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Westminster Hall

Volume 404: debated on Wednesday 7 May 2003

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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 7 May 2003

[MR. EDWARD O'HARA in the Chair]

Mental Health

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.— [Mr. Caplin.]

9.30 am

I am delighted and honoured to introduce a debate on the provision of mental health services, a matter of general concern to all hon. Members. We know from statistics and claims made by specialist organisations that a significant proportion of people—probably more than one in five of the population—will be afflicted by mental illness at some stage in their lives. If we add to that the multiplier of their families and carers, it means that almost all of us will have a direct involvement in such illness, either as patients or carers.

Hon. Members will know from their constituency postbags that, although the matter is not the most vocal or immediately dramatic of our worries, it is very important. I am delighted to welcome to the debate the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy). I am used to debating learning disability with the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will add an interesting angle to our discussions.

I can say genuinely that I do not intend to approach the matter in a partisan spirit; it is too important for that. I shall be critical of the Government's performance in some areas, but that is not the primary purpose of my discourse. We sometimes do ourselves disservice in this place by suggesting that there is a year zero when a Government start with a clean sheet and change everything. The history of social progress in this country—I speak with my specialist knowledge about disability—is one of improvements. People see a problem, or one develops. People then lobby and press for legislation. They press Governments and when such matters are brought to a head—a difficult process beginning with an improvement in understanding— we can move on to changes, either through private Members' or Government-inspired legislation. If we are really successful, the resources to support that legislation will be provided, too. It is not a guaranteed process, but one that has served us over the years.

It is worth pausing for a moment to consider the sensitive matter of mental illness and disability, and to consider how many light years we have come from the understanding of such matters of a century ago. I will not use the easy trick of complaining about our forebears but, at that time, "lunatics" were put away out of sight in an asylum, often for long periods and with minimal resources. It was a case of "out of mind, out of sight", a completely unacceptable approach.

I wish to emphasise the wide range of conditions of mental illness. I speak not as a doctor, but as an engaged layperson. This should not drive the debate completely, but let us consider the comparatively few situations when a patient in the community poses a risk to members of the public, a risk that is aggravated in most cases if medication is not taken regularly.

I ought to stress before I continue—it is easy to be misunderstood in this sensitive area—that the population that I have in mind is not identical to that with a clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia, although it has been suggested that schizophrenia might affect 1 per cent. of people at some stage of their lives. The people I am talking about—they are not exactly the same as those diagnosed with schizophrenia, although there are some similarities—are patients who pose some risk to themselves, but not to third parties.

Yet that is by no means the whole story, or even the most important part of it. Various types of anxiety and depression are prevalent, and seem to be becoming more so. I notice that the submission from YoungMinds referred to
"an unrelenting rise in teen mental illness".
I also note that in the short period of two years between 1999 and 2001, bridging the millennium, pharmacists reported that there was an increase in the number of prescriptions for antidepressants of more than 25 per cent. to an annual figure of some 25 million. That is a huge increase in a short time, and I hope one that will not be sustained.

We also need to consider the important impact of the ageing process, and the fact that a much greater number of older people are surviving to a great old age. Soon, there will 2 million people over the age of 85. Many of those—by no means all of them—will have some form of Alzheimer's or dementia problems. The fact that longevity is aggravating the problem requires particular kinds of provision.

Some Members know that I have been involved in a Front-Bench capacity—in which I do not speak today—in some aspects of disability and the benefits system. Mental illness is well on the way to becoming the major factor in disability issues, and in incapacity to work. For example, the overall figures for claiming incapacity benefit are not much worse than they were in 1997, but they were supposed to have fallen. The Prime Minister described the figure of 2.7 million claimants last year as a scandal, but I do not intend to go on about that this morning.

It is interesting to unpack the causes of those figures. The traditional main problems are muscular, skeletal and, to some extent, circulatory. Yet those are increasingly taking a back seat in favour of mental illness and stress problems. Within a more or less stable figure, the number off sick with mental illness has risen by a quarter. Of claimants of disability living allowance, which is obviously a wider category, the number claiming on account of mental illness has risen by some three quarters since 1997. I make no causative accusations about the nature of the Government during that period, but we face something of a stress epidemic. Stress is the characteristic disease of our time. It is significant, not only because of the distress that it causes families in the way of personal tragedies, but in the economic cost that it represents to the nation in working days lost and talents run to waste.

I realise that the Minister cannot give me final answers, but I hope that he will reflect that the benefit system is still not sensitive enough to encourage people who have a problem or history of mental illness back to work. I know that Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions have acknowledged the importance of changing that, and I think that they are genuinely committed to working on the problem within the "Pathways to work" strategy. I acknowledge that there have been some genuine improvements in, for example, the linking rules, which apply when a person's benefit entitlement has been broken by a partial return to work.

However, I hope that Ministers will bear in mind three points, and that Ministers in the Department of Health will share them with their colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions. First, there is a need to make sure that assessment doctors are not only trained in physical disability but have a sensitive understanding of the problems caused by mental illness or depression. Secondly, there is still a need for more flexible rules on part-time working. If someone has had a stress problem, it is not realistic to assume that they will just go back to work. The benefits system still has two modes; one is either on benefit or at work, and the two are mutually exclusive. That is not the way to get people with a history of mental illness or stress problems back to work.

Thirdly, Ministers need to be alert to any hidden deterrents to the resumption of work. It is all very well to say, "You can come off benefits because you are no longer incapable", but how about people who are understandably concerned that they may lose their disability living allowance automatically as a result? That would be difficult for them.

I should like to mention learning disability. I have said in the past, and will say again for the avoidance of doubt, that learning and mental disabilities are often confused with mental illness. Of course, they are not the same at all. We know that learning disabilities are long-term conditions. The Minister and I have several times constructively debated the "Valuing People" White Paper. I hope that we will shortly debate the Government report on that.

Although learning disability is completely different from mental illness, a learning disability, or indeed certain physical disabilities, may well predispose people to mental illness because of the frustration involved or the sheer agony of managing their lives. There is therefore a connection, and Mencap pointed it out to me. I pay tribute to it and other organisations for their briefings and, more generally, for their hands-on work in widening employment opportunities for people with such problems. As Mencap reasonably points out, the more that people find they have problems in comparison with their non-disabled peers, the more likely they are to run into mental health problems as well. I hope that the Minister will take that point back to his colleague.

On the "Valuing People" strategy, there are still problems with access to child and adolescent mental health services. Perhaps the Minister would like to say a little about how that strategy is being developed. Mencap and many others are worried about getting the right definitions into the new mental health legislation, and have specifically expressed concerns about informal detentions. The Minister is probably more familiar than I am with the Bournewood case. I hope that he can assure us that the gap will be filled, and that the issue will be adequately dealt with.

More generally in connection with draft mental health legislation, I attended a meeting in the House last autumn on the draft Mental Health Bill, introduced by the Government. I can fairly and moderately say that, in the 15 years that I have been in the House, I have never seen a piece of Government legislation that was so completely excoriated by professionals for being unsatisfactory. I hope that lessons have been learned from that about, first, the importance of adequate consultation with specialist interests; secondly, the need to be sensitive to the wide range of mental health conditions that I have referred to; and thirdly, and above all, the need for Ministers to make sure that any drastic remedies, including the removal of liberty, are confined only to the most pressing cases and those that pose the most urgent danger to the public.

I am sure that Ministers will think hard about the lessons that they should have learned from that. They will consider a well-amended Bill and make progress on that and on what they are planning. That would be helpful. They also need to remember the parallel legislation that is required about mental capacity and the ability to make decisions, which is extremely important.

Before turning to medical services, I want to touch on areas of vital support to people with mental illness and in which Ministers should take an interest from a departmental viewpoint. I hope that the Minister will comment. The first is the interface with social service provision. I refer not only to emergency situations, but to what happens on a day-to-day basis. The importance of housing provision is an integral part of the "Valuing People" strategy for people with learning disabilities. The strategy is even more necessary in the context of mental illness, particularly of a relapsing or remitting sort, and when housing for the mentally ill is to be put in residential areas. The proposals and the adequate safeguards must be explained. I have faced difficulties in my constituency, as I am sure have other hon. Members. The guidelines of the Department are helpful in that respect.

