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Point of Order

11.38 am

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry that I will be a little unseasonal in my point of order, but it is in response to the Government.

Last night, at around 5 o’clock, an amendment was tabled to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill in the other place with the purpose of abolishing the Agricultural Wages Board in England and Wales. The results of a consultation, which were only put on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website yesterday evening, show that the majority of people oppose the abolition of the AWB, and it is also against the express wishes of the Welsh Government, who have said that they do not want it abolished. The abolition would affect thousands of agricultural workers and, on the Government’s own figures, would take more than £240 million out of the rural economy. Have you had any request from Ministers to make a statement to Members in this House?

Mr Speaker: I have received no such request. I am sorry if the otherwise jovial spirits of the hon. Gentleman in the approach to Christmas have been undermined or disturbed, but from the vantage point of the Chair nothing disorderly has occurred. I have a sense that this is a matter to which the House will return in due course. If there are no further points of order, we will move on.

bill presented

Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Danny Alexander, Mr Oliver Letwin, Steve Webb, Michael Fallon and Sajid Javid, presented a Bill to make provision relating to the up-rating of certain social security benefits and tax credits.

Bill read the First Time; to be read a Second time Monday 7 January 2013, and to be printed (Bill 116) with explanatory notes (Bill 116-EN).

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Backbench Business

Energy and Climate Change Committee Report

11.41 am

Mr Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of the publication of the Fifth Report from the Energy and Climate Change Committee, on Consumer Engagement with Energy Markets, HC 554-I, and the launch of inquiries into Energy prices, profits and poverty, and Smart meter roll-out.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Backbench Business Committee for the chance to launch my Committee’s report on consumer engagement with energy markets, which was published today. My Committee has been paperless since the summer recess so my notes are on an iPad, rather than hard copy. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

This inquiry was prompted by our concerns that many consumers do not have a clear idea of how energy prices will be affected by investment in energy infrastructure—investment that is needed to provide a clean, secure and affordable energy supply for the future. Our report concludes that consumer engagement with the energy market is low and that this is linked to low levels of competition and consumer trust in the energy industry. Many consumers seemed unable or unwilling to take action to reduce their energy bills by switching provider. We are particularly concerned that some customers who have not engaged in switching may be among the more vulnerable, and that they are paying considerably more for their energy.

There is little incentive for larger energy suppliers to offer those consumers a better deal. Confusion felt by consumers faced with too many different tariffs has been a barrier to switching. Other barriers include apathy, which I fear I may be guilty of myself as a non-switcher; fear of ending up with a worse deal; feeling that switching is too much hassle; disinterest in energy issues; distrust of suppliers; and feeling that all suppliers are the same.

Ofgem plans to increase both switching and competition under its retail market review proposals by reducing and simplifying tariffs and making it easier for consumers to switch. The Prime Minister, during Prime Minister’s questions, recently pledged to ensure that

“energy companies have to give the lowest tariff to their customers”.—[Official Report, 17 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 316.]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), who is in his place,confirmed to us that the Department of Energy and Climate Change would be doing that in the Energy Bill. However, the Government’s proposals are very similar to those put forward by Ofgem. We question the wisdom of legislating to implement measures that are so similar to those Ofgem proposes to implement more quickly without legislation. Whether the Government’s and Ofgem’s measures on tariffs will improve the situation for consumers remains to be seen. It is crucial that, if they do not make improvements soon, stronger action is taken to ensure that consumers get a fair deal from

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energy providers. Our report concludes that the effect of the proposed reforms should be monitored and it proposes several indicators for tracking the effect on competition and on getting a better deal for consumers.

As I outlined earlier, the rising cost of investing in our energy infrastructure and of paying for DECC’s environmental and social policies will be reflected in consumer bills over coming decades. Currently, there is some confusion about the impact of this investment on consumer bills, and it is important that there is more clarity, because consumers are being expected to take action to offset these costs and avoid large rises in their bills. A very good way of doing that is by increasing energy efficiency, but we are concerned that this message is not getting across to consumers and that plans for informing consumers about energy efficiency lack detail.

Our inquiry heard from members of the public at events held in Southampton, East Bergholt, in my constituency, and Banchory. People told us that they did not know whom to trust for information about energy issues or where to go for advice. Given the importance of increasing consumer knowledge of these issues, we conclude that there is a case for streamlining the sources of information available to consumers to provide a single, independent, reliable and trustworthy source of information about these issues. Most of all, however, we need a full and frank conversation with the public about the contribution that consumers are being expected to make to ensuring that we have safe, secure and affordable energy supplies in the future. DECC should lead that conversation. Consumers need to be aware that bills may continue to rise unless they increase energy efficiency or otherwise reduce their energy consumption.

During our inquiry, energy price rises were reported by all major suppliers, and prices look set to continue rising. We are concerned about the effect on consumers, particularly those in fuel poverty.

John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): I thank the Chair of the Committee, of which I have the honour of being a member, and my colleagues for being so forward thinking as to visit Anniesland college in my constituency in February to talk to real people about real problems. Does my hon. Friend—I believe he is my friend in this case—agree that it is important not only that we reach out to people and talk to them, but that we talk to people who have real problems? The Minister might think of trying that for a change, rather than staying within the walls of this palace.

Mr Yeo: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is a valued colleague on my Committee, for that intervention. I am looking forward to my visit to Glasgow in February. It is truly said that there is more fun to be had at a funeral in the west of Scotland than at a wedding in the east of Scotland.

My Committee is concerned about the effect on consumers, particularly those in fuel poverty. Price rises from energy companies this autumn mean that average annual energy bills have already risen by about 7%, and DECC’s own advisory group on fuel poverty has estimated that 300,000 more homes will be in fuel poverty by Christmas. Millions more may be affected unless radical action is taken. If consumers are to protect themselves against the rising cost of energy, they will need to act to

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reduce their bills. The success of the green deal and smart meter roll-out depends on public buy-in. Unfortunately, at present, public confidence is low.

Our report found evidence of a lack of consumer trust in energy suppliers, which may in part derive from a lack of transparency in energy company profits and prices. Some consumers blame energy company profits for the rise in prices. A poll undertaken by my Committee showed that one in two people believed that energy company profits contributed most to the 75% increase in the average household dual fuel bill between 2004 and 2010.

Greater transparency is needed in respect of energy company profits and energy prices, including across the whole portfolio of the vertically integrated companies. Our report makes recommendations for increasing transparency, but the issue warrants further investigation. Regaining confidence and trust will require both the Government and energy companies to demonstrate that consumers are getting a fair deal and, importantly, that vulnerable fuel-poor households are being reached and protected.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): I welcome the report. Recommendation 13 refers to transparency in respect of profits and trading. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is worrying that when a previous report advised Ofgem of the need to look at the wholesale market and trading, and made a number of recommendations, Ofgem declined to take the opportunity to look into this area more closely? It is worrying that Ofgem does not see its role as looking at the source of the issue: where wholesale prices are made and when those trades are made.

Mr Yeo: It is true that Ofgem could have been a little more vigorous and robust in its response to the concerns raised about how profits are made in different parts of some of the vertically integrated businesses. This is a complex area, but more could be done to promote transparency without infringing the commercial rights that companies obviously want to protect for themselves.

We want the Government and energy companies to demonstrate that consumers are getting a fair deal and that vulnerable, fuel-poor households are protected. With fuel poverty projected to hit 3.9 million households and pressure on low-income consumers from rising energy prices, along with tariffs that penalise those who are struggling, there is clearly still a long way to go. My Committee is therefore today launching a further inquiry to investigate energy prices, profits and poverty. The inquiry will aim to answer one question: are energy companies offering consumers a fair deal? We are interested in what factors determine prices and what contribution they make to a typical bill; the extent to which the Government or regulator should intervene, if at all, to influence prices; whether Ofgem is protecting consumers and, if not, how it could improve; and whether other measures could ensure that consumers are paying fair prices. On profits, we wish to examine whether the public’s perception that prices are rising because of company profits is fair; why there is so much uncertainty about how much profit companies are making; how information about profits is communicated and whether this could be improved; and how better transparency and trust could be developed in the energy industry.

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We will be looking at whether the Government are on track to eliminate fuel poverty by 2016; the findings of the Hills review and its impact on fuel poverty policy; the extent to which fuel poverty policies are reaching the right people and how this might change under the energy company obligation; measures for vulnerable consumers living in solid-wall and hard-to-treat properties; and the extent to which fuel-poor households engage in switching and energy efficiency schemes.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend and his Committee for their excellent report. He will know that the all-party group on off-gas grid is in the middle of its inquiry, so I welcome this extra investigation. He has long been an advocate for households in his constituency and elsewhere. Will he ensure that the new inquiry includes a reference to off-gas grid households?

Mr Yeo: I am happy to tell my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour that we will extend our inquiry to cover that point; we have published the terms of reference, but I am sure we can probably still manage to squeeze it in.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): May I say on behalf of the coalition Government that we greatly welcome the report published today? There is a lot in it, and I will certainly be studying it in more detail over the Christmas period as I munch my cold turkey. The imperative of acting in the interests of consumers and being prepared to be radical is something the Government take to heart. That is why we are bringing forward the most radical, sweeping changes since privatisation to how consumer tariffs operate. We will take on board my hon. Friend’s recommendations, including those published today. We are absolutely aligned in the interests of ensuring that consumers get the best deal.

May I also welcome my hon. Friend’s announcement today of a further inquiry? We all have an interest in ensuring that we do much better and raise the level of ambition in relation not only to communicating these messages but to understanding the underlying causes. It sounds as though the report will greatly help policy making.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I have, exceptionally, allowed that lengthy intervention because I know that the Minister is not allowed to make his own speech, but please could any further interventions be shorter?

Mr Yeo: May I assure my right hon. Friend that the phrase “cold turkey” is not going to be associated with my Christmas at all? Nevertheless, I welcome the constructive engagement that my Committee has with him and his Department, on these issues in particular.

The members of my Committee are all such gluttons for punishment and so well supported by our staff that we are, as I said, launching another inquiry today. Our consumer engagement report concluded that there was an urgent need to begin engaging consumers with the smart meter project, and that the concerns that have been raised about smart meters need to be addressed if roll-out is to be a success. Every home and small business

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in the country is due to have a smart meter installed by 2020. That roll-out will be paid for partly by consumers in their bills. Energy suppliers are expected to benefit from reduced operating and generation costs, and suppliers should pass on some of those savings to consumers through lower prices. In order to reap the benefits of smart metering, consumers will need to use the information about energy use provided by their in-home display to reduce their energy consumption and cut their energy bills.

Our consumer engagement inquiry suggests that only about half of people have heard of smart meters and that not all of them support roll-out. Although the full roll-out is not due to begin until 2014, there is a risk that if engagement levels do not increase, consumers may be reluctant to allow smart meters to be installed in their homes. That could be an obstacle to the success of the programme and the potential for consumers to benefit from it.

Our consumer engagement report also highlighted a lack of consumer trust in energy companies, but it is those very energy suppliers that will be delivering smart meter roll-out directly to consumers. The Government must not be complacent. They should spread the word to consumers as part of the honest conversation that my Committee has recommended. The Committee will monitor progress towards delivering the smart meter roll-out and we are today putting out a call for evidence. We are particularly concerned to explore: what criteria will be used to judge the success of the project and whether the cost and time scale predictions are realistic; whether smart meters will empower consumers to take greater control of their energy consumption; whether enough is being done to ensure that financial benefits accruing to suppliers will be passed on to consumers; how to achieve transparency on what consumers are paying towards the roll-out; and how to ensure that vulnerable customers, including consumers on pre-payment meters, reap the benefits.

The consumer engagement report that we are publishing today has important messages for the energy industry, for the regulator, for consumers and for the Government. I commend the report to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

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Backbench Business

Christmas Adjournment

11.58 am

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Beautifully moved. Merry Christmas, Mr Amess. There will be a time limit of eight minutes on Back-Bench speeches in the debate. My guidance to the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) is that, although the clock will not be put on him, his time limit is 10 minutes.


