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There is wide-scale agreement about the problems that the NHS faces, beyond the items that the hon. Member for Hendon mentioned, but now that the election has passed it is time for us to consider the solutions that can be achieved to support staff in making that transformation, and in making the NHS highly productive, as well as one of the most efficient services in the world.

2.50 pm

Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am glad to speak in this important debate under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) on securing it.

Obviously, in Scotland the situation is slightly different, because the NHS is devolved, but many issues cross over, wherever our health services are located. I was very interested in some of the points made. NHS Scotland has produced a framework for efficiency and productivity going up to 2015. We recognise that it is essential to be more efficient and productive, to ensure careful use of the public purse.

To an extent, the situation in Scotland is slightly different, because the NHS budget has been protected from cuts as a result of the Scottish Government’s action. However, we still face inflationary pressures arising from demographic changes and increasing drugs and staff costs, which mean that NHS boards will need to make a minimum of 3% efficiency savings just to break even.

I was interested in what the hon. Gentleman said about the many issues faced by the NHS, particularly in England. I understand that much of the savings to date have been made by freezing staff salaries, squeezing prices paid to hospitals for the treatment they provide and cutting management costs. I wonder whether there is a correlation between those savings and the frauds and difficulties in some hospitals, which he mentioned. We all want to cut management costs, but sometimes there is a cost to doing that, because if management is cut back it cannot have the same hands-on experience of what is going on in all areas of the operation. That has to be weighed in the balance when we consider such savings.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the Carter review and the time spent by people on the frontline, whether with patients or doing other things. Again, that has to be built in. The hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) made a good point about the difference between productivity and efficiency. A staff member could be deemed much more efficient if they just dealt with patients, but down time for staff has to be worked into the system, because any doctor, nurse, or other NHS staff member will be working at a high level for very long periods. There are dangers if down time is not built in.

All of us would want savings made where they can be safely made, but the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) made an interesting point about the King’s Fund, which estimates that another £30 billion of savings will be required by 2020-21. The Government have made much of the fact that they will put another £8 billion into the NHS. Although I am sure that is welcome, it still leaves £22 billion in savings to be achieved through productivity improvements. With the best will in the world, I find it difficult to envisage

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£22 billion of savings being made through productivity improvements in the NHS. If it can be achieved, that is fair and well, but it does seem a very tall order, as the King’s Fund stated.

An organisation cannot keep freezing staff wages forever; there will have to be a change in that regard. Management costs cannot be cut indefinitely, because, again, management is needed to run the system.

Mr Jim Cunningham: Admittedly, it has been some years since I was involved in negotiations relating to productivity, and so forth, but the fact remains that there are consequences if people are not paid a decent wage. I worked in industries where wages were frozen and saw the consequences. The only way to increase productivity in the NHS and maybe save money—I use the word “maybe” advisedly—is by having incentives. That is the only way it can be done. It was not clear, in the speech made by the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), what percentage of people would have time off. There is a tolerable, acceptable percentage in that regard, but I was not clear what the percentages were.

Mike Weir: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. He is right about incentives. A happy workforce will be a much more productive workforce. There is a danger of putting increasing pressure on the workforce, especially in the NHS, where mistakes can be disastrous and can do a lot of damage in the long term, both to the system and patients. We have to be careful about some of these things. I was interested in what the hon. Member for Hendon said about the cost of agency workers. I think we would all agree on that point. It would be preferable to have full-time staff in the NHS, but agency workers are used for a reason: shortages.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about people from outside the EU working in the NHS, but again, this shows that there needs to be a more holistic Government policy. The Government recently announced an earnings threshold of £36,000, under immigration policy, for those who have been working in this country for six years. Many nurses working in the NHS throughout the United Kingdom are not earning that sort of money and have been in the NHS for many years. The Royal College of Nursing stated that if this policy was imposed, thousands of nurses could leave the NHS and could have to leave the UK. That is not in the best interests of the health service at the moment. When considering efficiency savings and how the NHS can better work for all our constituents throughout the UK, we have to think about such things .

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Would it not be counterproductive if NHS nurses left to work abroad? That would leave a massive gap in the NHS workforce, probably requiring an increase in agency workers, which would cost the NHS more.

Mike Weir: The hon. Gentleman read my mind: that was my next point. Agency nurses are causing a drain on resources, because we have to employ so many already. That will not get any better if nurses cannot work in the NHS because of immigration policy. These

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people did not come to this country a few months ago; some have been here for many years. Many of these nurses are working in hospitals in all parts of the UK, whether Scotland, Northern Ireland or England. They are also working in the care system.

The Government are making a bad situation worse, perhaps because of other pressures on them to do with immigration, and are not dealing with the realities of the health service. Training new nurses to take the place of those who may leave will not happen overnight. It takes years to train a nurse properly. If these people have to leave suddenly, they will leave a huge hole in the NHS. That raises a question about the sustainability of the system. In summing up, the Minister might like to consider that; and perhaps he will take the matter up with Home Office colleagues and discuss the impact this policy may have on the NHS.

Efficiency savings are fine where they can be made. We are all looking for efficiency savings, and we understand that there can be some. For example, there are some interesting responses in the Carter review on medicines and prescriptions. Savings could be made there. A lot of medicines can be wasted if prescriptions are too large. Such system changes can save money, but it is wrong to look for the silver bullet that is going to change things and produce the £22 billion in efficiency and improvement savings.

Mr Jim Cunningham: If the hon. Gentleman thinks back 12 months or so, he may remember that it took a long time for the Secretary of State to reach an agreement with the pharmaceutical companies because some issues were held up. We should consider that. It seems to me that a gun was held to the Secretary of State’s head on costs.

Mike Weir: Again, the hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. One difficulty with the NHS is the cost of medicines. All our constituents are pushing us to get costly new medicines on the NHS for diseases, including rare diseases. They might be extremely costly in the first instance for good reasons, but demand always increases costs in the system, and it is difficult to deal with that. The pharmaceutical companies have a role to play in that, because much of their business comes through the national health service. If cost savings can be made by negotiating with those companies, that should be done. I am sure that the Secretary of State will at all times try to persuade them on that point, but I am not so sure how well he will do, given the competing pressures from constituents and Members for new drugs to be made available on the NHS. None of these issues are easy, and I have some sympathy for Ministers who are struggling with them, especially given the pressures on all areas of Government spending, but I urge caution in looking for simple solutions.

Mark Pritchard (in the Chair): While it will be unorthodox, it is not irregular for me to call Jim Shannon, who briefly left the Chamber during a very good speech from Karin Smyth that was slightly shorter than I expected.

3.1 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Thank you, Mr Pritchard. I apologise for having had to step out of

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the Chamber for a minute or two. I expected the speech of the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) to be a wee bit longer. It is always a pleasure to speak on these issues, and I thank the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) for bringing this subject to the House for our consideration.

The Carter report is important. Members will know that health is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, and the responsibility for health falls clearly on the Northern Ireland Assembly and my party colleague Simon Hamilton, but it is important that we consider the issues and the recommendations in the report. I will speak to that in a few minutes, but first I pay tribute to all those who, despite the numerous difficulties facing us, make our NHS one of the premier care services in the world.

The tireless work of the doctors, nurses, surgeons, technicians, pharmacists, auxiliaries, cleaners, cooks, porters and those who work in admin behind the scenes has not gone unnoticed. I am sure everyone here would start by thanking them for their contributions, their efforts and the exhausting work they do. I thank them for their smiles to the patients and families, sometimes when the workers are so exhausted they can barely stand. I thank them for staying those extra 10 and 15 minutes beyond what they are paid for to make a patient comfortable. I thank them for choosing to come to work and sometimes having to face abuse from tired and perhaps frightened people. I thank them for retaining their dignity and helpful nature. In this debate, we do not stand in judgment on the NHS or the workers; rather, we look at the procedures in place and how we as Members of Parliament can help to make the NHS, which we are fortunate to have across all the regions, more effective for everyone.

Mr Jim Cunningham: The hon. Gentleman mentioned long hours. Some of the young trainee doctors are doing a 12-hour day, seven days a week. That can go on for months. That is not exactly conducive to good morale in the national health service, is it?

Jim Shannon: None of us here said that it was. It is important that our doctors and the staff are not over-tired.

The Carter report sets out how efficiencies can be delivered. The hon. Member for Angus (Mike Weir) who spoke before me clearly outlined the issues. The title of the debate refers to Lord Carter’s review of productivity in hospitals, and the interim report of that review, “Review of operational productivity in NHS providers”, which was published on 11 June. We all know that Lord Carter of Coles was appointed by the Health Secretary to chair the NHS procurement and efficiency board in June 2014, to review the operational productivity of NHS hospitals and to establish the opportunities for efficiency savings across the NHS. To do that, Lord Carter and the review board worked with a group of 22 NHS providers across England, and I think that what they have found in England will be replicated for us in Northern Ireland and for our colleagues in Scotland and Wales. There are lessons to learn, so we should take note of what the report says.

As I said, an interim report was published on 11 June outlining the work that has been carried out and the interim recommendations and next steps. The full report is to come in the autumn, and I look forward to seeing

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what it says. Back home, people are sick to death of the term “efficiency savings”, the idiotic behaviour of Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour party and others and the funding penalties we are facing. Our NHS is being asked to do the impossible and be more efficient than it is, but when I look at the findings of the interim report, I see things that may extend to our running of the NHS in Northern Ireland. That is what the Carter report is about, and I am sure the Minister will give his thoughts on that shortly. The report sets out ways we could ease the pressure off front-line services and enable the functioning of our country while we wait for action to cease the penalties and see Northern Ireland receiving what she is entitled to—what we would be getting, were it not for the inability of Sinn Féin to do what its Members were elected to do and work for the people. That, however, is a different debate for another day, and I accept that.

The interim report suggests that the NHS in England could look to make savings of some £5 billion per annum by 2019-20 and reports three major areas of opportunity. The first is hospitals getting a stronger grip on the utilisation of resources, particularly in four areas: workforce, hospital pharmacy and medicines, estates management and procurement. The second is achieving greater productivity in hospital workflow—how patients move through the system—and the subsequent use of assets such as operating theatres. I have always felt we could look at that, and the Carter report has examined it and offered some ideas on how it could work. The final area is gaining a better understanding of the need for hospitals to develop sub-acute services, either on their own or in collaboration with others, to facilitate the discharge of patients. It is about making it work better together.

We need a way of ensuring the highest quality of patient care, delivered at the lowest price possible to ensure that more funding can be diverted to cancer drugs. Members will know that I have advocated ensuring the availability of cancer drugs across the whole United Kingdom, rather than that being down to postcode. In Northern Ireland, we would like to use prescription charges to put some money towards cancer drugs. I know that the Government have given a commitment and that there is some help for the devolved Administrations when it comes to cancer drugs, but not to the extent that we would like. We also need more funding diverted to research and other areas.

I was surprised to see in the report that one hospital could save up to £750,000 a year by improving the way it deals with staff rosters, annual leave, sickness and flexible working. That was just one example, which would regain the £10,000 a month the hospital was losing due to people claiming too much annual leave. That is an easy way of getting money back into hospitals. Ensuring every hospital pays the best price for medicines and supplies would save money that could be invested in front-line care. One hospital with 23 operating theatres improved the way it tracks the products used during surgery and saved £230,000 in the first year alone. I am not saying that every hospital could do that, but it is an example of what can be done, and it would be unwise to ignore it.

