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Like my hon. Friend, I am also committed to a strong, local, independent media. I reassure him that this Government regard the independent local press as essential for local democracy, as it helps local people to hold their local council and other agencies to account. The Government have recently introduced measures in the Local Audit and Accountability Bill to protect the independent press from unfair competition from council newspapers—the so-called “town hall Pravdas” that disregard the code of recommended practice on local authority publicity. The code restricts the publication of council newspapers and news sheets to once a quarter, but some local authorities are disregarding it by publishing their newspapers as frequently as weekly, taking paid advertising revenue away from the independent local press. The new legislation will enable the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to direct authorities to comply with the code.

The Government are committed to tackling alcohol-related harm and developing a licensing regime in which the public have a strong voice. At the same time, we want to lift the burden of bureaucratic processes from licensing authorities and responsible businesses. The proposal to remove the relevant requirement on licensing applicants, many of whom are small businesses, was introduced to remove what some see as an unnecessary burden. I should like to be clear and say to my hon. Friend that there is no desire to prevent local people getting information about new licensing applications or playing an active role in the licensing process. This Government have done more than any other to increase the ways in which local communities and local people have a say in whether pubs and clubs should be open in their areas, and for how long. Ensuring access to local information about licensing is key to that.

As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North said, I led on much of the Government’s legislation in the 2011 Act, to overhaul Labour’s Licensing Act 2003 and rebalance it in favour of local communities. We gave local people a stronger voice by scrapping the old vicinity test that the hon. Lady mentioned, so that, now, anyone can make representations and object to licensing applications regardless of where they live in relation to the premises. In addition, we made it easier for licensing authorities to respond to local concerns about irresponsible businesses selling alcohol and close problem premises down. We have lowered the evidence threshold for decision making and the burden of proof to show that a premises is causing public nuisance or crime and disorder, for example. That is helping to ensure that the appropriate balance is given to local communities to make those decisions.

We have also given responsible authority status to licensing authorities, ensuring that those are better able to respond to the concerns of local residents by taking swift action to tackle irresponsible premises, without having to wait for representations from the police or other responsible authorities. At the same time, we have given local health bodies a greater say in licensing and increased the availability of information about alcohol licensing online.

More than 40% of violent crime is alcohol related. In October last year, new powers were introduced and made available to help local communities tackle the

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problems of crime and disorder caused by late-night drinking. The late-night levy allows local councils to charge pubs and clubs opening late at night for a contribution to policing costs. The early morning alcohol restriction order allows for alcohol sales to be banned between midnight and 6 am, if there are local grounds to do so. The powers commenced on 31 October 2010. Many licensing authorities, including the London borough of Islington, and Newcastle, are considering carefully whether the late-night levy could benefit their area. They must also consult publicly before introducing the levy. I hope that hon. Members will note that Newcastle has already begun to do so. Early morning restriction orders, as I said, were introduced at the same time and allow councils to prohibit the late-night sale of alcohol. A number of licensing authorities, including West Lancashire and Northampton, are considering such orders for their areas.

The hon. Lady asked me about minimum unit price. She will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane responded to an urgent question in relation to this matter and highlighted that the Government are carefully considering responses to the alcohol strategy consultation. We will publish a response to that in due course, taking into account all the representations.

As well as measures to tackle alcohol harms, the public consultation recognised the contribution that the responsible alcohol trade makes to our economy and society. The Government sought views on ways to cut red tape in licensing for responsible businesses, while not, of course, undermining safeguards against the harms that alcohol can cause. The consultation sought views on a number of areas relating to proposals to cut red tape, including whether to give discretion for licensing authorities to develop their own simplified processes for temporary event notices and reducing the burden of alcohol licensing for certain types of premises that provide minimal alcohol sales as part of a wider service.

It is important, as hon. Members have said, to recognise that the vast majority of our pubs are vital community assets, contributing to the economy and providing local jobs, in many ways at the heart of communities, fostering strong social values and encouraging responsible drinking. The alcohol strategy reflects that. It is also notable that each pub contributes an estimated £100,000 annually to its local community. The Government are helping pubs through a wide range of measures. In the last Budget, we scrapped the beer escalator and cut alcohol duty, resulting in a pint of beer being 4p cheaper than if we had done nothing. We have also extended the business rates holiday for a further year, until the end of March 2014, and got rid of much of the red tape that frustrated landlords and kept them from focusing on what they are best at: running a business and managing drinking in a safe environment. Most recently, on 15 June, we announced that new CCTV guidelines will mean that pub landlords no longer have to pay for intrusive and costly surveillance cameras where they are not needed.

One proposal to cut red tape that the alcohol consultation considered—it has obviously been mentioned in the debate—related to whether to remove the requirement for applicants to place advertisements in local newspapers or circulars when applying for a premises licence, provisional statement or club premises certificate or for a full variation of a premises licence or club premises certificate. Some

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in the licensed trade found that burdensome and pointed to other mechanisms whereby local people could find out about new licensing applications.

I understand hon. Members’ concerns. Similarly, I understand the specific issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, as well as his motives in calling for the debate. Adverts in local newspapers are one way in which local communities can find out about premises licence applications, and I note the contributions that have been made about the importance of that and the reach it provides.

