9.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Tim Loughton): This has been a good-humoured and well attended debate at a time when the press would have us believe that we are all on beaches taking holidays. There has been a good degree of unanimity, and I thank hon. Members on both sides for some incisive and shockingly well informed contributions. The debate has also been competitive: people were competing not only over who had the greatest increase in apprenticeship numbers, but over how few qualifications they got at school, how early they left school and how they never got anywhere near university or any form of higher education. Some had also experienced redundancy; that is good practice for when election time comes.

This debate is a great tribute to the enormous amount of constituency experience that all hon. Members have spoken about regarding the projects in their own constituencies. That is what we are doing in the time we are not in this place, if only the media would pay some attention. It is really refreshing to see the whole House agree on the importance of the apprenticeship programme in offering a valued and valuable route for young people who want to work while getting training that can support their careers.

It is always difficult, Mr Speaker, as you know better than many, to follow my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, whose opening speech was steeped in, or positively intoxicated by, his perspicacity, his articulation, his sagacity and his commitment. He will no doubt be very pleased that during his short departure for the dinner hour, in which he is no apprentice, I agreed to a great number of visits to various constituencies, including that of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), who will be more than delighted to take up the offer.

Let me make it clear that this Government are absolutely determined to make the apprenticeship programme as effective as possible for as many young people as possible. We want to expand the programme and drive up quality across the board. I take this opportunity to repeat my hon. Friend’s appeal in inviting hon. Members to take on their own apprentices and get involved in national apprenticeship week from 7 February.

Many employers and apprentices are telling us that young people are not receiving enough information in schools about vocational pathways in general, including apprenticeships, or that the information they do receive is not of a good enough quality. From September 2012, the Education Act 2011 will place a new duty on schools to secure access to independent, impartial careers guidance for pupils in school years 9 to 11. Subject to consultation, this will be extended down to year 8 and to young people aged 16 to 18 in schools and further education settings. Under the duty, careers guidance must be impartial, it must be provided in the best interests of the student, and it must offer information on all 16-to-18 education or training options. The new duty makes it a specific requirement to provide information

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on the benefits of apprenticeship options. I encourage anyone with a specific concern to contact my hon. Friend the Minister, along with any applications for visits, and bring it to his attention.

Given the quality of the contributions that we have heard, I will go through those rather than stick to the script. That always alarms officials, but let us give it a go. My hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), who had a 73% increase in apprenticeships in his constituency, talked about young people hungry to learn and achieve. His comments on the welding skills college demonstrated how well our colleges are responding to the new freedoms that we have given them and rising to the challenge in this respect.

The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) spoke about the low numbers of small businesses that have so far taken up apprenticeships. That was raised many times by hon. Members, and it is very important. In response to his point about public procurement, my hon. Friend the Minister has taken up that issue with gusto. He is introducing a kite mark for Government suppliers who have embraced the apprenticeship programme and is providing more information for Departments in their procurement programmes. In addition, ministerial champions are promoting apprenticeship in the context of public procurement campaigns. All those points were well made and, characteristically, my hon. Friend had already anticipated them.

The hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), who had a 53% increase in her apprenticeships locally, asked for details of the £1,500 bonus. Those will be forthcoming early in the new year; perhaps she, too, would like to book a meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), who is Chairman of the Select Committee and who had a 64% increase in apprenticeships in his constituency, made the very good point that quality is the all-important factor. This must be about providing enhanced employability to those who have undertaken apprenticeships, but we must also get value for money. As for the legacy of Train to Gain, a 60% deadweight cost was attached to that programme, so we now have one that is much better value for money.

My hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) has had a 67% increase in apprenticeships; the figures in his constituency speak for themselves. He spoke of the importance of getting good increases at level 3 and of good literacy and numeracy skills; that is why English and maths must be up to a good GCSE standard.

The hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who has had a 55% increase in apprenticeships in his constituency, mentioned the parliamentary apprenticeship scheme and the importance of impartial, independent careers advice.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Chris Kelly), who has had a 67% increase in apprenticeships, offered himself as the Kelly visiting services for any company in his constituency that has taken on apprentices. He spoke with great experience as his own family business has long taken on apprenticeships, before it even became fashionable.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) grudgingly acknowledged the 65% increase

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in apprenticeships in his constituency. He, too, spoke from experience as somebody who has been an apprentice and who became an instructor. He again raised the important issue of procurement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) has had a 70% increase in apprenticeships. It was as though he was name-checking his Christmas card list of businesses, which he did with enormous aplomb and without notes. He mentioned Virgin Atlantic, which runs very worthwhile high-tech apprenticeship schemes in aircraft engineering in his constituency. The hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie), another former apprentice, mentioned the determination of young people to succeed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), who has had a 67% increase in apprenticeships in his constituency, boasted that he had been unemployed. He spoke about the self-worth, values and socialising skills that such schemes give people. He reminded us that youth unemployment is not a new phenomenon, but that it started going up drastically from 2004.

In response to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning assures me that he has been in constant talks with the devolved Administrations over these schemes. As the hon. Gentleman said in relation to educational achievements in Northern Ireland, there are things that we can learn from each other. We need to share and disseminate best practice.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) made a very good point about the Babcock training centre. She also spoke about getting apprentices into schools to ensure that pupils know what apprenticeships are about. There is almost an apartheid system whereby one either goes to university or does not go to university. However, there are many worthwhile and often lucrative options in between. We need to ensure that our young people have those options before them as early as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) boasted that with a 68% increase in apprenticeships, he was the winner in the raffle of training opportunities. He was wrong, because my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) has had an increase of 109% in her constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Burton also boasted that he had not been to university, but perhaps a little more maths experience would not go amiss. He, too, invited my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning to visit, because apparently the principal of Burton and South Derbyshire college is eager to embrace him. I hope that he has long arms and I warn him that my hon. Friend is not partial to continental kissing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) has had a 38% increase in apprenticeships in his part of the world. He spoke about SMEs and the low rate of take-up. That is something that we must get on to. He also talked about how high tech agriculture has become—this debate is not just limited to the traditional manufacturing industries.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who has had a 71% increase in apprenticeships, mentioned what a strong role MPs have to play. I echo that. We can all do a good job of getting our local businesses to engage with this programme.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris)—I am determined to get through all the hon. Members who spoke—has had an 81% increase in apprenticeships in his constituency. He made the important point that the inflexibility of health and safety constraints can be a deterrent to people getting more involved in the apprenticeships programme.

As I said, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea has had an increase of 109% and is the winner this evening. I confirm that my hon. Friend the Minister has been liaising with the deputy mayor on the programmes that she mentioned. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who I hope will also be the next Mayor of London, has thrown himself into the apprenticeships programme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) also boasted about leaving school early and not going to university. He reminded us that youth unemployment did not start under this Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile), who has had a 41% increase in apprenticeships, rightly spoke about aspiration and how we need to take basic skills into the workplace.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), who has had a 41% increase in apprenticeships, went to university at the age of 48 and studied politics. He did not tell us whether he passed, but he ended up here anyway. He made a practical point about enterprise zones and the funding of apprenticeships.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham)—plus 35%—is a trailblazer of the parliamentary apprenticeship scheme, and he mentioned practical measures such as apprenticeship fairs and DVDs to promote apprenticeships.

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My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), who has had a 48% increase in apprenticeships, talked about the mismatch between skills and jobs, and again gave examples of great stuff that is going on. My hon. Friends the Members for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray)—plus 10%— and for Witham (Priti Patel), with plus 68%, also gave good, practical examples. This has been an excellent debate, so well done—

10 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).


NHS Services in Blackpool South

10 pm

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): I have the pleasure and honour of presenting to the House a petition of more than 1,000 people from Blackpool South.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Blackpool South,

Declares that the Petitioners are concerned that the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill, with its proposed changes to the NHS, will adversely affect NHS services for residents across Blackpool South.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to amend the Health and Social Care Bill so as to secure existing levels of funding and service provision for NHS patients in Blackpool South.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


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Mental Health Unit (Burton)

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

10.1 pm

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this important debate today. Although this issue may not be big news nationally, it is incredibly important for the people of Burton and east Staffordshire. If we want to make Parliament more relevant and debate the issues that matter to people, debates such as this one, which is about a key local facility, will do a great deal to enhance the House’s reputation for being in touch with real people and their concerns.

