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Owen Smith: Yes, they are. The Minister says they are not, and if he wants to intervene, I would love to hear what he has to say.

Mr Burns: I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want to misinterpret the facts, and even he will have to accept, if he looks at the facts, that the median waiting time remains stable. Even someone he loves to quote—Chris Ham of the King’s Fund—has acknowledged that in recent weeks.

Owen Smith: The King’s Fund explicitly said that, for the months from February through to March, numbers for the 18-week wait were at a three-year high. The Minister talks about median waiting times, but we need to talk about overall waiting times. He cannot disagree with the fact that the figures for the other waiting times that I have mentioned—the waiting times for diagnostic testing and for four-hour waits in A and E—are at their highest levels since their inception. That is where we are, and I fear that is where we will be for a long period unless the NHS is allowed to concentrate on clinical targets, which are crucial to the quality of service that patients receive, rather than having to worry about future configuration and structure.

How has the vital question of savings been dealt with over the past year? The hon. Member for Southport has discussed the need to save between £15 billion and £20 billion, and service reconfiguration is one way to do that. We do not know exactly how we are doing on savings right now, because the Government have not told us where we are or whether we are on track to realise those savings. We know that trusts are being asked to make savings of about 4% a year, but we do not know how many actually are. We fear that we are behind the curve in achieving that figure, which Monitor’s report of September last year suggests that 63% of trusts are failing to do. The King’s Fund tracker, which came out only last week, said that half the managers it surveyed feared that they would not hit the 4% target, and an even greater proportion feared they would not hit the 6% target that they are setting for themselves.

Mr Burns: Will the hon. Gentleman accept—I am sure that he knows this—that the King’s Fund work was only a snapshot? It surveyed only 29 finance directors out of 165, and 27 of them made the comments that he has described. However, the latest quarterly NHS performance statistics, which are an actual look at what is going on across the NHS rather than a snapshot, show that 20 of the 21 indicators are being reached. Of those, 14 show improvements, whether that is on bowel and breast cancer screening or on times for admission for minor strokes. That gives a more accurate assessment of what is going on.

Owen Smith: Of course, the baseline for those outcomes is relatively new, because this is a new set of indicators. More importantly, however, the Minister will accept that I was talking specifically about financial data and whether services will hit their financial targets. I acknowledge that the King’s Fund tracker is but a snapshot and that, as the Minister has said, it uses only 29 NHS trusts. However, the Monitor survey of September last year, which I have mentioned, related to all 100-odd foundation trusts, and it found that 63% of them are behind the curve in achieving the 4% target. It is not, therefore,

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inexplicable or out of the realms of possibility that the King’s Fund survey might be entirely accurate, even though it is a snapshot. Of course, the Minister can clear this up for us right now by saying precisely how many foundation and non-foundation trusts are on target to meet the 4% target for productivity savings this year. He can clear that up for us, and we will have no further questions about it. He could publish a tracker to keep things clear for us.

After quality and savings, the third issue that I want to discuss is transparency, because the Government have persistently said that more transparency in the system will allow decisions to be taken in a better way and to be scrutinised, as well as allowing an improvement in productivity and quality. Other Opposition Members and I have pursued this issue during the seemingly endless sittings on the Health and Social Care Bill. I have said repeatedly that the fog around this issue has not got any thinner; in fact, it was approaching pea-soup status towards the end of our sittings.

We have no real idea how the Government will address the apparent shortcomings in the 17—or is it 20 or 25?—trusts that are currently in trouble and do not have the requisite stability to achieve foundation trust status. We do not know exactly what the Government are doing to bring them up to foundation trust status. Nor do we know precisely what will happen if one of them goes bust. We do not know what the failure regime is—

Mr Burns: You will.

Owen Smith: Well, as we said in Committee, we wait with bated breath to hear what the failure regime will look like. It is a crucial piece of the jigsaw if the Government are to be trusted with the NHS and if we are to know precisely what regime they will put in place to protect services that, as we have heard across the country, are considered vital for communities.

We do not have any idea, really, how many of the existing foundation trusts are overspent, and therefore in breach of their authorisation. The Minister could inform us about that. He could be a little more transparent about precisely what the situation is. I mentioned this earlier, but the Minister could clear up persistent concerns, in particular on the Labour side of the House, that the Government think that private sector management might be a means to improve the productivity, efficiency and, indeed, perhaps even the clinical quality, of some of the failing trusts. I do not think that that fear is wholly misplaced. We simply need to listen to the words of Matthew Kershaw, who is employed in the Department of Health to oversee that very process, and who told a Health Service Journal conference just the other day—it was reported only a week ago—that it was perfectly possible that we might look at means by which private sector companies might come in to run, through franchise, some failing trusts.

Mr Burns: The hon. Gentleman really takes the biscuit. He raises the possibility of private sector companies providing a manager or managers where the management in an NHS hospital are failing to help pull it round and return it to stability. He conveniently forgets that there is only one instance, to the best of my knowledge, where that is happening in the NHS, and it is—possibly, provided it is all finalised—at Hinchingbrooke hospital

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in Huntingdon. That was set in progress not by a Conservative Government, but by his party’s Government, under the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), prior to the general election. To complain about something that his own party’s Health Secretary did is somewhat rich.

Owen Smith: The difference, of course, is that that is one instance in a system where there is still strategic management, planning and control, both at the centre and in the regions. The difference under the new dispensation, as envisaged in the Health and Social Care Bill, will be that we shall have a fundamentally disaggregated, fragmented NHS with more autonomy and with the ability for more trusts to choose what to do. That runs the risk that the Secretary of State will have far less control over those private providers, if they are running franchises.

Mr Burns: The hon. Gentleman can wriggle as much as he likes. The fact is that he has been holed below the waterline. A Labour Government set up the only example in the health service in England of what he said, specifically, it was unacceptable to do. He could at least have the decency to come clean and accept it, and, if he feels so strongly now, he could apologise.

Owen Smith: I am not sure that I am the most celebrated politician being asked to apologise today. I do not need to apologise and do not feel that I am holed below the Plimsoll line, because clearly a very different future scenario is being painted as a result of the changes that the Minister and the Government are pushing through in the Bill. Our grave concern is that the local populace, politicians, and, indeed, Parliament, will have far less control over and insight into what different parts of the NHS will be doing after they are afforded that much greater autonomy. Of course, there will also, ultimately, be a far greater ingress of private companies into the NHS at many levels.

John Pugh: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his argument is an argument for all seasons? He can use it whenever he criticises the Government for something and then finds out that his party’s Government have done it; so he has rendered himself undefeatable in argument, but somewhat meaningless.

Owen Smith: I would love to be undefeatable in argument, but I am not sure whether that is true. However, I will add one thing before I move on. I did not say—this is the principal reason why I do not need to apologise to the Minister—that the idea of a private company coming in and running an NHS service should never be countenanced. I suggested that in the world envisaged in the Health and Social Care Bill, where there will be a significant increase at many levels in the number of private sector providers in the NHS, there is an immediate local concern, in addition to the far more substantive problems of competition law becoming the norm for organising the NHS and, crucially, dismantling it. The local concern is that there will be less control over a greater proportion of the NHS, once we have more private providers. That clear concern is widely felt across the House and outside it.

The hon. Member for Southport touched on how NHS bureaucracy allows tough decisions to be taken. He talked about politicians not being prepared to take

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tough decisions, and about the NHS’s own clinicians, bureaucrats and managers being unable to do so. That needs to be recognised, because there are difficulties with an organisation as big, and arguably as unwieldy, as the NHS, with so many different moving parts and so many different agendas in play. However, as to the labyrinthine bureaucracy that the Health and Social Care Bill will create, with the welter of new organisations—the national commissioning board at national and local levels, consortia, senates, clinical networks in addition to the ones that we currently have, health and wellbeing boards, HealthWatch, the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission—it is beyond this simple politician to see how that much more complex architecture will facilitate easier decision making in the NHS about tough reconfigurations. I just cannot see how it will get easier with far more complex architecture.

