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Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): I was contacted last week by a constituent of mine, Ruth Murphy, who told me that she had waited more than 40 weeks for an operation that had then been cancelled four times.

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She asked me if that was what we had to expect from a Tory NHS. That is the kind of thing that my right hon. Friend is referring to.

John Healey: Sadly, Ruth Murphy’s experience is more and more common. By the end of last year, the number of people having to wait more than 18 weeks to get into hospital for the operation they needed was up 13% since the previous year.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Like many in the House, the right hon. Gentleman will have received a lot of correspondence from professional bodies, such as the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and many, many others, and they all say that these changes will lead to an unsafe foundation for the NHS. Does he feel that they all want change, but the right change, and the right change is not what will be delivered by the Government here?

John Healey: The hon. Gentleman is right. One of the great tragedies here is that the Government have squandered the good will and confidence of NHS staff that is necessary to make the changes to the NHS that it must make. This health Bill will make making those changes more difficult, not easier.

The Government could have built on the golden legacy and the great improvements that patients saw under 13 years of Labour investment and reform: hundreds of new hospitals and health centres; thousands more doctors, nurses and specialist staff; and millions of patients with the shortest ever waits for tests and treatments. Instead, we have a Tory-led Government, backed by its Lib Dem coalition partners, who have brought in the chaos of the biggest reorganisation in NHS history; wasted billions of pounds on new bureaucracy; and betrayed our NHS with a health Bill that will, in the long run, break up the NHS as a national health service and set it up as a full-blown market ruled, in time—for the first time—by the full force of competition law.

Everything about this NHS reorganisation has been rushed and reckless. This has been a master class in misjudged and mishandled reform—implementing before legislating, and legislating before being forced to call a pause to listen and consult on the plans already in hand. This health Bill was introduced last January. What was a very bad Bill is still a bad Bill. Make no mistake: this legislation will leave the NHS facing more complex bureaucracy and more confusion about who decides what and who accounts for what, and mired in more cuts and wasted costs for years to come.

Risk has been at the heart of the concern about these changes from the outset. There has been a lack of confidence and a lack of evidence, yet the Government are ready to manage the risks of introducing the biggest ever reorganisation in NHS history at the same time as the biggest financial squeeze since the 1950s. These risks were the reason for the growing alarm among the public, professionals and Parliament in the autumn of 2010, when I made my freedom of information request for the release of the transition risk register.

Last Friday the courts dismissed the Government’s efforts to keep secret the risks of their NHS reforms. Apocalyptic arguments were made in court, in defence of the Government, about how releasing the register

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would lead to the collapse of the Government’s system for managing risk. That did not happen when the Labour Government were forced to release the risk register for the third runway at Heathrow. Nor will it lead to the routine disclosure of Government risk registers, because the tribunal’s decision, like the Information Commissioner’s decision before it—both saw the transition risk register—was based on my argument that the scale and speed of these changes was unprecedented, and therefore that the public interest in their being disclosed was exceptional.

The Government have dragged out their refusal to release this information for 15 months. That is wrong. They have now lost in law twice. This is not a political argument but a legal and constitutional argument. It is about the public’s right to know the risk that the Government are running with our NHS, and about Parliament’s right to know, as we are asked to legislate for these changes.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

John Healey: I will not, as I have less than a minute left.

Release of the transition risk register is now urgent, in the last week before the Bill passes through Parliament. It will also be important in the two or three years ahead, as this reorganisation is forced through the NHS. I say to Ministers this evening: do the right thing. Respect the law, accept the court’s judgment and release the register immediately and in full, so that people and Parliament can judge for themselves.

6.50 pm

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): Let me follow on from what the previous speaker said about the legacy of the Labour party by expressing to him my concern about happened to the hospital in my constituency. “We went through the process of meeting patients’ needs.” Well, one would think that if a Government were meeting patients’ needs, they would speak to them to ask what they would actually like. That would be the normal thing to do in meeting patients’ needs: one would want to hear their views. Did the previous Secretary of State speak to the people of Burnley and ask what they wanted within that process? Not a one. Did the previous Government, in their programme to “meet patients’ needs”, ask the GPs what they would like? Not a one.

What did “meeting patient’s needs” mean to the people of Burnley? It meant the closure of our accident and emergency unit and our children’s ward, and their transfer 15 miles away to Blackburn. Hon. Members will recognise from what happened that the strategic health authority and the primary care trust, which made those decisions after taking advice from a gentleman called Sir George Alberti—hon. Members will also recognise from the name that he is not well known in Burnley—did not understand what the people of Burnley wanted. The strategic health authority and primary care trust transferred our A and E unit, which supported 250,000 people, if we include Pendle and Rossendale, and a children’s ward supporting the same number of people, to Blackburn, without one comment accepted from the people in my constituency. That was an outrage.

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We campaigned vigorously to get that stopped. I held a march of more than 1,000 people through Burnley. What happened? Our local MP at the time—hon. Members will probably notice that after 77 years, the colour of the MP in Burnley has changed, and it has changed because of this—[ Interruption. ] A lot longer than you think. What happened then was that our MP was glad to support a change that meant taking a vital service from our town and relocating it 15 miles away. People were having to travel 15 miles to Blackburn after having heart attacks or suffering major trauma in car crashes. An example of a lady—[ Interruption. ] If the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) wants to ask me a question and apologise for what Labour did, I am happy to take it. No? Fine. One lady had a car crash in the Burnley hospital car park—her foot slipped off the pedal and she crashed her car. She was in sight of the urgent care centre that we have now—an excuse for an A and E unit. What did they do? They did not treat her within 100 yards of the accident; they brought an ambulance all the way from Blackburn to take her there and sort out her problem.

Are Labour Members telling me that that is really good, when there is a chance that in future the people of our town will be able to have a say in what they want? Decisions about the health service will be taken by the GPs and the people they represent. If I have a problem I will go and talk to my GP. I cannot talk to the PCT, and I certainly cannot talk to the SHA, which sits in its landed glory in the centre of Manchester, so what is wrong with the Bill? We cannot allow what has been happening to continue, so I disagree with my hon. Friends down here below the Gangway. We cannot delay; we need to get on with it. We need to sort out the problems that we have. We cannot continue with what we have now.

There is a young lady called Rachel living in my constituency who suffers from myalgic encephalopathy, or ME. She has a friend in Blackburn who has the same problem. The friend in Blackburn was given treatment by the PCT, because it was a decent PCT. When Rachel asked the PCT that represents Burnley for the same treatment to help her, she was turned down—for £3,000. I went with her husband and her parents to speak to the people at the PCT and beg them to fund her treatment—I even had a letter from her doctor—yet the two ladies we spoke to cruelly turned us down. Her doctor was keen to do it; he will still do it in Rachel’s case. I support the Bill; let us get on with it.

6.55 pm

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): I welcome today’s motion on the Health and Social Care Bill, because I know how precious the NHS is. We must do everything possible to protect it. I am proud of the fact that the Labour party founded the NHS. In 1997, when we took over from the previous Government, we had to rebuild a health service that was under-invested in and turn it into a world-class health service, which is what it is today. We reduced waiting times and invested in creating a health care system that delivered for patients. On our watch, there were 33,000 fewer deaths from heart disease each year, and we achieved the highest ever level of patient satisfaction. In my constituency we

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have seen real improvements locally and real successes in Tower Hamlets, with the highest childhood vaccination rates in London, improved health for those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, and reduced mortality rates from cancer and heart disease, although there is much more to do.

The Labour party has always been at the forefront of reform where it is needed and where it would benefit people on the ground. As my hon. Friends have already pointed out, we are talking about the difference between good reform and bad reform. My party will always support reform that is good for patients, but the Government’s plans do not offer that kind of reform. I have had thousands of letters and e-mails from constituents—

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): Thousands?

Rushanara Ali: Yes, thousands. I have had thousands of letters and e-mails from constituents—members of the public, as well as professionals—who oppose the Bill.

Jim Shannon: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Rushanara Ali: I am sorry, but I will not be able to give way.

Those people are opposed to the Bill. They have been campaigning and have joined the 170,000 people who have signed up to oppose the Bill. They oppose it because they know that it will damage health care. This Bill will damage life chances; it will destroy the NHS.