I speak about the Margaret Stanhope centre, a very important mental health facility that is much loved and valued in Burton, east Staffordshire and south Derbyshire. South Staffordshire primary care trust is consulting on the closure of the centre, which would mean the loss of 18 acute beds and eight elderly care beds in the facility.

I have been a Member of Parliament for some 18 or 19 months now, but I have not seen an issue that has united people in the way that the campaign to keep open the Margaret Stanhope centre has. At this point, I should like to pay tribute to two gentlemen who are in the audience today, Dr Matt Long and Mr Gerald Chatfield. They have been at the forefront of the SOS—“Save our Stanhope”—campaign, and they have worked diligently and tirelessly to bring the threat of the closure of the Margaret Stanhope to the attention of people in Burton.

I should also mention the invaluable contribution of the Burton Mail, a well respected local newspaper that covers both east Staffordshire and south Derbyshire. It has led the campaign and represented the views of local people extremely well having brought the matter to their attention. I pay particular tribute to the reporter Adrian Jenkins, who has doggedly sought out the facts, and Mr Kevin Booth, who, in his time as editor of the Burton Mail, has turned it into a campaigning newspaper that is properly representative of local people.

The PCT has failed to take account of the grave impact that closing the Margaret Stanhope centre will have on mental health provision across Staffordshire and south Derbyshire. Losing those 18 acute beds and eight elderly beds will leave us with 20 acute beds and 11 elderly beds at the George Bryan centre in Tamworth, and a further 50 acute beds and 26 elderly beds at the St George’s hospital in Stafford, giving a total of 70 acute beds and 37 elderly beds for the whole area covered by the South Staffordshire PCT. I have done some research into this issue, and I have come across an important report that the Audit Commission produced in March last year. That report looked at the provision of mental health in-patient beds at 46 mental health trusts across the country, giving a snapshot of a large number of mental health providers up and down the country. That evidence showed that the median number of beds per 100,000 people was 27.5, yet in south Staffordshire, which has a population of 606,100, we currently have 88 acute beds.

I was rebuked by the Minister earlier for not having very good maths—[ Interruption ]—the Minister in the previous debate—but I have done the maths and I have

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had it checked. It shows that the figure for south Staffordshire equates to 14.5 per 100,000. Why should my constituents—people covered by the South Staffordshire PCT in east Staffordshire and across Stafford—be satisfied with the provision of less than half the median number of beds provided to other constituents and residents across the country? My residents think that that is simply not acceptable and they are saying no to that provision.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this matter to the Chamber. Has any consideration been given in his investigations to the impact on the families of those who would be in those beds, but who suddenly do not have them and will now be at home? What will happen with care in the community for them?

Andrew Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, which I hope to come to later in my speech. He has served his community well over many years and he properly understands the needs of families, particularly the most vulnerable in our society.

Removing those beds from the Margaret Stanhope centre will bring the median down to 11.5 per 100,000 people, compared with the median of 27.5 across the country. That is putting lives at risk, and we are not prepared to put up with it in east Staffordshire.

The Audit Commission report also talked about occupancy rates, saying that the median occupancy rate across those 46 trusts was 90%. I requested the occupancy rates from South Staffordshire PCT—I think it took five weeks to winkle, or drag them, out of the PCT. I was provided with the figures for April 2010 to August 2011. I examined them and found that, with the beds at the Margaret Stanhope centre still in place, the occupancy rate across the PCT was 87%.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): This debate gives me such a sense of déjà vu, because a few weeks ago I initiated a debate about how Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which has a bed occupancy rate of over 90%, wants to close 35% of its acute beds. Like my hon. Friend, it took me a long time to get the statistics from the trust. When I asked for them to broken down in a different way, the breakdown showed twice as many beds being vacant as the first lot of calculations did. In other words, the trust has not got a clue what its own statistics add up to, yet it is intent on closing beds. Accurate statistics must be central to any consideration, and I think that my hon. Friend and I ought to go and see the Minister about this, if he would be willing to see us.

