3.2 pm

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I will take the suggestion with the severity with which it was meant, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing this debate.

I want to reflect on some of what my hon. Friend said at the beginning of her speech and on the sentiments of a letter to The Guardian before Christmas from GPs, emergency doctors and nurses, midwives, physiotherapists, psychotherapists and NHS trusts. Their plea was for a page to be turned in the way we talk about the NHS. We need to talk about the failures in patient care, but we must also recognise that we have some extraordinary abilities in the NHS to reach and look after our communities as well as they do. Sadly, I have been close to the NHS in the past three years, and I have seen excellence and the pits. However, in general, the people who work in our hospitals do a fantastic job.

I wholeheartedly endorse the sentiments of that letter because I fear that the driver for the relentless daily trashing that the NHS receives comes from base political motivation—the softening up of public opinion so that marketisation and privatisation become acceptable. It will not be acceptable. It is not acceptable now and I do not believe it will ever be acceptable, so let us just stop it.

I am not the only one to mistrust the motivation and outcome of the coalition’s top-down, unwanted and wasteful reorganisation of the NHS. I did a survey of my constituents—I like to find out whether my impressions are the same as theirs—and 97% of those who responded said that the NHS would undoubtedly get worse under the new system. When they were asked about their main concern, 60% thought that the money intended for NHS staff and services would end up as profit for private companies. My constituents are very astute.

I want to turn to local circumstances before I am coughed at. In 2006-08, life expectancy for men in Newham was 75.8 years, lower than the London average of 78.2 years. In the same period, life expectancy for women was 2.3 years below the London average at

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80.4 years. Even within my borough, there are variations that make the local situation much more complex and challenging. Life expectancy in some wards is 8.1 years shorter than in others. That is massive.

In primary care, the recommended ratio of GP provision is 1.8 GPs per 1,000 of population. In Newham, the ratio is appalling and equates to not much more than half that, at 0.56 of a GP per 1,000 of population. It is small wonder that in my survey, 35% of respondents reported that it is never easy to get a GP appointment, and just 10% said that it is always easy. Many practices—too many—are operated by single GPs, so it is no surprise that the patient experience in Newham is the worst in north-east London.

The primary care trust, before its abolition, had a clear plan for tackling that challenging situation and I enthusiastically endorsed and participated in it. Now, there are no mechanisms in place to root out poor practice and promote the best. I would like to hear from the Minister how she will ensure that Newham has the number of GPs to which we are entitled and that we have performance and outcomes that are the same as other areas of London.

Incidentally, I would be interested to hear whether other hon. Members here are experiencing the new phenomenon that we have in Newham: dial a diagnosis. When people contact their GP to arrange an appointment, they are initially offered a telephone conversation with the GP. Is that because GPs must bolster the failing 111 non-clinical service, which is now contributing to the difficulties of our A and E departments? Is it to save money, to sift out or deter patients or to ration GP time? Has there been a risk assessment of what that might entail, and does it contribute to the problems that my community is facing? Again, I would like to hear from the Minister about that.

Another statistic from Newham that should be good news is that the incidence rate for breast cancer is 104.6 per 100,000 of population, significantly lower than the UK average of 123.6. However, disturbingly and distressingly, the percentage of women alive five years after diagnosis—the five-year survival estimate—is, at 75%, also significantly lower than the UK average of 83.4%. The reason in part is the take-up rate of breast screening services, but there is anecdotal evidence of women who were part of Barts hospital’s preventative health services being encouraged to go away and become part of the general population, and to present sometime in the future. That encouragement not to continue to attend for breast screening gave a rosy picture of health needs.

The London Health Commission, under the chairmanship of Lord Darzi, has a remit that includes healthy lives and reducing health inequalities. I will be interested to hear what the Minister says in anticipation of the commission’s report, and what assurance she can give that the Government will act on health inequalities.

Let me refer to the Barts health care trust, which is the largest in the country and incorporates Barts, the Royal London, Whipps Cross and Newham general hospitals. Our patch is the growing part of London, with growth in population, complexity, the number of homes and, of course, opportunity. I was therefore grateful to hear the hon. Member for Cities of London

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and Westminster (Mark Field), who made a well balanced speech, talk about resources being sucked into the large university hospitals in the centre. Even though those of us on the far-flung borders of the east belong to the same trust as one of those hospitals, we experience the difficulties he talked about in relation to Romford.

Rumours abound at the moment that Newham general, as part of the Barts trust, is under threat of reconfiguration—a fascinating new word—to secure the viability of the trust as a whole. When I talked to the trust’s chief executive, he told me that the PFI represented only 10% of the trust’s entire budget and that, given that the budget was large, he did not see the PFI as having major consequences for the delivery of services.

However, there is an accusation that the trust is being a little disingenuous in its public statements that the A and E at Newham general will not be closed. Assurances have been sought that there will be no downgrading without full consultation, but those look weak in the face of a shortage of anaesthetists, for example, who are essential to support a viable emergency service.

Almost half of London trusts are struggling to achieve the 95% standard for patients waiting in A and E. Barts trust is just about achieving that target, but that is because Newham general performs well and helps the trust’s overall performance—a good example of how a local acute hospital catering for a place such as Newham can perform well, while larger hospitals struggle. Given that the future of Newham general’s A and E is under threat, the irony of the situation is not lost on me, and nor will it be lost on my constituents.

In that scenario, it is essential that we maintain Newham general as a fully functioning major acute hospital with a full range of services, including A and E and maternity. Given that we are seeing growth out to the east, it would be irresponsible and downright dangerous for us not to do that. It would also be a complete distraction from the absolute priority of putting in place improved, integrated care services in the community and in primary care.

Finally, I seek assurances from the Minister about the funding formula for CCGs being rolled out across England. In the London context, it is shifting resources from inner-London boroughs, with their younger populations, to boroughs further out, which have older populations.

Newham just happens to have the youngest population in the whole of Europe, apart from some tiny canton somewhere that is almost irrelevant. We will therefore lose substantial amounts, while London as a whole is losing 2.3% of its funding to other areas. I would like reassurance from the Minister that the funding formula will fully take account of deprivation, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said, as well as of our population’s high mobility, with the health problems that brings with it, and diversity, with the specific demands that that puts on health care.

3.13 pm

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing this important debate. I will keep my comments brief because I want to be fair to other Members who want to speak, not because I do

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not care deeply about this subject. Previous speakers have talked ably about a lot of the statistics, so I do not need to go over them.

I was actually born in a London hospital, across the river in St Thomas’. I was pleased to go there again recently to visit my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood)—I hasten to add that I was visiting the maternity ward because his wife had given birth to their new son, Oscar. It was lovely to be back at St Thomas’, albeit after so many decades.

Some important issues have been raised in the debate. Health care is critical to all of us—it touches each and every one of us, our loved ones and our constituents. It is crucially important and we must get it right. In London, there are specific problems, as has been said.

I was pleased that in 2010 the Government made £2.7 billion extra available in real terms in the NHS budget across the UK. That has allowed us to have 440,000 more clinical staff, and we also have 23,000 fewer administrative staff, including 7,700 fewer managers. That was absolutely the right approach and what the NHS needed.

The average stay in hospital is shorter than in 2010, although that puts pressure on community care, so we must make sure that that is dealt with. The cancer drugs fund is also critical to the debate, and we have helped more than 38,000 patients through it.

The debate is about London and the issues specific to this great city. In my constituency, in west London, the key health care issues tend to be focused on tuberculosis, obesity—including in children—diabetes and alcohol-related harm. As Members might expect, we have above average problems with healthy eating, given the issues with obesity. Other issues include smoking during pregnancy, smoking deaths and skin cancer. There are therefore specific issues in west London, and I will focus on them.

In my constituency, we have one main hospital—the West Middlesex university hospital, where two thirds of my constituents go when they need to. My Chiswick residents—about a third of my constituents—tend to go to Charing Cross hospital. I want to reiterate what previous speakers have said: we have some excellent patient care and services across our London hospitals, but there are, absolutely, also areas we should focus on.

The West Middlesex has outstanding maternity and midwifery services. One of the best parts of our job as Members of Parliament is rewarding people who have done incredible work in the health service, whether they are clinicians or support staff, and I recently handed out awards at the West Middlesex, which is ably led by Dame Jacqueline Docherty.

I also want to pay tribute to London’s air ambulance service. During the Christmas period, there was a fire and a massive explosion in Chiswick, and the air ambulance was called. The service deserves as much support as possible, because it serves 10 million residents in London, and it has only one helicopter. It is world class, providing high-trauma, acute care. Everywhere else around the country has one helicopter for 1.5 million people, but the figure in London is 10 million, so there is an absolute need for another helicopter. I would push everyone to support the London air ambulance service, which has its 25th anniversary tomorrow.