In Tower Hamlets we had the first clinical commissioning group calling on the Government to drop the Bill, led by the respected Dr Sam Everington, who said:

“Your government has interpreted our commitment to our patients as support for the Bill. It is not.”

It is shameful that the Government carried on trying to use his name in support of the Bill. Those in the clinical commissioning group are concerned about the unnecessary bureaucracy that the changes will create and about the impact on patient care. They know that top-down reforms and restructuring will detract from their ability to care for their patients. That is what they have said. I hope that the Government will listen today, because in areas such as my constituency, where child poverty is higher than elsewhere—half the children in my constituency live in poverty—and where there is an inextricable link between poverty, health and life expectancy, it is vital that we have a health service that delivers for people on the ground. This Bill will not do that—Ministers know that, so they should do something about it. [ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I do not need any help chairing this debate; what I need is for Members to listen. If they want to have a private conversation they can go outside and have it, and then come back in for the vote.

Rushanara Ali: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

This Bill is effectively a form of backdoor privatisation of the NHS, with up to 49% of beds going to private patients. That will hurt my constituents and ordinary people up and down the country. That is why the Government need to think again. The Bill undermines the very principle of the NHS and the inspiration

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behind it. It highlights the fact that we cannot trust the Conservatives—or, now, some of the Liberals—with the NHS.

Waiting times are expected to go up. Already, between May 2010 and December 2011, they increased by 9%, and that will get worse. The Government need to take these issues seriously and start listening to people. In the east end, inequality continues to be a major concern, and we need to work together to reduce it. I reiterate the shadow Health Secretary’s request that we work together on this. The Government should listen, and they should drop the Bill.

As my hon. Friends have done, I appeal to the Government to think again, to think about the people of this country and to think about the people like those in my constituency who desperately need an NHS free at the point of delivery and free for those who need it. Those people do not need the marketisation and competition that are going to damage the health service. I call on the Government to drop the Bill.

7 pm

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): As in the many other debates that we have had on this Bill, there is a strong sense of déjà vu here today. Opposition Members grind out the same old arguments over and over again to attack the Government. They spin the same misleading, scaremongering lines about privatisation. They proclaim the end of the NHS and talk down the medical professionals and patients who will be empowered by the Bill. They continue to support the bureaucracy that drains vital resources away from front-line care, certainly in my constituency. [ Interruption. ] As he did the last time we debated this, when I mentioned that my constituency had very little front-line local NHS care, the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) arrogantly sneers—

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): At you.

Priti Patel: No, at my constituents, actually. The Bill will bring much-needed front-line NHS resources to my constituency.

We have heard the shadow Secretary of State recycle the same speech from the Dispatch Box like a broken record stuck in the 1970s. The Opposition have nothing sincere to say and, as in every other debate on the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has rebutted all their opportunistic smears and given a robust account of the Bill and the benefits that it will bring. He has also ensured that the NHS budget is being increased.

Opposition Members would have done well to engage constructively on the Bill, instead of spending the past two years siding with the smear campaigns run by the left and its trade union paymasters that seek to misinform the public, play with their emotions and frighten them. In particular, we hear the Opposition complain about the involvement of the private sector in delivering health care, but it is this Government who are getting to grips with the spiralling private finance initiative costs that are crippling many NHS trusts in England, for which the Labour Government were entirely to blame.

I find it astonishing that the shadow Secretary of State can come to the Dispatch Box, week in and week out, and bleat on about the private sector without

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having the courtesy to accept that his Labour Government blew hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash on paying private providers for treatments that they failed to carry out.

[

Interruption.

]

Opposition Members should put away their synthetic anger for a moment and accept that, thanks to the Bill, expensive private sector pay-offs will be a thing of the past. When they were in government, they were enriching the private sector and creating an army of fat-cat NHS managers while failing to support patient care.

Paul Uppal: Opposition Members often try to portray us as callous and uncaring about the NHS, but is not reform absolutely essential if we want an NHS that is free at the point of delivery for our children and grandchildren?

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I mentioned front-line patient care in all our constituencies. This is about ensuring that resource goes to the front line, and that it is taken away from the back office, the bureaucracy and the managers.

Labour’s opposition to the Bill is shallow. Every time we have these debates—[ Interruption. ] We have had 13 years of Labour. Witham was once a Labour town, but my constituents have all woken up to the fact that, under Labour, there was no resource going to the front line of the NHS. Now, we are working across the parties to ensure that the Bill goes through Parliament, so that we can bring that much-needed front-line care to my constituents in Witham town. Labour’s opposition to the Bill is completely shallow, and every time we have this debate, its arguments are exposed as being ever more synthetic and opportunistic, with little connection to reality. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) talked about Labour’s commitment to the NHS. Just as history shows that Nye Bevan introduced the legislation to establish the NHS, it will show that this Secretary of State, through the Bill, has saved it for the patients who rely on it.


7.5 pm

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I want to pay tribute to all the hard-working individuals who work in the national health service, and to Dr Éoin Clarke and Dr Clive Peedell, who have been supportive of the coalition, for highlighting the dangers of the Health and Social Care Bill. I suspect that this will be my final opportunity to speak up on the Bill. I understand that there are only about seven days before its Third Reading debate in the House of Lords. It terrifies me that the Bill, which I have studied intently during its 40 Committee sittings, is going to become law. The Secretary of State is introducing a new health system. It is a system that no one voted for, and it will be unrecognisable in comparison with the NHS that cared for an entire population from the cradle to the grave.

Jim Shannon: Does the hon. Gentleman share the concerns of many Members on the Opposition Benches—and, I suspect, many people outside the House—that the Government will create a two-tier health system consisting of those who can afford to pay and those who cannot? Does not that fly in the face of what the NHS was originally set up to do?

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Grahame M. Morris: That is precisely our fear, and I hope to develop that argument in a moment.

The national health service was established in 1948, against the background of the devastation following a world war. Men and women with a vision for a better, fairer society set in law the guiding principles and values of our NHS. Let us not forget that, during the post-war period, this country faced a bigger deficit as a proportion of our national wealth than we are facing today.

Bill Esterson: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Grahame M. Morris: I am afraid not, as I have very little time.

Those people knew that the value of money would be worthless if it did nothing for ordinary people. Nye Bevan stated:

“No longer will wealth be an advantage, nor poverty a disadvantage. Healthcare will be provided free of charge, based upon clinical need and not on ability to pay”.

In contrast, this Government seem to see any money spent by public sector providers as somehow wasteful unless it is trickled through their friends in the private sector who can turn a profit. I am concerned that their whole philosophy is antagonistic towards the public sector. I was outside the Lib Dem conference on Saturday, lobbying the delegates. I hope that Lib Dem MPs will support the motion tonight.

Andrew Selous: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Grahame M. Morris: No, I will not.

The Health Secretary’s problem is that no one voted for these reforms. He has no mandate, and 24 organisations are ranged against them. He has cited Clare Gerada of the Royal College of General Practitioners as his new ally, but nothing could be further from the truth. She has said that, just because the GPs are being forced to man the lifeboats, it does not mean that they agree with sinking the ship. They really have no alternative.

It has been suggested that Labour left the NHS in a dreadful state. Let us not forget that when the Labour Government were elected in 1997 only 34% of those surveyed in the British social attitudes survey said that they were satisfied with the NHS. That was the lowest level since the survey was started under the Tories in 1983. By 2009, however, public satisfaction in the NHS had more than doubled, to 64%. So, from that starting-point of cutting bureaucracy, decentralising powers and increasing clinical commissioning, we now seem to have an end-point, which is becoming clearer. It seems to be the NHS ripped asunder by competition and private provision.

This Bill is about establishing competition and entry-points for the private sector at every level of the NHS. In essence, it is a Trojan horse for privatisation. [ Interruption .] People are saying that this is not true, so let us look at clause 163, as amended by the Lords, whereby for NHS hospitals and foundation trusts, up to 49% of their treatments can be set aside for private fee-paying patients. That must surely put NHS patients at the back of the queue.

