4.15 pm

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): I start by congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) and for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) and the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) on securing this debate.

The manufacturing and industrial sectors have a vital part to play in developing the UK’s economy. They are also very important to me, as I spent more than 20 years working in the manufacturing industry. I started out working for BAE Systems at Woodford on airborne early-warning Nimrods in the 1980s. The chemical industry is of particular importance to my constituency, where Tata and INEOS Chlor are still major employers in Northwich and Runcorn. What have the Romans done for us? They started the chemical industry in Cheshire when they discovered salt deposits in Northwich. I am therefore very pleased that this issue has been chosen by the Backbench Business Committee for today’s debate.

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I wish to address Britain’s historical relationship with manufacturing industry, where the industry sits now, and what we must do to ensure that our great tradition adapts and flourishes in a changing market. Manufacturing industry has seen a steep decline since 1997. The number of jobs in manufacturing halved between 1997 and 2009. The manufacturing industry accounted for 20% of the UK’s total economy and a gross value added of £186.6 billion in 1997. That plummeted to £139.5 billion by 2009, accounting for a mere 10.5% of the economy. The reduction was £3.5 billion per annum in real terms. Only since 2010 has there been an increase in the figures, but progress is limited and growth rates have been mixed this year.

Despite the decline, manufacturing has a vital role to play in our current economy, with 46% of the value of all exports in 2011 accounted for by manufactured goods. I represent a north-west constituency, so I am acutely aware that manufacturing industry directly benefits all the regions. Some 97% of manufacturing jobs are based outside London. We have been left with the appalling legacy that under the Labour Government only one in 10 of the jobs created were outside London and the south-east. For Britain to thrive we must redress that balance, and it is clear that manufacturing is part of the answer.

So what areas should we focus on? As some of my hon. Friends may recall, this is not the first time I have spoken in the Chamber on the subject of manufacturing. The hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), who is no longer in his place, alluded to the debate we held on 24 November last year. On that occasion, I set out some of the ways in which I believed the Government could proactively develop and promote the industry. I am, therefore, delighted to report that several of my suggestions have appeared, perhaps less by design than chance, as part of Department for Business, Innovation and Skills policy.

I made considerable reference to the Germans’ long-term support for manufacturing, which has given their industry real economic clout from far humbler beginnings after the second world war, when the country had been devastated. Germany’s recognition that manufacturing was the backbone of its economy has resulted in political infrastructures set up to nurture industry, especially the mittelstand—the small and medium-sized enterprises. Foremost among those tools stands KfW, the state-backed bank that ensures the mittelstand can access funding, even when the commercial banks are unwilling to lend. In 2010, KfW financed a record €28 billion for SMEs. The latest SME finance monitors show that in the UK over the past year 33% of businesses that applied for a loan were rejected. If the Government do not take up the mantle of supporting SMEs, we cannot expect any of our industries, and especially not manufacturing, to grow.

Hon. Members can imagine my delight when the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills announced the launch of the funding for lending scheme to encourage banks to invest; the enterprise capital funds and enterprise finance guarantees to help early-stage business to access capital; the £1.2 billion business finance partnership; and the £2.5 billion business growth fund.

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I also spoke in the earlier debate on encouraging education and how to engage young people so that they think of manufacturing as a future career. I set out my concerns that part of the problem of youth unemployment is that many are simply not equipped with the skills or given the aspiration to engage in the manufacturing industry. Again, I am very pleased that the Government have made a long-term commitment to world-class skills.

It is clear that new technologies are emerging, particularly at the fantastic Sci-Tech Daresbury in my constituency. It is clear that many factors will contribute to the success or failure of the manufacturing industry and I am pleased that once more we are debating this important topic. The interest shown by so many colleagues on both sides of the House is heartening, but we all have a responsibility to ensure that “Made in Britain” is something that future generations can say with pride. I sincerely hope that we will tackle the challenges of manufacturing head on.

4.20 pm

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): I, like others in the Chamber, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andrew Sawford) on his excellent, confident speech. I am sure that we will see a great deal more of him in the Chamber.

Today’s debate is about one of the most important and neglected areas in British politics: the abandonment of industrial policy under the embrace of neo-liberal capitalism has, in my view, been one of the most catastrophic errors of the past three decades. It has been a fundamental mistake to believe that the massive switch away from manufacturing to services, particularly financial services in the City of London, is a sustainable model for the British economy. The last time Britain had a current account surplus was in 1983, 29 years ago. In the last 55 years, Britain has had a surplus on its traded goods in only six years. By 2010, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) noted, the deficit in traded goods had reached a staggering level of £100 billion a year. The surplus on services, at £49 billion, could cover only half of that. This year, the deficit is likely to reach £110 billion or £115 billion, or 7% of our GDP.

A yawning and still increasing deficit of such magnitude cannot continue for long without our foreign creditors, like any bank manager, calling time. The only way to reverse this steady slide towards collapse is by addressing the real causes of decline via a major and sustained revitalisation of our manufacturing capacity. The need for that is unimpeachable. In 1950, our share of world trade was 25%. Today, it is 2.3%. That marks a catastrophic decline in our position as a world leader in manufacturing compared with just 60 years ago, which largely reflects three factors: our gross neglect of industry when other nations were fast recapitalising their manufacturing base; the disastrous assumption under deregulated capitalism that leaving it all to the market would best safeguard Britain’s interest; and the maintenance over most of the period of an over-high exchange rate, putting the City of London’s interest above that of the nation’s industrial base.

