 359A of Armed Forces Act 2006, insert—

“359B Minister for Former Armed Services Personnel

(1) A Minister shall be appointed within the Cabinet Office who shall be known as the Minister for Former Armed Services Personnel.

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(2) The roles and responsibility of the Minister shall be set out by the Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office by order and shall include—

(a) Laying the Annual Armed Forces Covenant Report, in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Defence.

(b) Conducting such activities as shall be seen to be positive for the well-being of former armed services personnel.

(c) Conducting detailed and independently verifiable research to establish a baseline on which future progress can be measured.

(3) The Minister for Former Armed Services Personnel shall be appointed within three months of Royal Assent to the Armed Forces Act 2011.”.’.

New clause 3—Former Armed Services Personnel Rights Charter

‘After section 359B of Armed Forces Act 2006, insert—

“359C Former Armed Services Personnel Rights Charter

(1) A Former Armed Services Personnel Rights Charter shall be published, indicating the rights to assistance that former armed services personnel shall expect.

(2) The Former Armed Services Personnel Rights Charter shall be made by a Minister of the Crown by order made by statutory instrument and include—

(a) the requirement to undergo a psychological assessment immediately prior to leaving the armed forces,

(b) the requirement of a resettlement assessment, conducted approximately six months prior to the expected date of discharge,

(c) the requirement of access to advice from relevant voluntary organisations, approximately three to four months prior to the expected date of discharge, regarding the following possible needs—

(i) welfare;

(ii) housing;

(iii) educational course and training;

(iv) employment advice;

(v) budgetary and life skills;

(vi) debt management;

(vii) alcohol and drug treatment; and

(viii) relationship skills/domestic violence courses.

(d) the requirement of back up support and advice, provided in person, by telephone and other reasonable means, to all former armed services personnel at any point within the first six months following discharge,

(e) the requirement of tailored support for former armed services personnel in the criminal justice system,

(f) any other relevant assistance considered necessary by the Minister in pursuit of the improvements in former armed services personnel welfare.

(3) The Former Armed Services Personnel Rights Charter shall be published following consultation with relevant stakeholders.

(4) “Relevant stakeholders” includes members of veterans’ support agencies.

(5) The Former Armed Services Personnel Rights Charter shall be introduced within one year of Royal Assent to the Armed Forces Act 2011.

(6) The operation of the Former Armed Services Personnel Rights Charter shall be reported upon in the Armed Forces Covenant Report.”.’.

New clause 4—Former armed services personnel support officers

‘After section 359C of Armed Forces Act 2006, insert—

“359D Former Armed Services Personnel Support Officers

(1) A former armed services personnel support officer post shall be appointed in each prison and probation service in England and Wales.

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(2) The role of the former armed services personnel support officer shall be to ensure continuation of support in the criminal justice system.

(3) Former armed services personnel support officers shall be appointed within one year of Royal Assent to the Armed Forces Act 2011.

(4) The operation of the former armed services personnel support officers shall be reported upon in the Armed Forces Covenant Report.”.’.

New clause 5—Financial support for former armed services personnel welfare groups

‘After section 359D of Armed Forces Act 2006, insert—

“359E Financial Support for Former Armed Services Personnel Welfare Groups

(1) Financial support shall be provided for former armed services personnel welfare groups in each financial year to provided assistance to former armed services personnel.

(2) Former armed services personnel welfare groups eligible for such financial support shall be those approved by the Minister.

(3) The criterion for such eligibility shall be published by the Minister following an independent scoping study into the needs of former armed services personnel and the services currently available which will provide a baseline for future progress.

(4) The independent scoping study shall be published not later than one year after the Royal Assent to the Armed Forces Act 2011.

(5) The operation of the Financial Support for Armed Services Personnel Welfare Groups shall be reported upon in the Armed Forces Covenant Report.”.’.

New clause 6—Former Armed Services Personnel Policy Forum

‘After section 359E of Armed Forces Act 2006, insert—

“359F Former Armed Services Personnel Policy Forum

(1) A Former Armed Services Personnel Policy Forum shall be created to ensure best practice in the treatment and discussion of veterans’ welfare issues.

