I can go further and confirm that that is part of a major piece of work that I am leading on how we can and should reissue and revise our guidance to NICE

7 Nov 2014 : Column 1119

and the MHRA—and review our ambitions as a country in this 21st-century landscape—to make Britain genuinely the best model of patient-centred research. Through the NIHR and our NHS infrastructure, we want to be the best place in the world for people to come to and develop new medicines, or indeed new uses for existing medicines. We want specialist tertiary research hospitals with cohorts of data, to develop new models of commissioning through evaluation, and evaluation through commissioning—two sides of the same coin—so that we can get drugs to patients far quicker than under the traditional model of 10 to 15 years and the £1 billion drug development.

There are undoubted benefits to the use of off-label drugs where there is evidence about their safety, efficacy and side effects. Guidance from the MHRA and the GMC is clear that there is a hierarchy in the use of medicines. In treating patients, clinicians must first consider using a licensed medicine within its licensed indication. If that will not meet the patient’s needs, clinicians can consider a licensed medicine outside its licensed indication. Only if that is not suitable should they consider a medicine that is not licensed at all. A great many medicines can offer benefits to patients when prescribed outside their licensed indications—my hon. Friend has already mentioned tamoxifen and raloxifene for the prevention of familial breast cancer.

My hon. Friend also rightly identified that there can be delays and barriers to using off-patent drugs for new indications. The reasons for that are complex—if only they were so simple that we could solve them with one private Member’s Bill—and in part relate to reluctance by some clinicians to prescribe drugs for conditions for which they are not licensed. There are also issues about the system’s ability to pick up emerging evidence and translate it into new guidance and clinical practice, and about how hospital specialists and GPs can work together to achieve that, by adapting pathways where needed.

What the Bill seeks is already allowed. That is the key reason why, despite agreeing with the Bill’s aim that patients should have access to appropriate drugs, the Government are unable to support it. Medicines are already prescribed legally, safely and appropriately outside their licence indications to large numbers of NHS patients, both in hospitals and in general practice. No funding, legal or regulatory barriers in the system prevent patients from being prescribed a clinically necessary medicine that is not licensed for the treatment indicated. Indeed, doctors regularly prescribe drugs outside their licensed indications. For example, many medicines prescribed to children are unlicensed for paediatric use because historically they have not been formally trialled in children. Two key conditions must be met in such prescribing. First, the clinician must be satisfied that the unlicensed indication meets the clinical needs of the patient and that no suitable licensed alternative is available. Secondly, he or she must explain to the patient that the drug is not licensed, so that they are clear about that.

Evidence suggests that patients trust their clinicians, and that those who are suffering actively embrace research medicine and are keen to be made aware of available drugs that may be not have been originally licensed for that purpose, as long as there is good evidence for it and the clinician supports its use. That position is well established and supported explicitly in guidance to prescribers by the General Medical Council and the

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Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. Therefore, if a doctor chooses not to prescribe a medicine off label where one is indicated for the patient, that is unlikely to be simply because of the medicine’s licensing status. If a clinician believes that the lack of a licence prevents them from prescribing a drug, that is a different issue to which I will return in a moment.

Under the law regulating medicines, anyone can apply for a licence for a new use for an existing out-of-patent medicine. The Bill seeks to place that responsibility on the Health Secretary, so that he either takes steps to secure licences for off-patent drugs and new indications, or appoints a body to do so. In truth, licensing gets a medicine licensed, but it does not do what we want, which is get it into clinical practice. That requires clinicians to use and prescribe drugs, which is why we have NICE guidance.

The Department of Health holds a small number of licences for anthrax vaccine in the case of national emergency, but the Government rightly view that very much as an exception. Our concern is that if the Secretary of State were to become a routine applicant, or instructed someone else to do that on his or her behalf, they might be open to accusations of interfering in the market and a conflict of interest. There might even be a case for claiming a conflict of interest between the Secretary of State’s role as an applicant competing in the medicines market, and their statutory role as overseer of the system. Ultimately, we worry that that could compromise the Secretary of State’s responsibility for the UK medicines licensing system, were they to become a regular applicant. The idea of a body set up by the Secretary of State to apply for licences does not seem proportionate to the scale or nature of the challenge. If the issues under consideration will not be resolved simply by granting more licences—I do not think they will—there is no need for such new bureaucracy.

We believe that the provisions on NICE in the Bill are unnecessary. The fact that NICE has recommended the unlicensed use of tamoxifen and raloxifene in its clinical guidance should reassure hon. Members on that point, and I stress that we are actively discussing that matter with NICE and wish to promote it. I know my hon. Friend is concerned about the level of uptake of those drugs, despite NICE’s approval, and by focusing on the NICE appraisal process and guidance with an associated legal funding requirement, the Bill seeks to remove a perceived funding barrier to the implementation of off-label drugs that are proven to be clinically and economically effective. However, we believe that in practice it is unlikely that drug costs will be the key factor determining prescribing behaviour, when we are talking about generic drugs that in many cases will cost a few pence a day.

The framing of NICE’s clinical guidelines reflects the strength of the underpinning evidence. For example, where evidence strongly supports the use of intervention, NICE often states that that should be offered to patients. On the other hand, where the evidence of benefit is less strong, NICE typically states that intervention should merely be “considered”. It is entirely appropriate that the uptake of NICE’s recommendations reflects the strength of the evidence base. For the two drugs mentioned by my hon. Friend and me, NICE concluded that the evidence strongly supports their use for women at high risk of breast cancer, but was less strong for women at

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moderate risk. As such, its recommendations are worded differently, depending on a woman’s risk levels. Specifically, and importantly, NICE states that the drugs should be “offered” to women at high risk, and “considered” for women at moderate risk.

The Bill would require the Secretary of State to ask NICE to appraise certain new indications for off-patent drugs, whether licensed or unlicensed, rather than issue any form of guidance. Again, the Government believe that that is unnecessary, as there is currently no legislative barrier to Ministers asking NICE to appraise drugs outside their licensed indication. We tend to do so only exceptionally where there is clear evidence that that is the right course of action—an example would be drugs used to prevent transplant rejection in children. More frequently, NICE looks at the off-label use of drugs in the context of its clinical guidelines across the whole care pathway. Guidelines are generally considered a more appropriate vehicle for guidance on off-label indications, as they can set use more clearly in context. The question of mandated funding is unlikely to be critical if the drugs concerned are older or lower cost generics. NICE recognises the primacy of the medicines regulator in matters of safety and efficacy, and liaises with the MHRA in developing any clinical guidance recommendations relating to off-label use.

Let me explain why I am concerned that supporting the Bill could be counter-productive. That is not my hon. Friend’s purpose or intent, but it is a possible accidental side effect. The Government are concerned that the Bill could lead to clinicians and patients being concerned that something is not right about the use of a medicine outside its licensed indication, and that clinicians may be deterred from prescribing a drug, and patients from taking it. As I have explained, off-label prescribing is safe, legal, and when it is the right clinical choice for the patient, that is the right thing for the clinician caring for them to do. Given the large amount of such prescribing that goes on in the NHS every day, seeking to license every drug for every indication or each potential combination would be a gargantuan task. In many cases, the formal evidence base may not exist in a form that would support a licensing application.

Access to medicines that are important to patient care could be impeded because we worry that we would be seen to have set a new higher threshold for their use. That is precisely the opposite of what the Bill is seeking to achieve. We are, however, keen to take proportionate action to investigate whether non-legislative improvements can be made to support the use of appropriate medicines and benefit NHS patients. I was struck by the opinion and evidence that has been presented on access to medicines, such as the potential issues in transferring care from a specialist to a GP.

I might add that such issues are in no way unique to unlicensed medicines’ use. There are areas where there is far too much variation in the use of licensed NICE-appraised medicines. We are working hard with the NHS to address that, but there is no single magic bullet.

Mr Chope: I am listening intently to what the Minister is saying. Is he concerned that he has not persuaded a whole host of clinicians and medical charities of his case?

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George Freeman: I am not sure it is quite as simple as that. There is a significant and substantial ongoing series of discussions in the sector at the moment on issues such as the cancer drugs fund, specialist commissioning and whether we should be ring-fencing different medicines and therapeutic areas. The truth is, for reasons I described earlier, that the landscape is changing dramatically. I totally understand that charities that rightly support greater use of off-label medicines would like to think it is possible for us to legislate for these drugs to be put into use, but from the conversations I have had, it is apparent that clinical opinion is very varied. Nobody I have spoken to in the clinical profession wants the Government to go down the slippery road of starting to legislate for particular uses of particular drugs, which is effectively what this mechanism seeks to begin to do.

I commit today to working with NHS England, the MHRA, NICE and patient and professional groups to explore in depth the issues around the cultural challenges on unlicensed and off-label prescribing in general. We know that we need to look at the issue of clinical leadership. We need to take steps to improve how new evidence is translated into prescribing practice, and how hospitals and GPs work together and how that works within the care pathway. I am absolutely committed to doing what needs to be done and what can be done now within the existing system, and to looking at the evidence to ensure we adopt the approach most likely to succeed. Most trusts have robust governance arrangements set up to consider innovative treatments that clinicians may want to prescribe. A trust’s drug and therapeutics committee, or indeed the clinical ethics committee, provides an opportunity for doctors and pharmacists to explore the clinical and patient safety implications of doing so.

I am delighted to confirm that we have begun to work with NHS England and other stakeholders including NICE to get a handle on this and to accelerate the use of off-label drugs. I restate the invitation to interested Members to come and join the project. We are absolutely committed to looking at why there may be delays in translating new evidence and research into clinical practice, including why some clinicians are reluctant to prescribe drugs outside of their licensed indications when many others are not, and to consider what further arrangements might be put in place to assist in implementing new evidence into care pathways. This is a problem we face across the system, with variable uptake of NICE guidance. It is one of the central objectives of my new role in the Department of Health to drive consistency of uptake across the system.

I believe this offers the prospect of a more appropriate, sustainable and rapid approach to this problem that can apply to a range of different drugs and clinicians.

Mr Nuttall: The Minister has just used the word “rapid”. How quickly will these drugs become available?

George Freeman: I am not clear which particular drugs my hon. Friend is referring to, but let me answer in a generic way. I would like us to become a place where, instead of it taking 10 or 15 years and $1 billion to bring innovative drugs to market, we use the NIHR platform and our investment in genomics to become a country where for some cancers we could be getting drugs to the most needy patients through the early

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access to medicine scheme that I have been championing and that the Department launched earlier this year. Potentially, we could be getting drugs to patients five, six, seven or eight years earlier than would normally be the case through the traditional model of phase one, two, three, four.

Jonathan Evans: The drugs the Minister is talking about are new drugs. They are not a mechanism for using existing licensed drugs for which the patent has expired, which, under current circumstances, are not being prescribed to people who need them. That is what this debate is about.

