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3.10 pm

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): My constituency has both the pain and the gain, having the first station outside London as the proposals stand.

I request again that the Minister look at a tunnel on the approach to the interchange station at Birmingham International airport. At present, a flyover will be needed over the west coast main line at the height of the tree line, which would be visually very intrusive in the village of Balsall Common. If a tunnel could be constructed under the existing airport terminus, there would be no need for an overhead railway, which would add significantly to the journey time of those coming from London to take an aircraft from the airport. A tunnel would leave the surface free of the rigidity of the railway tracks and, importantly, preserve some of the precious green belt around the villages in the Meriden gap.

Compensation for the construction works is important. Judging by the environmental statement, we shall be a building site for the next five years, but there is no compensation scheme for the construction works. The scheme relates to the tracks, but many of my constituents will be severely affected by the construction works, as will country lanes around villages in the area, including Diddington lane and Kelsey lane. Currently, however, there is no help with that.

Hon. Members who have used the M40 will know that junction 6 is a nightmare because of the combination of the airport, the national exhibition centre and the west coast main line. Just making some improvements to the junction will not be enough when we have a high-speed rail interchange. A two-junction solution is required. I urge the Minister to reject proposals for a motorway service area south of junction 6 to go ahead before the development of High Speed 2. If an interchange station is built north of the junction, it is obvious that the motorway service area should be incorporated there.

I could not deal with this subject without touching on the opportunity to do really good biodiversity offsetting. It is not good enough to plant a few trees along the track. As the Country Land and Business Association says, that is a poor solution for some of the best and most valued farmland. I recommend that the Minister look at the proposal from Birmingham university and Arup to significantly regenerate the Tame river valley in east Birmingham and the Blythe and Cole valleys in my constituency, in line with the Government’s natural environment White Paper and using the national ecosystem assessment and the work of the Natural Capital Committee. Then, at least, we would have a lasting legacy at landscape scale, which we would be able to tell our constituents was providing proper protection for the environment.

Mrs Gillan: I particularly wanted to commend the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), who is leaving the House. She travelled to Brussels with me the other day to visit the environment directorate-general to look at what more we could do to protect the environment. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend would venture an opinion at this stage, but I think it is important that we look at perhaps declaring the Chilterns a Natura 2000 site.

Mrs Spelman: I also commend the work of the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, as well as the Committee’s work in highlighting the weaknesses in the

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environmental compensation and in the analysis of HS2’s environmental impact. That has highlighted the opportunity we have to do things such as create Natura 2000 sites in some of the worst-affected places. We can never replace ancient woodland—that is a given—but we can calculate the value of our natural capital and do something sufficiently ambitious to compensate for its loss, even if the regeneration and restoration take some time.

I would like to finish by commending the work of the parish councils and residents’ associations in my constituency on the action they have taken to highlight the project’s impact on them—as I said, we have the pain and the gain. I also commend the work of Solihull council in drawing the Government’s attention to the need to rework the cost-benefit analysis of the tunnel from Berkswell to Birmingham International airport so that it takes full account of what could be achieved not only to benefit the environment and the community but to improve transport access and, therefore, to achieve a better outcome.

3.15 pm

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) for her kind remarks about our co-operation and for thanking the various bodies concerned.

Today’s report from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee batters great lumps out of the case for HS2. The Committee did not ask any questions that we have not been asking for the last five years. HS2 had no satisfactory answers before, and it apparently still has none.

I want to draw attention to the situation in my constituency, which is the most affected by the proposals. The proposals involve the demolition of the homes of about 500 people and would leave about 5,000 people living next to Europe’s biggest building site for the best part of 15 years.

Under the original proposals, HS2 was going to knock down Euston station and rebuild it, incorporating a further 75 metres to the west to provide space for everything, including the new high-speed line. Originally, that was going to cost £1.2 billion. Eight months later, a revised estimate of £2 billion was put forward—the figure had gone up by just £100 million a month. Apparently, £2 billion was too much, so the scheme was cut back, which would have given us a rather elegant lean-to shed for HS2 at the west side of Euston station, at a cost of £1.4 billion. That is what was in the Bill that came to the House of Commons. By the time it got here, however, we were told that that was not going to be done any more and that we would go back to the vast new scheme. The detailed proposals for that scheme were supposed to be available in October last year. Recently, in meetings with local people, however, HS2 has admitted that it has no such proposals and that it is going back to the lean-to shed version, which will now cost £2.6 billion. Who would put £50 billion on a racing stable that produces rubbish like this?

We were told that a supposed connection to the channel tunnel link would bring all sorts of benefits: people would be able to get on a train in Manchester and go to Paris. We told HS2 that that was not a workable proposition, and even the Institution of Civil

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Engineers said it was not, but no, HS2 persisted—and then the connection was abandoned. One explanation was that HS2 had come across “unforeseen factors”, including the need to “widen the route”. Now, anybody who starts an engineering project without realising that they will need to widen the route if they add some lines really is not fit to be put in charge of spending £50 billion.

Michael Fabricant: Is my right hon. Friend—I will call him that—aware that the completion of Birmingham New Street, including a new department store, has been delayed by a year and a half because of construction problems? Who is doing the project? The selfsame people who are supposed to be designing the new Euston HS2 terminal.

Frank Dobson: I should add, Mr Betts, that the people who have been making those preposterous estimates, coming up with ludicrous proposals that will not work, are all very well-rewarded consultants. I believe that they have already had three quarters of a billion pounds in fees, so hard-working consultants are doing rather well. As far as I can see, the only train that has actually moved is the consultancy gravy train.

I advise people that if we want to benefit the cities of the north, the answer is to invest in the cities of the north and their immediate transport requirements, rather than spending what it is now believed will be £7 billion on a full-scale development of Euston. Will Sheffield, Leeds or Manchester benefit from an investment of £7 billion in Euston? Euston certainly will not benefit, and I do not think anywhere else will.

Helen Jones: On a point of order, Mr Betts. Would it be possible at this point, as this is possibly my right hon. Friend’s last speech in the House, to record our appreciation of his service over many years, particularly to his constituents, and his devoted service to the national health service, from which we have all benefited?

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair): Of course, that is not a point of order for the Chair, but the Chair’s inability to comment on it should not be taken as disagreement with it.

3.21 pm

Sir John Randall (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con): This will be my last speech in Westminster Hall, but I hope to catch Mr Speaker’s eye tomorrow for a final time. It is fitting that my speech today should be about HS2, because it has been a core matter for many of my constituents and other Hillingdon residents for the past few years. We have experience in my constituency of another great project going through—Crossrail. We have not really had any confrontation or controversy on that, because it brings obvious benefits to the people involved.

To refer back to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), I want to mention that the Select Committee’s work is exemplary. It has been sorting out problems and has been helpful to petitioners; but it has been given a difficult task. I do not want to dwell on constituency points; I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) will have an opportunity to talk about them. I disagree with my

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right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham about the process being undemocratic, because we have had a vote in the House. The problem is that only those of us who will be affected by the project have looked into it in detail and realise why it is so flawed. There are exceptions, but many other people have not had that benefit, and do not have to look at the issue. If we could get that message out to more people, more of them would realise that it is a waste of money.

Mrs Gillan: I shall miss my right hon. Friend in the House. He has made a fantastic contribution and has been a good friend on HS2. I was talking to his potential successor and exchanging views on HS2. The view is that, as with Crossrail, ’twas best put underground totally, across the piece; then there would be a lot less disruption and perhaps it would attract more love and affection, like Crossrail. May I also say that I did not say the process was undemocratic; I just said that the Bill has not gone through all its stages in the two Houses, and it is unwise to extend contracts before we have completed our scrutiny.

Sir John Randall: My right hon. Friend alluded to my putative successor—if the electorate are so inclined. I have had conversations with him, and although Mr Boris Johnson is a shy and retiring fellow he is keen to take up the cudgels on behalf of my constituents and Hillingdon residents, on fair compensation, tunnelling and many other things. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, who has been tireless in his work on HS2. It is a great shame that I will not be working with him any more in this place. However, I expect to be on the front line with my placard, as a latter-day Swampy.

The House of Lords report sums things up well:

“The cost-benefit analysis for HS2 relies on evidence that is out-of-date and unconvincing. The Government needs to provide fresh, compelling evidence that HS2 will deliver the benefits it claims.”

The Government must make the case, if they are so convinced, and give the evidence for it. Finally, as I have been encouraging the Government to dig tunnels in my constituency, and have had some success, I caution them not to dig a hole for themselves.

3.25 pm

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): I believe that the case for HS2 is so overwhelming that it is not a question of why we are doing it, but why we are not doing it quicker, although I realise that people would not get that impression from the debate. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) on obtaining the debate. She is a doughty fighter for her constituents, and no doubt had she achieved her ambition to represent Manchester she would have been just as doughty a fighter for HS2 as she is against it now.