(2) The Former Armed Services Personnel Policy Forum shall have membership comprising representatives of the statutory, private and voluntary sector.

(3) The chair and members of the Former Armed Services Personnel Policy forum shall be appointed by the Secretary of State following consultation with relevant stakeholders and shall include a government representative.

(4) The criterion for membership and responsibilities of the veterans’ policy forum shall be determined by the Secretary of State following consultation with relevant stakeholders.

(5) “Relevant stakeholders” shall include Ministers in devolved legislatures and veterans’ support agencies.

(6) The Former Armed Services Personnel Policy Forum shall report from time to time to the relevant authority.

(7) “Relevant authority” means Ministers responsible for the implementation of policies relating to veterans’ welfare, including Ministers in devolved administrations.

(8) The Former Armed Services Personnel Rights’ Policy Forum shall be introduced within one year of Royal Assent to the Armed Forces Act 2011.

(9) The operation of the Former Armed Services Personnel Policy Forum shall be reported upon in the Armed Forces Covenant Report.”.’.

New clause 13—Armed Forces Advocates

‘After section 359 of AFA 2006 insert—

“359B Armed Forces Advocates

(1) The existing network of Armed Forces Advocates will be extended through the nomination of supporting advocates at regional and local level to ensure that local authorities work together to identify and resolve issues in local policy or the delivery of services that may affect service people.

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(2) In this section “Armed Forces Advocate” means public servant nominated to monitor and resolve policy or legislative issues that arise for service people.”.’.

New clause 14—Duties of ombudsmen and Covenant commitments

‘After section 359 of AFA 2006 insert—

“359C Duties of Ombudsmen and Covenant commitments

‘The Parliamentary and Local Government Ombudsmen shall have the duty to investigate complaints from service personnel that a public body or local authority has failed to meet the commitments outlined in the ‘The Armed Forces Covenant’ and ‘The Armed Forces Covenant: Today and Tomorrow’.”.’.

New clause 17—Duties of public bodies and Ministers

‘(1) In preparing policy, public bodies and Ministers must have regard to those matters to which the Secretary of State is to have regard in preparing an armed forces covenant report, under subsection (2A) of section 359A of AFA 2006.

(2) In preparing policy, public bodies and Ministers must consider whether the making of special provision for service people or particular descriptions of service people would be justified.’.

Mr Llwyd: I am pleased to be able to speak to the amendments, but also rather baffled by the fact that I was unable to raise my points earlier. Although I spoke on Second Reading and expressed a strong interest in being involved in the earlier Committee stage, I was unfortunately denied that opportunity. For the first time in the current Parliament, the number of Members dealing with a Bill in a Select Committee was reduced so that a representative of a minority party would not be present. I am sure that my disappointment is shared by my colleagues the hon. Members for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) and for Upper Bann (David Simpson). Be that as it may, however, I am very glad to have been given the opportunity to speak.

My amendments and new clauses focus on the need to strengthen the provision of welfare for veterans of the armed forces, an issue on which I have been campaigning in the House and outside for a number of years. They would establish a more robust structure of support for personnel leaving the forces, and would ensure that veterans were not disadvantaged in any way when trying to gain access to public services as a result of the service that they had given. They were heavily influenced by the recommendations made by the justice unions parliamentary group on veterans in the criminal justice system, of which I am chair. They also deal with the need to enshrine the military covenant in law, a move that I am glad to hear that the Government will be making in the coming months via the Bill. I hoped to see a little more detail about the covenant in the Government amendments, given that the devil is always in the detail, but the Government have at least acknowledged the need to uphold, maintain and develop further that all-important relationship between our armed forces and the public.

My amendments set out what we in the justice unions parliamentary group believe is a firm course of action to tackle the problems faced by vulnerable veterans, and it is my earnest hope that the Committee will give them due consideration. New clause 2 and amendment 2 seek to introduce a Minister for Former Armed Services Personnel, who would sit in the Cabinet Office and among whose responsibilities would be the laying of the armed forces report before Parliament each year. Most important, the Minister’s remit would extend across

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Departments, and he or she would therefore be ideally placed to tackle veterans’ issues, needs and priorities in an holistic way.