I thought that the hon. Member for Southport talked interestingly about how, at a more aggregate level, one might imagine better ways to manage what he called the “dormant surplus estate” of the NHS, which is an interesting point. There are ways in which dormant bits of hospitals and dormant land could be better managed. I have grave concerns about the world that I envisage will pertain in several years, if the Bill unfortunately passes, in which different parts of the NHS will have much greater autonomy in making those decisions, and there will be a much greater risk that the motivation behind them will be financial as opposed to clinical. I find it impossible to believe that the likelihood of aggregated strategic decision making in respect of that estate will be improved by allowing the NHS to break up, as I fear it will. The National Audit Office report that the hon. Gentleman prayed in aid was not on precisely that territory, but it pointed to a risk that always attends autonomy—that it results in less strategic decision making, because decisions are made at a more micro level. That risk clearly attended foundation trusts, and it will get worse, not better, under the Bill.

Lastly, the Minister has talked about clinicians sitting at the heart of the decision-making process. Again, I use the analogy of a labyrinth in the NHS; I cannot see how in that new labyrinth clinicians will be at the heart of decision making. It is a labyrinth that would challenge Theseus, let alone the NHS. Those clinicians will be in the maze with many bureaucrats, some of them perhaps rebadged and shifted from primary care trusts and strategic health authorities into consortia, the NCB or the NCB’s regional arms, and some perhaps from BUPA, Assura Medical or one of the other bodies that will no doubt help to manage commissioning for consortia, and, potentially, for acute care.

In reality, the previous Government funded the NHS from a point where it was on its knees. They tripled the funding of the NHS, radically increased capital spending and raised some of the issues that the hon. Member for Southport has mentioned about the private finance initiative—we could have a long debate about that and how we should reconsider some of those capital projects.

Mr Burns: The hon. Gentleman just said that the previous Government tripled funding on the NHS. Will he share with the Chamber how much NHS funding was in financial year 1996-97?

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Owen Smith: My recollection is that in 1996-97 NHS funding was around £39 billion, and it has now gone up to around £111 billion.

Mr Burns: How is that triple?

Owen Smith: Well, it is not far off. With the greatest respect, funding pretty much tripled—the figure might be £10 billion short, but it is pretty close.

Mr Burns: That is a lot of money.

Owen Smith: Okay, let us call it 2.8 times, as opposed to three times, but the increase was rather large. It was certainly reflective of the enormous need when the Labour Government came to power in 1997, following the chronic underfunding of the NHS presided over by the Government in which the right hon. Gentleman was a Minister. Some of the capital spending and its mechanisms, as I have said, need to be opened up and debated, so transparency ought to be a good thing in that case. That capital investment was undoubtedly required, because we needed new hospitals and investment, which were not provided by the previous Tory Government and which the Labour Government delivered.

In the latter years of the Labour Government, after the 2006 White Paper and, crucially, Lord Ara Darzi and his review, we started to look carefully and in a structured fashion, given the difficult nature of the task in hand, at how clinician-led reconfiguration of the NHS could come about and, notably, at greater integration between primary and secondary care and at delivering more of the services traditionally delivered in secondary and tertiary care in the primary care setting. That was the legacy that we left this Government, who have, with respect, blown it. They have wasted the past year, instead of moving on with that positive heritage. They have shifted into their misguided belief that competition in the health service, as for utilities, white goods or whatever other analogy they want to use, will drive more efficient decision making, innovation and better productivity. The Minister is wrong about that, and that will not happen. I am absolutely certain that that is the case.

In pursuing the illusion of competition, the Minister is running two risks in the reconfiguration and financial agenda that we are debating today. First, the increased short-term risk is of ill-considered cuts and reconfigurations in the NHS as a result of managers with their eye only half on the ball, and, as Sir David Nicholson has conceded, half their time spent wondering and worrying about their personal and professional future. There is a real risk that short-term decisions are being taken in that worrying, troubling atmosphere.

In the longer term, the far more profound risk is that the sort of competition that the Minister believes will drive greater efficiency and the disaggregation of the NHS will result in an NHS that delivers worse, more fragmented care, with more variability in the price paid for care, which is a licence for a postcode lottery. My grave concern is that the Government are prepared to countenance such a future and prepared to take such risks with the NHS.

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John Pugh: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that competition is not a panacea for developing efficiency in all places, but nor was the Darzi prescription, which he has just mentioned and which was written in the same way for everyone throughout the land. My own constituency ended up with a Darzi clinic, which was in the community but actually further away for more people in Southport than the district general hospital—we are now struggling to fill it and to find a use for it. Although I accept that competition is not a universal panacea, there is a problem with top-down prescription.

Owen Smith: Darzi was not only about polyclinics—that they were the principal prescription that he came up with is one of the myths. There was a much broader agenda in play which, as I have said, was about integration and pushing more services into primary care, although not necessarily into polyclinics. All I was suggesting was that the Government could legitimately have pointed to that area as a legacy of the previous Government that they could have picked up and run with—one they could have made significant inroads on in the past year. Instead, they have misrepresented the direction of travel as one wholly driven by a belief in market forces, as the ultimate way to get efficiency in the NHS. That is what led to this wasted year.

Finally, I entirely agree that politicians need to be a lot braver about the NHS. Politicians of all stripes need to take difficult decisions about how services must be restructured and reorganised for the 21st century. The way to go about it is not the Government’s method, whereby they abdicate a greater degree of responsibility for the NHS—pushing it, at arm’s length, to the NCB and others, including the private sector. Nor is it wise for the current Government to have come into office with so many hospitals able to parade a photo of the current Secretary of State or local Tory MPs holding placards saying, “We will not allow this service or that hospital to close.” That was not wise, and it might have sown false hope for some hospitals, which I suspect that the Government will come to rue in future.

3.36 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): May I also say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Betts?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) on securing the debate and on his particularly interesting and thoughtful speech. I have some sympathy with him, but he is right: sadly, events elsewhere on the parliamentary estate are securing more attention. However, I hope to reassure him by saying that this debate had quality rather than quantity.

It is a particular pleasure to have the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) with us. We have got used to him, while in Committee on the Health and Social Care Bill, and he is beginning to invent—or rather, reinvent—himself as some sort of cheeky chappie, who talks the talk that is fed to him by his party elders. One has to admire him because, more or less, most of the time, he manages to stop that smile completely breaking out on his lips—he clearly does not believe a lot of what he is telling us, because it flies in the face of reality. If one needed an example taken to its typical extreme, it would have been his accusations about private managers helping to secure and turn around any NHS hospital,

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because the only example will probably be Hinchingbrooke, which was of course set on its way by the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). We have to admire the hon. Member for Pontypridd for bringing up an example as fraught with danger for him as that.

The subject of the debate is interesting and, as the hon. Member for Southport said on a number of occasions, difficult in many ways. Before engaging in it, however, I pay tribute to those doctors, nurses, ancillary staff and others who work day in, day out in hospitals up and down the country doing a fantastic job for patients. All too often, because the quality of their care for patients is seamless, it goes unnoticed, which is a reflection of the high standards that they set for themselves in providing that care.

We believe that we must have a sustainable national health service in this country—one that can evolve with the times and changing situations, whether medical or financial. The report this week from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility has underlined the importance of the Government’s commitment to long-term fiscal sustainability for the NHS. It also demonstrates the critical importance of responding to our ageing population. Consequently, health funding will need to rise in the coming years, and the Government are totally committed to its doing just that.

As hon. Members know, we gave a commitment in our election manifesto to provide a real-terms increase in funding in every year of the Parliament while we are in government—the lifetime of this Parliament. We have honoured that, and we will continue to do so in subsequent years. The only trouble is that because of the horrendous economic situation that we inherited from the last Government, the available money is far more restricted, because we must take some extremely tough decisions to sort out the mess that was left to us. That has meant that the real-terms increase in NHS funding has been modest, albeit a real-terms increase, and has presented a challenge to the NHS, as the hon. Members for Pontypridd and for Southport said.

Owen Smith: Will the Minister say how much less that amount of money will be as a result of the pause and listen exercise, and the increased cost resulting from the Health and Social Care Bill?

Mr Burns: The answer is no. It is not, “No, I will not give an answer”; it is no to the fundamental question. The hon. Gentleman is aware from previous discussions that the cost of the listening process and the Future Forum was modest, and the impact assessment for the Bill, which he studied, will be updated, as he well knows, when the Bill leaves this House and goes to another place. The current impact assessment shows that the one-off cost of the modernisation and improvement of the NHS is about £1.4 billion. By the end of this Parliament, the savings generated by that modernisation process and the changes will be about £5 billion, and £1.7 billion a year thereafter until the end of the decade, of which every penny will be reinvested in front-line services. There will be a subsequent impact assessment, probably in about six or seven weeks, subject to progress in this House, and if there are any changes or updating we will see them in that impact assessment, and there will be an updated figure.