I turn now to the formal subject of the debate, which is health service provision of services for mental illness. I think that Ministers should report to us on their progress in meeting targets. The national service framework on mental health is the earliest of its type—the prototype—and it is now more than three years old. That is plenty of time for something to have happened. I notice that the national committee of the pharmaceutical service in a recent report comments that progress on implementing the standards is patchy. It refers to a recent report from the King's Fund—dealing only with mental health services in London—which states that only one third of primary care trusts have completed evidence-based guidelines. It is no good Ministers saying that they require evidence-based information, but that, for whatever reason, they have not received it.

The study also reports that implementation has been skewed towards handling severe mental illness, rather than to primary care for mental health. One of the points that is made several times—and rightly so—is that early intervention is critical in warding off some of the problems before they become serious, clinical matters that might even require hospitalisation. The Minister will know that community pharmacies are a sensitive issue for many of us. They have an essential role to play in ensuring that, when patients are living in the community, the drugs that they are prescribed are taken, as a result of which the community is safeguarded. That point must be highlighted.

I turn now to the NHS plan targets. I hope that the Minister will comment on the Department's claims in meeting them. I note that the mental health mapping atlas, which was published in June last year, pointed out that there were particular problems in providing a 24-hour service for mental health crisis resolution teams. Fewer than half the teams then established—52, from memory—were meeting that requirement. We all know that mental illness does not operate on a nine-to-five basis—even if the office does. A problem may become acute in the small hours of the night. It is simply no good fulfilling targets nominally, but not meeting them in substance. That is a major area of concern.

Finally, in this area of health provision, the Minister may like to comment on the progress in reshaping the service. For example, I note that in my own county, the Princess Marina site in Northampton will require expensive guarding for several years as the work has migrated elsewhere. That will result in a huge cost to the health service. I am not suggesting that it should not happen, but it is an example of the difficulties of restructuring.

In conclusion, I am sure that there is no lack of good will in this Chamber for making improvements in the provision of mental health services. There is certainly no shortage of ministerial warm words and initiatives on the matter. However, in our hearts, I think that hon. Members recognise that this is not a glamorous area of medical practice; it is perhaps not even one that clinicians would collectively place emphasis on in the absence of a steer from Ministers. Indeed, that was the point of establishing the separate mental health trusts and ring fencing the money allocated to them. We must shout—and the sector must shout—loud and long to get an appropriate share of resources. Ministers will be judged not only on their words, whether spoken or in documents, but on their ability to deliver effective services to meet a rising tide of demand and to deal with some real distress in the community.

Society will be judged by its commitment to include, support or care for those who are suffering and in much distress, and on whether patients, or those who care for them, share our common humanity.

9.50 am

I congratulate the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) on securing this important debate. It is good to talk about health delivery, rather than about systems and structures, which we shall discuss later. No matter what approach we take to how we do things, it will make little difference unless we implement them on the ground.

This service has traditionally been regarded as the Cinderella service. I do not come to it with any special expertise, but all hon. Members have their own experiences, whether through family and friends, of those who have undergone a period of mental illness. For the past two years or so, I have been meeting a group of mental health professionals who have taken me through the subject. I have, on the back of their advice, been able to talk subsequently to clients and carers about some of the issues. Matters came to a head over the Government's learning experience of its draft—I will not use the words "ill-fated"—Mental Health Bill, which contained serious weaknesses and was full of lost opportunities. Most people said that incapacity was the most important area for which to legislate; they said that we should try to define what was meant by incapacity and how we could help people who were so defined.

I shall draw on my experience of talking to a group of professionals, but I will do so generally, because those discussions are confidential. We have discussed matters across a wide terrain, including legal issues such as how and what happens when people are sectioned. That is the most difficult and the most extreme way of dealing with someone with a mental health problem. We have also discussed employment benefits, modern psychiatry and some of the issues relating to that and the supporting people approach, which is a good move in the right direction. I shall say more about that later.

I welcome the changes in the structure of the health service in my county, inasmuch as learning disabilities and mental health have been joined under the heading of the partnership trust. For all the possible criticisms of how primary care trusts were set up and how acute hospitals have been brought together, it makes eminent sense for learning disabilities and mental health to be dealt with jointly. The matter is approached differently in different parts of the country. Nevertheless, unless we give clear leadership on such matters, the resources will always go elsewhere and the perception will be that this is a Cinderella service. Some good things have come on the back of the changes. It is rare for a politician to hear universal acclaim for changes, but I have never heard anyone argue against how the trust has been created. The evidence suggests that the trust is working well, notwithstanding the usual budgetary constraints and the difficulty in attracting staff.

I will quickly touch on supporting people. I agree with the hon. Member for Daventry that issues such as housing cannot be underestimated in considering the quality of life of someone recovering from mental illness. Such issues are more than part of the process because people's quality of life entirely depends on them. I welcome the Government's initiative on supporting people, although there is a misconception that it largely concerns older people. I was fortunate enough to secure a debate in this Chamber to examine the initiative, which has led to a new approach to the elderly but also involves bringing together different services such as health, housing, employment and social care for vulnerable people—including those who suffer from mental health problems. One aspect of the initiative that seems to be working well on the ground is the proactive policy of finding supported lodgings, which are the only way to get people who have almost lost everything back into the community.

I shall now look at some of the problem areas. I make no apology for examining some of the ground covered by the hon. Member for Bosworth—[Interruptionj Daventry—I will get the constituency right in a minute. We must examine the different issues that need to be highlighted and prioritised. He has already touched on that of children and mental health. There have been dramatic increases in resources and prioritisation, but we are corning from a long way back. In the past, parents of children with mental health problems believed—this was also the authorities' answer—that the best approach was to ignore the problem for as long as possible in the hope that children would either get better or become so seriously affected that a dramatic solution would be needed. That was simply unacceptable.

Yesterday, I went to a meeting of the parliamentary group on autism, where Baroness Ashton, who is a Minister, emphasised—it is no breach of privilege to say this—the extreme importance of early intervention. I am with the hon. Gentleman in saying that it is absolutely wrong to put such problems off because they need early examination and assessment, even if early action may not be necessary. It is essential that we change that mindset.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and apologise again for getting his constituency wrong. I will get back on train now.

Counselling services are vital. They often struggle to find money to keep going, and the Cinderella service in that regard is counselling for young people with mental health problems. I hope that the Department of Health will pay attention to that issue because counselling traditionally exists within the domain of local government in general and social care in particular, but it is linked with health.

On drug treatment, we must feel pleased that, as the hon. Member for Daventry said, there have been dramatic improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health over not only the past 100 years but the past decade. We can be proud of that achievement, but it has come at a price. Psychotropic drugs are often the most expensive because they are initially introduced in quite a specialised field. It costs a lot of money to bring them forward and the drugs budget often goes over any boundary intended to keep it within reasonable limits. We have no alternative but to find that money. That is important.

I never cease to be taken aback by the role of psychiatrists. Unlike in other areas of medicine, psychiatrists are still at the centre of all mental health treatment. That is a good thing. Clearly, it is a domain in which specialist knowledge is important. However, there must be accountability. As MPs, we have all had experience of people who feel that they do not get on with their psychiatrist. They believe that it is difficult to get second opinions, particularly in relation to tribunals, to turn around what such people see as a system that is stacked heavily against them.

On sectioning, I hope that, when the Government bring back the mental health legislation, we will consider carefully and sensitively the support on which an individual in the most extreme of situations is able to call. There has been quite an argument about who can be the "friend" of the person being sectioned and about what rights they both have. Given the somewhat difficult position of the community psychiatric nurse— who is in the position of issuing the order but is also there to advise the patient or client—the question is how to make things as feasible as possible without making them invidious. Those are big issues.

Thankfully, sectioning happens quite rarely. However, as the hon. Member for Daventry made clear, we know that on the back of our community approach to mental health there are difficulties when people do not agree or do not keep to their regimes of taking medicines. That means that a very difficult situation sometimes has to be faced.