Clearly, it will be difficult to reverse that slide into economic weakness, but we have no alternative but to focus all our efforts on doing so. The first requirement is to stave off any further economic collapse by switching away from a self-defeating deficit-cutting strategy to a public sector-driven jobs and growth strategy. That

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should be funded by diverting a tranche of any future quantitative easing to direct investment in industrial development, by taxing the ultra-rich—that is, the thousand richest people in the UK who, according to

The Sunday Times

rich list, have increased their wealth in the past three years by no less than £155 billion—or, and this will no doubt be preferable to Government Members, by taking advantage of the lowest bank base rate for 300 years by borrowing the relatively small sum of £150 million to secure an investable fund of £30 billion, which could certainly kick-start the economy.

The real medium-term challenge, of course, is the realignment of the economy away from finance and in favour of manufacturing. It has been talked about regularly but very little has happened. First, as everyone knows, and as other Members have mentioned, there is a continuing shortage of skills, aggravated by a slippage of standards in science and technology education in schools and universities. Secondly, access to finance is a major problem. There is clearly a gap in the market for specialised banks focusing on small businesses, manufacturing services and green investment which needs to be met.

Thirdly, I believe that we have a national interest in preserving industries and companies that are integral to Britain’s economic survival. The disastrous consequences of leaving Britain’s key industries and strategic companies uninhibitedly exposed to foreign acquisition or private equity buy-outs and asset stripping, which no other advanced industrialised country would allow, are clearly a lesson that I hope has been learned. There are many other things that need to be done, and we need to do them.

4.25 pm

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): It is a great privilege to contribute to the debate. I thank the three Members who secured it for bringing the matter to the House’s attention and congratulate them on doing so. I have time to touch on only a few details of this important and broad subject. I wish to start by highlighting the fact that, although manufacturing in this country halved over the 13 years of the previous Government, in my county of Gloucestershire we operate at almost double the country’s current economic output for manufacturing, at 20%, which is close to that of Germany. The important ingredient in that success is that we grow things in the part of the county that is rural, which is most of it, and make things in the part that is urban, which is predominantly the city of Gloucester and other leading towns, including Stroud—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) will follow me shortly.

The key to growing and making things is a belief that they are important productive activities that will generate jobs for our communities and wealth for the nation. Members are right that this debate should not be partisan, but it is unfortunately true to say that almost 6,000 jobs in the business sectors were lost in my constituency over the period of the previous Government, which is tragic. Many were lost in engineering, a sector in which Gloucester has for years led the country, most spectacularly, of course, with the introduction of the world’s first jet engine.

During that period, apprenticeships all but disappeared. There were champions on the other side of the House—the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) believed in

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apprenticeships, as he still does—but the fact of the matter is that the number of apprenticeships has increased significantly over the past two and a half years. That is typified in my constituency by Gloucestershire Engineering Training, a company that has quadrupled in size through the number of apprentices it trains in its new premises, which were opened earlier this year.

The first words I spoke in this House, before making my maiden speech, were about apprenticeships, and that was because they are absolutely critical to manufacturing industries. I am talking about manufacturing industries beyond purely engineering; this spreads across a wide variety of sectors. I made my maiden speech wearing a shirt that was made on the Cross in the centre of Gloucester, and every Wall’s ice cream Members eat was made in my constituency. Manufacturing is a broad activity. The fact that we have seen some 3,000 new apprentices start in Gloucester and more than 10,000 start in the county since May 2010 is a huge credit to the coalition Government, to my hon. Friend the Minister, who has responsibility for skills, and especially to his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), who famously championed apprenticeships during his time in that role.

The question today is this: what is the role of Government? We have heard about the many ways the Government can contribute positively, perhaps above all in the commitment to rebalancing the economy away from finance, property and the public sector and towards making and growing things. The export drive that the Prime Minister has led has been rightly congratulated by a number of Members. I am pleased to play a small role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Indonesia, a market of some 250 million people, and one where our trade figures can surely increase rapidly over the next couple of years, in line with targets agreed between the Prime Minister and the President of Indonesia, who was here only two weeks ago.

There are also important tax policies, of course, and I pay tribute to the Government for reducing corporation tax. Research and development credits are extremely important to manufacturers, too. The visible encouragement given by Government is important psychologically as well, and I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for visiting the country’s largest independent spectacles manufacturer, Norville, whose product I am wearing on my nose today. Other initiatives should also be mentioned, including the advanced manufacturing supply chain. The Queen Elizabeth engineering prize is an interesting example of how we can help champion innovation.

The Government have a significant opportunity to rebalance the economy by bringing UK manufacturing back home. Companies that went overseas for cheap labour or relaxed environmental laws have often found that their new location is not as cheap as they had imagined. I strongly echo the statement of the chairman of John Lewis, who said he saw an opportunity for a resurgence of products that are made in Britain. We want to see more of those products.

4.30 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), not least because he is absolutely right about the importance of manufacturing in Gloucestershire. One in every

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five jobs in my constituency is in manufacturing and engineering, so, unsurprisingly, I am constantly promoting manufacturing in Stroud.

I also pleased to follow the hon. Member for Corby (Andrew Sawford), too. I was struck to learn of his connection with Ruskin college, because Jim Callaghan used that institution as a launch pad for a great debate on education when he was Prime Minister, and rightly so, as we were concerned about the performance of our schools and colleges then, as we are still.

As Lord Heseltine notes in his report, we have a productivity gap. It takes us 10 hours to do the same thing it would take an American about eight hours to do. We must address that gap, and the Government are therefore right to focus on radical reforms of education, on STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and on making sure our colleges are up to speed in responding to the needs of business.

As the Prime Minister has said, all Governments—including all Government Departments—need to think about economic growth. To reiterate Lord Heseltine’s point, we need a grand strategy to concentrate the mind on the needs of our industry and our businesses, in order to make sure we get that growth.

Infrastructure is crucial, and it has rightly frequently been mentioned in our debate. We are going to take three years to decide whether we want a new airport, whereas the Germans are building one in Berlin now. It may well be taking a little longer than usual, and it may well be costing them a little more money than they expected, but the point is that they are building one. We need to sweep away some of our planning restrictions and some of our reticence to make such big and bold decisions, because we need to make those decisions.