Stephen Pound: I entirely agree, and I think most of us would associate ourselves with the hon. Lady’s comments

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on the London air ambulance, but does she not agree that it might be better if it were run by the state, instead of relying so much on charity?

Mary Macleod: The London air ambulance service is an amazing organisation, so I would not change its structure. It rightly gets some funding from the NHS, but it also derives funding from many other sources, and it is important that we support that. The service does an incredible job, so if the hon. Gentleman knows anyone who can give it a spare helicopter, it would really appreciate that.

My local CCG is chaired by Dr Nicola Burbidge. It started early, it has been absolutely focused on patients and it has been very responsive to any issues I have raised with it.

On reconfiguration, I was recently thankful when, after a lot of campaigning by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) and others, the Secretary of State announced that the A and E at Charing Cross hospital would not be closed, thus helping residents in my part of London. Saving lives and improving patient care is paramount.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I apologise for not being here for the opening speech. Does my hon. Friend agree that one challenge now facing London is the increasing complexity of diseases and the treatments that are required, which means that additional money and expertise are needed? Such diseases often cannot be dealt with at a local level; they must be dealt with nationally. Although we have supported those suffering from cancer and other diseases, much more complex diseases remain to be resolved.

Mary Macleod: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I hope the Minister will respond to the issue of how we take up such challenges in London and get the necessary funding.

I shall list some issues on which I would like more improvement. We heard how difficult it is to get appointments at general practices—we call up and know that the answer is going to be no before we say anything. There are also issues with getting to see a specialist as quickly as possible. We want an effective complaints process in hospitals, changing the culture to allow people, whether staff or patients, to complain. There is an issue with how patients are moved around London, and the hon. Member for Westminster North made an important point about having to use public transport to get home. Mental health and community public health are other important issues.

My final comment is about dementia, which is a growing concern in London, as it is across the country. About 30% of patients who go into the West Middlesex hospital have dementia. They do not go there because of dementia, but they have it. There is a lot to be done, and the West Middlesex hospital has just opened a new dementia ward. There needs to be a greater focus on dementia, given our ageing population nationally, and the size of the population in London. We must ensure that we work together to support those who really need and deserve care and support in London. That will improve the NHS for us all.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. Four speakers have risen to speak, all from the Opposition, so hopefully they will be mindful of their colleagues.

3.22 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Given the time constraints, I shall limit myself to one issue, which is the current threat to the emergency hospitals in my constituency, but I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing this timely debate. She made her arguments very well.

This morning, I received an e-mail from the Secretary of State that is pertinent to the debate. There was an agreement for him to meet the three Ealing MPs, two of whom—my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and for Ealing North (Stephen Pound)—are here, and me next Monday evening. The Secretary of State has withdrawn from that meeting, pleading other engagements, and asked us to meet officials instead. I hope that he will reconsider. The meeting is specifically about the threat to two of London’s major hospitals, Charing Cross and Ealing, and I hope that the comments I am about to make will lead the Minister to intervene and ask that the meeting go ahead. We understand that the Secretary of State has pressures on his time, but it is entirely unacceptable for him not to meet Members on an issue of such crucial and central importance.

It is sad news, but we know—

Mary Macleod: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Slaughter: I would rather not because of the time. I am sorry.

We know what is happening with Hammersmith hospital because it has been announced that the A and E department there is going to close after the winter crisis—as if the crisis is not a continuing one. I have been told informally that it will close two weeks after the local elections to avoid any embarrassment to the Government. We were also told that there might not even be an urgent care centre there; it may be moving. That would mean no emergency access to Hammersmith hospital, unless it is still to receive emergency blue-light coronary cases. At least Hammersmith hospital will continue as a major specialist hospital, and a very fine hospital it is indeed.

The situation regarding Charing Cross hospital is far less clear. I will précis where we are and explain the matters that we wish the Secretary of State to deal with. In February last year, the decision, which is still extant, was made to close completely and sell off the Charing Cross hospital site, leaving an urgent care centre on 3% of the site. At the same time, there was to be an outline business case, to report in October last year, that might preserve 13% of the facilities and 40% of the site. That business case is now due in March, but we understand—through the Imperial College Healthcare foundation trust process, not any other process—that there will also be elective surgery on the site. That might mean there will be elective surgery as well as primary care and treatment facilities, and some form of emergency centre on the site, with perhaps 50% of the land preserved. That gain, in so far as it is a gain, is St Mary’s loss,

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because we understand that 50% of its site will be sold in any event. Of course, any amelioration in the position is to be welcomed.

I praise the cross-party Save Our Hospitals group for campaigning tirelessly in both my borough and Ealing on the issues I have mentioned. However, the point it would want me to make very clearly is that what I have described is not what we want. Of course we want good elective care, primary care and treatment services, but the issue of capacity must be addressed.

It is not feasible to close two of the largest emergency hospitals. I use the word “close” advisedly. As emergency hospitals, they are closing: there will be no emergency surgery, no blue-light A and E, no stroke unit and no intensive treatment on those sites. I am afraid that the Secretary of State’s intervention so far has been genuinely unhelpful and done for political reasons. We have invented a second-tier A and E, as it is called. A second-tier A and E is an urgent care centre. The only differences that clinicians could identify for me were that at a second-tier A and E there would be GP cover and X-ray services, and for elderly and vulnerable people there might be some beds for recuperation after minor treatment. Otherwise, it is an urgent care centre or a minor injuries unit.

Let us not play political games. I am not saying that we can keep politics out of the NHS—of course we cannot—but this is dangerous because it will mislead people. If people think that there is an A and E at Charing Cross or at Ealing when there is not, they will go there when they should have gone elsewhere. We will continue to campaign to save emergency services. It is not feasible for the Imperial family to go from three major emergency departments to one. All three are currently under pressure and overcrowded. The decision has to be taken by Ministers, so I implore the Minister to go back to the Secretary of State and ask that he meet us.

The level of politics is not acceptable. Politics comes into these matters all the time. Before the last election, when there was no threat to the hospitals, the Conservatives kept saying that there was—I have their election literature here. We now have taxpayers’ money being spent on campaigns saying that hospitals are staying open when, in fact, departments in them are not. Let us at least tell our constituents the truth. There may be unpalatable decisions to be taken, but as far as Charing Cross is concerned, the health service is clear that it will be a local hospital. It will not be an emergency hospital. That is not acceptable in any way to my constituents. It is not feasible to run a health service in west London on that basis.

I have made my points to the Minister clearly, and I look forward to her response. I also look forward to the meeting with the Secretary of State where I can put my points in more detail and more forcefully.

3.28 pm

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. We have already heard that the NHS in London is most definitely straining under the weight of demand for services. The problem is related to the constrained financial environment, but fundamentally it is about the increasing needs of our population. The population of London has grown

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by 12% in the past decade and is likely to grow by another million in the coming decade. That is why the plans to downgrade and close desperately needed and often very successful emergency and maternity departments in London are met with such incredulity and anger.

I would like to make a few points to the Minister today. First, I ask her to consider the overall shape of maternity services in London. Much of the debate focuses on big arguments about the reconfiguration of emergency departments, but maternity services are often a victim of those reorganisations, because as soon as an intensive care unit is taken away from a hospital, it is unable to provide full maternity services. Does the Minister really want to ask women in the capital to travel even greater distances to give birth to their children, when they want to be close to home and family? Will she look at some of the sacred cows that have built up in the wisdom on maternity services?

I know there is an aspiration to provide 168 hours of consultant cover every week in maternity departments, but I understand that that currently happens at only one trust in the whole country. I ask the Minister whether it is achievable, affordable, or necessarily in the best interests of women to continue to aspire to reach that standard in all our hospitals in London.

Another point I want to make to the Minister—it has already been made—is on the crucial importance of the public being involved and having a genuine say when hospital services are being reconfigured. In Lewisham, we saw the exact opposite of that, with the unsustainable providers regime. The Government are trying to augment that process and apply it more widely, which has very serious implications for trust in politics and in our health service.

I am very conscious of time and that two other Members wish to speak. I ask the Minister to look very hard at the existing evidence on centralising all hospital services in London. I know there is a lot of evidence for creating centres of excellence for stroke, trauma, and vascular disease in big hospitals. However, I wonder whether the same evidence exists for other acute medical emergencies and whether there is evidence, for example, for centralising mental health services or maternity services.

I have one final point—I will sit down very shortly. There are currently plans at many hospitals in London to flog off hospital sites. That land should not be used to create playgrounds for the rich and the international jet set. Public land is a very precious asset in London, and if we are going to use it for anything, could we please explore the possibility of using it for housing for elderly people, providing communities of care? Provision of suitable accommodation is one of the crucial things we need to get right if we are to tackle some of the underlying problems in the NHS.

Several hon. Members rose

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. I shall call Mr Gwynne at 20 minutes to four. I now call Mr Sharma.