I should highlight that there is a requirement for applicants to advertise information about a premises licence application by displaying a notice at the premises. That, too, can be a way of alerting a community to the fact that a licence may be being sought in respect of the premises. Alongside that obligation, the Government have added a new requirement, from April last year, for licensing authorities to publish details of such licence applications on their websites. Some licensing authorities have gone further than the strict legal requirements, and they proactively provide e-mail alerts to those interested in licensing applications. The Government’s guidance to licensing authorities encourages them to ensure they comply with legal requirements. We will look to ensure that licensing authorities consistently publish the relevant information. I recognise the points made by my hon. Friend, but it is important to recognise the changing ways in which information is provided and the importance of online platforms in communicating information. We should look at innovative ways of strengthening that further.

The Government’s consultation received a large number of responses from business, the public and local government. A number of arguments have been made for and against the proposal, and the Government are grateful for how

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the public have engaged and for the information that has been provided, including by those in the newspaper industry and the licensed trade.

The arguments in favour of abolishing the advertising requirements include the burden it places on licensing applicants, who must pay for the cost of the advertisements. However, others have pointed out—this is reflected in the mood of the debate and the comments that have been made—that newspaper adverts provide a valuable source of information for those who might not see notices on premises or licensing authority websites.

Let me be absolutely clear: the Government do not wish to remove the say that local people and communities have in the licensing process. There is an important balance to strike, and we must consider whether there are already adequate ways for people to find out about premises licence applications. We also acknowledge the role newspapers have as a central point for local information. That, and the other points I have mentioned, need to be weighed up by the Government as we consider our response to the alcohol strategy consultation. As I said, we will publish our response in due course.

I am grateful for the contributions that have been made this afternoon, which amplify some of the representations that have been made as part of the consultation. We will reflect further on the clear points that have been made in the debate. We continue to listen to the points that are flagged up. I very much hope that that gives my hon. Friend some reassurance that we take this matter very seriously and that the proposal in the consultation document continues to be given detailed consideration. We will continue to reflect on the proposals, and we will publish our formal response in due course.

3.15 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Railway Services (North Cornwall)

4 pm

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): It is a pleasure, Mr Streeter, to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise rail issues in my constituency.

If you cast your mind back, Mr Streeter, you may remember a joke in a 1980s Eddie Murphy film, “Coming to America”. A waiter brings soup to a table and the customer asks him to try the soup. The waiter says, “What’s wrong? Is it the wrong soup?” The customer says, “Could you try the soup?” The waiter says, “Is it too hot?” The customer says, “Could you try the soup?” The waiter says, “Is it too cold?” The customer says, “Please try the soup.” The waiter says, “Okay. I’ll try the soup. Where’s the spoon?” I have told that joke several times in the last few days when people have said to me, “Rail services in north Cornwall? There aren’t any rail services in north Cornwall.” When I requested the debate, I think that I filled in the form with the words “Rail services for north Cornwall”, but it makes the point that, although many people in north Cornwall regularly use rail services to get in and out of the duchy or to travel to points further west, none of those services runs within the current boundaries of the North Cornwall constituency, which covers the same area as the old North Cornwall district.

Before the last general election, I had the honour of representing the town of Newquay, which has the Atlantic branch line from Par. At the time, there was a debate about the success of Cornwall’s other branch lines in driving up usage. The Par to Newquay line had not had such success at that time, although looking at the figures for the services to Newquay again, it seems that the numbers on that line have risen, too, which is a welcome development.

In the North Cornwall constituency as currently constituted, the railways were victims of the cuts in the 1960s. The famous north Cornwall line, which Sir John Betjeman wrote about and enjoyed travelling on, left from Waterloo, not far from here, and went via Exeter and ultimately through north Cornwall. It had connections to Bude, and ran through Launceston and other places where many people would love to go to if the railway line still existed. It also went through Camelford and Port Isaac, where the “Doc Martin” series attracts thousands of tourists every year, and then on to Wadebridge and Padstow. The services on that line were victims of the Beeching cuts. In 1990, a small section of the former railway around Bodmin was reopened by the Bodmin and Wenford heritage railway. It is a popular tourist attraction and does a great deal to conserve the rolling stock and to bring people to that part of the world.

I want to focus today on how we might use existing railways better to meet the needs of my constituents and what the prospects are in the longer term of developing rail services again throughout the north Cornwall area. The operators of the Bodmin and Wenford railway have plans—they are not without controversy in the area—to extend their services to Wadebridge along the Camel trail by the River Camel on the former track bed. However, in doing that, they would seek to protect the Camel trail, which has become a well loved part of our

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landscape for cycling, walking and riding, and brings many tourists to Wadebridge, Padstow and the surrounding area. Any development would have to protect that.

I am also struck by the operators’ commitment to work to bring tourists to Bodmin town, too, which perhaps has not benefited from the Camel trail in the same way. I am told that Bodmin has the second largest inward commute of any town in Cornwall after the city of Truro. Of course, most of that is by car, although there are some bus services. The railway comes to Bodmin Parkway—it was called Bodmin Road when I was growing up in the area—and continues on the main line further south and west. If we were able to offer services along the Bodmin and Wenford stretch back to Bodmin general station, where the group’s headquarters are located, it would bring tourists and commuters into Bodmin and back out again at the key points of the commuting day. That would be a real benefit.