Reading the report of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee and listening to the debate have made it clear to me why this country is so appallingly bad at major infrastructure projects. How many new arterial routes have we had in this country in the past 40 years? The answer is one—leaving the country, as part of an international treaty: HS1. The real reason we need HS2, going both west and east of the country as it gets further north, is that the motorway system is clogged.

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The M1 and M6 are congested a great deal of the time. The west and east coast railways are often congested and are reaching their limits. There is not enough capacity on the rail system for freight. HS2, with the investment of possibly £50 billion, will free up capacity on all those systems. People say that alternatives have not been looked at, but do they believe that there is any possibility that we will build new motorways west and east of this country? There is simply no chance. HS2 is the only way to free up that capacity.

Certainly some things can be improved in this country. It is interesting, in terms of both cost and speed, that on the high-speed route from Tours to Bordeaux the civil engineering work on 200 km of line was achieved—started and finished—in two years. There is a lot we can learn, to lower the cost and improve the speed of what we do. The arguments are big.

Andrew Bridgen: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that given that London is the finest city in the world, or certainly in Europe, its gravitational pull—its social, economic and cultural traction—means that the faster people can get there, the quicker they will do so? It will just draw in talent and money from the regions. The big beneficiary of HS2, if it goes ahead, will be London.

Graham Stringer: The Transport Committee is in favour of HS2 and has not been quoted. The experience from French cities is that it depends on how much effort a city makes. I expect that the creativity of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield will produce an experience much like that of Lille, where there has been real economic benefit.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I want to support the hon. Gentleman’s point. The history of Japan presents a salient experience. Far from producing a gravitational pull to the centre, what it has done is create a gravitational pull to where the high-speed rail has been built, on parkway stations.

Graham Stringer: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I will finish with two quick points. Hon. Members have said that we should focus on east-west links in the north of the country, but actually it is much more likely—this is already happening—that we will get those links if we have a strong north-south link.

Finally, people have quoted the cost-benefit analysis, but the House of Lords Committee did not look at its own evidence well. Professor Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford, said:

“A moment’s reflection indicates how weak such techniques are when it comes to deciding how much infrastructure to provide. For infrastructure typically comes in systems, not discrete bits. Choosing what sort and level of infrastructure to supply is not a marginal decision. It is often about one system or another. Marginal analysis—as the core of cost-benefit analysis—has little obvious to offer.”

High Speed 2 has a great deal to offer to both the north and the south of the country.

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair): Order. For all the speakers before the Front-Bench Members come in, I will have to reduce the time limit to three minutes. I am sorry.

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3.31 pm

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): Thank you, Mr Betts. I shall be as brief as I can. I have always recognised that infrastructure projects come at environmental cost. They cannot be done without that. My constituency has had the M4, the M25 and the M40 built through it, which has caused a lot of environmental damage, but ultimately, those roads are appreciated and used.

I also recognise that the fact that my own constituents may not directly benefit is not an argument for saying that the cost to build HS2 should not fall on them. However, the point that I have always been worried about is that the project is highly speculative. I have always given my colleagues in Government the benefit of the doubt. To work out a precise economic case is difficult and perhaps in 40 years’ time people might turn around and say, “This was an inspired choice.” However, I would have expected that, as the project proceeded, a greater volume of evidence would have emerged to support the Government’s economic case, yet the very contrary is the case.

Every passing month sees a new report come out that casts doubt on out-of-date figures and, indeed, on the basic premises on which the project is based. That troubles me very much. I hope that the Minister will be able to say what the Government will do to counter that argument, because that is what got them through Second Reading. Without that answer, it seems that their case is undermined.

I will turn to the detail. When the project was proposed, quite astonishingly the Colne valley, which lies in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) was described as an area of “dug gravel pits.” In fact, it is an essential amenity that is used by hundreds of thousands of people on the edge of London for recreational purposes. It includes: a number of sites of special scientific interest; wonderful water parks; leisure facilities; river walks; otters in the river; and just about everything that could possibly be wanted in terms of biodiversity within 15 miles of the centre of London.

Sir John Randall: Does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that when the gravel pits were once mentioned in a discussion, I pointed out that in fact the Norfolk broads were man-made as well? Nobody would dispute that they are worth keeping.

Mr Grieve: I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. Indeed, they are similar to the Norfolk broads in terms of recreational amenity.

I was told at the start of the project that it would never be possible or economically viable to tunnel under the River Colne because that would cost in the region of £1 billion more than a viaduct—I remember that figure being given. By last month, we were told that, because the viaduct will cost so much, the true differential is a mere £185 million. In the great scheme of the £50 billion- plus we are talking about for this project, that seems to be something that the Government really ought to consider, given the damage to the environment not just for the local community and residents but for all the other people who come to make use of this recreational area. That same point could be made about the tunnel

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under the area of outstanding natural beauty, but I will focus on the Colne valley because of its importance not just to the local community but to the residents.

I am very grateful that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced that the Heathrow spur would effectively not go ahead. That removes a great deal of potential blight from my constituency and it is quite clear that it was not needed. However, parts of the bits of the junctions and other infrastructure still remain in the Bill, which worries me about the potential for blight. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that the necessary steps will be taken to ensure that such potential for blight is removed from the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I give my right hon. and learned Friend that reassurance now.

Mr Grieve: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. That will be well received in my constituency.

Finally, we have heard a lot about compensation. The package has changed and been improved, but I still find something very odd about a situation in which we have a need-to-sell basis for getting a full market value for compensation for those people living outside the immediate areas close to the track, yet if they do not go through the paraphernalia of need to sell—I suspect that some cases will be done, I am afraid, by requests that may have a sleight of hand—they will not be adequately compensated. That cannot be right. I know the origin of the compensation system in this country, but it is antiquated and it is time that we moved away from it. We are actually forcing people to move, because otherwise they will not get the compensation that they need.

With those points in mind, I look forward to the Minister’s response. However, I come back to my original point. The Government really will have to counter the growing volume of evidence that the project has serious flaws in its concept.

3.36 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and to follow the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan). I have spoken on HS2 on previous occasions in the House and I remain of the view—in fact, it has got stronger—that is wholly unnecessary and ridiculously expensive. The figure of £50 billion is talked about quite a bit, but Hansard on 5 March shows that my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) drew attention to evidence presented to the HS2 Committee that

“hidden costs will raise the overall cost of the HS2…to £138 billion”. —[Official Report, 5 March 2015; Vol. 593, c. 1062.]

That is a massively higher figure. My contacts in the industry suggest that that figure is perfectly justifiable and some say that the real figure would be even more.

Even if things are expensive, I would still support them if they are the right thing to do, but this project is not. I made a written submission to the House of Lords Committee to set out my views in more detail, which is available on the internet. I have spoken on them before, but let us get the first nonsense of HS2 out of the way first of all: that must be Euston. It is the wrong station

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in the wrong place. The last place that a business traveller from Birmingham or whatever who wants to get to the City or Canary Wharf wants to arrive is Euston. They would want to get to somewhere linked on to Crossrail to get through to those places, and not have to struggle with their laptop and wheelie case from Euston on to the tube and then the docklands light railway to get to Canary Wharf. That is a nonsense.

Michael Fabricant: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Is he also aware that a business traveller from the Birmingham area first has to get to Birmingham New Street and then, with all their baggage, has to walk across Birmingham to get to Curzon Street station, only to end up at the wrong station—Euston? As I said earlier on, any hope of getting directly to France has now evaporated.

Kelvin Hopkins: I am not yet a Privy Counsellor and I do not suppose that I ever will be, but the hon. Gentleman’s point about Curzon Street was absolutely right; I was coming to it myself. In my submission to the House of Lords Committee, which was titled, “Sensible alternatives to HS2”, I gave three specific alternatives that would cost a fraction of that amount but solve all the problems that HS2 might supposedly solve.

First, I suggested the electrification of the Birmingham Snow Hill line, via Banbury, to London. It currently goes to Marylebone or Paddington, but it could easily be linked—the tracks are already there, so all it needs is a bit of track work—to Crossrail going in both directions. If we had an electric train from Snow Hill in the middle of the Birmingham business district that went direct to Canary Wharf at 125 mph, someone could work on a laptop without changing trains and I bet that train would beat HS2 if otherwise that person had to get to Curzon Street and then get two tube trains at the London end. HS2 is a complete and total nonsense, but that suggestion would provide wonderful extra capacity.

That would also allow travel direct to Heathrow from the centre of Birmingham and it could be linked through from Leamington Spa on to the west coast main line, so we could have Birmingham airport linked to Heathrow airport with a direct, 125 mph, one-hour service. They could almost be hubs or satellites for each other. There could be trains from further north—from Manchester—coming down the west coast main line, joining the Banbury line and going directly from the centre of Manchester to Heathrow or Canary Wharf. It is possible for a tiny fraction of the cost of HS2.