When the Hansard report of this debate becomes available, I will send a copy to my colleague, the Health Minister in Northern Ireland, Simon Hamilton, to make

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him aware of the Carter report and this debate. Helpful lessons may emerge that we could use. For example, a hospital was using the soluble version of a steroid for multiple illnesses and paying £1.50 a tablet when the solid version costs just 2p a tablet. Using the soluble version only for children and patients who have trouble swallowing saved £40,000 every year. Those may be small examples, but they collectively show how something could happen. I have some concerns. Cheap is not always best, and we have many examples of the copying of tablets in China and elsewhere. Those tablets are not as effective and may be harmful, so we have to monitor how we best ensure that cheaper drugs are effective and tackle the diseases they are designed to tackle.

We must take these issues in hand if we are to see the best possible use of funding. With the publication of the full report in the autumn, we will have a better idea of where we are. I hope that that report will be seen not as a stick to beat the NHS with—if it is, that will be for the wrong reasons—but as a ray of light that will help make things better. I very much look forward to seeing what it says about how we can improve things here in England, because we will then, I hope, be able to use that example to improve things across the water in Northern Ireland and perhaps in Scotland, for my colleague and friend, the hon. Member for Angus.

3.10 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) on securing this important debate. We have had a good debate, although fairly brief, and some important issues have been raised.

I formally welcome the Minister. We have had Health Questions and an Opposition day debate on health since he assumed his role, but this is my first opportunity to welcome him. I trust that his time at the Department of Health will be enjoyable and successful.

I am pleased to respond to the debate on behalf of the Opposition. The hon. Member for Hendon is right: the efficiency challenge for the coming years will dominate the debate about healthcare and shape our NHS in England for decades. As Members know—indeed, several referred to it specifically—the Government are committed to seeing £22 billion of efficiency savings in the NHS by 2020 to meet the £30 billion funding challenge. We have not yet heard any details of where the £8 billion in funding will come from; perhaps I can tease some of the detail out of the Minister. I do not wish to prejudge what may or may not be in the Budget, but it would be nice to have some indication, aside from the usual spin about a growing economy, of where he thinks the £8 billion will come from. Setting aside that question, we need to think carefully about how to meet the £22 billion gap that will remain once that £8 billion is found. To achieve savings on that scale would be a huge ask at any time, but when NHS trusts have huge deficits to tackle and providers say they are experiencing the biggest financial pressures they have ever seen, making these efficiencies will be a huge challenge.

It is probably appropriate at this stage for me to place on record my appreciation of and thanks to those who

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work in our national health service—at every level. It is not always popular to praise managers, but to meet the challenge the NHS will need a great deal of expert management. We therefore need to praise the work of not just the doctors, nurses, clinicians, porters and support staff, but the good managers, because they will face the real challenge of finding these efficiencies.

It is vital, not just for us but for all those who work in the NHS, that the Minister is as open and honest as he can be today about where the efficiencies will come from. One of the few people who has seen the detail of the planned efficiency savings is the former Care Minister, the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb). Just last week, he said that the £22 billion efficiency savings in the five-year forward view are “virtually impossible” to achieve—words that will not fill people with confidence.

As the Minister knows, the Opposition have pressed the Government on a number of occasions to publish the assumptions underlying the £22 billion figure. I hope he will take that message back to the Secretary of State today, because we need to have a properly informed debate about the NHS’s long-term funding requirements. That is true not just of England, because the proposals will have knock-on consequences for the NHS in all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have been represented in the debate.

We need to be honest about the fact that, whatever the scale of the efficiencies that need to be found, there will be no quick fix—a point eloquently made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth). However, when budgets are tight, it is right that we debate how money can be better spent to meet the growing cost of delivering world-class healthcare.

With that in mind, let me cover a couple of pertinent areas. The first is procurement. Any doctor will tell us of sales representatives pushing every bit of kit and course of medicine under the sun—that is just the nature of salespeople, and that is what they do. In the NHS, there are around 500,000 product lines for everyday consumables, with cost variances of sometimes more than 35%, which is massive. The Carter review suggested that a catalogue of 6,000 to 9,000 product lines represents best practice. In part, the huge variety of products is a symptom of a more fragmented NHS. These days, we do not have the opportunity to use the NHS’s national purchasing muscle as much as we did, which is a shame and a wasted opportunity. However, having a reduced range of products—perhaps set out in a national catalogue, but definitely coming through the NHS supply chain—would be good for cost-effectiveness. I hope the Minister can take that point on board.

Part of the problem is the army of sales representatives, who are proliferating at all levels of the NHS. Their very existence represents a large dead-weight cost to providers. They can provide a useful service when it comes to selecting the best product for practitioners’ needs, but it is obviously not in their interests to provide products at the lowest practical cost; nor is it in their interests to promote other products or to give practitioners more information about the choices that may be available to them and their patients. It is, to some extent, an imperfect market, with smaller suppliers pushed out from the very beginning. There will always be a need for companies to provide high-end support and advice, but

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while representatives have a big influence on buying decisions, we must ensure that that influence is at least partly tracked.

Let me talk briefly about the cost of competition. The Minister is new to his post, but he will have paid close attention to the many debates we had on these issues before the election, so he will be aware of the Opposition’s concerns about the competition rules introduced in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. We know that the new competition framework is causing

“significant cost to the system”—

not my words, but those of the former chief executive of the NHS. Last year, we identified at least £100 million that in trusts and clinical commissioning groups alone was being spent on staff and lawyers to analyse tenders and to administer the tendering process. If the Minister is serious about making substantial savings, may I gently advise him that it would be a good start to look at the waste generated by the Act’s competition provisions?

One crucial area to analyse is the poor workflow in hospitals, and specifically the lack of adequate sub-acute services. At the moment, many discharged patients, particularly elderly ones, have nowhere to go. That is attributable mainly to the drastic cuts to adult social care we have seen in recent years. Sadly, I can only anticipate that those pressures will remain, and perhaps become more acute with coming spending reviews. We all know that if patients are not discharged, hospital beds are wasted and hospital workflow is disrupted, which costs the system an absolute fortune. That is to leave aside the fact that hospital is not the best or most appropriate place for such patients to be or for their care to be delivered.

Karin Smyth: The consequences of the 2012 Act included fragmentation of responsibility for the flow of patients through the system. Different commissioning organisations now commission primary care to support the patient outside hospital, there is separate provision of community services, and NHS England has an oversight role as well as a role in commissioning specialised services. In Bristol there are two major acute trusts that are largely commissioned by three different clinical commissioning groups, supported by NHS England and involving the Trust Development Authority and Monitor. A large room is needed for people to get around the table at meetings to consider things such as flow, and it is very complicated.

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head, describing the complexities of the NHS in England. We have talked for several years in the House of Commons about the need for a properly integrated health and social care system. My hon. Friend has set out a prime example of the reason we need that.

I anticipate that the Minister will argue that some of the inefficiencies we have discussed will be addressed through integration. My problem is that many of the competition rules and requirements in the 2012 Act work against such an integrated health and social care system, even though both sides of the House want it. The Government will have to look carefully at the role of some of the rules and regulations they introduced, when local health economies reach the point of developing integrated care models. It is clear that representatives of a hospital trust, local authority adult social care and

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children’s care services, and the clinical commissioning group cannot sit around a table to plan an integrated health and social care system while many of the requirements placed on the NHS by the 2012 Act continue to apply.

To return to the issue of transfer and delays in hospitals, we all know that the NHS operates something of a just-in-time system. Such systems are used in industry, particularly for international stock control, and they make sure that nothing is wasted. There is little room for slack: if a patient is admitted for longer than necessary because of avoidable shortfalls elsewhere in the system, that can lead to the atrocious scenes that happen when desperately sick and injured people are left lying in corridors. I think that on one occasion, somewhere near the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South, someone was treated in a tent in a hospital car park. We hoped such images had long gone from the NHS.

I want to say politely but firmly to the Minister that the NHS is affected by what goes on in the social care system. Social care cuts are to all intents and purposes NHS cuts. I hope that he will get that message loudly and clearly and that the Prime Minister will stop insisting otherwise. All that demonstrates, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South eloquently stated in her intervention, the need for a properly joined-up service. Labour Front Benchers have argued for that for some time and the previous Government were moving towards it. I am happy to provide guidance to the Minister on what we think should happen to that end, and to provide stern criticism if Ministers do not deliver.

I also want to talk briefly about the cost of agency workers, which the hon. Member for Angus (Mike Weir) touched on. The Health Secretary has belatedly sought to address that issue, but it has been years in the making. Ministers will know that hospitals have consistently cited recruitment difficulties, particularly for qualified nursing and medical staff and in accident and emergency departments. It is welcome that the number of training places has been increased in recent years, but it was a short-sighted mistake to cut the number of those places early in the previous Parliament. That has led in part to the present recruitment issues.

The Minister will know that the rising number of staff suffering from work-related stress has resulted in even more workforce pressures in the NHS. He will also know that the decision to cut nurse training posts has meant that many hospitals must either recruit from overseas or hire expensive agency workers. Health Ministers must make strong representations to Home Office Ministers, because if there was ever a sign of disjointed Government decisions, it was the recent announcement of changes to immigration policy. As we have already discussed, those changes may cause massive problems to some NHS trusts across the United Kingdom that already face challenges and have recruited from overseas.

The savings that the NHS will need to make in coming years are far more difficult than the low-hanging fruit or quick wins that some may think are available. All of us across the parties and across the constituent parts of the United Kingdom need to acknowledge that there will be no quick fixes to the challenge. There should be no mistaking how difficult things have been for many trusts in the past few years. The coming years will be just as difficult for them, if not more so. I hope

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that the Minister will agree in that context that we need a proper open debate, with all the facts, figures and information before us about where we can make the savings, and how we can ensure that more of the NHS’s funding is spent on what it does best—delivering high-quality patient care across the United Kingdom.

Mark Pritchard (in the Chair): Order. Before I call the Minister I remind hon. Members of the new standing orders that allow the mover of the motion to wind up if there is time available. I am sure that the Minister will be mindful of that, with 30-plus minutes on the clock.

3.27 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ben Gummer): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. It is indeed my first appearance in this role in Westminster Hall and, therefore, under your chairmanship here.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) on securing this important debate. I suspect that, in raising the important matters that he took up in his speech, he did not anticipate the glimpse of the promised land that the debate would give us. I have never sat in a debate on the NHS in this House—I have only been here for five years—when there was such a productive, interesting and bipartisan approach to such an important matter. I hope that it will be a model for things to come.

In seriousness, the differences between us, across the Floor, are far fewer than the things we agree on when we consider the NHS. A new Member, the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), said in her speech that now the election is over we have a fantastic opportunity to forge a greater consensus on the NHS, which will be better for the service and patients, and especially, in the present context, for the people who work in it. They get fed up with the politicisation of the NHS, which has happened since its creation in 1948.