Cornwall council supports the exploration of that option. The current portfolio holder, Councillor Bert Biscoe, was also the portfolio holder at the tail end of the previous Administration. He is keen to provide a solution and council officers believe that that option could make a contribution to dealing with transport issues in Bodmin. I would welcome any support that the Government could give to taking forward such a proposal.

My constituents further north in Launceston and Bude are still some distance from the rail network. My office is in Launceston and when people visit from Government agencies or companies to talk about constituency matters or casework and ask what the nearest station is, they are often surprised to find that it is Plymouth or Exeter, or that they must overshoot Launceston into Bodmin Parkway and come back.

Most people in that part of the world would travel to Exeter St Davids and pick up the service there or perhaps to Tiverton Parkway and use the service there. Some people in Devon—your county, Mr Streeter—have been talking about what contribution a parkway station at Okehampton might make for people in west and north-west Devon, as well as the north and east of my constituency. Devon county council has considered that as part of the regeneration of Devon and believes that it could make a contribution. If more services were offered at Okehampton, it would bring rail services that much closer to Bude, Launceston and the surrounding area, so people would not have to drive into Exeter, which is busy at peak times, or continue around it for some distance to pick up services at Tiverton Parkway. It makes a great deal of sense to look at that proposal, although there may be arguments about resilience. If there were problems with the line further south in Devon, there would be an opportunity for people to connect with rail services to Exeter and to pick up the main line there. Much could be said for development there.

In my submission, with other colleagues, to the previous round of franchise discussions, I raised both those matters. I hope that the Government will consider them and that there is support for those changes and their potential for people in Cornwall and in Devon. In the longer term, it would be great to have the north Cornwall line back. That would be wonderful for tourism, but we must be realistic. There has been development along the track bed. We did not protect it in the same way as some other European countries protected lines when they

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mothballed them. We must deal with the situation that we have, but Councillor Biscoe particularly is supportive of looking at how to bring other forms of public transport back to north Cornwall to complement the buses that we still have.

Existing services to London are incredibly valuable. For people who have travelled from parts of the north coast—for example, to Bodmin Parkway to pick up mainline services there—the suggestion that they might catch a connecting service to Plymouth and pick up mainline services there would be unpopular because it would mean another change. I hope the Government will resist that. If we follow some of the plans set out by Cornwall council, we can protect the through services all the way to Penzance, which are incredibly valuable, and ensure that we tie in east-west commuter services through Cornwall to provide more regular services. People in my constituency who work in Truro, which is the retail centre for Cornwall and has big public service and public sector employers, often find that trains do not tie up with their shift pattern or their work pattern, so there is a big disincentive to using them, or a delay for those who must rely on them at the end or the beginning of the day. A lot more could be done if we can create more opportunities.

Cornwall council has had discussions with the Secretary of State, who kindly visited Falmouth recently and spent time with some of my parliamentary colleagues. Sadly, I could not join him on that occasion, but I have seen the case that was set out for him. Cornwall council is rightly proud of the contributions that it and the preceding Cornwall county council made in using European convergence and objective 1 money to improve rail facilities and ensure that we can up the capacity of the network in Cornwall, mainly in points further west, such as the Truro to Falmouth branch line.

There have been very impressive increases in numbers. Across the whole country, we have seen the rail network coming under increasing pressure as ever more people seek to use it—a welcome development—but branch lines in Cornwall have exceeded even that. They might be seen as backwater services, but the numbers have been upped significantly, and not just in terms of the tourist trade in Truro and Falmouth. We now have the university in Falmouth, which is increasingly bringing people into the area, so there are great opportunities to build on that work.

Cornwall has invested a great deal of money, alongside Government and European money, in securing those improvements. It wants to take that to the next level, so that growth, over and above the level of growth that we are seeing across the country, continues, and so that we get more people off the roads and on to rail services across Cornwall. The aim is not only to protect the nine through-trains a day, but to see a further 8% growth over the projected period. We aspire to having 23 mainline services a day along the length of the rail in the duchy, which would make the service much more attractive to use, as well as much more flexible for people’s work patterns and for tourists.

There are two issues about tourism and rail. The first is how attractive we can make it for people to come to Cornwall and to leave it, sadly, at the end of their stay. The second is about getting around Cornwall when they are there. If they want to explore all that Cornwall has to offer, they need frequent and reliable services to all

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the places that are along and at the end of the branch lines. If we can add to that with developments around Bodmin, or perhaps by bringing services closer to Launceston and Bude, we will make the area more attractive to tourists, as well as to local residents.

I welcome the fact that the coalition Government have invested a great deal in rail across the country, and that they are emphasising the importance of that for future economic development and in ensuring that we have a more sustainable way of getting around in general. However, Cornwall will not be at the forefront of electrification, so there are other ways in which we can seek to use Government investment creatively to encourage more people to use the railway. That has been done in previous years. The numbers are very impressive, but I hope that we can move forward again.

I hope that the Minister can support our two objectives. By bringing trains back into the town of Bodmin, using the heritage railway and working in partnership with it, we could bring more regular services to Okehampton, which would help us, and protect those through-trains, while offering more regular commuter services across Cornwall. With the delay in the franchise process, we have the opportunity to get it right, and I hope that the Government will be responsive to what Cornwall council and I are setting out.