George Freeman: I well understand that. The off-patent is a distraction; it is the question of off-label. The truth is that clinicians are free today to do it. My hon. Friend’s point about timing is very well made. I would merely say that at this stage, with the working party I am putting together and the strategy I would like us to launch—I would very much appreciate his input—I think we should be looking at setting some very clear goals and targets for speeding up that use. In particular, we should ensure that where there is evidence of an innovative and new use for an existing drug off label and there is good evidence to suggest it, we roll it out across the system. It is both the speed of first adoption and the speed of roll-out across the system.

This offers the prospect of a more appropriate and sustainable approach that can apply to a range of different drugs. We can use it to tackle this problem much more quickly and to get new drugs into use much more effectively. More specifically, we are looking to gather further evidence around potential barriers by focusing first on NICE’s updated guidelines on familial breast cancer, through the NICE associates network, and asking it further to promote its implementation. I will also ask NICE whether it would be prepared to use one of the patient decision aids it is piloting for further support.

To draw all the strands together and look at the issues at national level, we plan to arrange a national round table of the key stakeholders to be co-hosted by my Department with NHS England and NICE. We intend to use the initial meeting to identify what the various participant stakeholders might usefully do to help to address the cultural and clinical leadership issues and what other practical steps might help. The request I make to those who support the Bill is that we review the need for any further guidance or legislation in the light of that work when it has been completed. I am delighted to extend an invitation to my hon. Friend to be a part of that.

In conclusion, I very much appreciate the points that have been made today. I recognise the very real concerns that have led to the drafting of the Bill. I am absolutely committed to investigating and getting to the bottom of the reasons why new evidence is not being picked up and implemented consistently, as well as why some clinicians may be reluctant to prescribe in this way, and, crucially, the important role of NICE in supporting that with updated guidance. I am committed to doing so with the involvement of all interested parties.

The Government remain firmly of the view that improvement in this area can best be achieved through a combination of measures, and that resorting to legislation to demand regulatory measures is not a magic bullet. It

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will not solve the issues we believe are actually responsible for this problem, and it carries the risk of some serious and unintended consequences. It is for those reasons that the Government cannot support the Bill. However, I reiterate that we support the intention of promoting greater use of off-label medicines. We are committed to looking seriously at this and to launching a strategy and a work plan, with specific targets for increasing the rate of use of off-label medicines, with all the key agencies and to invite stakeholders in the sector, in particular medical research charities and the AMRC, to help us with that. New uses for existing drugs is something we actively support. The truth is that, as much as we would love to, we could not and should not go down the slippery road of starting to legislate for the use of medicines that should be, and are rightly, a matter for clinicians.

12.28 pm

Jonathan Evans: I thank all who have contributed to the debate, including the Minister. In fact, other than the Minister everybody has spoken in favour of the proposition contained in the Bill. I am especially grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), who has been involved from the inception in supporting the Bill. I am grateful for the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), who has been such a source of great support in this process, which, even after 22 years, is relatively new to me. He, of course, is something of a Friday expert. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) for his interventions and his clear articulation of support for the Bill. Let me also thank the shadow Minister and those on the Labour Benches who have made it clear to me and to the charities their complete support.

The problem is that the Government take one view on the Bill, whereas charities, clinicians and others are saying that the current situation is unacceptable. It is not good enough to argue against going down the road of legislation, given that we already have a legislative process for licensing. For instance, it is the law that if a drug has not had a licence, it cannot be effectively marketed in the UK. The reason GPs often do not routinely prescribe life-saving medicines is that the rules in essence make it illegal to market them in that way. It is not surprising, therefore, that GPs, given that legislative background and the litigious world of the medical and legal profession, decide to avoid something unless it is licensed. It is not as though the charities sector has not provided the Department with a welter of information on why GPs are not doing it. The lack of licensing is at the core of it.

As the Minister knows, I respect him and his background career, and we have had several conversations about the Bill, but the proposition that passing the Bill would damage the current situation is simply laughable. I do not know who wrote that line for the Minister, but that proposition needs to be re-examined. Nothing in my Bill would cause a GP to say, “Well, actually, I was going to prescribe something, but I’m not going to now.” With due respect to him, that was the weakest of his arguments.

We heard earlier from the Labour Benches that several colleagues have received representations on the Bill from a wide coalition of charities covering a range of medical conditions. Yesterday, I spoke to several of my

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colleagues on a day trip to a constituency in southern England, and everyone spoke of having 50 or 60 constituents urging them to support the Bill and of being pleased to have received a response saying that the Government were speaking to me as the Bill’s promoter. Many people interpreted that to mean that the Government would be broadly supportive of the Bill.

For that reason, I am deeply disappointed to hear now that the Government are opposed to the principle of the Bill. I do not need to rearticulate its provision—it is a very simple Bill—but it says that in the absence of somebody applying for a licence, the Secretary of State has the duty to make that application or to appoint another public body to do it. Thereafter, the Bill makes provision for the drafting of regulations that present widespread opportunities for the Minister to address his concerns.

George Freeman: To clarify, we agree with the objective of the Bill, which, as I understand it, is to get greater off-label use of medicines for new indications, but we disagree about the mechanism. The Bill is very clear on the mechanism: it is to pass legislation to require the MHRA to issue licences. We believe that this is the wrong solution, but we are in alignment on the problem that needs to be solved.

Jonathan Evans: That is very helpful. I have always understood that a Second Reading debate is on the principle of the Bill; we then deal with the detail in Committee, and then we proceed to Report. Ever since I was first elected 22 years ago, that is how I have understood it to work. If my hon. Friend is saying, “We are not against the principle, but against the mechanism”, that is a reason to support the Bill on Second Reading and then to debate in Committee how we adjust it to take into account his concerns.

George Freeman: I congratulate my hon. Friend on making an extremely eloquent argument, but I cannot let that go. The point is that the principle to which we object is the passing of legislation to require the MHRA to issue licences. That is more than a vague guiding philosophy; it is the mechanism suggested, and that is why we are opposed to it. I genuinely believe we will make more progress in the next few months using my office and the organisations for which I am responsible, working with the supporters of the Bill, to drive forward these measures.

Jonathan Evans: So we are back to the Government being opposed to the principle of the Bill. It might have helped if Ministers had said, in response to those Members who wrote to them saying they were aware of my Bill, that they were opposed to the principle, as we have just

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heard from the Minister. Members were led to believe that the Government were not against the principle but were discussing these matters and that we might ultimately reach an accommodation. Now we understand that the Government are opposed to the principle.

The principle is one advanced by the clinician community and the AMRC and supported by editorials in leading newspapers in the UK this week. It is not surprising that almost every leading newspaper has urged the Government to pay attention to the arguments. The hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) highlighted how people outside the House look at what we do here. As I said in my opening remarks, it is important that we pay attention to the clinician community and the AMRC. For that reason, I hope the House will support the Bill.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 20, Noes 2.

Division No. 75]


12.36 pm


Bottomley, Sir Peter

Brown, Lyn

Bruce, Fiona

Chope, Mr Christopher

Davies, Philip

Doughty, Stephen

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Green, Kate

Griffiths, Andrew

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Howarth, rh Mr George

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Lefroy, Jeremy

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

McDonnell, John

Morrice, Graeme


Reed, Mr Jamie

Stewart, Bob

Tellers for the Ayes:

Jonathan Evans


Mr David Nuttall


Baldwin, Harriett

Freeman, George

Tellers for the Noes:

Mel Stride


Damian Hinds

The Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided because fewer than 40 Members had taken part in the Division, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House (Standing Order No. 41).

Mr Jamie Reed: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on whether or not it is in order for Government Whips to instruct their own Members not to vote in order to ensure that the Division was not quorate.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I understand why the hon. Gentleman wishes to draw the House’s attention to what happened, but he knows as well as I do that the behaviour and actions of Government Whips is no business of the Chair.

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School Admissions Bill

Second Reading

12.50 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a very small Bill. It consists of two clauses, the second of which merely deals with the extent, commencement and short title, and the first of which is also very short. Gaps, anomalies, inconsistencies and injustices in the law or regulations are often brought to our attention as a result of constituency cases, which is what happened in this instance.

The Bill deals with the very narrow issue of whether

“pupils with a parent with a terminal or seriously disabling illness”


“receive priority in the admissions process to maintained schools”

in the same way as, for instance, looked-after children. It arises from the case of my constituents Mr and Mrs Amey. Mrs Amey is extremely unwell: she suffers from what is thought to be a terminal condition. She was distraught when her son George was unable to join his sibling at Mudeford infant school, which said that it had no space for him. An appeal was made through the county council system, and was rejected.

I took the view, on behalf of my constituents, that that was absurd. I was able to secure the support of the then Secretary of State for Education, who very helpfully wrote to the county council saying that he agreed with me that the situation was wholly unsatisfactory, and hoped that the council would do something about it. The council set up another appeal hearing, the outcome of which was that George Amey was able to go to that school. However, a similar problem arose earlier this year, when George wanted to move to Mudeford junior school. I will not go into all the details, but ultimately, after an enormous amount of anguish, he has obtained a place there.

Looked-after children are given special priority when it comes to school admissions, and I do not criticise that at all. They are given special priority because they live with foster parents or are in the process of being adopted, which means that they may need to move to a different catchment area. If the adoptive parents of a looked-after child are unable to get the child into the local school, all sorts of additional problems will be created as attempts are made to ensure that the child can have as normal a life as possible.

I think that giving such children priority is perfectly sensible, but I think that it is also sensible to take account of the circumstances of children whose parents are terminally ill or suffer from a seriously disabling illness. The journey to school may be much more burdensome for such a parent, and the child will be under a lot of pressure because of the parent’s illness. A parent with a disability may have to move away from the catchment area of a school that is already attended by his or her child’s elder sibling in order to live in specialist housing such as a bungalow, so that there is no need to climb stairs. Accommodation of that kind may not be available in the catchment area. As a consequence, the child will lose its priority in the system.

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I know that the principle of my short Bill has been accepted by the former Secretary of State for Education, because it was on the basis of the very narrow anomaly with which it seeks to deal that he intervened so helpfully in the case of Mr and Mrs Amey and their son George. It seems to me that one way of resolving that anomaly would be to ensure that, as clause 1 proposes,

“Any reference to a looked after child in the Schools Admission Code issued under Section 84 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 shall be taken to include a reference to a child with a parent or guardian who is terminally ill or suffering a seriously disabling illness.”

I do not think that there is any need to elaborate on that.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend think that one way of resolving the problem would be to clarify the existing code by ensuring that it includes those crucial words when it is next issued? Perhaps the Minister could give such an assurance.

Mr Chope: I agree with my hon. Friend, and I thank him for his intervention.

I have a great deal of respect for my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), who I see is sitting in the Minister’s place. I am not sure whether she is, in fact, now a schools Minister.

The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (Harriett Baldwin): Let me reassure my hon. Friend: I am not only a Minister in Her Majesty’s Government, but the Whip for the Department for Education.

Mr Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her clarification. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, there is a difference between being a Whip and being a Minister. I am delighted to know that my hon. Friend, who is a very distinguished Whip, has the responsibility of being the Whip for the Department for Education. She has more credibility on the Front Bench than, for example, a Whip dealing with a different Department would have. When she responds to the debate, she will obviously be able to speak with more authority on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education, which is what I wanted to ensure would happen.