Let me give an example of why that is important. I recently went to Leipzig in eastern Germany. I had visited the city as a student almost 30 years ago, when it was an economic wasteland. It was a disaster zone; I could see that whichever way I looked. Now in Leipzig there is a huge factory making Porsche cars. They are great cars—they are so good that I cannot afford to buy one. The factory’s supply chain is very effective and tight, and it is supported by an infrastructure that enables that supply chain to work. I asked the managing director if he could produce a map of the factory’s supply chain for me, and he did so right away. It served to demonstrate the value of a good supply chain and the importance in that regard of good infrastructure. We must learn these lessons, and we must be bold enough to take the appropriate action.

It seems to me that Lord Heseltine was right about localism, to the extent that we need to make sure that local structures have the necessary capacity. I am very impressed with our local enterprise partnerships. They are the right approach and are certainly a lot better than regional development agencies, but we have to make sure that all of them are up to standard and know what they need to do. Before we give them a huge bucketful of money, they must demonstrate to us that they are capable of identifying the right firms and making sure that they understand the needs of those firms. That is about knowing the skills requirements, knowing the skills capacities available and matching the difference. I hope LEPs will start to do that.

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I finish with an important appeal. We should not forget the value of our technology. Recognising the added value in our product is important. We must think forward, not backwards. We should not be manufacturing what we manufactured before. We should manufacture products that are needed now and will be needed in the future. That is where the technology matters.

4.35 pm

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): This has been an important, passionate and, dare I say it, industrious debate. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for choosing the topic, which is very much in the long-term economic interests of our country and I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) for the manner in which they advanced their arguments. I look forward to hearing the hon. Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle).

I pay tribute to the excellent maiden speech that we heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andrew Sawford), as one by-election victor to another. I have known him for a very long time and he has always been passionate about manufacturing, industry and his local area. He was extremely gracious to his predecessor, as the whole House will have recognised. He mentioned his passion for co-operatives and co-operation. That is a necessary value in an industrial strategy. Industrial policy is often simplified or dismissed as picking winners, but it is fair to say that in my hon. Friend the people of Corby have definitely picked a winner.

I will be as quick as I can, because there is an awful lot to get through after such an important debate. It is clear from this afternoon that there is a welcome consensus about the need for an industrial strategy with manufacturing at its heart. We in the north-east know all about the importance of manufacturing. Both advanced and emerging nations are repositioning or developing their industrial and manufacturing capabilities—we have just heard from the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) about Leipzig—with the aim of enhancing comparative advantage for their key sectors and maximising opportunities for growth.

We should not blindly follow our competitors into the latest economic fashion. We cannot replicate off the shelf the German model, still less the Singapore model, but it is clear that in the 21st-century global economy, business and Governments are working together to ensure that potential is realised. We can exploit our values, our tradition and heritage and our current sectoral strengths to create a bespoke one-nation industrial strategy, helping all regions achieve their potential.

As the CBI stated only this month:

“Rebalancing the UK economy must consist of boosting our productive potential, which means reviving business investment and trade as key drivers of growth. The debate is no longer over whether the UK needs an industrial strategy, but about what form this should take.”

We would all agree with that. The message from today’s debate is clear: we need to see clear leadership on an industrial strategy. I therefore fully applaud what Lord Heseltine said in his review when he stated:

“The Government must have a clear blueprint for the future to support wealth creation. This approach should then be applied without exception across the whole of government.”

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I support the TUC when it said:

“If we are to move forward, government, industry and unions must agree between them what a renaissance for manufacturing actually means. . . a strong manufacturing sector, across a variety of high skill, high value industries, is both achievable and desirable”.

The CBI said this month that we should

“adopt a shared vision . . . for the UK economy, with the government reporting back regularly on how this vision is being delivered”.

We would all agree.

We hear warm words from this Government. They often talk a good game, but their actions fail to match their rhetoric, and this country’s industrial potential suffers as a result. So I welcome the Secretary of State’s 16 speeches on the need for an industrial strategy; I just wish he would implement one. I fully support what the Prime Minister said in 2010 in his CBI conference speech—that the Government should be

“getting behind those industries where Britain already enjoys competitive advantage. All over the world governments are identifying dynamic sectors in their economy and working strategically to strengthen them”.

He said something similar only this week at the 2012 CBI conference:

“Government gets it…To have a proper industrial strategy to get behind the growth engines of the future.”

I fully agree. Yet in response to the speech the director general was forced to ask, “Where’s the beef?”

I welcome the honest appraisal by the Secretary of State in his leaked letter of February 2012 in which he said that the Government do not have

“a compelling vision of where the country is heading…and a clear and confident message about how we will earn our living in the future”.

However, I remain anxious that only last month Lord Heseltine felt the need to say in his report:

“The message I keep hearing is that the UK does not have a strategy for growth and wealth creation.”

Earlier this month, the CBI stated the position even more bluntly than that.

George Freeman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Wright: No, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, because I have a lot to get through.

The CBI said that

“the current hands-off approach to growth is failing to provide the confidence necessary for businesses to compete for the biggest opportunities out there”.

Most concerning was the verdict of Sir John Parker, one of Britain’s pre-eminent industrialists as chairman of Anglo American and president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, when he said last month:

“It has been two years since this Government came to power but it still has not set out a vision for Britain’s industrial future. There has been no leadership from the top—and by that I mean David Cameron—which has given a signal to society that Britain values industrial activity.”

George Freeman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Wright: No. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I am keen to make progress.

Business is unconvinced that the Government’s warm words have materialised into firm leadership and tangible action. People want to see action and a sense of urgency,

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but they have not seen that. Will the Minister at least acknowledge this and outline his plans to do something about it?

George Freeman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Wright: Since the hon. Gentleman is being very persistent and because this is about a long-term vision, of course I will give way.