The hon. Lady hit the nail on the head in her excellent speech: efficiency really comes from quality. We begin to get an NHS system that is truly efficient in using the resources that the taxpayer puts at its disposal and the hard work of those who work in it when the first consideration is care quality and safety. If we try to build a system around quality and safety, the efficiencies will flow from that and excessive costs will start to fall out. Part of the problem with trying to find efficiency savings in the NHS—indeed, in any public body or private organisation—is that a purely cost-cutting approach will almost certainly fail, in terms of not only the quality of the product being delivered, but the efficiencies being sought. I very much welcome the hon. Lady’s intervention on that point, because that is where we need to begin.

All of that lies at the heart of Lord Carter’s excellent report. It is an interim report—he will publish his final report, with a great deal more detail, in the autumn—but he has understood that it is the patient who feels the effects of inefficiency first and foremost. Their experience of care is not what it should be, because of how rostering is arranged or medicines are dispensed and administered. He gave specific instances in his interim report—for

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example, the range of products available for hip replacements—of where choosing one product over another can mean dramatic differences in the occurrence of revisions. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said in his speech, cheapest is not always best. Sometimes, a slightly more expensive hip replacement joint can mean a much higher chance that someone does not have to come back for surgery again in a few years’ time. Such decisions about balance lie at the heart of patient care. If we get the balance right, we have a huge prize: better patient care and a more efficient, cost-effective service.

I want to run through the main points of Lord Carter’s report and reflect on them in the terms raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon. The NHS provides a varied picture of efficiency. The service has some of the most efficient hospitals in the world, but also some fantastically inefficient ones. That variation lies at the heart of the problem that we have to square in the next few years, which I will come to shortly when I address the specific points about the £22 billion target. As MPs, we all have anecdotal impressions from speaking to chief executives and managers in the NHS: they have come up with great ideas locally, but one knows immediately that no one is learning from that across the system. That was the case before the 2012 reorganisation, and it was case before all the previous reorganisations; it has been problem in the NHS since its inception.

We must also learn from best practice around the world. There is some fantastic practice around, and not only in France, Spain—specifically Valencia—and Germany; some of the best practice in the world for creating efficient healthcare is in American hospitals. I find it very exciting that there is some fantastic practice coming from Indian hospitals, because it shows how the world is changing. If we can draw in that expertise, we will do better for the NHS. I hope that, at the same time, we will export some of the best practice we have developed here—much of which has come from places not a million miles from the shadow Minister’s constituency—to hospitals and health systems around the world.

The changes in efficiency and productivity gains in the past few years have been considerable. Traditionally, the NHS has lagged behind in productivity improvements, but in the past few years it has overtaken productivity gains in the rest of the economy. Some of that has come from wage restraint, but there has been a genuine improvement in productivity, although it is not as much as we hope, anticipate and need to come over the next five years from system change, rather that just from wage restraint.

Lord Carter’s review covers some of the efficiency savings that can be made, especially in the provider sector. He has identified £5 billion of savings, of which £2 billion can come from improving workflow and workforce costs and £3 billion from static costs related to pharmacies, estates and procurement. As has been mentioned already, he has identified the fact that although there is much dispersed good practice, it is not shared, and there is no common understanding of what a good hospital looks like. On the back of Lord Carter’s principal recommendation, we are going to construct a good hospital. It will be a virtual hospital, so people will not be able to visit it, but they will be able to go to parts of it, because we are going to take the best practice and codify it.

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Lord Carter has created a system called the adjusted treatment index, which is a rather dry term for an exciting idea. We will say, “This index is the best that the NHS is doing and we’re going to measure you all against it.” Every chief executive, manager and clinician will be able to see where their particular unit sits against the very best in the country. That will immediately prompt some questions: “Why are we not the best? Why are we a third or half of the way down? What can we do to close the gap?”

The second output from Lord Carter’s report is to provide a suggestion, in base terms, of how the poorest performing hospitals, along with those in the middle and those near the top, can improve and become the best. His final report will give far more detail, but this is of course a living process. We want to create a manual that will help clinicians to constantly improve their performance, measured against the very best—and the very best in the NHS will be measured against the very best in the world, so that our target keeps moving upward.

Lord Carter also identified issues with staffing, agency spend and locums, which formed the meat of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon. I will quickly go through what we plan to do. In the long term, it is clear that the expansion of nursing recruitment places will meet our objective to improve staffing ratios and the quality of care in hospitals, but we do have a backlog to fill. I do not want to break the bipartisan consensus, but the fall-off in recruitment places did begin before 2010. It picked up again in 2012-13, partly in response to the recommendations of the Francis report, but we still have some way to go to ensure that we are up to pace.

It has become clear that although there was a need for agency staffing to plug the shortfall, some have been abusing that position. Now that we are getting more and more nurses into the system, it is the right time to bear down on agency costs, which is why the measures outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a couple of weeks ago will make such a difference, by giving chief executives the tools to ensure that they are not paying over the odds on agency spend.

Karin Smyth: On agency recruitment, does the Minister agree that we should encourage more young people to see the NHS as a good career? Young people such as those in my constituency, Bristol South, do not always get the advantages of university and further and higher education qualifications, and they do not see working for the NHS as a good and positive career. It is still a very good career—well paid and well remunerated by pensions and so on—but it is no one’s job, directly, to sell a career in the NHS in order to bring through the next generation of young people in places such as Bristol South to work in the NHS. That is not a hospital’s direct role. Health Education England is a new organisation and has that responsibility, but, in the spirit of bipartisanship and cross-departmental working, will the Minister take our advice and talk to colleagues in skills and development and support apprenticeships to encourage young people to come through and fill the gap currently filled by agencies?

Ben Gummer: I do not want to ruin the hon. Lady’s nascent reputation by agreeing with her again—happily, there are very few Opposition Members present to

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notice, although that is not an implied criticism—but she is absolutely right. We are lucky that nursing places are quite significantly over-subscribed. The position is popular, but she is absolutely right that we need to not only make far greater use of apprenticeships but widen the skills base in nursing full stop. We are actively working on that in the Department—I have spent much of the day on it, and I am sure there will be more to come.

To help chief executives in this interim period, we have forced all agencies that want to offer their services to ensure that they are doing so through framework contracts, and we are ensuring that there is an hourly cap on the rate that can be charged. We have also taken additional measures on managerial salaries, along with a few other measures, to ensure that managers have the opportunity to be able to manage costs as they wish. We understand, however, that this is the first stage of a much deeper programme of reform that is needed. Lord Carter’s report points in that direction by suggesting that we use our existing workforce far better, so that people are doing the job that they are suited to and qualified for and that their time is not wasted. That is the great win, not only for efficiency and patient care, but for staff enjoyment of their jobs.

The hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) made some helpful interventions about NHS workers’ quality of life. It has been a sad but persistent truth of the NHS for many years—decades, in fact—that staff-reported incidents of harassment and bullying have been higher than the national average and that workforce stress and illness is higher than average. Some of that is to be expected—parts of the NHS are extremely stressful working environments—but we can do much more. Part of that is about ensuring, when people turn up to work, that they are doing the job they wanted to do, with a suitable but not excessive degree of pressure, and that the system is not wasting their time. If we make them happier in their jobs, their patient care will improve and their commitment to the service will be even greater. I am therefore aware of the prize, not just in pounds, shillings and pence, but in an improvement to staff morale and therefore patient care.

Jim Shannon: One of the things that concerns me from a Northern Ireland perspective—this has also been raised in discussions with other Members in the Chamber today and outside—is that the NHS greatly relies on, in our case, Filipino workers, which is an immigration issue. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Minister for Immigration, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), to ensure that there will be no shortfall when the gaps left by those who are here on work visas need to be filled and that the quality service in the NHS will not be lost? The hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) referred to training people to ensure that keen, interested and able replacements are available. Has the Minister given any thought to that?

Ben Gummer: I was going to come on to that, so I shall do so now that the hon. Gentleman has prompted me. There have been long and deep discussions about this. Our estimate is that no more than 700 nurses will be affected by the time the new rules are in place, which is a different number from that given by the Royal

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College of Nursing, whose number we do not recognise. It is small challenge given the scale of the workforce and one that we will surmount at the time, but we must see it within the broader policy of reducing immigration to this country from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands—a policy that has broad support across the House and certainly in the country at large. It would be wrong for the largest employer in the country—one of the largest employers in the world—to exempt itself from that overall ambition.

In the end, we will achieve a sustainable workforce in this country only if we do all we can to ensure that those who are British and have grown up here and want to work in the NHS have the opportunity to do so. That is why it is important that we widen and open the avenues into working in the NHS, as the hon. Member for Bristol South suggested, over the next few years, in order to meet the challenge to which the hon. Member for Strangford alluded.

I want to quickly run through the other issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon. On master vendors, he has a specific issue regarding some constituents with whom he has been dealing, but I understand that master vendors are managed under a series of arrangements with the Crown Commercial Service. Officials will meet with that organisation soon to discuss the overall issues around master vendors. It is for individual trusts to make such purchasing decisions, but I understand the issue he has raised and the terms in which he put it, and I will ensure that it is investigated properly.

My hon. Friend identified two areas involving agencies and fraud. Fraud is of course unacceptable, and the NHS has quite good systems for identifying it. Given the scale of the NHS, I find it surprising—it is entirely to the credit of those who work in the NHS—that fraud makes up such a tiny proportion of the excessive costs in the NHS.

On the revalidation of locum doctors, for which the General Medical Council is responsible, some doctors find it difficult to gather all the required supporting information needed for revalidation due to the peripatetic nature of the work. To help with that, specific guidance is available for both the doctors and their employers via NHS England and NHS Employers. Locum doctors are part of a larger issue about agency spend and foreign workers working in the NHS. I imagine that the three organisations will come together in the next few years to produce a more stable situation.

[Mr James Gray in the Chair]

Let me turn to the remaining points of the hon. Member for Bristol South. On the stability of the system, I hope and anticipate that one product of the general election is that the system will be broadly stable over the next five years. We intend to continue with the current structure of the NHS. There will be some small changes, such as that identified by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last week concerning the NHS Trust Development Authority and Monitor, but we are broadly content with how the system is set up. We must now proceed to ensure that it works.

The shadow Minister made a point about structures and fragmentation. There will always be a genuine dilemma here, because one can approach any system

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and say that change can be achieved by altering structures, but changing structures can lead to the same outcome. That has been the story of the NHS since its inception. It would be a mistake to think—the hon. Member for Bristol South and the shadow Minister were not suggesting this—that a structural change would somehow produce the outcomes that we all want. The priority is to ensure that the system’s wiring works correctly—that everyone’s interests are aligned and that the incentives are correct—so that people want to sit around the table and come to a considered decision, which can too often not be the case when there is an adversarial relationship between providers, producers and purchasers. That is why I hope that the system’s stability over the next five years will allow us to focus on the significant challenges mentioned by the shadow Minister.

Andrew Gwynne: When discussing competition rules, we often talk of public versus private, but two public parts of the NHS can also compete. Another NHS trust might have the tender for providing a service in another area and an integrated care organisation might want to bring that back in-house.

Ben Gummer: Absolutely. There are examples of that all over the country, but there are also examples of people working together in what might be considered competitive situations, so it is about ensuring that we copy the best and delete the worst.