On benefits and employment, I never cease to be amazed—I have shared this with my local citizens advice bureau—about the complexity of the system for people who are affected by mental health problems. It appears that, when people lose an appeal, more often than not it is because of the change in circumstances that appear in terms of the doctor's diagnosis—the person from the Benefits Agency Medical Service—added to what somebody may have put on their form. I would always argue that someone who has had mental health difficulties needs careful support in relation to how they fill the form in and access the benefits system. It is often very hard—although not a matter of life and death; I do not want to he that dramatic—when someone who has had an appeal turned down is reconsidered. We all know what happens. People tend to exaggerate their rate of improvement in the belief that that is the honest and right thing to do, but doing that can adversely affect them.

In one session, I was impressed by the work of the disability advisers and by how much more they try to bring people into the world of work through the stepping stones of voluntary activities, supported employment and then, let us hope, part-time and full-time work. It is a long-term process. We are not talking months; we are often talking years. That means a lot of engagement and a great deal of support.

Much has been done and much more needs to be done. The debate comes at a fortuitous time. There are three issues to consider. First, how can we put more genuine resources into the service so that we give it its correct priority, given the number of people affected? Secondly, how can we continue to change attitudes so that perceptions of mental health are no different from those for any other form of health? We all know that that problem bedevils this issue. If we see mental health as something that we do not want to talk about, it will always be seen as something not worth spending money on.

Thirdly, how can we continue to measure and gain the benefits of medical improvements, notwithstanding the fact that we are moving into an era of much more choice? When I talk to people who are suffering, I never cease to be amazed at how much they are aware of their choices. They want choice over drugs regimes and the type of treatment that they are getting. That can prove difficult, because this is the one illness for which people can be compelled to undergo a period of treatment to which they might not agree. However, that has to be done in as accountable a way as possible, so that when those people get better, they have some choice over how their regime is moved to a conclusion. If we can do that, we will have performed a great service to the people suffering from this illness and have moved the whole service into the 21st century and to where it ought to be.

Order. Before we proceed, it may be helpful if I point out to Members wishing to speak that it is desirable for the first of the Front Bench spokespersons to be called not later than 10.30.

10.5 am

I begin my remarks by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) on securing this important debate.

I should like to take the opportunity to raise specific constituency issues relating to the provision of mental health services. Before the debate I managed briefly to give the Minister private notice of one of them. Two mental health trusts operate in my constituency, the North Essex mental health trust and the South Essex partnership trust. The latter currently has its major facility in my constituency at Runwell hospital, which was first constructed in the inter-war years and added to later. The facility is rather long in the tooth, and plans have been outstanding for several years to provide alternative provision at Runwell and other sites in south Essex.

To summarise, three principal elements are involved in what is usually known as the Runwell re-provision programme. The first is to build a purpose-built low and medium-secure site at Runwell. It has accommodated low and medium security mental health patients for many years, so there is nothing new in that. The re-provision is taking place via the private finance initiative mechanism and the Minister will be aware that such things take rather a long time. There have been negotiations and discussions about the programme for years but construction has not yet started, although it appears that matters are finally beginning to gather momentum.

Secondly, acute services, currently based at Runwell, will be moved to Rochford hospital, just over the boundary of my constituency, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor). A major refurbishment is intended for Rochford, which will allow the upgrading of a number of old wards so that acute patients can be moved to that facility. A planning application was recently approved by Rochford district council to allow that to go ahead.

Thirdly, what are colloquially known as EMI—elderly mentally infirm—services will be moved from Runwell to two new purpose-built facilities, one in the Southend area and the second in Rawreth in my constituency. Much of the remaining Runwell hospital site will then be sold off for housing redevelopment. That is, in outline, what will transpire.

Two specific issues arise from that, and I should like to take the Minister through them, having orientated him to this point. The first relates to the EMI facility at Rawreth. As I understand it from briefings from the trust, the idea is to have a modern purpose-built facility to cater for, as the name suggests, elderly mentally infirm patients, many of whom are physically quite weak and many of whom will be suffering from conditions such as the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. The trust already has planning permission for the facility, and construction is due to begin later this year.

I should declare a personal interest as the site is located in the local government ward in which I live—Downhall and Rawreth. Despite that, I say to the Minister that I am not being a nimby about the development, and I did not raise strong objections to it per se. However, I have one particular residual concern that I want to raise with the Minister. A local primary school is scheduled to relocate in a few years to a brownfield site adjacent to the EMI site at Rawreth. That means that primary schoolchildren will be playing in the playground not that far away from the facility.

I do not want the Minister to think for one moment that I am attempting to be alarmist about the matter, because I am not. I hope that he will take me entirely at face value when I assure him that I am looking for reassurance. I am sure that he can understand that there are areas for concern. I have discussed the matter in detail with the chief executive of the trust, Dr. Patrick Geoghegan, and he gave me his personal assurance that no one should be based at the EMI facility at Rawreth who would pose any threat to children at that primary school. I am grateful for that but I would like to cover the issue with the Minister as well.

I want to ask two questions. First, will the Minister assure me that no one who has any record that might suggest that they could pose a threat to children will be based at the EMI facility at any time? Secondly, will he also assure me that security measures will be in place? There must be physical security—the design of the building, exits, locks and so on—and 24-hour manning and adequate staffing. so that it will not be possible for any patient from that facility to go walkabout unsupervised by staff. I am assured that the people in the facility require 24-hour supervision, and I want the Minister to reassure me that there will be adequate staff and security measures in place to ensure that that remains the case. I would welcome the Minister's reassurance on those two points for reasons that I hope he can understand, and which hon. Members will appreciate are fully appropriate in the circumstances.

The second issue that I want to raise relates to the old Runwell hospital site. A low and medium-secure unit will be built in one corner of the site, and the bulk of the remaining land will be sold for housing redevelopment. The local community has known that that has been in the wind for many years, so it does not come as any surprise to them. An outline planning application was submitted to Chelmsford borough council a while ago, but rather than determining it immediately, the council is negotiating with the applicants about the fine detail of the application. That is being handled for the Secretary of State by an organisation called Inventures that is acting as the Secretary of State's agent in the matter.

An organisation called the Runwell hospital sports and social club is also located on the site, covering some 10 acres. The club arose as a sports facility for the hospital staff, of whom there were many in days gone by, but over the years the club extended its membership to members of the local community. Many people now use that facility for rest and recreation, and a number of sports are available there. To give the Minister a flavour, they range from outdoor sports such as football, to archery, bowls and others. A small clubhouse caters for the members.

Understandably, the club is anxious about its future because of the redevelopment, and a delegation from the club led by its chairman, Mr. James Fraser, came to see me at my constituency surgery last autumn to express its concerns and to ask me to take up the matter on its behalf. I subsequently wrote to Inventures and asked whether it could provide any long-term guarantees for the future of the club. I regret that, to date at least, it appears that it is willing to renew the club's lease on a year-by-year basis only.

Order. I am listening extremely carefully to the hon. Member. Unless I am missing something, he seems to be straying into an area of planning consent that is not the concern of the Minister who will reply to the debate.

I take on board your points, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If I am sailing too close to the wind, I shall tack back in, if I may put it like that. I hope that you will understand that this is a matter of genuine concern to my constituents. However, I shall quickly see whether I can get something out of the Minister, bearing in mind what you said; I would not wish to argue with you in any way.

The Minister understands the problem. I wonder whether he or another Minister at the Department of Health would be prepared to accept a delegation so that we can discuss the matter face to face to try to secure for the club a long-term future in which it will not be threatened. That facility should be retained for the benefit of my constituents and other people in the community who find it extremely valuable.

In summary, I would appreciate it if the Minister provided me with some reassurance about the EMI facility at Rawreth, not least because he must realise that, because the primary school is to move, the relocation of the facility may cause concern to parents who are thinking of sending their children to the school. It would therefore be valuable to have ministerial reassurance that all the angles have been covered. I would also be obliged if the Minister consented to receive a delegation so that we can discuss the issue that falls outside this debate and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.