Frank Dobson: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the benefits that the alternatives to HS2 would bring to other parts of the country that probably explain why there is a majority against HS2 in every region of this country, according to the opinion polls, even in the north-west, where people are most enthusiastic about it? Even there, the divide is 43% to 39%.

Kelvin Hopkins: My right hon. Friend has spoken wisely, as always.

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair): Will the hon. Gentleman bring his remarks to a conclusion, please, so the Front-Bench spokesmen can respond?

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Kelvin Hopkins: Yes, indeed.

My second alternative to HS2 is to upgrade the east coast main line. It needs to be four-tracked at Welwyn with an extra viaduct, a flyover at Peterborough, a flyover at Newark and four-tracking in various places, so that there can be non-stop services from King’s Cross to Edinburgh in three and a half hours, which was done on a test run in 1990; indeed, that test run was slightly faster than is being proposed with HS2. [Interruption.] Not a problem.

Finally I will propose what I have proposed before, which is the GB Freight Route. That is a dedicated rail freight line, to carry lorries on trains from the channel tunnel to every major region of Britain, using old trackbed and under-utilised lines, without causing any environmental or planning problems. The details are included in my paper here, which I have submitted to others from time to time.

Those three alternatives together would cost a tiny fraction of what it is proposed HS2 will cost and would be infinitely more useful. Indeed, the freight line would pay for itself.

I will leave my case there. I would love to speak for longer; I can speak for another two hours unaided, if you wish, Mr Betts, but I have probably said enough.

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair): I will not aid the hon. Gentleman in that course.

I ask the hon. Gentleman—Nick Hurd—just to keep his remarks to two minutes. I am sorry, but the Minister needs to have time to reply to the debate.

3.41 pm

Mr Nick Hurd (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con): I shall do my very best, Mr Betts.

I wholly endorse the view that we need more evidence and less assertion when considering the case for HS2. Like others, I come to bury HS2, not to praise it. My personal opposition to the current HS2 plans is based absolutely on the impact that HS2 will have on my constituency. The Minister is well aware of that impact. He is a good man. He has been good enough to come and see for himself that the disruption to thousands of residents in Ickenham, Harefield and west Ruislip will be immense, and these are places where people choose to live because of their relative tranquillity and semi-rural nature. There are no direct benefits to the area from HS2, and yet the future we are being asked to accept is one of major construction sites for 10 years, unbearable increases in the movement of heavy goods vehicles on key artery roads that are already clogged, huge soil dumps, a viaduct across the stunning Colne valley, electricity feeder stations, and the risk of losing Hillingdon Outdoor Activity Centre, which is known locally as HOAC and which is a superb facility enjoyed by 20,000 young people a year.

I could go on, but beneath those headlines is a dense thicket of problems, concerns and unanswered questions, and HS2 still does not have an answer to some of the biggest problems. The future of HOAC remains uncertain, as all relocation options are complicated. As for the chronic problem of traffic on Harefield road and access to the A40, we are just told that something will be worked out with the council at a future date. It is not good enough.

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There is a solution and it is the “t” word. I began arguing for a tunnel extension back in 2012, alongside my right hon. Friends and neighbours: my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall); we will miss my good friend, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, dreadfully. Hillingdon council, residents and MPs are now all working alongside each other to make the case for a tunnel extension.

HS2 is unwilling to assess the viability of such an extension. Hillingdon council has produced a report that shows it is technically feasible and can be done for more or less the same price as other projects. This is my ask of the Minister: can we please pressure HS2 to give this report a serious response, which gives us a detailed breakdown of its costs for the viaduct and its estimate of the Hillingdon costs, so that the Transport Committee and the public can have a view on two reports and the case for extending the tunnel across the Colne valley, which would solve so many of the problems in my area? We must literally bury HS2 and protect the area, and if we do not, I am afraid that I cannot support HS2 in the future.

3.44 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) on securing the debate. She has been a doughty opponent of High Speed 2 throughout this Parliament, and while we have found ourselves on opposite sides of that argument, the tone of these debates has been constructive. I hope to continue in that spirit today.

HS2 has been improved through this House’s scrutiny, and I am sure that process will continue after the election. I speak in this debate in support of HS2. The project was first announced under the last Labour Government, and, if anything, the case for HS2 has grown stronger since then. Record passenger growth has continued. Data from the Office of Rail Regulation have recently shown that there were 430 million journeys between October and December last year, an increase of almost 7% compared with the same quarter in 2013. That growth has continued through periods of disruption and even through a recession.

As a consequence, the railways are reaching the limits of their capacity, and nowhere is that more keenly felt than on the west coast main line, the busiest and perhaps the most complex mixed-use line in Europe. Network Rail has warned that its capacity will be exhausted by 2024, and as demand continues to grow, that day of reckoning could come even sooner.

We cannot forget the money that has already been invested in the line, whether for electrification, the ingenuity of tilting trains or the ill-fated and hugely disruptive £9 billion modernisation programme of recent years. Just a few years on, we have already exhausted all the additional capacity that that investment brought us and we are still no nearer to achieving speeds above 125 mph than we were 50 years ago, when British Rail started to plan the advanced passenger train. Once the Norton Bridge area works are completed, the scope for further infrastructure improvements is limited.

The consequences are simple: we cannot continue to force every grade of traffic to compete for scarce paths without impairing passenger services. We have only to

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look at the 2008 timetable changes, which enabled more fast trains to London at the expense of commuter services in the west midlands, to see that. I have visited places south of Stoke where services were withdrawn during the modernisation programme, and residents have been told that the stations cannot be reopened because paths have been reassigned. Although those capacity constraints are most acute on the west coast main line, they are also felt on other trunk routes, including the midland main line and the east coast main line.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Lilian Greenwood: I will not give way because I have very limited time; I am sorry.

It is sometimes said that we should just upgrade what we have, and of course we need to invest in the existing network, but the delayed and over-budget Great Western works are showing just how difficult such upgrading can be in practice. Opponents of HS2 are rightly concerned about costs and it is vital that taxpayers get the best value for their investment, so it should be a great concern to us all that the estimated cost of electrifying the Great Western main line has more than trebled, from £540 million in 2011 to more than £1.7 billion today, and the price is still rising. As Lord Adonis has said, it is like performing open heart surgery on a Victorian railway. Let there be no mistake: tracks may have been relayed and signals may have been upgraded since the Victorian railways were put down, but almost all our alignments are inherited from an age of slower traction, and almost 200 years later they have given us compromises.

It may be asked, “What is the alternative to HS2?” The truth is that the alternative, if it can be called that, is to prioritise the needs of one passenger against another. It is to make fast trains compete with commuter and freight services, and to spend even greater sums to extract diminishing returns from our eccentric and increasingly sclerotic network. To my mind, that is no alternative at all. It would lead to a meaner, less socially accessible and more London-centric railway. We urgently need new capacity and HS2 is the right project to provide it.

A number of concerns have been raised, both outside and inside this House. Much has been said about the project’s costs and it is certainly true that there was a loss of focus on costs after the election. That is why Labour successfully amended the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act 2013 to enforce a much tougher scrutiny regime around the project’s budget. I will add that after the investment in High Speed 1, in Crossrail, in Thameslink and in Reading station, HS2 is a welcome commitment to building world-class infrastructure in the midlands and the north, and not just in London and the south-east.

Helen Jones: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Lilian Greenwood: I will not give way, because I have such limited time and I want the Minister to be able to respond to points.

We cannot and should not ignore environmental concerns, and I am grateful for the briefings and constructive dialogue that I have had with groups such as the Campaign

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to Protect Rural England and the Woodland Trust. Unlike the current Mayor of London, we do not dismiss legitimate environmental concerns raised by people who live along the proposed route of HS2, and we want the environmental benefits of HS2 to be enhanced through an early commitment to decarbonising the electricity market. We also want to ensure that the concerns of community groups are looked at, and that disruption is mitigated wherever possible.

Mr Grieve: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lilian Greenwood: I am so sorry, but I am not going to; there is limited time.

We need to make sure that we get the route right. I am sure that hon. Members of all parties will want to record their gratitude to our colleagues who sit on the phase 1 hybrid Bill Committee, who have approached their task in a spirit of fairness and determination. As the right hon. Lady said, we thank the Clerk, Neil Caulfield, and the other staff who support the Committee.

It has been said before that if HS2 is about capacity south of Birmingham, it is also about connectivity north of it. The reality is that many of our cities have relatively good links to London, but poor links to each other. For example, travelling from Nottingham to Leeds can take more than two hours at present, but with HS2 it could take as little as 40 minutes. Across the country, HS2 holds enormous potential to reinvent the quality of our connections between Birmingham and Manchester, the west and east midlands, the midlands and Yorkshire, and beyond, as high speed services run on to other lines. We will achieve those aims only if HS2 is planned as a fully integrated component of our existing network. I hope that that objective will be vigorously pursued in the next Parliament.