Before I turn to the shadow Minister’s comments, I want to reflect on the contribution of the hon. Member for Angus (Mike Weir). The SNP spokesperson on health, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), has used a constructive tone in the Chamber so far, bringing some of her expert experiences as a clinician and also the experiences from Scotland. It is nice to be able to sit here and hear the experiences of people in Northern Ireland and in Scotland, and it would have been nice to have heard from Wales in this debate. Indeed, we do not yet properly learn from the best in Scotland, which would be all to our good, let alone the best in America or India.

The £22 billion in savings is an estimate not from the King’s Fund but from NHS England. It formed part of its plan, devised at the end of last year and some years in the making, which identified £30 billion of additional money that needs to be put into the service over the next five years. It stated that £22 billion could be generated internally—that was Simon Stevens’ estimate—which leaves an £8 billion shortfall. That is what we are pledged to provide. None the less, he, like everyone in the Chamber, has correctly seen that £22 billion is a large number and one that will take a great deal of intellectual and moral work to deliver. I welcome the tone with which everyone has approached this challenge in the debate.

Mike Weir: The reference to the King’s Fund was to make the point that it said that this was a tall order, as I think the Minister himself is admitting.

Ben Gummer: It is not a tall order, but it is a challenging one. Whoever was sitting in my place, from whatever party, would be facing a similar challenge, no matter how the needs over the next five years were framed. The challenge must be addressed, and it is better addressed if we all come together to do so.

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The hon. Gentleman touched on pharmaceutical savings, which I have not yet addressed, and Lord Carter’s comments on them. Lord Carter will make more detailed recommendations later in the year, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there is much to be done to ensure that we save money on the provision and purchasing of drugs and by not wasting them. Lord Carter is looking at that, and the service is already implementing his initial recommendations.

New drugs are a problem faced by health services across the world. Indeed, it is a profound challenge, because the new drugs coming online are of an expense that has never been experienced in health systems before. They are also for increasingly small numbers of patients, precisely because they are personalised, which drives up the cost even further. That is why the Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), is bringing forward his accelerated access review and doing some exciting work, trying to use the muscle of the NHS—our ability to be an research lab, effectively—for those developing new drugs, so that we can use the NHS to drive costs down and provide patients with treatments earlier and more cheaply. There is a win-win there, but it requires a fundamental change in the system, which at the moment is not working.

Finally, I turn to the comments of the shadow Minister, mindful of the need to give my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon time to wrap up. I thank the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish for his kind welcome; it was good of him to say that. I hope that over the next couple of years we will be able to thrash out some of these difficult issues in the manner in which he has begun the process. If we do so, we will come to a better understanding of what is needed in our national health service.

The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions, such as where the £8 billion is coming from. I believe it is coming from general taxation—my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be providing greater details of that in the Budget next week. The hon. Gentleman also asked where the £22 billion was coming from. NHS England has devised the plan. It is NHS England’s plan to implement, and it will provide further detail about the £22 billion shortly. It will be an evolving plan that will necessarily change over the five years. NHS England is confident that it is achievable, but it will take some incredible heavy lifting by all of us and, dare I say it, the dropping of political shibboleths throughout the House—if one can drop a shibboleth; I am not sure.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of provider deficits, which is a problem across the system. He will know that there was a similar issue towards the end of the Labour Administration—in CCGs, rather than in hospitals. It does not necessarily require more money; it requires getting a grip on where the problem is. We have started that with announcements on agency spending. Many trusts in the country are doing well financially. Not surprisingly, they are often the trusts that are also delivering good care, because—to return to the comments of the hon. Member for Bristol South—if the care is right, the money flows from it. That is why Lord Carter’s review and a concentration on care quality will, we hope, produce the savings that we need, not just at this immediate moment to address provider deficits, but to achieve the £22 billion.

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The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish also mentioned sales reps and procurement. I absolutely agree that the subject is covered in the report from Lord Carter. The numbers of product lines certainly should come down. I am not sure that the NHS, before having greater responsibility for purchasing, was any better at buying, but we need to be better at it. Procurement is a science. It is not one that I pretend to know a great deal about, but I know that in the end we will always end up in not quite the right place, because we might centralise too much, which takes away decision-making from the trust responsible. That is why we have to get the balance right.

On the cost of competition, the hon. Gentleman quoted a figure of £100 million. However, I understand that the costs of the reorganisation have been outweighed by the benefits, to the tune of about £1.5 billion annually. I think we all agree across the House on the producer-provider split. There will always be a degree of competition in the NHS; it is about getting the balance right between competition and collaboration.

In the last 30 seconds, let me touch on sub-acute services. The hon. Gentleman made his most pointed—and fair—remarks about the need to integrate social care with the NHS. The Government’s contention is that creating a new national structure for health and social care does not produce the end that we all want to see. That is why we want to see local solutions—we believe a good one is already emerging in Manchester—across the country, which will suit different areas according to their needs. In the end, we come back to money. We all know that money will be tight in local government. Our aim over the next few years is to ensure that as much of the resources that we can put into local government are going towards social care. That is the essence of the better care fund, which lies at the heart of what we are doing on integration over the next five years. I know the hon. Gentleman will want to comment on that as we proceed on those lines.

I thank all Members who have spoken in what has been an invigorating debate from which I have learnt a great deal. I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon for raising these important issues.

3.56 pm

Dr Offord: It was a pleasure to start the debate under the chairmanship of Mr Pritchard and, indeed, it is a pleasure to finish under you, Mr Gray.

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Covering all your bases.

Dr Offord: The debate was fantastic, but not entirely what I expected. The NHS is often used as a political football. I thank the Members present for their contributions and for highlighting some issues for me to consider, as well as for the Department and the Minister to consider.

The personal NHS experience of the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) is welcome not only in the debate, but in the House as a whole, and I look forward to her contribution to other debates. I thank her for today’s contribution, which was important.

I was surprised at first by the hon. Member for Angus (Mike Weir), because the Carter review looked at England, and I wondered where the hon. Gentleman’s contributions

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would go, but I am pleased that both he and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about the devolved institutions and the lessons that can be learned throughout the United Kingdom from Lord Carter’s report. That is a great way for us to work as a one nation country.

I am grateful for the comments of the shadow Minister, who made some points about NHS procurement. Some issues about extraction from European Union procurement programmes still need to be resolved—I understand that the shadow Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), says that that can happen, but Simon Stevens does not believe that is correct—so there are some good things for the Minister to go away and think about. I will certainly take them away too, and I am grateful for that.

In the short time I have available, I want to say a little about the response to the Carter review. There has been a positive response from the Royal College of Nursing, which not only acknowledged that nursing numbers have not been meeting demand, but stated:

“It is clear that there is waste in the NHS, which is holding it back from directing its resources to frontline patient care. Lord Carter’s review is a welcome illustration of how the NHS and individual hospitals could be much more effective in how they procure equipment, drugs, and above all staff.”

As the Minister said, we as parliamentarians therefore have a great opportunity to engage in the issue. As I said at the start of my speech, it came up at many hustings. It is often said that the Conservatives are not strong on the NHS, but I think we have a good story to tell. If we carry on in the same vein, and if the Minister carries on in the way he spoke today and in the recent debate in the main Chamber, that will please me and other colleagues.

I have been unfortunate enough in the past nine months to have need of the NHS, but I have been fortunate enough that it has been there. I am grateful. I have attended Moorfields, the BMI in east London and the Whittington with fairly serious issues. Indeed, my father-in-law had a hip operation on Friday, so I am grateful to the hospital in Swindon as well for making that happen. The care that he and I received has been second to none and I am grateful. I hope that it may continue to be such and that today’s debate will continue our efforts to make the NHS the best national health system in the world.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered operational productivity in NHS providers.

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Colin Worton

4 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the case of Colin Worton and compensation following an acquittal.

The case of Colin Worton is an indictment of the justice system and how it operated in Northern Ireland. I ask Members to cast their minds back 32 years, to when Northern Ireland was in the midst of the troubles. At that time, a Roman Catholic workman, Adrian Carroll, was murdered, gunned down in the streets of the city of Armagh. That was an injustice that has not been properly addressed. In fact, 32 years ago, a double injustice was done, when Colin Worton, a serving solider in the Ulster Defence Regiment, was arrested, held, questioned and subsequently charged. He was held behind bars for several years awaiting trial, where the case was thrown out because it was deemed by the judge that the statement he had made had come about under severe duress.

That injustice affected Colin Worton’s entire life and all his family. His father had already lost one son to terrorism, gunned down in the Kingsmill massacre. He then effectively lost his other son, Colin—a man who was serving Queen and country—along with Colin’s good character, through a smear and a charge that he was somehow a terrorist.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Colin Worton served in the Ulster Defence Regiment, as did I. He worked long hours, at unsociable times. Is it not despicably wrong that a man who gave so much for Queen and country and for his neighbours and his friends—indeed, to protect his enemies as well—is still waiting on justice today?

Ian Paisley: My hon. Friend’s comments echo and amplify the indictment of a system that has blinded itself. Justice has to be fair, but when it blinds itself so much to an injustice that it cannot find a mechanism or way to clear and compensate a man properly, something is fundamentally wrong with the system.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate my hon. Friend on obtaining this debate. As he knows, many of us in this House have been trying to get a debate on the issue for quite some time, so we are glad it is happening. There is something fundamentally wrong, as our hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has said, when someone who has served his country has to fight to bring his case to this House to try to get justice, rather than getting it, as he should, through the normal system.

Ian Paisley: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I commend his actions. He has campaigned for years on this case and has tried to help Colin in the many different forums in which he has been a representative. He has also lobbied constantly and, more important, kept applying for a debate as well. It was really only the luck of the draw, so to speak, that my name came up. I am delighted that he has been so supportive of this case over the years.

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As I said, Colin Worton never had his name cleared properly. I welcome the statement of the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, Minister Ford, of a couple of months ago that

“there is no stain on Colin Worton’s character”,

but unfortunately those words are not matched by actions. If there is no stain on the character of a soldier, why for the past 32 years has it been impossible for him to get back his job in the Ulster Defence Regiment? If there is no stain on his character and he can hold his head high, as he has been told by officialdom, why does he not have the simple right to have his job back, to serve his Province and his people?

I will tell the House why: because there is a stain, which has prevented him from going back to his job and from having a proper income-generating life. As a result, he has been forced to do menial jobs around the country, because people whisper behind their hands, “He’s the boy who was part of that murder team that killed an innocent man.” We need to nail that, and nail it loud and clear. We need to point out that if there is no stain on the character of Colin Worton then, given that he has not been able to have his job back for the past 32 years, he must now be properly compensated under existing mechanisms. I will come to those mechanism, because the Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland could use his powers in a discretionary way, and he should be encouraged by this House and this Government to do so. It is no way to treat a citizen of the United Kingdom and former soldier of Her Majesty’s forces. In essence, compensation should be paid to Colin Worton for his loss.

The effect of wrongful arrest and imprisonment—wrongful waste of life—on any person is devastating, and that situation is always wrong. But when a person sees three of his colleagues having their convictions overturned on appeal and being given substantial compensation—rightly so; those three were all also soldiers in Her Majesty’s forces, I should add—he must feel doubly indicted and abused. It seems he is not entitled to the same level of compensation or the same sense that not only has he got overturned something that was wrongly said about him, but the state that did that has been forced to pay for that injustice.