12.58 pm

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): It is a rare honour and privilege for me to speak from the Dispatch Box. Indeed, it is first time I have had that honour and privilege. I hope that Members, including the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and the Minister, will indulge me if I make any mistakes.

It has been a privilege to listen to the hon. Member for Christchurch—who has a long and distinguished history in the House, and whom I have heard speak on many occasions—and to learn about some interesting and concerning cases and some of the discrepancies that exist in the school admissions system.

The hon. Gentleman also compellingly set out the circumstances that face children and families where a parent has a terminally or seriously disabling illness. I know from my own constituency the impact of such circumstances on many aspects of the lives of families and children. They not only impact on educational

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provision and travel to school, but many of the young people take on caring responsibilities, which have very significant impacts on their lives.

As many Members on both sides of the House will know, school admissions come up time and again in our constituency surgeries and in our inboxes. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 remains to this day a signature piece in the last Labour Government’s reform agenda. It enshrined in law a limit of 30 on infant class sizes. Unfortunately, we have seen a 200% rise in the number of infants taught in classes of more than 30 since the formation of this coalition Government and following their decision to relax the rules on infant class sizes.

The legislation we passed in 1998 abolished grant-maintained schools, prohibited the expansion of partial selection and, crucially for this debate, introduced an admissions code and the Office of the Schools Adjudicator. We are proud of having taken that step forward, putting fairness into the system and seeking to ensure that every child got a fair start.

Labour Members welcome the recent decision by Ministers, although late to the party, to allow all schools, including maintained schools, to prioritise admission for children who are eligible for free school meals—those in receipt of the pupil premium. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) made the case for that in June 2013, and we have committed to going further, because while we have seen big improvements following the last Labour Government’s reforms, we can be confident that although the letter of the code is enforced, it is not always followed in spirit.

In the last report from the schools adjudicator published last November, Elizabeth Passmore concluded that the system is so complicated that parents may need to study for several years before applying for a case. I therefore ask the Minister what action the Government are taking to address the complications presented by the schools adjudicator?

As I said, we have gone further. The appeals process for academies and free schools is at present too opaque. Many academies will have nothing to fear, but to ensure greater transparency and parity Labour has committed to extending the powers of the local government ombudsman to investigate academies and free schools on admissions, because parents should not have to write to the Secretary of State to complain about the processes of a local school. Under Labour, local authorities will also have the power to direct all schools to admit hard-to-place children, and to ensure that all schools fulfil their commitment to equitable access—both to the letter and the spirit.

I thank the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for bringing forward this Bill and for raising this important issue, and I ask the Minister to respond to the following questions. First, what consultations and discussions have Ministers and officials had with the groups representing children with terminally ill or seriously disabled parents, and with organisations representing children with caring responsibilities? Secondly, during recent revisions of the code undertaken by this Government, what consideration was given to this specific group? Thirdly, are the Government undertaking, or do they plan to undertake, scoping work to determine the feasibility and merits of making the changes suggested by the hon. Gentleman?

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There are some important questions here, and the hon. Gentleman has raised some important cases, and I am grateful for the fact we have had the time to debate this matter today.

1.3 pm

The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (Harriett Baldwin): It is a great honour for me to respond to the Bill on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education, who specifically requested that I do so. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for raising what is a very important issue. His constituents in Christchurch and Mudeford are fortunate to have as their MP someone who is a doughty champion of local issues on their behalf. We heard evidence of that in his opening remarks; he has already achieved a fantastic result for his constituents, Mr and Mrs Amey. I am sure they are delighted that their son, George, has been able to join his sibling at the Mudeford junior school, and I am pleased to hear that that constituency case was resolved on appeal.

I must also pay tribute to my hon. Friend for being legendary in this House for using the vehicles available to all Back Benchers in the form of private Members’ Bills to raise substantial and important issues on behalf of his constituents. Even today he has demonstrated his ingenuity in this regard by having not just this Bill on the Order Paper, but several further Bills: the Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) Bill, whose Second Reading debate was adjourned on 24 October; the House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill, which he hopes will have its Second Reading today; and the EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) Bill, which is also due its Second Reading. That is just a small sample of the various different Bills on important issues he has been able to raise on behalf of his constituents through his great knowledge and understanding of parliamentary methodology.

As my hon. Friend said, the Bill before us is fairly short even by the standards of brevity we often see with private Members’ business. In its two short clauses it makes

“provision to ensure that pupils with a parent with a terminal or seriously disabling illness receive priority in the admissions process to maintained schools in England.”

The word “England” is used because my hon. Friend makes very clear in his Bill that his proposed changes would extend to England only. It is important to highlight that, as it shows how much proposed legislation, particularly on education, now comes forward that covers only England. I know he shares my enthusiasm for ensuring that we as a Parliament are in future able to ensure that those who represent English constituencies, such as Christchurch, can carry forward legislation that applies to England only.

I would like now to set out the Government’s views on the Bill before us. We believe my hon. Friend’s proposals are already covered by the existing provisions in the statutory schools admissions code and its supporting legislation. I have with me a copy of that code, published in February 2012, and I would like to draw his attention to paragraph 1.16, as it is important that we look at exactly what the code currently says. This effectively gives some discretion to local authorities but encourages them to take into account social and medical need in a

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situation such as the one he so eloquently described, where a particular set of circumstances needs to be taken into account.

Paragraph 1.16 of the school admissions code states that, if admission authorities decide to use social and medical need as an oversubscription criterion, they

“must set out in their arrangements the criteria against which places will be allocated at the school”.

They must state how they will define the need and give clear details of any supporting evidence that will be required, such as a letter from a doctor or social worker. They must then make consistent decisions based on the evidence provided. In the example given by my hon. Friend, I believe it would have been possible for Mr and Mrs Amey to provide that level of medical detail in order to support the case of their son, George.

As I have said, the school admissions code was published in February 2012, and the Government consulted on further, limited revisions to the code this summer. I note that one of the respondents to the consultation was my hon. Friend’s own county council. He did not respond to the consultation in person, however, and I regret to tell him that it closed on 29 September. I confess I do not have a copy of the response of Dorset county council children’s services in front of me, but evidence will be available on the Department for Education’s website. I would be happy to let my hon. Friend know what his county council’s response was, if it did not send him a copy at the time, in order to reassure him that it is engaging fully with the Department and is keen to ensure, as he is, that his constituents are able to access their preferred school.

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend mentioned the fact that the Government carried out a consultation on the content of a revised code between 22 July and 29 September. Given that the Bill was ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 7 July, which I think would have been the date of its First Reading, will she tell us whether the consultation took its content into account?

Harriett Baldwin: I thank my hon. Friend for his pertinent question. I understand that the Bill received its First Reading earlier this year. One would like to think that, although the views expressed in the Bill were not formally a part of the 444 responses to the consultation, they would none the less be taken into account by the Department. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will also have sent a letter on behalf of his constituents under the previous Secretary of State. The 444 responses are listed in the back of the Government document. I looked through it earlier to see whether the Bill was included in the responses, and I can confirm that it is not specifically mentioned in the Government’s documentation. However, he has used the mechanism of this proposed legislative change to make his views known.

I can summarise the results of the consultation for my hon. Friend. They have resulted in the Government proposing specific, limited revisions to the admissions code. As I have said, 444 written responses were received by 29 September, and the Government have held discussions with interested groups. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) asked whether discussions had taken place with people with specific caring responsibilities. Having looked through the list

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of 444 responses, I note that none of the organisations stood out as the kind of organisation that he would put into that category. I can assure him, however, that discussions are ongoing with all the interested groups with a view to meeting their needs for the admission code. I hope that that answers his question.

The overriding aim of the code is to ensure that admission authorities have clear, objective and fair oversubscription criteria. It is for the authorities themselves to decide which criteria to adopt, but the code sets out the most common ones, including giving priority based on social and medical need. I have drawn the House’s attention to the fact that that is set out in paragraph 1.16 of the code.

The Government want children to be able to attend a school of their parents’ choice whenever possible but, when a school receives more applications than it has places available, we believe that those places must be allocated in accordance with the school’s published oversubscription criteria. I am pleased to say that the vast majority of parents are offered a place for their child at their preferred school. In the most recent entry year, 2014, 86.5% of parents in England were offered a place at their first preference school. In addition, 95.6% of children—so nearly 97%—were offered a place at one of their top three preferences, and 96.6% were offered a place at any of their preferred schools.

The Government have just agreed to some specific, limited revisions to the code. They are designed to improve the fair and open allocation of places and, it is worth emphasising, to support fair access for the most disadvantaged children and provide additional clarity to some provisions that had not been found to be completely clear. The limited time scale did prevent more substantial changes from being considered but, subject to parliamentary approval, which we hope is imminent, the revised code will come into force on 19 December.

Mr Chope: Will my hon. Friend confirm that if the revised code includes the same expression of “social and medical need”, that will cover the need of a parent and not just of a child?

Harriett Baldwin: I thank my hon. Friend for, again, being assiduous on behalf of his constituents on that drafting. He has a copy of the code in front of him, as I do. I have read the wording from paragraph 1.16 into the record, and it is my view that individual schools would have some latitude on taking into account social and medical need because of the following wording:

“If admission authorities decide to use social and medical need”.

He would like things spelt out in statutory legislation, but the wording allows admission authorities some leeway without putting things on to a statutory footing. I reassure him that we will evaluate the impact of the new proposals once they have come into effect, and will certainly do that ahead of any future revision of the code. We will examine his proposal, along with any others made as part of the process. On the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), one thing that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has clearly done by highlighting this

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issue today is ensure that the circumstances he has described so eloquently are fed into that ongoing review of the code.

The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) touched on other aspects of the code. The code requires only that priority be given to a specific group of vulnerable people: those with a statement of special educational needs or an education, health and care plan naming the school; looked-after children; and previously looked-after children. Beyond that, the code states that admissions authorities must have their oversubscription criteria clearly, objectively and fairly set out. It is for admission authorities to decide exactly which oversubscription criteria to adopt, but the code does set out the most common criteria.

The Government believe that paragraph 1.16 is a broad provision, which can be interpreted to cover the social and medical condition of the child, the parent or both. We have no definitive data on this, but we do know anecdotally and from correspondence to the Department that a number of admission authorities do use social and medical criteria in their oversubscription criteria. At this point, I cannot say from the Dispatch Box whether Dorset county council is one of those, but I would be happy to follow this up and write to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch about it. We believe it is for admission authorities to decide whether to adopt these criteria and, where they do, to decide what ranking they should have, based on local needs and circumstances.

Any proposal requiring that all admissions authorities must give priority to pupils with a parent with a terminal or seriously disabling illness would require a change to the statutory code and the supporting legislation. It is not the Department’s intention at the moment to do that, other than in terms of the minor adjustments the Government have agreed to in the consultation that has just been responded to.

