The new local policing model reflects the financial constraints that any Mayor, of whatever colour, would have experienced. Part of it involves making police more accountable to local people. One reason for closing down our local police stations is that we are trying to put more money into bobbies on the beat rather than

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necessarily into bricks-and-mortar institutions. There will be an extra 2,600 officers in the safer neighbourhoods scheme as the role of safer neighbourhoods teams changes to cover reassurance and enforcement. Neighbourhood officers will be available for far longer hours, and neighbourhood inspectors will be a key point of accountability. That is good news, and I hope that the Met starts connecting with local people so that communities can work together to protect our youngsters.

Mr Thomas: I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that the figures from the police and crime committee of the Greater London Assembly show that by 2015, there will be 202 fewer police constables patrolling the streets of Westminster than there were in 2010, and that does not take into account how many police community support officers will go as well. Even according to the Mayor’s figures, there will be significantly fewer police officers in the hon. Gentleman’s borough.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Order. Before the hon. Gentleman answers, I would be grateful if he could draw his remarks to a conclusion.

Mark Field: I shall. I appreciate that many others want to speak. I just wanted to mention that particular local tragedy.

I fear that the voice of young people is often being lost in this debate. That is why Westminster city council is working in partnership with the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion to deliver the youth secure streets programme, in which young people and community representatives develop a local strategy for dealing with some of these issues. In my constituency, particularly in the Ebury Bridge and Churchill Gardens estates, a lot of effort has gone into reassuring residents—in many months gone by, not just in the last 10 days—and encouraging them to come forward. That has often been something of a missing link.

There is so much more I should like to have said, and I am sure that many other Members will say those things. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, and I recognise that these are deep concerns across the political divide. As London MPs, we feel that they are our particular concerns and problems, and I hope that he will give us some reassurance when he sums up the debate.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Colleagues, by the power vested in me, I impose an official four-minute time limit from now on. I remind Members that if there are interventions, you get an extra minute, but let us try to limit them, or someone will be squeezed out.

3.3 pm

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) on initiating this debate and rightly drawing our attention to some of the ways in which the debate on police numbers has been presented by the Mayor’s office. He is completely right, as he pointed out in his intervention, that the presentation showing one additional police officer in Westminster does not tell us the whole truth, and that we are down by 202 police officers since 2010. He is also completely correct to draw our attention to the changes in the safer

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neighbourhoods structure, which I think will seriously dilute the connection between safer neighbourhoods teams and their local ward areas. Local leadership of safer neighbourhoods teams is what has made them so important and successful over the past seven or eight years, and it is a great shame that that structure is now being changed.

Although the debate has been framed generally around numbers and premises, one important thing that we can all agree on is that what really matters is how the police demonstrate their presence in a community. It is presence that is significant, not necessarily the bricks and mortar in which police are housed. Police must be visible and accessible, and visibility is not the same as audibility. Communities want to know that their police are present, and not simply as a siren in the street.

I welcome the fact that, under the new proposals, more police officers will be moved into the safer neighbourhoods pool of police, albeit in larger local units, but that brings us back to police premises. It is all very well for the Mayor to make the case that there are 65 stations and counters with a low footfall for reporting crime, and that they can be closed without an effect on the community, but we all know that where police work from matters in terms of how they are perceived by the community. The withdrawal of police stations, particularly from areas of deprivation such as the Harrow Road police station in my constituency, will matter if we are not given a clear indication of the criteria, budget and structure for the alternative way in which police will operate.

The whole consultation has put the cart before the horse. We have been asked to make our comments on police station closures without having had any clear indication of what will replace them or, above all, where the safer neighbourhoods teams will work from to ensure their local police presence. That matters not just in terms of reassuring the community about police presence but to the close relationships between police and their local communities.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) is completely right that one important example is the relationship between police and young people. In recent years, progress has been made on improving that relationship. It is always difficult, but it has improved, and overall progress has been made on stop-and-search, which lies at the heart of a lot of the tensions. It is therefore worrying that young people have come to me who have undergone strip searches for cannabis possession under the new enforcement regime. It seems to me that proportionality is an issue in how we operate stop-and-search. It is an important tool and it should be used, but proportionality should be borne in mind.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster was completely right to draw our attention to gangs and the terrible murder in his constituency. It is of deep concern to me that we have yet to hear from the Mayor’s office on the funding of the gangs unit. Westminster council has told us that the £225,000 that it received from the Home Office ending gangs and serious youth violence fund will end, and that we have yet to hear where the replacement funding will come from.

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3.7 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) on securing this debate. I want to raise a couple of local concerns, as well as an issue of which I think the Home Office and Government counter-terrorism should be aware.

I was on the pilot police parliamentary scheme with Jacqui Lait and Neil Gerrard in the late 1990s, and I am now doing the graduate police parliamentary scheme. If colleagues have not done it—I know that some have—I highly recommend it. I place on record my appreciation, which I am sure is shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), of our borough commander, Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer, and his deputy superintendent, Robert Revill, for keeping us informed of all the developments throughout the consultation. Like other colleagues, we also appreciate all the staff of the Met—back-room staff, officers and support officers—for the great work that they do to protect us.

One local issue is the closure of stations. At the moment, we have six stations: two 24-hour stations, and four day stations. That will be reduced to one 24-hour and two day stations, although obviously, there must be rationalisation of some description. The reductions in numbers in safer neighbourhoods teams have been well documented by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West. Safer neighbourhoods teams were piloted in the Shadwell ward in my constituency before being rolled out to the rest of Tower Hamlets, the rest of London and then across the country, so we have seen the value of them for probably longer than anyone. The evidence in Tower Hamlets is that, for the six years after their introduction, there was a year-on-year reduction in crime. For the past two years, however, there has been an increase. There is therefore real concern about police presence, police visibility, safer neighbourhoods teams and access to police stations.

The second issue I want to raise is the future of the Wapping marine policing unit. It is based in the country’s oldest police station, and it was founded because of the docks in east London. That was before Peelers were introduced and walked the streets of this great capital city. It has been suggested that there will be a 40% reduction in staff, with the loss of night patrols. When I was a Transport Minister, one of the big security issues was the Thames. The attack in Mumbai, which came from the sea, adequately demonstrated the risk of sea-borne attacks. During the Olympics, HMS Ocean was based on the Thames at Greenwich to support marine units. That demonstrated that the risk was still there.

The problem for the Minister is that the Mayor of London’s police and crime plan—MOPAC—does not mention the River Thames or what will happen to Wapping. The Home Office has ring-fenced funding for the counter-terrorism unit and SO15, and, given the counter-terrorism role the Wapping unit performs, this is partly a Home Office matter. The question for the Minister, therefore, is whether staff numbers at the marine policing unit will be cut by 40%. That is what is rumoured, but we have no details. Will that result in there being no night-time patrols at all, which is the word that has been put out on the river? Where will the metropolitan marine policing unit be based when Wapping police station closes? Where will the museum of river police be relocated when the station closes?

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Some of those matters are for the Home Office and some are clearly for the Mayor of London, and the Minister may want to deflect some of our inquiries and criticisms to the Mayor’s office. However, there is a counter-terrorism issue here, and the River Thames is very much London’s Achilles heel, so I hope the Home Office will be interested in making sure that we maintain our vigilance for the security of the city.

3.11 pm

Dame Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) for securing the debate. I want to make a few quick points, mindful as I am of the time.

First, I hope the Minister is struck by the degree of cross-party agreement on this issue. This is about our capacity to represent our constituents and to ensure that they are kept safe and secure. The concern about falling numbers and police counter closures is shared right across London.

Secondly, I want to put on record my thanks to the Met for the extraordinary job it did during the Olympics. I particularly want to reference the two borough commanders in my area—Matt Bell in Lambeth and John Sutherland in Southwark. They do their job every single day of the week, and they would never complain. However, we must reflect the hollowness of MOPAC’s stated ambition of doing more with less. We know that the resources available to our communities are stretched almost to breaking point.

On numbers, despite the commitments made in the heat and passion of the mayoral election campaign, Lambeth will see a reduction of 157 officers by 2015, while Southwark will be down by 132. That flies directly in the face of the assurances that were given.

On counter closures, I remind Members that the Mayor promised that no front counter would be closed without a new, improved facility being put in its place. All that we are being offered, however, is the empty MOPAC rhetoric about doing more with less. That is not a promise kept. In each borough, it is intended to retain only one 24-hour station—Brixton, in Lambeth, and Walworth, in Southwark.

There is enormous concern about abstractions on the part of the two borough commanders and the safer neighbourhoods teams in my area. Abstractions—the arbitrary withdrawal of police staff to deal with issues elsewhere—are unpredictable and unplanned, but absolutely required. Having reviewed the level of abstractions, I am concerned about the frequency with which police constables are abstracted from our safer neighbourhoods teams, diminishing teams’ powers of arrest and enforcement.

Finally, I want to say a word about safer neighbourhoods teams. There is unanimity in the debate about value of safer neighbourhoods teams and safer neighbourhoods policing in terms of the security and safety of London. I hope the Minister is listening and will reaffirm that in his discussions with the Mayor.