George Freeman: I am extremely grateful; I will be very brief. This time last year, the Prime Minister announced the strategy for the life sciences, which was warmly welcomed across industry—not least by GlaxoSmithKline, which then announced a £500 million investment in advanced manufacturing in the north-west—and has been lauded internationally. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that at least in that sector the Prime Minister personally and this Government, including the Secretary of State, have set out exactly the leadership that he is asking for?

Mr Wright: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about consensus. If we are to have an industrial strategy, we must ensure that it has a long-term strategic focus. Political and business cycles are not aligned—we often have a four or five-year cycle while businesses, certainly in the manufacturing industries, tend to have a 30-year or 40-year cycle—and it would be good to have as much consensus and policy certainty as possible. I hope that this debate has demonstrated that.

Manufacturers’ organisation the EEF has called for

“An industrial strategy”


“needs to endure beyond the latest political fad or any one political party. All our politicians need to recognise the value of having a clear vision, gearing the whole of government to delivering that vision, and setting clear accountability arrangements.”

I fully agree.

In certain sectors, there has been a degree of continuity of policy. The previous Labour Government set up the Automotive Council UK. The current Government have continued with that, and we have seen substantial investments in the automotive industry as a result. We fully recognise and welcome that approach. I have said to the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), who is now in his place, that his formation of the Aerospace Growth Partnership is very welcome, and I would like a future Labour Government to pledge to continue to provide certainty for that key industrial sector. We have seen success in close relationships between Government and business in a number of sectors; the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) mentioned life sciences. Will the Minister say whether the Government plan to replicate that across other key industrial sectors such as chemicals, the construction industry and pharmaceuticals?

There is concern about long-term policy certainty, which investors in manufacturing require. Energy policy has rightly been mentioned a lot in this debate. In the summer, the CBI said in its report on maximising the potential of green business that

“while business wants to keep up the pace, they are equally clear that the government’s current approach is missing the mark, with policy uncertainty, complexity and the lack of a holistic strategy damaging investment prospects.”

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Will the Minister acknowledge that such policy reversals are damaging to business investment, especially for manufacturing? What is he going to do to make sure that he can put arrangements in place within Whitehall to minimise the policy reversals and procrastinations in decision making that are damaging to our long-term industrial prospects?

In the remaining time that I have, I will focus on two important points. The first is that the key to the implementation of a long-term industrial strategy must be an emphasis on business policy across Government; it must not reside just in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Other Departments cannot wash their hands of growth.

As we have heard, energy policy has profound implications for our manufacturing base. The manner in which the carbon floor price is implemented will have significant repercussions on our industrial competitiveness. Our aviation and transport policies also have an impact on our competitiveness. Local government can be a driver of economic regeneration and development. The Ministry of Defence should be working closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that we have a defence industrial strategy. Of particular relevance to the Minister is the close link, which we have heard about today, between an industrial strategy, skills and what is being taught in schools. I recall that the hon. Member for Burnley made an intervention on careers advice. We must see clearer signs that there is proper co-ordination on business and industry across Whitehall. What is the Minister doing to implement the Heseltine recommendations on creating better co-ordination, accountability and commitment across Whitehall on wealth creation?

My second point relates to procurement. The Government intervene in the markets by buying things every single day, and yet Government procurement does not maximise Britain’s industrial capability or enhance the UK supply chain. What else will the Minister do to push for smarter procurement across Government to help British industry, and to encourage innovation and create jobs in this country?

We believe that there is a need for an intelligent industrial strategy. This debate has shown that our industrial and manufacturing sectors have huge potential in the 21st century, but that to flourish, they require active co-operation. The whole House seems to have supported that today. I hope that the Minister will pledge similar support.

4.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills (Matthew Hancock): Debates in this House are often described by those who speak in them as important, but there is something important about today’s debate: on this subject, cross-party unity matters. There has been clear unity across all three parties that have been represented in this debate. Almost everybody stuck to that tone, until a brief period at the end. I will not push the point about who got us into this mess and I will not ask under which Government the number of private sector jobs in the west midlands fell, because it is important, for substantive reasons, that there is a cross-party approach

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to industrial strategy. This debate has shown the passion of Members and of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group.

Kelvin Hopkins: I agree with the Minister that there should be cross-party consensus, provided that that consensus is on the right side. If everybody is wrong, we will drive ourselves further into difficulty.

Matthew Hancock: That is a profound point about the need to avoid groupthink, with which I profoundly agree.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) argued that we need to identify the best. He was passionate about enterprise and I heard his message. He will know that I am a huge supporter of enterprise zones.

I enjoyed listening to the historical debate between the hon. Members for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), who are continuing their debate as I speak.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) asked a series of questions and brought his huge experience to bear, especially in relation to defence. The defence growth partnership is a BIS-led cross-Government partnership, which the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), leads. On the specific point about R and D tax credits moving to above the line, the Treasury has consulted on that and is deciding on the detail. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend for helping me with the answer on the joint strike fighter, which I will come to in a moment.

Everybody in the House was struck by the fluent and impressive speech by the new hon. Member for Corby (Andrew Sawford). He described passionately his membership of the Co-operative party as well as the Labour party. My grandfather was part of the co-operative movement. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt want to contact my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who takes a lead on such issues among Government Members.

The hon. Member for Corby advanced the argument for the living wage powerfully. He spoke of the need to ensure that domestic British people have the skills to take the jobs that are available. Although more than 1 million private sector jobs have been created under this Government, we still have a huge amount of work to do. As Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my prime motivation is to ensure that British people have the skills and ability to do whatever it takes to get the growing number of jobs available. The hon. Member for Corby spoke with great passion, and all those present in the debate will have clocked that—well, let me put it like this: the attitude he showed to the Chief Whip on the Opposition Front Bench, and his ability to ingratiate himself with her, shows that he may not be on the Back Benches for long.