11.59 am

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I want to raise the issue of ambulance stations in my High Peak constituency. First, for the sake of clarity, I should explain that the High Peak is a large constituency and as such is covered by two primary care trusts: Derbyshire in the south and Glossop and Tameside in the north. Consequently, the ambulance services are provided by the North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust and the East Midland Ambulance Service NHS Trust. I want to concentrate today on the East Midland Ambulance Service—EMAS—but if time allows, I will also briefly mention the North West Ambulance Service.

“Being the Best” is an EMAS proposal to rationalise the ambulance services and ambulance stations across the whole of the east midlands. I am sure many Members across the east midlands will have their own issues in their own constituencies. I want to highlight the consequences for the residents of a large part of the High Peak of what I believe are badly thought out and ill advised proposals.

EMAS is looking to create a hub-based model. A hub will be, as the word suggests, a large centre where ambulances will be based and where crews will go to collect their vehicles and return them at the end of the shift. The hubs will be supported by what EMAS calls “deployment units”. I have seen a photograph of a deployment unit and I venture to say that, if we in this Chamber saw one, many of us would say it looks remarkably like a portakabin. They look unattractive, which does not go down well in an attractive area such as the High Peak where the scenery is so well appreciated, and also seem to be of very little use. I can see the logic of a hub-and-spoke model, but the crucial decision within such a model is where the hubs are located. That is where I believe EMAS has got things so badly wrong for the High Peak.

There are presently two ambulance stations in the EMAS area of the High Peak: one in Buxton and one in New Mills. Under the EMAS proposals, both of them will be removed, leaving the area without an ambulance station at all, relying instead on a hub that is placed not in or even around the High Peak, but in Chesterfield—at a distance of over 30 miles from New Mills, which is the

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furthest point. EMAS claims that the ambulances will not be parked there, but merely collected from and returned to the hub. That may be the case, but it creates further difficulties, as I shall explain.

The High Peak gets its name for a very good reason—it is high and there are peaks. The road from Chesterfield into the High Peak reaches at some points almost 1,000 feet above sea level. It is exposed to the elements. Many areas around different parts of the north and the east midlands might see only a sprinkling of snow, but Tideswell Moor, as part of the road is called, can easily be closed: owing to its exposure, only a small amount of snow is required to drift across the road to make it impassable for many vehicles. I use that road every week to catch the train to London. I well remember one occasion when I returned from London, got off the train in Chesterfield and quickly realised that I could go no further. I had to stay overnight in a Chesterfield hotel. I had that option, but somebody in the High Peak who needs an ambulance to use that road does not.

Let us imagine a crew collecting the ambulance to go on shift. They leave the hub, and within a short time a 999 call is received, requiring them to divert to, for the sake of argument, Clay Cross. The ambulance goes to the call, collects the patient and takes them to Chesterfield hospital—a process that could take some time. I have been out with the ambulance crews and I know how long these things can take. From Chesterfield hospital, the crew could get further diverted to, say, Alfreton or Matlock. That could mean the ambulance never reaching the High Peak, leaving my constituency with no ambulance cover at all.

I realise that my case requires a working knowledge of the geography of north Derbyshire, but that further makes my point, as it is precisely that knowledge that was lacking or ignored when the plans were drawn up. In meetings with me, EMAS says that the model has been computer generated. I have to say that it may look good on paper, but it does not and will not work in reality. EMAS also says that “Being the Best” is about improving the service and improving staff welfare. I fail to see how it can even begin to satisfy either of those criteria. How can staff welfare be increased when many of them will face an extra 30-mile journey to work both before and after what could easily be a 12-hour shift?

In addition, EMAS will be committed to compensating staff for excess travel for a certain period following the move. Extra fuel costs will be incurred by the to-ing and fro-ing from the Chesterfield hub—not to mention the cost to the environment with all the extra miles that the staff will have to travel. That means reducing staff welfare while increasing costs and reducing efficiency—to my mind, the direct opposite of what EMAS is trying to achieve.

The knock-on effect will be that, through staff turnover, the High Peak will lose ambulance men and women with the crucial local road knowledge. High Peak residents wishing to become paramedics or to work on the ambulances will now apply to the North West Ambulance Service, whose operational centres are nearer. We will arrive at a situation whereby whatever ambulances we get in the High Peak will be staffed not by local people who know the local towns, villages and hamlets in the area, but by able and excellent staff—I concede that—who

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will be residents from miles away. They will not be able to find their way around—sat-navs do not work that well in the High Peak—and response times will increase even further.

The fundamental problem is the way the process has been undertaken and how the proposals have been arrived at. The North West Ambulance Service is looking at similar proposals, but it appears to be engaging with others, inviting key stakeholders to help to discuss and shape its plans. At a meeting, it referred to the hub-and-spoke model but, I am told, acknowledged that that method of delivery will not suit all areas. I do not wish to prejudge what NWAS may propose, but there appears to be an acknowledgement that one size does not fit all. EMAS, however, presented its proposals with little or no apparent discussion with anyone, key stakeholder or not, preferring to use what appears to be an off-the-shelf template.

As Members would expect, I am batting for my constituents. We deserve a better ambulance service. We have several large quarries and other industrial premises within the High Peak, and they can be dangerous places. Industrial accidents happen. Safety records in the High Peak are good, but there is still the risk of injury.

Let me also dwell a moment on what happens in the summer months. The High Peak can be flooded with tourists. The population swells, and with it the potential risk and the need for an ambulance rise. Walkers, hikers and runners swarm across the High Peak hills like ants. Theatre-goers fill Buxton and the surrounding towns and villages during the Buxton festival. Coach-loads of people come to my constituency during the summer months. Who will go to them if they need emergency assistance?

The first responders, who perform excellent work in the High Peak, have expressed opposition to these plans. I am a great supporter of Mountain Rescue. It does a fantastic job across the High Peak, and in some cases its specific services are needed to reach people in inaccessible areas. Even it has taken the unusual step of expressing grave concerns about these proposals. Derbyshire, Leicester and Rutland Air Ambulance is also a vital part of the emergency mix in the High Peak, but the main ambulance service is still the one that people call most often. These other organisations embrace their responsibilities, but I am concerned that these proposals are leading to EMAS abdicating theirs.

The consultation has now closed. The whole High Peak community has united as one against these proposals. Two public meetings were attended by hundreds of local residents incensed by the proposals. At one meeting I attended, the chief executive said he was “listening very carefully” to local people. I hope he is. I hope that, when he presents his final recommendations to his board, they are not the same ones that are on the table today, as they are inadequate, unfeasible and unworkable: they reduce, not enhance, the service; they hamper, not improve, staff welfare; and they desert, not embrace, the people of the High Peak in their hour of need. The current proposals may improve some response times elsewhere, in the more populated areas of the east midlands, but they will not improve response times in the High Peak.

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12.7 pm

Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): Traditionally, Members raise constituency concerns in the House’s pre-recess Adjournment debates, and I shall raise a subject that has provoked not anger, but fury, and a feeling of unfairness and injustice among my constituents such as I have not known in the 20 years that I have served as a Member of Parliament and the 20 years before that when I was a member of Lewisham borough council. That subject is the appointment in July of a trust special administrator to the South London Healthcare NHS Trust. The TSA was appointed under the unsustainable providers regime, a provision of the National Health Service Act 2006 and amended, I think, in 2009. South London Healthcare NHS Trust does not include Lewisham. It covers the adjoining area, and principally comprises the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich, the Queen Mary hospital in Sidcup and the Princess Royal university hospital in Farnborough.

This is the first time the Department has used these provisions, so the step taken is ground-breaking, pioneering—

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): And privatising.

Jim Dowd: Yes, I think that is part of the TSA’s agenda. The way the Department has engineered this situation is disgraceful, dishonourable, disreputable and downright dishonest—and if we have not had enough alliteration, I could add devious, as well as underhand and fraudulent.

Hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that I am no great supporter of what the TSA has done. The Department is attempting to pervert the process because the major impact of what the administrator in the adjoining trust is doing is on Lewisham hospital. The draft report is a considerable document that has cost an awful lot of money and made an awful lot of money for a number of consultants, including McKinsey, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers—they always seem to do well out of these things. The public consultation on the draft report has closed and the Secretary of State is due to reach a decision. The final report from the TSA will be presented in early January and the Secretary of State will be making a decision in February. I appeal today for the Secretary of State to suspend the entire process, because it has been perverted in the way that I have outlined.

I do not hold the TSA personally responsible. I have met him on a few occasions and find him to be a reasonable and rational person. However, I know that the devastating impact of his report is on Lewisham hospital—the impact there is beyond anything that will happen at Queen Mary’s, the Princess Royal or the Queen Elizabeth. The report will result in the closure of the accident and emergency department, and all medical and surgical emergency care, all maternity services, all children’s services and all critical care will cease on the Lewisham hospital site.

I had an Adjournment debate on this subject a couple of weeks ago. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East

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(Heidi Alexander) both raised the issue in the Opposition-day debate on health just last week. If I were to raise this matter every day in this House, I could not adequately reflect the burning resentment and anger that it has caused in the community in Lewisham, as the injustice is so severe. The Department could not appoint a special administrator to look at Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust, because it is a solvent, well-managed trust meeting all its performance and financial targets. What the Department has done is appoint an administrator next door and then, under the bogus and completely facile assumption that everything connects with everything else, focused on Lewisham hospital. That is what is completely devious about this.

At the public meetings the TSA has held on the matter, he has shown a little film setting out what he is trying to do. It included him quoting this age-old homily, “If your domestic finances are in mess, clearly you have to do something about it.” I do not dispute that the finances of the South London Healthcare NHS Trust are in a mess. At the meeting in Sydenham one of my constituents said to him, “If your domestic finances are in a mess, you may well have to do something about it, but that does not include breaking into next door’s house and nicking all their stuff.” That is precisely what is happening under this system. This procedure is being used for the first time. If it is used in that way, the Department will set a template for the rest of the country. It will then, in theory, be able to appoint a TSA anywhere and his or her remit will be such that they can look anywhere; they will not just focus on the area or trust they have been established to look into.

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State repeatedly parrot four tests for reorganisations and reconfigurations. The first is that they should have general practitioner and clinical commissioning group support. The second is that they should have public engagement. That is a strange use of the vague term “public engagement”; they do not specify “public support”. The third is that the proposals have to be clinically sound. The fourth is that they have to increase patient choice. None of those factors exists in the recommendations for Lewisham hospital, and the TSA does not even maintain that they do. He openly admits that the proposals will reduce patient choice sharply. The clinicians, the hospital board, the CCG, and various groups of GPs across Lewisham and beyond all say that the recommendations are a threat to the standard of care that the people of Lewisham can expect and all are opposed to the TSA’s proposals. I say to the Secretary of State, via the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), that he should abandon the scheme now, as the way it has been undertaken is clearly flawed, and he should protect the services that my constituents and people across south-east London have a right to expect.

12.15 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate on a particularly important topic, in which the Minister shares an interest, as we are neighbours. First, I wish to thank our front-line staff in the ambulance service, our paramedics, who work very hard. I also thank our volunteers, the community first responders, who do a great job and genuinely participate in helping to save lives in our communities.

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That is particularly important in the shires, as reaching someone in just a few minutes to provide life-saving treatment is crucial. I thank those people who give up their time.

A reorganisation is taking place in the east of England ambulance service, and I know that that is a concern to staff, who feel that patients will not get the treatment that they deserve. Change is always unsettling, but I genuinely believe that the management are trying to do this for the best reasons. One of the things we need to keep ensuring is that patient safety is the key priority.

The east of England ambulance service is hitting its targets—it has a regional target. Given that our region is so vast, it is no surprise that by focusing on certain cities it is relatively straightforward to hit targets. However, when we break down the performance by county, we start to see a very different story. I know that my colleagues from Suffolk and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) have long been campaigning on that issue to try to raise it up the agenda, and it is vital that we do so. The presence of a new interim chief executive may start to help us to tackle that. We need to work hard to keep the chair and the board of the ambulance service on their toes, so that they recognise that saying that they have hit a regional target does not mean that the issue will go away—it will not.