Andrew Griffiths: My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. He has been vociferous in campaigning on behalf of his local residents—as I am attempting to do—and I share his concerns. None of us is a backwoodsman, and none of us wants to ignore the facts, but the facts that are being presented to us by the PCTs are not the facts. When we dig down and look at the assertions that the PCTs are making, they simply do not add up. I shall give the House further evidence of that later.

For the six months during which we were able to examine the occupancy rate, we found that it was already more than 90%. In June 2010, it exceeded 100%, yet the

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PCT is telling us that it can safely remove those 18 beds from Margaret Stanhope with no impact on mental health provision in my community. I simply do not accept that.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and getting the Minister here to listen to it. I also want to praise the campaigning work of Dr Long, Mr Chatfield and the Burton Mail. My constituency of South Derbyshire is a neighbour of east Staffordshire, and we do not have a hospital. My constituents have to travel either to Derby or to Burton, and my southern villages are covered by the South Staffordshire PCT, which is why my hon. Friend and I have come together on this important issue. It is outrageous that one of the excuses that the PCT is putting forward is that people want care in the community. What people want is respite care, and that is why it is so important that the unit should stay open.

Andrew Griffiths: My hon. Friend has been brilliant and steadfast in standing alongside me in my attempt to keep open this valuable facility, and I pay tribute to her for that.

Time is moving on, and I want to get to the facts. We extrapolated what the occupancy rates would have been if the Margaret Stanhope centre had been removed. We found that there would have been an average of 113%, and that in June 2010, it would have been 130%, which is a third more than the 100% that I just mentioned. The PCT tries to argue that in-patients can be cared for in their own homes, but I can prove that that is simply not tenable. In an interview in the Burton Mail, the consultant psychiatrist to the PCT, Abid Khan, who is also the clinical director of adult mental health services at the South Staffordshire and Shropshire NHS Foundation Trust said that he had reduced in-patient stays “by a third”. That is a direct quote. He also cited an independent report undertaken by Staffordshire university.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) will know, that same report was cited at a passionate public meeting held at the Pirelli stadium in Burton. The report stated that the crisis resolution team could reduce in-patient stays by a third. I asked to see that report. It was also requested by Dr Matt Long, and, after a great deal of fighting, Dr Long managed to get hold of it. We discovered that, far from being independent, it had been produced by Professor Eleanor Bradley, who works not only for Staffordshire university but for the NHS trust. The PCT was claiming that the report was independent, yet it had been produced by someone who was on its payroll. Abid Khan talks about the one third reduction in patient stay, yet when we examine the figures we find that stays over 91 days have been reduced from 39 to 23 days—a reduction, even according to my maths, of about a third—but those between two days and 90 days, which are the vast majority, went down from 524 to 518, a reduction of only six. One-day admittance went up from 48 to 50.

The PCT claims in aid an independent report that is not independent, which states that in-patient stays were reduced by a third, when it is clear that they were not. The PCT expects people to accept the closure of this much-loved facility on the basis of dodgy figures. I put

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it to the Minister that a PCT cannot be allowed to conduct a consultation in this way, because the consequences are too dangerous to contemplate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has spoken about the impact on families. We all know that families are hugely important in helping people back into mental health well-being and can act as a huge tonic and support. For those who have to go to St. George’s in Stafford, it is a 27-mile trip one way. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire says from a sedentary position that there is no bus from South Derbyshire. That is true. It is 47 minutes by car from Burton. It is an hour on the train, costing £13.50 for a return ticket; then there is a seven-minute bus ride, costing a further £3.50, and a seven-minute walk. A family member wanting to visit a son or daughter, a husband or a wife would face a two and a half hour round trip. It would cost £117 a week or £470 a month. These are some of the most vulnerable people in society, but the PCT thinks it can overcrowd the beds, force people to travel those distances and still provide mental health care that is adequate. I say no—and, more importantly, the people of Burton and South Derbyshire say no.