It has been a true honour and a privilege to serve in the shadow Transport team. HS2 is an important part of the brief and I am glad to have had the opportunity to make what I hope is a final contribution only in this Parliament in support of this essential project.

3.51 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) on securing this debate on HS2, a scheme that affects a number of constituencies on its line of route, not least Kenilworth and Southam. I note that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright) is in the Chamber.

I am tempted to go as far as to endorse everything that the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) said. Certainly, a project of this type, which is going to be constructed over a number of years, needs wide political support across the spectrum. Therefore it is good news that we have such a lot of agreement on it.

Of course, there has been considerable interest in HS2 throughout the country. When the scheme was last debated in Parliament, on Second Reading in April 2014, the support for it was clear: 452 votes in favour to 41 against. It is patently obvious that, with the west coast main line reaching capacity, something needed to

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be done. It is no good saying to those using this service that they must grin and bear it while we do nothing, watching our infrastructure grind to a halt and stifling economic growth.

Comments have been made about the report published yesterday by the Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee. Although I have enormous respect for our colleagues in the other place, I most heartily disagree with their report. The case for HS2 is crystal clear. It will have a transformational effect, supporting growth in the north by improving connectivity, freeing up space on our crowded rail network, promoting regeneration, boosting local skills, generating tens of thousands of jobs and helping secure the UK’s future prosperity.

Joan Walley: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Grieve: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Goodwill: I am not going to give way. I have so many points to cover in a short time.

It is a vital part of the Government’s long-term economic plan, strongly supported by the northern and midlands cities, alongside our plans for better east-west rail links confirmed in the northern transport strategy last week.

We have been fully transparent about the project. HS2 will deliver more than £2 of benefits for every £1 invested, and the economic benefit of the project is clear. The strong support of MPs is shared by—

Mrs Gillan: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Goodwill: Not at this time.

Mrs Gillan: He should give way to me.

Mr Goodwill: I will give way this once.

Mrs Gillan: I am grateful to the Minister. However, I do not know how he can say, “We have been fully transparent about the project”, when he has not published any of the Major Projects Authority’s reports and we cannot get up-to-date figures on the project.

Mr Goodwill: My right hon. Friend has tabled 355 parliamentary questions for the Department on HS2—

Mrs Gillan: Good, I am doing my job.

Mr Goodwill: And we have given her comprehensive replies to those questions. The report that she refers to is, of course, an historical report that is out of date. We are working on much more up-to-date information.

There is strong support from the Transport Committee, which backs the strategic business case and is confident that HS2 is the only practical way significantly to increase rail capacity. Indeed, the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) is a member of that Committee. One of its conclusions in a previous report states:

“Having reviewed the revised business case for HS2 and the KPMG report on regional economic benefits we remain convinced that the project is justified. Capacity constraints on the West

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Coast Main Line cannot be ignored and nor should demand be controlled by pricing people off the railway. Alternatives to building a new line will themselves be costly and disruptive and their benefits could be relatively short-lived if demand continues…as forecast. Only a new line can bring the step change in capacity which is required.”

The Committee agrees with the Government and the Opposition.

Demand for long distance rail travel has doubled in the past 15 years and without HS2 key rail routes connecting London, the midlands and the north will soon be overwhelmed, stifling growth in towns and cities across the country. There is also latent demand for more rail freight, for which no paths are currently available on the west coast main line. It is crucial that we press ahead with delivering HS2 on time and budget. We remain on track to start construction in 2017.

The Bill is now before the hybrid Bill Committee, ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms), which has already heard petitions relating to about half the route of phase 1. In the nine months it has sat, it has heard almost twice as many petitions as the Committee on Crossrail heard in its 21 months of sitting. Clearly, there are many petitions yet to hear, but I am sure the whole House would want to thank my hon. Friend and his Committee for the seriousness and diligence with which they have gone about their important role of ensuring that the project strikes the right balance between being sensitive to the needs of affected communities and the environment, and the long-term needs of the country as a whole.

Of course, the scheme has undergone particular scrutiny in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham. I take this opportunity to thank her for so assiduously ensuring that her constituents’ voices are heard. I note how much she has achieved, including helping to move the line of the route further south through the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty in 2011, to avoid an aquifer, and extending the tunnel in her constituency. The scheme now boasts over 13 km of tunnel under the Chilterns. Indeed, of the overall kilometerage in the Chiltern area—there is 20.8 km of line there—46% is in bored tunnel, 12% in green tunnel and 28% in cutting. Therefore 86% of the route in the AONB is below ground level or in a tunnel. I think my right hon. Friend has made a tremendous contribution to achieving that for her constituents. This demonstrates both the Government’s commitment to protect areas of outstanding natural beauty and the hard work of my right hon. Friend. This is an example of how passionate she has been in working hard for her constituents.

I will deal with some questions raised. I will not be able to respond to them all, so I will write to the hon. and right hon. Members I cannot reach. Hon. Members mentioned the independence of the residents’ commissioner and the residents’ charter. The commissioner will report findings directly to Sir David Higgins and will not be part of the standard staff structure. The direct link and the publication of the commissioner’s quarterly report will ensure that concerns and issues can be aired and addressed in a timely manner. The residents’ charter and residents’ commissioner’s report will be transparent. That transparency provides the best guarantee of independence.

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The hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) raised a valid question about the phase 2 spur. We are currently reviewing and assessing those decisions. No decisions have been taken yet on either Crewe or the spur.

Joan Walley: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Goodwill: I only have two minutes to go, so I really must come to a close.

I shall briefly talk about the economic impact and the fact that we are not taking money away from other infrastructure investment. We are investing £73 billion in transport from 2015-16 to 2020-21 and £57 billion in other projects.

In terms of the economic case, I draw the House’s attention to a report in The Times today, which states that HSBC—I do not think it is our favourite bank at the moment—is going to relocate 1,000 workers to Birmingham:

“The bank already has three sites there employing 2,500 people, and some of those will move to the new building that it has its eyes on, not yet erected, on a site near Centenary Square in the city centre.”

The article mentions the

“ever improving transport links”

in Birmingham,

“including the planned HS2 fast trains bolstering a road-rail network crowned by Spaghetti Junction on the M6”,

which it states has added to its appeal. So this is already having an effect on encouraging employers to come to the area.

In conclusion, HS2 is about helping Britain to thrive and prosper. Although tough decisions have to be taken, they will be responsible decisions in the interest of making a better, stronger Britain. We understand that a scheme of this magnitude cannot be built without having some effects on the environment or communities, but as I have set out here today, we are going to great lengths to ensure that the impacts are mitigated wherever practical, particularly in areas with ancient woodland. I repeat our pledge that there will be no net environmental loss. We will make sure that this is done in the most sustainable way for any major infrastructure ever built.

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Homelessness (Crisis Report)

4 pm

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, in this important debate. Homelessness remains a blight on our society. Its causes are complex, but it often happens due to a combination of family breakdown, mental ill health and substance abuse. Most people do not choose to be homeless, and society has a responsibility to care for the homeless, who are some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society.

In recent years, I have had the opportunity to visit, work with and support two homelessness charities in my constituency: New Direction and Braintree Foyer. Both are run by the Salvation Army, which does an incredible job across the country to provide support for the homeless. I also thank Braintree district council for its swift response in providing housing for those individuals who suddenly found themselves homeless following the tragic fire at the shelter at Ben’s Café in Braintree last month.

There are many excellent homelessness charities up and down the country, including Shelter, Centrepoint, Homeless Link, St Mungo’s, The Passage, Barnado’s and others. There is also the incredible generosity of the public at large, who donate time and money to support homelessness charities. I spent this past Christmas at Crisis and was especially impressed by the support it gave to London’s homeless. I was equally impressed by the thousands of volunteers who gave up their time to help out. Outside of the London Olympics, Crisis has the largest army of volunteers. Once I leave Parliament, I intend to focus my time on better understanding the issues surrounding homelessness by working with Crisis and other homelessness charities with a view to doing whatever I can to provide support, not only by working directly with the homeless, but by working with the leading homelessness charities to see how we can work with the Government to reduce, if not resolve, the blight of homelessness in our society.

Having spent some time with Crisis, I think it is worth outlining to the Minister and Members the state of homelessness in England by reviewing the issues outlined in Crisis’s “The homelessness monitor”, which was released recently. Notwithstanding a number of important initiatives by the Government and the Mayor’s office in London to tackle homelessness, the figures unfortunately continue to rise. Official figures indicate that 111,960 people in England made a homelessness application last year. However, according to recent research by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the real figures are considerably larger—280,000 individuals approached their local authorities last year seeking homelessness assistance. Homelessness prevention activity alone constituted some 228,000 cases in 2013-14, which was 12% higher than in the previous year and 38% up on 2009-10.