3.15 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. Like you, I recognise that the Home Affairs Committee, of which you were a distinguished member, constantly has inquiries involving the Metropolitan police.

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I want to raise three issues, but I want first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) on not only securing the debate, but becoming the deputy shadow Minister for London.

The first issue I want to raise is diversity. My hon. Friend was right to highlight the fact that the Metropolitan police, especially at senior levels, does not look like London, and that is not acceptable. Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Manchester, suggested that the police service adopt positive action to get a broader range of officers into the ranks of chief constable. Whatever method is adopted, the situation must change. For the six years I have been Chairman of the Select Committee, senior officers have said they must do more, but that is not enough. Given the population in London, it is vital that the police should change at the highest levels.

Secondly, I support what the Government are doing to restructure the landscape of policing, although they must carry the work force with them. That is not happening at the moment, and it is certainly not happening in the Met. I would like to hear very clearly where the counter-terrorism command will rest. Will it go to the National Crime Agency or will it stay with the Met? Judging from the speeches we have heard so far, there are a lot of bread-and-butter issues the Met should be concentrating on. I would like to hear from the Minister whether that decision has been made.

Finally, we are all concerned by the number of historical investigations—Yewtree, Alice, Elveden and Tuleta—occurring at the moment. Yesterday, we heard that Operation Hearn, which has cost £1.2 million and which has 20 or so officers working on it, has still not concluded. At this time, it is important that the Met is given the resources it needs—not from its agreed budget, but additional resources—to deal with some of these cases. In that way, we can deal with issues such as the one that was raised with the Committee only yesterday: undercover agents’ use of the identities of dead children in performing their activities. That is quite wrong, and it is important that the families are notified immediately. When Pat Gallan gave evidence to us, she said the issue had to be investigated thoroughly. I urge the Minister to give the Metropolitan police the resources it needs to conclude these inquiries.

3.18 pm

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) on securing this important debate. Like other colleagues, I pay tribute to the Metropolitan police and especially the officers in my constituency and across Tower Hamlets.

The Government’s announcement that the police budget will go down by 20%—£2 billion—in this Parliament and Mayor Johnson’s announcement that a further £500 million will be cut from the Metropolitan police service budget mean that we will lose 1,500 members of staff, on top of the 4,000 uniformed officers who have lost their jobs since the cuts began.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) said, police numbers have gone down and crime has gone up over the same period, and that is also true in my constituency. There are now 163 fewer uniformed officers in Tower Hamlets than when the Government came to power in 2010. Over the

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same period, crime has gone up by a dramatic 9% in Tower Hamlets. That contrasts with six successive years of crime reduction in the borough under the previous Government. When I raised that issue with the Home Secretary during Home Office questions on 7 January, as reported in column 14 of


, she said that the Metropolitan police had indicated that they wanted to change the number of police community support officers to increase the number of police constables available. Yet the evidence shows that Tower Hamlets has 103 fewer police officers and 58 fewer PCSOs than in 2010. I wrote to the Mayor of London to seek clarification a few weeks ago, soon after that answer, and have yet to receive a response.

We face the closure of three police facilities, as my hon. Friend has mentioned, and a cut in proven and effective safer neighbourhoods teams, from six officers to one police officer and one PCSO. As he said, we were the first to innovate and pilot the safer neighbourhoods initiative, which has proved extremely successful at reducing crime in our borough and around the country. It seems bizarre that the Government and the Mayor of London want to reverse that important provision, with its proven track record of success. It is dangerous and simply puts public safety at risk. I therefore appeal to the Minister to re-examine those issues, especially in the light of the dramatic increase in crime in the borough.

My constituents do not have confidence in the proposals of the Mayor of London. They made that clear in a recent consultation led by the deputy Mayor, who was rather short of facts and unclear about what exactly was going on. We highlighted the risks and showed the evidence, and asked him to think again. In particular, it is critical that the Mayor of London and the Government should consider the matter in the context of recent risks such as hate crime, which the police dealt with valiantly and immediately, because they still have some capacity to do so.

Similarly, during the riots, community and police working together managed to stop a major riot happening in our borough; and we stopped the English Defence League exploiting those divisions across London to create more unrest. That required 7,000 police officers, despite a ban, and it shows how desperately we need police officers working with the community, and community support officers. I ask the Minister to examine those issues closely, and to see what the risks are—not just the risk of a rise in crime, but the risk to community relations in our city.

3.22 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Last night, Hammersmith had an unwelcome visitor—the deputy Mayor for policing and crime, Stephen Greenhalgh, who is of course also remembered in the borough as the previous leader of the council. During his time there, he cut most of the things that are needed for civil society to be harmonious and law abiding, including youth clubs, Sure Start, housing and social services. He was a hugely divisive figure and his signature policy, of course, was the social engineering of the borough through the demolition of social housing and its replacement with luxury housing.

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Since Stephen Greenhalgh was elevated to the post of deputy Mayor, he has been a controversial figure. He held the Greater London assembly in contempt by, at the first meeting, standing down the police commissioner. The tawdry incident before Christmas of inappropriate touching in a lift makes him unsuitable for his post, in my view; and for the past three weeks, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been deciding whether to investigate him for possible criminal activity. I want the Mayor to come to the borough to talk to us—not someone who is highly discredited and unfit to hold his position.

I was not able to attend the event as I was here for last night’s important vote, but my staff who attended told me that there was the usual bombast and platitudes; but that could not disguise what is happening in Hammersmith and Fulham, which is that Shepherd’s Bush police station, in the poorest area with the highest crime, will close, and Fulham police station will go on to reduced hours. Despite that, the hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) and the Conservative council support the strategy adopted by the Mayor and Stephen Greenhalgh. I do not accept that supermarket counters and post offices are an alternative to police stations for the reporting of sensitive and important matters. People want a police station.

A letter from my borough commander said:

“At this stage we are not intending to close Fulham or Shepherds Bush Police Station”.

However, I believe that once counters have closed, it is likely that whole police stations will close in due course, as the police sell their estates around the borough. We are told that we are merging with Kensington and Chelsea and will lose our borough commander. We are also told that the boroughs will be split into three—north, middle and south. That looks to me like a three-tier service, because the two boroughs have a poor north and wealthy south. I am sure that I know where the resources will be put.

Our safer neighbourhood teams are universally popular. The idea that they will be based on one police constable and one PCSO is disgraceful. We have already lost 5% of officers and 45% of PCSOs. That will not have changed, according to the Met’s figures, by 2015. All we get is spin and false statistics. Crime has not materially changed; concern about crime has gone up in Hammersmith and Fulham. The council spends more than £1 million on publicity, mainly aimed at telling people what a good job it does on law and order. It is a disgrace; it is similar to the Mayor of London’s saying after the riots, before the election, that he opposed police cuts, although now he proposes horrific police cuts.

It is burned into my memory that the cabinet member for policing in Hammersmith said, when asked a question at a sensitive public meeting following a murder a couple of years ago in the borough, that his solution to crime was to increase owner-occupation. Greenhalgh said last night that he was thinking of using money from estates sales to invest in policing. That is not the solution to crime in London. The political leadership—not the police leadership—of policing in London is unfit, and the Minister would be well advised to consider that and think about how we are to get the leadership that we deserve.

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3.26 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): In my constituency, one of the most popular public policy initiatives of the past 20 years was safer neighbourhoods teams. Mitcham and Morden campaigned hard for them. Ten years ago, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) was the Policing Minister, she came to meet dozens of local people in Steers Mead who wanted to introduce safer neighbourhoods teams to tackle the low-level crime and antisocial behaviour that affected their part of Mitcham. Thanks to her, we were lucky enough to get one of the country’s first teams, and the model of one sergeant, two police constables and three PCSOs walking local beats has been a great success.

The police had drifted away from community policing for decades, but the safer neighbourhoods initiative meant that we had six people whom we knew, walking local beats, who could not be moved away from us. It also meant investment in communities that had been neglected. Police offices such as those in Lavender Fields, St Helier, Pollards Hill and Mitcham town centre have benefited the community in many ways. More obviously, they enabled our safer neighbourhoods teams to spend more time in the community, rather than travelling to and from distant police stations; but they also represented investment in local neighbourhoods. Previously, those offices were derelict—empty shops that attracted antisocial behaviour. Most of all, the new offices were an outward projection of the fact that the police cared about those communities, as they were part of them.

Now, all that is under threat. I feel sorry for my borough commander, Chief Superintendent Darren Williams, who has been in his post only a year. I have enormous respect for him and the energy that he brings to his job. I praise him particularly for his fundraising for Fight for Change—a scheme to encourage young men to turn away from gang violence—but he has a thankless task. Others have decided that cuts must be made, that the 1-2-3 model of safer neighbourhoods policing is no longer sacrosanct and that police offices and police stations are no longer a priority.

A campaign has been launched by the Guardian group of local papers in south-west London after, in their words,

“it emerged an area measuring about 75 miles squared—larger than any individual London borough—would be left without a 24 hour station”.

As the Guardian group explains:

“The exposed area includes Mitcham, Tooting, Earlsfield, Balham, Streatham, Thornton Heath, Norbury, Norwood, Dulwich, Forest Hill, Sydenham, Beckenham, and Catford”.