The Bill provides for the armed forces report to be laid by the Secretary of State for Defence. I mean to cause no offence whatsoever to the present Secretary of State in arguing that a Minister with such a wide remit cannot possibly hope to dedicate as much attention to that document as I believe it deserves, and that the report should therefore be written by someone whose sole ministerial responsibility lies with veterans’ welfare and who will not be unduly compromised—in the strict sense—by other vested interests.

Amendment 3 seeks to broaden the remit of the armed forces report, and is relevant to a number of new clauses to which I will return briefly later. Amendment 16, tabled by the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle), makes many of the same points. My recommendations were made before the earlier Committee stage, from which I was excluded, but I am glad that they can be raised in the Chamber now.

As Members will know, the Bill specifies that an armed forces covenant report shall be laid before Parliament each year, and shall cover the effects had by membership, or former membership, of the armed forces seen in the fields of health care, education, and housing. Let me make the genuine observation that that is a welcome step, given that the regulation of the services available to veterans is a prerequisite for improvement of those services. I believe that the proposed report’s remits do not go far enough, however. My amendments demand that they inquire in greater depth into how having a military service background affects personnel in obtaining public services. The report should not simply discuss education, housing and health care; I have specified that it should also cover other subjects, including welfare benefits, employment advice, budgetary and life skills, debt management, alcohol and drug treatment and relationship skills.

6 pm

The most important amendment is that stipulating a series of issues to be covered in the armed forces report as, crucially, it demands that it covers far more areas. In the Select Committee, the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire said that

“Tony Stables of the Confederation of British Service and Ex Service Organisations—from the armed forces families federations and from the Forces Pension Society”—

wanted the list of subjects covered by the report to be extended and that there was disappointment about their appearing to be limited to only three. I appreciate that the Secretary of State will have the power to increase the number of subjects if he desires, but, to put it simply, there is no point legislating for an armed forces report to be laid before Parliament if it provides only a limited vision of the problems it needs to address. The bare fact is that veterans do not often encounter these problems in isolation, as the factors that contribute to social estrangement are far more likely to be encountered as a package. Often, although not always, these problems arise contemporaneously; for example, employment advice cannot be fully given without due consideration also being given to debt management, further training, re-skilling and housing.

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When personnel leave the armed forces, they will almost certainly need to find a job, as the services tend to recruit their personnel at a young age, and they often retire from the services long before standard retirement age. Little advice or provision in respect of resettlement is given to service leavers, however, particularly if they have served for fewer than four years, although that largely depends on details such as their regiment and where they are stationed. This problem is particularly stark for early service leavers, and studies have shown that they are at far greater risk of suicide, substance misuse, debt, crime and homelessness. That is why it is so important that the covenant and its associated reports pertain to all veterans regardless of the period of time for which they have served.

Chris Bryant: For the record, I think it is a shame that the full range of views in the House were not represented on the Committee in question because a Member such as the right hon. Gentleman was unable to serve on it.

New clause 3 states that there should be a requirement to undergo a psychological assessment immediately prior to leaving the armed forces. Does the right hon. Gentleman that think there would also be value in making sure there is a psychological assessment on entering the armed forces, as many of the young men and women who enter the armed forces have psychological needs, and they ought to be met while they are serving members, and not considered only when they leave?

Mr Llwyd: That is a sensible suggestion, and I am pleased that it is on the record. The hon. Gentleman is right that such tests should be undertaken.

Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): Having served on Committees with the right hon. Gentleman, I know that he always makes an important contribution. On the question of whether his proposal is the best way of ensuring all disadvantages are covered by the report, does he share my concern that by listing all the various areas, he may, in some sense, be prescribing them, and that it would be better instead to leave some discretion with the Secretary of State to be able to look at any disadvantage and report on that, because it is hard to predict exactly where such disadvantages may lie?

Mr Llwyd: I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman makes that point with complete sincerity, but the Secretary of State can look at further areas in any case; he is not limited to dealing with only certain areas. One matter is of concern to me, however, especially from having spoken to representatives of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association. Not so long ago, I spoke with a gentleman who told me that about 70% of the work he does is debt management, and, unfortunately, drug and alcohol abuse are also big issues. I felt that by specifying these areas, they could at least be identified. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, so the Secretary of State would not be prevented from looking at other issues. I understand the point the hon. Gentleman makes and appreciate the way in which he expressed it, but I do not think listing would necessarily cause any harm.