The ending of an assured shorthold tenancy is now the leading cause of homelessness, accounting for 29% of cases. That is most pertinent in London, where it accounts for 38% of cases. The number of people rough sleeping has also risen. In London alone, 6,508 people slept rough at some point during 2013-14. That figure has doubled over the past six years. English street count

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figures for 2014-15 were 2,744, which is a 14% rise on the year before and a 55% increase over the past four years.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on an important topic. It may surprise him to learn that Cornwall is second only to London in the number of people rough sleeping and in the number of people living without homes. Does he agree that we should praise the Government for how they changed the rough sleeper count? I have been involved with homelessness charities for a great deal of my life, and I saw that the old system under the previous Government precluded people from having an accurate measure of the number of people rough sleeping. At least we now have a much better handle on and understanding of the numbers. That will enable us to make appropriate resources available, so that local authorities and others can help those people into homes.

Mr Newmark: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Later in my speech, I will come on to some of the good initiatives by the Government and the Mayor’s office to address homelessness, but first I will outline the numbers, and unfortunately the reality is that the numbers are rising.

“The homelessness monitor” noted that there has been a continued growth in returner rough sleepers in London, and that is a matter of concern. One possible factor in that is the cuts that many local authorities have made to their Supporting People budgets. Those cuts mean that people who leave the street do not get the support they need to sustain accommodation in the long term.

Turning to some of the key causes of homelessness, people become and stay homeless for a whole range of complex and overlapping reasons. Solving homelessness is about much more than putting a roof over people’s heads. Anyone can become homeless, but certain individual factors make it more likely, including relationship breakdown, leaving care, substance abuse and physical and mental health problems. A recent report for Crisis on the experience of single homeless people found that almost half of them had experienced mental ill health, drug dependency, or alcohol dependency, or had served a prison sentence.

Structural factors also play a major role. The continued shortage of housing and the ongoing effects of the economic recession are major drivers of homelessness. The welfare and housing systems have traditionally acted as a buffer between unemployment, poverty and homelessness. Government reforms, particularly cuts to housing benefit, are eroding that safety net. In particular, housing benefit has been cut by around £7 billion. Also, housing supply has not kept pace with demand for many decades. In total, almost 137,000 new houses were supplied in 2013-14—well below the estimated 232,000 required to keep up with demand. More and more people rely on housing benefit to pay their rent. Between 2008-09 and 2013-14, the proportion of renters in work and claiming housing benefit doubled from 7% to 14%.

Notwithstanding a very tough economic climate, the Government, much to their credit, have invested £20 million in the homelessness transition fund, which supports

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175 voluntary sector projects for single homeless people. The fund also supported the national roll-out of the “No Second Night Out” initiative. Indeed, “No Second Night Out” has been successful in supporting many new rough sleepers in moving off the streets. Some 67% of the rough sleepers worked with were taken off the streets after the first night that they were found to be sleeping rough, and the majority of them did not return to the streets once helped.

Furthermore, the Department for Communities and Local Government introduced the gold standard programme, which is a set of best practice principles for local authorities to sign up to, designed to drive improvements in housing options services. DCLG also invested £13 million in the Crisis private rented access scheme. Since the creation of the scheme, 153 voluntary sector-led projects have helped 9,320 vulnerable people into accommodation, with more than 90% maintaining tenancies for at least six months. Much to their credit, the Government changed the methodology used for local authority rough sleeping counts to make them more accurate in tracking annual trends, which I believe is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) was making. The Greater London authority and the Government have invested £5 million in the world’s first homelessness social impact bond, which helped to deliver better outcomes for 831 of London’s most entrenched rough sleepers.

I praise the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and his team at City hall for their work on tackling rough sleeping in the capital. The Mayor’s rough sleeping group, which includes local authorities, DCLG, the Home Office, charities and the police, leads on and co-ordinates the wide-ranging work to tackle rough sleeping throughout our capital. The Mayor invests about £9 million in rough sleeping services every year. Launched in April 2011, the flagship “No Second Night Out” service has helped more than 6,000 new rough sleepers. Around three out of every four rough sleepers now spend only one night outside. The Chancellor and Mayor recently announced that £5 million will be made available to “No Second Night Out”, putting the initiative on a more permanent footing.

However, support for single homeless people remains a challenge. Single homeless people who are not considered to be in priority need for housing can be turned away when they approach their council, with little help and no solution to their housing needs. Single homeless people should be given advice and assistance, but Crisis’s experience and research shows that, too often, that does not happen.

Crisis recently conducted a mystery shopping exercise, in which eight formerly homeless people visited 16 local authorities to examine the quality of advice and assistance that they provide to single homeless people. In well over half the 87 visits, the help offered was inadequate. In 29 cases, they were simply turned away without any help or the opportunity to speak to a housing adviser, despite the mystery shoppers portraying individuals in very vulnerable situations, including someone who was forced to sleep rough after losing their job, a young person thrown out of the family home, a victim of domestic violence and a person with learning difficulties.

Crisis wants all political parties to make a manifesto commitment to reviewing the support given to single homeless people, so that no one is forced to sleep rough

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and all homeless people get the help that they need. I draw the Minster’s attention to the St Mungo’s Broadway manifesto for the 2015 general election, which identifies many of the key problems surrounding homelessness and the priorities for the next Government to address regarding homelessness.

Sarah Newton: My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way a second time. Is he aware of the Children’s Society’s work in this area? The Children’s Society looks after vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds. It has told me that more than half the youngsters in that vulnerable age group who go along to local authorities are rejected. They are not properly assessed or given support, and some are labelled as intentionally homeless. In addition to the excellent work done by Crisis, the Children’s Society’s work draws us to conclude that there is a severe need for a proper review in the next Parliament of what local authorities are doing to implement their statutory responsibilities to conduct proper assessments.

Mr Newmark: Again, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Along with many homelessness charities, the Children’s Society has done a lot of work focused on young people. That 16-to-24 age bracket seems to feel the brunt of homelessness. They are the people who are not served enough. With a little more focus on and support for that age range, I hope that the next Government will commit the resources necessary to address the problem.

Beyond the issue of single-person homelessness, the Government must support individuals with complex and multiple needs. There needs to be an increase in the number and type of health services—including mental health and drug and alcohol services—available to homeless people at hostels and day centres. Tackling issues such as drug and alcohol use requires an holistic approach that considers the specific needs of homeless people. As well as treating addiction, recovery services should provide help with housing—stable accommodation is vital for treatment and recovery—skills and work.

On welfare reform, housing benefit acts as a vital safety net to keep people who fall on hard times in their homes. However, cuts to housing benefit have, unfortunately, been a contributory factor to recent increases in homelessness. As my hon. Friend said, there are particular problems for younger adults, who are limited to receiving the shared accommodation rate of housing benefit. The rate has always been calculated in such a way that it does not reflect the real cost of tenanting a shared property. Although the Government’s intention is that the lowest 30% of the private rented market should be available to people on housing benefit, research by Crisis showed that as little as 2% of shared accommodation was actually available and affordable to benefit recipients. The calculation of the shared accommodation rate should be reviewed to ensure that it meets the real cost of renting shared accommodation and does not leave young adults at risk of homelessness.

Furthermore, there are indications that the current sanctions regime is not working to support more vulnerable people into work. Instead, sanctions are increasing people’s risk of becoming homeless, leaving them struggling with debt and without enough money for food, rent or heating. Sanctions disproportionately affect homeless people, with many facing obstacles—including mental

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and physical health problems, a history of domestic violence and poor literacy and IT skills—that make it harder for them to meet their work-related conditions. From November 2012 to March 2014, 13% of sanction decisions were overturned, which suggests that a large number of people are being sanctioned incorrectly. That must be addressed, and work should be undertaken to ensure that the right decisions are made first time.

Finally, there must be a significant increase in the number of genuinely affordable homes being supplied each year. Crisis is a core member of the Homes for Britain coalition, which is calling on all political parties to commit to ending the housing crisis within a generation and publishing a plan laying out how they will do so, within a year of taking office.

I end by thanking Crisis again for all the work that it does towards ending the blight of homelessness in our society. The crisis of homelessness is not just for Christmas; it is a problem that must be addressed 24/7, 365 days a year. When I leave the House at the end of the week, I look forward to beginning a new chapter in my life, working with Crisis and other homelessness charities to try to tackle this blight on our society once and for all.