According to the available information, previous Secretaries of State and the Northern Ireland Justice Minister have indicated that, under section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, Mr Worton does not qualify for compensation. I believe that they are wrong in their interpretation of that section. I set that against the fact that we live in an era when the Northern Ireland Attorney General feels at liberty to recommend that there should be an amnesty system for terrorists to come forward to give evidence in historical cases without the risk of being prosecuted; it simply beggars belief that a man at the opposite end of the spectrum—a former soldier who has been told there is no stain on his character—is being punished for something he did not do in that same era. He is forced to live a life of little opportunity, with the stigma of a horrific murder latching itself to his hip despite his absolute innocence.

For Colin Worton to be told he falls outside the boundary of entitlement to compensation is wrong. The Northern Ireland Minister and the numerous Secretaries of State who come to Northern Ireland,

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should be encouraged to themselves encourage the devolution system to demonstrate the flexibility that it should have by addressing this particular injustice.

At Mr Worton’s initial trial, his so-called confession statement was deemed inadmissible as evidence because it had been extracted under extreme duress. Let me put that in the language of the street. Mr Worton had the crap kicked out of him until he said the right things. Once he had said them and had signed the right confession, he was going to be banged up in jail. That is what happened to three of his colleagues. Fifteen years later, those convictions were overturned and they were released. When Mr Worton’s case came to trial in 1986, the judge was so perplexed by what he saw that he immediately deemed that Mr Worton’s statement could not be used as evidence, and on that basis told Worton to leave the court room—he was a free man. That did nothing to compensate for the two and a half years he spent lingering in jail for the trial, and it did nothing to compensate him for the loss of his promising career in the services. It did nothing to compensate him for the now decades of financial loss and it certainly did not clear his name. When he left that courtroom, in the eyes of the general public, he got off. They thought, “He got off—he was lucky.”

That, unfortunately, has been the character of the case. There has been a very deliberate effort by many to continue to perpetuate the myth that these were lucky men. But no; these were innocent men, who were wrongly tried and wrongly convicted, and who eventually—thankfully—had their convictions overturned. There needs to be recognition of the serious nature of the case and of the fact that the overturning of the original trial of what became known as the UDR Four meant that convictions against soldiers in Northern Ireland for crimes halved. So few were ever convicted, and so few were ever involved in anything wrong, that this case was held up as an example of how soldiers had been involved in wrongdoing. When the case was thrown out, it halved the number of cases that could be pointed at to show that soldiers had done something wrong in Northern Ireland. That is why it is such an important example and such an important case, and why it has to be put right.

A false confession made under interrogation, of course, implies improper behaviour by the individuals who extracted it. There was therefore a “serious default”, or rather a lack of those words coming from the judge’s mouth. The judge should have recognised that that “serious default” was in place, and if he had recognised that and said so when he put Worton out of the trial, Worton would have been granted compensation. However, because of the lack of those two words, he did not get compensation under the scheme.

These are the words of the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland in a recent debate:

“The general principle behind any payment of compensation is to make reparation where the normal machinery of justice has demonstrably failed the accused person.”

In that debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly, 54 Assembly Members agreed that Worton should be compensated, whereas 27 Assembly Members did not. On that basis, there is a strong momentum to ensure that Mr Worton is properly compensated for this injustice.

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If he had been compensated in the 1980s when it happened, the matter would have gone away a long time ago.

It says something of the man himself that he has continued to campaign tirelessly, year in, year out, decade in, decade out, to clear his name, because he is so incensed by what has happened to him. His family are equally incensed, and rightly so. Mr Worton has, in my view, conducted this business well and in a dignified manner. He has never stopped in his mission to have his name properly cleared and to have compensation. This is a man whose brother was murdered by the Provisional IRA, and who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment to help protect the Province and its people he so dearly loved. This is a man who had every reason to hate the Irish Republican Army for what they did, yet he worked on behalf of this Government’s security forces to help bring peace to Northern Ireland.

Mr Worton’s father died having had one son murdered by terrorists and another one labelled a murdering terrorist. That injustice to his entire family must be properly addressed. That is why I am pleased that this matter has got the Floor of this House and pleased that it is recognised nationally that there is an issue which the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland must address expeditiously. It has been long enough in the making. They have time now in which they could address this case.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene, as I know he is winding up. I congratulate him on securing the debate, on the eloquence and force with which he is putting the case, and on the work that he and others have done to get justice, not just for Colin Worton, but for the other members of the UDR Four. Does he agree that although the Minister may say, “This is a devolved matter; it is for the Minister of Justice, the Assembly and so on,” this case is to do with the past in Northern Ireland, which is the responsibility of the Government here, and they have a major role to play? It is not a question of saying, “It is a matter for Northern Ireland Ministers.” This is a matter that involves the legacy of the past, and therefore it falls to people here to address it as well.

Ian Paisley: I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point. He really gets to the crux of the matter: how we find the mechanics to solve this issue? How do we ultimately address it?

I hope that the Whips Office carries back to the Northern Ireland Office a very strong message. Heads have to be put together between the Northern Ireland Office and the Justice Ministry to find a way of resolving this legacy case once and for all. Resources are found for all sorts of things in Northern Ireland, and indeed, for all sorts of things across the United Kingdom. It would be very easy to solve this matter, and I hope that that message is carried back. My right hon. Friend has probably predicted the entirety of the speech of the Minister today. I understand why Ministers could be tied to such a degree, but there has to be some recognition that the devolved Administration have flexibility. They have the ability to find a mechanism—a special measure—

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through which they could address this case. I hope that they do. I hope that they are given the encouragement, and, if you like, the cover to allow them to act in this way, sure that what they are doing is right and what they are doing is proper.

4.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous): Good afternoon, Mr Gray. It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) on bringing this debate to the House. I am aware that he has championed Mr Worton’s case in the House on previous occasions, and he continues to do so. I very much recognise the challenges that Mr Worton has faced. He has suffered a great deal as a result of the terrible events of 8 November 1983, and no doubt has suffered a great deal as a result of the appalling loss of his brother, one of 10 Protestant workmen killed by the IRA at Kingsmill in 1976. Equally, our thoughts today are with the family of Adrian Carroll. Mr Carroll, a 24-year-old Catholic man, was murdered on 8 November 1983. He was shot outside his home in the city of Armagh as he returned from work. It is important, when we speak of these cases in the House and elsewhere, that we remember the pain and the ongoing needs of all those who have to live with the deadly legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past. The families who lost loved ones carry their burdens to this day, and those burdens do not get any easier.

On 21 June 2011, the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford, made a statement to the Stormont Assembly on Mr Worton’s case. Although I have no doubt that Mr Ford is better versed in the detail of the case than I am, the fact is clear that Mr Worton was acquitted of any involvement in Mr Carroll’s murder at the first instance. Unfortunately, the matter of Mr Worton’s clear acquittal is more straightforward than the issue of compensation. As the hon. Member for North Antrim made clear, Mr Worton has been campaigning for many years for compensation for unlawful detention, and his case has been considered by successive Secretaries of State and Ministers in the devolved Administration. I am aware that Mr Worton applied for compensation in 1992, but failed to qualify for the statutory scheme in operation at the time, because he was not convicted.

An application was also considered under the ex gratia compensation arrangements in place at the time. Those were set out in 1985 in a written House of Commons statement by the then Home Secretary. The Home Secretary’s statement provided that compensation could be paid to individuals who had spent time in custody following a wrongful conviction or charge where that had resulted from serious default on the part of a member of a police force or another public authority. The statement also confirmed that in exceptional circumstances—in particular, where facts emerged at trial or on appeal that completely exonerated the accused person—compensation could also be paid. That is opposed to having been acquitted because the prosecution had failed to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Successive Secretaries of State reviewed Mr Worton’s case for an ex gratia payment. They concluded that Mr Worton’s case did not meet the serious default or exceptional circumstances criteria. I am aware that the then Secretary of State’s decision was judicially reviewed, and in February

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2010 a court upheld the decision of the Secretary of State to conclude that there was no serious default on the part of the police.

On devolution of policing and justice in 2010, responsibility for any ongoing consideration of Mr Worton’s application for compensation transferred to the devolved Administration and, in particular, to the Northern Ireland Department of Justice. At that time, Justice Minister David Ford advised that he would look again at Mr Worton’s case to consider whether an ex gratia award of compensation would be appropriate. I am aware that Minister Ford considered all available evidence, including official advice, and the outcome of the historical inquiry into Mr Carroll’s murder. Minister Ford subsequently met Mr Worton, on 17 April 2013, and confirmed that he was not entitled to compensation under the statutory scheme or the ex gratia scheme. It has been made clear to Mr Worton that consideration will be given to any new information that might affect his case.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Antrim for bringing forward this debate, and to colleagues from across the House for their thoughtful and considered comments. This is clearly a difficult case, and I am sure that the Northern Ireland Department of Justice, as the responsible office for consideration of cases such as this, will note with great care the comments made today. I simply conclude as I started, by remembering all the families who lost loved ones as a result of Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

Question put and agreed to.

4.22 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Tyne and Wear Metro

4.30 pm

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. Before we start, I think it is reasonable, despite my natural inclinations, to say that gentlemen may, if they wish, remove their jackets—if they have not already done so.

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the performance of the Tyne and Wear Metro.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I secured the debate because my constituents are quickly losing patience with the Metro service, which is unreliable and overdue for investment. Barely a week goes by without me being contacted by people who are fed up with delayed or cancelled services making them late for work, preventing them from getting their kids to school, or keeping them from important appointments. A quick glance at Metro’s Twitter feed shows why. On most days, some sort of delay or cancellation is reported, not to mention the numerous other faults that disrupt passengers’ journeys, such as broken ticket machines—that happened again today—and information boards that give out misleading or incorrect information. Last winter, the service was so poor that only 64.5% of trains arrived on time, which means that more than one in three trains was late.

These problems occur so frequently that commuters have created a Facebook group called “Sort out the Metro”, which attracted hundreds of members in only a couple of weeks. Nearly 3,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Department for Transport to begin an independent review of our Metro services. These are not just annoyances; people rely on public transport to get them to where they need to be, and there are real consequences when the network fails them. One woman from my constituency wrote to me to explain the effect that delayed services have on her family. She explained that her husband uses the Metro to travel to his job in Gateshead, but failed trains mean that he can never guarantee that he will arrive on time. When he is three minutes late for work, he is docked 15 minutes’ wages. When he is 15 minutes late, he loses half an hour’s pay. Those may seem like relatively small sums of money individually, but when multiple journeys are delayed each week, the amounts soon add up.

The problems do not end there for my constituent. She explained that she works evening shifts, so if her husband’s train home is delayed, there is no one to take care of their young child. Either she has to be late for work, or she has to find a last-minute babysitter. Public transport is supposed to make people’s lives more convenient, but for her family it is doing just the opposite.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and on the excellent points that she is making about the importance of the Tyne and Wear Metro. I am probably showing my age by saying that I remember the Tyne and Wear Metro launching. I remember how proud we were that it was the first light rail system in the country to be entirely disabled-accessible. Looking back, can we not

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see that the current problems are testament to a failure of investment, which we need right now in the Tyne and Wear Metro?