SSAFA suggests that debt management is one of the greatest problems facing former armed services personnel, since being in the military provides stable employment for them. Armed forces personnel are thus able to

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access relatively high levels of credit, although little or no training is given to them on how to control their finances. On leaving the forces without proper financial management training, problems with debt can easily arise, and lead to homelessness and crime.

When leaving the forces, an individual is officially made homeless. Former servicemen and women—although it should be pointed out that this problem is primarily associated with men—often end up relying on relatives or friends for temporary accommodation, putting strains on relationships in the process. If they are unable to gain employment, the patience of their relatives may wear thin, while, perversely, an inability to provide a permanent address decreases the likelihood of their finding a job. Ex-servicemen are thus catapulted into a vicious circle of social exclusion, which can be tackled only by strengthening the advice available to them prior to discharge. I shall briefly return to this point.

Equally importantly, the armed services report must give an account of how service life can increase the likelihood of people turning to drug and alcohol abuse. Post-traumatic stress disorder receives much attention in the press, but it is alcohol and other substance addictions that present the most significant threat to veterans’ mental health. Regrettably, anecdotal evidence suggests that at certain stages of Army life, alcohol is treated as a catalyst to unwinding—or, to use the fashionable phrase, self-medication.

Chris Bryant: Unlike in Parliament!

Mr Llwyd: Yes, as the hon. Gentleman humorously says, unlike in Parliament, but let me return to my serious point.

It cannot be a coincidence that so many veterans leave active service displaying an over-dependence on alcohol. I hardly need say how quickly such a dependence can, if left totally untreated, feed into other habits, violent behaviour and crime. That is why I would like the report to address the point of counselling on substance misuse playing a vital part in, as it were, the decompression of personnel.

As those who have worked with or encountered veterans grappling with social estrangement will testify, these problems often do not arise singly, but are part of a package of social hindrances faced daily. It is thus only right that the report should take account of the multi-faceted nature of this rupture. Amendment 4 specifies that the report should take into account the recommendations of a panel of outside experts in the field, as well as specify a time frame in which they should be implemented. Proposed new subsection (2C) to clause 2 ensures that the Secretary of State is obliged to implement recommendations, rather than simply write things he or she has no intention of doing, by the fact that he or she must lay a further report before Parliament within 40 days of the laying of the initial report, explaining why certain recommendations have not been implemented.

Amendment 3 also specifies that the report should outline the operation of the former armed services personnel rights charter, the former armed services personnel support officers, financial support for former armed services personnel welfare groups and the former armed services personnel policy forum, all of which are explained in the Bill.

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New clause 3 pertains to the former armed forces personnel rights charter, which would put in legislation an obligation on the Government to ensure that veterans undergo psychological assessment before leaving the armed forces—and possibly on entry, as has been said; that they have a resettlement assessment approximately six months before the expected date of discharge; that they have access to advice from voluntary organisations on how to combat potential problems after leaving the forces; and that they are given access to that advice in good time before they are discharged.

At the moment, many veterans feel when that when leaving the forces people are on their own. Regardless of whether that is the case, I think we need to intensify personnel’s awareness of the support that is available to those who need it.

Mrs Louise Mensch (Corby) (Con): It is a great pleasure to be able to intervene on the right hon. Gentleman and take this opportunity to thank him for his incredible work for veterans not just in this Parliament but over many years, for which the entire House will commend him. May I put it to him, however, that his amendments are, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Oliver Heald) pointed out, a little too prescriptive? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a simpler way to address the needs of our veterans would be for this country to have a veterans’ administration or Department, as every other nation in the English-speaking world does?

Mr Llwyd: I thank the hon. Lady for her very generous comments, but I visited the United States in September and I visited the veterans’ agency. It is the second largest Department of State in the United States and it costs an absolute fortune to run. It was put in place, I believe, because the United States had to deal with the fallout of Vietnam. There is a much smaller scale operation in Canada. In an ideal world, the hon. Lady would be right, but in these straitened circumstances, it would be rather unrealistic of me to make that call. I hope that in the not-too-distant future we, too, will have such a Department. I do not make that call now, because I do not think it is realistic so to do.