3.33 pm

Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): Thank you, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing

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this very important debate. I share the concerns expressed by my colleagues earlier, including those about the Secretary of State cancelling the meeting that I and the leader of Ealing council requested. We were looking forward to expressing the views of the residents of our constituencies.

Multiple A and E departments in the capital have been under threat of closure or set for closure, from Lewisham, where a hard-fought campaign has saved the hospital from closure, to south-west London, Ilford, and the four A and Es in west London, two of which have been marked for closure and two of which are still effectively closed—they are being called A and Es when they are not. One of them is in my constituency in Ealing hospital. In a city of more than 8 million inhabitants, where the population growth is twice the national average, those closures and downgrades will have a huge impact on the lives and safety of local residents, leaving many residents miles from their local A and E.

Accident and emergency services are already under tremendous pressure and will be subject to increased strain with local closures. We know that the number of blue-light ambulance diverts increased drastically in London, by almost a quarter, proving that A and Es in London are over capacity. One of the hospitals that has regularly turned away ambulances is Northwick Park. With the closure of A and Es at Central Middlesex and Hammersmith hospitals, and with Ealing and Charing Cross hospitals seemingly unable to receive blue-light ambulances in north-west London, Northwick Park will be under even more strain as patients are sent there for emergency treatment.

Northwick Park is already overburdened and is one of the worst-performing A and Es in the country. It will simply not be able to cope with the four other local A and Es closing and will be unable to accept blue-light ambulances. Journey times for patients will be longer and they face the risk of travelling elsewhere if the ambulance is turned away. That will be the difference between life and death for emergency patients—an unacceptable situation.

Back at the end of October, the Secretary of State confirmed the closure of A and Es at Central Middlesex and Hammersmith hospitals, and announced that A and Es would remain at Charing Cross hospital and Ealing hospital, in my constituency, the shape and size of which would be subject to a review. His statement, which was supposed to remove uncertainty about the future of our local hospitals, only further increased confusion.

It has, however, been made clear, through the Keogh review and Dr Mark Spencer’s subsequent comments, that the review would in fact reduce the size of Ealing’s A and E, and that Ealing would be unable to receive blue-light ambulances. The Secretary of State, who pledged to keep the A and E services, has in fact downgraded Ealing hospital, while keeping the A and E in name only. The Secretary of State promised an A and E for Ealing, but delivered only more disappointment to local residents. There are many other concerns, not least of which is the fact that many of my constituents in Southall are the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, with specific health needs that are met by nearby Ealing hospital. They will have to travel considerable distances, putting their lives at risk.

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With the population of west London growing, those decisions seem, at best, unsafe and, at worst, dangerous. The concerns that we have in my constituency and in west London will obviously be replicated across London with the threat of more closures in the midst of an A and E crisis. There needs to be more of a concerted effort from the Secretary of State and the Department of Health to help Londoners receive the best health care, rather than making this existing crisis worse.

Glenda Jackson rose—

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. I call Ms Glenda Jackson—you have one and a half minutes.

3.38 pm

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): Thank you very much, Mrs Main. I had intended to talk for slightly longer than two minutes, but the central thing I wish to say is about mental health. Other contributors to this very important debate have touched on that, but it seems to me that for us, as a nation, it is essentially a Cinderella service, and certainly has been all the time that I have been in the House.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) referred to the pressures on central London. That is not only to do with the churn of people moving into London and moving out, but, as he rightly said, it is most markedly about people who are dependent, or over-dependent, on drugs and alcohol, and people with mental health issues. A peripatetic patient cohort—I hate that word, but I cannot think of anything else at the moment—is virtually not being regarded, let alone something on which the multifarious bodies and boards that are now responsible for delivering health care in London are working together.

I hope the Minister will take that away and put it at the top of her list, because the enormous damage that is done to individuals when they are allowed to go over the cliff of their crisis is reflected in the damage inflicted on their families and their wider community. I am firmly of the opinion that the right provision, as we have had in my own constituency, is a house that is open 24/7, 365 days a year. People who felt that they were going to go over the edge of their mental health crisis could walk in through the door. There were people there all the time to care for them. Yes, such facilities are expensive to set up, but I am firmly of the opinion that the money we save by having them could be put towards the sharp end of delivering a high-quality health service to people who are not suffering from mental health problems.

3.40 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing this very important debate about health care in London. I hope that hon. Members will forgive this Mancunian for gatecrashing the debate to respond for the Opposition.

The future of health services and especially accident and emergency services across London is an important issue of genuine concern to a great many of the constituents

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of hon. Members present. It is definitely an issue of real significance right across our capital city. I pay tribute to all the hon. Members who today have made contributions, long and brief, on a wide variety of matters.

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the staff working in the national health service for their commitment in providing a first-class service to patients in what has been a very trying period for the NHS. As we know, there have been important changes in the provision of hospital care in London. We have had “Health for North East London”, “Shaping a healthier future”, the Barnet, Enfield and Haringey clinical strategy, the trust special administrator’s review of South London Healthcare NHS Trust and the NHS in south-east London and “Better Services, Better Value” in south London, to name a few of the reconfigurations that have taken place in the capital.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North is right to point to extreme financial pressures on hospital services. North-west London hospital services must accommodate a £125 million reduction in service between 2011 and 2015. The people who use hospitals in London are rightly concerned about the changes to the services on which they rely. We have heard about the proposals that will lead to the loss of accident and emergency departments at Charing Cross, Ealing, Hammersmith and Central Middlesex hospitals.

However, it is not only my hon. Friends who are concerned about the future of A and E departments in London; local authorities are, too. Local authorities such as Ealing have voiced their concerns about the downgrading of their A and E services. As we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), A and E facilities that both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State had promised to save across north-west London and elsewhere in the capital will be closing. I hope very much that the meeting between the Secretary of State and the hon. Members who represent Ealing and Hammersmith can be reconvened as requested.

Of course, all this is in direct contradiction to what the Prime Minister said during the general election, when he promised to halt the closures of hospitals, accident and emergency departments and maternity units. Why does the Minister think that there is such widespread concern about the lack of leadership in the health service in London at a time when the NHS is dealing with unnecessary upheaval?

Frankly, it was a disastrous decision on the part of the Government to spend billions of pounds on an unnecessary top-down reorganisation, which has led to a loss of financial grip in the NHS. Now, more than 6,000 nursing posts have been lost, waiting lists are getting longer and we are seeing the return of patients on trolleys in corridors. Indeed, we are now seeing A and Es not just in London but across the country facing a winter crisis after an unprecedented summer A and E crisis. At the same time, local authorities are having a huge cut to their social care budgets. More and more elderly people are therefore ending up in A and E, because there is no one at home to care for them, adding even more pressure to a pressured system.

Labour Members warned Ministers repeatedly during the passage of the Bill that became the Health and Social Care Act 2012 that the legislation would lead to the break-up of the NHS. The public rightly expect to

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have easy access to health services, and Ministers have a heavy responsibility to show leadership and to act to prevent people’s lives being put at risk. Ministers must also tell the House today what action they propose to take to ensure that London’s growing population will continue to have good access to hospital and other health service provision in their local areas. Those points were made eloquently by a number of hon. Members, but I have to mention my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) in relation to Newham.

Of course, Labour Members do not oppose all the changes to local health services. Surely, it is right that hospitals and services evolve and change. However, it must be change based on good clinical reasons and not just financial necessity.

Ms Abbott: Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue in London is not just provision for its size of population, but the extreme diversity and complexity of the population? It is a very mobile population. There are large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, and London has the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the country. That is what people have to pay attention to if they are reconfiguring services.

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend is right. London is a global city. It has people coming in from all over the world, not just from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It is a diverse city. It is an exciting, vibrant city—I am probably over-egging it for a Mancunian, but it is a great place. Those complexities are what makes London fantastic, but they are also what makes delivering health services a real challenge.

To make the change work, there must be clarity and partnership. Everyone must understand what is being proposed and how the decisions are to be taken. That brings me on to the issue of Lewisham and clause 118 of the Care Bill. We saw in Lewisham the power of an effective campaign in the face of unpopular change to health services and what that can achieve.

I pay tribute to the Lewisham MPs and to the campaigners, who fought tirelessly for their local hospital. The proposal to close their A and E department was rightly met by a strong local campaign, which included protest marches and a successful legal challenge to the closure. Indeed, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Health Secretary did not have the power to implement the cuts at Lewisham hospital. If only he had listened to my hon. Friends in Lewisham—they had been arguing that beforehand.

Clause 118 should give very real concern to all hon. Members in the debate, because in future it will give carte blanche to the Secretary of State and the Department of Health to reconfigure services right across the country as they sought to in Lewisham, disfranchising the communities that have spoken out very loudly across London against some of the changes. Labour Members are rightly concerned about that measure and we will be opposing it during the next stages of proceedings on the Care Bill.