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Owen Smith: I look forward to it.

Mr Burns: The hon. Gentleman says he looks forward to it. Let us hope that he does when he sees the figures, because in my experience he rarely looks forward to anything that flies in the face of his arguments or is not helpful to his arguments, because he finds that disappointing. I hope that he will be disappointed when the new impact assessment comes out.

To return to my original point, the increase in real terms that we will make in every year of this Parliament will mean a £12.5 billion increase in funding for the health service over the lifetime of this Parliament.

The report from the Office for Budgetary Responsibility emphasises the importance of constantly increasing productivity within the NHS and other public services. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in every year of the last Government there was a fall of between 0.2% and 0.4% in productivity in the NHS, which is unacceptable, and ultimately would become unsustainable because we need to generate growth and productivity to drive improvements in patient care, outcomes and the overall performance of the NHS in providing patient care.

As the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Southport said, we embraced and accepted the quality, innovation, productivity and prevention agenda challenge set out by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), which involved savings of £20 billion over three years originally, but we have extended it to four years. By cutting out inefficiencies, and enhancing and improving best practice that can be shared within the NHS, we can make savings that can be ploughed back into patient care.

The extra £12.5 billion to finance the increase in the health service over the next few years will not alone be enough to meet the rising demand for health care and its increasing costs. We need to find savings of up to £20 billion during the lifetime of this Parliament that we can reinvest, and that is the crucial challenge facing the national health service. I am confident that it will meet that challenge over the next three to four years.

The overall strategic health authority and primary care trust surplus of £1.375 billion during the last financial year will act as a sound financial platform for the NHS. Every penny of that surplus should be used to help to improve health outcomes for patients, and to meet the challenges and demands as we move to the new, modernised NHS, subject to approval in this House and another place. The challenge for every NHS organisation is to improve the quality of care that it offers while ensuring that money spent on care is spent effectively and efficiently, because that is what matters to patients and to the public.

The hon. Member for Southport referred to the crucial move to community-based services, which is already happening, and will continue to happen where it is clinically appropriate. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the impact on hospitals of reducing hospital-based activities and delivering more services in the community. That is a crucial area, and a valid issue to raise. As I said, where it is clinically appropriately and when it can lead to demonstrable improvements in patient outcomes, more services should be provided in the community—for example, in GP practices or even in the home. All of us as constituency MPs and those of us with a particular

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interest in the NHS and health care know of examples and more and more practices where home and community settings are being used to meet the demands and needs of local populations, because the vast majority of people in this country would prefer, when it is clinically appropriate and feasible, to be treated in the community in their own homes instead of having to go to a perhaps inappropriate hospital setting for treatment. The QIPP long-term conditions workstream seeks to ensure that patients can be cared for effectively in their home or community, avoiding unplanned, unnecessary and expensive admissions. That is better for the patient, better for the NHS and better for taxpayers. It is also an opportunity for hospitals.

Increasingly, the best hospitals think of themselves no longer as just a physical place of bricks and mortar, but as providers of excellent health care. For example, Croydon Health Services NHS Trust provides both hospital and community services through a number of community and specialist clinics throughout the area. It is effectively becoming a health care trust instead of simply a hospital trust. That is the way for the future.

A considerable amount of the debate was spent on reconfiguration, and I would like briefly to address that. As society and medicine change, so must the NHS. The hon. Gentlemen said that tough decisions will have to be taken, and that people will have to be brave, honest and realistic in addressing the issues. I totally agree.

The NHS has always been responsive, whether to patients’ expectations or improving technologies. As lifestyles, society and medicine continue to change and evolve, the NHS must also change to meet those challenges. As technology and clinical practice get better and better, some services that were previously provided only in acute hospitals can now be safely provided in other places. A local health centre, a GP surgery or even the patient’s own home may, when appropriate, be the setting for health care and treatment that were previously not possible or feasible in such places. That shows how our health care is constantly evolving and improving.

Owen Smith: I hope the Minister will forgive me as I have asked this sort of question many times. Does he feel that in the world envisaged by the Health and Social Care Bill, where there is more competition between different providers in local health economies, it will be more difficult rather than easier for the sort of integration he speaks of to come about?

Mr Burns: In the light of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I will preface my reply by the words, “If he will forgive me.” We have had these conversations frequently—to be polite—during the course of the 42 sittings of the Health and Social Care Bill, and I fundamentally disagree with him. As we modernise the NHS, we are seeking through the Bill to put the patient at the centre of their experience, so that they are totally involved in their treatment and needs, are talked with rather than talked to, and can be part of the decision-making processes by which we are driving up the quality of patient care and improving outcomes. We will ensure those things through a comprehensive national health service, greater integration and far greater collaboration.

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Owen Smith rose—

Mr Burns: There is no point in my giving way to the hon. Gentleman; I have only 10 minutes left and whatever I say he will not accept publicly because it runs contrary to the mantra that he and his hon. Friends constantly spout as they seek to undermine the procedures that will ensure a first-class national health service to meet the demands of our citizens.

Returning to my original point, at the same time as one will see different settings for appropriate care, other services that need highly specialist care will be centralised at larger, regional centres of excellence where there is clear evidence of improved health outcomes. Reconfiguration is about modernising treatment and improving facilities to ensure that patients get the best treatment as close to home as possible, thereby both saving and improving lives. That is an essential part of a modernised NHS, but it should not be enforced from above.

There will be no more impositions of the kind that saw a GP-led health centre in every PCT, whether it was wanted or not. Instead, the reconfiguration of services will be locally driven, clinically led and will have public support. It will be change from the bottom up, not the top down. The reconfiguration of services should—and will—be a matter for the local NHS. There is no national blueprint for how health care should be organised locally, and services need to be tailored to meet the specific needs of the local population. Effective local engagement will ensure that services continually improve, based on feedback from local communities. In an NHS that is built around the patient, changes to services must begin and end with what patients and local communities need. Last May, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State introduced four tests, and current and future reconfigurations must be along the lines of the four basic premises in those tests. Local plans must demonstrate: support from local GPs; strengthened public and patient engagement; a clear clinical evidence base; and support for patient choice. The tests make sure that any changes to health services will be true to the spirit of “No decision about me, without me.”

The hon. Member for Southport also raised the important issue of the private finance initiative. We have seen evidence from around the country of significant problems in a number of hospitals as a result of decisions taken by the previous Government to approve what were sometimes extremely expensive PFI schemes that became a drain on a trust’s annual income. As the Government confirmed at the end of last year, where PFI schemes can clearly be shown to represent good value for money, we remain committed to public-private partnerships, including those delivered by PFI, and they will play an important role in delivering future NHS infrastructure. We also believe, however, that there have been too many PFI schemes, and that some were too ambitious in scope. In addition, we have also had serious concerns about the value for money of some PFI contracts signed in the past.

The Treasury has reviewed value for money guidance for new schemes, and looked at how operational schemes can be run more efficiently. In January, the Treasury published new draft guidance, “Making savings in operational PFI contracts”, which will help Departments and local authorities to identify opportunities to reduce

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the cost of operational PFI contracts. As part of that savings initiative, my noble Friend Lord Sassoon, Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, launched four pilot projects to test the ideas in the Treasury’s draft guidance. One of those pilots was a hospital PFI scheme at Queen’s Hospital in Romford. The focus of the Romford pilot was to find efficiency gains and savings within the PFI contract, allowing the quality of care for patients to remain the top priority. Earlier today, Lord Sassoon announced the results of three of the four pilots, including that at Romford hospital. The Romford pilot showed that savings of 5% could be made to the revenue cost of the PFI scheme.

I welcome the Treasury’s findings, but we have yet to consider them in detail. I understand that the Treasury has now placed updated value for money guidance on its website. I hope that that will help trusts with operational PFI schemes, and trusts that are planning PFI schemes, to make significant savings. Every penny of those savings will be retained by the trust to be reinvested in improving patient care.

Owen Smith rose—

Mr Burns: I will briefly give way for the last time.

Owen Smith: I have a basic factual question for the Minister. Will the results of that survey lead to an attempt to reopen or renegotiate any of those contracts?

Mr Burns: As I said to the hon. Gentleman a few moments ago, the pilot schemes and investigation published by my noble Friend Lord Sassoon show that there is potential within existing PFI schemes to make some savings—I cited the figure of up to 5%. We are going to

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study that report. It was published earlier today and we need time to look at it and see how those savings can be realised within the context of the existing PFI scheme, rather than by reopening it and starting again.