10.16 am

I join others who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) on securing the debate. I particularly congratulate him on the measured and compassionate way in which he addressed the subject.

I should state for the record that I am not a medical doctor. Like the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), my knowledge of the matter comes entirely from the experiences of friends, relatives and others who are close to me. Because of the prevalence of mental health problems in society, we all have such experiences on which to draw.

I recall the Friday in December 1997 when I introduced a Mental Health (Amendment) Bill after having been drawn second in the private Member's Bill ballot. It was the usual set-up for business of that sort, with a sprinkling of hon. Members in the Chamber. I believe that, just a week earlier, the Member who had been drawn first in the ballot introduced his Bill to ban hunting with dogs. Hon. Members may remember that, on that occasion, the Chamber was heaving with people who were concerned to express their opinion on what is, of course, a very important issue about which people hold passionate beliefs. However, I felt then and still feel that there is a mismatch between the concern that is shown for desperate people and that shown for hunted foxes.

Even today, for this most important debate, there are only seven hon. Members in the Chamber: four Conservatives, one Liberal Democrat and two from the Labour party, including the Minister. I appreciate that time limitations and the fact that we are not considering legislation have something to do with that. Nevertheless, I believe that it indicates that mental health, despite its importance, is undervalued.

For the Minister's benefit, I wish to flag up early the two main issues about which I spoke way back in December 1997 and about which I shall speak today: the importance of separate therapeutic environments for the treatment of people who suffer very different forms of mental illness, and the importance of abolishing mixed-sex wards in psychiatric units.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry said, traditionally, the problem was swept out of sight and people were sometimes over-zealously confined to institutions. However, we all know that the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, sometimes too far, and that some people need the support of an institution, or at least the knowledge that an institution is available, for what I believe was called the revolving-door technique. People could be out in society but, if they felt an episode coming on, they could go into an institution for respite or treatment—it used to be said, perhaps flippantly, for an MOT service—to recharge their batteries and become stabilised before venturing out into the world again. One of the effects of the pendulum swinging to such an extent against the institutionalisation of people with mental health problems was that beds were then no longer available for those who needed them in the long term or on a revolving-door basis.

I shall give an example from my constituency, but will not go into constituency matters to anything like the extent that my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) did with his customary assiduity. There was a large mental hospital on the Tatchbury Mount site in my constituency before I lived in New Forest, East. It had a very good reputation, but in succeeding years, more and more of the Tatchbury site, which was intended for the therapeutic welfare of people with mental health problems, has been taken over by the administrators of local medical services. I do not draw any conclusions from that about people's state of health, but it has been indicative of a trend and I am glad that a state-of-the-art acute unit is now being built on that site for clients in the New Forest area and beyond who may need an in-patient stay in years to come.

There are two broad categories of sufferer from mental health problems. There are those whose affliction tends to make them aggressive or psychotic and those whose affliction or illness tends to make them vulnerable and delicate. What concerned me in 1997, when I introduced my Bill, was that in-patient facilities had been so contracted that, if someone fell into either category, there was no guarantee that if they were admitted they would not be cheek by jowl with someone in the other category of vulnerability. To be more specific, someone suffering from a potentially suicidal, depressive condition could have found themselves on the same ward as people suffering from illnesses that made them psychotic and aggressive. I cannot think of anything worse from the therapeutic point of view for someone in a state of extreme suicidal, clinical depression than to be in such an environment. A dilemma would arise for the doctors and families of people in that condition as to whether it was more risky to leave them out in society where they might kill themselves or to put them in an institution or unit where they would be cheek by jowl with people who were unlikely to encourage any form of rapid recovery.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that dilemma arises not just in hospitals but in prisons where there are the same pressures and people suffering from mental illness are also incarcerated?

I do indeed. I have not studied the subject, but I strongly suspect that there are people in prison today who would be in mental hospitals, not prison, if there were more facilities for in-patient admission to those hospitals.

As I said at the outset, I am not medically qualified to comment on these things, but I want to make an observation about what is sometimes called depression, as it has increasingly made an impression on me as I have become acquainted with people who have suffered from it. There is a closer relationship between the physical state of the body—the chemical state of the body, in particular—and the state of mind of an individual than is commonly recognised.

It is unfortunate that the word "depression" is used in two entirely different senses. It is used in the purely psychological or subjective sense, when someone says, "I am feeling down","I am feeling upset","I am feeling unhappy","I am feeling extremely unhappy" or, "I am feeling depressed." Hearing that said in isolation always inspires the reaction, "Ah, well, if you look at it this way, cheer up, get your act together or show an effort of will, you can snap out of it." That is one category of depression, and the word "depression" is commonly used in that sense. For that reason, clinical depression is underrated because it shares the same descriptive term.

When people suffer from what I referred to earlier as potentially suicidal clinical depression, it can often have an entirely physical cause. My mind goes back to the histories that I used to read about secret agents in enemy territory who were captured and deprived of sleep night after night in order to break them down. The strongest and most courageous people would inevitably crack if they were deprived of sleep for a sufficient period of time.

Much of what passes for clinical depression today is actually caused by shock or trauma, or something that has upset the chemical balance of someone's constitution and destroyed their ability to sleep soundly so that they are in a state of mental decline. All the talking, counselling and cognitive therapy in the world will not do anything to help unless the chemical problem can be addressed. It is unfortunate that these two very different categories of "depression" are lumped together by a common terminology.

Finally, I want to talk about mixed-sex wards. In February 1999, I initiated a debate on this topic, in which I paid tribute to a group of women users led by Cath Collins and based at the Maudsley hospital. Even then, the women were campaigning for new local units that would ensure that people of opposite sexes in a vulnerable mental condition were not put together in wards in circumstances of intimate closeness and sharing facilities.

I recently heard that the women's continuing struggle over a certain unit that concerned them has been successful. That is progress of a sort, but I want the Minister to assure us that there will be no concealment of the figures that show which trusts have succeeded in doing away with mixed-sex wards in psychiatric units, and which trusts persist in trying to keep them going because they believe that it is normal for men and women to mix even in extreme circumstances.

In preparing for the debate, I had a quick look on the internet at newspaper cuttings about sexual assaults, including rapes, that have taken place in mixed-sex wards, and there are too many cuttings, even from the last year or two, for me to run them off my computer database conveniently.

I ask the Minister two questions. First, does he accept in principle that there should be separate therapeutic environments for the treatment of people with very different types of mental illness in in-patient units? Secondly, will he guarantee that, when inquiries are made into which trusts and health authorities have succeeded—and which have not—in abolishing mixed-sex wards in psychiatric units, the data will be forthcoming?

10.30 am

I congratulate the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) on securing the debate. He set out carefully considered arguments, and has made some well thought-out points, which I sincerely hope that the Minister will consider. I also congratulate other hon. Members present, who have also made valid points.

Mental health problems are widespread, and even though things are improving there is still an element of the attitude that prevailed perhaps 20 years ago with cancer. No one wanted to talk about cancer, and if anyone put their hand up and said that they had cancer, a certain stigma attached, because people thought that it might be contagious in some way. Times are changing with regard to mental health, but there is still an element of that attitude now. That is why this debate is so important, and why it is important that the Government address some of the real. problems that are still out there. However, I congratulate them on starting to make real headway in addressing the problems.

MORI, the polling organisation, found that three out of five people reported knowing someone with mental health problems, and one in five reported experiencing three or more mental health problems themselves. One in three have reported depression. The charity Rethink undertook a survey last year, and found that a quarter of young adults have reported suffering from stress. It thinks that if there were better public understanding of mental illnesses, it would benefit young people particularly. It found that some 10 per cent. of young people will experience mental health problems.

Although the suicide rate is falling in the general population, it is not falling among young people, and that is of particular concern. The survey also found that young adults had to wait 18 months from the appearance of their first symptoms for a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The YoungMinds organisation highlighted a number of problems. It said:
"There is a major gap between government policy and service delivery."
It highlighted that young people were particularly vulnerable to
"Depression, eating disorders, behavioural problems"
"drug and alcohol abuse".
YoungMinds said that that could lead to real problems, including children's being excluded from school and committing offences, and could even lead to homelessness.