Tooting police station, which is just inside my constituency, will close; Mitcham police station will be closed at night; and the safer neighbourhoods offices that we fought so hard to get are also under threat. I want to take the opportunity to praise the Guardian group for its campaign.

When Boris Johnson’s office published plans to end the 24-hour service at Mitcham police station, to close local police offices and to scrap the 1-2-3 system, we were appalled. I am sure he will find out just how appalled we are when Stephen Greenhalgh comes to our constituency at the end of the month. The Labour leader of Merton council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis,

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will be there, and I congratulate him and Councillor Edith Macauley on saying that the council oppose any moves to close local police stations or cut the number of police and PCSOs in our community.

People in Mitcham and Morden are beginning to feel the difference: they are beginning to feel more unsafe. They are concerned that the police are surrendering their territory. I hope that I have, in this short contribution, been able to express their views about their No. 1 priority.

3.29 pm

Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) for securing this important debate on an issue of such vital concern to residents in the areas that colleagues and I represent.

I put on the record my concern about proposals to cut policing in Croydon, particularly in Croydon North, so soon after the worst riots in a generation, for which Croydon was one of the focal points nationally. This was a huge issue in the by-election just a few weeks ago, when I was elected to represent Croydon North, although at that point the proposals were not as severe or damaging as those that we now have before us.

People living in that constituency are still shaken by what they saw during the riots. London road, which is one of the main shopping areas running through the constituency, was in flames. People were appalled to see gangs of looters and rioters smashing through local shops, stealing whatever they could find.

Many people do not just have the memory of those riots: they are still experiencing the after-effects. Mr and Mrs Hassan ran a launderette on the London road that was burnt out by arsonists. They have not only received no compensation to enable them to set up their livelihood again, but they have no other means of income. As a result, they cannot pay the mortgage on their home and are threatened with losing it.

Charlene Munro, a young single mother, and her three-year-old son had to flee their home when they saw a gang of rioters approaching. They returned next morning to find their flat burnt out and all their possessions destroyed. They also received little support. Charlene has been left in debt and her son, now aged four, is still traumatised by the experiences that he suffered.

Those are just two of many examples of how people in Croydon North are still suffering from the riots. The riots are not in the past; people have to live with them today. At a time when people in that community so desperately need reassurance about their public safety, how extraordinary that the Mayor should introduce proposals to cut the police, offering people greater fear about their personal safety, instead of reassurance.

Croydon North is a densely populated area. It is relatively poor. It is a challenging area to police. It is extraordinary that the Mayor is proposing to close every police station in Croydon North and to leave police numbers below the wholly inadequate level that existed immediately after the riots. Croydon is losing out twice. The Mayor’s justification for closing down the police stations is that it frees up resources to provide additional police on the streets. Croydon North will suffer on both counts; it will not get the additional

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policing that the Mayor has promised. This is a breach of the promises that people in Croydon North were made after the riots.

Crimes such as street robbery, domestic violence and hate crime are on the rise in Croydon. The legacy of the riots is still strong in people’s minds. I hope that the Minister will support me in urging the Mayor of London to bring forward alternative proposals that meet his earlier promises and are fair to Croydon.

3.33 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): Like many hon. Members, I was elected in 1997 and at that time I went out on the beat with police officers, as many of us did. Some may recall John Hannington, who used to work in the House of Commons. He was one of my beat officers and we went round Barnhill ward together. We had one beat officer per ward then.

I had one of the earliest safer neighbourhood teams. We got the sergeant, two PCs and the PCSOs and it was a major success. We set up the ward panels and mapped out the beats, in terms of crime problems in a particular area. I set up initiative meetings—I still have them every quarter in each ward—where I meet councillors, police and local residents, and we tackle the problems together. We have launched projects for the young people, including anti-drugs, domestic violence and safety for the elderly projects. It has been an overwhelming success in building confidence in policing in the local area. That process has been destabilised since 2010.

Sergeant vacancies are either not filled or there are delays in recruitment, PCs are not replaced for long periods and PCSOs are not replaced at all, in many instances. Premises on estates in my constituency, where we have relocated teams, are now under threat of closure. In addition, staff are withdrawn from the whole area—I do not know whether other hon. and right hon. Members have noticed this—to police demonstrations, and so on. I understand that there are priorities, but there was a commitment that there would be sufficient resources so that safer neighbourhood teams were not withdrawn in that way.

What has happened in my community? If hon. and right hon. Members read the newspapers this morning they may have missed it, but as a result of the changes Hayes is now in the top 10 in the country for burglaries. Drugs are becoming a real problem, particularly drug dealers preying on youngsters. We were working hard in the town centre to reduce the fear of crime and attract people back in at night. However, the town centre teams have been hit hardest since 2010. I fear that we are going backwards rather than forwards.

It is not just about numbers. Ben Bradford, the Oxford criminologist, made a valid point when speaking to the London assembly. He said that it is not just quantitative, but about the qualitative relationship: how police interact with constituents, to give them confidence, respect and reassurance. When experienced staff are lost, particularly sergeants with years of experience, and that level of supervision is lost for new, young officers coming in, it undermines the quality of the policing and the interaction between the police officer and members of the public, and it undermines an element of accountability upwards as well as downwards.

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Right hon. and hon. Members may have talked to police officers. Morale is low in the Metropolitan police. Their pay and pensions have been hit and they have been hit with increased work loads and demands on their time. When the Police Federation ballots to see whether officers want the right to strike, that is a warning that morale is at rock bottom, and Ministers, mayors and others, should take heed. There now needs to be a halt to the cuts, proper investment in the police service and engagement with the community, rather than our being ridden roughshod over as we have been recently.

We have the consultative meeting in Hillingdon tonight at 6 o’clock, although I will be here objecting to one of the cuts in welfare benefits. I will communicate these views to the Mayor and others, but the view that I am getting back from the consultative meetings so far is that they are public relations exercises, simply set up to convince people that the numbers are going up when they know that the reality is that the number of police officers is falling and cuts are taking place. I hope that this debate will help.

Mr Slaughter: My hon. Friend’s constituents should not get too excited, because I am told that the meeting last night ended with the deputy mayor saying that he was on the home run. Clearly, he believes that the task has been done and they are going through the motions. I apologise to my colleagues who still have to go through this process, but it is purely cosmetic and a matter of dressing up unacceptable cuts in false statistics in a way that will make those palatable to the media.

John McDonnell: When MPs, members of the public, local councillors and the police themselves at street level are saying that the Mayor has got it wrong, someone needs to listen, and if the Mayor does not the Minister should.

3.38 pm

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) who has done a service to his constituents and to the people of London in bringing this important issue to this Chamber.

The fact that 15 of my right hon. and hon. Friends have attended this debate, plus the hon. Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) and for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), shows that they share an interest in the importance of policing in this great city. I have not yet noticed a Liberal Democrat attending this debate. Perhaps they are too embarrassed about their general election pledge for 3,000 extra police officers to turn up in person. We will put that to one side for the moment.

In this debate about the future of the Metropolitan Police, my hon. and right hon. Friends have spoken with passion about their concerns for their constituencies. London is a complex city to police and faces many challenges. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell) mentioned that the Olympics was an important event. Such international events in this great city are commonplace, week in, week out.

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We have heard about the importance of recognising the potential for London’s being a focus for terrorist activity and about the prevention of terrorism. My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) mentioned the river boat scheme. We heard of appalling acts of murder in this city from the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster. We heard about gangs and guns, and of the importance of neighbourhood policing, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) talked. We have heard about the historical hangover of the riots in Croydon from my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed). During his election campaign, I was pleased to go to Croydon police station to see its importance to the community. Historical inquiries were mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Select Committee, who is also present, showing the importance of the debate.

Those are big issues, and policing London is a complex matter. The community reassurance that neighbourhood policing brings to London, which has been mentioned by all my right hon. and hon. Friends, and the cohesion not only to fight crime but to be a presence on the streets of London, to communicate with its citizens, have been important. Many of those matters are rightly devolved to the Mayor, but the central contention of my right hon. and hon. Friends today has been—I put this strongly to the Minister—that the choices made by the Mayor in London are wrong and that the choices made by the Minister on budget and organisation since 2010 have compounded those wrongs and made policing in London much more difficult.

As the Minister knows, we have an honest disagreement about funding. When I was the Police Minister, in the last year of the Labour Government, we planned to make some savings on policing—some 12%—but the Minister’s proposals have meant a 20% cut, which is effectively £540 million lost to the Met budget by 2015, or 4,200 police officers. That is a real challenge. From May 2010 to date, the Metropolitan police has lost 2,285 police officers and, importantly, 1,900 police community support officers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) mentioned the importance of those numbers, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden.

Police station closures are pivotal. We need to make savings in the policing budget in London, no doubt, but 65 police stations are proposed for closure. Today, my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and for Croydon North have mentioned the importance of those stations to their constituencies, showing that somewhere someone is getting this wrong. The reassurance demanded by the constituents of my right hon. and hon. Friends on such issues is simply not being given. No doubt the Minister will say that crime is down. I welcome the fact that crime in certain areas is falling, but it would be in certain areas, because, after all, Labour put 15 years of investment in as Mayor and as Government. As pointed out today, however, the rate of crimes solved has also fallen; and the level of recorded crime has fallen, but the level of reporting to police is falling.