Mrs Lewell-Buck: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which I will come to later. When the investment is there and our Metro is working properly, it is brilliant and it serves our area well. At the moment, however, the lack of investment really shows, and it has an impact on all our constituents.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this timely debate. No doubt the Minister, in responding to the debate, will point to the current significant investment programme in the Metro, but that investment is in infrastructure, ticketing and barriers, not in the rail cars, which are the most vital component. They are 40 years old and deeply in need of replacement to alleviate problems such as the regular electricity fires on the service.

Mrs Lewell-Buck: That is a point that I will make later in my speech. The Metro cars are grossly outdated, and they cause the bulk of the delays in the system. The constituent I mentioned is not the only person who feels that they have to organise their family’s life around the unreliable service. One young man wrote to me to say that he actively avoided taking the Metro to college, even though it was theoretically the most convenient route, because he simply could not rely on the service. He said that some days he found it easier to stay with his grandparents in another area, because they live closer to his college, rather than relying on the Metro to get him to class on time.

We need to think about the economic impact of an unreliable service. A single person being half an hour late for work may have a relatively small impact, but we should remember that when a fault occurs during peak time, hundreds of journeys are disrupted. Metro figures show that more than 50,000 minutes of delays occurred last year, which is more than 800 hours. That is a lot of working time wasted. When companies look for a place to locate their business, one of the top items on their checklist is the transport infrastructure. They want to know that there is a reliable transport network that will allow them to attract employees from as wide an area as possible. If we want our regional economy to do well, we need a transport system that is up to the job.

It is clear that the Metro is simply not coping at the moment, and most of the problems that commuters experience come from the fact that the network’s trains and infrastructure are on their last legs. The Metro is long overdue for an upgrade, and trains that were expected to retire from service in 2010 have been patched up and are now expected to carry passengers until 2025. Commuters and my hon. Friends know that that is not a real solution. Our oldest train cars have been in service for 40 years, and no amount of refurbishment or repair can disguise the fact that they are falling apart. Our fleet has been refurbished at a cost of £30 million, but that does not appear to have helped things. Power failures and door failures, which are the two biggest culprits in delays, are happening more frequently than they did only a year ago. The number of power failures

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has increased by 49% and the number of door failures by 29%. The number of passenger complaints is on the rise, and of 502 complaints reported in April, more than 300 related to train performance.

The trains are not the only problem for our passengers. Brand new ticket machines and barriers malfunction far too often, and the departure boards on station platforms often display incorrect information. That can be particularly irritating for my constituents because South Shields is at the end of the Metro line, so boards that display incorrect destinations can mislead passengers. Support for passengers whose trains are delayed is not good enough, and passengers whose journeys are disrupted are given little time to find alternative routes to their destinations. The “Sort out the Metro” group believes that as many as half of the disruptions are not reported on social media, which means that passengers who rely on such sources of information are left in the dark about delays.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making some excellent points, and the debate is much needed and valuable. Is she aware of a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research in 2014 which showed that Londoners receive £5,203 more per head in capital investment than do those in the north-east? London is the capital, so we would expect it to receive a little bit more, but does she think that £5,203 more per head is an acceptable amount?

Mrs Lewell-Buck: I do not think that that is an acceptable amount at all. In fact, I think it is an insult to the people of the north-east that so little is spent on us per head, when it comes to transport.

Some of the problems are a matter for Metro’s management, and I have taken them up with Nexus and the North East combined authority. Nexus has, to its credit, made some changes to improve customer service, and earlier this month it announced £40 million of investment, which will include a new rail traffic management system. The North East combined authority has also taken the issue up, and it is clear that there is a willingness locally to improve the service. Fines have been imposed on the operator, DB Regio Tyne and Wear. It is important that the operator is continually held to account for poor service.

Many of the problems also stem from a lack of investment, so the Government have to answer questions. More than half of the problems result from mechanical failures, and it is an unavoidable fact that our trains are far too old and need to be replaced. They should have been replaced years ago, but now it looks as if passengers will be waiting another decade before that happens. Instead, tens of millions of pounds have been spent on trying to patch up the existing rolling stock—money that would have been better spent on a more permanent solution. In 2010, the previous Labour Government made an important commitment to invest nearly £400 million in our Metro. The incoming coalition considered scrapping that commitment, and our local authorities fought tooth and nail to protect it. The investment was essential, not least because the Metro continues, despite all the faults, to have growing passenger numbers each year. Last year, passenger growth was the fastest outside London.

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If the Metro is to meet demand, it needs clarity about its future funding. Nexus is waiting for confirmation on £46 million of funding for the Metro service from 2016 onwards. Can the Minister give us any further information about the status of that funding? It is important that the money be smartly invested. Recent projects have shown that well targeted upgrades can have an impact. New technology for cleaning rails has reduced the number of incidents resulting from low rail adhesion. The announcement that the new traffic management system will be in place sooner than originally planned is also welcome news. However, as long as the issue of our trains goes unresolved, we will not see the dramatic service improvements that our passengers expect.

Ian Mearns: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the Metro system. In case the Minister thinks this is just a number of north-east MPs complaining about historical issues, I checked the Twitter feed before I came to this debate. Today we have had:

“No trains South Gosforth - Monkseaton due to signalling problems.”

Another Twitter message stated:

“Most Metro ticket machines are back up and running.”

That implies that the ticket machines had not been up and running. A third message said:

“Disruption cleared at 12:25.”

Another message said that a train had been withdrawn from stations between St James and South Gosforth. These ongoing problems occur daily.

Mrs Lewell-Buck: I thank my observant hon. Friend. He is, of course, correct. Since I started this campaign and made it public that I had secured this debate, my office has received an influx of complaints from across our region about the poor performance of the Metro.

Our local councils and Nexus have shown a willingness to invest in our local transport. There is clearly local demand, but we need a similar commitment from central Government. Today I want to hear what plans the Minister has to support the purchase of new rolling stock for the Metro as quickly as possible. In a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), the Department for Transport said that it has

“engaged in preliminary discussions…for the replacement of rolling stock”.

Can the Minister give us any more detail about those discussions? Bearing in mind the concerns that have been raised, will he look favourably on a request for funding for new Metro cars?

This debate is a chance for the Government to demonstrate that they are truly committed to investing in the north-east, and to delivering their promises to our region. Many of my constituents remain cynical about the Chancellor’s sudden conversion to the cause of investing in northern cities just a few months before the last general election. It is notable that a number of the transport infrastructure projects announced for our region in the pre-election Budget were in fact re-announcements, not new money. In any case, it remains unclear where the north-east fits into his northern powerhouse, if it fits at all.

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As my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) has said, it remains the case that the Government spend £5,426 a year on transport for every person living in London, but for the north-east they spend just £223 per head a year. If the Government are serious about rebalancing the economy, investing in new trains for our Metro would be a good start.

Mrs Hodgson: Obviously we need to fix what we have before we go any further. Is my hon. Friend aware that, with a population of some 55,000 people, Washington is the largest conurbation in the area not to be covered by the Tyne and Wear Metro? As well as giving us the money we need to make the Metro fit for purpose, we also need to ensure that the Metro covers the whole of Tyne and Wear.

Mrs Lewell-Buck: I could not agree more. Investment is needed so that we can roll out the Metro, because that would help our economy, although we need to fix the faults first. It is not right that a large part of our area is not accessible by the Metro.

I suspect that the Minister will try to sidestep my constituents’ complaints by saying that the running of the Metro is a devolved matter. It is right that regions and cities should have control over transport, and Opposition Members have been pushing for even greater devolution. Nexus and the North East combined authority have been holding DB Regio Tyne and Wear to account by imposing penalties where appropriate, but it would be wrong to say that all the issues we are seeing can be attributed to the operator. Even the best management cannot compensate for trains that have come to the end of their lifespan and can no longer be relied on. There is a clear need for investment.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an excellent contribution. Although the Tyne and Wear Metro does not extend to Northumberland, I am sure the Minister will give a cast-iron guarantee that that is only a matter of time. Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the Tyne and Wear Metro has a fantastic workforce, from the drivers to the cleaners, the one problem it has is that workforce numbers have dropped from 315 to 281? Eighteen drivers have left over the past year, which is nearly double the average over the past three years. Does she agree if the Metro does not have the workforce or the staff, it is highly likely that its productivity will be reduced?

Mrs Lewell-Buck: I agree with my hon. Friend. For the Metro to work, it needs to have the staff and structure. I have already spoken to Nexus about staffing and the lack of staff available on the platform to advise passengers when there have been problems. There is clearly a need for investment. The Metro will not serve our area without that investment. I hope the Minister will recognise that today and tell us more about what the Government can do to bring that investment forward.

4.47 pm

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), my constituency neighbour, on securing this important debate, which

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centres on the performance of the Tyne and Wear Metro service, but I will also address the service’s future, to which she alluded.

In the past nine months for which figures are available, 42,749 excess minutes were recorded, which is more than double the Metro’s target. Causes include power failures, leaves on the line and train malfunctions. The majority of complaints received were due to train service performance. I live near a Metro station, so my family and I understand the Metro’s benefits all too well. The Metro is and has been a great service, and I remember when it first started. [Interruption.] We are all showing our age this afternoon.

The Metro has not been reliable over the past few years. If I turn up in the morning to catch the Metro to Newcastle to get a train down here—when I am not getting a Sunderland train—a delay can make the difference between catching my train and not catching my train. The Metro runs to the airport, so it has to be reliable. People have to be at the airport a certain amount of time in advance, and people have complained to me that they have missed flights because of problems with the Metro. Part of the issue is that there are not many public transport alternatives. It is not like London, where if the buses go off, the tube is there; or if the tube goes off, there are lots of buses. In the north-east, people who live within travelling distance of the Tyne and Wear Metro rely on that service and, historically, it was very reliable. The benefits of living near the Metro are great, but the problem is that it needs to be reliable.

People are not just being penalised for losing minutes at work; they can lose their job if they are consistently late for work. Employers are not interested in why people are late for work, but in whether they are there on time to do the job they are paid to do, and I totally understand that. It is a very serious problem. Of the 502 complaints in April and May this year, most were to do with train service performance. It is a real issue across the piece.

Chi Onwurah: My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the impact of train delays. Does she agree that productivity is one of the key challenges that we face, as the acting leader of the Labour party, our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), said this morning? We are 30% behind other countries when it comes to productivity. Excellent transport links are important for productivity, but my hon. Friend has given various examples that show how it is being undermined by bad transport.

Julie Elliott: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is absolutely true that productivity is essential. Economically, the north-east is one of the most productive regions in the country. We are still the only region that has a positive balance of trade. We export enormously, which is something to be proud of, but people have to get to their jobs to be able to create that productivity.

It is clear that Nexus will have to procure a new fleet of trains to meet identified customer demand. The number of people travelling on public transport goes up all the time. From an environmental point of view, that is important. As has been said, the fleet started carrying passengers in 1980. The refurbishment going on at the

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moment will take it to around 2025, but further refurbishment is not cost-effective. The trains are cranky and noisy, and there is a limit to what can be done with old stock. By the middle of the next decade, the trains will represent 50-year-old technology, with all the problems that go with that, including low levels of reliability, poor energy efficiency and poor compliance with accessibility legislation. When they were introduced, they were trailblazing, but they are now old hat. As someone over 50, I understand the problems that getting older creates: you are not quite as good as you were a few years ago. New trains are critical. They will improve reliability and punctuality for the more than 38 million passengers who use the service every year.