An industrial policy is central to achieving the goal of growth and enterprise, and there is broad consensus on that from the CBI to the TUC, as well as across the House. The reason for that is simple. Any Government in a mature economy has an industrial policy—as the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) and

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my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) argued, a Government cannot choose not to have one. We have an industrial strategy but the question is whether we have it by default or design.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford praised the Dutch system, from which we have much to learn. In my few weeks in this job I have recognised and warmly welcomed the constructive approach taken by the hon. Member for West Bromwich West to chairing the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. He argued for a cross-departmental approach, and the growth committee on which I sit is an important part of that. He also argued for a cross-party approach, and not only do I agree with that, but I think hon. Members have demonstrated such an approach today. In particular, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s realism and ability to accept failures on the part of all past Governments. As he said, manufacturing halved as a percentage of GDP, and the passionate argument about that and the history around it was also put forward by the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher).

Crucially, an industrial strategy looks both at and across sectors, and we must ensure that we allow for the challenge of sectors that are yet to be dreamed of. Let me touch on four cross-cutting themes, as well as on sectors such as the automotive industry, life sciences and aerospace, in which we are pushing rapidly ahead with the publication of individual papers.

George Freeman: On the point about convergence, does the Minister agree that one of the most exciting things in life sciences is the way that medical, food and clean environmental technologies are beginning to merge? I recently visited a plant in Norfolk that converts agricultural waste into fuel for powering Lotuses made in Norfolk. That is a powerful illustration of convergence.

Matthew Hancock: Yes indeed, and across supply chains too. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) powerfully said, it is vital that we bring whole supply chains together when thinking about the sectoral approach. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Some sectors will do well on their own; others need a long-term strategic partnership. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) called for a document that brings things together in each sector, and that is happening.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Briefly, and on a genuinely cross-party consensual basis, will the Minister update the House on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andrew Sawford) about energy-intensive industries such as Tata Steel? Those vital employers and big economic generators have a massive impact on the supply chain, but they consistently say that they do not have a strategy that deals with their energy costs as well as everything else.

Matthew Hancock: The Government have an energy-intensive industries approach, and an energy Bill will soon be published that I hope will provide some long-term certainty.

Let me return to the four cross-cutting areas. The first is finance, and my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) spoke fluently about the funding for lending scheme that lowers the cost of

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funding. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) called for a business investment bank, which is happening, and the green investment bank is already operating and making loans.

Secondly, and close to my heart in the industrial strategy, are skills. The call went out for more employer focus on skills, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) made a passionate case for apprenticeships. I strongly agree, and I urge all Members to engage with the employer ownership pilot that was published on Monday which is about looking ahead. For example, we know that with Crossrail, High Speed 2 and broadband, more tunnelling skills will be required in the future. We now have a pipeline for those tunnelling skills—a pipeline for pipelines.

As the hon. Member for Coventry North West discussed, the third thing we need is more intelligent procurement. This Government have a more intelligent approach to procurement, and I hope it will become more intelligent still. Crucially, our national infrastructure plan identifies 500 projects. Some £70 billion of future contracts have been planned and published across 13 different sectors. We are also trying to speed up procurement.

On technology, we have protected the science budget and are focusing on eight key technologies. Links to universities are vital. Catapult centres will accelerate that. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot spoke about Surrey satellites. That example should go out throughout the country. Turning links with universities into business reality is critical to our future success.

I commend the cross-party approach. I urge people to look at the fact that all three parties are coming together to promote the long-term industrial strategy we need, which I commend to the House.

4.55 pm

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): I congratulate my two colleagues—my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) and the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds)—on securing the debate. I also congratulate the new hon. Member for Corby (Andrew Sawford) on his maiden speech. I remember doing mine two and half years ago. I hope he is as enthusiastic in two and a half years as I am now. It does not take long for the House to kick the strength out of people.

The right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) put the debate into perspective when he said that, in the past 60 years, we have gone from being the major supplier to the world to being a minor supplier. In 1958—nearly 60 years ago—I turned up on my first day as an apprentice engineer at a company in Accrington that employed 5,000 people to produce textile machinery that was sold around the world. It is no longer there, and has not been for many years. I have been involved in manufacturing almost throughout the period he described.

We can get growth going in numerous ways. The one thing the Chancellor can do in two weeks’ time is give 100% capital allowances for investment in capital, buildings and the like for the manufacturing sector. As I understand it, the major companies in this country, and companies from abroad who wish to invest, have £70 billion stashed in banks. One hundred per cent. capital allowances for just two years would boost investment and the money would be spent in the UK.

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Another major problem is the supply chain—it is a problem in the automotive and aerospace industries. It needs to be resolved. To get rid of our balance of payments deficit, we need to increase exports by 15% and reduce imports by 15%. It does not sound like a big task to export 15% more and import 15% less. I have asked companies whether they are able to do so. The vast majority in the aerospace industry say, “Yes, we can. We’ve got order books for 25 years ahead, but we do not have a supply chain to feed our order book, so we are having to import. We would really like to manufacture in the UK so we have our own supply chain.” We need to resolve that, but we also need the staff to work in the supply chain—the young people to work in the supply chains of our top industries, such as the aerospace, automotive and chemical industries, are not coming through. The supply chain gap is a major problem.

We have a major skills gap. I visited Rolls-Royce in Derby only last week and asked to see its apprenticeships training programme. I was delighted to hear that it takes on 40 extra apprentices every year not for Rolls-Royce, but for the supply chain—companies that supply Rolls-Royce but that cannot afford to take on apprentices. Those small companies want high-class apprentices and to deliver the skills of the future, and Rolls-Royce takes them on at its own expense so that its supply chain is secure.