In conclusion, Labour Members are keen to form a coalition with progressive Members who recognise the damage that these so-called reforms are likely to do to our health service. We fervently oppose the reforms as

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set out in the Bill. What we should be doing is talking about how to create a national care service, which would be the next and logical step for the NHS. On behalf of everyone in this country, my party, the Labour party, created the NHS and is now fighting to save it. We are building a coalition so to do. We will fight for the values, principles and future of the NHS well beyond the passage of this Bill.

7.11 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The British public, as I think everyone here acknowledges, have a great care and concern for the national health service. That is not an idle superstition, as Conservative Members sometimes imply, but probably arises because we all interact with the health service when we are at our most vulnerable and at pivotal moments of our lives. Perhaps it happens when we are having our children or when a parent is dying or when we are ill and frightened. It is therefore unfortunate, to put it mildly, that no Government Members have been prepared seriously to engage with the depth of public concern about this Bill.

Let me quote a joint editorial, written by the editors of the British Medical Journal, the Health Service Journaland Nursing Times publications that originally supported this Bill, to which fact I draw the Secretary of State’s attention. They describe the Bill as

“poorly conceived, badly communicated, and a dangerous distraction at a time when the NHS is required to make unprecedented savings.”

That is the consensus within the NHS. Ministers talk about the GPs involved in clinical commissioning groups. Of course GPs are moving forward and trying to engage with the changes—because they want what is best for their patients, not because most of them support the Bill in principle.

I have spoken about opinion within the NHS. As some Members know, my mother was a woman who gave her life to the NHS. She came to this country in the 1950s as a pupil nurse, and she ended her career working in a mental hospital just outside Huddersfield in West Yorkshire. She was part of that generation of men and women who built our NHS in the years after the second world war. In preparing for this debate and thinking about how to cut through the bluster, allegations, counter-allegations and politicking, I thought to myself, “Perhaps I should say what my mother would want me to say”. She was not a politician; she was not the head of a royal college; she was not a manager; she did not work for a glitzy Westminster think-tank: she was just an ordinary woman who was very proud indeed to say that she worked for the British NHS. My mother would have wanted me to say that the NHS is special and that from its earliest years it has been about change and adaptability. She would have wanted me to say, too, that politicians should handle it with thoughtfulness, not engage in party political games, but give the debate the care and thought that she always gave her patients.

I have to reinforce the point about the specialness of the NHS because part of the Secretary of State’s narrative, as this year has worn on, is that the NHS is somehow broken, and only his Bill can fix it. Well, we have heard that the Commonwealth Fund says that the NHS is one of the world’s leading health care systems for quality and value for money, and we know that it had the

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highest satisfaction ratings ever at 72%. Even the Secretary of State said on Second Reading that on a number of indicators,

“including mortality rates from accidents and self-harm, equity and access to health care—the NHS leads the world”.—[Official Report, 31 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 606.]

This is far from a health care system that is broken.

My Labour Front-Bench colleagues and I need no reminding of how special the health service is and how we should respect the people who work in it at every level. We have spent the past year going up and down the country, shadowing workers in the NHS. We have met radiotherapists in Wirral, physiotherapists in Northumbria, ambulance crew in Cambridge, mental health nurses in Rochdale, cancer nurses in Birmingham, hospital porters in Leeds, paediatricians in Bristol and midwives in London. These were different people working at different places at different levels, but from every visit, we heard the same abiding message—“Our NHS is not for sale.”.

The second point that I am sure my mother would have wanted me to make is that from its earliest years the NHS has always been open to change and improvement, as I said. Workers are not opposed to change. Why would workers in the NHS be opposed to change? It is a service where people and science interact. Of course people are different first thing in the morning from how they are when they go to bed. Of course NHS workers are able to deal with change. No one needs to tell a nurse’s daughter that there have always been things in the NHS that could have been improved.

The Labour party is not opposed to change. It was our willingness to change and reform that drove down waiting times to unprecedentedly low levels. Some of the things we tried were so radical that some of us could not vote for them, but it is no discredit to my right hon. and hon. Friends that they were willing to try every lever they could to bring down waiting times and provide a service for the people who voted us here.

Nicky Morgan: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Abbott: Time is against me, I am afraid.

The final thing that ordinary health service workers would wish me to say is that if anything has exemplified the unfortunate practice of politicians of saying one thing and doing another, it is the frequency and vehemence with which the Government decried top-down reorganisations when they were in opposition. In 2006, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron), then Leader of the Opposition said:

“So I make this commitment to the NHS and all who work in it. No more pointless reorganisations.”

In 2007, the then shadow Health Secretary said:

“The NHS needs no more pointless organisational upheaval”.

In 2009, still as Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Witney said:

“But first I want to tell you what we’re not going to do. There will be no more of those pointless re-organisations”.

Then, the coalition agreement of 2010—I do not want to touch on private grief here for Liberal Democrat Members—said:

“We will stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care.”

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We are thus presented with a Bill that is based on a bizarre sort of life support—the arrogance of the coalition leadership.

Now we know that the doctors, the nurses, the midwives, the health visitors, the paramedics, the cleaners, the porters, and the scientific and technical workers will do their very best with this Bill if it becomes law. That is what Clare Gerada was saying this morning: if it becomes law, they will do their very best, but why should they have to see an already discredited Bill on the statute book? Why should they have to see more bureaucracy, which is what the Bill will mean, and why should they have to see billions of pounds wasted at a time when the health service is under unprecedented financial pressure? Government Members have sought to denigrate those who oppose the Bill by saying that their opposition is merely party-political. Of course it is not: we are proud to be part of a coalition of concern about the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband), my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) and for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) spelt out our concern about the Bill. It is extraordinary that we can proceed while the Government are still refusing to reveal the risk register. There is concern throughout the NHS about the fragmentation that will result from the Bill. Government Members say that we are scaremongering—[Hon. Members: “You are.”]—but private sector companies such as Humana and Capita are already advertising their willingness to take over GPs’ commissioning powers on their websites.

The NHS does not belong to the Secretary of State, and it does not belong to the Deputy Prime Minister. It belongs to the people of Britain who built it after the war. The NHS is not for sale, and I urge the House to support the motion.

7.22 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who observed in her vigorous and punchy speech that there was an element of déjà vu in the debate.

I was delighted to listen to the speech of the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband). As I listened to it, and to the speech of the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), I reflected on how odd changes in political fortunes are. Those two were the über-Blair reformers, but it was clear from their speeches—both thoughtful in their different ways—that they had turned away from their reforming zeal. I can only put that down to “what a difference a leadership election makes”.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) on another good and compelling contribution. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and for Witham, as well as the hon. Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle). It seems that in his part of the world they call a spade a spade.

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I must also mention the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), which was at times fanciful, that of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), that of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), which was passionate but, I fear, misguided, and that of the hon. Member for Stallybridge—[Hon. Members: “Stalybridge!”] I mean the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds). I am afraid that I am from the south. I was disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not answer my question about the political allegiance of Dr Chand, whom he prayed in aid, given that Dr Chand has had aspirations to become a Labour candidate. Indeed, I think he even had aspirations to fight the seat that the hon. Gentleman fought, so it was very generous of the hon. Gentleman to mention him.

Let me make clear to the House that no party has a monopoly on caring for the NHS. We all care for the NHS passionately, and I find it distressing when Opposition Members seek to misrepresent the position by accusing us of trying to privatise it. Let me tell them that this party, my party—this Government, the coalition Government—will never privatise the NHS, and let me tell my hon. Friends to reinforce that message. Clause 1 of the Bill gives the Secretary of State a duty to provide a comprehensive health service, and subsection (3) gives a commitment—just as Nye Bevan did in his original Act—that it will be free at the point of use.

Let me tell Opposition Members that what they are saying is scaremongering, that it is unfair, and that it is a gross distortion of the facts. Let me also tell them that shroud-waving does not do them any credit. Pulling out examples that have no basis in proof and are simply intended to misguide and mislead the public is a disgrace—

Andy Burnham: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Burns: No, because I have no time.

I urge hon. Members to reflect—

Andy Burnham: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Burns: No, because I have no time. I have only five minutes.