In conclusion, there are many challenges to the NHS, but those concerning finances will be assisted and helped by our commitment to a real-terms increase in funding. The hon. Member for Southport said that the reconfiguration programme must be driven by local demand and needs, and I agree with him. He raised the issue of access to facilities being part of those considerations, and it may console him that I am able to assure him that access will form part of any consideration. Local people will determine where their local services should be placed and, together with a number of other factors, the issue of access should be considered. Such decisions must be determined by what the local community needs and what meets its requirements in the provision of health care. In many ways, such decisions will be determined with the same checks and balances, and with the involvement under a modernised NHS of health and wellbeing boards, and in certain circumstances, the national commissioning board. Overview and scrutiny committees will have the opportunity to refer plans to the Secretary of State.

As the NHS is modernised, the changes outlined by the Secretary of State will begin to take effect and give clinicians and the local NHS greater control over decision-making processes, rather than having politicians micro-managing on a day-to-day basis from Richmond House. That will provide a future for the NHS that can meet the requirements of enhancing and improving patient care and, most importantly, improving outcomes for patients.

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Royal Parks

3.59 pm

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The royal parks are a national asset treasured by millions of Londoners, those who work here and countless tourists from all four corners of the globe. For many, they provide an oasis of peace and tranquillity amid the incessant din of urban noise. For others, they are a meeting place, a venue for team sport, an arena—sometimes, at least—for music and a setting for national expression. Balancing those needs is a key part of the Royal Parks Agency’s job, but there is concern that the balance is getting out of kilter. I have raised previously in Parliament the issue of the creeping commercialisation of Hyde park in my constituency; indeed, I did so as long ago as 2004. However, I fear that the matter is ripe for exploration again, so I am delighted to have had the chance to obtain this debate.

This year, the number of complaints received about concerts and events in the royal parks has increased markedly, yet in 12 months’ time this nation will be hosting both the Olympic games, when our royal parks will provide a focal point for even more celebrations, and, of course, the diamond jubilee. Meanwhile, the Royal Parks Agency’s budget is diminishing drastically, heaping on the pressure for further commercialisation. In addition, I believe that plans are afoot to devolve some of the responsibility for the parks to the Mayor of London.

The royal parks are owned by Her Majesty the Queen in right of the Crown and were, in the main, royal hunting grounds and pleasure gardens before being opened to everyone for public enjoyment. In 1851, at the time of the great exhibition, the general power of management for the parks was granted to the commissioner of works and now resides under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. In that regard, the parks remain—rightly, in my view—a national treasure, a gift from the sovereign to the country as a whole. That is despite the eight sites—Bushy park, Green park, Greenwich park, Hyde park, Kensington gardens, Regent’s park, Richmond park and St James’s park—all being within Greater London.

Those 5,000 acres of parkland are important historical landscapes aside from their role in the living fabric of the city that I represent and love so much. Regent’s park is the largest wetland area in central London. Richmond park is the capital’s largest national nature reserve and a designated site of special scientific interest. The parks have historically provided a national focal point and, rightly, will do so again next year, when the Olympic circus rolls into town. No doubt, that event will swell in number the 37 million people who already visit the royal parks every year.

Hyde park, Kensington gardens, St James’s park and Green park lie within the bounds of my constituency and have an especial place in the lives of all my central London constituents. Naturally, few city-centre residents have gardens of their own. Our green spaces provide an invaluable escape—an oasis of calm—amid the urban jungle, but there has been increasing concern that the parks are adding to the stresses of life in the capital.

As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, the Royal Parks Agency relies on three main sources of income: Government grant, self-generated income and grants

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from other sources. During the past 15 years, the grants from the Government—the first part of that three-legged horse—have been reduced, thus necessitating an increase in self-generated income, the second category. The proportion of such income has doubled in just five years to £14.4 million and in the past year funded 46% of the total expenditure for the royal parks.

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): May I say how much I agree with the powerful point that my hon. Friend is putting over about the London parks? May I particularly ask him to elaborate on the complaints that he receives about the uses of the royal parks? Many such complaints are about noise and inconvenience, but there is a terrible cost to the fabric of the royal parks and there is a limit to how much those priceless, utterly unique places can physically take. I applaud my hon. Friend for raising this issue with our hon. Friend the Minister ahead of the Olympics and the diamond jubilee, when we will all want the royal parks to look their absolute best.

Mr Field: I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right. I will elaborate later on issues to do with the fabric of the royal parks. Inevitably, there are concerns about noise, but he is precisely correct to identify that issue. The commercialisation is often concertinaed over a relatively short period. There have been representations not just from me but, more importantly, from all the amenity societies locally to ensure that that concertina is confined to roughly two or three months every summer. However, as my right hon. Friend rightly points out, some of the fabric is ruined for the other nine months of the year. That has to be stopped as far as possible.

The reduction in the burden on the taxpayer is welcome—clearly, these are times of great austerity and the amount of grant that comes from central Government in all areas is under close scrutiny—but tensions have arisen between the need to maintain the parks as sanctuaries of peace and the requirement to adopt a more commercial approach to ensure self-sufficiency. That tension has never been more evident than in the hosting of events in the parks.

One of the greatest money-spinners for the Royal Parks Agency has been, understandably, concerts in Hyde park—the largest of the central London parks. The Royal Parks Agency has for some years held a licence from Westminster city council for the sale of alcohol and regulated entertainment, permitting it a maximum of 13 major events per annum in Hyde park. However, in my 10 years as the local MP, the file of correspondence expressing concern at the commercialisation of Hyde park has bulged further every concert season. Indeed, the number of complaints from my constituents had swelled to such an extent that I was compelled to initiate a parliamentary debate seven years ago to express their concerns.

At that time, I advised the then Culture Minister:

“In recent years, Hyde park has been host…to noisy rock concerts and large-scale, commercially sponsored events…Such activities have led to destruction of the fabric of the park, from which it will take many years to recover…After last year’s Bon Jovi concert, my postbag was full of letters from local residents who could not believe how loud the noise was.”

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Obviously, there are not too many Bon Jovi fans in Marylebone and Mayfair. I continued:

“That applied not only to roads in the immediate vicinity, but to roads in Marylebone and Mayfair. Nor am I talking about one afternoon or evening of mayhem. The erecting and dismantling of a concert site means literally a week of noise and upset to the park’s tranquillity, including juggernauts moving along roads that were not built for such heavy vehicles.”

I said that the previous year’s Red Bull Flugtag was

“the most destructive event the park has ever witnessed. Trees were badly and permanently damaged, and there was a lot of graffiti in the area.”—[Official Report, 25 May 2004; Vol. 421, c. 379-80WH.]

Unfortunately, those problems have remained. There was some diminution of them in the years immediately afterwards, but this year they have worsened. One constituent of mine, Mr Paul Appleyard, a musician and musical arranger, wrote to me at the beginning of this month to report that at 10 o’clock at night, the sound was, in his view,

“louder than a building site whose code of practice requires a cessation of activity after 7pm”.

The bass of this infernal racket was such that the glassware in his flat was being rattled. He went on to say that

“this is not the time to live with closed windows”—

this was in the middle of the brief summer that we had some weeks ago in London at least—

“and even so, the noise penetrates the double glazing. I always thought that parks were supposed to be an amenity for all, not an emitter of noise pollution”.

When I raised similar concerns last year with this Minister, who is responsible for tourism and heritage, he admitted that my constituent was

“not alone in his objections”.

However, the Minister went on to say that the Royal Parks Agency is subject to the Licensing Act 2003, with the number of events that it can hold being strictly limited, and, furthermore, that

“the Agency runs a hotline for local residents during the events season, and concerts are monitored by independent noise consultants as well as a team from the environmental health unit at Westminster City Council”.

This year, there have been nine concerts to date, with two more to follow in September. No doubt, the much-maligned Winter Wonderland will also be returning as the Christmas season begins. On average, there are 53,000 people at such events, although the number can be as high as 65,000 at major concerts. Westminster city council has noted an increase in the number of calls to its noise team in each of the past three years, from 56 in 2009, to 70 in 2010 and to 85 so far this year. This season, the extent of the area affected by noise has also grown, with complaints coming from as far north as St John’s Wood and as far east as Harley street. That is just for events in Hyde park.