One of the things I call on the board to do is think carefully about its responses to Members of Parliament when we are asking for greater transparency on performance. Belatedly—I am pleased that it has done this—there is an agreement that it will start to publish county by county performance details on a monthly basis. I believe that the board should and can go further. We already know that it provides performance data by postcode to the primary care trusts, and I believe those data should be published—they should certainly be available. Instead of getting into freedom of information exchanges, we need to ensure that, in line with what Sir David Nicholson told the Public Accounts Committee, every Member of Parliament should be able to get access to the data they need easily in order to monitor what is happening for their constituents and not be caught in a bureaucratic nightmare. As we all know, sunlight often brings a change in performance. Somebody trying to get to a village such as Shingle Street finds that it takes 10 minutes to get there just from the main road. When I say “main road” I am referring to a single track road. I recognise that not everybody will be able to do that, but it is still important that we try to get the postcode data published.

Earlier this year, after a successful meeting with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), a Health Minister at the time, I was under the impression that there would be a contract with the county performance targets built into it. Indeed, that was important for the paying of bonuses. Disappointingly, the contract that was agreed with the ambulance service by the person agreeing it on behalf of the primary care trusts in the east of England contained an added caveat about hospital handover times. We know that that is an issue, but another thing that Members of Parliament are doing is putting the spotlight on where there are those problems as well. Ultimately, we want the best ambulance service

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for our patients. We should not have to put up with sub-standard performance simply because the county is rural.

One disappointing thing about the contract, from which we expected so much, was that there seemed to be a lot of wriggle room. The new interim chief executive knows that well, as he negotiated the contract on behalf of the primary care trusts. He knows the issues our ambulance services face and I shall press him to ensure that the contracts this time make it clear what percentage of people in Suffolk should expect to see an ambulance within the regulated time.

Another thing that went wrong was the complaints process, although I am delighted that the chair of the ambulance trust has fixed that. I pay tribute to her and her staff for sorting that out. All these problems together have led me to voice my opposition—I will continue to do so—to the trust’s being allowed to have foundation status before a quality service is delivered consistently across the region. Simply placing ambulances close to Cambridge, Ipswich, Norwich, Luton and so on—near the big conurbations—is not fair on our rural areas. I point those people who say, “Well, it is a rural area,” to the example of the north-west. Cumbria has very similar characteristics as a pretty rural area with some big towns, yet the service there manages consistently to hit its targets.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? I hope so. It is clear that MPs from Suffolk and across the east of England will not let up on the issue and I hope that we will have a step change in performance when we meet again in February.

Health care is very important to the people of Suffolk, but I also want to take this opportunity to thank my staff for all the hard work they have done in the last year. They have been extraordinary in helping my constituents tackle all sorts of issues and have also been very helpful this week, as we have sent out a mailshot of nearly 4,000 letters on Sizewell C—another issue that I share with my hon. Friend the Minister—and the impact that could have in the future. On that note, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you a happy Christmas.

12.21 pm

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): I wish to take the unusual step of telling the House and the Minister about the individual case of little Vinny Duggan to highlight a wider problem that the Government can solve by making legal changes so that other patients and other parents such as Andy and Andrea Duggan do not have to go through what this family has gone through in the past two and a half years. As Andrea has said to me, this is their fight, but it is also a fight for other people in their position.

I have been involved with the parents in the quest for information for only 10 months, whereas Mr and Mrs Duggan have been battling since Vinny was born nearly two and half years ago. At times, Vinny has fought for life. He is now a little lad who is full of life. I was with the family on Saturday, and he was smiling, laughing, climbing on the sofa and climbing on me, but he has a very serious congenital heart and lung condition. He has brain damage, likely to have been caused by a

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lack of oxygen, and he is unlikely ever to be able to speak. His parents have told me that they are very proud of Vinny and very grateful that they still have him here.

It has been touch and go at times. He was born on 20 August 2010 at Doncaster royal infirmary. He was full term and was a healthy 7 lb 9 oz. However, within the first day his mum, in particular, became concerned that he was very blue, that he was not feeding properly and that he was very sleepy. The following day, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur and the day after that he was discharged against the parents’ wishes, as they were concerned and wanted tests done before he was discharged. He was at home for two days and after that time, when he had not properly woken up or properly fed and had stopped wetting his nappies, they phoned the hospital and were advised to take him to the children’s observational unit, where they arrived at 7 o’clock that evening.

Within the first hour, they were assessed by a triage nurse as non-urgent—green, in other words—and had to wait almost another five hours before a doctor saw them. During that night, Vinny was put on a heart monitor and given the tests he needed. He had a very high heart rate and was transferred rapidly to the specialist unit at Leeds general infirmary. He was diagnosed as having a very serious life-threatening heart and lung condition. He was given open heart and major lung surgery and spent five months in Leeds hospital, six weeks of that in intensive care and 10 weeks in the high-dependency unit.

The internal investigation at Doncaster hospital afterwards concluded that there were “no real concerns” about the standard of care in Vinny’s case, despite the fact that there were many chances to notice that he was unwell, to do the tests that could have been required and to listen to Mr and Mrs Duggan’s concerns. There remain important discrepancies between the evidence of the parents and that of some of the staff and the hospital in the investigation. It took two years and a new chief executive before, six weeks ago, Mr and Mrs Duggan received a welcome letter from the new acting chief executive, Mike Pinkerton, who ended by saying:

“The care that Vinny received fell below the standard you have a right to expect from us and I do sincerely apologise.”

Like so many other parents, Mr and Mrs Duggan had principally wanted an explanation—not retribution or compensation. However, like many parents, they were driven down the route of trying to get answers through the courts, and that is what they are having to do. They also rightly turned to the professional body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which is responsible for regulating Britain’s 670,000 nurses and midwives. Mrs Duggan submitted a complaint in September 2011, which was turned down in January 2012. She challenged it, which caused the council to look again at the argument that there was no case to answer, and the internal review concluded that the case should be referred back to the investigating committee for reconsideration.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council, however, has limited powers to review its decisions and that has been reinforced and restricted further by a High Court judgment in May in the case of R(B) v. NMC 2012. In other words, the NMC does not have the legal powers it needs

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to review its own decisions. The chief executive, Jackie Smith, was good enough to meet me in the summer and to agree to commission independent legal advice on Vinny’s case and on the NMC’s restrictions. That independent legal advice came from Mark Shaw QC, who concluded:

“The Order and Rules makes it plain that the NMC has no statutory power to review, re-open or reverse a disciplinary decision (in particular, a decision of the Investigating Committee that a registrant has no case to answer) beyond the specific circumstances stipulated in rule 7, namely: receipt of a fresh allegation within three years of the dismissal of a previous allegation against the same registrant.”

He went on to point out:

“Typically, other professional regulators have wider review powers, granted explicitly by secondary legislation.”

Those other professional bodies include the General Medical Council, which is responsible for regulating Britain’s 250,000 registered doctors. The GMC’s powers were rightly extended in 2004, so it has the power to review and reopen a complaint, to take a view that its earlier decisions might be flawed, to take new evidence into account and to act. It is considering a review of the complaint lodged with it about a doctor involved in this case and we expect a decision imminently.

The General Optical Council and the General Pharmaceutical Council have similar powers; the General Dental Council does not. At a time when complaints from patients are rising and pressures on staff are increasing, if we are to maintain trust and confidence in our health professionals and the NHS, we must have a better and more open system of complaints and we must have regulators with the powers to do the job they are set up to do: safeguard professional standards and safeguard patients and the public, too.

I know the Law Commission is reviewing the common enabling legislative framework for all health regulators. That could take three years, so I want the Minister to confirm today that he knows that there is a problem and that in the meantime, in advance of the Law Commission’s report, he will act to change the operating rules and orders so that those professional bodies can do the job. Otherwise, many other patients and parents will face the same fight for the truth—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order.

12.29 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): In September 2012 the Royal College of Physicians published a report, “Hospitals on the edge? The time for action”, which sets out starkly the challenges facing our acute hospitals. It begins:

“All hospital inpatients deserve to receive safe, high-quality, sustainable care centred around their needs and delivered in an appropriate setting by respectful, compassionate, expert health professionals. Yet it is increasingly clear that our hospitals are struggling to cope with the challenge of an ageing population and increasing hospital admissions.”

It highlights the consequences of failing to meet the challenges and refers to the history of my own trust. When the public inquiry reports next month, we will have the opportunity to consider its implications for the NHS. Today I wish to concentrate on the Monitor

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review of my trust in the light of the continuing rise in pressure on acute services that the Royal College of Physicians highlights.

There are three common themes that I hear in the NHS these days. The first is that we need to do much more in the community and at home and much less in acute hospitals, and that we must therefore close acute hospital beds and use the money in the community. Although I agree with the premise, I dispute the conclusion. Community care is essential, but it must work before it results in a reduction in admissions and lengths of stay. The fact that admissions are rising and, according to the RCP, the fall in length of stay has flatlined in the past three years, even rising for patients over 85, indicates to me that the shift to the community either is not happening fast enough or indeed will not happen as expected.

The conclusion also seems to ignore demography. In the area served by the Mid Staffordshire Trust, the population is expected to rise by some 10% in the coming 23 years. The number of people over 60 will rise by nearly half, and the number of those 75 and older—those most likely to need acute services—will double. I suspect that is the situation in many parts of the country.

Increasing admissions, rising and ageing population, flatlining length of stays—all of these indicate an increased demand for acute services in the coming 20 years, yet the talk is, and has been for many years, of further reductions in acute beds. It makes little sense to do that until community services and other medical advances mean that those beds are proved to be no longer necessary. In Stafford, there is a shortage of step-down beds, so rather than closing acute beds altogether why not keep them as community beds on the same site, leaving the door open for increasing acute services in the future, if and when the need arises?

The second theme is that we need to integrate primary and secondary care more closely. I agree, yet actions sometimes have the opposite effect. The previous Government took away the responsibility for providing 24/7 primary care cover from GPs. I regret that, as it detracts from integration. It may also be responsible for placing a greater burden on accident and emergency departments at night. If out-of-hours care is not to be the responsibility of GPs, let it be centred, where geographically possible, on acute and community hospitals. This makes better use of NHS premises and, by being adjacent to A and E or other emergency units, can help take the pressure off them while providing the hospital with extra income. That would certainly work at Stafford and Cannock.

Tariffs can produce strange results. The University Hospital of North Staffordshire has a block contract for A and E admissions. For any admission in excess of that, it receives only 30% of the tariff, so what is it supposed to do—reject emergency admissions on the basis that they will be loss-making? Of course not. I would propose that emergency departments are funded at what it costs to provide that service safely. In Stafford, the emergency department has a deficit of some £2 million per year based on throughput and tariff. The number of patients attending—more than 50,000—could not possibly be safely accommodated elsewhere. Surrounding hospitals

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are already at capacity, so it makes little sense to impose a national tariff, which inevitably results in a loss and which in turn puts pressure on the hospital to prove that it is sustainable.

The third theme is that medicine is becoming increasingly specialised, so most work will inevitably migrate to large specialist units. There is truth in this belief, but there is also danger. There are 61 approved medical specialties in the UK, compared with 30 in Norway. As the RCP says, this has

“rendered the provision of continuity of care increasingly difficult.”

For older people, who often have complex and multiple needs, this can result in poorly co-ordinated care. This has not been helped by the introduction of shift-based systems under the new deal and the European working time directive, to replace the teams that took responsibility for individual patients. Specialisation also means that there is a much smaller pool of staff from which to select for each post.

If we were to design from scratch a hospital where those who will need it most— the elderly, as the statistics show—will receive safe and caring care for their complex needs as close to home and loved ones as possible, integrated into primary and community care, we would end up with something pretty much like the district general hospitals and community hospitals up and down the country, such as Stafford and Cannock.