I take the hon. Lady’s point about my amendments being prescriptive and so on. It is a moot point: I may well be wrong and she may be right; I do not know. One thing we should consider urgently, however, as I have mentioned, is having a Minister in the Cabinet Office to cross-cut all available services and to consider everything in each Department that might or might not impact on veterans. I think that would be a useful step forward, albeit that it is not so dramatic a step as a veterans’ Department, which, at the end of the day, she and I would undoubtedly favour although it is perhaps unrealistic to call for it at this stage.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I am a little uneasy about the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal about a Minister in the Cabinet Office and about the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mrs Mensch) for a Department for veterans’ affairs. It seems to me that the Secretary of State for Defence, the three services under him and under them the regiments and units to which people are attached are responsible for looking after veterans when they leave the services.

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To remove that responsibility from them and to give it to somebody else in the Cabinet Office or a separate Department would seem to me to be quite wrong.

Mr Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman misses my point. That Minister would look at every single Department in turn, including the MOD, and when there was some form of engagement with veterans in that Department he or she would report accordingly on whatever he or she found to be the case. The responsibility would ultimately still lie with the military. I say, with the greatest of respect to the hon. Gentleman and those from the military who might be listening, that hitherto the military has not been very good at looking after veterans and that is why I am on my feet at the moment.

Sandra Osborne: I, for one, would love to see a dedicated Department for veterans in this country, notwithstanding the expense. If we feel that they deserve recognition, we should be prepared to put our money where our mouth is, perhaps not right now but in the future. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the huge step forward we are witnessing today is that the military covenant will be in law, which the Government previously resisted? That is a huge step forward.

Mr Llwyd: The hon. Lady is right and I do welcome that. It is a step forward, for sure.

6.15 pm

Chris Bryant: The right hon. Gentleman has rightly referred to drug and alcohol abuse, which is unfortunately prevalent among large numbers of those who have served in our armed forces and among some in the armed forces. Sometimes the solutions are not all state run, however. The most successful organisation in helping people with alcohol dependency is Alcoholics Anonymous and, sometimes, the state and the Ministry of Defence have been rather reluctant to involve voluntary organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous in helping people out of their addiction.

Mr Llwyd: I am sure that is right—I have no argument with that—but what is to prevent signposting and sending personnel to be assessed? For example, just down the road from here is an organisation called Veterans’ Aid, which is run by Wing Commander Hugh Milroy. Under his good offices, very few ex-service people are sleeping rough in London. There were quite a number of them 10 years ago; now there are hardly any. He has done that work. There are numerous organisations doing excellent work for ex-forces personnel, but I am arguing for a more consistent approach across the piece—a more holistic approach. I could use the words “postcode lottery”: there are good services and good practice, but we need to ensure that they are accessible across the piece and across all the constituent parts of the UK, wherever veterans are, wherever they served and whichever regiment they were with.

Mr Robathan: At the risk of incurring your wrath, Mr Gale, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and all in the House would like to join me in congratulating

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Wing Commander Milroy on his richly deserved OBE in the birthday honours only last Saturday.

Mr Llwyd: I am delighted to congratulate Wing Commander Milroy on that—it is a well-deserved honour for a lot of hard work in difficult circumstances.

I do not want to take up too much time this evening, so I shall seek to truncate my remarks. Let me explain one or two more amendments. I will not press the Committee to a Division, because I want to make my points and to return to them at another time.

New clause 3 specifies that back-up advice, in person and by telephone, should be made available for the first six months following discharge. Finally, tailored support should be made available for former armed services personnel in the criminal justice system. The issues surrounding veterans who come into contact with the criminal justice system have been the subject of debates in this House and I shall not go into great detail about them now, but holistic support is required, I believe, for such veterans to ensure that they get the support they need.