The overarching aim of our changes is to improve the fair and open allocation of school places. The changes are intended to provide greater freedom to schools and to clarify some of the existing provisions. For example, they allow all state-funded schools to give priority in their admission arrangements to children eligible for pupil or service pupil premium funding. In this of all weeks, it is important to emphasise the way in which the Government have tried to make it easier for the children of our armed forces to get an education in the school of their parents’ choice.

The changes also allow all admission authorities of primary schools to give priority in their admission arrangements to children eligible for the pupil or service pupil premium who attended a nursery that is part of the school. As part of that change, barriers to schools offering optional wrap-around care will be removed or reduced by ensuring that any charges paid by parents for such child care would not prevent their children from being prioritised.

The Government intend to make the following minor changes: to revise the timetable for admission arrangements; to bring forward dates for admission authorities to consult locally and to reduce the duration of such a consultation from eight weeks to just six weeks; to require the admission authorities to amend their admission

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arrangements to comply with the code within two months of a decision by the school’s adjudicator where the adjudicator rules that the arrangements are unlawful; to clarify the provisions relating to the admission of summer-born children to aid decision-making for admission authorities. I am sure that everyone is familiar with the particular challenges faced by children who are born towards the end of August, and the question over which year at school they should be entered. Madam Deputy Speaker, I note that you are vigorously nodding your head in agreement. I am pleased to draw your attention to that particular clarification.

Other minor changes include: extending priority for admission to all previously looked after children—I am talking about children not only who are currently being looked after but who have previously, at any time, been looked after—and making a number of minor technical drafting changes to improve the clarity of certain existing provisions. For example, we wish to make it explicit to parents that their child is entitled to a full-time place in reception.

I have run through some of the minor changes to the admissions code that the Government will bring forward. I hope that I have reassured my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch that his case is exactly what paragraph 1.16 of the code is designed to address. I know that he has been fantastically effective at not only representing his constituents in this particular case but using the vehicle of the private Member’s Bill and the full armoury of this House to raise, on behalf of his constituents as their voice in Parliament, these important matters. Having outlined the limited changes that we propose to make to the code, which will take effect on 19 December 2014, I hope that my hon. Friend will see that the case and the circumstances of his constituents are exactly those that the code is designed to cover.

I am happy to go through some more examples that would be covered by the school admissions code. I think I have answered the questions of the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, and of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch.

Given the comprehensive nature of my remarks, I hope that I have convinced my hon. Friend that we do not need to move forward on a legislative basis. The extensive school admissions code, which runs to more than 38 pages, covers the situation that he described on behalf of his constituents. I therefore urge him to withdraw the motion.

1.29 pm

Mr Chope: With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I shall respond briefly to my hon. Friend the Minister. I had not realised that she was, effectively, a fully fledged Education Minister. Certainly her performance this afternoon would suggest that she has years and years of experience of speaking at the Dispatch Box on these important matters. I congratulate and thank my hon. Friend for what she has done to serve the House today. She asks whether I am convinced and the short answer is that I am convinced, and it is not often that I can say that in response to a Minister.

My hon. Friend has given a full and constructive response, and has helpfully put on record the Government’s view that when we define “social and medical need” in

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paragraph 1.16 of the school admissions code, we are referring not just to the social and medical need of the child or children but also to the social and medical need of the parents. That is an important point of clarification, and will be useful to admissions authorities when they consider whether to adopt the provision.

I am with my hon. Friend on the need to combine as much permissiveness as possible with the minimum amount of prescription. It seems, on the basis of the code, which is to be revised and brought into effect on 19 December, that the Government have managed to establish a balance between those two sides. I am delighted that we have been able to make progress on the general application of an issue arising from a specific constituency case and I am sure that will give my constituents substantial reassurance.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.

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Football Governance Bill

Second Reading

1.31 pm

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I am grateful to Members for enabling us to make enough progress, on this day of private Members’ business, to reach the Football Governance Bill.

The Bill has been a journey for me as a Member of this House. It started with my involvement with the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s 2011 inquiry into football governance. The Committee’s work in that inquiry built on a number of reports that had been produced by the all-party football group, and by other Members of Parliament dating back very many years. Although I have sought to bring forward some measures that I believe will help in the administration and good governance of football in England—I shall go through those briefly—I would say that the Bill is the architecture of many hands in this Parliament.

When I presented the Bill I was grateful for the support of Members from across the House, many of whom have taken a particularly strong interest in issues of football governance because of problems in their constituencies.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I should be grateful for some clarification. The hon. Gentleman mentioned football governance in England, but obviously his Bill also extends to Wales and Scotland. That is crucial, because many of us in Wales have had very similar concerns to the ones that he has outlined.

Damian Collins: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The 2014 Bill is an England Bill, largely because I was advised that in Scotland and Wales these were devolved matters. My original version of the Bill was a Scotland and Wales Bill too, and I believe that this Bill’s provisions could easily be extended to Scotland and Wales as well. I look forward to hearing Members’ remarks on that in Committee; I would welcome their views.

I want to mention the support for the Bill, when it was presented, of the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), who has done much to highlight the plight of Coventry City football club in Adjournment debates; of a former Minister for Sport, my former colleague on the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe); and of my colleagues on the Government Benches. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) has been tireless in her campaigning to relieve the plight of Portsmouth football club. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) has raised issues to do with governance in non-league football, particularly in the case of Hereford United, which is one of the worst examples of a failure of football governance that could be seen. A great and fighting football club with a proud tradition has been completely trashed by its poor ownership. I am also grateful for the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), the Chairman of the Select Committee.

The Bill seeks to address what I believe are some of the major failings in the governance of football. I do not believe that it is the role of the Government or

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Parliament to seek to regulate and control football, which is a private enterprise. Football clubs are private organisations; they are community-based and run; and the Football Association is rightly an independent body. I do not believe that it is necessarily the role of the Bill or Parliament to seek to regulate and control football. A series of failures in governance has led to recurring problems, certainly with the failures of ownership and the financial control and regulation of football. The Bill proposes some measures that would address that and that are relevant to some of the issues that football clubs have faced.

Clause 1 deals with the public declaration of the ownership of football clubs. During our Select Committee inquiry, no one knew who the leader of Leeds United football club was. In fact, the club’s then chief executive—Mr Shaun Harvey, who is now chief executive of the Football League—told me in a Committee hearing that not even he knew who the club’s owner was. Since then, the Premium League requires the public declaration of the ownership of football clubs, but the Football League does not require that public declaration.

Such public declaration should be mandatory because fans have the right to know who owns their football clubs. We should have the right to know what other interests, either in football or outside football, that the owners of football clubs have, particularly as we have recurring problems with the business interests of football club owners seeming to prejudice their suitability to be the chief executives or presidents of football clubs. I therefore believe that, with public declaration, fans and investigative journalists can see and inquiries can be made into the nature and interests of the owners of football clubs.

Coventry City, I believe, has been poorly served by an ownership model whereby it was owned not by a named individual but by an investment trust. That club has been badly run and it is still trying to overcome some of the many issues that it has faced. I am pleased that Coventry City have returned to playing football in Coventry, but many of the issues about its running remain of grave concern to its fans.

I believe in such public declaration of interest in and ownership of football clubs. Anyone who has a 1% stake in a football club should be on a public register. That is in keeping with the reforms that the Government have put in place to ensure that the beneficial owner of any UK-registered company must be declared at Companies House, and it would ensure that football continued to fall in line with that requirement.

Clause 2 deals with the fit and proper person test—the owners and directors test—which has continued to be a problem for football clubs, and Leeds United is a particularly topical example. Massimo Cellino—a business man from Italy, with previous convictions for fraud, whose case relating to tax evasion is going through the Italian courts—sought to buy and take control of Leeds United football club. The Football League objected to his acquisition of the club. He successfully challenged that in the courts and was allowed to acquire it.

The football bodies have a real problem in that they have no discretionary power over how they administer the owners and directors test. If someone has convictions, such as Mr Cellino’s, for fraud-related offences, some

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people might think that they are unsuitable to own a football club. If the offence is considered spent in UK business law, there is no barrier in law to anyone taking over a club. The Football League would probably have been challenged in the courts had it sought to stop Mr Cellino taking over the club in that way. The club’s ownership could still be in balance. The fate of Leeds United could rest in the appeal courts of the Italian legal system: a final ruling against him would mean that he is in breach of the owners and directors test and unable to take over the club.

Many Leeds United fans are concerned about Mr Cellino’s background and whether he is a suitable owner. The Football League clearly had concerns but no power to do anything about them, and the Football Association seems to have no power to intervene either. I believe that here is a clear example of where some statutory underpinning of the owners and directors test would be of huge benefit to football as a whole to help to keep out bad owners.

I suggest in my Bill that the Football Association act as the governing body of football—all football clubs need to be members of the Football Association to play in the upper football leagues in England—and that it have a discretionary power similar to that exercised by Ofcom under the 1990 and 1996 Broadcasting Acts. Ofcom applies its own fit and proper person test to the issuing of a broadcasting licence. It has the power to remove broadcasting licences from broadcasters who have fallen foul of that test—indeed, it has done so. It is a discretionary test based on its view of whether a licence holder has complied with UK broadcasting regulations and whether it is likely to do so in the future. I believe that the Football Association, based on its own memorandum and articles of association, should have the same power when looking at a potential owner of a football club; to be able to say that in its view that person is not a fit owner.

We have had problems with people who are not considered fit owners. Carson Yeung, former president of Birmingham City football club, is a good example. He was found guilty of money laundering offences in Hong Kong, so it was ruled that he could not hold an executive office within the club, but the rules do not stop his son or other business associates being on the board. I believe that the Football Association should have the power to step in and say, “No, we do not feel this is right. We are not happy with this ownership model, so we will not allow you a licence to own this football club.”

There is also a question about new owners coming in. In the recent debate in the House on non-league football, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) asked whether there should be a process of prequalification, whereby someone must be declared a fit owner before taking on the ownership of a club. I think that would have stopped many of the problems we have seen. I also agreed with the view, expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire, that there should be transparency when the Football Association investigates an owner under its own owners and directors test, and transparency on the outcome so that fans know what it is. I think that is very important. To set up those powers would give the Football Association, and with it the Football League and the Premier League, the power to have tighter controls over who comes into the game.

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Mr Yeung’s money-laundering offences certainly make him a poor owner, but they also highlight a grave area of concern. Many people have raised the concern that football is open to abuse from money laundering. It is a sport and an industry that deals with assets of intangible value, with cash transactions through the gates, so tracking the money that flows through football is very important. We should rightly be very concerned about someone who has been convicted of money-laundering offences owning a football club. We should also be concerned about whether someone has heavy interests in gambling or other sporting interests around the world that might lead us to question their suitability to take on the ownership of a football club. This Bill would give the football bodies in this country discretionary power to intervene and prevent poor owners from coming into the game.