The right hon. Gentleman was seductive in his speech. He came across as trying to be eminently reasonable by saying that he did not want this to be a party political football. I must say to him, however, that it is he and his friends who have turned the NHS into a party political football, and I must say to them that the NHS is too precious to be turned into a party political football simply for the purpose of trying to gain votes.

Our reforms will help to prepare the NHS for the future, making it more balanced and better suited to the demands of the 21st century so that it has a long and healthy life based on its founding principles. First, our reforms will give patients more choice, enabling them to choose where to go, see who they want to see, and influence the kind of services that they want in their communities. Secondly, they will give doctors more freedom to commission care for their patients, so that they can shape the NHS around the needs of their local

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communities. Thirdly, they will reduce bureaucracy so that money—£4.5 billion of it between now and 2015—can be saved and reinvested in front-line services. Those are the basic premises and that is the basic ethos of the Bill.

Not once during the speech of the shadow Secretary of State, and not once during the speeches of any of his right hon. and hon. Friends, did we hear a single answer to the question of what they would do. I do not know how many Members saw the right hon. Gentleman being interviewed on “Newsnight” by Jeremy Paxman two weeks ago. Some of us live in fear of that experience, while some of us come to enjoy it. Five times during that brief one-to-one interview, Mr Paxman asked the right hon. Gentleman “What would you do?” and answer came there none. That was because the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to criticise and try to scare people in order to win votes, but he is not prepared to confront, in a realistic and meaningful way, the challenges facing the NHS and the way in which it must move forward.

What we need is less carping, less criticism, and more constructive engagement. When the right hon. Gentleman says in his flowery way that he is prepared to engage in all-party discussions there is a hollowness in his claim, because he has no policies to discuss, and can identify no positive way in which to resolve the problems of the NHS and enable it to evolve to meet the pressures to which it is subject.

This Bill, which has been discussed at length in this House and in another place, is the Bill that will move the NHS forward and enable it to meet the challenges of an ageing population and an escalating drugs spend. I urge my hon. Friends to reject the motion and to reject the Liberal Democrats’ amendment if it is pressed to a vote, because neither is in the interests of the health service or those of the country.

Questi on put , That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 260, Noes 314.

Division No. 488]

[7.29 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bell, Sir Stuart

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Mr Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gardiner, Barry

George, Andrew

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Horwood, Martin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Huppert, Dr Julian

Irranca-Davies, Huw

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leech, Mr John

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Pugh, John

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Greg Mulholland and

Mr Adrian Sanders

NOES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clegg, rh Mr Nick

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.

(Monmouth)

Davies, Glyn

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Gale, Sir Roger

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Mr Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pritchard, Mark

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

James Duddridge and

Jenny Willott

Question accordingly negatived.

13 Mar 2012 : Column 211

13 Mar 2012 : Column 212

13 Mar 2012 : Column 213

13 Mar 2012 : Column 214

Main Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 258, Noes 314.

Division No. 489]

[7.44 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bell, Sir Stuart

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Mr Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gardiner, Barry

George, Andrew

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Horwood, Martin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Huppert, Dr Julian

Irranca-Davies, Huw

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Tessa

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Mudie, Mr George

Mulholland, Greg

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Pugh, John

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Nic Dakin and

Tom Blenkinsop

NOES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.

(Monmouth)

Davies, Glyn

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Gale, Sir Roger

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Mr Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pritchard, Mark

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Stephen Crabb and

Jenny Willott

Question accordingly negatived.

13 Mar 2012 : Column 215

13 Mar 2012 : Column 216

13 Mar 2012 : Column 217

13 Mar 2012 : Column 218

13 Mar 2012 : Column 219

London Local Authorities Bill [Lords]

Third Reading

Debate resumed .

Question (21 February) again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I believe that Mr Chope was speaking when we adjourned the debate, and, if I can have his attention, perhaps he will indicate whether he wishes to continue to speak.

7.59 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I was in mid-sentence, I think, when we finished last time at 10 minutes past 10. On that occasion, as we know, we had in the Chamber the sponsor of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer). Since then, he has been unwell but he is back today and we are delighted to see him in his place.

The Bill was first introduced in November 2007 and has since progressed through Parliament, although no one would suggest that that progress has been rapid. If and when it gets its Third Reading it will go to the other place so that the many amendments that have been introduced, largely as a result of the broad-mindedness and good sense of my hon. Friend, can be considered. He is to be congratulated on having put pressure on the Bill’s promoters—the local authorities behind it—to compromise on many of the issues on which they did not, at one stage, appear to be willing to compromise. The Bill is now in a significantly better state than when it first reached this House, because it has been amended in Committee and during the three-hour sittings on Report, but it is still an unsatisfactory Bill for a number of reasons.

I articulated in some detail my concerns about the Bill during the nine hours of debate on a series of amendments on Report, and I do not think I can add much to the arguments I deployed in those debates. We are now left with what the Bill looks like after many of those amendments were rejected but others were accepted. All I shall say tonight is that I am glad we have been able to have a full debate on this issue. I am disappointed that there has not been wider participation among Members who represent London constituencies and that we are introducing legislation that will affect one part of the country while ignoring other parts. There is an issue of principle there that the Government need to address. Having said all that, I think the Bill is in a better state than it was.

Mr Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): We have all enjoyed my hon. Friend’s circumlocution on this matter, but can he distil his arguments into a couple of sentences? Is he saying that he now regards the Bill as reasonably acceptable, broadly acceptable or still unacceptable?

Mr Chope: It depends. It is unacceptable to me but it is probably acceptable to the majority of Members of the House if one has regard to the debates and votes that have taken place. As with much legislation, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. When people in London find that they cannot go to the public toilet they used to go to without going through a turnstile they might ask, “Where’s that come from? What happened

13 Mar 2012 : Column 220

to the private Member’s legislation that outlawed turnstiles in public lavatories right across the country? Why do we now have a separate regime being introduced in London?” I wonder what will happen when they are accused of trying to sell their car on the internet and are deemed to be engaging in street trading by reason of a substantial extension of the definition of street trading. In fact, we have been able to restrict that, through an amendment, so that it will not affect ordinary individual householders as it would have originally affected such individuals in Westminster. People who try to sell their cars on the internet will be adversely affected by this legislation and perhaps when they suffer significant penalties they will contact their local MP.

I still have significant concerns about the Bill, but there have been many Bills before the House that I have had concerns about, not all of which one has been able to amend. If one is fair-minded, one must accept that progress has been made and that there has been a willingness on the part of the promoters and particularly on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green, who has taken the matter forward on their behalf, to listen. That is an important lesson for people who want to bring forward private Bills. There is a lot to be said for a bit of jaw-jaw and discussion and for trying to reach a reasonable compromise. That is probably quite a long answer to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), but I feel that after this length of time not much more can be said either in summary or in detail. That is why I am going to resume my place.

First, though, let me say that I am very grateful to all those colleagues who have participated in these debates, not least my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who has made quite a name for himself. In one debate he broke through the one-hour barrier. That is not a novelty for my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), who I think will catch your eye shortly, Mr Deputy Speaker, but for those of our colleagues who have not yet broken the one-hour barrier, this type of legislation is fertile ground for doing so. I commend that process to my hon. Friends.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Yes, but not on Third Reading, Mr Chope.

8.6 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): As always, it is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). I might well have gone through the one-hour barrier on one occasion or more, but it is not my intention to do so this evening.

The Bill has been considered at some length over several years and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) and the promoters of the Bill on their determination and perseverance in ensuring that it has finally reached Third Reading. The finishing line is in sight, there is not much further to go and the end is nigh.

I have to say that whatever spin is put on the Bill’s provisions, it will give more powers to the local authorities within our capital city and will reduce the freedoms of the city’s citizens and visitors. It will also increase the burden of regulation on our capital’s businesses at a

13 Mar 2012 : Column 221

time when they ought to be devoting all their time and energies to improving levels of service, increasing sales and dealing with all the problems that businesses face. They are going to have to sit down and tackle all the new burdens, rules and regulations contained within the Bill.

Let me raise a couple of fresh points. First, given that the Bill imposes new burdens on businesses, I have to ask what has become of the one-in, one-out rule. The promoters have not given any indication of the rules and regulations that are being removed to make way for the new ones in the Bill.