Officers monitoring noise levels have noted that although preliminary findings suggest that Hyde park has been broadly compliant with the conditions of its licence, there appears to be some evidence of a public nuisance as a result of concerts. Westminster city council is considering that evidence extremely carefully to see whether the licence for future years should be reviewed or tightened up to improve controls.

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As my right hon. Friend pointed out in his intervention, noise is not the only problem. There is huge traffic disruption, and further problems are caused by the additional number of people using the tube and our buses and pavements. Unsurprisingly, that influx of humanity causes great waste, and the cost burden of dealing with it falls largely on Westminster city council. In the relatively recent Live Aid example, the council committed high core resources to managing the event, but it estimates that there were significant additional financial costs over those 10 days. As a result, the council’s cabinet member for city management, Councillor Ed Argar, wrote to the Royal Parks Agency to highlight the burden to the local taxpayer.

Similar concerns have been expressed by the council’s planning department. Under the regulations, event operators are permitted 28 days per annum for temporary events without having to apply for planning consent. The council fears that that provision is regularly breached. As a result, residents are not consulted under the planning process about events being held in the parks.

The council has also been approached about the potential erection of advertisement hoardings in the parks. Although it accepts the need to generate income in the current economic climate, it has concerns about the potential impact of over-commercialisation. Has the Minister’s Department noted an increase in the number of complaints? Has he had recent discussions on such matters with representatives of the Royal Parks Agency, and does he plan to review current procedures to mitigate the impact of concerts on residents and the fabric of the parks?

For several reasons, this is an opportune moment to discuss these issues. First, the budgetary pressures on the Royal Parks Agency are now huge. The headline cut in grant-aid for the Royal Parks Agency under the comprehensive spending review is some 23%. However, combined with a 10% cut this year to give a 36% cut over five years, the equivalent loss to the agency is about £5.5 million a year. The agency’s capital budget will be cut, with immediate effect, by about 45%. That is an extremely serious reduction in resources for our parks, and the agency will doubtless be looking for ways to make up that loss. Further commercialisation is clearly one option. Chris Green of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s public engagement and recognition unit has already advised that the agency will be developing commercial income streams at a time of reduced Government grant.

Secondly, we are fast approaching the London Olympics. I have no doubt that the parks will be called upon to host all manner of events. I received a letter this morning from Carolyn Dicker of the residents association of St George’s Fields. She is particularly concerned about the impact that proposed Olympic events in Hyde park will have on her community on the Bayswater road, which is only a stone’s throw away from the park. It is a worry that what should be a great national celebration should have a considerable negative impact.

I am well served by a number of amenity associations and local residents, who also serve the whole community. They represent the community’s interests to the Royal Parks Agency on such matters. One such group, the Knightsbridge Association, has alerted me to its concerns about the extent of the Olympic programme in July and August in central London next year and its impact on the amenities of the royal parks.

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Live Nation is currently consulting about London Live, when large outdoor screens, free of charge, will be set up in some of the parks. London Live will operate from 28 July to 11 August in Hyde park, with an additional nine concert events and three paid-entry shows. It will be set up on 2 July, and all temporary structures will be removed completely by 24 August. Core hours of operation will be 10 am to 11 pm, but events may begin as early as 7.30 am to accommodate the sporting schedule. It is anticipated that 50,000 people will visit the site at any one time, increasing up to 80,000 for events such as the opening and closing ceremonies.

It is probably appropriate for me to note that no Member from the Greenwich area is here today, but what is happening in Greenwich park is a crying shame for local residents. The park is not in my constituency, but I have visited the area during the last six weeks. Much of the park is already cordoned off; a huge amount of work has been done in advance of the equestrian events. That will have a massive impact on the amenity for local people, who live in a congested part of south-east London. However, it will have an impact not only in July and August 2012; it has already begun, and it will last for two full summers.

Nicholas Soames: I am lucky enough to have tickets to the wonderful three-day event in Greenwich, with its astonishingly beautiful backdrop, but there was a realistic, sensible and, in my view, much wiser campaign to hold it in Badminton or Windsor, or somewhere where it would have been far out of the way and much less inconvenient for those who live nearby.

Mr Field: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. I hope that he also has tickets for the beach volleyball and perhaps other events in which he can partake in the coming year.

Noting that the monitoring of crowds and crowd dispersal was completely inadequate during recent concerts, the Knightsbridge Association is anxious for improvements to be made in time for the Olympics. In previous years, concerts were handled by a minimum of some 200 police officers, but the police were not involved this year. Leaving that to the stewards and marshals employed by the concert organisers resulted in chaos.

The association suggests much better directional signs for tube stations and bus routes. In fairness, I give some credit for that not only to the Government but to Westminster city council. The council has done a tremendous job in improving the amount of signage. Those, like me, who walk in central London will see the huge benefits of improved signage, and I hope that it will continue. I suspect that that might not all be done quickly enough for the Olympics, as it is an ongoing programme, but it is greatly to the credit of the Minister’s Department. It has also been noted that the closure of Park lane causes gridlock for several hours at a time, and I believe that its closure during the Olympics is unacceptable. I hope that the Minister will try to ensure that that eventuality is avoided. People in Knightsbridge and beyond naturally share the council’s concerns about litter, noise and damage to the park’s fabric.

Thirdly, there have been concerted moves in the past couple of years to bring the Royal Parks Agency under the jurisdiction of the Greater London authority. The

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Minister will know that we have been in constant correspondence on the matter over the past year. It is argued that giving that additional responsibility to the Mayor of London would make the Royal Parks Agency more accountable and would fit well with the Mayor’s existing responsibilities for tourism and the environment. However, I have expressed serious concerns about the safeguards that would need to be put in place if such a move were to go ahead.

It was originally thought that the transfer of power would be legislated for under the Localism Bill. I made clear to the Minister personally my deep concern that that was inappropriate legislation for making such a change. As I suggested earlier, the royal parks are a national asset and must be treated as such. Westminster city council shared my concerns, but for different reasons.

The proposals would have provided the Mayor with extensive powers, without offering any real influence to the boroughs in which the parks are located. The council regarded that as a lost opportunity, given the risk of not securing greater democratic influence over the management of the parks in future. The boroughs already manage a number of matters in connection with the parks, including planning consent, noise and licensing. They contend that it makes sense for councils to be involved more closely, not least as they have experience of balancing the varied needs of residents, visitors and businesses.

I am grateful to the Minister for the fact that the concerns that I expressed have been taken on board—the provisions are no longer in the Localism Bill—but I remain to be convinced that responsibility should be transferred to the Mayor. I appreciate his press release yesterday; it is something of a halfway house, but I hope that it will keep most people relatively happy. Nevertheless, I want to put those concerns on the record. I accept that the transfer will occur only if a number of safeguards are firmly in place; it is unlikely to be formalised legislatively. I therefore wish for the Minister’s reassurance on two points.

First, I am concerned that any Mayor, particularly one in the mould of Ken Livingstone, who was Mayor for the eight years before 2008, might be tempted to use the parks to promote populist causes to the long-term detriment of their fabric. Mayors might also view the parks as an expandable source of income, leading to yet more commercialisation. I should therefore like to see explicit safeguards to limit the expansion of the existing commercial events programme, to preclude any Mayor running a wide variety of free events in the parks and to prevent the Mayor from granting permission to other groups to host their own events and festivals in the parks. The royal parks are for everyone—residents, workers, visitors and tourists alike—and should not be annexed on a regular basis for other causes.

Secondly, if the devolvement of such a power comes to pass, I believe that active local amenity societies should be given a place on the board. For Hyde park, that applies to the Friends of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and to similar high-profile groups near other parks. Constituents of mine who live on the boundaries of the royal parks are most affected by their development. I believe that residents and those involved in the voluntary upkeep of our parks must be given a voice beyond that provided by the Mayor in his capacity as an elected, accountable representative for all Londoners.

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As someone who has served on a local authority—I was a councillor for the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea for eight years and vice-chairman of the Holland park committee for some of that time—I know that there is a danger in assuming that busy local councillors can be given another responsibility. A councillor might have a great passion for a park, but that does not provide us with the democratic safeguard that we need. Such powers need to be put in place within resident associations and amenity societies.