4.17 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Kris Hopkins): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) for securing this debate on such an important issue. I want to recognise his work, as well as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), in support of local charities. Their contribution to the debate raises the profile of homelessness and ensures that it remains in the public’s consciousness. It is important to the Government, and tackling homelessness and rough sleeping remains a key priority for us. At the beginning of this Parliament, we made available some £500 million. As a direct consequence of that contribution to tackling homelessness, we managed to prevent some 700,000 people from becoming homeless.

There is no doubt that being homeless affects every aspect of a person’s life. No one should be in such a frightening situation, especially not some of society’s most vulnerable people. Quite often, individual life circumstances create the situation, so it is important that the Government put in place prevention measures and attempt to help such individuals and mitigate the situation.

A housing crisis could happen to anyone at any time. The lucky ones have the resilience to cope with it and, perhaps, the resources to get back on their feet. However, that is of course not always the case. Some vulnerable people struggle to find their way out and become trapped in the cycle of homelessness. As we have seen today, the consequences can be severe. I know that both my hon. Friends have dealt with cases as Members of Parliament and sought to help. I appreciate that. Every MP will have similar experience. Homelessness is not a partisan issue, and I would appreciate a cross-Government response to put in place the right resources to address these vulnerable people’s needs.

Sarah Newton: The Minister is right to talk about vulnerable people, young ones in particular, and to say that cross-governmental work is required. In the next

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Parliament further changes to housing benefit will be considered, especially on shared occupancy. Does he agree that just as we are exempting care leavers, because we understand their particular vulnerability, we should also consider exempting young 16, 17 or 18-year-olds who present to local authorities as homeless, so that they have the best chance of getting supported accommodation and the necessary support to get themselves back on their own two feet and participating fully in society?

Kris Hopkins: There has been great debate about some of the challenges we face on the benefits bill, and a future Government will deal with that, whichever party comes to power. My hon. Friend and I, and others, will make a powerful case on the grounds that she has just mentioned.

For those vulnerable people, the services provided by local authorities and voluntary sector partners are a lifeline. I recognise the hard work and dedication of so many people, for whom this is not just a job; it is a vocation. I have been to see individuals who give an enormous amount of time to provide support and care to those vulnerable people.

Housing supply is an important factor, and I reassure colleagues that that is another key priority. We should be proud of what we have done to deliver some 217,000 affordable homes in England since April 2010. That includes £19.5 billion of public and private investment through our affordable homes programme, which will deliver 170,000 new homes by the end of March this year, in a few days’ time. Over the next five years another £38 billion of public and private investment will provide a further 275,000 new affordable homes between 2015 and 2020. Over the next Parliament, we will therefore build more new affordable homes than during any equivalent period in the past 20 years. We should be proud that we have sought to ensure such provision. A lot remains to be done, but bearing in mind the economic circumstances, it is important that we have made that commitment.

I will say a few words about statutory and youth homelessness before coming on to Crisis, which my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree discussed. Despite the difficult economic circumstances, statutory homelessness is significantly lower than it was during its peak period under the previous Government. I do not want to paint an over-rosy picture—we should be realistic about where we are—but the Government have maintained the strong safety net, protected in law, to ensure that families and vulnerable people have a roof over their head. The Government have therefore increased investment in homelessness services over the lifetime of the Parliament, including the £500 million I mentioned.

We have done much to support homeless people. Recently I addressed and listened to members of the Youth Homeless Parliament, who met here in Westminster. Many spoke with passion about their circumstances. Such a dialogue between users of our services, charities and Members of Parliament can shape the services. As a direct consequence of engagement that I have had, a new £15 million fair chance fund will affect the lives of some 1,600 homeless and NEET—those not in education, employment or training—18 to 25-year-olds. It is about targeting money at specific groups.

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Another vulnerable group that we wanted to help were those suffering from domestic violence. A £10 million package was initiated for them by the Prime Minister, who wanted to intervene to ensure that we had sufficient capacity to stop refuges closing, and adequate local authority provision to protect vulnerable victims of domestic abuse and their families. Some 148 areas across England will benefit from that resource, which will be rolled out over the next two years.

Mr Newmark: With violence and abuse, one of the issues for many young people, unfortunately, is that they are forced to return to the area where they are from in order to get housing, even though that is the very environment in which they suffered the abuse. It would be good if the Government had a little more flexibility, in particular when dealing with young people subjected to a violent upbringing. The authorities should not have to say to them, “The only place you can get your housing is back where you suffered abuse.”

Kris Hopkins: Our local authorities have an obligation to ensure that such children, very young people in particular, are safe. My hon. Friend is right: they should not be placed back where they might be vulnerable. He makes a good point, and I am sure that over the coming weeks and months he will continue to make the case, and that he will shape policy.

As the Minister with responsibility for homelessness, I believe that one area that was neglected for many years was single homelessness and rough sleeping. We should be proud of what we have done about rough sleepers through, for example, “No Second Night Out”, and to ensure that the public are involved. The public want to participate, and we have given them some of the mechanisms necessary to do so. They should be proud of their contribution and the amount of it.

Mr Newmark: I appreciate that time is running out, and all the responses that the Minister is giving. For a young male between 16 and 24, it is particularly difficult to get any form of housing. That is a challenge, and although I understand why it is challenging, we need to address that. If we do not find support and housing for that group, it might unfortunately lead to greater problems further along in their lives.

Kris Hopkins: I only have a few minutes left, so I will pick up on a couple of issues, the first of which is about breaking the cycle that single homeless people find themselves in. How do we get them into employment, if that is possible? How do we give them a stable home to build their lives on?

One of our interventions has been to work with Crisis, which my hon. Friend has mentioned several times. We provided some £14 million of funding to Crisis to enable it to run a project providing access to the private rented sector, which has been a real success. The idea is to help some 10,000 single homeless people to access and sustain privately rented accommodation by 2016. We know that 90% sustain such accommodation for at least six months. It is about giving continuity to those individuals. It is important that we get provision right, and that we give those people who have been trapped in a cycle the opportunity to get themselves

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away from abuse, drugs and alcohol, putting them in a safe environment so that they can build their lives again with support.

Only a minute or so is left, so I want to put on record my thanks to individuals in the Department for Communities and Local Government. We should not ignore the fact that in the DCLG we have a huge wealth of knowledge—and it is not isolated knowledge that simply sits inside the Department; it is about outreach and understanding the complex issues associated with rough sleeping and homelessness. The Department can be extremely proud.

We should also recognise what local authorities, including the Greater London authority, do. Westminster’s Councillor Robathan has been leading on homelessness and, bearing in mind the complex issues in the borough, she should be applauded, as should Richard Blakeway at the GLA, who has been leading on the issue for some time. We should also say, however, that some authorities are not getting it right. I look to the GLA and other strong local authorities to offer leadership and direction to the weaker authorities that have not always picked up their responsibilities.

I am sure that the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government will participate on the issue in future. I hope that Members will ensure that homelessness and rough sleeping stay in the public consciousness, and that the next Government provide an equally responsible response.

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Princess Royal University Hospital

4.29 pm

Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): I am grateful both to you, Mr Betts, and to the Minister for agreeing to my proposition that I speak for 10 minutes and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), who is equally concerned about these matters, may speak for five minutes; the Minister will have the prerogative of the usual arrangements for ministerial responses.

The reason I have raised this matter is that in south-east London generally and in Lewisham in particular we have been around this course before, and know exactly where it wound up then. I will be candid from the off: I am deeply suspicious of the whole process currently being embarked upon by Monitor and of the involvement of the Princess Royal university hospital at Orpington and King’s College hospital trust. I hope the Minister will be able to provide me with some assurances that will assuage my fears about this matter.

I will explain why. On Tuesday 24 July 2012—hardly a day that will live in infamy, but one that certainly remains clear in my mind—we had a meeting at the Department of Health with the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley). My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East was there, as were Members for constituencies in the boroughs of Greenwich and Bromley, including the hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). I see that the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) is in his place today; I cannot remember whether he was also at the meeting, but other Members certainly were. The meeting concerned the future of the South London Healthcare NHS Trust, which then consisted effectively of the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich, the Princess Royal university hospital in Orpington, which I chose as the title for the debate today, and Queen Mary’s hospital in Sidcup.

Members for constituencies in the boroughs of Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich were quite rightly invited to that meeting. As I said, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East and I were both invited, even though Lewisham hospital was not part of the South London Healthcare trust. No one else from south-east London—no Members for constituencies in Lambeth or Southwark—was invited or present, although, strangely enough, they were included in the later stages of the discussions by the current Secretary of State for Health after Mr Matthew Kershaw, the trust’s special administrator, had made an initial report. His report essentially looked at the considerable downgrading—some would say the destruction—of Lewisham hospital as the answer to the problems at the Princess Royal, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary’s hospitals.