4.13 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) on securing this debate on rail services in Cornwall and the lack of rail services in his constituency. He touched on a number of important issues, including his plea for Bodmin. He raised, both directly and indirectly, the issue of the First Great Western franchise, which obviously has a significant impact on the supply of services to Cornwall. I would also like to develop comments about community rail, which I think may benefit him. However, if he will forgive me, I will deal with those points in reverse order to the order that he took them in. I will begin with the First Great Western franchise, because it is important and has significant relevance to his constituents and others, not only in Cornwall, but along the whole route to London, including your own constituents, Mr Streeter.

The First Great Western rail franchise is a matter of keen interest, as is shown by the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. It is right that there should be so much interest in this franchise. It serves a huge number of communities and businesses, and the Great Western rail network has an important role in the economy of the many parts of England and Wales that it serves, not least Cornwall. Railway connectivity provides crucial support for jobs and growth. Delivering high-quality rail services is, of course, also a means of addressing road congestion and pollution by encouraging modal shift.

The hon. Gentleman set out with clarity the importance of the Great Western rail network to the county of Cornwall and, by implication, to his constituents who use the rail services. To respond to passenger concerns about crowding and to support jobs and growth, the Government have prioritised investment in our rail network, as he said.

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The programme of capacity expansion to which we are committed is bigger than anything since the Victorian era. A number of the most ambitious and important changes will be taking place in the Great Western franchise area. Ultimately, those projects will generate major benefits for passengers and for the economy of all the areas served by the franchise. A major challenge for the operator of the franchise will therefore be to facilitate the efficient delivery of those programmes, and to maximise the benefits that they can offer for passengers once completed.

Dan Rogerson: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so early on in his remarks. He is rightly pointing out the Government’s commitment to investing in local services to increase capacity and so on. One aspect of that is works that are planned for control period 6, which is, as I understand it, from 2019 to 2024. Cornwall council is asking for that work to be brought forward to control period 5—from 2014 to 2019—to help allow those capacity improvements to be released. He may not be able to comment on that now, but I hope that he is aware of that desire on the part of Cornwall council.

Mr Burns: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I will return to that later in my comments.

One of the success stories of Britain’s railways is the large number of additional passengers now using them. However, that can bring crowding. As Department for Transport statistics show, train services on the franchise have experienced some of the highest levels of crowding. I am therefore pleased that additional carriages funded by the Government have been introduced to First Great Western train services. Those include additional carriages for services in Cornwall and in Devon. I should like to highlight the role that the additional moneys provided by Cornwall and Devon and the Devon and Cornwall rail partnership played in securing that additional funding.

At the end of last year, flooding at Exeter and other weather-related incidents across the Great Western network resulted in disruption to train services, as both the hon. Gentleman and you in particular, Mr Streeter, will be aware, because of the proximity of your constituency. I understand fully the sense of isolation in Devon and Cornwall when transport links are seriously disrupted, and I recognise the economic and other impacts on people and businesses in the region. As the flooding experienced on the Liskeard to Looe line showed, the disruption affected parts of the network not highlighted by the national media.

The Government published the investment in rail programme last July, setting out aims for the industry over the next five-year planning period that included longer-term resilience. In response, Network Rail published its strategic business plan, which, among other things, outlined high-level measures to increase its expenditure on flood mitigation. Those plans are being reviewed by the Office of Rail Regulation, which will determine the level of funding and delivery obligations over the next five years.

To ensure that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Network Rail are aligned, and to ensure that a multi-agency approach is adopted

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when resolving flood resilience issues, DFT and DEFRA Ministers have corresponded on the issue, and officials from the two Departments will be working together with Network Rail, with the aim of driving the issue to a satisfactory conclusion. Network Rail continues to look at possible measures to improve protection of the sea wall at Dawlish. It is still not clear that reopening the former route would be an affordable or value-for-money solution.

All these factors show why the Great Western franchise is a key part of the new rail franchising programme announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in March. On 31 January, he announced the termination of the Great Western franchise competition on the grounds that the proposition was not the right one and to allow for a more fundamental review of the franchise proposition. That was in line with the recommendation made by Richard Brown in his independent review. Having considered the options for the Great Western franchise very carefully, the Government decided to extend the current franchise agreement with First Great Western for a further period of 28 weeks to October this year. At the same time, the Secretary of State announced that he intended to negotiate an interim agreement with First Great Western to ensure continuity of train services. On 26 March, he announced that the plan was to develop the franchise proposition further during an interim agreement period lasting to July 2016.

The franchising programme that we announced in March is the right one. We want to secure the best possible rail services for both passengers and taxpayers, and this programme confirms our belief that franchising is the way to do it. By publishing the programme, we have provided the whole rail industry with a long-term plan, covering every rail franchise for the next eight years. That gives certainty to the market and supports the major investments in the country’s vital rail network that this Government are making.