In conclusion, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North and to all my right hon. and hon. Friends who have taken part in the debate. Hospital services are very important to the capital. We must make sure that there is proper strategic planning across London, not the piecemeal approach to

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reconfigurations of services that we have seen, so that the complexities in health needs—including mental health, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) mentioned—are taken on board fully for the betterment of people living in London.

3.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): What an amazing debate! I congratulate the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing it; a lot of issues have been covered. Many London colleagues have contributed, made interventions or simply been present to listen to it. As a London MP, I am particularly conscious of the unique challenges facing health care in London, and many of the issues raised apply as much to my constituents as they do to those of colleagues across the House. As hon. Members have said, London is an amazing city with world-leading expertise and services, but it has unique challenges. Whichever party was in government, it would have to respond to those challenges.

I will do my best to respond to some of the points that have been made, but there were such a range of points, and some of them were so specific, that I may need to write to colleagues after the debate. I hope that hon. Members understand that. I will ensure that I follow up those points personally or ask NHS London to do so. Forgive me for having to make that health warning.

I start by echoing the praise from the hon. Member for Westminster North for our NHS staff in London. They work under many interesting and unique pressures, and they respond, for the most part, magnificently. We all realise that no service is above criticism, but our starting point is that we have some amazing people working very hard under difficult circumstances. I am particularly glad that the hon. Lady and her family experienced good care at a crucial time.

The hon. Lady is right to caution that debates about health need to acknowledge, but not to exaggerate, risk. We always teeter on the brink of exaggerating points for political effect, and it is really important that we keep some sense of perspective. Several hon. Members have referred repeatedly to an A and E crisis. I want to put on the record that for the week ending 29 December 2013 last year, the figures for A and E waiting times in London demonstrate that 96% of patients were seen in under four hours in all A and E types, against a standard of 95%. For the third quarter of last year, 95.3% of patients were seen in under four hours in all A and E types.

I am not saying that we do not have problems and challenges, but let us be clear that in many places, the NHS is responding well to those challenges and meeting targets. Work force statistics show that the number of community health service doctors increased by 8.5% from 2010 to 2013. Let us make sure that we keep a sense of perspective on where we are.

Some of the comments during the debate referred to reconfigurations across London. We are quite clear that reconfiguration of front-line health services is a matter for the local NHS, precisely for the reasons that some hon. Members have given. We are trying to make sure that they are led by clinical decisions. That was

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acknowledged in the opening speech, as was the need for change. The hon. Member for Westminster North made that point.

Ms Buck: Will the Minister give way?

Jane Ellison: Forgive me, but I really will not have a chance to respond to any of the points made if I give way. I will catch up with the hon. Lady afterwards if there are points that she specifically wants to discuss.

All the reconfigurations must focus on delivering modern health care, better patient outcomes and services as close to home as possible, but, most importantly, they must focus on saving lives and improving quality of life. Those service changes are best led by clinicians, with all of us getting involved and engaging with the process, as we must do. That is what we all want for our constituents, and there are different ways to achieve that.

Change is inevitable, as most, but not all, hon. Members have acknowledged. We have debated questions such as the changes to stroke services in London, which many campaigners predicted would have dire and dreadful outcomes. In fact, the opposite has been true, and London clinicians believe that hundreds of our constituents’ lives have been saved by the concentration of excellence in certain centres. We must be realistic about the fact that reconfiguration can bring great health benefits, as long as it meets the important tests set out by the Secretary of State, and is clinically led.

The health service has to respond to growing demand. Much of the debate has focused on the long-term challenges to the health service in London and across the country. The Government are trying to respond to those huge long-term pressures. We are looking at GP opening hours and at access. That could not be a bigger issue in London, which has a highly diverse and highly mobile population in a 24-hour city. People need to be able to access health care at a time that suits their work patterns and lifestyle, and we are pushing for changes to contracts in that area. There will be named GPs for over-75s. We are looking at the integration of social care and public health. We know that there are big challenges around that, but a big project is under way to try to tackle it.

Ring-fenced public health budgets will empower local authorities to do the very thing that many hon. Members have drawn our attention to, which is to look at the needs of local communities and respond to them at the most local level. We do not want to take a “Whitehall knows best” approach; we want to tell local authorities, “We have ring-fenced your local public health budget so that you can look at the needs of your local population and work with health and wellbeing boards and clinical commissioning groups to devise services that help people to live longer and healthier lives without the need to resort to acute services.”

There has not been much recognition of the need for the changes made to public health budgets, but of all the measures raised in the debate, those changes have some of the most exciting potential to tackle the challenges that we face.

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I have touched on health and wellbeing boards. The challenge around Newham GPs would be ideal for discussion at a health and wellbeing board, where all the key people are present. It is a big challenge, and one of the first questions I asked as a Health Minister is why we struggled so badly to get GPs in our most deprived areas. There are varying answers to that, but it is a problem across the country.

The health and wellbeing board is exactly the right forum for discussion because the right people are around the table. Tackling health inequality is now built into statute through the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which must be given due attention in all parts of the health service. The Darzi-led London Health Commission will be interesting. I spoke to Lord Darzi about it just before Christmas to improve my understanding of its objectives. As a Minister with responsibility for public health and as a London MP, I will be looking closely at the commission’s outcomes and I will be keen to work with people on that. It is a big opportunity.

To touch on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), the formula does not currently reflect non-resident population or the homeless, but that is something that the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation and NHS England continue to consider. I will ensure that I draw my hon. Friend’s concerns to their attention and that those are fed into the ongoing process of looking at formulas.

For the first time, the formulas for CCG patients and public health allocations take into account health inequalities, and they look at GP populations rather than census-based populations. The formulas are also designed to be more locally sensitive. As the hon. Member for Westminster North and I know particularly well, in a city such as London areas that appear to be quite affluent can contain pockets of tremendous deprivation. The new formula allows for that by enabling consideration of sub-areas and the real health inequalities that they suffer. I hope that hon. Members feel some reassurance about that. We keep the matter under close watch.

Several detailed concerns were raised by the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) about Lewisham, the south London reconfiguration, maternity services and accommodation. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) referred to clause 118. I will ensure that I draw his concerns to the attention of the Minister who is leading on that Bill. No doubt that point will be responded to when the Bill is brought before the House. The Court of Appeal overturned the decision to make service change in Lewisham, and we respect that. The Secretary of State has put that on the record.

Several points were raised about the north-west London reconfiguration. That was debated in this Chamber on 15 October, after which a letter was sent by the local NHS to the hon. Member for Westminster North. If other hon. Members have not seen that letter and would find it helpful to, I am happy to put it in the Library. I note the ongoing concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) about the reconfiguration, and I will relay to the Secretary of State the detailed points that he has made and his desire for a meeting.

Other hon. Members have made comments about the same reconfiguration. For all the criticism of the plans and the analysis, I note that the shadow Minister did not commit his party to changing any of the

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reconfigurations or to changing NHS funding levels. If I may say so, his speech was long on analysis and short on commitment.

I conclude by saying that the issues raised today are important to all of us as London MPs. There are some big long-term challenges and the Government are trying to respond to them in the best interests of all our constituents.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Before we commence the debate on Scotch whisky excise duty, I should say that we are expecting a vote—hence my glances at the Annunciator screen. Should that happen, I will call for the sitting to be suspended until the vote has taken place.

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Scotch Whisky Excise Duty

4 pm

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): I am grateful to you, Mrs Main. I am aware that we are to vote at 4 o’clock, so we will find ourselves in a short adjournment. As I speak, I am waiting for the vote to come. [Interruption.] There we go.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.9 pm

On resuming

Mr Donohoe: It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair this afternoon, Mrs Main. It is just a pity that you do not have a glass of whisky in your hand, with which, at this time of the year, we would share a toast. Water will have to do, I am afraid.

It is quite incredible that we should have to have this debate, particularly in this very important year for the Scots, who are voting on whether to remain in the United Kingdom or to have a separate Government in Scotland. I shall pose a question: can anybody tell me how much taxation there is on a bottle of whisky that costs about £12.70?

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): It is 80%.

Mr Donohoe: On a bottle of whisky that costs £12.70, more than £10 is tax, including VAT. That is the level of taxation placed on our best industry in Scotland.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Donohoe: I will take interventions towards the end of my speech, if I may. I will give everybody who has made a representation to me an opportunity to speak. I also have an eye for the chair of the all-party group on Scotch whisky and spirits.

As I said, this is the year of separation, so it is important to have this debate as we move towards the Budget on 19 March. I fully support the “UK okay” campaign. One of the areas of vulnerability is the current disproportionate tax on Scottish whisky compared with English beer or cider. Whisky is taxed at 48% more than the same amount of alcohol served as beer. That is the difference in terms of the taxation on whisky and spirits. The beer duty escalator was abolished last year, but the spirits escalator continues at 2% above inflation. That should be addressed and I will come to the reasons why.