That point is particularly important when we look at clause 3, which deals with something called the football creditors rule. The Select Committee examined that in great detail during our inquiry and strongly recommended that it be abolished. Ministers have agreed at the Dispatch Box that the football creditors rule has had its day. It has been challenged by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in the High Court, unsuccessfully against the Football League. It remains a grave anomaly and, I believe, a shame on football in this country.

Football in this country has never been wealthier; there has never been more money in the game. The Premier League, in particular, is a great success. It has taken the English game around the world and brought huge amounts of money into football in this country, and I would not for one moment decry it. However, since the Premier League was founded, over 40 of the professional clubs in the 92 top positions in the football leagues have gone into some form of administration. There is a problem at the heart of finance in football that creates a lot of the problems we have in club ownership today, and it is the fans and the communities who suffer and have to pick up the cost of the poor regulation of football finance.

I welcome the measures on financial fair play that have been introduced into football, particularly as a consequence of UEFA requiring anyone playing in its competitions to comply with financial fair play, but I think that we need to go further. I believe that getting rid of the football creditors rule will be an important step forward. It cannot be right that when a football club goes into administration, the football debts are honoured in full, whether debts of transfers to other clubs or payments to players, in order that the club can carry on playing, but any other debts that are owed, particularly to businesses in the community, are settled with whatever is left. A company that maintains the grounds or prints matchday programmes, for example, might get a penny in the pound or less, whereas all football debts are honoured in full. That is morally wrong. The former chairman and chief executive of the Football League told the Select Committee in evidence that there was no moral justification for the existence of that rule. Nevertheless, it persists.

I believe that the football creditors rule also has an important knock-on effect: it does not encourage any sort of financial responsibility in the way clubs deal with each other. A club selling a player on to another club, perhaps at an inflated price in the transfer market—

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most of the money that comes into football goes back out through transfer fees and payments to players—would not really be concerned about whether the other club could afford the transactions it had entered into. If the club was going to pay a transfer fee in instalments, it would not be worried about whether it could really afford to pay it, because it knows that the football creditors rule effectively guarantees it the value of the transfer fee. If there were some element of shared risk between football clubs, there would be more honesty and transparency in transactions, and they would require more public declarations from each other as to their true solvency. This could be an important measure to stop clubs getting into the sorts of financial difficulties that we want to avoid.

I have raised this matter with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which oversees the Insolvency Service, which, ultimately, is the responsible body that would look into the football creditors rule. There are grounds for amending insolvency legislation, as set out in the Bill, to get rid of this power so that the administrators of a football club would have the right and the power to settle all debts equally. It would then be a matter for the football creditors to come to an understanding with the football club on how outstanding debts were settled and whether it would be over a future period, but at least all existing debts should be settled equally so that local communities do not lose out when their football club goes into administration, getting nothing while the football players, the other football clubs and the football agents get all the money. That cannot be right.

Clause 4 deals with the ownership of football clubs. I suggest that there should be no bar to community trusts owning and running football clubs in the upper leagues and that any restrictions in that regard should be lifted. I would welcome the views of other MPs on what we can do to encourage more community ownership of football clubs. Ultimately, we cannot and should not seek to impose ownership models on football clubs by legislation, but it is worth bearing it in mind that the community supporters trust is an excellent model that has served many football clubs in the lower levels extremely well. AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester are great examples of clubs that have been transformed through fan ownership. Clubs that have previously got into difficulties, such as Exeter City, have been transformed by fan ownership. It is a very good model that we should look to progress.

I greatly support the view expressed by Supporters Direct that we should see whether there can be incentives in the tax system to give non-league football clubs a similar status to community amateur sports clubs. At the moment, because of the level at which they may pay their players, even if it is as little as £100 a week, they may fall outside the threshold. It would be good to give clubs the opportunity to enjoy some of the status of community amateur sports clubs as an incentive for them to adopt a proper, robust supporters trust model of ownership. I have suggested a starting point for that process, but, again, I would welcome the contributions and ideas of other Members as the Bill progresses.

The Government have been looking at football governance for some time. The previous Sports Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Sir Hugh Robertson), took up the challenge

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in response to the Select Committee inquiry. The time has come for the House to set out its own proposals and measures. I hope that I have started that process with this Bill. I certainly look for the contributions of other Members as it progresses. I believe that it would send out a clear message to the football authorities that unless they finally act on these measures, this House will intervene, as it has the right and the power to do. I commend the Bill to the House.

1.48 pm

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I now find myself on the Back Benches. I do not want to detain the House long, but I feel particularly passionate about this issue. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) for bringing it before the House. I know of the extensive work that he and many other hon. Members have done. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford)—the House will enjoy hearing from him shortly—who has set out an extraordinarily ambitious and progressive agenda for supporters’ involvement in their football clubs. I very much hope that that comes to fruition.

I should put on record a declaration of interest as a member of the Cardiff City supporters trust, Cardiff City supporters club, and Supporters Direct. As a Labour and Co-operative MP, I find this issue particularly interesting. I am a big supporter of community trust models and co-operative and mutual solutions in a whole series of areas, whether football or others.

I have a particular interest because of the recent, but also longer-term, experiences of my own football club, Cardiff City, which I have supported for 28 years this year, and for which I have been a season ticket holder. My father was briefly its club secretary during a quite turbulent period of ownership. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe is probably aware of the series of owners the club has had over a number of years, all of which have involved significant ups and downs, including Tony Clemo, Rick Wright, the Kumar family, Sam Hammam, Peter Ridsdale and, more recently of course, Vincent Tan, who is widely known across the country and in football circles. He has made significant changes to the club, particularly to its colour, its badge and many other aspects of its heritage. Personally, I opposed those changes and I have made that clear to Mr Tan and in public. Indeed, I spoke about it in my very first speech in this House, when I made clear that my colours remain as deeply blue in my football as they are red in my politics.

A number of the issues addressed by the Bill are crucial and closely related to the ambitious plans that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham has set out recently. We have to look at how fans and community figures can engage much more positively with clubs, so that they are not just left to those with the money and resources. I was reminded this week of one of the founding figures in Cardiff City’s history, Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart, who was a predecessor of mine as a Cardiff Member of Parliament and who was sadly killed in the first world war while still serving as an MP. He is remembered fondly and his name was given to our original club home, Ninian Park. He was known as not

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only a great benefactor and fan, but a keen community supporter who engaged in the governance of the club. It is a shame that we have moved away from that sort of local involvement and understanding of the local heritage and the concerns of fans, and towards the current governance models and the challenges outlined by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe.

As I have said, specific issues have included the change to the club’s shirt, colours and badge, and now red seating is being installed in the new stand being erected at Cardiff City football club, even though the traditional colour is blue. Cardiff City fans care deeply about such things and they go to the heart of the matter.

Many of us welcome the investment that Mr Tan has made, as well as his business acumen and a number of things he has done in the community. Indeed, he generously donated £1 million to local charities, which was a compelling offer. On other issues, however, including regular consultation with fans and the engagement of club officials below Mr Tan and the board, there has, sadly, been a lack of understanding. That makes me very sad, because, although Mr Tan has shown business acumen and invested money, and although he remains committed to the club, which is a positive thing, at the same time the heritage and history of the club have faced huge challenges and changes.

As the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe has said, we have to get the balance right between the principle of the rightful autonomy of owners and businesses to go about their business and the retention of the crucial involvement of fans and communities in their clubs. Football clubs are not like any other business: they are part of the heritage, community and history of many areas and are deeply related to other concerns in the local area, including those of the communities that immediately surround them. For example, I often deal with parking problems around Cardiff City stadium. Clubs also engage with local charities.

Unfortunately, we do not seem to be getting the balance right. That represents a contrast not only with the German model, where there is 51% ownership by fans’ organisations, but—I rarely praise other clubs in Wales, certainly not on the pitch—with the different approaches taken by Swansea, Merthyr, Wrexham and Newport.

I do not want to make the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham for him, but we have set out ambitious plans, which I thoroughly support. The plans have been welcomed by many supporters trusts across the country. Indeed, they were developed as a result of a very strong and lengthy consultation with those trusts and other organisations. The Cardiff City supporters trust welcomed them and I am sure the measures proposed by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe will also be welcomed.

As I asked in an intervention, will the hon. Gentleman, when he responds to the debate, clarify the extent of the Bill? The Bill clearly states, if I have an accurate version, that it

“extends to England and Wales, and Scotland.”

It also makes it clear that it relates to English football authorities and the Football League. Cardiff, Swansea and other clubs are in an unusual situation in that they are based in Wales but play in the English football

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pyramid, as they have done for many years; Cardiff is the only club to have taken the FA Cup out of England, geographically, as it famously did in 1927. It would be useful to understand such issues, but they can perhaps be explored in detail in Committee, should the Bill reach that stage.

I certainly want many of the hon. Gentleman’s measures to apply to Welsh clubs, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham does as well. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe. Such concerns matter very much to the people of Cardiff, Cardiff City fans and the Bluebirds alike. I very much hope that the Bill and the wider discussion can proceed apace in the House, and that some serious changes are made to get the balance right and to increase fans’ involvement in the ownership and operation of their clubs.

1.55 pm

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) on his Bill. I commend him for his consistency on this issue—he has frequently spoken out, particularly on the football creditors rule—and for being a consistent fighter on behalf of football clubs and fans.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) on his speech. I am grateful to him for his comments about our policy, which we announced a couple of weeks ago, on fans’ involvement in the management of football clubs. As he said, we undertook an extensive consultation over a long period.

Like the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe, we concluded that fans should be given more powers, and that they should at least be represented at board level in football clubs. That is not to give fans a veto over what an owner does with their club—that would be foolish—but to give them a voice. In our consultation, they were quite clear that they wanted to be heard, so we concluded that they should have the power to elect representatives to the board of directors of a football club. They should be able to elect up to 25% of the members of the board, and be able to remove them when necessary.

We recognise that it is a two-way street: the policy is not just about giving fans the keys to the sweet shop; they must be held responsible. We have spoken to fans about that. They must ensure that they have a proper democratic process, and that the people they elect are representative. They must be responsible in carrying out the functions of a board member, and they must respect the confidentiality of matters that are under negotiation. We are very much in tune with the hon. Gentleman, and our proposals have been very much welcomed by fans, trusts and supporters groups across the country.

We have also said that fans should have the right to buy a stake in their club. When 30% or more of a club is up for sale, fans should have the right to buy up to 10% of the shares on offer until they own up to a limit of 10% of the club. That cannot be used as a means to take over a club, but it is a means of taking a stake in it. In our consultation, fans were quite clear that they wanted to be able to do that. We would welcome such a right.

We welcome the fact—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, a former member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, does so too—that the Government

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have finally set up the expert working group. They said they would do so in their response to the Select Committee’s report in 2011, but it took three years to the month for them to do it. We have all been very patient, and it has finally been set up.

In their response, the Government said that they would investigate and deal with the issue of fan ownership. Just before the announcement about the expert working group, the Minister said that it would also look at ticketing and ticket prices, seating, the naming of grounds and so on, but those consumer issues were not part of the original proposal. Will he shed some light on the scope of the expert working group, and about whether it will consider the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman in his Bill? I am sure we would all like to know whether the Government intend to deal with those issues.