The Government are intent that the interim agreement period for the Great Western franchise should not be a time of uncertainty or stagnation. The Secretary of State confirmed, in his 31 January statement, that the Government would continue with their multi-billion-pound programme of investment in the rail network, regardless of the delay to the franchising programme. He also confirmed that the Department for Transport would seek to ensure, wherever possible, that the benefits for passengers previously sought in new substantive franchise agreements were not delayed.

Concerns have been expressed by a number of people, including hon. Members, about the potential effects of the approach taken to the specification of train services adopted for the now terminated Great Western franchise competition. Those concerns focused in particular on the potential loss of through services to London. I should like to confirm that the train service specification adopted for the now terminated competition will not be used during the interim agreement period to July 2016. As I explained, that period provides the opportunity for a more fundamental review of the franchise proposition. During the period to July 2016, therefore, train services on the Great Western franchise will continue to be based on the train service specification in the current First Great Western franchise. That means, among other things—I hope that the hon. Member for North Cornwall

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will be reassured by this—that through train services between London and Cornwall and the popular London to Penzance sleeper train will continue to be required.

Hon. Members, local authorities and other stakeholders have shown a keen interest in improvements to local train services in the west of England, and this is where I should like to pick up on some of the points made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall about Bodmin. Local authorities in the west of England have established an impressive record of contributing to improvements to rail services in their areas, as he mentioned. They continue to develop schemes, and the invitation to tender for the now terminated Great Western franchise competition included a number of priced options that would enable local authorities to take those schemes forward. In Cornwall, they included enhanced Plymouth to Penzance local services; the extension of St Ives trains to Penzance; additional Looe line services; additional Exeter to Okehampton services, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned; and the Tavistock to Bere Alston line reopening, which will have an impact on his constituents and other people living in Cornwall, even though that line is in Devon.

I should like to confirm that First Great Western has been asked to provide prices for the priced options callable by local authorities during the interim agreement period to July 2016. First Great Western will be required to co-operate with local authorities in the continuing development of those priced options with a later call date.

Dan Rogerson: The Minister was setting out the Secretary of State’s admirable plan to ensure that any investment—any progress on improving services—should not be delayed by three years. If First Great Western wanted to invest in rolling stock, for example, could a mechanism be found whereby that could be transferred either to another provider or to First Great Western for the substantive franchise, rather than any investment being delayed until three years hence?

Mr Burns: I hesitate to give the hon. Gentleman a definitive answer, simply because I do not want to mislead him, but my immediate reaction to the question that he raises is that there is the possibility that that could be looked at, although obviously I can give no guarantees as to the ultimate outcome of any proposals or investigations.

The hon. Gentleman was extremely keen to explore the possibility of regular train services being reinstated between Bodmin General station and Bodmin Parkway, along the heritage railway that has preserved that rail

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route, and I listened very carefully to him. First Great Western will be required, during the interim agreement period to July 2016, to co-operate with local authorities in the development of new schemes. We believe that it is important for local authorities, rather than central Government, to make decisions on local priorities, so local authorities should identify what local funding sources are most appropriate for a rail scheme and decide themselves whether to fund a rail scheme such as the proposed reinstatement of regular trains to Bodmin General. I assume that, in the light of that, the hon. Gentleman will be in swift and concentrated discussions with Cornwall council to see whether that proposal could be moved forward at local level.

I should like to take this opportunity to highlight the great work done by the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership, which is one of several designated community rail partnerships operating on the Great Western network. Those partnerships of First Great Western, local authorities and local communities have been highly successful at promoting local lines and improving facilities at stations. Those routes are seeing unprecedented levels of growth in usage. I congratulate all those parties on the success that they have achieved through those efforts. I hope that they will continue to work to move forward and to improve, where that is feasible and possible, rail services in the peninsula of the south-west of England.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether it was possible to bring forward works from control period 6 into control period 5. I would be grateful if he could leave that with me, because I think that there are some complications in being able to do that, but I will certainly give him a commitment that I will look at it and I will write to him once I have had an opportunity to investigate fully the implications and the reality of what he asks.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that a considerable amount of work is being carried out by the Department, Network Rail and the rail operators themselves to ensure that they continue the forward movement of improving and enhancing the provision of rail services throughout Devon and, particularly, Cornwall. I cannot guarantee that the hon. Gentleman will find, in the next five or 10 years, his constituency awash with railway lines and services, but I can wish him well in his discussions with Cornwall council regarding his proposals for Bodmin. I wish him every success in those discussions.

Mr Gary Streeter (in the Chair): Thank you, Mr Burns. All the participants for the next debate are present, so we can move swiftly on to an important debate about funding for NHS patients in York and North Yorkshire, and it is a great pleasure to call Mr Hugh Bayley.

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NHS Funding (York and North Yorkshire)

4.30 pm

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): Thank you very much, Mr Streeter. At the end of April, the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), who I see in his place, and I met the health overview and scrutiny committee of City of York council to discuss the perilous funding settlement received by Vale of York clinical commissioning group. The meeting was also attended by Patrick Crowley, the chief executive of York teaching hospital NHS foundation trust, who said:

“The NHS system in North Yorkshire and York is on the brink of a crisis”.

At that meeting, the hon. Member for York Outer and I agreed jointly to seek a debate to discuss that crisis in Parliament. In the light of that, I hope, Mr Streeter, that you will allow the hon. Member for York Outer to make his own contribution to the debate. I am also pleased to see that the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) is present for the debate.