Excise duty on Scottish whisky is now 44% higher than in 2008. The escalator in 2014 will mean an increase in duty of 4.8%, or, in terms that I understand, 38p per bottle. That is what the escalator will bring. As I said, taxation as it stands now is more than £10 a bottle. Scotch whisky exports are growing, but the home market remains important, and the UK is the third largest market for Scotch whisky by volume.

However, volumes in the UK have declined by some 12% in the UK since the escalator was introduced—as a result of it, I would argue, and I am sure some of my colleagues would, too. The UK tax on spirits, which of course includes Scotch whisky, is the fourth highest in

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Europe. When we compare that with Sweden, Finland and Ireland, which have particular reasons for having high taxation, we can see the unfairness of the tax for the spirits industry.

The Scotch Whisky Association, which helped the all-party group, has called on the Chancellor to freeze duty on Scotch whisky in the 2014 Budget and to scrap the escalator. It should be scrapped because UK consumption has declined since it was introduced, and we want to see the UK market expand. Ernst and Young research shows that scrapping the escalator in 2014 would boost the drinks industry contribution to public finance by some £230 million in 2014 alone.

Consumers should be treated fairly across the range of alcohol products, but Scotch whisky drinkers are being heavily penalised. The sales of Scotch whisky form a significant part of the pub trade. Scrapping the escalator would boost UK sales, and therefore UK jobs in the industry. The industry is good not only for Scotland, but for the whole of the United Kingdom, because it accounts for more than 25% of all UK food exports. That is a significant figure that should not and must not be lost on the Treasury. It is good to see the Minister in her position this afternoon.

In 2012, the industry generated £4.27 billion for the UK balance of trade and 35,000 jobs. I can see there are Members present from the remote areas of Scotland; the industry has been the main employer in many small towns and villages in their constituencies. It has always been a major contributor to the support of the infrastructure within such communities, and I do not think that that has been taken into account by the Government.

Some 10,000 of those jobs are directly within the industry. Most of them, if not all of them, are in areas of most need, and they have supported the towns and communities for many years. The jobs are in rural and urban areas, and the industry is the sole employer in some of the smaller areas in Scotland.

The Scotch Whisky Association has called on the Chancellor to freeze duty on Scotch whisky in 2014—I am sure the Minister has seen that request—and also to scrap the escalator. The Chancellor took the decision last year on the basis that he would cancel the escalator for beer and cider, but not for spirits. I think that that is unfair and it does not really stack up when one considers that the reasoning was to safeguard the jobs in the pub industry. In fact, 40% of the pub industry is down to the sale of spirits, so the matter of unfairness between the pint and the wee dram needs to be looked at.

Taking action on Scotch whisky would show that the Government support that major industry both at home and abroad—that they support the jobs it creates and do not disproportionately penalise Scotland’s national drink.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an excellent point about the benefits of the Scotch whisky industry to the Treasury and to Scotland in terms of jobs. Does he recognise the broader benefits that accrue from jobs in transportation and shipping? South of the border, in my region in the north-east, jobs are derived from transporting Scotch whisky to Teesport and there are jobs in shipping as the product is exported all over the world.

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Mr Donohoe: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that important point. The issue affects not only Scotland; it equally affects his English constituency.

Ian Paisley: I am not the representative of Irish whiskey, but I do have the Bushmills distillery in my constituency. It employs 102 people, but it also supports a vital tourist industry; there are more than 140,000 visitors each year to the distillery. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the tax impacts on jobs not only in Scotland, but in my part of the United Kingdom? Indeed, 90% of what is manufactured in my constituency’s distillery is exported globally, but if the Government continue with the escalator, we are going to have high taxation on products that are exported. That is a bad signal to send to an industry.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. Please make interventions brief. There are a lot of Members in this room. If everyone has interventions of that length, Mr Donohoe will run out of time.

Mr Donohoe: I am grateful, Mrs Main. I hope that Members will note what you have said. What the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) said is important. He is from another part of the United Kingdom and correcting this wrong tax at the Budget is as important to him and his constituents.

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mr Donohoe: I give way to my hon. Friend, who is the treasurer of the all-party group.

Gemma Doyle: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He will be aware that the whisky industry is very important for jobs in West Dunbartonshire, too. Does he share my concern that the concessions previously given to beer and cider are mainly based on the fact that those industries ran a good campaign? I would not take that away from them, but we need a more coherent look at excise duty across alcohol products.

Mr Donohoe: Again, I am grateful for that intervention. I am sure that we have learned a lesson in that respect and that we will make damn sure that our campaign this time is as good as, if not better than, the beer campaign.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and also for what he said earlier about the importance of the whisky industry for jobs in remote communities, such as the Isle of Jura and other places in my constituency. It is very unfair that whisky is taxed far more highly than beers and wines. We must be about the only country in the world that taxes our own product more highly than imported products such as wines.

Mr Donohoe: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; he makes a really good point. It is really ridiculous that people can go into a supermarket in Spain, Italy, Germany or France and buy a bottle of whisky far more cheaply than people in this country can.

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Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab) rose—

Mr Donohoe: I give way to my hon. Friend, who is the chairman of the all-party group.

Jim Sheridan: I want to take my hon. Friend back to the important issue of jobs. One of the significant factors of the Scotch whisky industry is that the jobs that it creates are excellent, well-paid, quality jobs. It is possible to tell that by the turnover of staff, which is very low.

Mr Donohoe: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the point he makes, and it is clear that the issue of jobs is part of the equation.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): One of the crucial points that the hon. Gentleman highlighted about the export industry is that the way we treat our own whisky at home sends a signal to foreign importing markets. It is important to send the right signal to those markets, so the Treasury needs to consider the impact that the issue has on the importing countries.

Mr Donohoe: That is a very important point. If we go to the European Commission and argue with it, there is that divide between the north and south of Europe; until a few years ago, the Commissioner was very pro-wine and anti-spirits. It is an indicator of the seriousness of the situation that we are discriminated against—the Commission throws at us the level of taxation in our own country. That is an element that must be addressed by the Chancellor at the Budget.

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): The Government are arguing that the duty on whisky has gone up by 37% compared with a rise of 42% on beer. The trouble with that argument, of course, is that, because the Government have eliminated the beer escalator, that division will be eliminated very quickly. The point that we have to maintain in export terms is that this is a home-based industry. If something is good enough for beer, it is good enough for whisky; the escalator should go and we should ensure that our most successful industry is supported competitively at home and abroad.

Mr Donohoe: I could not agree more with the right hon. Gentleman.

I have taken all the interventions that I will take. I will finish by putting four questions to the Minister. First, can the Treasury explain why it was that, when it stopped the escalator on beer last year to save struggling pubs, it failed to look at the situation as far as spirits and wines were concerned? As I said, they account for some 40% of the sales in those very pubs and the rest of the hospitality sector. Given that the Chancellor wanted to help that sector, it seems strange that the rise in duty on whisky was set against that.

Secondly, what assessment—if any—has the Treasury made of the impact on pubs of last year’s announcement on beer? I hope I can get a response to that question. Thirdly, can the Treasury provide reassurances to the Scotch whisky industry that the annual attack on Scotch whisky will come to an end in the Budget in 2014? Finally, does the Treasury acknowledge that the home

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market for Scotch whisky, which remains the industry’s third largest market, is diminishing due to excessive tax rises each year?

Sales of Scotch whisky in the UK have dropped by 12% since the duty escalator came into being. Is it possible to hear today what is likely to be in the mind of the Chancellor? I am sure that the Minister is aware that we, as an all-party group, have made a representation to him for a meeting. I hope that what she says today will include an agreement to that meeting.

4.24 pm

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Nicky Morgan): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) on securing this debate and I note the wide interest in it, as shown by the number of Members here in Westminster Hall.

In the time available to me, I will be hard pressed to answer all the questions, however nicely Members indicate to me from a sedentary position that they would like to intervene. However, I shall do my best and if I do not address all the points that have been made today, I will write to the hon. Gentleman to do so, and he can perhaps share that information with other members of the all-party group and others who are interested.

I start by highlighting the Government’s continued commitment to the Scotch whisky industry. First, Scotch whisky is a protected spirit drink, which helps to maintain its high reputation both at home and abroad. Secondly, and related to that, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will shortly be launching its spirit drinks verification scheme. Within the first two years of that scheme, every single business involved in the production of Scotch whisky will be verified to ensure that they are creating a genuine product. This will help to protect the industry’s deservedly high reputation. In fact, the Scotch Whisky Association has praised HMRC’s commitment to deliver a scheme that fits its needs.

Thirdly, I am proud to report that Scotch whisky of course featured as one of the first products in the food and drink element of the GREAT campaign. This helps to give Scotch whisky high visibility internationally in key export markets, the importance of which we have already heard about. The Scotch whisky industry is to be congratulated on its export success. The Scotch Whisky Association reports that the value of exports increased by 11% to almost £2 billion in the first six months of 2013. That is something that I think everybody in Westminster Hall today will support. I think that people will agree that those measures leave no doubt about the Government’s commitment to the Scotch whisky industry, and I want that message to be heard and understood by Members from all parts of the House.