4.33 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.45 pm

On resuming—

Jim Dowd: I was talking about the fabled meeting in July 2012—two and a half years ago. When the Secretary of State and the trust special administrator said that the

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answers to the problems of the then South London Healthcare NHS Trust did not lie within its own boundaries, I knew that what they had in mind was effectively the evisceration of Lewisham hospital. For reasons that have eluded me for decades and more—I used to be on the health authority of Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham, and the district health authority for Lewisham and north Southwark—various elements of NHS London have always had Lewisham hospital in their sights. There was once a plan for there to be only four accident and emergency and general hospitals in south-east London: St Thomas’, King’s, PRUH and Queen Elizabeth; there was no room for Lewisham. I do not know why the various NHS powers think Lewisham is such an encumbrance. The service it provides to its residents and the pressure it relieves from the other hospitals around south-east London are proof positive of its value.

The morning of 5 March dawned—I was quite delighted about that, because it was my birthday. At 9.25 am, I received an e-mail from Monitor, explaining that,

“Monitor is opening an investigation at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to find a lasting solution to long-standing problems at the Princess Royal University Hospital…The regulator is concerned that some patients are waiting too long for A&E treatment”—

nothing unusual there. Not one of the hospitals in south-east London—not St Thomas’, over the river, not PRUH, not Queen Elizabeth, not Lewisham, not King’s—is currently meeting the 95% targets for seeing attendances at A and E, so that is not surprising. The e-mail went on to say,

“and routine operations…the trust is predicting a deficit of more than £40m this financial year. This deterioration in its operational and financial performance follows the unexpected costs of making urgent improvements to the quality of care at the PRUH.”

Well, Princess Royal was taken over by King’s College hospital as a consequence of the trust special administrator’s recommendations, and that is the problem it has run into.

When the trust special administrator was appointed, the Secretary of State said in a statement to the House:

“The trust is losing well over £1 million of taxpayers’ money a week, which means that vital resources are being diverted from other parts of the NHS.”—[Official Report, 29 October 2012; Vol. 552, c. 3WS.]

The difference between the £1 million a week then and the predicted £40 million a year at PRUH alone now clearly demonstrates that the trust’s special administration process did not address the right problems. Clearly, the problem was predominantly at Princess Royal.

Queen Elizabeth is now part of a very successful partnership with University hospital Lewisham, and it is doing quite well. It is not without difficulties, but that is the case for any organisations that come together under difficult circumstances. However, it is making progress in clinical and financial affairs, and is well on the way to building a solid and reliable NHS entity in our part of south-east London. That demonstrates that the entire TSA process was substantially illegal, because as we know, the High Court—and subsequently the Court of Appeal—found the trust special administrator’s recommendation with regard to Lewisham hospital, and the current Secretary of State’s stubborn refusal to

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accept anything other than those proposals, to be illegal. The Secretary of State did not have the powers he assumed he had and could not reorganise in the way that was suggested. He even had the hubris to try and test it at the Court of Appeal, which found similarly that that was the case. Thankfully, sense prevailed at that stage and he left it there, deciding not to waste any more taxpayers’ money by going to the Supreme Court.

However, the Government introduced an amendment to the Bill that became the Care Act 2014, giving them the power that they thought they originally had to do whatever they liked by appointing a trust special administrator. This is where we come to the key worry about the future of Princess Royal and King’s. It is not just about the services that are provided there, which are critically important to all the constituents of Members here today, but about the fear that Monitor, using the powers that the Government put into that Act, will try to engineer another back-door reorganisation involving Lewisham hospital. As I say, that was originally declared illegal, but Lewisham could be dragged into it by other means, so the Government can achieve what they originally meant to achieve and were stopped from so doing.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. Do I gather that his principal concern is the impact on Lewisham, and not the fact that Monitor is looking at accepted issues at the Princess Royal and King’s? From his point of view, it is the Lewisham dimension, rather than what it is necessary to do at the Princess Royal. Am I right in that?

Jim Dowd: I broadly agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point. Clearly, financial management is an important part of running the NHS. Everybody knows that, whether it is in our part of south-east London or more broadly.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I totally agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said. My worry is that the Secretary of State negated the bill. It was wiped clean, and £44 million is a huge amount of money in the very short time that King’s has apparently been mismanaging the PRUH.

Jim Dowd: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. I do not think that would be King’s view. I hold no particular brief for King’s college hospital, other than the fact that I had a heart bypass there a few years ago, so I owe them my life. However, beyond that, I have no particular indebtedness to them. I know that there is a strong feeling that it was misled about what taking on the PRUH would actually mean, and the operational and financial consequences.

Bob Stewart: I accept that point.

Jim Dowd: That is very gracious—characteristically so—of the hon. Gentleman. I have four points to make briefly: three are questions, and I would also like an assurance from the Minister.

First, I would like an indication about the time scale. How long will Monitor take to report and what is the process following the report? Who will get to review it and how will it be taken beyond that? Secondly, what are the requirements/benefits and the consequences of

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what Monitor and the letter I received from King’s later that day—5 March—say, which is that the legal powers that Monitor possesses are needed to underpin the changes that are necessary to King’s foundation trust and the PRUH? Thirdly, how much consultation will there be with other providers and commissioners across south-east London outside King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust? Finally, I want an absolute guarantee that University hospital Lewisham and Queen Elizabeth hospital Woolwich, now the Lewisham and Greenwich trust, will not be adversely affected by any decisions that Monitor makes.

4.54 pm

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I am very grateful for the opportunity to make a short contribution today, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) on securing the debate. I also thank him for sharing his time with me so that I can put on record my concerns about the challenges facing the Princess Royal and other hospitals in south-east London.

When I first learnt about the Monitor investigation into the PRUH a few weeks ago, I was worried, like my hon. Friend, that we might be witnessing the start of another process that would end up with Ministers or NHS officials wanting to close Lewisham’s full A and E. I was worried because, as he has said, we have been here before. Problems in a neighbouring hospital trust, of which the PRUH was then a part, resulted in NHS bureaucrats casting around, on the look-out for ways to save money.

It is understandable that my constituents might be suspicious about the latest investigation, given their experience a few years ago with the trust special administration process, which, as we all know, had at its heart an ill-judged and illegal attempt by the Government to close services at Lewisham in order to sort out problems at the PRUH and the Queen Elizabeth hospital.

The Minister may tell us today that this process is entirely different, but it would be helpful if she could set out exactly what the process is limited to, the time scale of the process and what change could come about as a result of the investigation. Is it about giving King’s and the PRUH more money to adequately provide the services that are needed? Is it about changing leadership at the hospital or providing specific types of support? When the investigation is concluded, how will local people know what has been proposed? Will we, as local Members of Parliament, get a copy of Monitor’s full report? Could another trust special administration process be triggered?

I am keen to get answers to those questions. Although we successfully fought the Government’s proposals for Lewisham hospital last time around, the Government have since changed the law. They can now use a rushed and chaotic process to force service closures at any hospital in the country as long as they deem the neighbouring hospital trust to be failing. Given that cynical move by the Government, it is little wonder that among my constituents there is considerable anxiety that the proposals to take services away from Lewisham will rear their head again.

I tell the Minister, for the sake of clarity if nothing else, that the people of Lewisham are adamant: no matter what the problems in neighbouring hospitals

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are, our full accident and emergency and maternity departments are essential local services that we cannot do without. I am not saying that everything is perfect, but when there are such huge pressures on the system, such as those we saw in the winter, my constituents are right when they say to me, “Just think how much worse it would have been if they had closed Lewisham.”

There are enormous pressures on London hospitals, and the situation is getting worse. At the PRUH, according to the chief executive’s January board report, one in four people who attended the A and E there in December were not seen within four hours. The latest weekly figures for both the PRUH and Lewisham hospital show a much lower percentage of patients seen within four hours than this time three years ago. We know that the PRUH is heavily reliant on nursing agency staff because of recruitment difficulties. That has resulted in an overspend on its staffing budget. I could list other problems, but time is short.

Suffice it to say, the system is under increasing pressure, and that has happened on this Government’s watch. When I first stood to be a Member of Parliament five years ago, the NHS hardly ever came up on the doorstep. It now comes up time and again. When I get an e-mail from a constituent telling me about their elderly neighbour being left waiting hours for an ambulance to turn up, waiting hours on a trolley to be seen in A and E and then waiting hours to be given a bed, I know that something is seriously wrong with our health service.

Will the Minister give us her honest assessment of the state of hospital services in south-east London? Will she set out exactly what her Government are doing to resolve the problems and give us categorical reassurance that the latest investigation into the Princess Royal hospital is not just another attempt to come after services in Lewisham?

4.59 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): I say now to colleagues who understandably are concerned about local health services and have rightly raised concerns on behalf of their constituents that if I cannot cover some of their questions in the next 12 minutes, I will undertake to write to them in the remaining days of this Parliament, or to ask someone else to write to them, so that we can try to give them some reassurance.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) on securing the debate and the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) on raising her concerns. Taking my cue from what was said previously, I start by paying tribute to all those working in London’s NHS—in those hon. Members’ constituencies, in mine and right across London—for their dedication and commitment to providing first-class services to those in their care at a time when we know that the system is, in places, under pressure.