As the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) highlighted, there are real problems in Britain's prisons. Ministers' parliamentary replies make it clear that, in the past six years, the number of suicides has increased from 41 to 94. Taking into account the increase in prison population, that means that people are 13 times more likely to commit suicide in prison than they are in the wider community. That is clearly related to the fact that on entering custody, 20 per cent. of men and 40 per cent. of women have previously attempted suicide. The social exclusion unit report of July 2002 found that 72 per cent. of men and 70 per cent. of women sentenced to prison suffered from mental health problems. The problems extend to other vulnerable groups such as rough sleepers. It has been found that perhaps half of rough sleepers suffer from mental health problems.

I praise mental health care staff across the country who do a fantastic job day in, day out dealing with some of the most vulnerable people, whether they are in the acute sector or in the community. Clearly, those staff are still under-resourced, which is a problem that goes back several years. The phrase, "a Cinderella service" still stands to a certain extent. It did not help that between 1989 and 1997, one third of NHS beds for people with mental health problems were cut. At that time in 1997, only one in five people diagnosed with schizophrenia had access to a community psychiatric nurse.

In recent times, the King's Fund has found that things are not getting much better. It has highlighted lack of funding and the problem of recruitment and retention of staff. It is worried about the political targets that have been set by Whitehall, and concerned that targets for mental health services, which are arguably less glamorous than other Government targets, lose out. The Government should be congratulated on introducing the national service framework, which was a stepping stone, but, as the hon. Member for Daventry said, we need an update. We need to know what progress has been made on that NSF.

The King's Fund also highlighted the need for early intervention to prevent problems from getting worse. It wants a much greater focus on care given by GPs and community health care. The national GP survey of primary care conducted by the Mental After Care Association—MACA—found that one third of GPs want to spend more time with patients but are unable to because of the pressures of work. The reason that GPs give is that 30 per cent. of their patients suffer from mental health problems.

I was concerned to learn that for young people in particular the average wait for their first out-patient appointment to see a psychiatrist is 6.6 weeks. Back in 1997, it was 6.4. Arguably, problems are not going away, but getting worse. In my constituency, covered by Shropshire, the average wait for children is nine weeks for a first out-patient appointment to see a psychiatrist.

The Mental Health Foundation has highlighted that there is a national shortage of consultant psychiatrists. I welcome the extra £140 million that has been outlined for the next three years for child and adolescent mental health services, but where is that money going, and will it deliver what we all want: a comprehensive mental health service?

The draft Mental Health Bill was a complete disaster. It was summarised well by the Mental Health Foundation when it said that it believed the proposed Bill to be
"fundamentally flawed. The proposals in this Bill are misconceived, unworkable, are likely to infringe individuals' human rights and undermine the more positive aspects of current mental health policy."
I hope that the Minister will ask the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), to go back to the drawing board and return with a new Bill. A Bill is needed because as the Mental Health Foundation said that it was deeply disappointed by such a missed opportunity.

We need expanded capacity with increased funding for mental health services, so that there are more mental health nurses and specialist doctors. We need that new mental health legislation. We must improve the diversity of services, by trying to recruit people from the ethnic minorities who understand the cultural differences that exist in our society. I was told the story of a woman in a mental health hospital who, for reasons of privacy and her Asian background, sat on the toilet in reverse position. The reason for her behaviour was privacy, but mental health care professionals could have easily misinterpreted it as related to the mental health problem that she had. Such problems, possibly leading to misdiagnosis, would not arise if there were more people from different backgrounds with a greater understanding of diversity. We have to give carers more support and we have to ensure that we have joined-up services, including health, education, social services and the voluntary sector, if we are to deliver the services that people need.

With the Government leading the way, I hope that that will help to bring about the change in attitude that, as I said at the start, is so fundamental. That is where such a great difference can be made. Intervention can be made early if people feel confident enough to access mental health services and to talk about the problems that they are encountering. I hope that the Government will listen, in particular to those voluntary organisations that were so concerned about the Bill's proposals. I hope that the Minister can address some of my concerns.

10.40 am

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) on bringing this subject to Westminster Hall today. The trouble is that it is an enormous subject and we do it only a little justice this morning. I congratulate the other hon. Members who have brought their own particular expertise, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who has a great track record in the field, and the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who raised many points about conditions in prisons and the conditions and environment that affect people with mental health problems. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) on his ingenuity in raising some only slightly related constituency issues. I agree with all the points that hon. Members have made.

Despite many warm words from the Government, mental health is still a much neglected facet of the health service. In my role of shadowing the mental health brief, I see many excellent voluntary projects up and down the country, often run on a shoestring. I have seen many excellent and dedicated professionals in the service operating in increasingly difficult conditions. Too many people, young and old, are still being failed by the system. Mental health trusts are all too often at the back of the funding queue, and all promised growth moneys get swallowed up by debts inherited by newly formed trusts. That is why the Opposition have sought to raise the profile of the whole subject of mental health in Parliament. We organised a series of summits on it at Westminster last year and have used some of our Supply day debates for the subject.

We are now almost a year on from the highly misguided draft Mental Health Bill, which was an exercise more in coercion and law and order than in giving proper medical help and support to people with serious mental health problems. It had the world and his wife arrayed against it and it has not seen the light of day since, but a proper mental health Bill is desperately needed. My first question to the Minister is: when will we at last see the mental health Bill? Will it be the product of, and under the ownership of, the Secretary of State for Health, as it should be, or the Home Secretary, whose fingerprints were all over the first attempt?

The national service framework, as my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry said, set seven national standards for mental health services to drive up quality and reduce variations in services to patients and service users. That should include round-the-clock crisis teams for emergencies, more mental health beds and improved training for general practitioners. Yet in almost every respect, professionals and patients are just not seeing those improvements at the sharp end.

As many hon. Members have mentioned, there is a big problem with staff vacancies. About one consultant in three plans to retire early, according to a study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The problem is worst in inner London and north-west England. Dr. Andrew McCulloch, the chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, has said:
"This is a disaster in the making. The Government has no strategy for dealing with this. If we lose all these experienced older staff, it is very difficult to see how we could run a lot of the services."
A draft Department of Health study on work force planning two years ago predicted that by 2005 there would be between 10,000 and 35,000 vacancies among mental health staff. The latest figures from the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggest that there are at least 800 key vacancies at the moment, and that many health trusts are having to use large numbers of agency staff—in some cases, up to 30 per cent. Findings of the Sainsbury Centre for mental health show that there are 25,000 registered mental health nurses—just 4 per cent. of nurses registered in the UK. Half of the UK registered nursing work force is now over 40 years old and only 4.7 per cent. of international nurse recruitment is for mental health.

The Opposition health team has carried out a detailed survey and written to all mental health trusts up and down the country. We shall release the findings of that survey shortly. We asked about staffing levels, numbers of new category primary care mental health workers and numbers of operative assertive outreach teams. Some of the findings were alarming.

On staff vacancies, one trust reported 10 vacancies out of a total of 30 consultant posts, which is a 33 per cent. vacancy rate. Agency staff account for 22 per cent. of all nursing staff in another trust. Nearly every trust surveyed said that it did not currently employ a primary care mental health worker, while a few said that they had plans to appoint some in the coming year.

On assertive outreach teams and 24-hour cover, some trusts have just one team in place while others have five. Only 30 per cent. of the trusts that responded said that they had 24-hour cover with at least one team on call, and only four of the trusts had a full allocation of teams available for 24-hour cover. Some 80 per cent. of trusts said that they had no early intervention teams in their area.

I shall quote some of the comments contained in the responses:
"A high percentage of adolescents are picked up and treated by YOT; however the commissioners are not funding this service after August this year. This will leave a gap in service. We have no specialist Adolescent only services."
Another trust said:
"There is a real danger that the particular needs of older people for access to good quality mental health will drift off the policy/ political agenda."
Those are hard data from people at the sharp end.