New clause 4 would appoint a support officer for former armed services personnel in each prison and probation service in England and Wales. That might sound a bit airy-fairy and pie in the sky, but those people are out there. They are often people who are interested in the subject and who are ex-service personnel, but that turns on the question of whether we have the ex-services personnel in a prison, which is often the key to whether services are properly delivered for these people.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I just want to make one comment, which is that a heck of a lot of people leave the armed forces and go on to lead perfectly normal, decent lives. They do not need help and I am a little worried that we are giving the impression that everyone needs some sort of help. They do not; only a small percentage of people require that help.

Mr Llwyd: I agree entirely and I do not want to give the false impression that the majority of service leavers are in dire need of help. That has never been true and never will be. I fully take the hon. Gentleman’s point on board and I agree with what he says. He, of course, comes from a service background and knows this patch rather well—probably far better than I do.

Hon. Members: But he needs quite a lot of help!

Bob Stewart: Thank you very much!

Mr Llwyd: I will move to finish my remarks fairly quickly because we are subject to some rather strange remarks at the moment.

The role that support officers would play would be to ensure that relevant individuals who came into contact with the criminal justice system received support while they were held within the system. Only a small percentage end up in the criminal justice system, but it is entirely possible that a goodly number of those people would not be in the prison system if they had been assisted in other ways when they came out of the services. That is

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my point. As far as the numbers are concerned, I am not saying that the majority are affected, as that would be absolute nonsense.

Concurrent with the need for support officers is the need to improve the recording of the number of veterans held in prisons, on probation or on parole. At no time hitherto has an individual been asked, upon entry to the justice system, whether they have a service record, but that is now changing I am pleased to say. I shall not go into this topic at length, but I note that a survey conducted by the Home Office in 2001-02 recorded that roughly 6% of inmates were veterans, whereas a survey carried out by the MOD in 2007 estimated the percentage in one prison, Dartmoor, at 17.5%. I shall not get into bandying figures around, as we have had this debate before. These are MOD figures, not mine or NAPO’s. I remember that the last time we had such a debate everyone clubbed together to denigrate Harry Fletcher, but these are not his figures.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Stop making them up then.

Mr Llwyd: I am not making them up.

Mr Jones: I know that discussion of this issue can be a bit like “Groundhog Day”, but when I was a Minister, I—under pressure from the right hon. Gentleman, who takes a great interest in this matter—had the Ministry of Justice’s figures, going back to 1967 for the Royal Air Force, cross-referenced with service records and the figure came out at just over 3%. That is not to dispute the fact that there might be more of those individuals in certain prisons, but the facts were established independently and I do not know why certain people keep disputing them.

Mr Llwyd: I will tell the hon. Gentleman why, if we have time to talk turkey. They are disputed because of the scoping exercise that was recently carried out, which came out with a figure of about 5% or 6%. The figure does not really matter, but figures he mentioned excluded women who had served, the reserve forces, those who had served in Northern Ireland and people under 18.

Mr Jones indicated dissent .

Mr Llwyd: They certainly did, but the hon. Gentleman and I can argue about that elsewhere. I am sure that they did; I would not say so otherwise.

Mr Gray: May I make a subtler point, rather than disputing the numbers? Although some of the people we are discussing may theoretically be veterans, in that they may have served in the armed services at some time, the only ones we should be concerned about and who need special care of the kind being described would be those who have recently left the armed services, possibly having had combat experience, and those whose crimes can be directly attributable to their service. The mere fact that someone perhaps did national service 30 years ago should not necessarily distinguish them from other prisoners.

Mr Llwyd: I agree. The only slight note of caution I would add is that, whatever the figure, there are a number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and,

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as the hon. Gentleman knows, PTSD can show itself within a month or can take 15 years to develop.

New clause 5 sets out that financial support shall be made available for ex-services personnel. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the invaluable work of service charities. New clause 5 also sets out the importance of conducting a study of the services already available to veterans, which would provide a baseline for future progress. There is perhaps a little too much room for overlap in some services, whereas some needs are hardly catered for at all. Joining services together and learning from best practice would establish a holistic means to tackle the problem.