There is one other reason why the Bill, even at this late stage, ought to be rejected. So much has happened in the years since the Bill first surfaced that there must be real doubt about whether it is warranted. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch mentioned the fact that the Bill made its first appearance in 2007. Since then, not only have a number of London local authorities changed their political composition and in some cases their political control, but the Mayor of London has changed, and we are about to enter a further mayoral election.

Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): May I reassure my hon. Friend that the Bill is promoted on behalf of London Councils, not the Mayor of London? Although over the preceding years the complexion of London Councils may have changed, the leadership of all three political parties and all 32 London boroughs and the City of London still wholeheartedly support the Bill, as amended.

Mr Nuttall: I am sure that is the case.

Since the change in the mayoralty of London, a further change has occurred—the passing into law of the Localism Bill. Under the Localism Act 2011 there is a general power of competence for local authorities. Had the Localism Act been around a few years ago, provisions in this Bill might not have found their way into it at all and might now have been rendered completely unnecessary.

As I said in opening my remarks, the Bill has been subjected to detailed analysis on consideration. Some progress has been made and I am pleased to say that the promoters listened to the arguments. The requirement that notices should be served by an accredited person has been removed, which is one small victory for those who highlighted the Bill’s deficiencies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said, the Bill ought not to have proceeded. I agree, but the House is broadly in favour of its content. For that reason I will draw my remarks on this long-running measure to an end.

8.12 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I support the Third Reading of the Bill, which has been subjected to immense scrutiny. There have been opportunities for detailed discussion of all aspects, including every clause and every line of the Bill.

Mike Freer: On the point about scrutiny, will my hon. Friend join me in thanking our hon. Friends the Members for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) and for Chatham

13 Mar 2012 : Column 222

and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), and the hon. Members for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) for their work in scrutinising the Bill? It is fair also to thank our colleagues—for instance, our hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope)—for their principled and resilient scrutiny as the Bill proceeded through the House.

Bob Blackman: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I add my congratulations to the Members who served on the Committee and who have contributed during this debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) for his stalwart work in piloting the Bill through this place and making extremely rapid progress since we were both elected in May 2010, considering the slow progress that had been made up till then.

I remind colleagues that the Bill may have entered the House of Commons and the House of Lords in 2007, but its gestation began long before that as a wish list from the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. I well remember seeing a very long wish list prior to the Bill being presented to the House. That list has been considerably reduced.

It is important that we consider the wide range of ideas that emerged on Report. It was suggested that the council officials who were to serve penalty notices should wear a uniform, with a bowler hat, or that they should wear a fine tabard properly approved by the College of Arms. I trust we have accepted that that is not quite what we intended, and that it will not be implemented across London. But many good ideas have been accepted and encapsulated within the Bill, as amended. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green has acted in a coherent and co-operative way in order to take in the ideas of others, which have been welcomed across the piece.

There can be no denying that there has been a huge amount of scrutiny of the Bill and the powers within it. Among the topics raised on Third Reading was that of turnstiles on public toilets. The purpose is to do away with the need for toilets to be staffed and for the councils to retain the money that will come from the use of the toilets by members of the public. There is nothing new in that in many parts of London, but those toilets are often operated by private companies, as opposed to the public authorities. That will change, and it is important.

Another issue was the sale of cars on the internet. We dealt with that on Report, but it is important that we put on record now what it is all about. At present, if people sell cars on the public highway and put notices in the cars, that is an offence and action can be taken. However, if unscrupulous individuals do not put notices in the cars but just park them on the public highway and advertise them on the internet, no action can be taken. The Bill allows council officers to clamp down on that practice, which is a scourge on many London streets. The measure will be widely welcomed across London.

The Bill has been scrutinised on the Floor of the House, in Committee and in an Unopposed Bill Committee in another place. It adds to the nine previous Bills that London authorities have put through in order to give London boroughs greater powers to take action on issues that matter to Londoners. I am sure the Bill will be welcomed by London residents. They will see it as

13 Mar 2012 : Column 223

allowing action to be taken against those who disobey the law. I trust that visitors from the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch, for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who have all contributed to the debates, will not be upset by the outcome.

I thank the Minister and the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) in advance for their support for the Bill, and all 32 London boroughs and the City of London for their support. I trust the House will give it an unopposed Third Reading tonight.

8.18 pm

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): I rise in support of the Bill. It is has taken a long time to get to this stage and, I must say, has received an astonishing amount of scrutiny. I am not sure that I would wish to thank the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for his contribution in the way the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) did, but he certainly left no stone unturned in his scrutiny of the Bill, and he was ably assisted in that task by his hon. Friends the Members for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg).

The Bill is an important step. As the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) pointed out, it is supported by every London borough and, indeed, every Member of Parliament who represents a constituency in the capital. For that reason, I hope that it will receive an unopposed Third Reading this evening. It is very much in line with the Government’s call for greater localism and for local authorities to have greater self-determination, which the Opposition support.

The hon. Member for Harrow East dealt with a number of the clauses in his contribution. I think that there was a misunderstanding—if I may put it like that—from the hon. Member for Christchurch, who raised some concerns about the installation of turnstiles in public toilets. He also suggested that cars being parked on highways and then sold over the internet were not a major problem, but I know from the information I have received that local residents have on many occasions been put out by unscrupulous traders who are getting around the law by using the internet inappropriately, so I think that it is appropriate to enable local authorities to address the problem on behalf of the people who elect them.

Some clauses in the Bill have been lost, which I think is regrettable. For example, I think that it would have been helpful if the Bill still included the additional protections that were proposed for people living in houses in multiple occupation and the greater protections for restaurant users. Nevertheless, the Bill is worth supporting and, in view of the considerable scrutiny it has already been subject to, I hope that we will not be detained too long this evening and that it will be given an unopposed Third Reading.

8.22 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): I join all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) on the work he has

13 Mar 2012 : Column 224

done to promote the Bill—I am delighted to see him back in the Chamber in good health. I also congratulate and thank all hon. Members on both sides of the House who have contributed to the scrutiny of the Bill. I will certainly not detain the House for long. I have made it clear on previous occasions that the Government maintain a neutral position on the Bill, as is consistent with the conventions and precedents relating to Bills of this kind.

The issue that has been flagged up in the course of the debates we have had is the need for balance between localism, which is of course part of the Government’s policy, and a proportionate approach to regulation. If it is the will of the House that the Bill be passed, I hope that local authorities will exercise their new powers in a proportionate and considered fashion and am sure that they will do so responsibly. We want illegitimate behaviour to be dealt with but, at the same time, do not want the legitimate business activities of Londoners to be penalised. In so far as an attempt to strike that balance has been achieved, if the House considers that to be the case, the Government do not object to the Bill. It has been improved considerably by amendments, as has been observed, and a number of clauses that the Government could not support were removed on Second Reading. If it is the will of the House that the Bill be passed, subject to the aspiration that its provisions will be dealt with in a proportionate and responsible manner, as I am sure London Councils will, the Government do not object.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No.118(6)),

Social Security

That the draft Jobseeker’s Allowance (Domestic Violence) (Amendment) Regulations 2012, which were laid before this House on 19 January, be approved.—(Mr Newmark .)

Question agreed to .

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No.118(6)),

Education

That the draft Alternative Provision Academies (Consequential Amendments to Acts) (England) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 1 February, be approved.—(Mr Newmark.)

Question agreed to .

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No.118(6)),

Government Resources and Accounts

That the draft Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000 (Audit of Public Bodies) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 1 February, be approved.—(Mr Newmark.)

Question agreed to .

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No.118(6)),

13 Mar 2012 : Column 225

Immigration

That the draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2012, which were laid before this House on 9 February, be approved. —(Mr Newmark.)

Question agreed to .

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No.118(6)),

Taxes

That the draft Data-gathering Powers (Relevant Data) Regulations 2012, which were laid before this House on 20 February, be approved.—(Mr Newmark.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No.118(6)),

Tax Credits

That the draft Tax Credits Up-rating Regulations 2012, which were laid before this House on 1 February, be approved.—( Mr Brooks Newmark.)

The House divided:

Ayes 238, Noes 67.