The issues are serious, and in drawing attention to them I make no criticism of Bernard Hogan-Howe or the Metropolitan police. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West mentioned their service day in, day

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out, putting their lives at risk. Indeed, on Saturday, I will go to Southwark cathedral to pay tribute to Paul McKeever, the former chair of the Police Federation, who was a Metropolitan police officer. He knew and had pride in the service that the Metropolitan police provide to this great city. The challenges of the budget cut and of the decisions on how that cut is made have been reflected strongly in what my right hon. and hon. Friends have said today.

Mr Thomas: Will my right hon. Friend do two things? Will he join me in congratulating Joanne McCartney, a Labour member of the Greater London assembly, who has led the effort to explore the consequences of the Mayor’s budget cuts? Will he also ask the Minister for particular clarity on the Home Office fund for ending gang and youth violence and on whether it will cease in March 2013, as many of us fear, or whether there has been a rethink?

Mr Hanson: My hon. Friend makes an important point, because we are not concerned only with the direct police budget. Resources also come through the community safety fund, which was mentioned by right hon. and hon. Members. In the last year that I set it, it was £13.2 million for London. This year, it is £5.3 million, and next year it is disappearing altogether. That is £13.2 million in the last year of a Labour Government but that is now no more, in the third year of a Conservative and Liberal Administration.

Mark Field: I am glad that the shadow Minister acknowledged that some serious crime rates are coming down in London. We all have great concerns—I share many of those expressed today—but is it not also fair to say that, given the financial constraints that any Government would be under, to be brutally honest, there is vanishingly little between what would have happened had there been a Labour Government in office today, in the sort of grants that they could give via the Home Office to the Mayor, and what has been happening in the past year?

Mr Hanson: Let me gently slap the hon. Gentleman down. There is a difference between the 20% cut on policing introduced by this Government in England and Wales and the 12% reduction that we had planned, which had the support of Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary, which said that it was deliverable and achievable, and that we could have maintained police numbers. The difference in London between the votes he has voted for and the votes that we have voted for amounts to, at the moment, £230 million lost to London policing. That is the difference between him and me. Next Wednesday, he will have an opportunity to look again at the Minister’s budget. I can give the Minister a hint. Just between you and me, Mr Streeter, we will be voting against his budget next Wednesday. My right hon. and hon. Friends will do so because that budget needs to be reviewed.

My hon. Friends have mentioned gang and youth violence funding, gangs and knife violence funding and substance misuse funding. They are all difficult challenges for which funding has been lost. On the diversity issue mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, for example, in London 34% of PCSOs are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds

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and when we lose 986 of them by 2015, the effect on the numbers of black and ethnic minority police officers and PCSOs on the streets of London will be disproportionate.

In conclusion, my right hon. and hon. Friends have made valuable points. We need to look again at the budget. When we reject it, the Minister will have the opportunity to go back and think about it again. We need to look at accountability, because now the London deputy mayor responsible for policing is not as accountable as the police board was in the past. We need to look at the role of the Met in national policing. We need to look at how we can improve diversity—perhaps the Minister can tell me why the last time the Home Office diversity group met was when I chaired it in December 2009. It has not met since, according to his parliamentary answers. The issue is real, and my right hon. and hon. Friends have spoken for London, I hope the Minister will listen.

3.47 pm

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Damian Green): It is always a pleasure to serve under you, Mr Streeter. I echo others in congratulating the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr Thomas) on securing the debate, and I echo his tribute to the Metropolitan police and to the police as a whole on the remarkable job that they continue to do. The right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell) spoke about their performance, in particular during the Olympic and Paralympic games, when forces from throughout the country worked together in London to deliver the biggest peacetime policing operation in our history. That was a huge and undeniable success.

I will start on one of the things the hon. Member for Harrow, West said that I agreed with. He will not be surprised to learn that there were not many, but there were some. I completely agree with him and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee on the importance of diversity in police recruitment and retention, and I have two concrete things to say in response.

I was pleased earlier this week to help launch the College of Policing, a new body set up with support from across the House to increase professionalism within the police, to improve standards and to share best practice. Clearly, one of the areas in which the college will have fruitful work to do will be on practical ways to improve diversity, which is obviously a particularly important issue for the Met. As has been said, chief officers as well as Ministers in successive Governments have said that something needs to be done. There has been no lack of push to do it but, so far, there has been a lack of sufficient success in doing it. I hope that the college will help to achieve that.

The shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), made a point about money. I admire the elegance of his phraseology: when the previous Government were organising something, he used the words “savings” or “reductions”, but when this Government do it, it is “cuts”. They are exactly the same, and wrapping it up in nice language does not make any difference.

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When we came to office, we set the police a challenge to cut crime while playing their part in reducing the country’s record deficit, which the right hon. Gentleman’s party left us. In the case of the Metropolitan police, the response to that challenge is being ably led by the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. We know about some of the difficulties that the Met has faced in meeting that challenge. They have been brought up by many hon. Members during the debate, but we also know that it is fundamentally determined to address those difficulties, and that it is being successful in doing so.

In November 2012, the Metropolitan police submitted a plan for a balanced budget and stated its intention to transform the service, prioritise the front line, and maintain officer numbers. The Mayor’s office for policing and crime is consulting on a draft policing and crime plan and estates strategy. I regret the way that the consultation has been criticised by various hon. Members during the debate. It seems to me that we should all welcome the deputy mayor’s visits to London boroughs to hear local concerns as a model of consultation.

Ms Buck: It is right that we can have a mature debate about police premises and the best way to base the police in the community, but given that the Mayor said categorically that police stations and counters would not close until alternative provision had been found, why have we gone through an entire consultative process with no alternatives being offered, merely being asked to comment on 65 station closures?

Damian Green: I will come to station closures. I take the point, which has been raised by the hon. Lady and other hon. Members. I want to deal with it.

The consultation includes commitments about not only the level of resources that the Met will have at the front line but—this point has been neglected but needs to be injected into the debate—how those resources will be used. At the forefront of the Met’s plans is the Met change programme, which is being used to transform how operational policing is delivered in London. The programme has several strands, including plans to deliver a flatter management structure, thereby putting more constables on the beat, engagement with the supply services market to examine new ways of delivering the services they provide in areas such as human resource, technology and finance, and plans to release under-utilised assets.

I hope that hon. Members agree that the Met’s recently issued plans show that it is looking at a transformational approach to the way in which it delivers policing in London. Everyone has observed that London is a fast changing city that is difficult to police, so it needs to keep ahead of the curve. Clearly, there has been great interest, not just in the debate, but across London about the closure of police stations. As has been said, decisions about the number of stations and their operating hours are matters for the Mayor and the Commissioner. I am sure that many hon. Members will contribute to the consultation.

It is important not to confuse buildings with quality of service provided to the public. Fewer than 50 crimes a night are reported at front counters throughout the Metropolitan police area. Since 2008, the number of crimes reported to those front counters has dropped

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20%, and internet and e-mail reporting is up by 32%. That shows how changes in the modern world must be reflected in changes in the way the police deliver their services.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I cannot keep quiet. I will give a concrete example of what will happen. Wanstead police station will shut, and there will be no replacement whatever. Response times will lengthen, and people will be put in danger. That will be a green light for burglars in the Wanstead part of my constituency. That goes directly against what Boris Johnson promised. People in Wanstead and throughout London want to know what Boris Johnson does not understand about the word “no”.

Damian Green: There is no reason why response times should go up. I have explained what is happening in the way people report things to the police. There are ever-increasing ways in which the public can contact the police. That includes contact centres on the new non-emergency number, 101, which takes some of the pressure off 999 services, and contact through supermarket surgeries and so on, where the police can meet thousands of people, instead of the very few who may come in to a police station.

Several hon. Members made the point that the quality of contact as well as the quantity of contact matters. It seems to be unarguable that getting the police out there into buildings where thousands of people are likely to be is a better way of making that contact than simply being inside a traditional big-building police station.

Mr Lammy: There is a proposal that throughout the entirety of my constituency police station hours will be reduced to 9 to 5. The matter also involves perception. The people of Tottenham do not want officers coming into the constituency from outside. They want officers based in the constituency for reasons that were echoed time and again after the riots in the summer of 2011. The issue is not just about a 9-to-5 operation; it is about visible policing on the ground in constituencies such as mine.

Damian Green: Indeed, and as the right hon. Gentleman knows, one part of the MOPAC plan is to increase the number of police constables, so there will be more visible policing. The background that the right hon. Member for Delyn mentioned in passing—he is honest enough to know that it must be the background to the debate—is that crime is falling, but someone coming to this debate cold would not recognise that fact from the tenor of the debate so far. It is a straightforward fact

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that crime is falling, and that includes a 3% reduction in police recorded crime in the Metropolitan police area in the first two years of this Government between 2010 and 2012. That refutes any suggestion that reduced budgets and fewer officers inevitably make the public less safe.

Ms Buck: Does the Minister accept that the reporting of crime at police counters or contact points is marginal to the argument that most of us have about the police presence in the community? People want safer neighbour teams and police to be rooted in their neighbourhoods so that they do not end up having to report to a police station at the far end of the borough and, as is usually the case, the most deprived neighbourhoods are left behind.