We asked another trust how many of the new category primary care mental health workers it employed; the answer was none. We asked how many assertive outreach teams operated in the trust; the answer was none. We asked whether its assertive outreach teams could offer 24-hour cover, seven days a week; the answer was no. We asked how many early intervention teams had been established in its area since July 2000; the answer was none. We asked how many crisis resolution teams worked in its area and whether all those teams offered 24-hour cover; the answer was none. We asked whether provision for adolescent mental health was adequate; the answer stated that it was very inadequate. We asked whether the trust knew how many GP practices had proper access to counselling services in their practice areas; the answer was no. We asked about the scope for community involvement on its mental health trust in the future; the answer was none. We asked whether it could offer its female service users a women-only day centre facility; the answer was no.

That survey was not untypical. It deals with one trust, which covers a large part of a county. There is a complete absence of any of the key innovations in mental health services about which the Government tell us so much. The innovations are not working in that trust and that is not untypical. There are many other specific areas of concern that I do not have time to go into.

YoungMinds, the organisation at the forefront of the campaign for better facilities for young people with mental health problems, has conducted a two-year, in-depth study of in-patient units for young people, which is published today. The study reveals a widespread lack of post-discharge provision for young people. Young people leaving in-patient services are not seen as a priority by community-based professionals. Many inpatient units are struggling with recruitment problems and the pressure caused by working with a lack of trained staff. There are many stories of children with severe health problems being treated alongside hardened drug addicts and alcoholics in adult wards.

There were 64,920 occupied bed days for patients under the age of 18 on adult psychiatric wards during 2001–02. That represents 36 per cent. of the total number of hospital occupied-bed days for that age group on both child and adolescent wards and adult wards during that year, which is unacceptable.

What are we doing to prevent mental health problems among our young people? The Department of Health's research among 15 to 21-year-olds reported that 86 per cent. of them knew someone who had experienced mental health problems. More than half of them knew someone who had self-harmed, but 97 per cent. of them knew little about mental health problems.

We have heard about the incidence of suicide and the national suicide prevention strategy, which was published in September. As Richard Brook, the chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, has said:
"The problem with the suicide strategy is while it is good at looking at risk, it's not good at delivering services … There will not be the services for the vulnerable groups, particularly young men".
We have heard about the alarming rise in the suicide rate, particularly among prisoners.

What preventive measures have the Government taken to tackle depression and mental health problems in our schools and the stigma attached to mental health problems? What discussions have the Minister and his colleagues had with organisations such as the Charlie Waller memorial trust, which has done excellent work in combating depression? We must work on prevention at the primary care trust level, with 90 per cent. of depression cases being referred to and treated by GPs. Work is needed to raise awareness of reducing the stigma in schools, and we should appoint specialist trainers to work alongside health visitors, teachers and parents, and incorporate mental health and emotional health and well-being teaching in the school framework.

I could go on, and mention the problems of access to drugs for schizophrenia and so on. The subject is very important. The Government must raise the profile of the issue and match their warm words with serious actions and results for people, particularly young people, who desperately need mental health services throughout the country. I ask the Minister urgently to bring back as soon as possible a proper mental health Bill that will attack many of the problems that we still have, and not to let it be hijacked by those who would use a mental health measure as a way of locking people up rather than giving them the proper medical treatment that they need and deserve.

10.50 am

I congratulate the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) on securing this important debate, on his sincerity and on the measured way in which he raised the issue. It has been a good debate. It is fair to say that all hon. Members have discussed the issue in a non-partisan way, and we all welcome that. The issue is one of the most important in all our constituencies.

Given what has just been said by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), I shall set out the context that we inherited in 1997 because it is fundamentally important. One would struggle to find an area of the national health service that was so undercapacity and subjected to such underinvestment. It did not command the attention of Government, or our communities and population in the way in which it should have done. That is the situation that we inherited. There was underinvestment in our mental health services, a host of damaging inquiries into service facilities, a demoralised and undersupported work force, and community services were in a sorry state.

We made it clear in that context that we faced a challenge, which the Government took very seriously. We said that we were going to prioritise that problem, and we did so. It is significant that, alongside the priority we gave to cancer and coronary heart disease, we made it clear that our mental health services needed investment and reform. The national service framework and many of the other developments that hon. Members have spoken about this morning followed. I want to talk about those, too.

The issue is fundamentally important when one considers that as many as one in six of the population is affected by a mental health problem, and many more families and children are indirectly affected. Hon. Members will know that I stand here as a Minister in the Department of Health and as a Member of Parliament representing one of the poorest constituencies in the country. I cannot do a surgery without seeing the effects of mental ill health. Each year, more than 600,000 people with serious mental health problems receive care from specialists, mental health and social care services.

As has been said, suicide is now the commonest cause of death among young men. Perhaps as many as a quarter of primary care consultations concern someone with a mental health problem. That is why the Government are committed to improving mental health services. Our clear and comprehensive programme of reform represents the best opportunity and provides the biggest investment to improve the lives of large and neglected groups of people.

Key to the programme of reform is the mental health national service framework—the first national service framework to be published in the sector. The Government are proud of laying down national standards that everyone who has a mental illness should expect all over the country. The aim of the framework is to deliver modern mental health and social services of a kind that people are entitled to expect in every part of the country. It will help to improve access to effective treatment and care, to reduce unfair variation, to raise standards across the country and to provide quicker and more convenient services for patients.

At the very least, we are talking about a 10-year programme of reform. The NSF sets standards for mental health covering health promotion, primary care, access to services, specialised services for people with severe mental illnesses, support for carers and the action needed to reduce the suicide rate. It provides a national standard base across the country. The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) raised some big future stuff. Of course, decisions must be based on the clinical decisions that people make on the ground. However, the hon. Gentleman talked about the separation of types of treatment. That is not the direction of Government policy or where we began our inquiry. The capacity constraints and problems were such that we simply had to lay down minimum standards to begin with.

Does the Minister accept the principle that it is wrong for people with very different types of mental illness to be lumped together on the same wards where they can harm each other's prospects of progress, or, indeed, harm each other?

The hon. Gentleman will know that there is a long tradition of Ministers laying down standards and frameworks and taking expert advice. Decisions must be made locally and clinically. He will also know that the Government have done much to ensure that when local situations arise—I do not know his locality—people can raise issues through overview and scrutiny panels. We also have a new inspectorate and patient forums. The Government have put in place a number of mechanisms by which such situations and incidents can be dealt with as they arise—something that was not the case in the past.

There are further national service frameworks on older people—with a dedicated section on mental health—on children and on services for people with long-term conditions, which will build on and complement the work that is already under way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) raised the issue of investment, as did the hon. Member for Daventry. Underpinning the reform of mental health services is more than £300 million in new investment by 2004 to fast-forward the NSF and deliver our NHS plan commitments. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham cast some doubt on whether that money is reaching the front line. He will know that the first tranche of that money, the 2001–02 tranche, was ring-fenced—it totalled £75 million—ensuring that, from a low capacity base, local areas were able to begin to plan and to get the staff to build up to where we need to be by the end of the NSF.

Will the Minister respond briefly to the two constituency points that I put to him?

I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman writes to my hon. Friends in other Departments, they can deal with the latter issue. The first issue is a local one and there are methods by which it can be discussed. I mentioned the overview and scrutiny panel. That should reassure his constituents, as it would in other areas. He should be aware of shifting the balance of power. We must not attempt to run local issues from the Department of Health but instead allow clinicians and local people to make decisions. He will understand that.

River Parrett

11 am

I am delighted that I have been able to secure this debate on the Parrett catchment project, although I note that hon. Members are fleeing from the vagaries and excitement of it.

The River Parrett gurgles through the very heart of my constituency. It has a natural tendency, not surprisingly, to overflow. It is not rocket science to understand why. The river snakes through some of the lowest-lying land in England. Everyone knows it, and for centuries everyone has managed to control it—until now.

Today, the people who live and farm anywhere near the Parrett have good reason to be scared. They cannot leave it to the agricultural community to tame the floods, because farmers and drainage boards no longer have the prime responsibility to do that. People dare not rely on district councils, which have tiny budgets and a very much smaller say, and they certainly do not trust Somerset county council, with very good reason—I suspect that the Government do not trust Somerset county council either—all of which leaves the River Parrett laughing. It has become a victim of muddled over-management. The old drainage boards are too local, the district councils have the knowledge but not the cash and the county council has more money but less brain, so the Government have invented a new quango—the Parrett catchment project.