Jonathan Lord (Woking) (Con): My hon. Friend spoke eloquently about who should be in charge of the royal parks, but if I were to press him would he not say that the councils of Westminster and the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea have conducted their oversight role extremely well over many years? They have not been nimby and just looked after the interests of residents but have realised that the parks are a national resource. Does my hon. Friend not think—perhaps the Minister could also answer this in his remarks—that it would be best for the parks to remain under parliamentary or national control but with real local oversight, in tune with localism?

Mr Field: I hope that we are moving in that direction. I agree with my hon. Friend who was formerly the deputy leader of Westminster city council and so has more than a passing interest in these matters. Managing the royal parks must involve balancing the range of needs to which he refers. He is absolutely right to say that the local authority in Westminster has done an extremely good job in trying to bring that balance into play. I have a great deal of sympathy for the Royal Parks Agency, as it tries to keep that equilibrium in place in the face of some very difficult economic circumstances, which will only get more difficult in the years ahead.

The fact is that our parks are adored, which is a testament to the great work that the agency does. I seek in no way to undermine that work in this debate. The events and concerts that they host are enjoyed by thousands, including many of my constituents, and have a tradition that goes back decades. Nevertheless, a key ingredient of the agency’s success in the future will be keeping genuinely concerned local people on board. In that respect, I deem it vital that the ongoing issues of noise, litter and disruption are reviewed again and dealt with before the anger swells.

The impact on my constituency in terms of cost to the local taxpayer as well as the diminution of the quality of life cannot be ignored. Similarly, it would not be right if plans to hand over power of the parks to the Mayor were to go ahead without putting in place explicit safeguards to involve local residents and to prevent the parks being taken yet further down the path of a commercial free-for-all. The royal parks are a tremendous gift to us all. The softest voices supporting this priceless asset must not be drowned out in the bustle for reform.

4.22 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (John Penrose): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, looking after us this afternoon, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) on making some tremendously important points. He

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has been assiduous in pursuing them with me during the past year, and it has been tremendously helpful that he has done so, because he has been a useful sounding board for some of the ideas that have been under discussion. I hope that he is content with our direction of travel. I will endeavour to respond to some of the questions that he asked in his speech.

Let me start by marking one really important point of principle, which my hon. Friend mentioned and with which I thoroughly agree. He repeatedly used the word “balance”. Although it is a difficult task, it is essential that we maintain a balance in considering how we deal with the royal parks. He rightly pointed out that parks are a priceless and hugely appreciated national asset. They are also used as local parks as well. He gave numerous examples of local residents’ concerns about parks being used in ways that may be appreciated across the wider London area and the south-east, but that might impact negatively on local residents’ use of the parks. There is an inevitable tension between that national role and local accountability. Almost certainly, it has always been thus ever since the royal parks were set up in the 1850s.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the need to balance the importance of peace, tranquillity and quiet enjoyment with the concerns about commercialisation. Perhaps one of the most commercial events that the parks have ever hosted was the Great Exhibition and that was a very long time ago. I suspect that these points are rightly raised periodically because the duty of preserving the right balance will never go away. It is an inherent tension that must be managed according to the needs of national users, local residents and society, as the country changes. People might be willing to accept one kind of use now that they might not have regarded as acceptable 30 years ago. Indeed, if we were to wind forward 30 years, that equation might well rebalance itself. There is a need for constant vigilance and recalibration. We must remain sensitive to the competing needs in the future.

I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are hugely committed to ensuring that the ceremonial and royal character of the parks is maintained. They are not just municipal parks. There is something different about these parks both in their history and in how they are managed now, and it would be a crying shame if we were to put that at risk or to lose that at any point in future.

I am delighted to confirm to my hon. Friend—it is extraordinary that this has not been the case for ever throughout the royal parks’ existence—that in future there will be a representative from the royal household on the newly appointed board for the royal parks. I find it extraordinary that something with such immense royal connotations and a vital, ongoing ceremonial role did not have any kind of official representation from the royal household. It is entirely appropriate that it should.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns about the noise and the rest from some of the events. He mentioned some of the different concerts that have taken place. I can confirm that a number of items have created a few problems this year. The biggest number of complaints came from two different concerts over two nights. On 1 July, we had the Black Eyed Peas, and on 2 July, we had the Chemical Brothers, both of which excited a fair

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number of complaints. My hon. Friend mentioned that not many Bon Jovi fans live in the area, and fans of the other two bands might be relatively few and far between there as well.

Mr Field: May I just put it on record that I am a keen fan of the Chemical Brothers? However, I prefer listening to them in my living room, rather than with many tens of thousands of my constituents at the same time.

John Penrose: I take my hon. Friend’s point. He also mentioned the importance of noise during the set-up and take-down of event stands and so forth. It is entirely reasonable that guidelines equivalent to those used on a construction site should be in place. I will, if he will allow me, ask the chief executive of the royal parks to write to him, detailing how they approach these issues, so that he can see the kind of safeguards that are in place.

Nicholas Soames: I accept exactly the point that my hon. Friend the Minister makes about noise, but does he accept that the grass and physical fabric of the parks are put under tremendous strain? The parks already have a substantial backlog of unfunded repairs, and this sort of use can only make matters worse.

John Penrose: I am conscious of the time, but I accept that there is an inevitable issue of wear and tear on the parks’ fabric. Again, we have to strike a balance between ensuring that the parks are available for people to use and enjoy and that the effects of that wear and tear are dealt with properly.

One of the reasons why we have introduced the new board is to ensure proper and ongoing inbuilt local representation. One of the board’s first tasks will be to create systems and processes to ensure that local community groups, amenity groups and societies can have their voice heard as well as the local council. Clearly, it would be wrong to lock in any amenity group or society because, inevitably, such groups wax and wane and we need to be flexible. Indeed, the new board will have an explicit duty to be flexible. Equally, the board will be required to deliver according to terms of reference, which we will publish to ensure that everyone is clear about them.

Those terms of reference will include the kind of safeguards that will ensure that the royal character of the parks is maintained, that ceremonial events are not compromised and that inappropriate events that would contradict the royal character are not held. I hope that my hon. Friend will see an increase in local representation. He can rest assured that safeguards to protect the ongoing future health of the parks will be put in place, so that these unique assets can be enjoyed for many generations to come.

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GM Food Technologies

4.30 pm

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Betts. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon and to have this opportunity to talk about a subject that is of increasing importance, both to the globe and to this country, and that merits the very highest attention in this Parliament. It is the subject of our food science, agricultural research and in particular the potential of genetically modified food and other genetic and breeding technologies to support this very important sector. If I have time this afternoon, I will say why I believe it is such an important subject and why we should debate it now and in this Parliament.

However, I should start by declaring something of an interest. I come from a farming and agricultural background. I never actually worked in agriculture; that fate narrowly escaped me. Before coming to Parliament, I had a 15-year career in biomedical research in health care. Through that work, I have some experience of the genetic sciences and their potential to deliver good, albeit in the health care sector rather than in the food sector. I also have some experience of the very difficult ethical, moral and scientific issues that new technologies often throw up, and of the importance of Parliament being able to debate those issues properly, clearly, openly and well, and to build trust in an appropriate regulatory framework in order to build public support.

I declare an interest as someone who has worked in this sector and I draw Members’ attention to one or two shareholdings in one or two very small and unprofitable companies. I also declare something of a constituency interest. My constituency of Mid Norfolk is rural. That is not to say that everyone there works in agriculture, but it has a strong rural background and a strong agricultural heritage. We sit between Cambridge and Norwich. At the moment, my constituency is something of a rural backwater, located between those two phenomenal centres of science and technology. What is very striking to me as the local MP in an area where average annual incomes are £17,000, which is well below the national average, is the lack of public discussion about the potential of technologies that are developed in our area, particularly in Norwich at the Norwich Research Park. When I talk to people on the doorsteps about some of these technologies and their potential to do good around the world and in the UK, I am always struck by how surprised people are that we are not debating them and talking about them more openly.

I have also served as a non-executive director of Elsoms Seeds, a small, family-owned seed business, which does not actually have any involvement in GM but has a long and proud history of pioneering seed development in the agricultural sector. For a while, I served as an adviser to the Norwich Research Park. I mention that because, as many of my expert colleagues in the room know, it is something of a centre in UK food science, with the Institute of Food Research and the John Innes Centre next to the university of East Anglia and the Norfolk and Norwich University hospital, where work is continuing on a model gut. There is also some very pioneering work on nutrition and food science going on at the research park. Norwich is something of

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a centre of excellence globally in this sector and I am passionate about its potential to do good here in the UK, including in Norfolk, and across the world.