Hon. Members mentioned careers advice. I am horrified when I go to schools in my constituency and hear about the careers advice that is given to young people. Basically, it is nothing—no careers advice that is of any use is given. Some young people would be interested in going into manufacturing, but nobody advises them what it is about. It is high time that the Department for Education looked into careers advice in schools. We need young people who really know what manufacturing is about.

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

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Business without Debate

business of the house


That, in respect of the Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a Second time.—(Mark Lancaster.)


Rohingya Community

5 pm

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): I wish to present this petition to the House, which has nearly 1,000 signatures, and is from Mr Ali and residents of Coldhurst and other parts of Oldham. I am grateful for the opportunity to present this petition.

The petition states:

The Petition of Mr Ali and residents of Coldhurst,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that as a result of a recent attack on the Rohingya ethnic minority in June 2012 there is now a humanitarian crisis in Burma and that more than 90,000 Rohingya have been displaced; further that the Petitioners believe that since 1962 no Rohingya have been issued with birth certificates which renders them aliens to their own country and means they have no citizen’s rights and that innocent civilians are being targeted because of their ethnic background; further that the Petitioners believe that this is a modern ethnic cleansing and that it has been described as such by many independent journalists and NGOs and that the Rohingya require relief and aid. The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to cease its economic ties with Burma and to assist in providing aid for the displaced Rohingya of the region.

And the Petitioners remain, as in duty bound, will ever pray.


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NHS Trust Merger (Dorset)

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

5.2 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): May I first thank Mr Speaker for selecting this subject for this evening’s debate? I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne) are here. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West has himself sent a submission to the Office of Fair Trading in relation to the proposed merger of the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust with Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

This is not just an important subject for our locality. It raises issues of principle, because this is the first time it has been proposed that two separate NHS foundation trusts merge. The OFT says that there a lot of other proposals in the pipeline. It is therefore important that the Minister has the opportunity to comment on what seems a bizarre procedure, certainly in relation to this matter.

I have to express an uncomfortable truth about tonight’s debate. I have always trusted the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust as being open, transparent and honest in its dealings with me and the public at large, and my constituents appreciate the excellent services provided at the two hospitals. However, it is fundamental to public confidence in hospitals that there should be transparency and openness in dealings with the public. Indeed, the requirement for such transparency and openness is set out in the documents on which the foundations trusts are based. The constitution of the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust describes it as a “public benefit corporation”, and paragraph 6.5 states:

“In conducting its affairs, the Trust shall have regard to the need to provide information to members and conduct its affairs in an open and accessible way.”

As I shall demonstrate, in relation to the merger proposal, quite the reverse has happened.

I also refer my hon. Friend the Minister to another trust document, “Authorisation of the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust”. It was approved on 1 April 2005 by Monitor. Paragraph 25, headed “Information given to Parliament and to Members of Parliament”, reads:

“In addition to any statutory requirements, the Chairman, Chief Executive or any other person giving information to Parliament or to a Member of Parliament on behalf of a Trust shall ensure that they comply with the standards expected of Ministers of the Crown with regard to openness of dealings, the giving of accurate and truthful information and the correction of any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Any question submitted to the Trust by a Member of Parliament shall be responded to by the Trust within the same timescale as that expected of Ministers with respect to Parliamentary questions.”

In due course, Mr Deputy Speaker, you will see that the trust seems to be totally in breach of that paragraph.

The trust has embarked on a merger proposal. Obviously, with any such proposal, people will wonder, “What is the purpose of the merger? Why do we need a merger? What will be the benefits and consequences?” I found

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out that the trust had produced a long document setting out the benefits. In order that I could respond to the Office of Fair Trading inquiry, I thought it would be helpful to see the benefits case, and I eventually received an almost totally redacted version, dated September 2012. The section on the key patient benefits to cardiology starts on page 29, but almost every line on every page is completely redacted. The same is the case with the sections on acute general surgery, haematology and maternity services—indeed, the only word that is not redacted in the latter section, which is four pages long, is “maternity”.

That is scarcely credible. It is farcical and makes a complete mockery of any public consultation or involvement. The OFT has the task of trying to find out from local people and third parties whether they believe that patient benefits flowing from the merger will outweigh the loss of choice and competition that will inevitably result, but the basic information needed to reach a judgment is not available. That is why I am in a state of limbo. We had only 14 working days to send in our submissions to the OFT, so I sent in mine on the basis of as much information as I could gather on the grapevine, plus some speculation, pointing out how aggrieved I felt, on behalf of my constituents, that the information needed was not made available.

The OFT is now considering the issue and will, I am told, announce its decision by 8 January 2013. I hope that at the end of this debate the Minister will say to me that, on behalf of the Government, he will ask the Office of Fair Trading, as I have, to refer the matter to the Competition Commission for a full inquiry, because it raises lots of issues. It also makes it difficult for the Office of Fair Trading if the information provided to it cannot be tested in public.

That is where we are at the moment. I received that heavily redacted document, and instead of anything else I was then given a set of slides, which caused me to raise a number of questions. I put them in writing to the hospital and at the end of last week, after about a fortnight, I received replies to them. However, the letter I received, dated 16 November, starts:

“Dear Chris

Strictly private and confidential. Not to be disclosed without express prior written consent of both Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Trust”.

I therefore cannot disclose what the document says—I think I can disclose that it exists and I can tell the House what some of the questions I asked were, but the answers cannot be shared. One of the questions was:

“Why do services have to be reduced in the absence of a merger ‘in order to stay viable’?”,

but I am not allowed to publish the answer. I also asked:

“In the event of no merger, which services will no longer be provided locally which will thereby necessitate patients having to travel further?”,

and so on. I asked all those questions, but the answers—if they can be described as such—cannot be made available. Surely that must a breach of the terms of the constitution to which I referred earlier.