This is not an argument for no change. I believe there must be much closer working between the larger and smaller trusts, for instance, and much more sharing of common services than at present. But it is a warning that national tariffs are not impartial arbiters. They generally work, I believe, against acute care.

Jim Dowd: I am following what the hon. Gentleman is saying most carefully, as this is part of the problem that we experience in Lewisham. Does he feel, as I do, that instead of reflecting the needs of the population across the country and providing services that correspond with that, the Department of Health is trying to implement a template or a framework of its own making and inflict it on the nation?

Jeremy Lefroy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am not convinced that that is the case at all. I believe Ministers are listening and are considering matters very carefully, but there is a danger, of course, that a template will be inflicted. The hon. Gentleman and I both earnestly trust that that will not be the case.

As I said, I believe that national tariffs are not impartial arbiters. They generally work against acute care, and there is a risk that the constant pressure which they are placing on acute care, particularly in district general hospitals, will make much of the sector unsustainable, yet without it, we do not have an NHS.

Finally, I wish to raise a specific point about Monitor’s review of Mid Staffordshire. Clearly, the population served by the trust is a very important consideration. The trust’s 2011-12 report said that it was around 276,000, yet I have heard reports that the Monitor team considers it to be as low as 220,000 and therefore potentially too small to sustain certain services. The facts that I have clearly support the trust’s figure, not the one that I have heard rumoured.

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I have spoken much today about figures, because they are an important part of the Monitor review, but more important is the quality of services, for which Monitor also has a legal responsibility. Early next year, the Secretary of State will bring to the House the report of Robert Francis QC from his public inquiry into Mid Staffordshire. Julie Bailey and the Cure the NHS group, who from their own experiences brought to light the harm that was done, have set out radical and clear ideas for turning the NHS the right way up, with the patient at the top, not the bottom—right first time with zero harm to each and every patient. That is something which caring, hard-working staff in our NHS in Stafford and Cannock—where waiting times and mortality rates are improving, although there is much to be done—and right across the country went into the NHS to provide.

The NHS, as the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) said, and the nursing and medical professions must make it clear that there is no place for anyone for whom quality patient care does not come above all else. The regulations must show that.

The Monitor review is an opportunity for Stafford and Cannock hospitals to become a model of how to provide sustainable high quality emergency, acute and community care to a mid-sized population. If Monitor succeeds in achieving this there and elsewhere, as the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) mentioned, it will have done the nation a great service, and I am sure the Minister will be remembered as someone who played a major part in improving our NHS. I urge Monitor to rise to the challenge.

12.38 pm

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I thank the Backbench Business Committee for making this debate possible before the Christmas recess. I shall raise an important issue, access to advanced therapeutic radiotherapy. I have raised this previously and I make no apology for doing so again. I intend to keep raising it until my constituents and those all across the country have proper access to advanced and innovative therapeutic radiotherapy systems.

I remind the House that prior to the Conservative party conference the Prime Minister pledged that from April next year cancer patients who need innovative radiotherapy will get it. That pledge was confirmed to the House by the Secretary of State for Health on 23 October and by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who has responsibility for cancer services, in written replies on 30 October.

The Department of Health’s press release on 8 October expanded on the Prime Minister’s statement, indicating that a new £15 million cancer radiotherapy innovation fund was being created, drawn from the underspend of the cancer drugs fund. I bring to the House’s attention the fact that the £200 million cancer drugs fund has been under-spent by an average of £150 million each year since it was established. That was reported to the House on 16 April 2012—column 134WinHansard.

The Health Minister confirmed on 30 October that the pledge meant three specific things: patients would have access to appropriate radiotherapy wherever they

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lived; the new national Commissioning Board would be responsible for funding; and intensity-modulated radiation therapy, known as IMRT, stereotactic ablative radiotherapy, know as SABR, and stereotactic radiosurgery would be included.

Since the Prime Minister’s pledge, the Department of Health has contacted all cancer centres to inform them that the cancer radiotherapy innovation fund is a revenue fund only and that its use is to be focused on getting as many centres up to the standard of delivering 24% access to IMRT by April next year. In a letter to all cancer centre chief executives on 17 October, the cancer tsar, Sir Mike Richards, stated that only four of the 50 centres were reaching the 24% requirement set by the national radiotherapy implementation group.

In a letter to all radiotherapy service managers on 25 October, the national cancer action team stated that the cancer radiotherapy innovation fund was to be used effectively so that the Prime Minister’s pledge could be honoured and that if they are not delivering IMRT at the required 24% they were to submit an action plan by the end of November indicating how they would achieve that.

The letter also stated that the radiotherapy service managers could access initial funding of up to £150,000 to help them reach the target. However, the Health Minister, when questioned about funding for the pledge on 30 October, told the House that there would be no extra or ongoing funding similar to the cancer drug fund for commissioners to draw on and that any capital funding requirements would have to be met from the current £300 million bulk purchase fund announced earlier this year. In other words, there was no extra money. It seems to me that the pledge cannot be met, in terms of both revenue and capital.

Over the past two years adequate revenue funding has never been available to local commissioners to fund all the radiotherapy patients who have needed it. I know that full well from cases in my constituency. There is no indication that the new national Commissioning Board is to receive any additional funding. Without extra money, how will it fund care for the new 8,000 to 10,000 cancer patients the Prime Minister claims his pledge will help?

I would like to consider capital for a moment. I received an e-mail last night from the charity Breast Cancer Campaign, which indicated that, given the current age profile of the linear accelerators in England, an additional 147 new LINACs will be needed by 2016, at an average cost of £1.5 million. I want to ask the Minister how those will be funded. There are simply not enough advanced radiotherapy systems in the NHS to deliver the pledge. The Department of Health has admitted that only four of the 50 cancer centres are able to deliver IMRT to the required standard. At full capacity they could treat between 1,200 and 1,500 patients a year.

There are only four systems in the NHS delivering SABR up to the required standard, as the Minister has confirmed in written answers, and I have been to see one of the machines in St Bartholomew’s. At full capacity they could treat 1,000 patients a year. There is only one Gamma Knife in the NHS delivering stereotactic radiosurgery—in Sheffield—and at full capacity it could treat around 300 patients a year. With no extra capital available to fund new machines, it will be impossible for

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patients in most of England, including my region, to be treated by the NHS. There are some machines in the private sector, but the treatment is very expensive.

I am asking not for more money for cancer care, but for a more equal distribution of resources. The Department of Health is telling commissioners that radiotherapy, in conjunction with surgery, is very effective, curing 70% of all cancers. I have come here neither to lambast the Minister, nor to condemn him with faint praise; I have come bearing gifts, as it is Christmas, in the form of a potential solution. If the total underspend from the cancer drugs fund was transferred to radiotherapy in each of England’s regions, the systems could be upgraded with the most advanced radiotherapy equipment by 2015, which would enable constituents in my region and across the country to access life-saving therapies and allow the Prime Minister to fulfil his pledge.

12.46 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris). I share the concerns of all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken so far about the importance of our national health service and our concerns about its current state. I think that the Minister—I have said this to him privately—is one of the most effective of the junior Ministers who have appeared at the Dispatch Box since the reshuffle. Because he is a doctor, I hope that he will take the concerns that I raise today on diabetes extremely seriously.

I suffer from type 2 diabetes—I declare my interest—having discovered it only five years ago after a routine test. I thought I had it under control, because I was taking my medication and doing a little exercise every day, walking from Norman Shaw North to the Palace of Westminster, until I read the national diabetes audit report published on 10 December. It states that people with diabetes are 48% more likely to suffer a heart attack, 65% more likely to have heart failure, 144% more likely to need kidney dialysis, 210% more likely to have leg amputations, 331% more likely to have part of a foot removed and 25% more likely to suffer a stroke. Overall, those with diabetes are, on average, 40% more likely to die each year than those without it. Members will understand my concern, as we approach Christmas, after reading statistics of that kind.

I know that other hon. Members have subsequently discovered that they, too, have diabetes. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson), who is in the Chamber, discovered he had it only after being tested here in Parliament by the Silver Star charity. He went to see his GP and then knew that he had been diagnosed.

We are facing a diabetes epidemic, and I ask the Government to take more note of what is happening as far as diabetes is concerned. Generally, people with diabetes look fairly normal—I do not know whether you think I look normal, Mr Deputy Speaker—and do not make a virtue of telling people we have diabetes, except in debates of this kind. That normality lulls us into a false sense of security. We need a national campaign on diabetes in the same way as for other illnesses. Because people are getting treatment and are able to go and get their Metformin or other medication on a regular basis, they feel that everything is going to be all right.

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This issue will not only not go away but will get worse. At the moment, 3.7 million people have diabetes, and that figure will rise by another 700,000 in a few years. Some 80% of amputations are preventable with proper care and management. I say to Ministers that this is something we can help the population with now. If we do so, we can save the 10% of the budget that is currently spent on diabetes care and the £1 million an hour that is spent on medication and care in our hospitals. These issues are very much in our hands.

I welcome the new Minister with responsibility for diabetes, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who has made an excellent start. The first thing she did was to hold a summit for those with an interest in diabetes. It included Diabetes UK, which does some fantastic work on the subject, Silver Star, a charity of which I am privileged to be the patron, and others, including clinicians. She said what very few Ministers have said in my career in this House—“I want you to tell me what I should do about this subject”—and she was given a lot of good advice and ideas about how to take these matters further.

One thing that we could do immediately is to send out the message to GPs, even in the current climate of ongoing changes within the NHS, that it takes only a minute to offer each patient who comes to see them a diabetes test. I know that we are having screening for those of a certain age and disposition, but people go to see GPs for all kinds of reasons. Campaigning organisations such as Silver Star and Diabetes UK are able to go out to communities and conduct these tests. Indeed, anyone can conduct them. I have my kit with me, and although I am obviously not medically qualified, I can still conduct the test on people and am happy to do so. It is very easy to do. We should say to GPs, “Don’t wait for the screening process—begin now by testing anyone who comes to your surgery.”

We need to send out through the Department of Health a message about what we eat. You have changed physically, Mr Deputy Speaker, in all the years I have known you. I know of your great interest in rugby. You used to be a very beefy character when you were first elected to this House, but you have slimmed down, perhaps since you have been an occupant of the Chair. If people look after their lifestyles better by taking exercise and being careful about what they eat, that could help them. Every time anyone drinks a glass of Coke, eight teaspoons of sugar go straight into their system. When I went over to Atlanta and met the chief executive of Coca-Cola, I asked him what he was doing about it, and he said that Coke Zero is the answer, but it is only part of the answer. The kids in our schools are offered drinks in vending machines which have a huge amount of sugar, and then they get addicted to it for the rest of their lives. This is about things that we can do ourselves and things that parents can do to bring down the bill for the NHS.

When I finish this speech, and after I have listened to the Minister, I will be going to the Tea Room. When we get to the very helpful people there, we find that we have chocolates and mince pies on offer to us. If we turn to the left, we see a lot of food that is totally unfit for diabetics. Of course, I continue to eat this food because we do not have a choice, but it would be possible,

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through labelling of the drinks and food that we consume, as for people with a nut allergy, to add the words “Suitable for diabetics” or “Unsuitable for diabetics”.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is making an absolutely excellent speech. Does he think that we should take the bull by the horns and legislate to reduce the amount of sugar in all food products? If we look at any kind of food, we often find totally unnecessary sugar in it as well as in all the soft drinks that he mentions.

Keith Vaz: Yes, I do. However, I remember that one time I met my hon. Friend when he was off to have dinner with his sons and was taking them to McDonald’s.

Jeremy Corbyn: No, that is not true. I wish to place on the record that my right hon. Friend has been deeply misled on this matter. I have not taken my sons to McDonald’s, I have no intention of taking them to McDonald’s, and I have no intention of visiting McDonald’s myself. Is that clear?

Keith Vaz: I will not tease my hon. Friend, but I think that the word “McDonald’s” did enter the conversation somewhere. However, I accept that his response is now on the record.