Why do I think that this technology has so much potential? The answer lies in a very important document, which I commend to all Members present if they have not already looked at it. It is the foresight report on food, written by the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir John Beddington, last year, and it was published—with the most beautiful timing—as we all arrived here in this new Parliament. It issues a clarion call to us all, including to this Parliament, about a global challenge. World population is set to rise to 9 billion during our lifetime, and in that time as a global society we have to produce twice as much food from half as much land with half the inputs, if we are to develop anything like a sustainable agricultural sector globally. I repeat—we have to produce twice as much food from half as much land with half as much pesticide, water and energy. That is a major challenge; it is one that Sir John and his committee have rightly received huge credit for addressing; and it is one that this Parliament needs to take very seriously.

Sir John in that report and many others since its publication have highlighted the importance of our using every tool at our disposal. I am not for a minute suggesting that GM is the magic bullet, or the only technology or even the most important technology to consider. However, as Sir John and his committee highlighted, it is one vital technology in the toolkit. And it seems to me that that global challenge of international development, of helping to lift people around the world out of poverty and of helping other countries around the world to go through a process of agricultural and industrial revolution—which took us nearly 200 years to go through—more quickly and more sustainably is a noble and important calling which we in Europe and the rest of the advanced western world, particularly here in Britain, should be drawn to.

We should be drawn to it not least because as we now find ourselves to be a small, wise, old, poor, public sector-dominated and debt-ridden economy that is looking for ways to drive growth around the world—not just growth for its own sake but growth that we can be proud of, that is fulfilling and that gives this country a sense of its self and its role in a world that is now dominated by bigger and faster-growing countries—it seems to me that drawing on our agricultural heritage and our science base in the life sciences, whether in medicine, food science or clean tech, and exporting that expertise and knowledge around the world to help the next generation of nations is something that we could all be proud of. It would be a part of a growth recovery that would have social benefits as well as economic benefits.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my view that this important debate is somewhat hampered by extremists who describe some of the practices to which he refers as a sort of “Frankenstein food”, generating fear and concern that freeze people into inaction when in fact we should be inspiring them into action?

George Freeman: I could not agree with my hon. Friend more. I mentioned my own experience in the biomedical sector, where I have come across that sort of

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extreme anti-science movement. I hope that in my moderate tones I have communicated the fact that I am not for one moment an extremist on either side. But I could not agree with my hon. Friend more.

Extremism is not helpful in the debate on this subject. In my medical experience, I have seen the extremism of the anti-animal experimentation groups. Nobody is in favour of animal experiments. However, there is an irony that I will share with everyone here today. I am setting up a company to develop predictive toxicology software, to reduce the need for animal experiments. In order to do that, one needs to consult with the people who know most about the animal experiments, to reduce the necessity of those experiments. In so doing, we triggered the attention of the animal extremists, who targeted the company. Of course, of the six people on the board, there was one female, who was the company secretary. Who do people think the extremists targeted? The lone female in her cottage at night. The cowardice—moral, intellectual and physical—of the extremists shocked me then and in this debate today I want to try to initiate an open debate and to invite a proper and open discussion of the issues. As I say, I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter to Westminster Hall, because the debate about it is very important and the matter needs to be aired, debated and talked about. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that GM food technology gives an opportunity for cheaper food and better usage of the land, to try to meet the demand for food that exists throughout the world. Is he aware of the key and critical role that some universities are playing with private partners in the development of GM technology? One of those universities in particular is Queen’s university in Belfast. I have visited the university and I am aware of the good work that it does. Does he accept that that key partnership is important to the development of GM food technologies?

George Freeman: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Yes, a number of our universities play a key role in GM development and I absolutely agree with him that Queen’s university in Belfast is in the vanguard of that, along with the universities of Liverpool, Reading, London, Norwich and Aberystwyth, and one or two other universities in the UK. Moreover, GM is potentially an important part of helping our universities to generate novelty and to put themselves at the front edge of this important area of science. The foresight report frames for us the challenge and the opportunity for the UK. In my own area of Norfolk, when one openly discusses the benefits of the technology for local agriculture, people are interested, and there is an appetite out there to hear more about it.

It might be useful to share one or two facts to help frame the debate. It is worth remembering that commercial GM crops have been grown and eaten since 1994. In 2010, the hectarage of GM crops worldwide was 148 million hectares across 29 countries, 48% of which was in developing countries. Some 15 million farmers, 90% of whom are small and resource-poor, are already actively involved in growing GM crops. The argument is often put that the technology is untried and untested, but I suggest that that is a substantial body of evidence, with

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proper scientific and rigorous monitoring, and I do not think that anyone is aware of any serious problems that have arisen as a result of the adoption of the technology.

It is also worth acknowledging the extent to which it is the developing world that is driving the adoption. On top crops by area, the percentage of global crop that is now GM is 77% of soybean, 26% of maize, 49% of cotton and 21% of canola. The interesting thing that comes from that is that GM crops have a potential not just in food but in fuel and fibre. One of the problems with the debate in the UK is that the extremists take us straight to the hardest point of all, which is the compulsory—that is often the implication—force-feeding of people here with GM food. To my knowledge, no one is proposing that; I certainly am not. I do propose, however, that we should debate whether this country has a role to play in the application of the technology in fuel and fibre, and certainly in food production around the world. That should be non-controversial.

Going further, one could say, “Should there not be choice in the UK, particularly in the health care and the nutraceuticals and functional foods areas?” I think it would be perfectly appropriate—and the idea would enjoy public support—to say, “The consumer should have choice, but what is wrong with going into a supermarket and having on one side the organic carrots grown locally, here in Norfolk, over there the carrots grown more intensively at a lower cost, and over here the rather more expensive cholesterol-reducing carrots that have been grown and bred specifically for a group with particular dietary, nutritional and health care needs?”

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene, particularly as I missed the first five minutes of his speech because I went to the wrong Chamber. I come from a part of Britain that considers itself to be GM-free. Does my hon. Friend agree that unless we grasp the issue of GM in this country we are in real danger of becoming seriously globally uncompetitive and will eventually lose a huge number of jobs and a huge amount of business, along with the ability to influence the debate across the world?

George Freeman: I could not agree more. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I was just about to turn to the extent of the global nature of the matter.

As chair of the all-party group on science and technology in agriculture, I recently had the great privilege of welcoming two people from around the world who are involved in biotechnology: a gentleman from Brazil who specialises in soya, and a gentleman from Uganda who specialises in bananas. No sooner had I given them the warmest of parliamentary welcomes—I confess, possibly with a sense of welcoming people from the Commonwealth to the mother of all Parliaments—than I ate my words, because they had not come to find out what we thought about the sector but to share how much progress and investment they were making, what extraordinary innovations they were driving, the local benefits in terms of food production and productivity, and the health benefits in their countries. In response to my hon. Friend’s point, that is happening around the world in any case, and the question for Britain and

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Europe is whether we want to participate and bring our expertise, insight and science to bear, or sit on our hands and become irrelevant, missing out on all the opportunities that we have touched on.

It is worth looking at some of the global data. I was very struck when I looked at which countries are the biggest adopters. One would expect to see the United States of America at the top of the list, but the next 10 are Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, Uruguay and Bolivia. The fact is that the technology is being adopted rapidly by some of the fastest-developing second world countries, not because they are threatened by global mega-corporations or because they are under compulsion but because the technology offers extraordinary benefits to their rapidly growing populations, their domestic economies and their ability to develop as nations.

Part of my argument is that the technology is being adopted globally whether we like it or not, and it is bizarre that in this country we are getting into a situation in which it is almost impossible to debate the technology, and in which the European Union appears to be encouraging a national framework that countries can opt into or out of purely on the basis of emotional and political rationales—I will come on to that in a minute. As the eurozone teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, it seems peculiarly bizarre not to be involved in this major area of global growth.

I want to look at some of the things that some of the organisations involved have said. I draw Members’ attention to the Food and Drink Federation, which has issued an excellent briefing on the subject. The federation believes that

“modern biotechnology, including GM, offers enormous potential to improve the quality and quantity of the food supply but the impact of this technology must be objectively assessed through scientific investigation. Robust controls are necessary to protect the consumer and the environment; and consumer education and information are fundamental to public acceptance.”