I want to move on to the disparity in funding between the regions. According to recent research undertaken by the Equality Trust, if we combine bus and rail, the average amount of money in Government subsidy spent on transport for each household in the north-east is £139 a year. For those in the south-east it is £204. The figures speak for themselves. If the northern powerhouse is to amount to anything more than a vanity project for the Chancellor, he needs to put his money where his mouth is, and he needs to use the Budget next week to direct extra money into public transport in our region. A new fleet is central to securing a better, more punctual and energy-efficient Metro service. Given the costs involved, Government financing will be crucial. These things inevitably take time, so I urge the Minister to begin talks now to ensure that passengers in Sunderland, who rely on the Metro to go to work, attend hospital appointments and visit family and friends, get the service they need and deserve.

4.53 pm

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) on securing this important debate.

The Tyne and Wear Metro is a critical part of the north-east’s transport infrastructure. For decades it has provided high levels of service, punctuality and customer satisfaction, running millions of journeys every year to ensure that the people of the north-east could get around quickly and efficiently. I am concerned to hear so many of the points raised by my hon. Friends today regarding the drop in operating performance. Valid concerns have been raised. Journeys are being affected by the age and need for upkeep of the rolling stock in use. Punctuality performance during the period of DB Regio’s operation has declined significantly: it is on average 8% lower than this time last year. Many travellers have also complained that when things go wrong, there is no information about what is happening and few viable alternative means of completing their journey.

I hope that as a result of today’s debate progress can be made to ensure that the Metro provides a reliable and affordable service. However, the Government have a role to play in ensuring that the Metro can meet its targets. One way to ensure that Nexus meets the plans it published last year in its “Metro Strategy 2030” document is for the Government to provide the funding necessary to secure a new fleet. This would reduce the number of technical issues that have arisen as a result of the 40-year-old rolling stock. We need upgrades to be carried out.

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We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) about the need to extend the Metro to Washington. That is certainly something that my constituents would support. The re-opening of the Leamside line would benefit many people across Sunderland. Another proposed extension is the new line that would run from Doxford International business park in my constituency. This would transform transport links in my area, giving local people rapid access to other parts of the city and the wider region, and it would allow local businesses to grow and create jobs through improved transport links.

The people in Houghton and Sunderland South deserve to see real improvements. The north-east continues to get a raw deal on public transport investment compared with other parts of the country. In London, when things go wrong, commuters have a wealth of options available, but when we have a problem on one part of the network in Tyne and Wear, there is a knock-on effect. In the north-east, when there is a problem with the Metro or when local buses do not run, passengers can be left stranded.

If the Government are serious about creating a so-called northern powerhouse in the north-east to drive economic growth, they must match their rhetoric with action and invest to create a truly integrated transport network. Joining up the Metro, local buses and other transport options will give passengers genuine choice as to how they travel, and options when things go wrong. It will also help commuters get to work, improve transport links for businesses and spur job creation.

Chi Onwurah: My hon. Friend makes very important points about increased investment, the extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro and integrated transport. This morning I headed off to an event outside Westminster. I used the new Tottenham Court Road station, which is part of the Crossrail investment. It is a beautiful station; I think it is excellent. Crossrail represents billions of pounds of investment in London. Does my hon. Friend agree that the north-east needs a suitably ambitious investment programme for its transport infrastructure?

Bridget Phillipson: Of course our capital city needs investment in the rail network to ensure it can function properly, so that we can attract jobs and investment, but so does the north-east. Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have had further confirmation that the Government remain lacking in commitment when it comes to investment in transport infrastructure in the north. In my constituency, we do not benefit at all from the Tyne and Wear Metro. Many people use it, but we do not have direct links within the constituency, and for many of my constituents, the only option is bus travel. That is why I have campaigned so much to support what the combined authority has done on introducing a quality contract scheme.

If businesses are to continue to invest in the region and jobs are to be created, we need a more integrated network. We need a joined-up network so that people can be confident of getting to work on time, and so that businesses know that they can invest in an area with excellent transport links. The north-east has many excellent road networks and good links in many respects, but we are let down by public transport. The proposed Metro extension to Doxford is critical, and I hope to see the extension proposals in “Metro Strategy 2030” become a reality.

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I look forward to the Minister’s response. I want to hear him outline the work that he will do, through the Department, to make sure that the Metro receives the investment it needs in the short term, and how he will work with Nexus and the combined authority to deliver the long-term investment in transport infrastructure that the north-east needs, particularly the investment needed over the next 20 to 30 years to extend the Metro and offer better transport options for the region to support the businesses, job creation and growth that we all want to see.

4.58 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) on securing this important debate, and on setting out so clearly how the Metro service affects the lives of her constituents and the wider area. She has made a powerful case for investment in the north-east’s local transport infrastructure. I also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), to his place. I am sure that this will be the first of many Westminster Hall debates on light rail that he will respond to, and I wish him well in his new post.

We heard important speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), and many valuable contributions from other hon. Friends who represent Tyne and Wear constituencies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central said, reliable services are vital to people in her area—not only those working locally, but those connecting to inter-city rail services and flights from the airport. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South spelled out the important role that modern rolling stock can play in ensuring a punctual service, and how an expanded and integrated network could benefit businesses in her constituency. It is clear that the Tyne and Wear Metro plays a crucial role in supporting the local economy, and my hon. Friends are rightly ambitious for their region.

The existence of the Metro is a testament to the planners who, 40 years ago, had the foresight to take the run-down Tyneside Electrics network, which was ironically converted to diesel under British Rail, and transform it into the first modern light rail service in the country. It is fair to say that while the Tyne and Wear Metro owes more to conventional rail lines than most light rail networks, it pioneered the conversion of disused or underused rail lines, a practice that has been integral to the success of the Manchester Metrolink, the docklands light railway, and—I hope that I do not have to declare an interest here, Mr Gray—the Nottingham express transit system. I am sure that everyone in this House welcomes the investment in those systems in recent years.

The 2002 extension to Sunderland increased the size of the Metro network by around a third, and a £580 million funding package was awarded under the last Labour Government, with £350 million earmarked for investment and £230 million reserved for meeting running costs. It is a cause for concern that, as has been set out today, there are ongoing challenges to do with performance

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and the quality of services for passengers. It is certainly worrying that while tram and light rail use continues to grow in London, ridership has fallen on most systems since 2009-10, and the Tyne and Wear Metro is no exception. The network carried 40.8 million passengers five years ago, but that figure fell to 38.1 million in 2014-15, despite the fact that people who live within the Nexus passenger transport executive boundaries are more disposed to travel by light rail than those in any other area.

Of course, that decline might have something to do with worsening punctuality. As the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), said in a recent written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, punctuality declined from 87% in 2010-11 to just 80% in 2014-15. Although the Metro is not included in Passenger Transport’s recent passenger satisfaction surveys, according to information collected as a condition of the operator’s concession agreement, passenger satisfaction is also below target, and of course that was borne out in my hon. Friends’ comments today. Passengers deserve better, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the points ably put my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields and our colleagues.

The Metro network’s ageing rolling stock undoubtedly plays a part in those reduced passenger satisfaction ratings, and as my hon. Friends have said, it also impacts on the Metro’s operating performance. As was said, the Metro’s vehicles date from the 1970s and the early 1980s; they are as old as the system itself, and Nexus regards their replacement as “essential”. When the Minister responds to the debate, will he say what progress has been made in the Department’s discussions with Nexus on this point, and what options are available to the Department to support the procurement of new vehicles?

In addition to answering my hon. Friends’ questions, I would be grateful if the Minister could say a few words about the potential for integrating Metro and bus services. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South raised that point, and she has been a powerful advocate for the importance of integrated transport, and particularly the importance of improving bus services in the Tyne and Wear area.

During the 1970s and through to the mid-1980s, Tyne and Wear was well known—both locally, and in public transport enthusiasts’ circles—for its highly integrated ticketing system. Sadly, those arrangements were mostly lost following the deregulation of bus services from 1986 onwards. Does the Minister agree that local authorities should have the power to integrate timetables and ticketing over different modes to improve services for passengers, however that integration is delivered, and that tendering for bus services is an important tool that should be available to local authorities and passenger transport executives? In addition, does he agree that more co-ordinated bus and metro services might increase passenger satisfaction on both modes of transport? Finally, can he explain why, according to reports, there will be a disparity in the forthcoming buses Bill between the powers given to areas that have metro mayors and those that do not, and will he say when that Bill will be published?

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This has been a valuable debate. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields has made a number of important points on behalf of passengers in her constituency, and they have been taken up by hon. Friends from across the wider Tyne and Wear area. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to all the questions that have been put; I hope that he will address them in full.

5.5 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): Thank you very much, Mr Gray, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for what I think is the first time in my new role.

I congratulate the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) on securing the debate and on highlighting the importance of the Metro system to her area, as well as the problems with its services that local people are experiencing. Those problems came across strongly in the remarks by her colleagues from across the area, and I know that Nexus is also listening to this debate.

The Government recognise the important role that the Tyne and Wear Metro has played in the life of the north-east. I too remember it arriving; I suspect that those of us of a certain age—our early fifties—all remember it. It was exciting—an indication of confidence and a little bit of pride. Apart from the transport infrastructure benefits it provided, the Metro was a sign of resurgence and growth, and it has played an important role in the north-east. Light rail and local transport play an important role in the whole area.

Ian Lavery: Local transport is important, but the problem in my constituency, which is in the south-east of Northumberland, is that the Metro does not go anywhere near it, which presents a problem of connectivity for anyone seeking employment and so on in the big cities. Will the Minister agree to support the reintroduction of the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line, which would eventually link up with the Metro, hopefully at Regent Centre, and give greater connectivity and more opportunities to people in my constituency?

Andrew Jones: I cannot make pledges off the cuff, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows, but do I think that rail investment drives economic growth? Do I think that we are struggling with our capacity? Our rail network is a victim of its success. There are as many passengers using our network now as there were in the late 1920s, but the network is only a fraction of the size it was then. During the last 20 years, passenger journeys have gone up from 750 million per year to more than 1.6 billion per year. That is the driver of some of the congestion and pressures that we now see—it is coping with success. Also, part of the challenge is the long-term historical underinvestment in our railways, which has taken place under Governments of both colours over many years, and we are now playing catch-up with our infrastructure. So can I back the hon. Gentleman’s campaign immediately? I cannot make that pledge and I think he knows that—I can tell from his little smile just now that he probably knows that. But on the general principle of whether we can do more to invest, I say yes—but goodness, this Government are doing that already.

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Let me go back to Metro as it stands. I recognise that other Members have talked about the capacity to extend Metro and I can see much appeal in that. I think it was the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) who made the point that the constant desire to see Metro extended to new destinations just underlines how important it is in the area and how popular it is with passengers. I hope the potential for new extensions will grow. The extensions to the light rail services in Manchester and Nottingham have been very positive developments, and I hope that the North East combined authority considers such an extension as part of its transport plan. I would support such a proposal.