Division No. 490]

[8.25 pm

AYES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Chishti, Rehman

Clark, rh Greg

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.

(Monmouth)

Davies, Glyn

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Harvey, Nick

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

James, Margot

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Laws, rh Mr David

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Mensch, Louise

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Moore, rh Michael

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mowat, David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Truss, Elizabeth

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Robin

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Stephen Crabb and

James Duddridge

NOES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Clark, Katy

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creasy, Stella

Cryer, John

Danczuk, Simon

David, Mr Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Dowd, Jim

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Elliott, Julie

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Hanson, rh Mr David

Hood, Mr Jim

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Leslie, Chris

Long, Naomi

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

McCabe, Steve

McCrea, Dr William

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McKechin, Ann

Michael, rh Alun

Miller, Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Perkins, Toby

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stringer, Graham

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Twigg, Derek

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wright, David

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr David Hamilton and

Mark Hendrick

Question accordingly agreed to.

13 Mar 2012 : Column 226

13 Mar 2012 : Column 227

13 Mar 2012 : Column 228

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Social Security

That the draft Guardian’s Allowance Up-rating Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 1 February, be approved.—(Mr Newmark.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Social Security

That the draft Guardian’s Allowance Up-rating (Northern Ireland) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 1 February, be approved.—(Mr Newmark.)

Question agreed to.

Delegated Legislation (Committees)

Ordered,

That the Motion in the name of Secretary Vince Cable relating to Financial Assistance to Industry shall be treated as if it related to an instrument subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees) in respect of which notice has been given that the instrument be approved.—(Mr Heath.)

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119( 1 1)),

Implementation of the Common Commercial Policy

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 7455/11, relating to a draft regulation amending certain Regulations relating to the common commercial policy as regards the procedures for the adoption of certain measures; supports the Government’s aim of enabling appropriate application of the new decision-making requirements established by Regulation (EU) 182/2011, as it applies to all Regulations to be amended by the draft regulation; and further supports the Government’s aim of negotiating a draft regulation which both reflects the need, in anti-dumping and antisubsidy investigations, for effective consultation with Member States and other interested parties and maintains proportionate timelines, minimising uncertainty for business.—(Mr Newmark.)

Question agreed to.


13 Mar 2012 : Column 229

Torphichen Sub-Post Office (Closure)

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

8.37 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): The reason why I have called for this Adjournment debate is to warn all Members of the House that what happened to the sub-post office in the village of Torphichen could happen in every constituency in the UK, and is likely to do so, given the plans of the Post Office.

I should like to draw a timeline for the House. At the time of the last review of the post office network there was no proposal to close Torphichen sub-post office. In my constituency there were a number of closures in very small villages with very small numbers of post office users. However, Torphichen is a village of over 600 residents living in over 300 dwellings. It is a very well-known heritage village where the priory of the Order of St John was founded after the knights left the Holy Land, and it is visited a great deal by tourists passing through West Lothian on their way to Linlithgow palace, where Mary, Queen of Scots was born. The village’s natural attractiveness makes it very popular with people who want to buy houses and commute into Edinburgh. It is not a village with a down-at-heel population who have very little use for a post office. Moreover, it has many elderly residents.

On 2 November 2011 the most recent postmaster, who had not been a shopkeeper before and had been renting the premises for some nine months, decided to give up the premises, stop being a shopkeeper and give up the licence at the same time. The person who previously ran the post office and very popular shop—the only shop in the village—had done so for a long time. That is the crucial point. It is the post office that has sustained the village shop for many years, as do many post offices in communities across the shires of England and the counties of Scotland.

On 8 November Post Office Ltd sent a letter under the name of Brian Turnbull, the change manager, to MPs, MSPs and local authorities saying that there had been a temporary closure. It put an apology for the temporary closure on the window of the shop. Interestingly, I believe that that is the same Brian Turnbull who used to be the manager of the post office in Bathgate, who got me and my constituency party to campaign for some years to keep his post office open. When his Crown post office shut, all the people who worked there got their books and were made redundant. Obviously he then got taken on to carry out the same task in other areas.

The odd thing about the letter was that it was written from an address in St Albans. It referred to a couple of telephone numbers, but when I called them I heard things like, “Press 1 if you want this, press 2 if you want that, or press 3 if you want nothing.” The website that the letter referred to was just a general website with nothing at all about what was happening to Torphichen post office. There was no way of communicating.

In the past, the network manager for Scotland would have had the courtesy to phone the Member of Parliament, because this is a reserved matter. They would have spoken to the Member of Parliament and involved them in any difficulties, temporary closures, or proposals for changes or for a reopening. That has always been the case until

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now. The new network manager for Scotland, Ms Sally Buchanan, did not take the trouble to do that. In fact, we had to search out her telephone number so that we could contact her.

Ms Buchanan had been contacted by Neil Findlay, the adept MSP for Lothian. He contacted the address in Edinburgh and received a reply on 21 November. The reply was interesting because it said that the Post Office had done modelling. I do not know when it had found the time to do that modelling between 2 and 8 November. Having done the modelling, it had decided that the Post Office Local option, which was mentioned when we debated the Postal Services Act 2011, would be best for that property.

We discovered that, despite the fact that somebody in the village had approached the owner of the post office building and offered to buy it, the Post Office had got the key from the previous owner and stripped out all the security that a normal sub-post office has. For some reason it drilled holes in the safe so that it could no longer be used to store money. When I challenged the Post Office on that matter, the reply was:

“That we removed the Post Office owned equipment, including the computer system, from the premises is not indicative of future service arrangements; it is normal practice for us to recover our property where there is any doubt over our ability to have continued access to the premises.”

As I wrote to the Minister and the head of Post Office Ltd, Ms Vennells, it is quite clear that this was an act of vandalism by the Post Office. I can see the point of taking out the computer, but not of ripping out all the security that a normal sub-post office uses. It is clear that the Post Office had taken the decision to downgrade the sub-post office without any consultation with the public.

I have never had to put up with anything like that. I do not think that any Member from any part of the House or from any party would find that acceptable. I certainly would not have found it acceptable in the past and did not expect it to happen in this case.

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I am a neighbouring Member, representing Livingston in West Lothian, and I am therefore well aware of the community to which he refers. He said that there was no consultation with the community and little consultation with him as an elected Member of Parliament. Is it not the case that the code of practice for the post office network requires full and meaningful public consultation if any changes to particular post offices and sub-post offices are to be made?

Michael Connarty: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention because I am about to come on to that subject. The code of practice was attached to the original circular that was sent to MPs and MSPs. The Post Office apologised for the inconvenience of the temporary closure and attached to every circular its code of practice, which states:

“We’ll let you know about any change as soon as we possibly can. Sometimes, change is out of our control, but we’ll try to keep you as up-to-date about what’s happening as much as we can. We try to make sure you have 4 weeks’ notice before anything happens. If we’re going to make big changes, there’ll be a ‘consultation period’ which lasts about 6 weeks.”

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I can verify that ripping out the equipment happened within days of the Post Office finding out that the closure had taken place.

From then on, it was clear that the Post Office had immediately been contacted by someone in the village who wished to purchase the building and reopen the post office—Miss Oonagh Shackleton and her partner Ian Jamieson, who run a very good manufacturing company in another village. They were keen to give the shop back to the village, and they talked to the Post Office immediately. We also know that the shop’s previous owner, Mussarat Aziz, who had been the sub-postmistress and was also the sub-postmistress in Boghall in Bathgate in another part of my constituency, was approached by the Post Office to ascertain whether she would take over the post office temporarily and run it as a sub-post office. On the one hand, the Post Office was saying that it wanted to keep the sub-post office going, and on the other hand, it had been approached by someone who wanted to do a similar thing.

At the public meeting that we held in the village, Oonagh Shackleton said that she had a business plan, which included financing a sub-post office. In the agreement that we had when the post office network review took place, the money that the Government gave the Post Office included money for running a sub-post office in Torphichen. The money had not been taken away or withdrawn, and it was therefore assumed that it would be available. However, for some mysterious reason that point was never confirmed to Oonagh Shackleton. She decided that she wanted to open the shop in the village again anyway, and she went ahead and purchased it.