The funding for Vale of York clinical commissioning group has suffered a triple whammy. First, it started from the lowest base in Yorkshire and the Humber, because its predecessor body, the North Yorkshire and York primary care trust, received less money than any other PCT in the region. Secondly, the PCTs’ base funding was not split evenly between the five new clinical commissioning groups in north Yorkshire and York, and Vale of York CCG, which covers the city of York, received the lowest share of the funding. Thirdly, that meagre amount was top-sliced, because the former PCT had overspent its budget in the previous year. I will say a little more about all three issues, after which I will suggest an immediate remedy to the problems and a longer-term solution to the funding crisis.

The baseline funding received by PCTs in Yorkshire and the Humber in 2012-13 varied considerably across the region. North Yorkshire and York PCT received £1,475 per patient; Leeds received £1,550 per patient; Sheffield received £1,700 per patient; Wakefield received £1,800 per patient; and Barnsley received £1,900 per patient. Why did the other PCT areas get more? It was because the NHS funding formula allocates a base amount of money for each member of the public, adds or subtracts an element to reflect the age or youth of each person, and adds additional elements in respect of social deprivation. Areas of Yorkshire and the Humber other than north Yorkshire and York are deemed to face greater deprivation and, therefore, greater unmet health needs, and as a consequence they receive more money per capita.

The funding worked out through that formula, which reflects deprivation, was about £1,300 million for north Yorkshire and York in 2012-13. That sum was reduced this year by some £430 million, largely as a result of top-slicing for services to be provided on a national basis by the NHS Commissioning Board, which left some £865 million to be divided between the five clinical commissioning groups. However, they were not treated equally. Vale of York CCG received £1,050 per patient, whereas Scarborough and Ryedale CCG received £1,234 per patient, which is almost £200—20%—more per patient. The odd thing is that the same NHS foundation trust provides services for patients in Scarborough and Malton,

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which is part of Ryedale, and in the city of York. For some of those patients, however, there is substantially higher funding, which is likely to exacerbate the problems of postcode rationing. Some patients from the better-funded part of the patch will receive access to a wider range of treatments than those from the city of York.

How is the split justified? We are told that the funding was split between the clinical commissioning groups in north Yorkshire and York on the basis of the use that patients from their areas made of NHS services in the previous year. It is well known that middle-class people in more prosperous areas make greater demands of the NHS than do poorer people in deprived areas, so the two parts of the funding calculation for the Vale of York clinical commissioning group are pulling in diametrically opposite directions. The funding formula that allocates money to north Yorkshire and York reflects disadvantage, so north Yorkshire and York gets less than Barnsley, but the funding for the CCGs in north Yorkshire is split based on the use that they made of services, so relatively deprived inner-city areas of York receive less. The problems in those areas are not as severe as those in Bradford or Sheffield, but they are still greater than the problems faced by Richmondshire or Hambleton. It really is unfair to provide a baseline pot of money based on a lower allocation for north Yorkshire and York because it is deemed to have lower deprivation, but to choose the most deprived part of north Yorkshire and York and cut the funding further because people in deprived areas do not use health services as much as people in more prosperous areas.

I understand that when the funding body was determining how to split funding between the CCGs in north Yorkshire and York—indeed, across the country—it decided to use a demand-led formula rather than a needs-based formula, but it looked at what the results of a needs-based formula would have been. I asked the Minister whether he would release that information, but it was not readily to hand. If at least he released the figures on the north Yorkshire and York split, it would help us to work through with clinicians and health service managers in our patch whether the current double whammy, as I call it, is appropriate.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): When the group of North Yorkshire MPs met the NHS on several occasions this year, did the hon. Gentleman feel, as I did, as though it was less than transparent with us about how any of the calculations were made?

Hugh Bayley: All of us in north Yorkshire and York share concerns about the low level of funding for our patch. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the lack of transparency, which is why it would be enormously helpful for the Minister to ask his funding advisory panel to carry out the calculation I have mentioned. That would illustrate whether there is a problem such as I have suggested, and it would help us to tease out an appropriate solution.

The third part of the triple whammy is that as a result of historical underfunding—under the previous Government as well as the current one—the North Yorkshire and York PCT had a deficit of some £20 million or £30 million year after year. As a consequence of the deficit in the final year of its operation, some £12 million was top-sliced from the baseline funding for the CCGs

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in our patch. I was afraid that that would happen, so on 4 July last year, I asked the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), whether he would guarantee that each CCG would start off with a clean balance sheet, and he replied that

“we, along with the NHS Commissioning Board, intend all the new clinical commissioning groups across England to start on 1 April 2013 with clean balance sheets and without legacy debt from primary care trusts.”—[Official Report, 4 July 2012; Vol. 547, c. 930.]

I do not think that anyone could argue that that was a slip of the tongue, because paragraph 3.2 of the Department of Health’s “Handover and Closedown Guidance” for 2012-13 states:

“CCGs will not inherit legacy debt.”

Furthermore, paragraph 4.5 of “The Operating Framework for the NHS in England 2012/13” states:

“CCGs will not be responsible for resolving PCT legacy debt”.

What should the Government do about this issue?