I turn now to duty, because that is the issue that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members, in their interventions, focused on.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The Minister may or may not be aware that I have the onerous responsibility and the pleasure of representing the heartland area of single malt production, with more than half of all Scotland’s distilleries based in Speyside. I just wanted to

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ask her about a basic democratic point. We have heard interventions from Labour Members, the Liberal Democrats and now from the Scottish National party, and Members from those parties make up 58 of the 59 MPs from Scotland who are at Westminster, with all of us saying that we want tax fairness and duty fairness. Is the Minister prepared to confirm that the Government will actually listen to the views of the overwhelming majority of democratically elected representatives in Westminster Hall today and deliver on tax fairness, or not?

Nicky Morgan: I hope that the message is going out that this Minister is always willing to listen and that she is willing to engage. I am also very willing to have the meeting that was suggested by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire. However, I would be a foolish new Minister if I were to commit to announcing Budget moves now. Nevertheless, I shall certainly listen; I have listened; and I shall continue to listen to the debate that we are having and to the wider representations that have been made to me. I thank the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) for his intervention. As he said, he has a very onerous task in representing his constituency; I am sure that his constituency Fridays are filled with much fun and spirits.

I return to the duty escalator, including that on Scotch whisky. I am aware of the industry’s views on the pre-announced alcohol duty rises for 2014. It may be helpful if I explain the background to these increases before addressing the specific issues that were raised by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire. Of course, the previous Government were responsible for introducing the spirits duty escalator and are therefore responsible for this year’s increase in spirit duty. The inflation plus 2% rises were first announced at Budget 2008 and they were extended for a further two years, until 2014-15, at the March 2010 Budget. These rises were for all alcohol duties and, as I say, were legislated for by the previous Government.

This Government made changes to beer duty at Budget 2013 to support pubs, which, as we all know from our constituencies, play an important role in local communities. The hon. Gentleman asked about the impact of last year’s Budget on pubs and I shall address that issue in a moment. However, he also talked about 68% of the alcohol that is sold in pubs being beer, so the changes to beer duty were, overall, a measure to help pubs. I can also tell him that although spirits and wine account for 41% of sales by value in the off-licence trade, they account for only 23% of sales in pubs by alcohol volume.

Mr Donohoe: I do not know where the Minister got that last figure from. I ran licensed premises, and although it is perhaps different down here in the south-east, I can tell her that in Scotland whisky accounts for at least 40% of sales in the pub, and in the pub that I ran the figure was 60%. [Laughter.]

Nicky Morgan: The hon. Gentleman’s pub sounds as though it was a very interesting place, and I am very happy to listen to representations on the figures.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the impact of Budget 2013 on pubs. The British Beer and Pub Association survey showed that, following a reduction in beer duty,

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76% of the pubs would increase investment and 61% would employ more staff. That is why this reduction was targeted particularly at pubs. That is not to say that I have not listened to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments.

Given the Government’s commitment to ensuring sustainable public finances, it was not possible to end the escalator on all alcoholic products, so they made a targeted reduction in beer duty. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government had failed to consider other alcohol duties. I was not in the Treasury at that point, but I do not think that that was so. However, the decision to reduce the duty on beer was taken in 2013.

I have heard the views of hon. Members and I assure them that I will consider these as part of the Budget process.

Graeme Morrice: I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) on securing this debate. The Minister may not be aware that there is a considerable number of whisky producers in my constituency, including the North British Distillery in West Calder, Glenmorangie and Glen Turner in Livingston, and Ian MacLeod Distillers in Broxburn. This last wrote to me recently to express concern about the fact that, in the past five years, while we have seen a 44% increase in taxation on whisky, there has been a 12% reduction in UK sales.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. Interventions must be brief.

Graeme Morrice: Given the current 80% taxation on whisky, will the Minister seriously consider approaching the Chancellor before the March Budget—

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. The Minister.

Graeme Morrice: To look at freezing alcohol duty and at the abolition of the duty escalator?

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. Minister.

Nicky Morgan: Mrs Main, I take the hint that you want me back on my feet and moving towards the conclusion of my speech.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will give this matter serious consideration in the run-up to the Budget. I shall certainly discuss it with my colleagues in the Treasury, including my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Jim Sheridan: Will the Minister give way?

Nicky Morgan: I want to make progress and I am keen to get some further points in before the end of the debate, but I will try to take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention if I can.

The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire mentioned that spirit duty had risen by 44% between 2003 and 2013. I should point out that beer duty in that period rose by 56%, while still wine duty rose by 68%. We can trade as many numbers as we want, but I take the overall thrust of the arguments made today.

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) asked about the spirits duty rate having risen by 37%. Duty on Scotch whisky has risen at a slower rate than beer duty

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over the medium term. The spirits duty rate was frozen between 1998 and 2008, and during that time duty rates on other alcoholic beverages increased. However, between the introduction of the escalator and 2013, the spirits duty rate rose by 37%, while other alcohol duty rates rose by 42%. I just wanted to put that on the record for the benefit of the House.

Mr Reid: I want to put it on the record that Islay, not Moray, is the heartland of the Scotch whisky industry.

We can all trade figures, but the point is that under the current duty escalator policy, the duty on spirits will rise in the next few years at a much greater rate than that on beers and will make the already unfair situation even more unfair.

Nicky Morgan: I understand that point.

Jim Sheridan: One of the best adverts for Scotch whisky was the long tradition whereby the Chancellor used to take a glass of whisky on Budget day. Is there any reason why that no longer happens?

Nicky Morgan: The hon. Gentleman is tempting me down the path of speculating on the Chancellor’s alcohol intake, which I really do not want to go down. Of course, I notice that my glass is not in front of me this afternoon.

I thank hon. Members for this debate and thank the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire for securing it. I will be happy to study the written report of it. I hope that this debate shows the Government’s continuing commitment to the Scotch whisky industry and that we will help it where we can.

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Rural Broadband (North Yorkshire)

4.35 pm

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): I am informed by the Clerk that because the last debate ended early, an extra nine minutes of this sitting is allowed, should people wish to have it.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): It is a proud pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Main. I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to debate rural broadband in north Yorkshire.

Before speaking specifically about York and north Yorkshire—the most beautiful area within God’s own county—may I touch briefly on the wider broadband roll-out? I am pleased that, as part of their long-term economic plan, the Government have recognised that the future of our economy rests on the ability of our infrastructure not only to cope with the demands placed on it, but to exceed those demands and facilitate new opportunities for growth. This is no less true of superfast broadband than it is of our rail, road and air infrastructure.

The Government’s investment in superfast broadband is, to my mind, one of their greatest and most important achievements in this Parliament, yet sometimes it does not get the plaudits that it deserves. It has by no means been an easy task. It has required huge investment from the Government, totalling roughly £1.6 billion, and some hard work from all those involved in organising the roll-out, including the people physically on the ground, upgrading the telephone cabinets with the fibre.

However, all the hard work and commitment has been worth it. The recent findings from the UK broadband impact study reveal that for every £1 the Government invest in broadband, the UK economy will benefit by £20. That represents fantastic value for money in the short term. In the short term, the network construction will add around £1.5 billion to the economy, creating 11,000 jobs this year alone. In the longer term, it will increase annual gross value added by £6.3 billion. Its benefits will be spread across the country, with approximately 89% of that in areas outside London and the south-east, such as York and north Yorkshire. That vindicates the Government’s commitment to investing so much in this programme and shows that all the hard work that is being put in on a local level is delivering real results.

The roll-out has not been without its problems and it has faced some public criticism for the degree to which one company has achieved a monopoly over the roll-out contracts. There is also some concern about the apparent shortcomings in the contracts, with BT being obliged only to upgrade telephone cabinets with their fibre-to-the-cabinet approach. Some of my constituents have expressed concern that, because they receive their telephone lines from an upgraded cabinet, they are being counted by BT as though they were part of the 90%, despite being too far away from the cabinet to receive the upgraded superfast internet speeds.

However, I have received assurances from the chief executive of BT Openreach that that is not the case, and that only those who receive superfast speeds are counted. Superfast North Yorkshire has subsequently clarified that, although there may be issues about how coverage is measured in other parts of the country, the north Yorkshire contract only counts those who are capable of receiving superfast speeds.

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Locally, the roll-out so far has been a roaring success. The project, which has been overseen by Superfast North Yorkshire, has been run well. When it first set out on its mission, it had a total of 670 cabinets to be upgraded—I think the technical term is “deployed”—but, to date, 350 cabinets have been upgraded, which marks 52% of the total. However, it is expected that this figure will rise to 370 next week, ensuring that the project is well over halfway to completion.