I would support legislation aimed at ensuring that we are very careful about the amount of sugar, and salt, in our diet. Indeed, I have introduced a ten-minute rule Bill that says exactly that. Denmark started a “fat tax” but then decided that it was unworkable because the food industry lobbied so heavily against it, and so the tax was removed. I am not saying that the Government are going to legislate on this; I do not think they will. The food industry is one of the most powerful in this country. The sugary drinks industry, from Red Bull, a can of which contains more than eight teaspoons of sugar, right down to the people who make Coke and all these other drinks, will fight very hard on this. In the meantime, let us send out a message and work together to stop this epidemic consuming and subsuming our country.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): For the wind-ups, the guideline on speeches is 10 minutes, but the clock will not be in operation.

12.56 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr Daniel Poulter): I have very much enjoyed sitting through this debate on health. I remember that when we had the equivalent debate last year, many speakers did not have the time they wanted to make their speeches. The fact that we have had longer today has enabled many right hon. and hon. Members to make valuable contributions on a number of subjects, focusing not only on health care issues in their constituencies and on important individual cases that highlight the need for changes in the system, but on the big challenges that face the NHS in tackling long-term medical conditions.

In the time available to me, I will do my best to answer the questions and points put across by Members on both sides of the House. My hon. Friend the Member

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for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and I have met on a number of occasions, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), to talk through the challenges facing Mid Staffordshire trust. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford has been a great advocate for, and a great support to, the patients and staff at that trust. I would like to put on record my thanks to him for all that he has done for all his constituents. His advocacy during his time in this House has been tremendous.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford raised some important issues. We know that it is desirable, not only because it makes good health care economics but, more importantly, because it is good patient care, to keep people well and looked after in their own communities and in their own homes. My hon. Friend threw up a legitimate challenge when he said that if we are to deliver good care in the community and in people’s homes, we need to find a way of moving from the current situation. At the moment we have a crisis management response by default, where people are rushed into A and E, and he is right to highlight the fact that some parts of the country do not have an adequate GP out-of-hours system to look after people around the clock. We need to ask how we go from a system set up around crisis management to one that is better placed to meet the future needs of preventive care and looking after people with long-term conditions such as diabetes, dementia and heart disease in their own homes and communities. The Government are taking steps to address this issue by making sure that GPs and local health care commissioners, through clinical commissioning groups at a local level, will hold a lot of the health care budget. That will ensure that the focus is on primary preventive care and on better looking after people with long-term conditions.

My hon. Friend is right to say that we need sufficient numbers of hospital beds, but as time passes there might less need for beds in some hospitals if local CCGs effectively meet the challenge of ensuring that that they invest in community and preventive care. In the interim, we need to support good commissioning of beds locally. We must have intermediate care beds available at community hospitals and in other care settings in the community for step-up care, step-down care and respite care.

On the other side of the River Thames, the clinical director of St Thomas’ hospital, Ian Abbs, is looking into year-of-care tariffs, which look after patients with long-term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease in a holistic way that enables them to be supported when they need a hospital bed and need to be looked after in the community. That has to be the right way forward. We in the Department’s ministerial team will work with clinicians, medical directors, trusts and commissioning boards to make sure that Eurocare tariffs are in place, so that we can shift the focus away from the community, but in a managed way that means that hospital beds will still be available as people require them.

The hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) has been a strong advocate—he has raised his concerns many times—for constituents and others throughout his part of the country who are patients who need access to cancer care, cancer services, the cancer drugs fund and, indeed, high-quality radiotherapy. It is worth

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setting out some of the background—he outlined it himself in his speech—to the Government’s commitment to improving care for patients with cancer.

In 2011 the Government made a commitment to expand radiotherapy capacity by investing more than £150 million more over four years from 2011. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that was to increase the utilisation of existing equipment, support additional services and ensure that all high-priority patients with a need for proton beam therapy get access to it. In April 2012, the then Secretary of State announced that the Department had set aside up to £250 million of public capital, to be invested by the NHS in building proton beam therapy facilities at the Christie hospital in Manchester and the University college London hospital, to treat up to 1,500 patients each year. In October we announced a £15 million radiotherapy innovation fund for 2012-13, which brings this Government’s additional investment in radiotherapy over the spending review period to more than £165 million. The fund is designed to ensure that, from April 2013, radiotherapy centres will be ready to deliver intensity-modulated radiotherapy to all patients who need it.

The hon. Gentleman was right to say that, in spite of that increased investment, there are ongoing concerns about the variability of access to radiotherapy services in the NHS. I hope that it will reassure him that, in response to the requests of radiotherapy centres to the fund, we will go beyond the original commitment and will this week notify the centres of allocations totalling almost £23 million. We have taken on board the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and are making sure that we continue to invest in high-quality radiation in the years ahead. I know that he will hold the Government to that task in the coming years.

The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) has rightly raised issues of principle arising from the Vinny Duggan case. I want to put on record my best wishes to the family concerned. I will deal with two issues: first, the issue that arose from the way in which the trust handled the complaints procedure, and secondly, the wider point about the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

First, as the right hon. Gentleman has highlighted, the trust clearly failed to acknowledge to any adequate degree that mistakes happened and that the quality of care was not of the standard that it should have been. That much was clear in this regrettable episode in the trust’s history. Two years is an unacceptable amount of time to wait for an apology or for an adequate explanation for what went wrong. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that what patients want when things go wrong is a sincere apology and an explanation as to why things happened. We all know, no matter how good the care is in the NHS, that bad things will sometimes happen, but we need to know that that mistake has been recognised, that there has been an apology and that lessons have been learned for the future. We cannot rewrite history or always unpick mistakes, but we can learn lessons for the future and make sure that such bad things do not happen again. That is what good medicine is about. Clearly, in this case there were problems with the way in which the complaints were addressed.

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Secondly, on the wider point raised by the right hon. Gentleman about the NMC and the disparity between how different professional regulators approach the complaints process, he is right that the NMC can review or reopen a case only when new evidence is available. If old evidence is reconsidered or if it changes, as in this case, it is very difficult to review it. There are differences between the medical and other professional regulators with regard to how such cases are handled, and the Law Commission has rightly highlighted those inconsistencies. There needs to be more consistency throughout all parts of the medical, nursing and allied health professional groups, in order to make sure that patients know that, when complaints are made and concerns are aired, they will be looked into and, where necessary, complaints can be reopened and reinvestigated.

The Law Commission proposals are expected to be introduced to the House in 2014. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we could do anything sooner than that, but, as he will know, if we brought in a section 60 order, it would take about two years for it to get through the full parliamentary process. Given that the Law Commission proposals are holistic and apply to not just the NMC, but all health professions, we believe that the right approach is to consider those proposals in 2014. We hope that that will bring a lot more consistency, which I think we all feel is desirable, to future cases involving the professional conduct of all medical, nursing and other health care professionals.

I thank my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), for her kind comments about the work that I, other Suffolk MPs and, indeed, the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), have done in relation to problems with the East of England ambulance service. People in more rural counties, particularly North Norfolk and parts of Suffolk, appear to be getting a service that is not of the standard that we would expect. We need more transparency with regard to response times, not just on a regional level, but on a county-wide level. My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal asked whether there could be a breakdown by postcode. That is a little more challenging, because it is possible that, in any given month or response period, not enough people in a particular postcode will need an ambulance. There is a desire, however, for more transparency with regard to sub-geographical regions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) has also taken a keen interest in the issue and has recently been out with the ambulance service on a number of evenings.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey)for raising the issue and to my hon. Friend the Minister for responding. Having been out with the ambulance service, I have two observations. First, does the Minister agree that we have tremendous, dedicated staff and that we owe it to them to work with the management and others to get the service right? Secondly, the problems facing the service are diverse and multiple, but they can be solved with a lot of effort. For example, on the particular problem of blocking at hospitals and handing over to them, James Paget hospital in Galston has shown that, when the hospital and ambulance service work together, the problem can be solved.

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Dr Poulter: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I pay tribute to him for taking the time to go out with the ambulance service and see first hand the problems that have been experienced in some parts of Suffolk and Norfolk. There have been problems with the handover time at some hospitals in the east of England and that is clearly unacceptable, because if the ambulance and hospital staff are engaged in lengthy handovers, it means that other patients are not being treated and seen in a timely manner. Those issues need to be addressed by some trusts in the east of England.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney has written to the ambulance service and his letter was made available to my noble Friend Earl Howe. In it, he highlighted the trust’s decision to publish more performance information online from February and stated that it was important that that was done by geographical area to ensure that there is greater transparency in the quality of response data in areas such as Beccles and Bungay, relative to more urban areas such as Ipswich. That is an important point. I urge him and my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal to continue pushing for transparency in the ambulance service’s data, and to continue their fight for improved response times for more rural areas of Suffolk and Norfolk. I know that my noble Friend Earl Howe would be happy to meet hon. Members to discuss the matter further.

Let me turn to the issues that were raised by the other three Members. I will be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I take your hint. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) raised concerns about a number of ambulance stations, including one in Buxton. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), who lives in a nearby constituency, shares those concerns. A review is currently taking place. We all welcome reviews if they are going to improve the quality of care for patients and improve ambulance response times. However, there are local concerns that the review must take into account issues such as rurality and the difficulties that patients on high land or in harder-to-access areas have in accessing all types of health care services.

I note the concerns that the review is making proposals that do not necessarily take account of those factors. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak has put those concerns on the record today. If that has happened, I echo his concerns, because it is important, in the review of any service, that issues such as rurality and difficult-to-access areas are taken fully into account. This is, of course, a local health care decision. If he wants to discuss the matter further with Ministers, we are happy to discuss it with him.

The hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) put across his strong advocacy for Lewisham hospital. I trained in south Thames and have colleagues who work at Lewisham hospital. We all know that Lewisham faces particular challenges. It has demographic challenges, given its difficult population groups with considerable health care needs, and great health care

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inequalities. It has a large migrant population, which brings particular health care challenges and means that people do not always have English as a first language. Such people need to be looked after properly. It is important that those issues are taken into account during the discussions.

I take on board the concerns of local staff that they are being drawn into the big financial concerns with South London Healthcare NHS Trust. However, we also have to recognise that no one hospital operates in a vacuum. We must ensure that hospital services and the care that is provided reflect the needs of the wider geographical area. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be looking into these issues.

Jim Dowd: Will the Minister give way?

Dr Poulter: I will take an intervention very quickly, but I am pressing on Mr Deputy Speaker’s patience.

Jim Dowd: Nobody disputes the Minister’s last point. That is why there is a reconfiguration process especially for that purpose. That is what should be used, rather than this back-door method.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Please complete your contribution within 60 seconds, Minister, so that we can move on.

Dr Poulter: I will do so, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take those considerations into account when he receives the report and comes to his conclusions in due course. I know that the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge will continue to make his views clear.

Finally and importantly, I turn to the good remarks made by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). He is right to point out that one of the big challenges facing this country in health care terms is to better look after people with long-term conditions. Diabetes is a key challenge. Patients with diabetes have a higher risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, amputation, vascular disease and a number of other medical problems. One key way to deal with that is to focus more on prevention, rather than cure. That means investing in more GP-led care and primary prevention, rather than picking up the pieces in hospital. We should focus on helping people with type 1 diabetes to have a normal life by educating them to understand their condition, through the use of insulin pumps and by helping younger people to manage their condition.

The Government are committed to preventing diabetes and bad lifestyle habits from developing in the first place by focusing on better education in childhood. When local authorities have control of public health budgets, that will be a key priority for them. We must set good lifestyle habits from the early years to ensure that people do not develop diabetes later on.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

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1.15 pm

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): I want to take this opportunity to raise an issue that is helping to fill my postbag at the moment: the state of rural bus services in County Durham and Darlington. I know that that is a concern for many MPs, especially those in County Durham. Only yesterday, I received a petition from Aycliffe village signed by 300 people, which complains about the state of rural bus services in the area and the lack of buses, especially in the evening.