The first, and immediate, action should be to honour the commitment given to me in the House—similar commitments have been given to other hon. Members from north Yorkshire—and agree, as was requested by York’s director of public health in a letter at the end of April, that the Department of Health will “absorb and manage” the final north Yorkshire and York deficit, which is some £10 million to £12 million. I understand that that has happened in some areas, and has given those new commissioning groups a start without carrying debt that has arisen from management by predecessor bodies.

Secondly, I ask the Minister to assure us that in good time for next year’s funding allocation the contradiction between the needs-based formula that divides funding between the old PCT areas and the demand-based fix, which was used this year to divide the PCT patch budgets between the various commissioning groups, will be resolved.

4.42 pm

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) on securing what is an extremely important debate for York and north Yorkshire.

The hon. Member for York Central, other hon. Members from north Yorkshire and I have tirelessly campaigned for some time to secure a fairer funding formula for York and north Yorkshire, so I am extremely pleased to be able to speak today about a matter that is so important to me and my constituents. The hon. Member for York Central has clearly set out the history of the primary care trusts—now the clinical commissioning groups—and their current deficit. However, despite the deficit having being reduced over the past 12 months, York and north Yorkshire CCGs—as the hon. Member for York Central mentioned—are still starting off on the back foot compared with all other CCGs across the country, and that is sadly resulting in a postcode lottery system for health care for our area.

As we know from the hon. Member for York Central, the disparity within the allocation of the funding formula is due to its failing to take into account the rural nature of our county and, most importantly, age.

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Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): I totally agree with my hon. Friend’s point about age. In north Yorkshire, we have one of the largest numbers of over-85s in the country, and the formula simply does not give enough weight to the ageing population. I would have though that it was as clear as the nose on your face that consideration must be given to the rural nature of a county and the degree of ageing of its population.

Julian Sturdy: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why in my short contribution this afternoon I will focus solely on age.

We must note that under the previous Government the funding formula was changed and more money put into the national health service. In addition, deprivation was given more weight in the formula. On paper, ensuring that deprivation is the most important factor, seems, morally, the right thing to do. However, I believe that when that reasoning is put into practice it starts to fall down. The distortion within the funding formula has resulted in some areas being awash with money, leading to well-publicised vanity health care projects, such as the one in Hull, with its 72-foot ocean-going yacht at the cool price of £500,000. At the same time, York and north Yorkshire have consistently struggled, as ably put across by the hon. Member for York Central, to balance the books, which has resulted in their continuing to take difficult decisions about health care provision.

An example of such decisions is that the primary care trust had to stop offering routine relief injections for sufferers of chronic back pain. That decision has had a massive impact on the quality of life of many of my constituents—it has hampered their ability to work and has affected carers. I have raised that issue previously in this Chamber, yet people are again coming through my surgeries, as I am sure they are through the surgeries of other hon. Members here today, suffering from a lack of access to those important injections. The decision is consequently putting more financial pressure on areas such as welfare, and that far outweighs the cost savings made by local authorities under the funding formula. That demonstrates the lack of joined-up thinking under the current system.

It costs approximately eight times more on average for the NHS to care for a patient who is over the age of 85 than one who is in their 40s. York and north Yorkshire, as my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) has set out, has one of the highest population of over-85s in the north, and my constituents are really suffering under the current formula. York and north Yorkshire also has a high number of care homes, and a typical GP practice states that 50% of home visits can be taken up just by care home residents, even though that group makes up only 2% of the patients on its roll.

I therefore urge the Minister, through NHS England, to review the current funding formula, to ensure that age is given more weighting.

Julian Smith: Was my hon. Friend not appalled, as I was, that when as a group of north Yorkshire MPs we sought clarification about why the NHS Commissioning Board had not given weight to the new Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation formula on age, we were told that the minutes of the meeting in which the decision was made could not be released, against the interests of all the people in our constituencies?

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Julian Sturdy: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The important thing, as has been mentioned, is clarity. We have not had clarity, and we really do need it, considering all the work that hon. Members have put into the issue in our patch.

The change we are discussing would guarantee a much fairer funding formula across the country, and ensure that funding went to those in most need and those who have the highest call on our invaluable national health service.

4.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr Daniel Poulter): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, I believe for the first time, Mr Streeter.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) for introducing the debate and raising the important issue of health care funding. He, like all Yorkshire Members in the Chamber, is a great advocate for his constituents. It is important to debate such issues and, in particular, to look at perhaps the greatest determinant of need in the NHS, which is that many older people have very expensive multiple care needs—dementia, diabetes, heart disease—and to look at the very big human need, which is how better to provide dignity in elderly care. That is exactly why my right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley) adjusted the formula, slightly changing the weighting for deprivation, to reflect such demographic challenges.

My hon. Friends and the hon. Member for York Central will be aware that the responsibility for health care funding now falls to NHS England. I have committed NHS England to reviewing the funding formula, and I am sure that it will listen carefully to today’s debate on north Yorkshire and elsewhere.

It is important to highlight how funding flows work in the NHS, and it may be helpful to say a few words about how the new arrangements have changed the way in which funding is allocated. As Members have pointed out, the NHS is paid for by taxpayers, and the money is allocated to the Department of Health by the Treasury. For 2013-14, the Department has set key priorities for NHS England through the mandate. I will outline the priorities that will help NHS England to prioritise funding within the NHS, and aid in the interpretation and use of the independent data given to it by the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation.