Finally, new clause 6 would establish a veterans’ policy forum that would draw its membership from the statutory, private and voluntary sectors. The aim of this forum would be to consult the Government on best practice in the treatment of veterans and their welfare. This once again rests on the vital importance of those with vested interests in this field working together so that no veteran will be made to feel abandoned by a system that is unable to tackle the peculiar problems they might face. I note that a number of amendments surrounding the military covenant have now been withdrawn. I know not what the reason for that is, but I conclude by saying that having the covenant in statutory form is a historic step. I hope that our debates on these clauses will lead to further action being taken in the not-too-distant future as well.

Gemma Doyle: I wish to move amendments 16 and 17—is that in order, Mr Gale?

The Temporary Chair (Mr Roger Gale): Order. The hon. Lady may speak to any of the amendments that have been grouped. They will be moved, if they are moved, when they are reached at the appropriate point in the Bill, so it is simply a question of speaking to them now.

Gemma Doyle: Thank you for that clarification, Mr Gale. I will speak to amendments 16 and 17 and to new clauses 13, 14 and 17. As the Committee knows, the vast majority of debate and discussion on the Bill has been about clause 2 and specifically about the military covenant and how best to ensure that it is honoured. Our concern all along has been to ensure that the Government achieve what they have said they want to achieve by enshrining the covenant in law. At the heart of this debate is the overriding principle that no one should be disadvantaged because of their military service. Indeed, many service families have told me that they do not want special treatment—just fair treatment. I welcome the Government’s amendments as a step in the right direction on the military covenant, but the path to get them to this point has been far from graceful. It has been both tortuous and frustrating to watch Ministers deny what was in black and white on paper in front of them, but however they got here I am certainly glad that they have progressed.

We spent many hours debating the covenant in the Select Committee, with the Government arguing both that the unamended Bill enshrined the covenant in law and that it was not necessary to do so. I am not sure whether they have changed their minds on either or both of those points, but I welcome the change of heart

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none the less and I am pleased to confirm that we support the amendments in the name of the Minister for the Armed Forces although they are not as strong as we had hoped. They enshrine in law the principles of reporting to Parliament, but they are still a step away from fully enshrining the covenant in law. I suspect that Ministers have once again been thwarted by lawyers and civil servants.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Does the hon. Lady accept that what we have before us is a vast improvement on the situation a year ago?

Gemma Doyle: The amendments tabled today are a vast improvement on the Bill as it stood. If the hon. Gentleman agrees with that, I wonder why he did not support my amendments in the Select Committee that would have achieved that. Instead, he voted down any proposals to strengthen the covenant or the Bill.

New clause 17 would fully enshrine—

Mr Robathan: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Gemma Doyle: I should like to make a little progress before the Minister—

Mr Robathan: We have plenty of time.

Gemma Doyle: I should at least like to finish my sentence if that is all right.

New clause 17 would fully enshrine the principles of the covenant in law, not half-heartedly but unambiguously.

6.30 pm

Mr Robathan: The point the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) was trying to make was that between 1997 and 2010 there was a Labour Government—new Labour, old Labour or whatever we like to call them—and nothing was done. I do not hold the hon. Lady responsible because she was not in the House then. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, when we took office a year ago there was no mention of the covenant, yet now we are putting it on a statutory basis for the first time. I think I first used those words in the House on 10 January.

Gemma Doyle: On frequent occasions, the right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged that plenty was done for veterans under the previous Government, including the creation of his job. If he wants to keep it, perhaps he should have got this right in the first place.

New clause 17 would place a duty on all Departments and public bodies to give consideration to service families and veterans in policy making and implementation. Although it is very welcome that the Secretary of State will report to the House, I would rather such matters were integral to the policy-making framework from the beginning and the new clause would ensure that.

Chris Bryant: In her amendment 16, my hon. Friend draws a distinction—unlike the Bill—between health care and mental health care. Many people hope that there will one day be a time when nobody has to draw that distinction because we treat the two exactly the same, but unfortunately it is still an important area that

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we have to highlight, particularly for armed forces veterans, because all too often there is a Cinderella service that gets no attention. Does my hon. Friend think that it is essential to maintain that distinction? Otherwise, Ministers might just put a single sentence about mental health care into the Bill and that would be wholly insufficient.