Sedgefield covers part of south Durham and all the rural parts of Darlington borough. It covers about 150 square miles and, for people without a car, travelling from A to B can be a big problem. Car ownership in County Durham is below the national average. Almost 30% of households are without a car, compared with about 25% nationally. For those on low wages, the elderly, young people and disabled people, getting around the constituency can be a chore. The Government’s approach to cutting bus subsidies and their more general cuts to local government are making the situation worse.

I could spend the rest of my speech talking about the severity of the Government’s cuts, but the Government would just say that the problem is the way in which the local authority is introducing the cuts. We could go on in that vein, but it would not resolve anything. When a constituent comes to my office—as constituents do from time to time—and says that he cannot get to work because the buses have changed, he wants a solution. He does not want to hear what will happen in the future or an argument about who is to blame; he wants me to tell him how he can get to work in the morning. I want to say a little about what some of my local communities are doing to provide community transport, because what people are looking for—the elderly and the low-paid—is a solution to the problems.

People in communities such as Hurworth, Middleton St George, Sadberge and Brafferton in the Darlington part of my constituency are working with the Community Transport Association and Darlington borough council to assemble a workable community transport service for the area to help people who are suffering because of the lack of an adequate bus service. I hope that the Minister can offer his support and encouragement to the stakeholders of that scheme to ensure that it is a success.

Durham county council already runs a community transport service called Link2, which provides a community service in areas where commercial bus services do not want to go. I congratulate the county council on providing that service. It has seen its budget for bus services reduced by about £1.3 million. The rural bus subsidy grant for the county has been cut by about 40%. Companies such as Arriva are therefore not receiving the subsidy that they received in the past, so they are pulling buses off routes, which is making it difficult for my constituents to get around. I have constituents who are having difficulties in getting to work, whose journeys have been lengthened and who cannot take up jobs that they want because they are unable to get to the place of work. Does the Minister agree that although cuts to bus

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subsidies might make savings in some areas, they create costs elsewhere? Will he say whose responsibility it is when vulnerable people fall through the transport net because of the cuts?

To give an example, I have an elderly constituent who does not want to be named, but who wants me to relay her story because she believes that what is happening to her is also happening to others. My constituent is a 75-year-old pensioner who looks after her 50-year-old daughter who has Down’s syndrome and serious medical conditions. They often rely on friends and family to get to a doctor’s appointment, but one day family and friends were not available, there were no taxis, and buses no longer ran a convenient distance from their home. The doctor’s surgery was about a mile away so my constituent decided to walk there with her daughter. Such a journey might take a fit person about 15 minutes, but it took my constituents considerably longer and on the way back they had to stop at the community centre and ask someone for a lift to get back home. Such things are happening day in, day out, not just in County Durham but all over the country. The Government may argue that this level of cuts is necessary. That is fair enough, but surely someone must take responsibility for the consequences of those cuts.

Another constituent of mine, 16-year-old Lauren Peters, attends New College Durham. A few weeks ago she was stranded at Durham bus station. The bus service had been cut due to inclement weather, but the bus company did not alert local colleges about the difficulties. My constituent was stranded without any money and the battery on her phone was about to run out. She had to wait in the cold, damp, bad weather for three hours before her father could come to pick her up.

We understand that bad weather can cause disruption, but where was the customer care from companies such as Arriva, one of the biggest bus companies in Europe? There was no phone call to local colleges or major employers. I have written to Arriva and the county council, and although I have received a reply from the county council I have yet to hear anything from Arriva. Mrs Peters contacted me the next day to raise the issue and complain. If bus companies are now running merely commercial routes—I believe the route in question was commercial—surely we need better alert systems when there is disruption to help people to get home. There seems to be no customer care.

Lauren was not the only vulnerable person affected by the disruption that day. I want solutions to the issues I have raised. I want to work with community groups to establish community bus services where possible, and available funding to be used to that effect where subsidies to existing bus services have been withdrawn.

I know that Durham county council has gained about £374,000 from the rural sustainable community transport initiative, but that is a one-off grant; it does not happen every year. These are austere times and we should be all in this together. My question to the Minister is this: if this level of cuts is necessary, who is taking responsibility for those who fall through the net? Although I will help local authorities and communities as best I can to establish community bus services, does the Minister agree that there is only so much that the local community can do?

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1.22 pm

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): I will start by telling the Minister that there is great concern in my Derby constituency about the possibility of a pre-Christmas betrayal of the Bombardier work force in the city. In March 2011, the Prime Minister brought the Cabinet to Derby because he felt it was an excellent backdrop that would give credibility to his assertion that he wanted to rebalance the economy. Derby provided a perfect illustration of the sort of economy that the Government—who at the time were relatively new—wanted to create. Within a few weeks, however, that rhetoric sounded hollow. It was followed up in the Budget statement when the Chancellor spoke about the march of the makers:

“We are only going to raise the living standards of families if we have an economy that can compete in the modern age. So this is our plan for growth. We want the words: ‘Made in Britain’, ‘Created in Britain’, ‘Designed in Britain’ and ‘Invented in Britain’ to drive our nation forward—a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers. That is how we will create jobs and support families.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 966.]

However, just a few months later, when the Government could have done something positive to show that they meant those words, they awarded preferred bidder status for the Thameslink contract to Siemens rather than to Bombardier in Derby.

Ministers seem to have ignored the provisions within the invitation to tender documentation. The ITT states that the successful bidder must demonstrate that it can exploit advances in technology and have a world-class proven solution in one package, but Siemens did not have that. It had not developed a lightweight bogie; indeed, plans were still on the draughtsman’s board and had not even been tested or put into any form of production. In spite of that, however, Ministers decided to appoint Siemens as the preferred bidder.

That decision has already led to 1,400 job losses in Derby at Bombardier, and considerably more jobs have been lost in the supply chain. The Department for Transport seems not to be acting in the national interest and to be completely out of control. We saw the fiasco of the franchise for the west coast main line and, as we know, that process was suspended. The same civil servants who gave rise to concern over that franchise also worked on the Thameslink contract, yet Ministers seem to draw a veil over that.

Ministers have also tried to blame EU regulations for the decision to award preferred bidder status to Siemens. However, that simply will not wash because, when convenient, Ministers have ignored EU regulations on the issue. EU regulations are enshrined in English law. Regulation 4 is apposite and states:

“A contracting authority shall (in accordance with Article 2 of the Public Sector Directive)…treat economic operators equally and in a non-discriminatory way.”

That did not happen. At the fourth stage of the evaluation process, the DFT adopted a complex methodology involving the use of discount rates as shown in the Treasury Green Book, which is complicated for a layperson like myself. When the Transport Committee took expert evidence, Professor Karel Williams from the Manchester business school stated that there was a

“bias in favour of Siemens because they had a superior credit rating and that gave them an advantage of maybe several hundred million pounds”.

It therefore seems clear that the Government are in breach of their obligations under regulation 4.

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The Business Secretary reportedly said that the end result of the evaluation process was inevitable. The ITT makes it clear that the Secretary of State will let the contract. In my view, that makes the Thameslink contract a Government contract. Regulation 23(b) of the public contract regulations makes it clear that, where a bidder has been found guilty of corruption, it should be excluded from the process. We know that Siemens falls into that category, yet the Government have proceeded regardless.

When the matter has been raised with Ministers, they have claimed that Siemens should not be excluded from the bidding process, and to some extent I agree. Siemens plc is not part of the special purpose company—Cross London Trains—which has been created to take forward the Thameslink contract. Siemens Project Ventures GmbH, which is a division of Siemens AG, is part of that special purpose company. Siemens AG has been convicted of corruption which, in my view, makes it ineligible for the contract unless there is an overriding requirement “in the general interest” to include it—that is what the regulations state.

As I have said, Ministers say there are no grounds to eliminate Siemens but they are applying the wrong test. They should have been looking at whether it was right to include the special purpose company that includes Siemens AG as part of the consortium. I therefore hope that when he sums up the Minister will give a commitment to look at the issue again. I believe that the Government are in breach of regulations 4 and 23. We will not get value for money, although Ministers claim we will—they are adopting a very expensive model to procure the trains and there are less expensive ways of pursuing that.

The industry is in great shape and the market is expanding, and we have huge potential and a massive opportunity, so I urge the Minister to ensure that he does not allow the industry in this country to slip through his fingers. He has the power to stop the contract—the invitation to tender makes that extremely clear—to do the right thing and to look at it again. Hopefully, he will give Bombardier in Derby the opportunity to continue to deliver a train manufacturing industry—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order.

1.30 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow my Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson). I pay tribute to him for the incredible campaign he has run in support of the workers in his constituency and the skills that have been brought to the country by the decades—over a century—of train manufacturing in Derby. It would be a crime if we lost that. The danger is that, unless the Bombardier contract is issued, there will be further job losses and further loss of train-making skills in this country.

We do not understand or value enough the heritage of the rail industry in this country, the skills involved in train manufacture and railway development, or the future of the industry. Following the closures, we have around 10,000 miles of track. We have a programme of railway network expansion, and more people travel by train than at any time since the second world war. The majority of the public who have access to railways prefer to use them—there is no question about that.

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If we involve ourselves in a procurement process that specifically encourages sustainable, local-ish or UK-based employment, we will develop our industrial base and provide great opportunities for railway expansion in this country and other places. However, sadly, the model of privatisation adopted by the Conservative Government in the 1990s not only broke up our railway system but handed all the rolling stock to rather dubious leasing companies. Huge profits were made as a result, but 10 years into privatisation the Department for Transport’s procurement policies have moved much more into a totally market-based international comparator system rather than the system used for Transport for London, which has deliberately sought to develop UK-based employment, and fair wages and employment practices and so on.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): If privatisation has been as bad as the hon. Gentleman describes, why, since privatisation, have the number of journeys taken and the number passengers doubled, and why, in 13 years in government, did Labour not seek to reverse it?

Jeremy Corbyn: I had a discussion in 1997 with the then Transport Secretary, Lord Prescott, in which I suggested that we would serve ourselves well if we took the railways back into public ownership. In fact, our discussion took place very close to where the Minister sits now. We were standing next to the mace during a Division—it was an historic moment. His reply was, “We haven’t got the money for that kind of thing. We can’t afford it. It would cost too much”, but the figures show that we are putting more money in subsidy into the private sector-run railways than we ever did into British Rail in the days of public ownership—and the private companies are making considerable profits. The increase in passenger numbers and train services is welcome, as is public investment in railways, but if, for example, we put £8 billion into the west coast main line upgrading, the public should gain the benefit rather than Virgin Trains or another train operating company making a considerable profit.

I support the points made by my Friend the Member for Derby North on fair employment practices. I hope the Minister can give us some good news. I hope he is not befuddled by Siemens’s claim that it is financially sustainable, because a company that owns its own bank is quite likely to claim that—the two things tend to go together—but instead will consider the huge skill base and traditions in Derby. He should also think forward to the electrification programme and the new rolling stock that will be needed in five, 10, 15 and 20 years’ time. We will have problems if we allow our manufacturing capacity to disappear.

My Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who is in his place, has supported the railway cleaners around the country because of the problems they face. I hope the Minister spares a thought for them. In the midst of all the money that goes into the railway system and the profits that are taken out, some people working for distant contract cleaning companies and others are appallingly paid and badly treated, but nevertheless do important and valuable

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jobs. Will he say he is in favour of a living wage for everyone working in the railway industry as an absolute basic, and in favour of companies employing station and cleaning staff far more directly?

Virgin Trains has apparently been given a contract to continue running its service because of the collapse of the train operating company tendering process a few months ago. I have five brief questions for the Minister, and I hope he will help us. What discussions were held in the EU prior to awarding the 23-month west coast main line contract to Virgin Trains? Is a copy of the new agreement available? Will existing staffing levels and catering facilities be protected? What taxpayer subsidy will be paid to Virgin for the duration of the contract? Finally, what non-taxpayer or fare payer-supported investment will Virgin Trains make during the 23-month contract? We have reached a pretty pass. The incompetence of the process resulted in a gap, which would have been the ideal opportunity to return the service to public ownership and run it, which is what happens on the east coast main line—a very good service runs on the east coast main line as a result. The east coast main line is a ready-made example of running an effective, publicly owned railway system.