In north Yorkshire, roughly one cabinet is updated per working day. As a result, phase 1 of the roll-out is expected to be completed by October 2014, well ahead of the national target, which originally intended to provide only 90% of all households with speeds of up to 25 megabits per second by the end of 2015. That target now appears to have been pushed back, and phase 1 might not be achieved nationally until the end of 2016. Will the Minister clarify that? What might that do to the expected release of phase 2 funding?

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. He paints a positive picture, with which I agree, of how north Yorkshire is delivering superfast broadband because of the Conservative-led Government’s money. Does he agree that the National Audit Office report, which was very critical of the Government and BT, surprisingly did not even consult on the north Yorkshire example and that in future the NAO should look more closely at what we are doing in north Yorkshire?

Julian Sturdy: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. North Yorkshire’s achievements are a glowing example of what can be done at local level. I am surprised that north Yorkshire was not part of the investigation.

Take-up of superfast broadband in north Yorkshire is outpacing the national average by a considerable margin. After 12 months, take-up in the north Yorkshire intervention area is 13.4%, which proves that Superfast North Yorkshire’s demand-stimulation activity is working extremely well. It also demonstrates that there is latent demand for superfast broadband in the rural areas around north Yorkshire and York. I am sure that north Yorkshire colleagues here today can testify to that and have many examples from their constituencies.

The achievements of Superfast North Yorkshire are remarkable given that it is dealing with one of the country’s most rural counties. The county’s rurality, however, also has its drawbacks. Although I have no doubt that Superfast North Yorkshire will meet its 90% coverage target well before the rest of the country, I remain concerned that there is a deepening digital divide between the 90% and the 10%, who appear to be being left behind by phase 1 of the roll-out.

I see the divide first hand in my constituency. Communities such as Haxby, Wigginton, Dunnington and Elvington are already enjoying the benefits of superfast speeds, which are coming soon to areas such as Wheldrake. Even small, quiet villages in my constituency, such as Rufforth and Stockton-on-the-Forest, have recently had their cabinets upgraded, yet there remain a number of small communities in my constituency that are sadly too far from the local cabinet to benefit. Those communities include Askham Bryan, Askham Richard, Hessay, Acaster Malbis, parts of Naburn and Holtby to name a few.

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A constituent of mine from Askham Bryan informs me that the maximum download speed he can obtain is 1.2 megabits per second, which is typical of the rest of the village. He says:

“1.2 mbps permits basic web usage such as email and relatively slow browsing. However, any attempt to stream data-hungry applications such as live TV are not possible. Multiple users online at the same time in the same household also seriously compromises the performance of even basic applications.”

My constituent relocated to Askham Bryan from London without moving jobs, under the presumption that the investment in broadband in the region would enable him to access facilities such as web-based video conferencing, which have become the norm for many and would suit the flexible working arrangements that he has put in place for himself.

True to form, Superfast North Yorkshire has been excellent at engaging with our local rural communities, and the chief executive officer has met Askham Bryan parish council to discuss the problems it faces and the potential solutions. In the specific case of Askham Bryan, it is increasingly likely that other technologies, such as fixed wireless, 4G or satellite broadband, will need to be deployed to provide the village with the speeds it needs and deserves. The parish council has contacted independent wireless broadband providers, which have explained that the technology is available to the village and is relatively simple to implement. The lack of certainty on the future direction of the roll-out, however, has prevented the parish council from going any further.

That point is important because the wireless broadband providers appear to be willing to invest their time and money if there is a chance that BT will subsequently upgrade the village’s cabinet. As such, much greater clarity is needed on the future of the roll-out, so that communities on the wrong side of the digital divide are able to plan their next steps based on certainties rather than possibilities.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I strongly support his argument on the success of the roll-out of superfast broadband across our county. He makes a powerful point on extending the roll-out beyond the 90% target. Does he agree that we now face the question of how we achieve that next stage? Superfast broadband makes an enormous difference, and he has articulated the challenges that face the broadband have-nots, including some of the villages in his constituency. The same applies to villages such as Lower Dunsforth and others in my Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency, and it is important that such communities are able to access broadband as quickly as possible.

Julian Sturdy: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. All Members representing north Yorkshire and York will have examples in their constituency of communities that are suffering from the digital divide and that are among the 10% rather than the 90%. It is important that we have clarity on where we are going, and I am sure the Minister will set that out, as he has in the past. We need that clarity for the future so that we may build on the success of what has already been achieved in north Yorkshire.

We must not forget the role of local authorities. In my constituency, I have been encouraged by the levels of communication between Superfast North Yorkshire

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and City of York council. Superfast North Yorkshire is encouraging the council to contribute to an intermediary project that will enable Superfast North Yorkshire to continue extending coverage to some of the most rural areas.

Superfast North Yorkshire has successfully pulled together a further £8 million for the project to extend phase 1 of the roll-out, which will potentially increase coverage to between 92% and 93% of the county. That sum is made up of £3 million contributed by North Yorkshire county council, £3 million from the European regional development fund and £2 million from Broadband Delivery UK’s contingency fund, for which my north Yorkshire colleagues and I, ably led by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), assisted in lobbying.

Given the pace of the roll-out in north Yorkshire and the European regulations that are in place, the additional pot of money will not get Superfast North Yorkshire past the summer of 2015 before its hugely successful programme comes to a grinding halt. All that will be left is a wait for the next tranche of Government funding for phase 2. Given the complexities of procurement, planning and the roll-out, it would be a tremendous shame for Superfast North Yorkshire to have to kick-start the roll-out again in 2016. During a 12-month shutdown Superfast North Yorkshire would, due to its own success, lose many of the skills it has built up.

Whether City of York council’s executive chooses to contribute to the £8 million project is entirely at its own discretion. I am led to believe, however, that of the £530 million granted to local authorities from central Government, City of York council was allocated some £1.4 million. I therefore call on the council’s executive to honour its responsibility to the communities in my constituency that I have mentioned and to ensure that that important Government funding is well spent.

I finally come to the central purpose of the debate. From the Minister’s recent response to my question, I am aware that the finer details of the phase 2 roll-out are still being worked out. Given the fantastic work of Superfast North Yorkshire and its partners, however, I ask the Government to look seriously at granting the region an early release of the next phase of funding.

I have already touched on the several strong reasons for doing so. Take-up in north Yorkshire is well ahead of the national average, which proves that there is latent demand for rural broadband in the region. Superfast North Yorkshire has achieved great things across the region and the hard work that has been put in deserves to be rewarded. It has not let the absence of further funding hold it back, but even after taking the initiative and securing extra money for the interim period, it is unlikely to get beyond the summer of 2015. Finally, considering the fantastic pace that the roll-out has gathered in north Yorkshire, it would be an awful shame for those who have worked so hard to have to kick-start the roll-out again in 2016 after an indefinite pause.

To those points, I would like to add a further call on the Government to provide greater clarity over the future of the roll-out—I hope the Minister can do that in his remarks—so that those communities left behind by the digital divide can plan ahead for how they will try to bridge it. While I welcome the additional £10 million for broadband as part of the national infrastructure plan announced in the recent autumn statement, I appeal to the Government to continue to support that hugely

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important programme with the necessary resources and to ensure that we make the most of the new technologies available to us.

I am again thankful for the opportunity to speak. The Government pride themselves on rewarding those who work hard and want to get on. Superfast North Yorkshire has worked tremendously hard, and I hope that the Government will give it what it needs to finish the job.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con) rose—

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. The debate will finish at 5.9 pm. Does the hon. Gentleman have the permission of the Minister and of the Member who secured the debate to make a brief speech?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey) indicated assent.

Julian Sturdy indicated assent.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): I call Nigel Adams.

4.52 pm

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): Thank you, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy)—my constituency neighbour —on securing the debate. I also refer the Chair and hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I start by congratulating Superfast North Yorkshire, BT and the Government—for the cash—as we have made good progress in a relatively short space of time. With the project now halfway through and the target of 90% of homes having access to superfast broadband well down the track, the problem is that some villages will achieve only 2 megabits. They can see that that is the case and feel that they are being left in the slow lane. A constituency such as Selby and Ainsty faces real challenges. There are well over 100 villages. Many of them are on the border with other local authorities, where the exchange is across that border. Residents in villages such as Ryther, which currently has a 365 kilobit download speed, Newton Kyme, Catterton, Bickerton, Kirkby Overblow, Ulleskelf, Fairburn and many more have all expressed frustration at the pace of roll-out.

The problem appears to be the lack of a transparent plan to deliver the committed 2 megabits to the remaining 10%. The fact that the people who currently get the worst speeds have no visibility on when or whether they will be upgraded gives rise to considerable concern. I understand that Superfast North Yorkshire is about to leaflet every home in north Yorkshire to ensure that people are aware of the need to order the upgrade, because if they do not order it, they will not get it. Doing so might make the last 5% highly visible. It is now clear which areas are at risk of not being upgraded. They are the areas with the strongest support for the roll-out programme, because speeds are currently the lowest. They are also the areas that would have been the most supportive of the spending of the additional funds to upgrade the service. They might now be realising that they could see no improvement from that investment.