Damian Green: I have just addressed that point. There are two things: the response to crime and preventing it, and the quality of day-to-day contact. That is why finding innovative ways of placing the police regularly in parts of the community where thousands of people go may prove to be a better way of establishing those contacts than the traditional way. I have seen that in action. The other week, I was in Newport in Gwent visiting a mobile police station in a supermarket car park. People of all ages and from all backgrounds were coming up and talking to the police naturally. That is extremely important.

The matter must also be looked at against the background of falling crime. Crime in Harrow—the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) introduced the debate—is down by 1.6%. We heard an impassioned speech from the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) who must be aware that crime in Hammersmith and Fulham over the past year is down by 4.7%. In the interests of fairness, it is important to put that context in place, because the Metropolitan police are doing an extremely successful job in vast parts of the city.

I shall deal with one or two of the detailed points that have been made. Various funds that were mentioned have been rolled into the community safety fund, which is worth £90 million in 2013-14. The allocation of that within individual budgets is the responsibility of local areas, and in London the deputy Mayor. A point was made about abstraction of police constables, and overall the Met intends to increase the number of police constables.

The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) asked about the use of dead children’s identities, which of course shocked all of us—

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Order. I am sorry, but our time is up. We now move on to our next debate.

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BTEC (Public Uniformed Services)

4 pm

Mr Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, for this debate, which is important to my constituency and my constituents and to the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Education.

In this half-hour Adjournment debate, I want to highlight the important part that MOD service personnel are playing in supporting cadet forces in state schools and, in particular, the involvement of service personnel in delivering the BTEC in uniformed public services. That course and well run school cadet forces generally are making a real difference to the lives of youngsters who attend state schools. Along with the Department for Education, more than £10 million has been pledged to expand cadet units into more state schools by 2015. I understand the budget pressures that the MOD currently faces, but I want to stress that I believe that is a good use of money.

Two state schools in my constituency—Walker technology college and Heaton Manor school—have cadet forces. The benefits have a real impact on individuals. Involvement in cadet units and work on the associated BTEC teaches participants the ethos of public service, as well as beneficial life skills, such as discipline and organisation. Not every pupil encounters those virtues outside the school environment.

The head at Heaton Manor school, Lynne Ackland, told me that the cadet force at the school has had a very positive impact. Attendance and attainment has increased among participants, their physical health has improved notably, and many have had their confidence and self-esteem reinforced. She said:

“As a head teacher who was sceptical at first I have been so impressed with the achievements and presence this opportunity has brought to the school”.

The staff and individuals who offer to help with cadet forces and in teaching the BTEC show great dedication. For many staff, including Ministry of Defence service personnel, the commitment is purely voluntary. Without their efforts, many units would not be viable. For the staff, the benefits are twofold. There is the personal satisfaction of teaching youngsters—sometimes very disadvantaged youngsters—and also the personal professional development through leadership and team-working skills. For the youngsters themselves, the results are even more marked, although not always easy to quantify.

I should declare an interest here, Mr Streeter. I am, and have been since 1980, a governor of Walker school—now Walker technology college. At Walker technology college, the uniformed public services BTEC is delivered as a curricular activity via the cadet unit. The qualifications gained by the pupils currently count towards the school’s value-added best eight GCSE or equivalent points score measure. The way in which Walker technology college has offered the BTEC course has helped to give it real status, and it has been praised by the Cadet Vocational Qualification Organisation as an example of excellent practice. The model has even been adopted by a number of other schools. The school has seen success with the qualification, which has included groundbreaking work with the Ministry of Defence and 15 (North East)

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Brigade at Catterick. Both the MOD and the school have made significant financial commitments to the qualification by running the cadet unit as though it were a full curriculum department. The school also looks to offer ex-service personnel the opportunity of full-time employment, helping to staff that area.

The crucial point is that Walker technology college relies on the BTEC qualifications associated with the cadet unit being counted in the school’s performance indicators to justify its level of commitment and investment. That arrangement is different to many schools, including Heaton Manor, where the cadet unit and associated qualifications are extra-curricular. The Prime Minister, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Education have publicly pledged their commitment to school cadet forces. In a previous exchange in the House, admittedly with a different Minister, the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois)said:

“It would be helpful if the right hon. Gentleman”—

a reference to myself—

“and some of his colleagues used their links with the trade union movement to ensure the fullest possible participation among trade unions in helping to support cadet units.”—[Official Report, 26 November 2012; Vol. 554, c. 3.]

Always willing to help out in a good cause, I asked the regional secretary of the northern TUC, Mr Kevin Rowan, to check the position of the TUC-affiliated trade unions, and he very kindly did so. He contacted every schools’ trade union representative in the north-east of England, under the heading “Unusual Query of the Day”, asking for trade union representative’s views.

The quote from Walker technology college’s National Union of Teachers representative, Mr Shaun Dunlop, is typical of the rest of the responses:

“To my knowledge, there have been absolutely no objections raised by unions to the BTEC in public uniformed services that has been followed by many students at Walker over the last few years, nor to the combined cadet forces attachment we have at college. The vast majority of staff see the combined cadet forces and the BTEC course and the effect it has on the confidence of the students who are following it as a great asset to the college. Certainly nothing negative has come my way. I have personally volunteered to help out in probably more than a dozen weekends away with cadets over the last four years or so to help them gain their BTEC qualifications.”

I wrote to the Minister on 29 November last year, asking if he was aware of any specific issues relating to trade unions. I hope that the response I have read out will serve as a reassurance that, when it comes to supporting local cadet units, we are on his side in east Newcastle.

There is, however, a problem for Walker technology college, which I highlighted to the Minister in our exchange in the House, and today’s debate gives me the opportunity to highlight it again. Following the recommendations of the Wolf report and subsequent actions by the Department for Education, the uniformed public services BTEC has been removed from counting towards school performance indicators. Schools must now focus on a narrower range of courses. That puts into jeopardy the excellent provision at Walker technology college. State schools must consequently focus their funding towards courses that count towards pupil and school performance indicators. It is more difficult to justify spending funds on an activity when it would take place on a purely extra-curricular basis, as would be the

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case for the cadet unit at Walker technology college from 2014. That is of real concern to everyone involved and it is counter-productive, given the Government’s stated commitment in that area.

If we believe in the value of the course, which I do, it must be recognised for evaluation. If the Prime Minister and the Government generally want to realise the course’s objectives, they need to ensure its inclusion in performance indicators. The Wolf report acknowledged the growing importance of BTECs and states that many who take BTEC level 3 national qualifications continue on to higher education. I do not seek to disagree with the recommendations of the Wolf report or with the efforts of the Secretary of State for Education to ensure that significant rigour is present in the education of our children. I am, however, eager to ensure that courses that provide beneficial skills to young people are recognised and included. It seems to me that the uniformed public services BTEC and associated cadet force training is of notable merit and should be one of those recognised qualifications.

The Department for Education has made some changes to the approved list of courses that will be included in school performance indicators from 2014. I am arguing that the BTEC in uniformed public services should be on the approved list. To that end, I have already been in contact with Pearson International, the company that owns Edexcel, which runs the BTEC. Representatives have told me that they are happy to sit down with the MOD and the Department for Education to explore how that could be achieved through looking at the BTEC and how it may comply under new guidelines.

In praising what the Ministry of Defence has done in this area so far—I have nothing but praise for that—I hope to enlist the Minister’s support in progressing discussions about the uniformed public services BTEC within the Government. I know that the Secretary of State for Education is sympathetic, because he has told me so. I have the impression that the institutional view of the civil service in the Department for Education is less sympathetic. Our cause is just and therefore I hope that I can enlist the Minister’s help in championing it.

4.10 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Andrew Murrison): It is a great pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown)on initiating the debate. I am very pleased to have his heartfelt endorsement of our cadet units, particularly in view of his extraordinarily long service with Walker technology college. Serving as a governor since 1980 is extraordinary. It is very good to hear how well the BTEC to which he refers and cadet forces in general—the cadet experience—have helped improve the lives of young people. I am very grateful also for his iteration of Mr Dunlop’s testimony. It is my experience, too, that the opinion of teachers who may be a little sceptical about involvement in the cadets is often turned around once they have experience of the work that cadet volunteers do to help young people. It is always good to hear such stories.

It is worth while putting on record that one of the great things about youth in this country is the presence among them of our cadet organisations. I know that the

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right hon. Gentleman does not need to be convinced of that. Broadly speaking, they fall into four parts: the Combined Cadet Force, of which more anon if I have the opportunity, the Army Cadet Force, the Air Training Corps and one that is particularly close to my heart—the Sea Cadet Corps. There are 140,000 cadets in more than 3,000 units. It is worth while putting on record our thanks to the 26,000 cadet force adult volunteers, who make all this possible.