As a result of the work of Dr Long and of the Burton Mail, 7,500 people have signed a petition to keep the Margaret Stanhope centre open. I have cross-party support for my efforts. East Staffordshire borough council passed a resolution in which every single member united in support for the Margaret Stanhope centre, with Labour councillor standing next to Conservative councillor and the mayor of East Staffordshire, Patricia Ackroyd, manning the battle lines in cold, wet and miserable weather to get people to sign the petition.

I want to make one last point that relates to other services. We all know that people experiencing mental breakdown can often be a danger to themselves or to others. We recognise that the police are at the forefront of dealing with people—it might be a small number—who experience the most acute breakdowns. People often break down in the middle of the night and at the most inconvenient times; they can be a danger to themselves and a danger to their families. Currently, if the police are called to someone at 2 am or 3 am on a Friday or Saturday night, they will try to calm the person as best they can and take them to the Margaret Stanhope centre because they know that the person will get the proper care and support that they need.

I believe that if the Margaret Stanhope centre closes, the police will be faced with two options. Two police officers—they have to travel in pairs—will have to travel all the way to Stafford or Tamworth to drop off a vulnerable person and then come all the way back, which will probably take them out of action for two or three hours. Even worse, however, a vulnerable person might be put in a police cell overnight until the crisis team can come to them. We cannot allow vulnerable people in acute mental breakdown to spend a night in the cell. That is simply not acceptable.

I am hugely grateful, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to bring this debate to Parliament. I know—I had a text earlier from someone saying, “Andrew, will you straighten your tie?”—that people are watching this debate on television in Burton. I know that there is interest in the issue, because I know that the people of Burton and South Derbyshire care passionately about it. The Margaret

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Stanhope centre has saved lives. It has rebuilt lives. People throughout my constituency owe a debt of gratitude to the magnificent people who work in this institution, and I owe it to them—and the House owes it to them—to ensure proper consideration.

I will leave the House with the words of one of my constituents, who came up to me on one of those mornings when we were collecting signatures in the high street in Burton in the pouring rain. She said that she had had cause to go to the Margaret Stanhope centre, and that when it happened she was married and had two children. She did not know where she was when she arrived at the centre. She did not know whether she would live through the day, and she did not know whether she wanted to live through the day. But she now knows that the care and compassion of the people in the centre, and the love and support of her family who were able to visit her every day, allowed her to rebuild her life, to go back to society and to work, and to go back to being someone of whom her family could be proud.

It is people such as that whom we are here to support today. I hope that the Minister will accept that, and will help us in our campaign to keep the Margaret Stanhope centre open.

10.21 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Paul Burstow): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) on securing the debate and on making his points so clearly on behalf of his constituents. I also congratulate him on demonstrating why Adjournment debates are so important: they give Members in all parts of the House an opportunity to bring issues to the attention of the public, and also to serve their constituents by bringing issues to the House in a way that requires Ministers to be accountable.

I am aware, from what my hon. Friend has said this evening also from my preparation for the debate, of the strength of feeling in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I noted his description of the contribution made by his local newspaper, the Burton Mail, in leading the campaign at local level. The 7,500 signatures to the petition that have been collected so far are an impressive indication of the extent of public support and concern.

Let me say a little about the national policy context, some of which I have said on other occasions. In February this year we published our mental health strategy, “No health without mental health”, which I commend to Members in all parts of the House and, indeed, to my hon. Friend’s constituents. Let me now make two specific points. First, we expect the treatment and care of patients to be provided in the environment that is most appropriate and therapeutic for the patient. Acute beds should of course be available for those who need them, and those in charge of services should always consult on the needs and wishes of patients when making decisions about community or hospital-based treatment. Indeed, 10,300 new patients with an early diagnosis of psychosis were engaged with early intervention in psychosis services this year, the largest number ever recorded.

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A number of Adjournment debates in recent weeks have raised the issue of data on bed occupancy and the definitions on which they are based. I will not undertake to arrange a meeting, but I will undertake to ensure that work is done in the Department, which I will examine, to establish how well the data are collected and how clear they are.