Anyone with a grain of common sense—I know from many debates that the Minister ha.s many—would leave the river to the experts in the Environment Agency. It ends up doing the donkey work such as dredging, fencing, repairing and planning. However, instead of being left to get on with it, the poor old Environment Agency must tolerate the intervention of the wretched new quango.

I brought with me a little catchment project of my own, fresh from the Parrett, in what looks like a specimen bottle. I am offering this bottled sample as a prize to the Minister if he can produce any plausible explanation for the existence of the Parrett catchment project. I am sorry that it is only half full—I assure hon. Members that I have not drunk the rest.

The quango was established in 2000 under the chairmanship of Humphrey Temperley. That name should ring bells—probably alarm bells—in Somerset. Yes, it is the same Humphrey Temperley who ran the county council until the electors decided that they had had more than enough of him. Was that the end of Temperley? Sadly for Somerset, it was not.

I am reminded of a children's skipping rhyme that was very popular in Bridgwater:
That is the problem. The rhyme may be silly, but it is perfectly true. Just when we thought it had been unseated, the substantial Temperley posterior reappeared in another comfy chair, on the Parrett catchment project. What does the quango do? What is it for? Why do we need it or him?

I have been trying in vain to discover the role of Humphrey's new baby. It organises an enormous number of forums. It claims to have won a bid for European funding. It makes fact-finding visits to Europe. Actually, Mr. Temperley was last seen finding facts in the Ruhr valley. I do hope he was not wearing lederhosen.

The Parrett catchment project also spends an inordinate amount of money and time talking. It talks to English Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is fine. Such organisations are vital and are well worth talking to because they can draw on their ideas and experience. However, it is not necessary to create a quango to open obvious lines of communication.

The Parrett catchment project commissions research—quite a lot of it—and generates paperwork. I have heard it said that the project has produced enough paper to build an entire dam for a flood prevention scheme at Bridgwater, and I can believe that from the amount that is sent to my office. It also boasts influence within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. When Mr. Temperley is not fact-finding elsewhere, he can often be seen attempting to bend the Minister's ear. if he keeps his nose clean, the Parrett catchment project might one day earn him a knighthood. He could then become Sir Humphrey and say, "Yes, Minister" until the cows come wading home through the floods.

Hon. Members may not know or even want to know that the Parrett catchment project is now a national leader. The River Parrett is the first river in the country to have a catchment flood management plan. It was chosen specifically by DEFRA and will set the trend for flood management throughout the country. Is that relevant to the Parrett catchment project? No, although I have no doubt that Mr. Temperley will submit another mountain of paperwork commending the plan and complicating it simply to justify his existence. He may even include some glossy photographs—he always does—of his fact-finding missions to foreign parts, with or without the lederhosen.

The catchment flood management plan is the work of the Environment Agency—the professionals. The Parrett catchment project did not write the plan and Mr. Temperley's role is that of an irrelevant irritant. He irritates my constituents because he and his organisation are a waste of public money. If anyone from ITV is watching this debate on the monitors, I would like to suggest a new programme starring Humphrey and his useless Parrett catchment project. I have come up with a working title: "He is a nonentity. Get him out of here." Pithy at the moment—perhaps.

The serious downside of the whole saga is that there is now a crisis of public distrust. The Minister knows what I am talking about. He had first-hand experience just a few months ago when he came to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Flook) in Somerset and faced angry protests and banner-waving because folk are no longer able to trust or have faith in the way in which flooding is controlled in both our constituencies.

The problem is to know who is in charge. We know that the Environment Agency does very good work, so why not leave the matter to the agency?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for this debate. The Environment Agency's work could be better done if it had slightly more money because lack of funding is, to some extent, holding it back. Will he be pressing the Minister for extra money for the agency, which does such good work from Bridgwater?

My hon. Friend has, as usual, hit the nail on the head and I am grateful for all his support during our short time in Parliament. It has been an interesting time because we have had two floods in both our constituencies. The problem is funding. The Environment Agency is professional and needs resources to manage the area that receives water from Exmoor—my hon. Friend and I both live with that—which goes into Dorset and across Somerset through two choke points. One is in my hon. Friend's constituency and one is in mine: the Parrett and the Tone.

My hon. Friend has spent many hours on this matter. He will continue to do so and long may we continue to work together on it. However, why not give the power and the money to the Environment Agency? Why not take flood management seriously by removing the flood of irrelevant paperwork from the catchment project? While the Minister is at it, he might as well look at some of the other stupid inconsistencies. Last Friday, a farmer came to my surgery. He was extremely angry and brought along some top brass from the National Farmers Union to back him up. That farmer's problem is typical of the discriminatory way in which flood management works. If the water becomes too high in the river, the only thing to do is to let it out, but on flat land, such as in Somerset, it cannot be let out willy-nilly, so the same places and the same poor farmers get soaked more or less all the time. However, they do not receive a brass farthing in compensation. The Environment Agency does not have the power or the budget.

The farmer who came to see me is even worse off: his land has been flooded consistently and he has now had word that his integrated administration and control scheme grant is being taken away or substantially cut, because those responsible for it are not prepared to support farming on land that goes under water continuously. It is bad enough for that man to watch his fields disappear; it is bonkers to punish him as though he had flooded them deliberately—he has not. A percentage of his IACS grant has been or will be removed, because his land has been consistently flooded. Just to let the Minister know, that farmer is on the banks of the Stowey, which probably says a lot to both of us.

There have recently been threats by some farmers—although not, I hasten to add, in my constituency or in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton—who are prepared to take the law into their own hands and do some active flood management of their own. At one point, with tempers running as high as the water, there was an active movement to shut the sluice gates on the Stowey, which would have threatened Taunton. It is not acceptable for people to reach that point in this day and age—for any of us. Many farmers have had enough. A lot of ordinary people who know the lie of the land are worried. Many sensible Somerset souls want sensible decisions from the Government for change. The Minister experienced that himself on a visit to my hon. Friend's constituency.

On Sunday, it is the annual River Parrett festival. I urge the Minister to give visitors something proper to smile about. I urge him to take the John Cleese role and tackle the Parrett catchment project head-on. Why? This project is deceased; it is no more. If it had not been chaired by Humphrey Temperley, it would be pushing up the daisies. It has gone to meet its maker and join the quango choir invisible. This is an ex-Parrett project, or at least it should be.

11.11 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs(Mr. Elliot Morley)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) on securing the debate. There are clearly important issues relating to the carrot—I mean Parrett—catchment plan. I am getting mixed up between dead carrots and dead parrots.

As the hon. Gentle man stated, I have visited the area many times. In my ministerial capacity, I have talked to local people, local farmers and the Environment Agency in the area. I was pleased to inaugurate the Baltmoor wall opening. That was a considerable investment to protect many homes and important communications and roads in the area. I know the history of the area and that there have been tensions, particularly in the past, between the priorities of, for example, farmers and the desires of conservationists in respect of an internationally import ant area. That is recognised by all concerned.

The Parrett is an important river drainage system and an important part of the community. We recognise the need to integrate the international importance of nature conservation in the area with the equally legitimate flood defence needs of householders, farmers and other landowners. In that sense, it is desirable to bring communities together to try to achieve a common understanding of the different priorities. Incidentally, the Parrett catchment project is not a Government quango, but a local initiative. I support the idea of bringing people together in that way. I have been to some of the project's meetings, listened to presentations and heard some of its ideas, which have a great deal of merit.

We fund the catchment flood management plan for the Parrett. That involves some overlap with the Parrett catchment project, but it is not quite the same, because the catchment flood management plans focus on the most appropriate options in respect of minimising flood risk along the Parrett. That ongoing study also considers coastal issues, such as Steart point, and the various options available to the Environment Agency. In due course, it will consult local people about the preferred option. That will eventually come to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and we shall give it careful consideration in working out how best to use our grants to support various schemes.