Some 530 units are based in schools across the country, either as an integral part of the school or using them simply as hired venues. Schools that have set up cadet units have seen significant benefits for their young people, their school and the local community. Students learn self-discipline, resilience and leadership, but also develop a sense of community and teamwork. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the research done by the universities of Southampton and Portsmouth, which studied cadet forces and found that 92% agreed that their leadership skills had improved through being in the cadets; 91% agreed that being in the cadets had made them want to do well in life; 91% agreed that being in the cadets had taught them to respect other people; 90% said that being in the cadets had given them a sense of community; and, very importantly, 79% agreed that being in the cadets had helped them stay out of trouble.

I think that that is impressive, and that is why we and the Department for Education are working together to deliver 100 new cadet units in state-funded schools in England by 2015 and working hard to break down the apartheid that regrettably has existed as far as the CCF is concerned between the maintained sector and public schools. Building on the Government’s Positive for Youth agenda, the Departments have allocated £10.85 million to provide the equipment and training support needed to ensure that the cadet experience is maintained for all our cadets, with schools or sponsors then paying the running costs of those new units; I shall come back to what I mean by “the cadet experience”. That is about increasing opportunities for more young people: the skills that they learn and the personal qualities that they develop as cadets prepare them for entry into the work force and life in general. We all, as constituency MPs, have seen that in practice.

In some parts of the UK, our cadets are the only presence in military uniform. Most of us who represent constituencies will be well aware of the activities of our cadets locally. We see them, particularly on parade on Remembrance Sunday. I am very pleased to note, in my capacity as the Prime Minister’s special representative for the commemoration of the great war, that they are already limbering up to take a very active and obvious role in local commemorations of that conflict. They are, for example, taking part in In Memoriam 2014, the War Memorials Trust effort, supported by the SmartWater Foundation, to find, record and protect every war memorial in the country by 2014.

The cadet experience varies depending on the cadet force, as it is founded in the particular environment of the parent service, with, for example, flying being the unique selling point of the Air Cadets—a point I remember well from my own schooldays. Sadly, I did not get much flying, but I got a great deal of marching. Things have, I believe, changed. It is that cadet experience, not external qualifications, that the Ministry of Defence funds. Cadets

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do, however, have the opportunity to gain all sorts of qualifications, whether it is a first aid certificate, a Duke of Edinburgh’s award or one of a number of BTECs. That is a valuable by-product of the MOD-funded cadet experience.

The majority of BTECs awarded to cadets are in public services, with the Cadet Vocational Qualification Organisation delivering an Edexcel qualification, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. Other level 2 BTECs available to cadets include music and engineering. Like all BTECs, these focus on practical vocational learning. The partnership between the cadet forces and CVQO is more than 12 years old. CVQO was founded to give cadets the chance of explaining their service in a way that employers could readily understand. However, it should be recognised that the BTEC qualification is an outcome of cadet service, not an output, and the MOD cannot provide funding to pay for an educational qualification. Cadet service alone is not sufficient to receive the BTEC. Some 30% of the work needed to receive the qualification is done outside the cadet unit.

Although almost 1,400 Army Cadets have received a level 2 BTEC in public services from CVQO in the last academic year, that is quite a small number when we consider that almost 11,500 first aid certificates were awarded to Army Cadets in the same year. The BTEC is important but only one of many options open to cadets.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I know the Walker school very well as a former councillor for the area. Does the Minister agree that what the cadet force does there is keep certain pupils in education and give them life chances that they would not get if it were not for the cadet experience?

Dr Murrison: Yes, I agree absolutely with that. The research done by the universities of Southampton and Portsmouth, which I have cited, is germane to that. Certainly, expanding the range of options, particularly vocational options, that kids are able to take up at school when they might be alienated from straightforward academic subjects is very important. However, I will go on to talk about some of the characteristics that the Department for Education believes are necessary in order to qualify a BTEC for inclusion in league tables. It is important to emphasise that the MOD does not fund the BTEC qualification. It is funded from either Education or charitable sources.

Mr Nicholas Brown: For the sake of complete clarity, I point out that that is not what I am asking the Minister. I am asking that the BTEC in uniformed public services be counted in the evaluation of the school. The school to which I am referring serves a predominantly working-class community. Resources are restricted. The school has to prioritise and it has to prioritise those courses that count towards its evaluation, yet the uniformed public services qualification work is doing so well for the school. If it can retain it, it really wants to.

Dr Murrison: I am sympathetic to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that what I am able to say will give him some comfort and be helpful. I should point out,

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however, that education is of course a devolved matter. We are all still picking our way through the devolution settlement, and it adds a level of complexity to discussions of this sort. Although the MOD has the luxury of dealing with matters that are not devolved, the Department for Education simply does not. In England, as the CVQO-led BTEC in public services has been approved by the Secretary of State for Education under section 96 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, schools can choose to fund it from within their budgets. Alternatively, I can confirm that CVQO is funded by the Education Funding Agency, an executive agency of the Department for Education, to deliver qualifications for 5,000 English cadets a year aged over 16 and under 19. I am aware that, as a charity, CVQO is raising funds to meet an ever-growing demand from within the cadet forces and other youth organisations.

As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, the issues that he raises regarding changes to the recognition of the BTEC in public services are a matter for the Department for Education, not the Ministry of Defence. However, I am informed that in reforming the school performance tables, the Secretary of State for Education is incentivising schools to offer qualifications that have the greatest value for the majority of pupils at key stage 4—qualifications that will best enable them to progress to further study and into employment. Due to its specialist nature, the BTEC in public services does not feature on the list of qualifications that will count in performance tables from 2014. If it assists the right hon. Gentleman, I can provide the existing characteristics needed for performance tables and a list of BTECs that currently count.

I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman’s conversation with Edexcel and Pearson. It would clearly be desirable to reconcile the list of characteristics with the BTEC in public services. I would be more than happy to discuss with my colleagues at the Department for Education whether a dialogue would be helpful, so that we can reach the conclusion the right hon. Gentleman seeks. I understand the experience he and his local schools have had with the imperatives the Department for Education has established.

Notwithstanding that, in recognition of the fact that there are pupils who will benefit from taking other qualifications, schools remain free to offer any qualification approved for use pre-16, including the BTEC in public services. I know that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that. Ultimately, it is for schools to decide which qualifications are most appropriate to meet the needs of their individual pupils. His testimony about his two schools will no doubt encourage the head teachers of those schools to do what they can to support the qualification.

Mr Nicholas Brown: I am grateful to the Minister for the general approach he is taking. I do not think there is a quarrel between us. As he clearly understands, my objective is to get, not the cadet force itself, but the BTEC qualification to count towards the assessment of Walker college. I ask for that because a well resourced, fee-paying school has enough money to offer the cadet experience or even the BTEC experience as an optional extra, but a state school serving an inner-city community at a time of public expenditure constraint has limited ability to do the same.

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The cadet force experience offered to young people relies heavily on the altruism of the school’s teaching staff and the voluntary commitment of Ministry of Defence personnel, willingly giving up their free time because they believe in what they are doing and want to help the youngsters on the course.

The benefits of not only the cadet force, but the BTEC are such that the course should be included. I would be more than willing to engage with either Department or with the BTEC providers to make progress towards that.

Dr Murrison: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I think he and I are more or less on the same page. It is clearly a matter of reconciling the characteristics, which the Department for Education has laid down to assess BTECs and their inclusion in performance tables, with the needs of schools, such as those he described in his constituency, and our need to ensure that young people have something that will be of value to them. We heard from the right hon. Gentleman, and we hear from people in our constituencies, testimonies about the transformational experience that such work can engender in youngsters. We are in agreement.

The Government believe that teachers should use their professional judgment to balance the subjects that are directly linked to a pupil’s future success, and are reported in the school performance tables, with those that match the pupil’s abilities and interests. Where schools judge that their pupils have benefited from the uniformed public services course, we encourage them to maintain that provision, but I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point about resources.

In the Ministry of Defence, we recognise that a BTEC in public services can be life-changing for some young people, with its either being the only qualification they receive or the additional qualification that allows them to fulfil their ambitions. That however is not why Defence funds and supports the cadet forces; we do it to improve the awareness and understanding of the armed forces and their role in British society.

Finally, I take this opportunity to pay particular tribute, once again, to the 26,000 cadet force adult volunteers. Most give up at least two nights a week and one weekend a month to provide a challenging and safe environment for young people. Without them, the cadet forces would cease to exist. I hope that everyone here agrees that we owe them a massive vote of thanks.

4.25 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Neonatal Care

4.27 pm

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Streeter. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister, who could have been, but was not, slightly late, which is ironic in a way because the debate is about babies who turn up very early. He was due to be in the Chamber as we speak, but kindly rearranged a whole host of things to be here this afternoon to answer the debate. I thank him very much indeed. He and I have often spoken about neonatal care, and indeed stillbirth, so I know that he will do all he can to answer the debate with deeds as well as words.

Neonatal care is an absolutely vital service that no parent or prospective parent ever wants to have to rely on, but lots do. One in every nine babies in the UK is born either premature or sick—more than 80,000 every year. We therefore need a service that is fit for purpose and provides the best possible care to all premature or sick babies and their families in facilities that can give the best care—sometimes very specialised care—at a harrowing time for the parents concerned.