The process is far from satisfactory, but let me turn to the substance. After a considerable amount of digging and discussion with local people, I found out why there is this conspiracy of secret dealings. The Royal

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Bournemouth and Christchurch Foundation Trust knows that it is under an obligation, under section 242 of the National Health Service Act 2006,

“to engage and/or formally consult when considering changes to the way in which services are provided or the range of services they intend to provide”.

The trust wants a service reconfiguration, but it wants to close down the options before any public discussion of it takes place. The trust effectively wants to pre-empt discussion by using the cloak of the merger proposal. As a unified trust—a monolithic monopoly supplier—it would then effectively be able to dictate terms to the Government and the local people. For example, reducing the Royal Bournemouth hospital’s accident and emergency service from a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week service to one operating between 8 o’clock in the morning and 10 o’clock in the evening could be presented as a fait accompli, as could closing down the maternity service, which is a midwife-led service, and transferring it to Poole because Poole is desperately short of money.

One of the issues behind all this is that for years the Royal Bournemouth has prided itself on wanting to be the hospital of choice for local people, but then Poole hospital got into financial difficulties—indeed, it did not have its accounts properly accepted for 2010. It seems that the only way Poole hospital can get out of those difficulties is by merging, because then it would have a higher prudential borrowing limit, which would enable it to carry out improvements. However, my point is this: what is the benefit for the people using the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch hospitals at the moment?

There has also been an attempt to try to intimidate people and prevent them from participating in any public discussion. I have had a number of discussions with people involved in the governance of the hospital, and with other local residents. I shall not quote from all the letters that I have received, but I do have one letter that I thought would be worth quoting. It is from a lady who says:

“I am very impressed by your investigations into the planned merger, which once completed will suddenly and too late wake the slumbering populace up. I really wonder who the NHS thinks they are there for—it seems only, sometimes, for themselves and their accountants. And to issue our MP with heavily redacted information is bordering on Stalinism.”

There is a notice up now in the local hospital, saying that there is legal advice against disclosing the benefits case, and restating that no decisions have been made regarding the reconfiguration. But the issue is not decisions; it is about proposals, and it is the proposals about which we should be having a discussion. If I asked my independent foundation trust for information, I should not have to receive a letter back from the two foundation trusts jointly. They should be looking at the matter from the point of view of the interests of each of their localities, rather than having a joint exercise, which is squeezing out the public interest.

The notice continues:

“The benefits submitted to the OFT have had full engagement with lead clinicians across both hospital trusts around how the new organisation could move forward”.

I do not quite know what “full engagement” means, but obviously if there is no public declaration of what the benefits are, nobody is in a position to know whether

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it reflects their views. That is one of the fundamental reasons why we support the principles of accountability in this House.

I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate he will deal with the issue of accountability. I am hopeful also that, in looking at the whole case, he will have regard to the comments that he made when he responded to a debate on acute and emergency services on 26 October. On that occasion, our hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) was arguing for nationally led service reconfiguration, but the Minister pointed out that changes to services in Manchester and London, which had been cited, were

“driven at a local level by good clinical leadership and effective engagement of local communities.”

It is the latter part of that which is totally lacking currently in Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole. In the same debate, my hon. Friend emphasised the need for plans for service change to be developed in a way that

“gives confidence to local communities.”

He also emphasised that change

“should encourage choice and availability”

and identified the danger that in the more rural parts of the country,

“bigger and better centres will often reduce choice”

and result in people having to travel

“long distances to receive their care.”—[Official Report, 26 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 1271-2.]

The Minister also referred to the advent of clinical commissioning groups taking over from primary care trusts, but there has been no engagement between those groups and Members of Parliament about what is being proposed in Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole.

That is where we are at the moment. I think it is very sad that there has been that breakdown in communication between the Members of Parliament and the trusts. The whole purpose of the trusts—I was delighted when the Royal Bournemouth was one of the first foundation trusts, established in 2005—was that they should be independent and could not be interfered with by Government, but would be accountable to local people. But I am afraid that the local people, even those who are serving in positions on the board, are feeling that they are being squeezed out of the debate, being told that they must not say anything for fear of prejudicing the outcome. Surely this very important proposed merger should be the subject of a public debate, and before we get to the stage of a merger the proposals for the reconfiguration of services, which are obviously being actively discussed and debated by the chief executives of the two trusts, should be put before the general public for their views. I do not think that my constituents are very keen on the idea that their accident and emergency unit, which they use, at the Royal Bournemouth should be closed after 10 o’clock at night and not reopen until 8 o’clock in the morning. Likewise, I do not think that they are very keen on the idea of the maternity service being relocated from Bournemouth to Poole.

Anyone who asks questions about the merger is told that if it does not happen, Poole hospital will close. A similar threat was made to me on Monday when I went to the hospital. I was told that if the merger did not go through, Christchurch hospital would close. That is completely at odds with a letter that was sent to one of

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my constituents who had expressed concern about the changes at Christchurch hospital. In that letter, the hospital stated that, because of the financial strength of the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the future of Christchurch hospital was assured. That letter was received by my constituent earlier this month, yet the chief executive told me on Monday that if the merger went ahead, the proposal for Christchurch would be abandoned and Christchurch hospital might have to be sold. What an extraordinary state of affairs we are in! I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Minister. I hope that he will be able to allay some of the concerns in our locality.

5.21 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr Daniel Poulter): It is a pleasure to respond to the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on securing it, and on being a strong advocate for the needs of his constituents and of patients throughout his part of the world. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne) and my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who are also in the Chamber. They, too, are strong advocates for the patients they represent, and I know that their constituents are grateful to them for that.

It is right to highlight the importance of having a good working relationship between Members of Parliament and their local hospital trusts. It is never desirable for any hospital to embark on local service changes of any kind without properly engaging with the local Members of Parliament. In this case, we are talking about a merger, rather than a service reconfiguration; there is an important distinction between the two, which I will come to in a moment. Nevertheless, from what my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has said, it does not sound as though the local hospital trust has engaged with him in a way that we would all consider desirable, and I am sure that it will consider that in its future relations with MPs.