On the detail of the Bill, the hon. Gentleman is right to call for a declaration of ownership of football clubs, because there is widespread concern about people who are completely anonymous—as he pointed out, at one stage the chief executive of Leeds United did not know who owned the club he was running. That is a ridiculous situation, and it is a surprise that football associations have not tried to sort it out before. The hon. Gentleman is right to try to move clubs down that road with this Bill, and he has Labour’s full backing.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the fit and proper person test. Mr Cellino was able to enter into a financial arrangement with Leeds before it had been determined whether he was acceptable to the Football League. I am sympathetic to the view that we should have some sort of pre-test. We should be able to determine whether somebody is acceptable as an owner of a football club before they enter into any financial transaction, because football authorities have to make a decision about whether they plunge the club back into more financial turmoil, or accept the person who has already put money into the club, as seems to have been the situation with Leeds at that time. I am sympathetic to the idea of having some sort of pre-examination of whether someone is a fit and proper person, and I look forward to considering that in detail in Committee—I sincerely hope that the Bill makes it that far.

On the football creditors rule, the hon. Gentleman makes the powerful point that extraordinarily wealthy footballers can be further ahead in the queue than some local small business person. That cannot be right or fair. There are always unintended consequences to changing rules such as this, but the hon. Gentleman has raised an important point that is worthy of further examination and discussion with the leagues and football authorities, while we deliberate on the matter in Committee. Current arrangements frequently fall into disrepute when clubs go into administration, and there is clearly a strong moral case for changes to the rules. We can examine in detail what those changes may be in Committee, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue. It has been Labour policy to encourage more fan ownership of clubs through co-operatives or provident societies, and we are sympathetic to and welcome clause 4 on the community trust aspect of that.

I commend the hon. Gentleman for introducing this important private Member’s Bill. He raises a number of issues that are worthy of detailed discussion, and I look forward to having those debates in Committee should the Bill make it that far.

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I call the Minister, Eddie Vaizey.

2.3 pm

The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Your use of the name “Eddie” indicates how long we have known each other. I have gone from being Edward at school, Eddie at university, to Ed today, as Hansard will record. [Interruption.] As the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) says, it is no doubt only a matter of time before I move on to Teddy.

This has been an important and lively debate on an important subject, and I register my interest as the president of Didcot Town football club, the winners of the FA Vase in 2005, and now flying high in their league following an astounding 7-0 victory against one of their opponents the other day. As many in the House have already done, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) who has done such an amazing job over the past three years to bring this issue to the attention of the House. As he knows, I take a keen interest in all his constituency work. I will not repeat the joke I normally trot out about his appearance in Folkestone with Prince Harry. I was tempted to repeat it simply to prove that almost anything said in this House never gets noticed, and it would be treated as a new joke, but I will not do that. I will, however, commend him for his ability to tweet about the Folkestone job fair he hosted and attended yesterday while also speaking in the Chamber on the matter of football governance. If anyone underestimates the talent and ability of my hon. Friend, that is proof of his phenomenal ability to be present in the digital and physical worlds at the same time.

My hon. Friend will also know that the other reason I take a keen interest in his constituency is my passion for culture and the work of Roger De Haan on the Folkestone Triennial, which sadly I missed this year. Given that it only comes around every three years, that is a pretty poor show by me. I had not quite got the dates in my head. Funnily enough, I was planning to visit last Monday only to find that it had closed on the Sunday. Such is life.

Damian Collins: Does the Minister agree that it is a matter of great regret that the Banksy artwork was removed from Folkestone, instead of being on public display?

Mr Vaizey: Yes, I do agree. Sometimes it makes one wonder about the motivation of one’s fellow man that, when Banksy is prepared to be public spirited enough to create community artwork in public spaces for the benefit of the local population who take it to their hearts, somebody should seek to use that windfall because it happens to be on their private property. I very much hope it will be returned and donated to the community in Folkestone and Hythe, showing the same public-spirited approach that Roger De Haan has shown in supporting and regenerating Folkestone.

My hon. Friend has made football governance, which is so close to his heart, such an important subject that I sometimes wonder whether, if he wanders into a football stadium, the fans start chanting, “There’s only one hon.

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Member for Folkestone and Hythe, there’s only one hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe.” That may not happen because, of course, he is a Manchester United fan. We know that Manchester United fans do not sing, because very few of them actually come from Manchester. The point is well made by my hon. Friend, who grew up in Hereford and represents a constituency on the south coast, yet claims to support Manchester United. Leaving that aberration to one side, there will be a lot of sympathy for the motivation behind the Bill. The examples of Leeds and Coventry have been mentioned. Transparency in our national game is of huge importance for the health of the sport, the fans and those participating at the grass roots.

The Under-Secretary of State, who has responsibility for sport and tourism, meets the Football Association regularly to talk about a whole range of issues, including governance. Recently, she heard updates on the steps taken to ensure clarity on ownership of football clubs at all levels. She has been updated on the cumulative progress in the handling of the thankfully increasingly rare number of clubs going into administration, the adoption of the financial fair play rules and improving the financial monitoring of clubs, particularly in the lower leagues where clubs are often operating in the most challenging financial circumstances. She also asked for further consideration of the owners and directors test, the current mechanism by which potential owners are approved by the football authorities.

Individual clubs must play their part in the ongoing stewardship of their heritage. I note what the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth said about the interesting developments in the heritage of the great football team of Cardiff. I think all of us were interested to see that the colour of the football shirt was changed at the behest of the new owner. Certainly as a supporter of Chelsea football club, another great team that plays in blue, I would be surprised and perturbed should an owner decide to change the strip to red, but I digress.

It is critical that football authorities continue to play their part in protecting our long-standing clubs from undesirable owners. Most recently, the Government launched an expert working group to consider the barriers to supporter ownership and engagement. The group was developed in partnership with Supporters Direct, whose mission is to increase the influence of supporters through ownership and involvement in their clubs and with the support of football authorities, and relevant experts and stakeholders will be called on to contribute to the discussion of the group’s agreed priorities—I hope that the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) will take part in that discussion and bring to it the benefit of his considerable expertise, gained over many years.

The sport and tourism Minister will continue to press football authorities for reform, and she will support their ongoing efforts, but she stands ready to legislate should they fail to deliver progress. It is important to make that point—that we would be prepared to legislate—and that is why the Bill is well made in principle. I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments that we stand ready to intervene, but in the first instance we want the football authorities to get their own house in order. We believe they need more time before legislation is considered appropriate.

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Use of the football creditors rule is in decline, because all the relevant football authorities encourage a more responsible framework of financial operations. We have considered a thorough exploration of the barriers to supporter ownership and continue to discuss wider governance reform with the football authorities. These measures show significant progress and we are confident at this stage that we should continue to work with the football community, rather than bring in legislation.

Damian Collins: On the scope of the Bill, this version was intended to apply to England only. I was advised by the Public Bill Office that these were devolved matters, and I would not seek to interfere with the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland. However, I believe that the provisions could easily apply across the whole of the UK, and I would certainly welcome the views of the House on that.

I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) and to the Minister for saying that the Government supported the principle of the Bill but wanted more time to work with the football authorities. I hope they will continue this active dialogue, but I think it would be helpful for the authorities to see the collective view of the House. It was the opinion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Sir Hugh Robertson) that a football Bill need not be a Government Bill, but could be a private Member’s Bill with cross-party support, and it would now be helpful to see how the Bill takes shape in Committee so that the football authorities can see the will of the House and understand its desire to see action taken and to legislate if the authorities do not deliver that reform. I will be the first to applaud them if they act without Parliament’s needing to intervene, but so far they have seemed reluctant to do so. Therefore, I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 11, Noes 3.

Division No. 76]


2.13 pm


Chope, Mr Christopher

Davies, Philip

Doughty, Stephen

Doyle, Gemma

Efford, Clive

Evans, Jonathan

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Morrice, Graeme


Nuttall, Mr David

Tellers for the Ayes:

Damian Collins


Iain Stewart


Baldwin, Harriett

Griffiths, Andrew

Hopkins, Kris

Tellers for the Noes:

Mel Stride


Damian Hinds

The Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided because fewer than 40 Members had taken part in the Division, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House (Standing Order No. 41).

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Road Traffic Regulation (Temporary Closure for Filming) Bill

Second Reading

2.23 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am grateful for the opportunity to present the Bill, not just as one with a long-standing interest in transport measures, but as the representative of the great town and new city of Milton Keynes. It may not immediately be thought of as a great film venue, but I shall seek to correct that misapprehension. Next week a great film, “The Imitation Game”, part of which was shot at Bletchley Park in my constituency, will be on general release, and many other big Hollywood films, including “The Fourth Protocol” and one of the Superman films, were shot in Milton Keynes. For those two reasons, I seek to introduce this measure.

Before I move on to the substance of the Bill, I would like to thank Creative England, Film London and the British Film Commission, who have shown strong support for the Bill. Finally, I would like to thank the councils in London, Kent, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, who have all shared their wisdom and expertise and helped to prepare for it.

The film industry is hugely important to the UK economy and contributes over £1 billion a year to GDP. We want to ensure that the industry continues to grow and that it maintains its competitive edge, and remove barriers to growth. This Bill seeks to do just that by amending the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. It will make it easier for traffic authorities in England and Wales to close roads for the purposes of facilitating filming. Importantly, these powers already exist for other types of road closures, such as street parties and road cycle events, but there is no express power to close a road for those who want to shoot a film.

Some local authorities, including in Greater London, Kent and Hertfordshire, have already realised the benefits of this and have sought their own powers through local Acts of Parliament to enable them to close roads for filming. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) has brought forward a private Member’s Bill for that purpose covering Buckinghamshire. My Bill will provide a national provision for all traffic authorities in England and Wales to prohibit or restrict traffic for the purposes of facilitating filming or reducing disruption to traffic likely to be caused by filming.

The current law is unsatisfactory. My Bill will provide a sound legal basis on which all local authorities can act, as well as remove the burden from local authorities of taking forward their own private Bills, which are both costly and time consuming. The Bill will create a level playing field for all local authorities. It will benefit the film industry and the economy, making it easier for film production companies to shoot in areas outside London and other selected areas. It will also make the UK an even more attractive filming destination for domestic and inward investment productions.

Such laws already exist for other purposes. This is a simple measure that will bring the laws into line, and it will also boost the film industry, and I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

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2.27 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I had not intended to speak for long on this subject, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) says—I congratulate him on bringing forward this Bill—the Buckinghamshire filming Bill is a private Bill which is currently going through this House and is due to have its Third Reading on Monday, or perhaps Tuesday, next. That is the right way to deal with Buckinghamshire, rather than through a piece of national legislation. When that Bill gets on to the statute book, Buckinghamshire will be able to carry on filming in accordance with the provisions of that Bill.