The Minister will not be surprised that my last point is a local one—I have often spoken of the need for a wider system of electrification. I welcome the Government’s announcement that the midland main line and the Great Western service will be electrified, and that there will be an electrified service in Wales. That is very good indeed. I have raised many times the question of the north London link. The Barking to Gospel Oak line is not electrified, which means that electrically hauled freight services from Felixstowe or Harwich must change to a diesel-hauled locomotive, or that the freight must be diesel-hauled all the way through. Proposals for the electrification of the line have been made and costed, and the Secretary of State assured me that the Department was considering that again—he also promised to meet me and a delegation of north London MPs in that respect. Electrification would make London Overground more efficient and effective and be far more environmentally sustainable for heavy-hauled freight that currently uses the line.

1.38 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): I welcome this short debate on transport. Given the shortness of time I have and the wide ranging number of questions raised, particularly by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), I assure hon. Members that if I do not manage to cover all their points, I will write to them.

To begin with, I should like to deal with two specific issues, the first of which was raised by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson). As he will accept—he referred to this from time to time during his comments—tough decisions have had to be taken across the board because of the economic deficit we inherited, and support for bus services could not be exempt. This has meant not only getting the best value for every pound of taxpayers’ money spent, but prioritising the spending that can best support growth, jobs and prosperity. That is one of the reasons transport came out of the spending review in a much stronger position than most people expected.

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I recognise that public transport is, as the hon. Gentleman eloquently pointed out, important for the sustainability and independence of rural communities. Decisions such as where to run services, the frequency of services, the type of vehicle used and the fares charged are mainly a matter for the commercial judgment of the operator concerned. However, where there is not enough demand for a bus route to be commercially profitable in its own right, local authorities do have powers to subsidise bus services. It is essentially a matter for these individual authorities to decide which services are most appropriate for support in their respective areas. These could be traditional bus services or other, more flexible options such as the Link2 service in Durham—a bookable dial-a-ride bus for people making local journeys of up to five miles for which there is no other suitable bus—and the Access Bus scheme, which provides a similar service for people with limited mobility.

It is for local authorities, working in partnership with their communities, to identify the right transport solutions that meet the economic and environmental challenges faced in their areas and deliver the greatest benefits for their communities. It is heartening to note the proactive role that Darlington and Durham councils have taken to engaging with local people, for instance through the area action partnership boards set up by Durham county council in 2009 as a key way of listening to and working with communities, and the Darlington community partnerships, led by residents, working in partnership with the local authority and other bodies, which take a lead in regenerating their local neighbourhoods. I would also encourage smaller communities such as Hurworth, Sadberge, Middleton St George and Brafferton to continue their excellent work with the Community Transport Association to secure a reliable and affordable local transport network service.

In the past year, the Government have provided £20 million of new funding for distribution to rural local transport authorities in England, of which around £400,000 in total has been allocated to Durham and Darlington councils to support and kick-start the development of community transport services in their areas. In addition, the local sustainable transport fund has provided both areas with a combined total of more than £6 million, specifically for transport related projects.

For reasons that we are all aware of, times are tough and we have to be careful with our money, making sure that we get the best value. But I am pleased about the work that has been done locally by local communities and local authorities in the hon. Gentleman’s area to seek to develop the best forms of sustainable transport with the best value for money available.

I turn now to the final point raised by the hon. Member for Islington North, about the Gospel Oak to Barking scheme, which he has rightly raised on many occasions in the House. I recognise the case for electrification of that line at the same time as we electrify the strategic electric spine route from Southampton to Yorkshire. Transport for London has said it is prepared to pay a share of the Gospel Oak to Barking electrification costs, which I welcome, but the cost is very high—approximately £90 million for 12 miles of railway through suburban London.

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We will work with Network Rail, Transport for London and rail freight operators over the coming year to see whether electrification costs might be reduced and to explore ways of funding. The national rail funding for the five years to 2019 has been committed on our strategic priorities, but if further funding can be found and the business case continues to be robust, I would welcome adding another 12 miles of railway to the 850 route miles we have already funded and authorised for electrification this decade. Either my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and a delegation of Members from north London if that would be useful.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Minister and I look forward to having such a meeting so that we can, I hope, make progress to electrify that last bit of the line.

Mr Burns: In that spirit, I hope that any meetings we have would be positive so that we could make progress.

I now turn to the contribution from the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) about rail procurement and Bombardier. The coalition Government are committed to continuing to invest in rail, building on its success and facilitating future economic growth. As he knows, we are investing £18 billion in this spending review period alone on a programme of rail improvements as large in scale as anything seen since the Victorian era. I am aware that the hon. Gentleman, as well as my hon. Friends the Members for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler), for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), for Erewash (Jessica Lee) and for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) have been active campaigners on behalf of Bombardier, which has a key role in Derby’s economy.

Therefore, I am pleased to be responding to this debate shortly after Southern has announced its intention to exercise an option for 40 additional rolling stock vehicles to be delivered by Bombardier in 2014. Furthermore, Southern is working with the Department to develop proposals for a potential competitive procurement for 116 new vehicles, including options for further vehicles. Ministers expect to be able to make a further announcement on this matter shortly. Bombardier is also among the shortlisted bidders for the Crossrail rolling stock procurement.

These procurements offer Bombardier and other train manufacturers new opportunities to bid for work. The Thameslink rolling stock contract is complex, as the hon. Gentleman understands, and it introduces much greater responsibility for the train’s performance in service on the part of the train manufacturer and maintainer than is traditionally the case. Therefore it has—quite rightly— taken some time to get the details right. Siemens and its partners in Cross London Trains have been working very closely with the Department for Transport to reach commercial agreement on the Thameslink rolling stock project. I am pleased to say that there has been substantive progress in recent weeks and the Department has now reached commercial agreement on the key elements of the deal with the Cross London Trains consortium. Last night the Cross London Trains consortium published its information memorandum to potential funders.

This important milestone enables the next stage of the process of further engagement with the debt market to continue to put the necessary financing in place for

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the deal. Our target, once the necessary credit approvals have been secured, is to reach financial closure as soon as possible in the new year. I hope that hon. Members will appreciate the importance of the statement I have just made, which is crucial as part of the continuing investment in improving and enhancing the infrastructure and performance of our railways.

In passing, I note that the hon. Gentleman suggested that the same civil servants who were responsible for the franchising deal for the west coast main line were working on the procurement deals, but I can assure him that that is not the case. I hope that that reassures him.

Regarding the Crossrail rolling stock contract, we are clear that our priority is to secure the right train at the right price, through a strong and fair procurement competition. This competition is different from rolling stock procurements such as Thameslink that were launched by the previous Administration. It has taken account of the package of measures to reform public procurement announced in the 2011 autumn statement, and it also includes, for example, the commitment of £350 million of public investment to this £1 billion programme. Four bidders—Bombardier, CAF of Spain, Hitachi and Siemens—have submitted initial bids. Crossrail Ltd is responsible for the procurement and is currently assessing bids received at the end of October.

Chris Williamson: Will the Minister confirm whether credit ratings will be a significant factor in determining the Crossrail contract, and whether there will be an announcement in this Chamber on the financial close of the Thameslink contract?

Mr Burns: On the hon. Gentleman’s second point about the final part of that process, we expect a conclusion early in the new year, though I cannot provide a precise date at this point. On Crossrail, as I said to him earlier, the procurement contract is going ahead and normal processes will be abided by and gone through. It is premature at this stage to start speculating on the detail of future processes, because there is an element of commercial confidentiality and the deals, checks and balances that one would expect from a normal major procurement of this nature.

The Crossrail procurement is the responsibility of Crossrail Ltd. It is currently assessing the bids received at the end of October. I expect that all bidders will have submitted strong, competitive bids that meet the exacting requirements of Crossrail, while providing best value for money for the UK taxpayer and future fare payers. Crossrail and Thameslink will have a transformational impact on travel in London and the south-east. They

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will significantly boost jobs and growth more widely in the economy. Their benefits are vital and urgently needed, and the Government remain firmly committed to their delivery.

The hon. Member for Islington North mentioned a number of other issues. I will write to him about them, except to say—this will come as no surprise to him—that I do not share his enthusiasm for what would in effect be a renationalisation of the railways.

I should like to ensure that the House is fully aware of what is being done to help Bombardier and Derby. The hon. Member for Derby North will be aware that Bombardier recently secured a £188 million bid to build 130 new railway carriages following a procurement competition run by Southern Railways. Last week, Southern Railways announced that it was exercising an option to invest in 40 new Electrostar carriages from Bombardier. Bombardier is among the suppliers who have bid for the new Crossrail rolling stock, which I referred to earlier, but as the procurement process is live it would be inappropriate to go into details. The Department for Transport is working to develop proposals for a further procurement of 116 rolling stock vehicles, which Southern, if it goes ahead, will be able to bid for. Through its talent and expertise, Bombardier has secured a considerable amount of work. There are a number of significant opportunities for it to seek to make more procurement bids successfully, which would lead to a bright future for the company. If it secures all the potential bids, it will help it to strengthen its capabilities and work force, and allow it to develop its potential.

In conclusion, the Government do not just talk the talk, they walk the walk. In the past two and a half years, we have invested record amounts of money—billions of pounds—to play catch-up from the failure of successive previous Governments to invest in our railway infrastructure, so that we have a first-class, fit-for-purpose railway network that can compete with our European competitors and ensure that we get a higher standard of journey for passengers and more freight on to the railways. In recent years, since privatisation, we have seen freight on our networks increase by 60%, with all the benefits that follow on from taking the freight off our road networks. [Interruption.] On the prompting of one of my hon. Friends, I would like to wish you and the staff, Mr Deputy Speaker, a very happy Christmas, secure in the knowledge that we are investing significantly to improve our railways. If you are returning to your constituency for Christmas on the west coast main line with a Virgin train, I wish you a prompt, enjoyable and speedy journey.

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General Matters

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): As we move on, maybe this is the time for me to talk the talk and wish all hon. Members and staff working at Parliament a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2013. It would not be a Christmas general debate without a contribution from Mr David Amess, so let us start with Mr David Amess.

1.56 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): Before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, there are a number of points I wish to raise. Members are familiar with the Freedom of Information Act 2000. A number of constituents have raised with me the fact that they think it perverse that they cannot have the name and address of the person who raises the FOI inquiry. I agree with them; I think the law should be changed.

In October, I met Paul Atkinson, from Prysmian Group, who is very troubled by the state of electrical cables. He fears that safety regulation of imports is not currently strong enough, and that this is causing fires, as well as the loss of British jobs. Having recently met fire officers in my constituency, I think this is a real problem.

Earlier this year, I secured a debate on the lack of burial space. There were excellent contributions from the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), and a very good reply from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant). I hope that further work will be done on this issue because, as the hon. Member for Strangford said, the only things we can be certain of in life are death and taxes.

I have long campaigned in this House on the role of the Iranian resistance movement. There have been gross violations of human rights in Iran and the sharp rise in public executions continues. Her Majesty’s Government need further to support democracy and change in Iran, and the National Council of Resistance of Iran must be recognised as a legitimate opposition movement.

A few weeks ago, there was a power cut in my house and that of my next-door neighbour. I complained to E.ON, with whom I settle the bill, as did my neighbour. It was passed on to UK Power Networks, who passed me on to the energy ombudsman, which was an absolute waste of time. No one seems to be responsible for these matters, and my neighbour and I want compensation.

One of my constituents is particularly worried about postal vote fraud. To prove a point, he put five fictional names down at his address to register them as voters, and received postal votes for all of them. The census was obviously not checked to verify the residents in the property. He was arrested for electoral fraud, but the police brought no charges. We are both anxious about what appears to be a very lax system.