However, now that all the security has been torn out, we are told that Mr Brian Turnbull says that if we want a post office service of any kind in that shop in the village, we can have only a Post Office Local. I call that blackmail. All that stuff about removing the equipment not meaning that the Post Office had changed its mind is clearly a bluff.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I share the hon. Gentleman’s disappointment at what has happened to his post office. In four locations in Northern Ireland—Ballyhalbert, Portavogie, Cloughey and Kircubbin—all the changes were made with consultation and a time scale for the changeover. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that there should be a successful transition period before the handover, so that everything runs smoothly, and to stop debacles such as that in his constituency?

Michael Connarty: I totally agree. Every hon. Member would expect that. I am sure that the Minister would expect it in his constituency. We would expect the Post Office to say, “We have a closed shop and someone who might want to buy it. We’ll consult the public on what kind of set-up they want, and support the shop on the basis that previously existed.” That would have been sensible.

The Post Office’s precipitate action was driven presumably by a policy from above to drive down the level of service—that is what happens with Post Office Local. The Post Office probably now finds that action irreversible —or perhaps it acted deliberately to ensure that the action was irreversible.

If people consult Hansard, they will find that when we debated the Postal Services Act 2011 and heard talk of Post Office Local, I informed the House that I had

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had in my constituency its forerunner, which was called post office essentials. The shopkeeper who took that on board eventually after six months decided that it was not worth the trouble, because of a number of things. The shopkeeper of a Post Office Local has to provide all financing out of their own pocket; no money comes from the Post Office in advance. The Post Office will tell people that it might give them a loan in the interim to see them over to the point when they are viable, but in reality, financing for a Post Office Local—or a post office essential, as it was called—comes out of the pocket of the shopkeeper.

Another problem for the shopkeeper was that people could come in and say that he had kept their pension for five or six weeks and they would like to have it because they were going on holiday: they would be asking for £500, £600, £700 or £800. Small shopkeepers do not keep that kind of money in their shop, so the shopkeeper who ran the post office essential in Linlithgow Bridge in my constituency told me that he had to say to people, “I’m sorry. I can’t supply that kind of money. I can’t shut the shop to go to the bank, so you’ll have to go to the main post office,” which was at the other end of town. Of course, people then started saying, “What good are you?” and he started to lose customers. In fact, he decided it was not worth the trouble to have a post office essential.

That was in a town environment, but if it happened in Torphichen, and if people found that they were not using the shop because they were not getting the service, and that they had to go to the main post offices in other towns to get large sums of money, I believe the shop would become unviable, close and be turned into a house. I have seen that happen again and again in villages that have lost their post office.

The shop will be taken away from the village if the proposals do not succeed. The people who offered to open the shop in the belief that they would get a sub-postmaster’s salary, get money delivered by the Post Office securely, and have a safe, secure and insured transit of money, find those things denied to them by Post Office Local. It is a travesty that that has gone ahead, and everything I have had from the Post Office, right up to Miss Vennells, and sadly from Ministers, who have just copied letters coming from the Post Office, does not stand up to scrutiny.

I want to end with a couple of things that make me think this is not just happening in this village. I wrote to Miss Paula Vennells, the chief executive of Post Office Ltd, on 3 February, asking:

“Who took the decision to take out the Sub Post Office infrastructure?...Who decided not to re-open the Sub Post Office but to re-brand/re-offer a Post Office Local to the new owner of the Torphichen Sub Post Office?”

No reply has been heard from the Post Office since then.

We discover that the Post Office proposal, when we discussed the Bill, was to have new operating models—that is what they are called—in 50% of its branch network. Post Office Ltd’s own plans say that at least 2,000 branches will be converted to the new local operating model. That is potentially four sub-post offices in the constituency of every Member in the House. This debate is about that happening in a precipitate manner.

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We have tabled early-day motion 2841 calling for a moratorium on the use of the Post Office Local model. As I have said, the post office essential model is not much different. Shopkeepers do not get parcels, and there are limits on the amount of benefits that can be drawn from the shops, because people draw them on the resources of the person who is running the post-office local, or sub-post office.

I am asking the Minister to look again at what has happened in Torphichen, and to say to the Post Office that it has not consulted properly or used its own agreement. It has not yet had a public meeting in the village. We took letters to the community council because nothing has been written to people in the village. Post Office Ltd is secretly badgering the person who has bought the post office to take a Post Office Local. It is saying, “If you don’t take a local, the village will be most upset because they haven’t got post office services. You’ll get no help or money from us, and you’ll get such a miserly sum for every transaction that it really won’t be worth your while, but you’ll have to take it or the village will blame you”—the person who rescues the shop—rather than the Post Office, which deserves to be blamed.

I hope the Minister will look seriously at this situation. The Government might say, “We can’t interfere; this is a commercial matter,” but this is such a breach of the Post Office’s own rules and practices. Will the Government say to their Back Benchers and to Opposition Members that that new model is acceptable? I hope not.

8.54 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Norman Lamb): I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) on securing this debate. Adjournment debates are an important opportunity for Members to raise issues of importance to their own constituencies. He has taken that opportunity, and I applaud him for doing so. He has been passionate in pursuing this issue. As a Member representing a rural constituency, I agree with him about the importance of maintaining the rural sub-post office network, and I welcome the opportunity to respond to the concerns reflected in a petition to Parliament from the residents of Torphichen, which, I am told, is a very beautiful village.

The hon. Gentleman spoke passionately about the importance of the post office in Torphichen and about its future. It is a matter he has written to me about, so I have some understanding of his concerns. I think back, however, to the extensive debates in the House, to which he referred, on the Postal Services Act 2011, which was passed last July. He will remember that he opposed the Act, not withstanding its clear objectives, which were to secure the future of the universal postal service and, critically in this context, to secure the future of the post office network. As I said, I care passionately about achieving that.

I shall briefly reiterate, for the record, the commitments to the future of the post office network made by my predecessor as postal affairs Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey). It is important to do so, because the Government’s

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commitments are particularly relevant to the situation at Torphichen. Over the course of this Parliament, we will provide £1.34 billion of funding to secure the long-term and sustainable future of the post office network. That will be achieved through investment to modernise about 6,000 post offices, improving them for the future while continuing to provide funding to maintain a network of at least 11,500 post office branches.

Alongside that was the fundamental commitment that there would be no programme of post office closures. That is important to this debate and the situation in Torphichen in particular. As I explained in my correspondence with the hon. Gentleman, Torphichen post office temporarily closed—he made that point—last November, following the resignation of the previous sub-postmaster with immediate effect. That is really important. Those two words—“immediate” and “temporary” —are significant. Normally, when a sub-postmaster wishes to resign, they are obliged under the terms of their contract to give Post Office Ltd three months’ notice to enable the Post Office to identify a new sub-postmaster or mistress and, if necessary, nearby premises from which post office services can continue to be provided.

I understand that the previous sub-postmaster at Torphichen resigned with immediate effect, so Post Office Ltd had no opportunity to ensure a proper and timely transition of service in the community without a break in service. That was the point made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Of course, ideally, we would seek to achieve a smooth transition from one sub-postmaster or mistress to another, but that is simply impossible where the sub-postmaster resigns with immediate effect.

Jim Shannon: In the light of what has happened—I am sure that there are many other examples across the United Kingdom—is it not time that post offices put in place a system whereby they have someone on standby who can fill in as a changeover takes place? Is that something that the Minister would consider?

Norman Lamb: The problem is that we are dealing with private businesses. Most sub-post offices are owned individually as private businesses, so it would be difficult to put in place a network of people who are immediately available perhaps to move into premises that are privately owned and not accessible to a third party. The emphasis is on trying to get as smooth a transition as possible, but obviously there are real difficulties when someone walks out without giving any notice. I absolutely sympathise with the concerns of the people of Torphichen, who have been suddenly confronted with the loss of a really important service and who obviously fear for its future. I completely understand that concern.

As a result, the post office in Torphichen has been closed temporarily since 2 November last year. A temporary closure is exactly that: temporary—closed for a limited period while Post Office Ltd seeks to identify a new sub-postmaster to restore services. Where a temporary closure occurs, it is obviously preferable that it lasts as short a time as possible. I understand that in the majority of the 602 cases over the last nine months where a sub-postmaster has chosen to leave the network—whether because they are retiring or moving elsewhere, or for other reasons—there has been a seamless transition between the outgoing and incoming sub-postmasters, with no break in service for the post office’s customers. However, that cannot necessarily happen in all cases.