I could not agree more. It goes on to stress the importance of choice:

“However, we believe that the time has come when serious consideration should be given to reopening a free and unbiased debate about the environmental, safety and consumer benefits of GM. FDF therefore welcomes”

the debate today. It also supports the foresight report’s conclusions that we need to produce more from less and with less impact. I am pleased that the report makes a call for the recognition of the role of GM.

Jonathan Lord (Woking) (Con): I am very taken with all my hon. Friend’s arguments, but I think it comes back to the key argument of the need for more food. He talked about some of the extremists who have caused problems, and I am drawn to the analogy of the nuclear industry. There were some extremist arguments about nuclear, but the most intelligent of the campaigners came to realise that we needed an energy-secure and carbon-neutral fuel. Surely there is a similar argument, based on scientific evidence, that can engage those who have campaigned against GM, because of the need to feed the world, particularly its poor.

George Freeman: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, not least because, as with the nuclear debate, people are now beginning to shift positions. George

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Monbiot has done so on nuclear, coming around to admitting that it has a very important part to play in the true green mix. Some early opponents of GM are now convinced by the evidence, and say, “After the number of years and the number of crops that have been grown around the world we really need to change our tune.” For that reason, it is particularly interesting to look at a briefing from the anti-GM campaign, which this weekend is staging a protest in Norfolk against the blight-resistant potato, about which I will say something in a moment. Interestingly, the briefing states:

“The campaign against GM crops ten years ago was so successful that GM almost completely vanished from our fields and supermarkets, and many people have forgotten the issues associated with the technology. But in many other parts of the world peasant farmers have been desperately fighting its spread”—

not very successfully, we might observe. It continues:

“With the renewed threat of GM on the horizon campaigners need to get together again to show the rest of the country…that we’re still here, and we’ve got an even better case than ever.”

In that language, one can hear the lack of rational debate. There is no discussion of the evidence or the latest science or findings. It is an emotional call to arms. I respect people who are concerned about the technology, but rather than ripping up plants, attacking and destroying experiments and hysterically screaming down those who want to discuss the issue, we must engage in an open and rational debate.

The blight-resistant potato is an important example of the potential involved. Many hon. Members will be aware of the groundbreaking work going on at the Norwich Research Park, led by Jonathan Jones and his team. Those who know their potato will know that the average potato crop receives more than 10 sprays of blight treatment chemicals, which are expensive and not terribly nice. That involves tractors, fuel, time and labour. It is high-energy, high-input agriculture. A blight-resistant potato would require none of that, and would have a huge impact on creating the low-input, low-energy agriculture that we all want. Sadly, campaigners will be coming to Norfolk this Saturday to try to stop that experiment. We need more science, we need a more rigorous and open debate and we need proper scientific and evidence-based policy making. I believe that we need political leadership from a generation in Parliament to stand up for this country’s potential around the world, educate the public and engage in an open debate.

With that, I will sit down and allow the ministerial spokesman to share his wisdom with us. I thank you for this opportunity, Mr Betts.

4.51 pm

Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I rise as a poor substitute for my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who is engaged elsewhere in the House, but I have at least some experience in the field as a farmer whose family has been on the same farm for 161 years. I also trained in crop production, so I have some understanding of the issue. Before entering this Parliament, I was in the European Parliament and served on its Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. I was involved in the regulation on adventitious contamination of food by genetically modified varieties.

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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) for securing the debate. When the House debated biotechnology and food security in January, the Minister of State highlighted the over-generalisation and simplification that often characterise exchanges on the issue. Discussions about GM should focus on arguments based on sound science rather than emotion. Therefore, I am grateful for the opportunity to put on record the Government’s position on this important issue.

The coalition Government’s policy is measured and balanced, recognising that GM technology presents both risks and benefits. We are clear that human health and environmental protection are our overriding priorities. We will agree to the planting of GM crops, the release of other types of GM organisms or the marketing of GM food or feed products only if a robust risk assessment indicates that it is safe for people and the environment. The UK’s independent expert Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment assesses all GM crop applications on a case-by-case basis, and that process is replicated at EU level by the European Food Safety Authority. That high level of scrutiny makes the EU authorisation regime the most robust in the world.

We recognise, of course, that GM is a sensitive issue, and we are committed to listening to the public’s views on the development and use of the technology. We will also ensure that clear labelling rules allow consumers to exercise choice. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk noted in his local supermarket, the law already states that if the GM content of any product exceeds 0.9%, it must be labelled as genetically modified.

The Government are in favour of UK farmers having access to developments in GM and support their right to choose whether to adopt them. We also recognise that the economic interests of those who do not want to use GM crops must be appropriately protected. Therefore, we will implement pragmatic and proportionate measures to segregate GM crops from conventional and organic crops if and when they are grown commercially in the UK.

To set GM technology in its wider context, the global population is estimated to increase to 9 billion by 2050. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that global food demand will increase by 70% compared with 2005-2007 levels. That will require a substantial increase in food supply, and we must ensure that that increase is achieved sustainably. As long as GM technology is used safely and responsibly, it could be one of a range of tools for tackling the long-term global challenges of food security, climate change and the need for a sustainable increase in agricultural production.

For our part, the Government recognise that GM has a potentially useful role to play, and everyone concerned about the future of food production needs to take a balanced and evidence-based view. As the foresight report led by Sir John Beddington indicated, we must be prepared to use all available options to ensure that food production keeps pace with demand.

In 2010, more than 15 million farmers in 29 countries cultivated GM crops, covering 10% of the world’s arable land, an area of 148 million hectares, or roughly the combined size of France, Spain and Germany. Those numbers are increasing every year. Given the scale of GM cultivation and the rate at which the technology

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is being taken up, it is vital that the UK has in place robust policies based on sound science and evidence to ensure that the technology is used safely and appropriately.

It is important that all our policies on GM are pragmatic and that regulation is proportionate. That is crucial to encouraging innovation and economic growth in the biotechnology sector and promoting fair market access for safe products. As an example of pragmatism in action, the UK pushed hard for the recent EU agreement to allow a 0.1% tolerance in animal feed imports for GM materials that are not approved by the EU but are going through the authorisation process. That will reduce the risk of whole shipments of perfectly safe grain or soy being turned away and help increase confidence and certainty in the market.

Most existing GM crops have either insect-resistant or herbicide-tolerant traits. Their impact is variable, but generally they have led to increased efficiency and improved returns for farmers. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has commissioned a systematic review of the available evidence on the impact of current GM crops, which will be published later this year. The review will be a useful resource for discussions on the future of GM.

In addition, the Government continue to support the development of safe GM crops here in the UK. Last year, DEFRA approved two GM crop research trials. One was on blight-resistant potatoes, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk, at the Sainsbury laboratory in a constituency neighbouring his. The other, at Leeds university, was on nematode-resistant potatoes. We have also heard about research at Queen’s university in Belfast. As somebody who has spent a small fortune on blight sprays and nematicides, I can certainly testify that such crops would be popular among farmers. DEFRA is currently considering an application submitted by Rothamsted Research to trial an aphid-repellent wheat. All those trials form part of wider projects publicly funded by the Biotechnology

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and Biological Sciences Research Council, showing that the Government are investing in fundamental science in the area and making use of and supporting the UK’s excellent plant science base.

It is no secret that there are problems reaching decisions at European level on the authorisation of GM crops. Only one crop has been approved for commercial cultivation in the last 13 years. To address that difficulty, the European Commission has proposed that member states should be allowed to ban GM crops nationally for non-safety reasons. Although the Government want to improve the current EU situation, we do not think that the Commission’s proposal is the right way forward. It would undermine the EU single market and the principle that regulatory decisions should be grounded in a science-based safety assessment. We were also disappointed by the recent vote in the European Parliament to take the process even further.

We will continue to argue in Brussels for the authorisation regime to function more effectively. In particular, we want the Commission to make it operate as originally intended by voting on authorisations without unjustified delays. If member states cannot reach collective agreement on proposed GM products, we will push for the Commission to proceed via the agreed rules, which allow EU authorisation to be granted in line with the scientific evidence and robust safety opinions provided by the European Food Safety Authority.

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. Media references to Frankenstein foods do not add to the debate; they only frighten people unnecessary. Similarly, we condemn those who seek to destroy trials. Surely those who oppose GM crops should at least see the evidence before forming a decision. I thank my hon. Friend again. He is an advocate for the safe application of science to address the problem of how to feed a growing world population.

Question put and agreed to.

4.59 pm

Sitting adjourned.