One of my constituents, a fantastic mum called Catherine Allcott, alas, had to rely on neonatal care a few years ago. Catherine’s twins, Luke and Grace, were born unexpectedly at 26-weeks gestation. At six weeks old, they were separated and sent to neonatal units 40 miles apart due to Luke’s critical condition. Catherine and her husband, Nigel, spent the next three months visiting two hospitals every day until Luke sadly died and Grace was discharged. Grace is now a delightful, happy, healthy six-year-old and Catherine’s experiences during that time have shaped her fundraising and campaigning work for Bliss—a fantastic charity that campaigns for continual improvements to neonatal care and is a strong advocate of care for babies.

When the results of the 2010 general election were announced, Catherine was one of the first people to find my advice centre. Before I knew it, I was being whisked around the Gosset neonatal ward of Northampton general hospital, looking at their facilities and talking to staff and parents. Since then, I have had the pleasure of visiting many other maternity and neonatal wards across the midlands and the south-east.

Catherine is concerned, as Bliss is, about the national shortage of neonatal nurses, particularly those qualified in that specialty. Half of all units do not have enough nurses to meet national standards and one in 10 units is so busy or understaffed that they cannot release nurses for specialist training. According to Bliss’s report on saving our specialist nurses—by specialist, I mean nurses who have a recognised qualification in specialist neonatal care—that figure is pretty solid.

As was shown by a Bliss report in 2010, that boils down to the need for 1,150 extra qualified specialist neonatal nurses—the figure has changed since that date, but that is the latest I have—if we are adequately to provide the service that this country so desperately needs and that babies and their families deserve. Not all nurses working in neonatal care have the specialist qualification, but the “Toolkit for high quality neonatal services” states that 70% of a unit’s nursing work force should hold one.

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According to an Oxford university study, an increase in the ratio of qualified and specialist nurses to babies in intensive and high-dependency care might reduce infant mortality rates by 48%, something that is surely worth every penny and for which it is definitely worth fighting. I am told that that works out at about £1,400 of additional investment per baby, which, as the Government have themselves highlighted, would benefit society in the longer term to the tune of approximately £1.4 billion.

As I have said, I have seen my local neonatal care unit in action and know the pressures that Gosset ward is under. The staff at Northampton general hospital do an excellent job, but they face significant pressures, even after an increase in staff equivalent to 4.3 full-time nurses. Despite that increase, the unit has had to close its doors to new admissions more than 20 times in the past year for non-medical reasons, a statistic that is surely not good enough. We should not and cannot restrict access to health care to some of the most vulnerable and innocent in our society—the next generation—on the basis of those lax numbers. Frankly, we must do better and we must do more.

The shortfall nationally shows the extent of the issues that we face. More than half of all units do not have enough specialist nurses to meet the national standard—that 70% of the nursing work force should hold a specialist neonatal care qualification—and the importance of such specialist care is so clearly shown in an area where such tiny and fragile babies can have such complex and often multiple conditions. It is not a hole that can just be plugged in the short term to meet a budget, but something that needs long-term planning and investment in a skilled work force.

If we are to achieve such a national standard and address the recruitment of specialist nurses that neonatal units require, continued investment in education is of paramount importance. I therefore welcome the national changes to the commissioning of specialised services. They promise to ensure that we do not face a postcode lottery, thus improving the consistency of services across the country and spreading best practice.

Locally, my constituents in Daventry and I have other concerns and opportunities. The Minister will know of the “Healthier Together” programme in the south-east midlands, which is looking at the services provided at the five main hospitals in Bedford, Kettering, Luton and Dunstable, Milton Keynes and Northampton. There are options or plans to reduce the number of maternity units that are consultant-led from five to three, an action that would have a clear impact on neonatal services, because it is most likely to result in the closure of neonatal units at the hospitals that have midwife-led units.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I have a very successful midwife-led maternity unit at Hexham general hospital. Does he agree that such units can provide a fantastic ongoing service, but that it is very important that parent and larger hospitals in the region provide them with neonatal transfers and ongoing support?

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Chris Heaton-Harris: I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend, and I will speak about that in more detail later.

I am not particularly against the mooted changes in the south-east midlands if they provide a higher quality of specialist care at nearby centres of excellence. However, the changes raise several important questions that I hope the Minister will answer either now or later by letter. Will he ensure that the “Healthier Together” proposals and similar ones up and down the country are driven by a genuine programme to improve outcomes and quality, and not just to save costs or money?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) said, it is absolutely vital that the needs of families of premature and sick babies are factored into any changes and are not inadvertently overlooked when mainstream maternity and children’s services are redesigned. Will the Minister say something about transport to neonatal centres, both now and in the future? Many parents find themselves quickly transported from knowing what is happening and where they expect a birth to take place, to not knowing what is going on and intense worry.

When parents have to travel further afield to centres of excellence, they have plenty of increased costs in the travel, parking charges and time considerations that come from such changes. Those responsible for planning services must take that into account. I hope that the Minister will respond on that point, and assure me that those planning services take costs into account so that not only do babies receive the highest quality care, but services and support are in place to meet families’ needs.

The parent is intrinsic to the care of the child, which I believe sets neonatal care apart from almost every other branch of medicine. We must therefore consider the needs of the parent alongside those of the child. It makes good economic sense: babies whose parents are included in their care grow faster, have less illness, go home sooner and do not come back; and their parents have less stress and fewer mental problems later. There is a huge benefit from getting neonatal care right, and if we can get it right at an early stage of planning service changes, that is all to the good.

Has the Minister heard of the children’s air ambulance service that is currently being set up by the East Midlands air ambulance, which will help to cut transfer times? It will go operational on 13 March, but has already done the odd transfer here and there. On Monday 10 December, a baby who was a few days old was flown from Glenfield hospital to Sheffield children’s hospital for potentially life-saving treatment. The total transfer time was only 34 minutes, but it would have taken one hour and 23 minutes for the team to have gone by road, which is a huge time saving for a baby suffering from a serious illness. Obviously, being operated by the air ambulance service, such transfers are at little, if any, cost to the taxpayer.

As I said, when I visited neonatal wards—especially at my local hospital, Northampton general, and the John Radcliffe in Oxford—I was really taken by the kind and understanding manner with which the staff dealt with parents. From stories related to me from across the country, I am absolutely sure that best practice can be better spread. I hope that the Minister might

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comment on how he will continue to ensure that the needs of such families are taken into account and that best practice is spread.

In any Westminster Hall debate on health, we get to talk about money. Although cost should not act as a disincentive to provide quality and specialised care, it is obviously a factor that cannot be overlooked. Payment by results, which has been introduced in this area, works for many other areas of policy where there is a national currency but a local tariff. However, payment by results takes into account only the current levels of service provision, rather than the services required to meet national standards; currently, those standards are not quite being met. Thus, the current shortfalls that I have outlined will only be reinforced, rather than addressed, by the payment system. A set national price would ensure that commissioners can focus on quality and outcomes of service. However, neonatal care faces a local tariff, where price invariably is a larger factor, and that equates to variable outcomes across the country.

In other types of care, significant service levels remain available under the system, but the statistics show that the disparity between one unit and another is growing in neonatal care, which suggests that the system is not working in this particular case. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that the current shortfalls are addressed and how can we ensure that this Government’s legacy sets a precedent for future neonatal care?

On a day when a disaster in Staffordshire will dominate the news on the national health service, I want to acknowledge that, all across the country, there are some amazingly wonderful NHS staff delivering the best care that they can and helping mums, such as my constituent, Catherine, and their premature babies get through some of the toughest times any of us can possibly imagine. However, with the help and advice of charities such as Bliss, the spreading of best practice and the sensible allocation of resources, I believe that neonatal care—this fantastic service that we already offer—could, and should, be delivered in a better and more consistent way.

4.41 pm

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I am most grateful to you, Mr Streeter, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) for letting me speak for literally 90 seconds at the end of his impressive speech.

I endorse everything that my hon. Friend says, and I want to add my endorsement of the amazing work done by the NHS staff in my area of Northumberland, specifically at Hexham general hospital. It is an outstanding hospital that the Minister will, with a bit of luck, visit when he comes to Northumberland in April. It fits well between the trusts developing in Northumberland and Cumbria and is effectively the heart of the wheel with the spokes being the various other health services around it. It is a general hospital, but it has an outstanding midwife-led maternity unit. I have visited it and met staff and patients, and it is fantastically popular and successful.

I want the Minister, who has great expertise in this field—let us not say that we do not have specialists in this Government—to endorse the fact that midwife-led units have a role to play in the ongoing provision of health services, particularly in rural areas such as mine.

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I hope that he agrees that the standard and quality of the care provided and the outcomes are just as good in midwife-led units as in consultant-led specialist hospitals. They are different, but they are just as good. It is to this Government’s great credit that we continue to support midwife-led units and provide such services.

Specifically on neonatal care and transfer, I am interested in the importance of neonatal transfer in the isolated cases where things do not pan out in the right way. Changes are afoot, and my hope is that the Minister agrees that it is incumbent upon the lead hospitals in the region to ensure that the quality of training throughout the region is high, so that where there is neonatal transfer, it goes off without a hitch.

I have taken up enough time. I thank you for your indulgence, Mr Streeter.