What I do not like about my hon. Friend’s Bill is the power it gives to repeal or amend other local Acts. He referred to the Kent county council highways Bill and provisions in place in London, and I think it is important that those authorities who have tailor-made legislation on the statute book in relation to filming should be able to keep them in place. We should not pass legislation that says the Secretary of State can, by regulations made by statutory instrument, amend or repeal any provision of a local Act. That would be a dangerous precedent.

I also think such measures on closing the highway for particular purposes should be brought forward by the Government—if they want to change the primary legislation and impose that change on the whole of the country—and I think some other Bills on the Order Paper today should be brought forward by the Government, too, so they can be properly considered by this House with sufficient time. It is not my hon. Friend’s fault that we have only limited time to discuss his Bill today, and I hope that in due course there will be more time available so that we can go into more detail. Unlike the School Admissions Bill which we were discussing earlier, this is not a short Bill. The explanatory notes alone extend to six pages, and there is an impact assessment that sets out the effects of the proposed legislation. The Bill needs to have a lot more scrutiny—

2.30 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 21 November.

Business without Debate

Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (24 October), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

7 Nov 2014 : Column 1150

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 21 November.

House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Greg Clark): I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 21 November.

Wild Animals in Circuses Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On my Order Paper, we have next the EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) Bill.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): The hon. Gentleman’s point of order has been noted. The Clerk will now read Bill No. 8 on the Order Paper.

EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 21 November.

Wild Animals in Circuses Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 21 November.

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Stafford Hospital

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

2.31 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): It is a great pleasure to see the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) back in his place this afternoon. I apologise for bringing him back to the House. In fact, I do not apologise, because this is a matter of great importance and I know that he shares my interest in it and my concerns.

On the first day of this month, Stafford hospital, now the County hospital, became part of the University Hospitals of North Midlands Trust together with the Royal Stoke University Hospital. The Mid Staffordshire Trust which had run Stafford and Cannock Chase hospitals was dissolved. I wish to speak first about the new arrangements, secondly about the transition and finally about the services that I and my constituents strongly contend are needed in Stafford. I welcome the coming together of our hospital into the larger university trust. I am also very pleased that Cannock Chase hospital will continue to offer an important service as part of the Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust.

Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on his herculean efforts to support his local hospital. I have no doubt that those efforts will be rewarded at the next general election by his constituents. He has mentioned Cannock Chase hospital. Does he agree that it is important, in this transition phase, that all the services currently provided at Cannock should remain there and be increased and improved as we move towards the new model of ownership under the Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust? Will he also join me in congratulating the new Conservative candidate for Cannock Chase, Amanda Milling, on all her campaigning efforts to ensure that those services stay at Cannock?

Jeremy Lefroy: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for fighting alongside me for the preservation of the Stafford and Cannock hospitals. We said at the time that there was not a cigarette paper between us because, when people were saying that one or other of the hospitals should close, we said, “Absolutely not. Both are essential for our communities.” I thank him for that work.

Stafford becoming part of a university hospitals trust brings many opportunities for patient services, for staff training and development and for the NHS in my constituency. The same opportunities will now be available to Cannock Chase hospital under its new arrangements in the Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust. Our hospital will receive substantial capital investment, resulting in refurbished theatres and wards, chemotherapy and dialysis wards and a larger accident and emergency department.

After the tragic events examined by Sir Robert Francis in his two reports, there has been a great deal of improvement at Stafford. That is not in any way to be complacent, but it is a measure of the hard work of the staff, under Antony Sumara, Lyn Hill-Tout and Maggie Oldham as chief executives, and the chairs, Sir Stephen

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Moss and Professor John Caldwell. I also pay tribute to the governors and directors of the trust, who have put in so much time and effort in these difficult times. However, the staff must receive the most credit. They have worked tirelessly, under great strain and tremendous scrutiny, to provide excellent care. With so much focus, and rightly so, on our NHS, it would be easy for people to walk away from serving in difficult situations, but most in Stafford have not done so. They wish to serve our community through thick and thin, without much recognition and sometimes facing criticism.

In the past few years, I have heard several predictions about Stafford hospital: that it would close; that it would be privatised; and that it would become a “cottage” hospital. None of those has come to pass. Through the determined efforts of staff and the local community, in particular, through the hard work of the Support Stafford Hospital group and others, and their representatives, we have shown the Government and the NHS that a district general hospital can and must thrive in Stafford, retaining accident and emergency and acute services. As a result, we will see unprecedented investment in Stafford, funded not through an expensive private finance initiative, but directly by the NHS, with refurbished theatres and many other things that I have already described. That is in addition to the new endoscopy unit, which I visited just two weeks ago. It is three times the size of the old one, which I experienced as a patient, with state-of-the-art equipment, and it was designed in full co-operation with the staff.

The investment we are receiving is much greater than was originally proposed; and I wish to pay tribute to the work of all involved in making the case: the University hospital of north Staffordshire, the trust special administrators and Mid Staffs. I have gone on record before, and will continue to do so, about the grave shortcomings of the TSA process, which I would wish on no one in its current form, but the TSAs did fight the corner for Stafford and Cannock, and achieved more than at one stage had seemed possible. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and Ministers at the Department of Health have also been extraordinarily supportive, even when being bombarded by e-mails, letters and demands for meetings from me, my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) and other parliamentary and council colleagues from around Staffordshire.

The transition period is critical and presents many risks. We have been assured that no service will be moved from the County hospital, Stafford to the Royal Stoke, or indeed from Cannock to Wolverhampton, until it is safe to do so. That means that there should be not just sufficient capacity at the Royal Stoke or Royal Wolverhampton to receive patients, but adequate ambulance capacity to deal with many more patient journeys. I understand that emergency surgery and consultant-led maternity services are likely to be transferred early in 2015, possibly in January. In order for that to happen, we need firm assurances from the hospitals that the capacity is in place and from the West Midlands ambulance service that it will be able to cope with the additional journeys. We have been assured by the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust that a “double lock” will be put in place to ensure that, first, staff and management and, secondly, an outside independent body, including the clinical commissioning groups, approve

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any transfer of services and say it is safe for patients. The double lock is essential to public confidence in the process, especially the independence of the independent review—it is vital that we get it right.

The Royal Stoke university hospital’s A and E department has been at level 4— the highest alert—because of bed shortages, several times in the past few weeks. The main reason is that patients cannot be transferred out as there are insufficient step-down and community beds, or social care places. The additional acute beds being added at Stoke are welcome; but they will need to be operating before any service transfer happens. The problems with transfers out will also have to be dealt with. The board papers for the Stafford & Surrounds CCG meeting on 21 October show that the ambulance red 2 indicator—category A calls resulting in an emergency response within eight minutes—for the year to date is at 69.7% against the standard of 75%, and has been below the standard in each month since September 2013. The red 1 indicator has improved in August, but is at 66.7% for the year to date—again, that is against a standard of 75%. Will the Minister confirm what additional vehicles and paramedics the West Midlands ambulance service will have to ensure not only that it can bring its performance up to standard, but that it will be able to deal with extra journeys arising from the transfer of some services away from Stafford? Will he also confirm how closely the Trust Development Authority, to which the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust is accountable, is monitoring the transition period as County hospital, Stafford becomes part of the expanded trust? What support is the TDA giving to the University Hospitals of North Midlands to cope with any unexpected eventualities in the transition?

Finally, will the Minister also confirm that all the clinical commissioning groups in the area served by UHNM will be supported, too? Some of them, including Stafford and Cannock, face substantial underlying deficits of several million pounds per annum arising from what can only be described as unfair funding formulae. They are working hard to become ever more efficient, but what has been asked of them is almost impossible.

The transition period, which will last up to three years, is therefore extremely challenging. We have a newly expanded trust that is in deficit, an ambulance service that is failing to meet its current red 1 and red 2 targets, and CCGs that are underfunded. I firmly believe that we will succeed in seeing a stronger acute trust in Stoke and Stafford at the end of this, but the problems that I have set out must be addressed.

Finally, I turn to future services at the County hospital, Stafford. As a result of the campaign that we have all fought locally, the vast majority of services will remain. It is estimated that 91% of patient attendances will still take place there, as there will be an A and E department and in-patient beds for acute medical patients. But there are areas in which I will continue to make the case for improved services. The first is to return the A and E department to a 24/7 operation. Even now, staff are attending to patients up until the early hours of the morning. It would not take a great deal to extend the cover so that the A and E can remain open between 10 pm and 8 am.

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I have heard of a number of cases of elderly patients who are so concerned about travelling what they see as a long distance, away from their friends and family, that even in emergencies they resist travelling, preferring to wait until the A and E in Stafford opens at 8 am. One such case in particular had tragic consequences.

There is welcome news that a doctor-led overnight service is likely to open early in 2015 at the County hospital, Stafford. That should enable those with non-999 emergencies, including those involving children, to receive advice and some treatment locally. But I see it as a stepping stone back to the service that my constituents need, which is a 24/7 A and E department.

I will also continue to argue for A and E services for children, with the ability to keep them in hospital for a period until they are ready either to return home or to be transferred to a specialist unit. It is vital that, wherever possible, children above all are treated near to or at home—close to their family and friends. It cannot make sense for a parent, who has other children and possibly no private transport, to have to arrange child care and undertake a round trip of perhaps three to four hours by public transport to visit a child who is in hospital but who does not need the most specialist care. I urge the Department of Health and the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health to look closely at that matter.

The in-patient paediatrics department in Stafford is not one of the smallest in the country, yet it will go next year, despite the fact that the cost per child is significantly lower than that at surrounding hospitals where they will now be sent. Will that really be the way forward for many other such departments? Surely there is a way to rethink in-patient care for children who do not need specialist treatment and who are likely to be in hospital for only a short period. At the very least, a 24/7 A and E department with a paediatric assessment unit staffed by paediatrically trained consultants would make sense.

Finally, there is the question of consultant-led maternity services. Originally the TSA proposed removing all births from Stafford. As a result of our campaign, it changed that proposal, and our hospital will remain with a midwife-led unit. When the Secretary of State announced that there would also be an NHS England-led review into the possibility of retaining consultant-led services at Stafford, we welcomed it. Stafford’s unit is small, but it is by no means the smallest in England. We contend that, in a network with the larger unit at Royal Stoke university hospital, it should be possible to maintain our unit and thus offer women who need obstetrician-led care the choice of giving birth in a smaller unit, as they do in most other European countries. When it comes to maternity services, I will continue to argue that big is not always better.

The review that was promised has not yet started, although I understand it will happen soon, but it will report after our consultant-led unit has closed. I would like an undertaking from the Minister that if the review recommends that smaller units such as ours should remain, it will reopen at Stafford and the resources will be made available for that.

I should also like the Minister to confirm when the review will begin, who will be doing it and how long it is likely to take. It is also essential that the review of Stafford and surrounding services only takes place first, and as soon as possible, to be followed by a national

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review coming later. The last thing that the expectant mothers of Stafford need is a long drawn-out process. I was promised a review, as were we all, of Stafford’s maternity in this House, and I should be grateful for the Minister’s confirmation that the commitment stands.