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The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk used the term “downgrade”. Let me address that concern. There was no decision to downgrade the Torphichen post office. He talked about the removal of security equipment, so let me deal with that. I have noted his concern, but I should explain that where a sub-post office temporarily closes, the temporary removal of valuable Post Office-owned equipment for safe storage should not be misinterpreted, or otherwise misconstrued, as suggesting that post office services will be permanently removed or downgraded; rather, it is purely to ensure the safekeeping of equipment. It is standard practice until such time as the equipment can be reinstalled.

As the representative of a rural constituency, I fully understand the considerable distress and inconvenience that the closure of any post office causes to a community. That is why I am so delighted to be in a position to say that this Government are investing in the post office network, not spending large sums of taxpayers’ money closing it. I am well aware of the inconvenience that the temporary closure of Torphichen post office is causing the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, but I can give him this reassurance. Post Office Ltd has not considered the permanent closure of Torphichen post office, and is actively engaged in measures to re-establish the post office service there.

Michael Connarty: I hope that the Minister will accept what I said before, and what I will say again: the Post Office is badgering the person who has bought the shop —they own it—to take only the Post Office Local option, which is all that it is offering. There is no equipment going back in, no security going back in and no safe going back—it was taken out for scrap. The Post Office had already made the decision when it wrote to the MSP for Lothian on 21 November that it would offer only a Post Office Local—no consultation; no consideration of keeping the sub-post office. How can that be justified by anyone? All the money that is being spent on the Post Office will not be spent in Torphichen.

Norman Lamb: The hon. Gentleman uses the term “badgering”. My understanding from the explanation I have received is that discussions are continuing and that the owner of the shop is keen to provide post office services. There has not yet been a conclusion to those discussions, but I think there is optimism that a successful conclusion will be reached.

Michael Connarty: A Post Office Local?

Norman Lamb: I want to deal with this issue, because it clearly concerns the hon. Gentleman, and I want to address his concerns properly. I have noted his comments about the future of the post office, and in particular his concerns about the Post Office Local model. Given the importance of the post office network, both the Government and Post Office Ltd have invested a great deal of time and energy to ensure that the future strategy for the Post Office strikes a balance between providing a fair income for sub-postmasters and ensuring that Post Office Ltd is financially sustainable. Both elements of the strategy are underpinned by the commitment to maintaining the network at its current size, with a focus on providing improved service for the Post Office’s customers. The Post Office Local is an important element

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of the strategy. It offers genuine benefits and opportunities for the sub-postmaster, for the company and also, critically, for customers.

Michael Connarty: Rubbish!

Norman Lamb: The hon. Gentleman says, “Rubbish,” but let me develop my argument. The Post Office Local model has been extensively piloted over the last year. It is now operational in more than 150 locations. Critically, where it is being piloted, customers—the hon. Gentleman’s constituents in Torphichen—are reporting high levels of satisfaction, and operators are seeing more sales and are benefiting from greater flexibility.

When we look in detail at the Post Office Local model and at the independent research that has been conducted, the reasons for high levels of customer satisfaction become apparent. Not only are post offices staying in communities, but they are offering access to the vast majority of post office services—95% of the transactions that typically account for customer visits across the network—during much longer opening hours.

That is really important. In the past, the service to customers has often been constrained by limited opening hours. With the Post Office Local model, a post office can remain open for as long as the shop is open. That makes it much more convenient for people to obtain those services in an evening, for example, if that suits their working habits. That will mean that more people will use the post office’s services in their local sub-post office. So far, the evidence is that sales have gone up by 9% in those Post Office Local models. Sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses are reporting their own satisfaction with the model. So customers and sub-postmasters support the model in the vast majority of cases.

Graeme Morrice: The Minister mentioned the discussions that had taken place on the move to the Post Office Local model. Presumably, those were internal discussions within the post office network. Has there been any public consultation involving local communities on the issue?

Norman Lamb: Let me deal with the consultation and with the issue of compliance with the code of practice. I know that the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk has expressed concern that the code has not been complied with, and I note that concern. The code of practice that was agreed between Consumer Focus and Post Office Ltd governs changes in the post office network, and it has to be followed. I see from the hon. Gentleman’s letters to me that Post Office Ltd wrote to him on 8 November to explain why the branch had closed and to say that the company would

“work to find a solution that will provide a post office service to the Torphichen community.”

The code of practice contains details of when and why a consultation will be held. In the case of a temporary closure—which this is—such as that caused by the sudden resignation of the previous sub-postmaster, the code states:

“We will aim to restore the service...as quickly as possible. As such, and given the emphasis on speed of activity to ensure the service interruption is as temporary as possible, this would not be a matter for public consultation—rather it is an issue of effective communication to keep customers informed.”

That is why a letter was sent to the hon. Gentleman very soon after the closure occurred.

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As I have made clear in my correspondence with the hon. Gentleman on this matter, the benefits of the local model far outweigh the reduction in the availability of a very small number of services. He might not take much comfort from my words on this matter, but I hope that he will recognise that many sub-postmasters, old and new—potentially including those in his constituency—see the benefits of the Post Office Local model. Given what has happened in the 150 pilots that have been conducted over the past year, and given the very high levels of customer satisfaction that have been reported, I ask him to keep an open mind and to reflect on the fact that, if customers in other branches that have been piloted over the past year have responded so enthusiastically, it might just be that his own constituents in Torphichen would respond positively to a Post Office Local in that community.

Michael Connarty: But the Minister must accept that if the Post Office Local model does not provide an adequate income stream for the business model of the person who has bought the shop, and if the shop closes because of inadequate footfall in the village, it will be because there is inadequate supporting income, given the miserly payments from Post Office Local to the people who run them. If that were to happen, the Minister would be responsible for shutting that shop. He will see from the petition and the letters and notes sent by the people in the village that the village was dead during the period in which the shop was not open. No one was traversing the high street, and people were not talking to each other as they had no place to meet. If that happens again, the Minister will be responsible.

Norman Lamb: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that warning. I come back—[Interruption.] That sort of abuse is surely unnecessary.

Given that the pilots pursued over the last year have proved so successful—both for sub-postmasters and for customers—I repeat that the hon. Gentleman should have an open mind to the possibility that this might work in his community. I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about footfall. That is why the discussions are continuing—to see whether this will work in that particular location. As I say, the pilots

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elsewhere have proved to be highly successful, so it is important to be open-minded.

I understand that the Post Office is holding the commercial discussions with the interested party in Torphichen, who is keen to provide post office services in the community. Crucially, a particular interest was expressed in the Post Office Local model—perhaps because of the flexibility it offers and its popularity with customers.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that there should be a moratorium, but given that this model has been so successful and so popular, it would surely be disastrous to stop it. We all have a common goal in ensuring the sustainability of the post office network. Given the quite dramatic decline in footfall over the last decade, things have to change; we have to find new ways of attracting people into the shop. One attractive aspect of the local model, as I have said, is the fact that opening hours are so much longer. That is an attractive prospect for customers in Torphichen, as elsewhere.

My Department has received many letters from the residents of Torphichen about the future of the post office, with many also signing the petition calling for its reopening, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I can tell him that that is very encouraging, because if everyone who signed the petition were to visit the new post office on a weekly basis, its business would be increased by over 50% on previous levels. If we can get agreement with the shop owner and the post office service is resumed, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will do all he can to encourage customers in the local community to use the facility.

Before I finish, let me reiterate the fact that the hon. Gentleman’s assumption that this is all about downgrading or closure is simply not the case. If we are confronted with someone walking out on a business, giving literally no notice, a temporary closure is inevitable, as I explained. Everything is being done to try to make sure that the service is resumed as quickly as possible for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. I thank him for raising this issue and for presenting me with the opportunity to reassure him and his constituents that steps to restore post office services in Torphichen are being actively pursued as a matter of priority.

Question put and agreed to.

9.12 pm

House adjourned.