That point was strongly made when my hon. Friend read out the heavily redacted document. There is freedom of information, and certain issues can quite rightly be exempted from freedom of information requests under statute. However, to present a document bearing only the heading “Maternity” is not in the spirit of co-operative and collaborative working with Members of Parliament or in the spirit of being as open and transparent as we would like. I am sure that he has already raised these issues locally, but I would also like to place on record my concern at what he has told the House. It is important that MPs, as strong advocates for our constituents and the patients in our constituencies, should always be engaged at an early stage when decisions of this magnitude are being made.

My hon. Friend paid tribute to the dedicated front-line staff at the hospitals in Poole and Bournemouth. It is worth highlighting that some very good things have been happening in both trusts. At Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, a life-saving service that treats heart attack patients within 60 minutes is now available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the Royal Bournemouth hospital. It treats heart attack patients from across Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire. Also, a new combined acute and rehabilitation

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stroke unit opened in 2012. It is designed to improve the experience and outcomes of stroke patients by providing specialist services, with a particular focus on the rehabilitation of patients, which is an important part of stroke care.

Mr Chope: I am glad that the Minister cited those examples, but are they not examples of how independent trusts can innovate and thereby create beneficial change rather than have a monolithic monopoly? Surely we would not have so much innovation if all our trusts were merged into one.

Dr Poulter: My hon. Friend is right that trusts—in their own right, or when they are merged together as they were historically over the river at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ and at the medical school of Guy’s, King’s and St. Thomas’ of which I am a graduate—can gain and improve the quality of care available to patients without losing their distinctness. Services are offered on each site, but at the same time they can add to the services they provide to patients in the totality. I believe my hon. Friend is right to say that these innovations have come from the independence and the good work of his local hospital, but I also believe there can be distinct advantages from hospitals coming together as well. The common purpose is making sure that good local service provision is maintained, while services of clinical excellence are also developed, further improving the offer to patients—not just in those towns, but throughout the area.

I want to highlight, and not leave out, some of the good things happening at Poole hospital, as it would be wrong for me, having highlighted a number of good developments at the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, not to mention them. At Poole hospital, the standard of care for cancer patients has been rated as among the best in the country in a national survey. The 2011-12 national cancer patient experience survey found that 94% of patients rated their care as “excellent” or “very good”, giving Poole the highest score recorded among participating trusts. I know all Members, as constituency Members, would feel very proud of that hospital’s achievements.

I am sure that my hon. Friend welcomes this Government’s investment in the NHS, even in very difficult economic times, as we put an extra £12.5 billion into NHS services over the lifetime of this Parliament. I am sure we all agree that that is a good thing.

What is the current position? Let me address some of my hon. Friend’s points. As to the proposals by the foundation trusts in Bournemouth and Poole, I appreciate that when any changes to local NHS services are mooted, people can become anxious and feelings can run high. However, I must be very clear to my hon. Friend that there is no formal role for Ministers or the Department of Health in approving mergers between two foundation trusts. I fully appreciate his concern to ensure that there is appropriate engagement and consultation on any proposals for service changes that may affect his constituents. I have already put on record some of my concerns about the process and engagement so far, which I think we would all accept is not ideal.

Mr Chope: I was not asking the Minister to have a role in approving the merger or otherwise. What I asked him to do, on behalf of the Government, was to say to

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the Office of Fair Trading that this is an issue of sufficient significance that it should be referred to the Competition Commission.

Dr Poulter: If my hon. Friend will be patient with me for a few moments, I will address that point a little later.

In acknowledging the understandable anxiety that can be stoked when any discussions about hospital services take place, it is important to highlight the fact that, as we saw over the river at Guy’s and St. Thomas’, although there was some good preservation of the individual and distinct offers to the local populations of the two institutions in their own right, by coming together they have been better together and provided better services.

One of the big problems we face in the NHS is concern about putting more money into front-line care and about cutting back on waste and bureaucracy. Clearly, if the administration across two trusts can be shared, it will free up more money to be diverted and put into what we all care about—front-line patient care.

Let me put on record once again that the trusts have clearly stated that this is not about the reconfiguration of clinical services. That is quite distinct. My hon. Friend was quite right to mention some of the points I raised in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) about the important and distinct challenges faced in rural constituencies, and the fact that service reconfiguration challenges are very different in rural areas where there are longer distances to travel. As I have said, however, this is not about reconfiguring services, but about trusts merging and seeking what I think we would consider to be potentially desirable

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results, such as economies of scale and a reduction in unnecessary administrative burdens when possible. I think that, although the process and the approach taken to engagement with my hon. Friend and other Members of Parliament have not been ideal, some very positive elements have emerged from the discussion.

As my hon. Friend said, stringent tests would be applied to reconfiguration if it were on the table. The criteria would be strong public and patient engagement, consistency with current and prospective need for patient choice, a clear clinical evidence base, and support for proposals from clinical commissioners. Clinicians should always lead reconfiguration challenges, but today we are not talking about reconfiguration; we are talking about a hospital merger. It is the first of its kind to be proposed between foundation trusts in the country, and in that respect it is new territory for the NHS. There are distinct rules, including, as my hon. Friend said, referral of the case to the Office of Fair Trading.

The OFT’s role in reviewing the merger will be to establish whether there is a realistic prospect that it will result in a substantial lessening of competition. I am sure that it will also consider the issues of rurality and the choice of services available to patients. Should it refer the matter to the Competition Commission, which it has a right to do if it has concerns, the commission’s role will be to conduct an in-depth investigation, and to decide whether the merger does indeed represent a substantial lessening of competition and choice.

Concern has been expressed about the rurality of surrounding areas, and about the fact that there are long distances between hospital trusts. That may—

5.32 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).