Maternity services, I believe, need to be commissioned more widely than just by CCGs. Government policy is to give women a good choice as to where they have their baby, and I welcome that, but CCGs in places like Stafford are too small to support the commissioning of a local unit. The original intention, I believe, in the run-up to the Health and Social Care Act 2012, was for maternity services to be commissioned by NHS England, not CCGs. That would allow the development of a proper national policy of choice for women, and I would ask the Minister to consider that very carefully.

In Stafford, great progress has been made in recent years. I am determined to do all I can to ensure that we, together with the Royal Stoke university hospital, have one of the finest acute trusts in the country. The retention of the County hospital, Stafford as a district general hospital with acute services and accident and emergency gives us the chance to show that a local acute hospital is not an outmoded institution which, as it was predicted only a few years ago, would soon be extinct. Instead, we can become a prime example of a thriving local acute hospital for the future.

2.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (George Freeman): It is an absolute pleasure to be back at the Dispatch Box this afternoon. It is a tribute to the tireless commitment of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) that, not content with successfully piloting the Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Bill through its Second Reading this morning, he has called me back this afternoon for a debate on services at Stafford hospital. I think I speak for the whole House, including Members not present today, when I pay tribute to his tireless commitment, both to his constituency and to the local NHS in his area. The way in which he has gone about it has commanded respect across the House.

My hon. Friend raised many important points, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley), in support of new investment, importantly paying tribute to the work of the staff as well as the directors and governors. On behalf of the Department, I would echo his comments. He also raised important points about the transition period, the specific needs of children, the ambulance service and the review of maternity services, and the significant point that Stafford appears to be demonstrating that it is perfectly possible to be a thriving local acute hospital. I shall try to deal with all my hon. Friend’s points, but If I do not, perhaps he will be good enough to allow me to write to him and deal with them properly that way.

The configuration of health services is an important issue for many hon. Members across the House and their constituents, particularly those who have previously experienced poor care from local health services. We all agree that all patients should receive high-quality, compassionate care. That is why the Secretary of State has made care a crusade in his leadership at the Department.

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We are all aware of the appalling lapses of care that were all too often received by patients at Stafford hospital in that terrible period.

The first of November marked a new beginning for local health services, with the dissolving of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and the launch of the new University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust. Over £250 million of investment is being put into health services in Staffordshire, including significant investment into County hospital.

Past events at Mid Staffordshire will not be allowed to cast a shadow over the future of health services in Stafford. Thanks to the hard work of many, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, County hospital has a bright future and will offer modern, safe, sustainable services for local people now and in the future. As my hon. Friend has said, much progress has already been made and significant investment is being made in health services in Staffordshire to ensure that that progress continues. The current service specification at University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust is that recommended by the trust special administrator and has been subject to consultation and endorsed by the Secretary of State for Health. Changes to the service specification will only occur on the grounds of patient safety.

Let me reply to the specific points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford. Accident and emergency departments are often the most visible hospital service, and local people therefore often focus on A and E services when looking at changes to their local hospital. Local protests have been held on the grounds of County hospital against the transfer of services. There has been some speculation that A and E at County hospital will be downgraded. Let me take this opportunity to say that that is not the case.

The A and E service will continue to operate 14 hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, thanks to significant investment, the A and E department at County hospital will double in size and have a dedicated space for treating children. That expansion will address overcrowding. The number of staff working in A and E will increase and all consultants working in the department will be trained in paediatrics.

I understand that my hon. Friend and some of his constituents would like County hospital to operate a 24-hour A and E service. It is important to note that the A and E in Stafford has operated 14 hours a day since overnight services were removed in 2011. Of course the decision to close A and E overnight was taken in the interests of patient safety.

Work by the trust special administrators has confirmed that a 24-hour consultant-led A and E remains unsustainable at this time. However, a GP-led service is planned to operate overnight in County hospital from April 2015. Therefore, those patients with conditions that are not life-threatening but that require medical treatment or advice will not need to travel outside of Stafford, no matter the time of day or night. I understand that work by local commissioners is under way to look at the possibility of an interim solution until 2015.

Investment is being made to improve A and E performance across the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust. Indeed, £80,000 of winter money has been allocated to an improvement plan that aims to

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have the trust consistently meeting the A and E target by March 2015. In total, £4.5 million will be invested in supporting A and E performance at the trust and a further £4 million across Staffordshire.

My hon. Friend mentioned the West Midlands ambulance service. The continued good performance of that service will be important to ensure success in both service transitions and to improve A and E performance. WMAS has been thoroughly involved in planning, and my hon. Friend has had regular and productive meetings with Dr Anthony Marsh, the trust’s chief executive.

Of course, as with all other ambulance services, WMAS is dealing with increasing demand, but I can assure my hon. Friend and his constituents that WMAS is fully engaged in the changes across Staffordshire. As he knows, A and E hours were reduced in 2011 in the knowledge that the ambulance service could and would ensure that patients were taken to neighbouring hospitals.

Jeremy Lefroy: I am grateful to the Minister for that reassurance. I pay great tribute to the staff, paramedics and everyone at WMAS—they do a fantastic job—but sometimes what is said at the top of the service and what is actually going on at the bottom are slightly different. I am not trying to point the finger at anyone. Everyone is trying to do their best. People do not want to admit sometimes that there are real capacity problems, because they want to be seen to be getting on with the job. I ask the Minister to look at this case quite closely, particularly as the indicators have been red for so long.

George Freeman: My hon. Friend makes a really important point, and I shall be happy to look at it, as he suggests.

Ambulance diversion from Stafford to larger hospitals for life-threatening conditions—stroke, cardiac arrest or serious trauma—had been in place for some time before the overnight suspension, as my hon. Friend will know. In other words, the ambulance service already has a number of years’ experience of these arrangements. The local clinical commissioning group commissioned additional ambulance service provision to cover both overnight and daily divert activity. That extra provision will remain in place.

Stafford & Surrounds CCG reports that the ambulance service’s performance on the red 1 target in its local area has shown a general upward trend. The target was met in six of the eight months between January and August 2014, and the figure was 77.8%, against a 75% standard, in August 2014. The red 1 target measures performance on the most critical calls that the ambulance service receives: calls to patients in immediately life-threatening situations where a rapid response is vital.

Across the whole trust area, the service met all three performance targets in September 2014, the latest month for which centrally verified data are available. Its performance on red 1 calls was 83%, against a 75% standard. It also met the red 1 and category A19 standards in the six months between April and September.

As I know from my Norfolk constituency, rural areas, such as those served by large parts of Stafford & Surrounds CCG, present challenges to ambulance services across the country. West Midlands ambulance service

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and local commissioners are working together to ensure that the ambulance service continues to cope with the changes in Stafford and the wider challenges of serving a rural region at a time of increased ambulance pressures across England.

I will touch on the transfer of maternity services. Early next year, in line with best practice guidelines, some services will transfer from County hospital to the Royal Stoke University hospital. That will begin on 16 January 2015 with the temporary transfer of consultant-led maternity services. A stand-alone, midwife-led maternity service will open at County hospital.

Jeremy Lefroy: We were given assurances that no services would be transferred without the double lock, which assures that the capacity and safety of the services would be guaranteed in the case of transfer. We now have a specific date for the transfer of services. When can we see the evidence of the double lock for safety and capacity?

George Freeman: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I will undertake to look into that and get back to him.

Women who require care provided by an obstetrician or anaesthetist will be cared for in Stoke, and transport between the two hospital sites will be improved. Those changes to maternity services are temporary, as I have stressed, pending the outcome of the review, which is due to report in June 2015. Other services will transfer permanently to Stoke, including acute and emergency surgery, which will move in February 2015. In-patient paediatrics, including in-patient paediatric surgery, will move by the end of March 2015.

These decisions are made in the interests of patient safety. Let us not forget that the root of past problems was unsafe services at Stafford. The local NHS, led by local doctors, has therefore made the decision to transfer services based on clinical evidence, with patient safety rightly at the forefront of all decision making.

Consideration has also been given to patients’ wider needs and travel distances. For example, the movement of in-patient paediatric services will create access to high-dependency services and intensive care and to tertiary specialist opinions, reducing the need for patients to travel to Birmingham. Provision will also be made for parents to accompany their children to Stoke when travel is required out of hours, including supplying accommodation if needed.

It is understandable that people have concerns when change is proposed. I have no time for those who want to frighten patients in the face of change. It is important to remember that change is sometimes needed to ensure the best outcomes for patients. We know that there were serious failings at Stafford, and it is important that the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust is able to make changes to services where they will benefit patients and ensure that County hospital provides the high-quality, safe care that local people deserve.

Turning to the future of County hospital, over £250 million is being invested in health services in the years ahead. The hospital’s A and E department will double in size and see an increase in its staff numbers. Out-patient facilities will be expanded, particularly for emergency access clinics. Wards and operating theatres

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will be refurbished and upgraded to be fit for 21st century medical care. There will also be new services, including a £1.2 million MRI scanner that will offer advanced diagnostic services in Stafford for the first time, which means that more than 6,000 patients who currently travel to Cannock and Stoke will be treated closer to home. Eye surgery, orthopaedics, dermatology and a new assessment unit for frail elderly people are also services that County hospital will begin to offer.

Progress is already well under way. On 1 November the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust was dissolved and County hospital joined the Royal Stoke University hospital under the new University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust. Thanks to the hard work of many people, the process of transferring County hospital to the new trust has gone smoothly. A number of assurance processes were in place leading up to the transfer, including oversight and scrutiny of the quality and safety handover documents. That process has been overseen by the local transition board, chaired by Sir Neil McKay, an independent chair who is accountable to the CEO of the NHS Trust Development Authority. The local transition board will continue to provide oversight to ensure the safe implementation of the new service model at the new trust.

Finally, turning to CCG funding, in December 2013 NHS England adopted a revised funding formula for local health commissioners that more accurately reflects population changes. The new funding formula is based on up-to-date and detailed information and takes into account the three main factors in health care needs:

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population growth, deprivation and the impact of an ageing population. All CCGs have received a funding increase matching inflation for 2014-15.

The people of Staffordshire were badly let down by the local NHS in the past. The appalling difficulties that were too often uncovered gave people in the area reason to fear for the future of the hospital and to be very disappointed, rightly, at the level of service that was provided. The local NHS has worked hard to address the failings in care and to bring about substantial improvements. I pay tribute to the work it is doing. The opening of the new trust on 1 November marked a new beginning for the NHS in Staffordshire. I want to put on record the debt we owe to all those who have worked so hard to get the hospital turned around.

There is still work to be done to ensure that services in Staffordshire are of high quality and sustainable. My hon. Friend has encouraged his constituents to support County hospital and to access local treatments where appropriate, and I give the same message here today. Local engagement and support are key to the development of local services. I assure him that if his constituents are anxious about the quality of services, they can be sure that County hospital in Stafford will be under a level of public scrutiny that nowhere else in the NHS has seen. In my hon. Friend, the people and patients of Stafford could have no more doughty a champion.

Question put and agreed to.

3.1 pm

House adjourned.