Metro is an important and formidable asset for the area. It copes magnificently with certain big events in the area, such as carrying 100,000 people for the Great North Run. Metro is a success story. Notwithstanding the operational problems detailed by hon. Members, this is the busiest light rail network outside London, and the fastest growing. Passenger journey numbers have increased by 2 million in the past year, and there are now more than 38 million in total. The revenues of Nexus, which owns and manages Metro, have grown by 4.4% and it now funds its day-to-day operation entirely from fares revenue and central Government metropolitan rail grant, without having to ask the local authorities for funding, as in the past. The Government have supported Nexus in its 11-year £350 million capital investment programme. As the hon. Member for South Shields highlighted, the programme—essentially one of asset renewal—is still running. It is delivering significant benefits now and will continue to do so over the next few years.

I take a keen interest in the performance of all rail services in the country, but the performance of Metro is a devolved matter. Nexus and its operating concessionaire provide regular updates at meetings of the North East combined authority, where its performance has been scrutinised. I understand that Nexus’s performance will be on the agenda at an authority meeting next week, on 9 July, and local councillors can directly question the senior management team from Nexus and the operator.

I have had a brief conversation with Nexus and undertaken to visit it in the next few weeks. It accepts that the day-to-day performance of Metro does not match the standards it sets for itself and which passengers expect. The main reasons for poor performance are clearly the train fleet’s reliability and the availability of train drivers. Nexus, the public body owning the network, has instigated a performance improvement plan, working closely with its concessionaire to identify the most common and recurring causes of faults in the trains and the actions needed to address them. As a result, the most common problem—door faults—have come down by one third since April, and train power faults have been reduced by a half compared with the previous quarter.

The operator has accelerated its recruitment and training process for drivers, which the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) mentioned. The company has suffered from the impact of an ageing workforce: many drivers who started with Metro in the early 1980s are now reaching retirement age. The operator is taking on 24 new drivers this year, and two thirds have already completed training or are about to do so. As a result,

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train cancellations due to no driver being available have been reduced and will continue to fall. There is also recognition that communications with customers need to improve, particularly when Metro is not running to timetable. The operator is committed to new training for its front-line staff and Nexus is to invest more than £20 million in new radio and train management systems as part of its investment in Metro, supporting better communication right through the system. Although there is further to go, Metro is heading in the right direction, and we want to be in a position to support it.

The Government are committed to the long-term investment plan, launched by the previous Labour Government, which will continue until 2021. In the last financial year, under that plan, we invested £30.9 million in securing Metro for some decades to come, and we are looking to invest a similar amount in this financial year. The real value of that investment is in giving Nexus the strength and security to plan projects over a number of years, in the same way that the Government structures investment in national rail infrastructure. One problem in our rail sector has been a stop-start—frequently stop—approach to investment over many years, which has meant that we do not have some of the skills or continuity of supply in industry to deliver our aspirations and expectations. That is part of the long-term failure to invest in transport that I mentioned earlier. This investment has focused on the key engineering assets on which Metro and its passengers rely, including new track, replacement of cable routes and renewal of lifts and escalators at stations. This investment has already improved the service for passengers by reducing faults.

Long-term planning and security of investment has helped Nexus to drive down projects’ overheads by a quarter, releasing a further £20 million that will be invested where it is needed in new assets for Metro. The investment has allowed Nexus to invest in people as well as infrastructure—for example, it has taken on 30 new apprentices in the last three years. Those young people can look forward to rewarding careers in engineering, thanks to that investment.

Government investment has also gone towards refurbishment of stations and trains. We have talked quite a bit about rolling stock, which I will come to in a moment. The investment has been focused on raising accessibility to modern standards as part of a commitment to providing a railway open to all. The refurbished trains provide more space for passengers, while refurbished stations offer tactile surfaces, double handrails, better lighting and proper bench seats to cater for the needs of all.

Alongside this programme, Nexus has, with the support of the Department for Transport, invested in smartcard travel. The smartcard is the reason Nexus has invited me to visit and see its operation. It is already used by more than 100,000 local people on the system. High-quality cycle storage at stations—another part of the integration that colleagues have talked about—which goes right across the system, is funded through the local sustainable transport fund.

It might help if I highlight the impact of ongoing investment. That is not to say that there have not been operational difficulties, because there clearly have been, and Nexus know it, but work is under-way to get this right. Nexus is trying to do a good job.

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Metro is owned and run locally, but the Department works with it and in support of it. The Department is now working with Nexus and NECA to understand what future investment is required, to ensure that it continues to play a vital role in making the north-east economy work. Our discussions on replacement of rolling stock are at the very earliest stages. Colleagues have asked if I can make a commitment on rolling stock. I cannot make that commitment today, but I recognise that 40-year-old rolling stock—by the way, that is not unusual in our rail infrastructure—is coming to the end of its life and we are looking towards a new train fleet. The refurbishment will see the fleet through for a period, but it will not make it fit for decades into the future. Future rail fleets will certainly be required.

Bridget Phillipson: I welcome the Minister’s discussions with Nexus and the combined authority about investment in rolling stock. During those discussions, will he undertake to discuss the long-term investment that will be needed in the Metro network if there is to be expansion? That will require significant Government investment. I appreciate that this is a long-term strategy, but there are proposals in place that would bring significant benefits to the region. I know he cannot commit today to any particular schemes, but will he discuss that and bear in mind the economic benefits that those proposals could bring?

Andrew Jones: I am happy to make that commitment. We should be making long-decisions and doing long-term planning, not just for our rail sector but for other sectors, too. With long-term commitments, we will be able to tackle some questions that have not been tackled for years. Part of today’s business was a statement on a new airport runway in the south-east of England. That debate started about 50 years ago. We in this country are not great at tackling long-term decisions.

Winning financial commitment over a period, which has been forthcoming from this Government, enables contractors to scale up their operation to deliver this Government’s aspirations for a step change in our investment. I am happy to make that commitment to the hon. Lady. I fully buy into the principle that long-term planning and investment in transport are key ingredients in economic growth.

As hon. Members have said throughout this debate, if we want a thriving UK economy we need a thriving northern economy. There can be no thriving northern powerhouse unless we make significant investment to deal with clogged up roads, for example. I hope that the hon. Member for South Shields noted Highways England’s announcement, published this morning, about the £600 million investment in the A1 and A19, and other investments in the area. That investment is starting to flow through. The northern powerhouse is a powerful idea that is partly to do with connectivity, but it is partly to do with devolution, too, and it allows us to start to rebalance our economy.

The lack of balance in our economy has been an enormous problem over many years. It is not just bad for the north; it is bad for the entire country. Over the past decade, around half the UK’s growth has been concentrated in London and the surrounding districts.

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I am a northern Member of Parliament. Although my constituency is not quite as far north as the north-east, it is not too far away, in North Yorkshire.

Mrs Lewell-Buck: For us, that is the south.

Andrew Jones: That may be so, but you, Mr Gray, will firmly consider it to be the north. I am sure there is no disagreement that we need a better deal for the north, and I am confident that that is exactly what we can get.

Lilian Greenwood: Some Opposition Members may be somewhat surprised to hear how the Minister speaks about the northern powerhouse when only last week the Government paused important investment in the north. That is precisely the sort of stop-start approach that he decries.

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. I think comments should perhaps be in the context of the performance of the Tyne and Wear Metro.

Andrew Jones: That pause, which does not affect the performance of the Tyne and Wear Metro—

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. It may be best to leave that argument for another debate.

Andrew Jones: Perhaps I will have that conversation with the shadow Minister after the debate. There is no question at all about the principle that transport investment and the performance of the Tyne and Wear Metro will drive the local economy. I mentioned that we are facing an infrastructure deficit in our country and that we are playing catch-up, and I regard investment in road, rail, light rail and connectivity as central to addressing that.

I will deal with a couple of other points that were raised. On the potential for integrating bus and Metro, the first point to make is that we have a competitive bus market, so it has the capacity to be responsive to customer need. Nothing is stopping councils from working with bus companies, but I view that as a matter of partnership rather than one of principle.

The buses Bill was mentioned by the hon. Member for South Shields. I think it will be an enabling Bill, but we have not drafted it in full yet. We are working through the ideas, which will be about creating the opportunity for franchising. That follows through on the pledge of devolution to Manchester, which has been so welcomed in Greater Manchester. By working together with a set of partner authorities in a combined authority, Manchester has shown a clear pair of heels to other parts of the north. The message I have been hearing from local council leaders in my area is that they want some of those powers, alongside which will come the requirement for democratic accountability, and that goes back to the elected mayor principle.

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. In the context of Tyne and Wear Metro?

Andrew Jones: Indeed, as in the context of Tyne and Wear Metro.

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Bridget Phillipson: In the context of integrating transport between Metro and buses, the Minister will no doubt be aware of the quality contract scheme for local buses that is under way in Tyne and Wear. I urge the Government to consider how that will impact on the buses Bill and vice versa. It is not clear how those two things will be brought together, and the Government will need to address that inconsistency when legislation is published.

Andrew Jones: In the context of the performance of the Tyne and Wear Metro, I am not sure there is an inconsistency. I think we will see different arrangements in different places as different combined authorities or county councils—whoever it may be—choose different models of operation in their area. That is absolutely fine. We should be working on the principle of local solutions for local problems. That will mean different things in different places, and devolution could operate at different paces in different places. That does not trouble me at all. We must ensure that we have a system that delivers decision making as near as possible to the point where a service is delivered.

That point goes back to Metro performance. Control is local. We have operational performance issues, but they are being tackled locally. My Department will offer support by sharing best practice and allocating committed cash. I am keen to see that relationship continue, as with all light-rail schemes around the country. It is about a principle of partnership, through sharing best practice and helping with finance, but with local control and local delivery that is responsive to local needs. It should operate to a high level and deliver good-quality solutions. That is what should be happening in this case.

I recognise the point about long-term investment, which will be a mixture of local growth deal funding into which the Department for Transport will put more than £1 billion a year. We will see more work by the

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Department for Communities and Local Government and the Treasury, but the principle of long-term commitments with extra capital is clearly in place.

I hope that I have been helpful in explaining how the Department for Transport will work with Nexus to improve and support Metro, which is an important and growing part of the north-east economy. It is growing in terms of passenger numbers, the services it offers and, potentially, the geography it covers. There is great demand for it, as shown by passenger numbers rising by more than 2 million in the past year. Finally, I will ensure that I am very involved in the process. I will be up to see Nexus’s smart ticketing operation quite soon, and I will pick up all the points that we have discussed when I head north, which I look forward to doing shortly.

5.26 pm

Mrs Lewell-Buck: I thank all my hon. Friends who have taken part in today’s debate, and I welcome the Minister to his post. I also welcome the Minister’s ongoing dialogue with Nexus. I am pleased that he seems to get the point that patching up the system and refurbishment are not the final answer—we need investment in the existing rolling stock. I just hope that he can get the Chancellor to understand that as well, because my constituents and, I am sure, those of my hon. Friends are fed up with being short-changed, frankly. I welcome the fact that the Minister will be talking to Nexus very soon, and I hope that he and I can discuss that ongoing dialogue. The sooner our rolling stock is replaced, the better for all of us in the north-east.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the performance of the Tyne and Wear Metro.

5.27 pm

Sitting adjourned.