The first priority in the mandate is the focus on preventing people from dying prematurely by improving mortality rates for the big killer diseases to be the best in Europe, through improving prevention, diagnosis and treatment. There is a clear priority to improve the standard of care throughout the system, so that the quality of care is considered as important as the quality of treatment or the clinical outcome. That will be done through greater accountability, better training, tougher inspections and paying more attention to what patients say, so that we have a truly patient-centred NHS, which is as important as providing care and dignity of care for older people.

There is a clear priority to improve treatment and care of people with dementia, and to focus on the important role played by technology—particularly in rural areas, through telehealth and telemedicine—in

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delivering better care in the community for older people. A key focus is on improving productivity and ensuring value for money to make sure that our health care system stimulates and supports the local economy in relation to not only the obvious importance of keeping local populations well and at work, but the benefits that can be gained from synergies with the life sciences and the supportive and stimulating research from such important places as Cambridge.

The Department of Health has set the mandate and a clear sense of direction for the NHS, with the priorities that are clearly there. The Department then makes allocations to several health bodies, including Public Health England, Health Education England, the NHS Trust Development Authority and NHS England. For 2013-14, NHS England received £95.6 billion, and some of that money will then, in turn, be allocated to clinical commissioning groups, but allocations to individual CCGs and the formula used to decide them are now the responsibility of NHS England, which has the key role.

In making those allocations, NHS England relies on advice from the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation, as Members have said. ACRA provides detailed advice on the share of available resources available to each CCG to support equal access for equal need, as specified in the priorities set out in the mandate.

NHS England does not, therefore set income on an equal cost per head basis across the whole country; allocations instead follow an assessment of the expected need for health services in an area, and funds are distributed in line with that, which means that areas with a high health need receive more money per head. Under the formula, the 10% most deprived areas received more than 30% more per capita compared with the 10% least deprived, as the hon. Member for York Central outlined in his comments about Barnsley.

The calculation is based on several factors. In particular, it is increasingly based on the age of the population, the relative morbidity and unavoidable variations in cost. The objective is to ensure a consistent supply of health services across the country: the greater the health need, the more money that will be received. I am sure that we all support that.

The shift from a PCT funding formula to a CCG funding formula resulted in changes to the allocation for each particular area in 2013-14, as the hon. Gentleman commented. Funding now often takes place at a more local level—at the CCG rather than the PCT level—which we hope will ensure better prioritisation for local health care funding, with the funding formula being more sensitive to local health care needs.

The CCG model covers only non-specialised hospital and community care, as well as primary care prescribing, but the older PCT model also covered the whole of primary care, specialised services and public health, the costs of which were transferred to NHS England. There is, therefore, no direct comparability between the old PCT funding formula and the new CCG formula, for the reasons that I have outlined.

Nigel Adams: Whenever there are historical funding problems, such as those we experienced in north Yorkshire, there are inevitably leaks or stories about potential rationing and cuts to services. In my constituency in north Yorkshire, there has been lots of media speculation

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that a hospital opened by the Duke of Gloucester less than two years ago might close or lose its minor injuries unit. I have an awful lot of respect for the Minister, because he has done the job professionally, but I urge him to press NHS England to consider the funding case for north Yorkshire and other rural areas, and to consider the special circumstances that we have to deal with.

Dr Poulter: I will of course continue to press NHS England and raise concerns, as we have with representatives from the area, about the funding challenges being faced in north Yorkshire. It is also important to be aware that, because of how the new system works, with a mandate that sets clear priorities, NHS England recognises the need for a review of the funding formula for not only north Yorkshire, but nationally.

I agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) and the hon. Member for York Central about ensuring that funding goes to areas of greatest health care need. NHS England will obviously want to take account of rurality, age, the needs of older people and the complexity of care when it reviews the funding formula.

Hugh Bayley: The Minister says that Barnsley gets more money than north Yorkshire because of its higher level of deprivation, which I acknowledge, but why has the new formula given York less money than leafy Richmondshire and Hambleton, when York has higher levels of teenage pregnancy, drug addiction and deaths

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from asbestos-related diseases among people who had a career in industry. We have higher levels of deprivation than other parts of north Yorkshire, and yet we get less money. That cannot be right.

Dr Poulter: The hon. Gentleman makes a good case on his constituents’ behalf, but he should recognise that the Vale of York CCG—it serves not only his constituency, but others in the surrounding area—has received £357,891,000 which is the highest allocation in the area. He is right that its allocation is relatively lower per head than, say, that of Scarborough and Ryedale CCG, but I have outlined the factors that inform the capitation formula for funding, including density of population, and the obvious advantages of delivering health care in an urban environment.

I would be very happy to talk through such issues with the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friends who are here today, and I am sure that we can arrange a meeting to do so in more detail than this debate allows. I also point out that NHS England will fundamentally review the funding formula to take account of demographics, age and rurality, which I am sure we all welcome. I look forward to meeting hon. Members in due course for further discussions and to see how I can assist them with the matters that they have raised.

Question put and agreed to.

4.59 pm

Sitting adjourned.