As we have heard, after consulting with the trust, its commissioners and the London strategic health authority, the then Secretary of State instituted the special administration process at South London Healthcare NHS Trust in July 2012. He was guided in making that very difficult decision on the basis of the clinical interests of local patients, with advice from the NHS medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh. The decision was also based

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on the fact that there was no clear option for restoring the trust’s finances while maintaining the quality of services to patients. It was clear at the time that doing nothing was not an option. Not resolving the issues at the trust would have carried a high degree of risk. It would have meant that the trust would not meet the London-wide clinical quality standards and that £1 million a week would continue to be diverted from front-line patient care into funding an unsustainable deficit.

The trust special administrator looked extensively at whether there was an option within South London Healthcare NHS Trust to solve the problem. He invited expressions of interest from other people who might run the hospitals in the group, but no one was able to come forward with a proposal that would solve the problem within the existing footprint of the trust. Indeed, there were no proposals that would not have involved neighbouring health care economies.

The long-standing clinical, operational and financial problems at South London Healthcare NHS Trust led the trust special administrator to recommend that Princess Royal university hospital be acquired by King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The associated hospital sites in Bromley—Beckenham Beacon and Orpington hospital—were part of that transaction. I must say for the record that the transaction agreement was signed by all parties and no information was withheld from any organisation.

At the time, South London Healthcare NHS Trust was the most financially challenged in the country, with a deficit of £65 million per annum. Repeated local attempts to resolve the financial crisis at the trust had failed. Millions of pounds were spent on paying for debt rather than improving patient care for the local community in south-east London. The trust special administrator was clear that long-standing problems at South London Healthcare NHS Trust must not be allowed to compromise patient care in the future. That is why, after careful consideration, the Secretary of State accepted his recommendations, including that the PRUH be transferred to King’s.

The new expanded trust is one of London’s largest and busiest teaching hospitals and plays a key role in the education and training of the next generation of medical, nursing and dental students. King’s has acknowledged that it has been facing a number of pressures that have had a bearing on its performance. The challenge of integrating and transforming the performance of the PRUH, combined with a significant increase in emergency in-patient activity, has, as the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge described, adversely affected the trust’s operational and financial performance. A key aim of the trust’s five-year strategy is to restore its traditional high levels of performance, in particular by returning to achieving its emergency department and referral to treatment waiting time targets.

Monitor has concerns that some patients are waiting too long for A and E treatment and routine operations and that the trust is predicting a deficit of more than £40 million in this financial year. The regulator is undertaking its investigation to find a lasting solution to long-standing problems at the PRUH. Monitor is concerned that the trust’s operational and financial performance issues post the acquisition of the PRUH

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have not improved in line with expectations. In particular, some long-standing financial and operational performance issues at the hospital have continued post acquisition.

Robert Neill: May I say this on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, who cannot be at the debate? He and I would want to put on the record the fact that there have been areas of improvement at the Princess Royal and at Orpington, particularly in terms of patient experience scores, which have picked up considerably. On the point that my hon. Friend the Minister just mentioned, we are especially concerned at the prospect that has been raised that the full financial picture may not become available to King’s until after the acquisition. It is very clear—I hope that the Minister can assure us on this—that the Monitor investigation is intended once and for all to get to the bottom of, the root of, the financial difficulties that this trust suffers. May I also say that I welcome the appointment of the noble Lord Kerslake as chairman of the King’s trust? He will bring considerable credibility and rigour to that process.

Jane Ellison: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I will say more about Monitor’s role, but it is very much in line with what he said and I hope to give him the assurance that he seeks.

Monitor has been working with King’s, local clinical commissioning groups, the NHS Trust Development Authority and NHS England since the acquisition and has worked more closely with the trust recently to get a better picture of the challenges that it faces. However, Monitor has decided to take the new, formal action because King’s has not been able to tackle its challenges on its own. Monitor considers that continuing to work with the trust through more intensive and formal engagement will help to drive the necessary changes.

I want at this point to highlight the fact that, following a formal investigation into a suspected licence breach at a foundation trust, Monitor does not have the power to direct non-foundation trusts, nor does it have the power to direct neighbouring foundation trusts unless they themselves are in breach of their licence. The range of actions available to the regulator range from informal action—for example, requesting further information—to formal enforcement action, including the imposition of additional licence conditions.

Where appropriate, Monitor seeks to encourage the whole health economy to work together to reach a locally owned, consensual solution, which is very much in line with the NHS “Five Year Forward View”. Monitor has said that it recognises that King’s has been working hard, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) has said, to improve the quality of care provided at the PRUH. However, through its close work with the trust, Monitor has discovered that achieving the necessary financial and operational turnaround at the PRUH will be a greater challenge than was initially anticipated. Therefore, the regulator has decided to open a formal investigation as part of the regulatory process, which will enable it to use its legal powers to underpin the changes that the trust needs to make. The investigation will help Monitor to decide what resources and support King’s needs to enable it to deal with its financial problems and reduce

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waiting times for patients. Monitor will announce in due course the outcome of the investigation and whether it will take any further action. There is no statutory time scale for the investigation, because it depends on the scale of the issues encountered. I am sure that all hon. Members would want those issues to be looked at thoroughly.

Bob Stewart: May I just confirm that that means that Lewisham hospital will not be touched by Monitor? Lewisham hospital was a successful hospital before the last investigation, and it appears to be a successful hospital now. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Jane Ellison: I have just made clear for the record what Monitor’s powers are and are not. I hope that that gives Members on both sides of the Chamber greater clarity than they had when we started. Monitor is in the process of concluding its investigation. It will announce in due course the outcome and whether it will take any further action. Key findings and any next steps will be announced by means of a press notice. Colleagues from Monitor are here in the House, and I would like to put them on notice that I expect—I am sure that they also expect this—Monitor to engage fully with local Members. Clearly, we are entering a more tricky period from that point of view, but on the other side of the election I expect there to be full engagement with local Members, particularly as the solution lies, as I think it will in other health economies that are challenged, in the whole local health economy coming together to understand how to work through the problems. That is laid out in NHS England’s “Five Year Forward View”.

Heidi Alexander: The Minister talks about further support that may be available to King’s and the PRUH when Monitor has concluded its investigation. Will she give some examples of the form that that support may take?

Jane Ellison: If it is acceptable to the hon. Lady, I will write to her to provide some clarity on that. It might be helpful, for example, for Monitor to give examples from other investigations of the sorts of things that it undertook and the changes that it requested through the formal process. I will write to her with some examples to give her a sense of that. I have sought to give a degree of reassurance to Members, and I hope that I have managed to do so.

Jim Dowd: I detect that the Minister has almost concluded her remarks, and I will not have the opportunity to intervene once she has sat down. I am grateful for

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what she has said, and I will look at the

Official Report

most carefully. I would be grateful to be copied in on any information that is sent to other Members.

I would like to make another point, out of courtesy, as much as anything else. The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst welcomed the appointment of the new chair of King’s trust, Lord Kerslake. May I put on record a huge vote of gratitude to Sir George Alberti, who is standing down as the chair of the trust, for the service that he has given to King’s and the health service more generally?

Jane Ellison: That is entirely appropriate. I detect a desire among Members from all parts of the Chamber to work towards a better future for the health economy in their local areas. At the end of the process, we want sustainable, excellent services that offer the quality of care that we would wish for our constituents. Although there is not much time left in this Parliament, I undertake to look at the Hansard record of the questions asked by both hon. Members, because the topic is so important for their constituencies. If there is anything I can add to my remarks by way of clarity or response, I will get that to them. Monitor has heard me put on the record my desire for Members of Parliament to be kept fully involved and engaged with the process once we are through the small matter of the general election.

I believe that this is the last Westminster Hall sitting of this Parliament. In the minute that remains, I would like, on behalf of hon. Members who are present and the many hundreds of others who have spoken in and attended our second debating Chamber over the course of the Parliament, to thank you, Mr Betts, and, through you, all your colleagues who have chaired our debates. I thank all the staff of the House, the Doorkeepers and all who have attended and participated in those debates. I have apparently clocked up 50 debates while I have been a Health Minister, many of them in Westminster Hall. It is apparent to me that Westminster Hall serves an important purpose in allowing us to debate important matters, particularly those of the nature of the subject that we have discussed today. On behalf of all Members of Parliament, I thank all the staff and everyone who supports Westminster Hall in its duties.

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair): Order. For the last time this Parliament, the sitting stands adjourned.

Question put and agreed to.

5.12 pm

Sitting adjourned.