Gemma Doyle: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Without amendment 16, there will be no requirement whatever for the Secretary of State to look at mental health care or to come to Parliament to report on it. As I have said on a number of occasions, I welcome both the duty on the Secretary of State to report to Parliament and the consequential annual debate, but I still have great concerns that as the Bill stands, only health, education and housing are cited as issues that the report should cover. That is not sufficient. The list in amendment 16 is more comprehensive and more appropriately reflects the Secretary of State’s responsibilities.

Christopher Pincher: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. It was a pleasure to serve with her on the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill. She says that she is keen to see things in black and white, and she refers to the prescription that she would like to see on the face of the Bill. May I point her to the evidence given by Chris Simpkins of the Royal British Legion in answer to my question? I asked:

“You seem to accept, therefore, that having a prescriptive set of pillars—areas that need to be focused on—in the Report would make it too exclusive and that it is better to have three or four areas that are clearly set out, as required by law, and a catch-all clause to incorporate anything else that is necessary at a point in time.”

To which Mr Simpkins responded, “I would indeed.” Why does the hon. Lady think she knows better than the director general of the Royal British Legion?

Gemma Doyle: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He and I have debated that point before and, as he knows, I think he is confusing a list of prescribed entitlements with a list of issues on which the Secretary of State has to report. My point all along has been that the Secretary of State should not be reporting on the work of other Departments without reporting on the work of his own Department. It would be bizarre if a report criticised local authorities, or indeed the Department for Education, for disadvantaging the children of service people, but had no reference at all to the MOD’s responsibilities, such as pension provision for the armed forces. I cannot envisage a time in the near future when pension provision will not be an area of concern for our armed forces, so it should be included in the list.

The list does not limit the fields on which the Secretary of State should report; it expands them and makes provision for further relevant issues to be included as circumstances dictate.

Mr Robathan: When the Secretary of State comes to the House to make his annual report and, if the hon. Lady is still in her place—

Mr Kevan Jones: Or you are.

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Mr Robathan: Very unlikely, if I may say so—as the hon. Lady has already suggested.

Is the hon. Lady telling the Committee that, if she is still in her place and there is no mention in the report of pension provision or mental health care—on which we are doing a great deal of work, as she knows; my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) has done a lot of work for us and we are taking it forward—and she thinks that is an issue, she will not mention it?

Gemma Doyle: I give the Minister a categorical assurance that I will mention it. My concern is whether the Secretary of State will even consider those issues. As the Bill stands, he does not have to; he need only look at education, health and housing, and that is not good enough.

I should have liked to explore further with the Minister why education, health care and housing had been chosen at the expense of the many other issues that have been of great concern over the past 12 months. However, he declined to give evidence on his Bill.

I am also concerned that there is nothing in clause 2 that applies to Scottish or Welsh veterans. At the very least, the Bill should be amended to send a clear signal about the UK-wide responsibilities of the Secretary of State. If the family of a Scottish service person live off-base in local authority housing, their housing requirements are devolved. We have been advised that the Secretary of State will update the House even when those matters are devolved. It seems odd that such a thing could happen, because the Secretary of State is not responsible for the delivery of devolved services; nor is he or she accountable, and thus could not answer questions on the matter.

Sandra Osborne: I am quite surprised to hear my hon. Friend say that. I understood in the Select Committee that the Government had undertaken to discuss that with the devolved Parliaments. I would have expected it to be resolved, including legislation, by now.

Gemma Doyle: I entirely agree, but the correspondence I have seen does not indicate that that is the case.

Mr Robathan: May I help the hon. Lady?

Gemma Doyle: Please do.

Mr Robathan: I think the Opposition are fishing in desperation for things to get excited about, but they do not need to. I have in my hand a letter from the right hon. Alex Salmond, who describes himself as the First Minister of Scotland, for that is indeed his post. The letter is dated June, although I cannot actually read the day. It thanks the Secretary of State for Defence for his letter about the armed forces covenant and states that the Scottish Government have and will continue to provide unequivocal support for the armed forces, families and veterans. I shall not read the whole thing out, but it welcomes the new armed forces covenant as an important step forward from the 2008 service personnel Command Paper.