4.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr Daniel Poulter): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) on securing this important debate on neonatal services. He strongly advocates the needs of his constituents, but also raises an important issue that we are already focusing on and improving, to give every child the very best start in life.

It is also a pleasure to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), and I am looking forward to visiting his constituency in the near future. An April visit is in the diary at the moment, and I look forward to visiting and seeing for myself some of the excellent care delivered locally. He is right to highlight that midwifery-led units play an absolutely vital part in delivering high-quality care for women and their families. The Birthplace study absolutely supports his points and suggests that midwifery-led units may well play an even more vital role in the future provision of maternity services. I am sure that we will discuss such matters in future debates.

Before we get on to the specifics of neonatal care, I want to discuss some of the more general points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry. He mentioned air ambulance services, and he is quite right to say that if we want a co-ordinated and integrated emergency response, particularly in more rural and sparsely populated areas, air ambulances must play an important part. The land and air-based responses need to be co-ordinated effectively, particularly for road traffic accidents. He makes a good point and I am sure that the local commissioners in Daventry and elsewhere will take note of our discussions today.

My hon. Friend was quite right to say that the payment- by-results system has been problematic in many areas of medicine. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, when he was Secretary of State for Health, made strides towards changing the tariff system in many areas of care, particularly the year-of-care tariff for people with longer-term and more chronic conditions. We also have changes being implemented to the maternity tariff to encourage a normalisation of birth. We want to view birth as a normal, everyday, natural process and to move away from births that need hospitalisation, by supporting people better in the round through antenatal care and more holistically throughout pregnancy, childbirth and the post-natal period.

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My hon. Friend mentioned the unacceptable variations in care that exist across the country, which was highlighted poignantly today in the debate on the NHS in mid-Staffordshire. He has also previously advocated the reduction of stillbirths and supports the excellent work that Bliss does to raise the importance of high-quality neonatal care. More work is necessary, but I want to describe some of our achievements and the progress that the Government have made over the past couple of years, which shows that we are taking such issues seriously. As my hon. Friend quite rightly outlines, there is more that we can do and we intend to do more over the months and years ahead.

As has been said throughout the debate, we cannot divorce childbirth and midwifery care from neonatal care; the two are linked in terms of service provision and the care that is provided for premature babies. We want to provide more care and support for women during pregnancy, and the latest work force figures show that midwife numbers increased by 1,117 between May 2010 and October 2012. Training places in midwifery are at a record high, and we are ensuring that commissions for future training places will remain at a record high, so that we can continue to provide personalised, one-to-one midwifery care for women. The birth rate is increasing, and that is why we are employing more midwives and keeping training commissions high.

On neonatal care, 1,376 neonatal intensive care cots were available in December 2012, of which 951 were occupied. In December 2011, only 1,295 such cots were available. So in a period of 12 months—between 2011 and 2012—we have seen an increase in the number of neonatal intensive care cots available nationally, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that that is a good thing.

The number of paediatric consultants has also increased, from 1,507 in 2001 to 2,646 in 2011, and the number of paediatric registrars—or middle-grade junior doctors—has also increased by almost fourfold in the same period, with some of those registrars specialising in neonatal medicine. Consequently, I believe that we must give some credit to the previous Government for some of the work that they did in this area, but this Government have taken their work forward with renewed vigour to make this a priority.

The number of full-time paediatric nurses has also risen, from 13,300 at the beginning of the century to 15,629 in 2011. So, in general, we are seeing good progress being made in putting more resources into children’s health care, giving every child the very best start in life.

Specifically on neonatal services, my hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that we need to do more to ensure that there is no variability in the system. We made a commitment very clearly as a Government to high-quality, safe neonatal services, founded on evidence-based good practice and good outcomes for women and their babies. Improving outcomes, rather than focusing on process measures, is what we are all interested in. We want to ensure that babies who need neonatal care are given the very best care and have the very best outcomes in terms of their future life and, indeed, the care that they receive on neonatal wards.

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In our mandate to the new NHS Commissioning Board, we will be holding it accountable for all health outcomes. We want to see the NHS in England leading the way in Europe on health care outcomes. The Secretary of State for Health has made it clear that mid-table mediocrity must be a thing of the past in all areas of medicine, and I will make sure that I work closely with Bliss and other organisations and, indeed, with my hon. Friend to make sure that we hold the NHS Commissioning Board to account for delivering high-quality health outcomes everywhere, particularly in this important area of neonatal care.

It is worth highlighting, and I think that I have time to do so, the different types of neonatal facilities that are available; the different types of special care baby units, or the level 1, level 2 and level 3 units. Special care units, traditionally known as level 1 units, provide care effectively just for the local population in the local area. They provide neonatal services, in general, for singleton babies born after 31 weeks and six days gestation, provided the birth weight is above 1,000 grams. For slightly more complicated births or slightly more premature births, there are level 2 units, which provide neonatal care for their own local population and for some sicker, or more premature, babies from elsewhere. They provide neonatal services, in general, for singleton babies born after 26 weeks and six days gestation, and for multiple-birth babies born after 27 weeks and six days gestation, provided the birth weight is above 800 grams. Then we have level 3 units as they are traditionally known, which are neonatal intensive care units, and they are sited alongside highly specialist obstetric and fetomaternal medical services. For example, there is a level 3 unit across the river from here, at St Thomas’ hospital. Such units take very premature babies.

That description highlights the fact that neonatal care must be considered alongside the provision of high-quality maternal care; the two go very much hand in hand. The point that my hon. Friend made—my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham made it as well—is that when services are being redesigned or reconfigured the most important thing is to provide high-quality patient care. Reconfiguration is about delivering those high-quality patient outcomes and that high-quality care.

The best example of where service reconfiguration has really benefited patients that I can think of was in Manchester, which I visited towards the end of last year. A redesign of the maternity and neonatal provision in Manchester in a very planned, systemic way resulted in about 30 babies’ lives being saved every year. When the case for reconfiguration is made in terms of patient care and not in terms of cost, as my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry outlined, that is the right reason to reconfigure and redesign services. What we cannot have, and what has been expressly ruled out under the criteria for reconfiguration, is redesigning services purely on the basis of cost. If we are going to redesign the way that we deliver care, it must be done in the way that it was done in Manchester, where—as Mike Farrar, who is now the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said—it is about saving babies’ lives. That service reconfiguration in Manchester was right, because it is saving 30 babies’ lives every year. That is the right reason for reconfiguration.

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My hon. Friend was absolutely right to highlight that in some cases, when we look at these issues in areas where there are long distances to travel and considerable rurality, all these factors need to be taken into account when redesigning services. However, the end result must always be for the benefit of patients. It may be the case that sometimes people have to travel a little bit further to get that high-quality care, but these decisions must be considered in the round and on the basis of achieving high-quality outcomes and doing the best things for mothers and their babies.

In conclusion, it might be worth highlighting a few other specific things about neonatal care that the Government are committed to doing. We now have a toolkit for neonatal care, and we are looking to ensure that it is properly implemented across the NHS. Some parts of the country are doing very well in ensuring that the majority of their staff working as nurses in neonatal units have specialist training, but that is not the case everywhere. We have established that toolkit; that was a direct challenge that the Government have picked up and taken forward, to ensure that we drive up the standard of neonatal care everywhere.

Guy Opperman: Does the Minister accept that, as the health care reforms kick in, it is incumbent upon GPs to make the point when they first advise expectant mothers that they can give birth at various places and that midwife-led units provide the full spectrum of care from well before the birth to well after it?

Dr Poulter: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is vital that whenever there is a discussion with any patient—in this case, it is a discussion with an expectant woman about where she should give birth—that an informed choice is made. That should not just happen initially, but that choice should be reviewed consistently, according to what the risk factors might be throughout the pregnancy, and women should be helped and supported into choosing the most appropriate birth setting for them. And all factors, such as the woman’s safety or what care might be required immediately after the birth, are vital ingredients in that decision-making process.

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What we want to promote, and what we all believe in, is patient choice in the NHS. One thing that is facilitating patient choice in maternity care is having a national set of maternity notes now, so that all women effectively have a transferrable set of notes that they can take from one unit to another. That is something that is being driven across maternity care, and I think that it will make a real difference if the location of care needs to change in the future.

I will also say something specifically about how we will ensure that we better implement the toolkit, which we agree is a good thing in driving up the quality of training available to neonatal nurses. Very shortly, I will be devising and helping to set up the Health Education England mandate, which will be responsible for training health care professionals in England; not just doctors but all health care professionals. A mandate will be established for how that body will operate and what it will prioritise as areas of training. I am very happy to give a commitment, just as we did on the mandate for the NHS Commissioning Board, to ensure that giving every mum the right support in pregnancy and every baby the very best start in life is something that we will look to incorporate in that mandate, to make sure that high-quality training is available for health care professionals involved in all aspects of pregnancy, birth and beyond, and of course neonatal care is an important part of that.

That is something that I will take away from this debate, to ensure that it is clearly an important part of the Health Education England mandate that we look very seriously at neonatal services, to help to iron out the unacceptable variability in training that we have identified. I hope that that is reassuring to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry. I thank him for securing this debate, and I thank you, Mr Streeter, for chairing it.

Question put and agreed to.

4.59 pm

Sitting adjourned.