Julian Smith: Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to clarity on the 2 megabit issue that he so eloquently articulates, BT’s feet must be held to the fire

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with regard to the cabinets across north Yorkshire that it originally said were commercially viable? It now says that they are not, leaving communities such as Cononley in my constituency stuck between what they thought was going to be commercially viable and being outside the intervention area.

Nigel Adams: As usual, my hon. Friend is spot on. His remark leads quite nicely on to my next point. One of the features of the contract is that if take-up is high, money can be clawed back and then used to extend the project to further cabinets. For that reason, encouraging people to sign up for faster speeds is extremely important.

I take issue with something that my hon. Friend mentioned. Take-up has actually been relatively modest. Good areas typically have 25% to 30%. I am quite happy to be put right on that, but I am sure that take-up has been significantly less in other areas. That may be partly due to the lack of clarity about needing to place an order, which will hopefully be put right, or it might be that people who already have 10 megabits or more simply think that there is no need to upgrade to get 40 megabits.

Finally, the vision for this excellent project was to provide superfast broadband for 90% and at least 2 megabits to 10% and to revitalise rural economies. That vision generated support and enthusiasm for the project. Just because it is hard does not mean that we should be walking away from delivering something that was initially so enthusiastically received. In the next of my regular communications with Superfast North Yorkshire and BT, I hope to be given some comfort as to how the remaining 10% will be addressed.

4.56 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) on securing the debate, and I am pleased to see him joined by my hon. Friends the Members for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) and for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams). As one can see as the camera pans around, God’s own county is represented by four of the finest elected representatives to be found in any legislature in the world. It is a testament to their power and influence that not a single member of the Opposition has dared to turn up to challenge anything that my hon. Friends have to say.

Now that I have taken my tongue out of my cheek, I must say in all seriousness, for the edification of their constituents and any local journalists watching the debate, that my hon. Friends have been assiduous in lobbying for their constituencies and to secure the best settlement to deliver the best broadband deal for their constituents, because they understand its importance. They have been aided and abetted by John Moore, the chief executive of NYnet, which is the company set up to deliver broadband to North Yorkshire, as well as the excellently led, Conservative North Yorkshire council. It is important to explain to those who might be new to the broadband debate that North Yorkshire was one of the first councils to participate in the Government’s rural broadband

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programme, because it was oven-ready, as it were, when the programme was announced. That is why, while I will go on to talk about the general success of the rural broadband programme, North Yorkshire stands out as one of the most successful areas.

Julian Smith: Just to extend the mutual congratulations slightly, I want to put on the record our thanks to the Minister for being so responsive over the past few years to relentless e-mails and letters from all of us. His responsiveness has made a massive difference.

Mr Vaizey: I am grateful, but perhaps we had better stop there, Mrs Main, and get to the substance of the debate, or people will start to turn against us.

North Yorkshire is one of the largest rural broadband projects in the country. It was the first to get under way under our rural broadband programme. We have put almost £18 million into the project, together with more than £8 million of European funding—if I am allowed to say that in public—and £9 million from BT, making a total investment of more than £35 million. The project is now on track to be completed by October this year, which is ahead of schedule. We also recognise the need to do more, and partly in response to the relentless e-mails, letters and conversations, we allocated a further £3 million to North Yorkshire, because that leveraged an additional £5 million of funding from the local council and in European money, allowing coverage to be extended further.

As for what we have achieved so far, the current contract will get 670 cabinets enabled for superfast broadband, which will deliver 168,000 premises as passed. Mindful of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer about distinguishing between access to fibre and getting superfast speeds, I can say that that means 150,000 premises achieving speeds greater than 25 megabits. It is important to stress that we distinguish between those who have access to cabinets that have been enabled for superfast broadband and those who actually receive the speeds, because we recognise that some premises are too far from the cabinets to get the designated speeds.

More than half the cabinets have been deployed so far, which is 350, or 52% of the total; 95,000 premises have been passed, or 57% of the total; and 86,000 of those premises receive speeds of 25 megabits or more. By the end of next week, we expect 370 cabinets to have been enabled, so the project is going well. It is important to stress that this has been helped not only by the assiduous nature of the MPs’ holding the Government to account, but by NYnet on the ground and a proactive council, which have been vital. Some people have criticised the way in which we have gone about working with local councils, rather than having a national tender, for example, but having councils that are partners with BT has made a huge difference, because it joins up with things such as planning to ensure that broadband is rolled out all the more speedily.

Despite criticism of the programme, the results are now beginning to speak for themselves. For example, in Rutland more than 9,000 premises have been passed, and we expect that project to conclude by the summer; 95 more communities in Norfolk are now accessing fibre broadband, thanks to the programme; and in Suffolk, 90 miles of fibre cable have been laid, and

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10,000 homes and businesses are getting broadband three months ahead of schedule, with a further 2,500 premises in 16 communities getting it in the autumn.

Many authorities are going further than our original target of 90%: Cambridgeshire is going for 98%; Lancashire 97%; Rutland 94%; and Wales, which has passed 100,000 premises and is now six months ahead of schedule, 96%. By the end of 2013, with 43 out of 44 projects signed, half of them already had live coverage. Superfast Cornwall has seen more than 194,000 premises passed by fibre and is aiming for 95% of fibre coverage. Northern Ireland has more than 90% of fibre coverage.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to BT and its engineers. Over the Christmas period, all of us have seen, or experienced, the horrendous weather that led to trouble with power lines and so on. The flooding still afflicts a great many areas of the country. Throughout that entire period, however, BT engineers were working to meet their milestones. I have been told stories of engineers working with water up to their shoulders as they were preparing to lay fibre, or working in holes where the pumps had to be kept on permanently to keep the water from flooding them, so that the milestones could be met. BT gets a lot of criticism for the programme, but most of it is unwarranted. It is worth our pausing to pay tribute to the work of the BT engineers, in particular over this Christmas period.

On the core points made by my hon. Friends, I would characterise the tone of their remarks as, “It’s going well, but could do better.” We could do better in two or three areas, the first of which might be the allocation of the next £250 million. It is worth making the point that, having allocated a little more than £500 million to reach 90% superfast broadband, the Chancellor has allocated a further £250 million to reach 95%. We want to get that money allocated as soon as possible.

I was not in a hole up to my shoulders in water, but I can assure my hon. Friends that my officials and I and BT were all looking at the issue over the Christmas and new year period. We hope to make an announcement shortly, but I know that they appreciate that we have to get it right and ensure that the money is allocated properly and fairly. I can be certain, however, that good partners like North Yorkshire will, I hope, receive appropriate funding to carry on their good work.

Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge, as I have already done, that there is a difference between a fibre-enabled cabinet and people getting superfast access. I reassure my hon. Friends that we make the distinction. They also mentioned the concern about BT first saying that a cabinet is commercially viable, but then saying that it is not and that it should be part of the rural roll-out. Detailed planning is undertaken, but circumstances

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on the ground can change, so there needs to be a degree of flexibility and give and take. I can, however, again assure my hon. Friends that when BT finds that a cabinet is not commercially viable and seeks to put it into the rural programme, we do have detailed discussions. Likewise, sometimes there are parts of the rural programme that become commercially viable.

As for clawing money back from BT when take-up is higher, I assure my hon. Friends that where the take-up of broadband exceeds the target set under the contract, we do claw money back. That money is put back into the programme to extend coverage further.

Finally, I assure my hon. Friends that we are also looking at the £10 million that the Chancellor has allocated to us to take superfast broadband from 95% to 100%. That is money for test-bed experiments. It is important to stress that, in particular in rural areas, prices rise exponentially for that very last 5%.

Nigel Adams rose

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): I call Julian Sturdy. I am sorry, I mean Nigel Adams.

Nigel Adams: I aspire to be like my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy).

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): I am sorry; I was not wearing my glasses.

Nigel Adams: Does the Minister have any experience of hard-to-reach areas in other parts of the country implementing wi-fi solutions? Does he have any knowledge of the take-up, or experience of how well such solutions work? In one of my villages, Ulleskelf, I helped to launch a wi-fi service more than a year ago. My understanding is that the take-up has been low—

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. The Minister needs the remaining 40 seconds to respond.

Mr Vaizey: There are individual solutions and it is important that we remain open to them. I receive e-mails from individual providers which claim that they can provide commercial solutions for the last 5%. It is important that we hear from all potential providers, which is why we have set aside that money to stress-test solutions before making that final allocation to get us to 100% superfast broadband.

Question put and agreed to.

5.8 pm

Sitting adjourned.