Last month, I visited Broadway Opticians in my constituency to see at first hand the different enhanced eye care services that optometrists and opticians can deliver. Community optometrists offer patient-centred, cost-effective quality eye care services in convenient, accessible locations. A key benefit of implementing those enhanced services is a reduction in referral rates

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to GPs and A and E units. These services are very patchy in our area. I ask what plans my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has to make sure that these enhanced services are available across the country.

No doubt the whole House would like to see driving become safer—according to my wife, if anyone drove with me they would see why. I was contacted by the Association of British Insurers, which is seeking to change the law on learning to drive. It wants a minimum one-year period for learning to drive and a ban on intensive driving courses. At the same time, it would like to allow teenagers to start learning to drive at 16 and a half, although as a politician I am not so sure about that.

On an issue of great concern to senior citizens, constituents of mine have been informed that their pensions will no longer be paid into the Post Office, but instead will be paid into a bank account. The letters informing them of the change came from Her Majesty’s Treasury, not the Post Office. This change is very difficult for many senior citizens to manage, and I urge Her Majesty’s Treasury as well as the Post Office to think through this change very carefully.

Another constituent of mine has raised with me his issues with Wonga, the pay-day loans company. He is particularly concerned about its television advertising, which does not mention the annual percentage rate of 4,214 applied to loans. It is worrying how easily one can obtain money from such companies. Its website guarantees quick decisions and money delivered swiftly. Any company making such quick decisions on loans can hardly be spending much time considering how the loans might affect the person’s life or how it could be paid back.

Dredging is damaging the environment in my constituency. It is affecting the cockle and the fishing industries, and is fundamentally changing the Southend coastline and affecting Southend pier, the longest in the world. I have seen the evidence with my own eyes. There has been a huge reduction in the amount of mud on the foreshore in Southend and Leigh. The pace of change is very dangerous. I have mentioned it in the House before, and I will continue my ongoing campaign to look after the Southend coastline.

Yet another constituent met me recently to discuss the creation of the supermarket watchdog, which is part of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, introduced in September. Supermarkets can treat suppliers badly without fear of any consequences. Although supermarkets are clearly beneficial to society, we must be careful to protect their customers and suppliers. I congratulate ActionAid on its long campaign and look forward to seeing the watchdog ensure fairness for producers, supermarkets and customers.

A constituent of mine, James Price, who belongs to the Plymouth Brethren, has been in contact with me on a number of occasions regarding the Charity Commission’s plan to remove charity status from the Brethren’s gospel halls. Not only should this group be able to keep its current status, but I am worried about the implications if it cannot do so. I was pleased with yesterday’s ten-minute rule motion on this subject. What is to say that other religious organisations, such as the Church of England or my own Catholic Church, will remain safe if the gospel halls are not?

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The final subject that I wish to raise is art. Art is wonderful and should be cherished. Southend West is a centre of cultural excellence. I enjoyed hearing the inaugural concert of Southend youth orchestra and was particularly delighted to hear from David Stanley’s group, the Music Man Project, which offers a unique service for people with learning disabilities. It is absolutely wonderful. David and the orchestra deserve a national audience, and it was my joy to go to No. 10 Downing street yesterday and present the Prime Minister with the DVD. Furthermore, I will be organising an event called “Southend’s Got Talent” on 15 February further to promote the arts in my constituency, and I hope that hon. Members will join me on 4 March in the Jubilee Room, where we will be celebrating all that is wonderful in Southend.

This year, my mother turned 100, and we enjoyed the diamond jubilee and the Olympic games. I do not know what can top it next year, but some of us will be celebrating 30 years in Parliament. I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all the staff a very happy Christmas, and everyone else good health, peace, prosperity and a wonderful new year.

2.3 pm

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) is always a difficult act to follow, but it is always a pleasure to do so, and I look forward to hearing the result of his talent contest.

I wish to inject a serious note, because I am asking the Government to rethink their consultation paper, “Judicial Review: proposals for reform”. I speak as someone with experience working for the previous Government on judicial reviews. Yes, they come in thick and fast, but in my view they are a necessary safety valve for society and uphold the rule of law. They are the foundations of our democracy. What is a judicial review? It is a review of a decision by a public authority—a review of legality, unfairness or reasonableness, or of whether there was a personal interest in any decision taken by a public authority.

My first concern is about the consultation period. The paper was published last week, and, in my view, the consultation period is not long enough. I have been in many judicial reviews where judges have expressed concern that there has been little or hardly any consultation. This consultation is taking place over the Christmas period. It is not even the length of a legal term. It will last for six weeks, at least two of which will be taken up by Christmas and new year. That might even be grounds for a challenge. What is the case for change? Page nine of the document states that judicial review has developed far beyond its original intentions. That is not a proper reason based on evidence; it is an opinion.

We are dealing with old powers that go back centuries. Some of the remedies have Latin words such as certiorari, mandamus and even habeas corpus. They have been exercised more extensively, because there has been much more legislation, and that is my second point. The Government are concerned about the growth of judicial review, but, because there is more legislation, there will be more challenges. When decisions are made and discretion goes beyond what Parliament has laid down in legislation, of course there should be challenges. These proceedings

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are not brought before the court lightly. Judges take very seriously the use and abuse of the court process and do their best to filter out vexatious claims.

My third point is that the Government want to change the process for granting permission to bring judicial review proceedings. Their own evidence shows that permission hearings—first on paper, then orally—are a good filter of cases, so what are the figures? In 2011, 7,600 applications were considered by the court, but only one in six was granted. That makes 1,200. That, to me, shows a court doing its job. It is one gigantic filter. Furthermore, only 300 permissions were granted for an oral hearing.

The oral permissions are important, because they are about getting a fair crack of the whip—to use a judicial review term—and it is right that those cases that have been filtered out get a second chance, because there might be new evidence. Even when they get to the stage of a hearing and an appeal, judges, particularly in immigration cases, are now ordering that the appeal can be pursued from abroad. I am astounded at the suggestion on page 11 that a victory in a judicial review is only a pyrrhic victory. It is a victory in terms of court. It is referred back to the original body for consideration, either because the decision was exercised unlawfully or unreasonably, or on one of the other grounds of judicial review. That is a proper victory within the grounds of judicial review.

I am also concerned about the timeliness aspect. The Government say that judicial review cases take a long time. These are not cases in the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce mould. Where is the evidence that there is delay beyond the three months? Most cases are dealt with in a timely fashion. There is a pre-action protocol that allows information to be exchanged before a case goes to court to be settled. The Government want to reduce the time limit from three months to six weeks in planning cases. That will not make them go away or get dealt with any quicker. What has to be looked at is the listing for a hearing. That is where the delay is. I have said before in the Chamber that we need more judges and more court time. The fact that some of the cases have been heard outside the Strand—in Cardiff, Manchester and other areas where the administrative court sits—is taking cases away from London, and that is a good thing.

My next point concerns fees. The Justice Secretary said that judicial review was being increasingly used by organisations for public relations purposes, but increasing the fees will not make them use it any less. Those organisations can afford it; it is the individuals or the residents groups who will not be able to afford the fees and therefore will be denied access to justice. If we remove access to justice, we remove one of the important parts of a democracy. In my view, the Justice Secretary has not made the case for reform. I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to ask the Justice Secretary what discussions he has had with those who drew up the civil procedure rules about these changes, and what representations he has had from the judiciary, lawyers and others who use the administrative court stating that there is a need for reform.

The case for reform is flawed. As Tom Bingham, the eminent judge, wrote in his excellent book, “The Rule of Law”, judges review the lawfulness of administrative action taken by others; they are the auditors of legality—no more no less. If we are to live in a democracy, we have

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to expect decisions to be made in cases which are not acceptable to the Executive or Parliament. We would not wish to have a judiciary that agrees with everything the Executive or Parliament does. Judicial review is one of the pillars that hold up a just society. Unforeseen consequences of legislation and the exercise of discretion can be tested in the courts through JR. We not only have great expectations but—in JR jargon—legitimate expectations that the safety valve for society that is judicial review will remain intact. In judicial review, judges exercise a constitutional power that the rule of law requires them to exercise. That is the way it should be.

May I add my voice to others in wishing everyone a merry Christmas and a happy new year and in thanking the staff for all their hard work over the year? Let me also say, on this auspicious day—20/12/2012—that I hope everyone’s dreams come true.

2.10 pm

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): I do not intend to take up anywhere near my allocated time, Mr Deputy Speaker; instead, I hope to be punchy and pithy.

Everyone in this House will remember the catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April in 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Because of that disaster, Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline, like other charities, was set up in 1991. It works hard for the children affected by the disaster. I need to declare a small interest in the charity. In 2001, when I was chairman of Heptonstall parish council, Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline was my charity of the year, and many of my constituents in the Calder Valley, along with people from all over the nation, host those young people on recuperation holidays.

Belarus and Ukraine, where most of the charity’s work is focused, received more than 70% of the radioactive fallout from the nuclear explosion. As a result, thousands of children are still born every year with, or go on to develop, thyroid cancer, bone cancer or leukaemia. The charity does much work to help these children. It provides ongoing supplies of multivitamins and basic health care products to the children, having delivered thousands of tonnes over the last two decades. The charity helps children too sick to travel by providing chemotherapy medicines to children’s cancer hospitals in Minsk and Gomel, as well as other regions. It provides support with medicines and equipment to babies’ homes in Minsk and other orphanages around the country. When needed, the charity brings children to the UK for long-term medical care and education.

I want to speak about the charity’s work in bringing child victims of the Chernobyl disaster over to the UK for four-week recuperation breaks. More than 46,000 young children have been brought over to stay with UK host families since the breaks started in 1992. Traditionally, for the last 16 and a half years our Government have provided gratis visas for these recuperation breaks, like every other country in Europe. The breaks help to prolong those young children’s lives and give them good clean air and good living for just four weeks of their lives. The gratis visas are due to cease in March next year. The charity will have to find an additional £89 per child to bring them to the UK for four weeks’ recuperation.

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The visas are currently paid for by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from a budget of £250,000, but the actual cost is only £130,000. The money is transferred to the UK Border Agency for the service it provides. I have received a written reply from the Minister for Europe who has explained the reasons why the visas will cease. The money will apparently keep one of our smaller embassies open, it equates to full-time equivalent staff whom the FCO does not have to make redundant, and he feels that he gave the charities enough notice of the FCO’s intent when they were advised of the change back in November 2010.

I would ask my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House whether a solution can be found, because this charge, from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Home Office, is just that: a charge. There is no physical product, apart from just the process. The true cost of providing the visas is much less than the budget spent on them, and given the 0.7% of GDP that we spend on international aid, the amount is so small that it is almost embarrassing that we should be cutting support for those young, dying children. May I also ask my right hon. Friend whether, rather than giving a blanket no, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will please seek a solution with the Home Office—and perhaps even the Department for International Development —to ensure that we continue to do the morally right thing and help this and other charities to prolong these young lives?

Mr Deputy Speaker, may I, like others, take this opportunity to wish you and the whole House—Members, staff and their families—a wonderful Christmas and an incredibly peaceful new year?

2.15 pm

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, in your now traditional role of the Speaker’s version of Santa Claus, giving presents to the Back Benchers. I hope that next year we will see you enter into the spirit a little more, with something less sombre than your morning suit—perhaps a pair of antlers, a red nose or some such. We look forward to that with great expectation.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), who uses these debates in the way they should be used by Back Benchers. He had great support in all parts of the House as he spoke. We commend him on the resilience he has shown in looking after the interests of the children from Chernobyl. In a way, that shows the value of these debates and, indeed, the Backbench Business Committee, which some colleagues who are new to the House might rather take for granted. Those of us who have been here a little longer know what a hard fought campaign it was—including on our side of the House, through those on our own Front Bench—to get the Backbench Business Committee and give Back Benchers the voice they deserve in their own legislature. I hope we will soon add the other half of the brace that was recommended by the Wright Committee, which is to have a House business committee—the promise is to do that this year—which will allow this Chamber some measure of participation in setting the business of the whole legislature, rather than leaving it entirely to the Government. I hope that colleagues will join together in progressing that over the next year.