Dr Julian Lewis: I am very satisfied with the Minister’s offer, but may I suggest that the Audit Commission—the only organisation that seems to produce reliable figures—has a chance to look at what we have discovered in our trusts? As I have said, the figures that are given to us are not reliable where I am, and, as I have heard tonight, they are not reliable where my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) is either.

Paul Burstow: I will certainly try to ensure that the data sets that we have are robust, although the future of the Audit Commission is perhaps a moot point in tonight’s debate.

Let me now deal with the local situation outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton and, in particular, the proposals relating to the Margaret Stanhope centre. It is important to stress that the proposals are currently the subject of public consultation, notwithstanding some of the concerns about the process that have been outlined.

Andrew Griffiths: I thank the Minister for speaking so well about our concerns, but we have little faith in the PCT and the way in which it has conducted itself in this consultation. A rumour is gathering pace in my constituency and locally that the PCT is now going to extend the consultation period past next month’s closing date, for perhaps another three or six months. I and many of my constituents believe that would be a cynical attempt to buy time in order for the furore to die down so that the PCT can plough on regardless of public opinion. Does the Minister agree that as all the facts are now on the record, the PCT must make a decision on the facts as presented and the time scale as already laid out?

Paul Burstow: I will certainly give some further consideration to that. I am not sure that I am in a position to give my hon. Friend the undertaking he wants tonight, but if new issues arise it is in the public interest to make sure they are properly understood. My hon. Friend has rehearsed a number of the key issues this evening, and although he is right that consideration is being given to extending the consultation period, that is not for quite as long, as he suggested. I believe the PCT has decided to extend it by three to four weeks. It must do that, as the public and my hon. Friend must have confidence in the process. I am sure that he will understand that in responding tonight what I cannot, will not and must not do is come down on one side or the other on the options being canvassed in the consultation or express a preference as to its outcome. As he will know, there are clear requirements in law in respect of significant service changes that ultimately allow for reference to the Secretary of State, and I must avoid fettering the discretion the Secretary of State might in due course have to exercise.

Staffordshire Local Involvement Network—the LINk—is overseeing this consultation, and it has facilitated sessions after the presentations at public meetings. It has not

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involved anyone from either the PCT or South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. The LINk will also oversee the analysis of the consultation, to ensure its results are presented objectively. There is an independent element, therefore. I hope that goes some way towards reassuring my hon. Friends who have spoken tonight.

Travel has been mentioned in passing, and it is an important issue. When PCTs and service providers consult on service reconfigurations of this sort they must properly consider travel times, distances and journeys. I am pleased to note that, certainly in terms of the environmental impact assessment, those matters have been brought into play, although I await to see from the outcome of the consultation whether they have been sufficiently brought into play.

The local NHS would say that the consultation is about the future direction of in-patient services in the area and further strengthening community services. We must remember that this consultation is not only relevant to mental health in-patient services in Burton, but that it covers Tamworth and Stafford as well.

Although the concerns raised tonight have rightly focused on the Margaret Stanhope Centre, the important wider issue of improving community mental health services must be kept in mind. That is why I come back to the concern about the impact of reducing the number of beds available in the area. There is a dispute between the NHS locally and my hon. Friend about whether that will retard local services’ ability to meet legitimate needs, or whether more investment in community services will meet those needs.

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This has been an important debate because it has allowed my hon. Friend to set out clearly and cogently his concerns. The consultation is not yet concluded and there will now be some additional weeks in which further views can be gathered. Clearly, the campaign being run by the Burton Mail, with the support of many of my hon. Friend’s constituents, will be a factor that the PCT will need to take into account when making its decisions. I am sure that the health overview and scrutiny committee will also want to be satisfied when it draws its conclusions about whether the results of the consultation are safe and sound, and whether it supports a model that does posit the notion that there are many mental health circumstances where the mental health needs are better and more appropriately met in the community, although there is also a need to ensure that there is always a robust in-patient response where that is necessary.

With that, may I take the opportunity to wish you and others in this Chamber the compliments of the season, Mr Speaker? I thank my hon. Friend for raising these matters and I will come back to him on any details that I have not addressed this evening.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Minister for his good wishes, and they are warmly reciprocated.

Question put and agreed to.

10.30 pm

House adjourned.