I understand that there will always be differences of opinion and emphasis on the approach. It is correct for the hon. Gentleman to say that when I visited Somerset and the Baltmoor project, six householders were concerned about that refurbishment and strengthening of the wall. I believe that they were mistaken, and I made it clear that although the money is designed to protect large numbers of people—homes and properties in Taunton are part of the strategy—we do not ignore people because they are in a community of only six homes.

The residents were wrong in thinking that Hay and Curry moors had been declared a reservoir. I think that they were getting mixed up with the fact that the Baltmoor wall comes under the Reservoirs Act 1975. That is simply because it must meet certain standards, as when the moor is full, enormous pressure is put on the wall. It must stand up to that pressure to ensure that the people who live behind it are protected. That is part of the agency's work.

It is also worth pointing out that the Hay and Curry moors have flooded since the 13th century. We went through a long dry period, in the 1980s in particular, and people sometimes forget about the traditional pattern of the moors. That is also the case with some of the farming patterns. I noted that the farmer concerned was an arable farmer. Going back in time, farming would never have been arable in such an area because of the nature of the flooding. Traditional farming patterns are closely connected with summer grazing and winter flooding, and farmers work in harmony with nature.

For different reasons, there was intensification of agriculture, driven by the Agriculture Act 1947 and, in recent years, the common agricultural policy. Those moves were understandable, but we have moved on from using subsidies simply to maximise food production. These days, our support for agriculture is more sophisticated, and we recognise the range of benefits that it can provide not simply in food production, but in habitat and landscape management and as part of water management of the Somerset levels. That is why the Somerset levels is an environmentally sensitive area and why about £3.5 million is paid to farmers every year for water management. That recognises the patterns of the levels and the impact that they have on farming, as well as the benefits that flooding brings for nature conservation and protection.

The Minister is absolutely right, but my point is that the land does not flood continuously. The IACS is being stopped over the percentage of land that is now being flooded on a frequent basis, rather than the whole thing. The farmers feel aggrieved that they, rather than anyone else, have to take the water on the edge of the Stowey and that the pressure on them to act responsibly is now causing a cost over which they have no control.

I am sure that those issues can be examined in relation to the ESA and our stewardship. We pay an additional £1.2 million in Somerset for stewardship payments, and that is another considerable sum. It is not as if we are not recognising the problems, and I am sure that we will continue to make those payments.

The residents of Hay and Curry moors were also concerned that the improvements to the Baltmoor wall would increase the frequency of flooding. I have written to them to point out that those improvements, together with the improvements at Stan moor and Hook bridge, will lead to a reduction in both the frequency and length of flooding on those moors. I hope that that point reassured those residents, whose concerns were misplaced.

I was also interested in the threats by local farmers to close sluices. Like the hon. Gentleman, I do not believe that that is a sensible position to take. I do not believe that that was endorsed by the internal drainage board that they represent and I am sure that it was not backed by the Association of Drainage Authorities, of which I am proud to be vice-chairman. I have a long connection with drainage boards because they are important in my constituency and in north Lincolnshire. The IDBs have come a long way, and do a good job in most circumstances. I recognise that there are good examples of good practice in relation to the IDBs.

With regard to the Parrett catchment, it is important to try to take into account the range of views expressed, and to take an holistic approach to flood management in relation to many other important issues including the agriculture, rural economy, tourism and nature conservation of the area. The Parrett catchment project makes a useful contribution to the resolution of those issues. Along with our catchment flood management plan and the further modelling studies proposed, we believe that it will introduce plans that will be helpful for the area.

There has been a long history of investment in flood defences in the levels and moors, particularly on the River Parrett and its tidal embankments, and that investment continues. DEFRA provided £3 million in grant to the Environment Agency for the strengthening of flood defences on the lower River Tone at Baltmoor wall, as I mentioned, and Stan moor bank; I opened those defences in January 2003.

We also recognise the problems on the Steart peninsula that are being considered by the Environment Agency, and we support its efforts to find a solution that meets local needs and takes account of wider environmental interests, at a realistic cost. I went to the area to examine the proposals and the challenges, and I think that all concerned will benefit from what is proposed. There is much local interest in and support for the proposals.

We recognise that there is a need to increase the programme of flood defence capital works in Somerset, and have taken account of that in our allocations. The allocation to the agency's Somerset levels local flood defence committee for grant-eligible expenditure has increased from £3.5 million in 2001–02 to £5.35 million in 2002–03. Grant eligibility depends on the capital programmes that are put forward in a given year.

We also recognise that there is a great need to work with local people and flood management bodies to seek solutions; I know that the Environment Agency has asked for that involvement and welcomes it. However, the question of how to engage people needs to be addressed.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said about the Parrett catchment plan. He made some amusing points. It is not for me to interfere with the Parrett catchment project, because it is not a Government body or a quango but a local initiative. However, I strongly support local initiatives. I believe that the best way to make progress on such matters is often to involve local communities, local interest groups and stakeholders in formulating their ideas on the best way forward. Technical and professional advice is also available from the Environment Agency, local authorities and statutory bodies such as English Nature. We also cannot ignore the professionalism of bodies such as the wildlife trusts and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which often employs locally based experts and consultants; we are keen to engage with those experts, and listen carefully to their point of view.

Recently, the general principle of flood defences has changed a great deal. These days, in our approach to flood defence, in line with DEFRA's commitment to sustainability, we look for a sustainable approach to flood defence and water management. That might, on occasions, mean moving from traditional hard engineering to more environmentally friendly approaches and utilising soft defences, such as sand banks, forestry, upper river catchments for waterretention programmes, soil management regimes and working with farmers. There is the potential in our agri-environment budgets to give financial support to such approaches as part of a coherent management plan.

Careful consideration should be given to whether the proposals coming from some of the plans and consultancies are cost-effective and whether downstream benefits would be obtained from their implementation. On protecting Taunton, for example, there is the issue of the flood banks. If a lot of money were spent upstream on water retention, forestry, or water management, which might be justified in reducing the peak of the water going downstream, much money might be saved by not raising the banks. If all the money were spent upstream, however, and all the money were needed to raise the banks downstream, the economic case would be undermined. Those are the kinds of technical issues that we in DEFRA must evaluate and they are also the kinds of things to which various groups and organisations on the Somerset levels and in the Parrett catchment are giving careful thought.

One relevant issue is whether or not there should be an engineered sluice on the Parrett: I visited the proposed site again and there may be a case for it. We at DEFRA have a completely open mind about that. A sluice will be an expensive investment, but expense is not in itself a deterrent, as long as it gives long-term benefits. The current evaluation and hydraulic modelling will take into account major investments of that kind. If there is a justification for those, we will consider them in relation to the grant aid that we offer for flood defence schemes. But that must be considered properly against the range of the scheme's potential benefits and costs.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly stated, the water and river management of the Somerset levels also has social, historical and cultural connections. Those are important too. That area is a major tourist attraction; it brings in many people who enjoy it and admire its special nature. During the winter months it attracts many people who go to see the floods and the wildfowl—there is a lot to see. The nature of the area is wonderful when it is flooded in winter and spring. Many farmers have diversified to take advantage of the tourism trade and I am glad to say that there has been support for a range of rural businesses from DEFRA, through rural enterprise schemes, marketing and processing grants. I am pleased to see such innovation in the area, and that people are benefiting.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns. It is important that there be proper involvement, transparency and accountability. Above all, we must engage local communities and local people and try to take into account the whole range of priorities and concerns. The benefits of the Parrett catchment project lie in bringing people together and, despite the hon. Gentleman's comments, there is merit in that structure and we should encourage it.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended until Two o'clock.

Defence Industry (Scotland)

2 pm

I begin by expressing my thanks and appreciation for being selected to introduce such an important debate. This subject is pertinent to the people of Scotland, but it is of equal importance to citizens and military personnel throughout the United Kingdom and in the international arena where we are carrying out our duties with the utmost professionalism. That is best shown by the current situation in Iraq, especially in the city of Basra, where our troops are highly respected for the way in which they are carrying out their duties. The majority of people in Basra recognise that, and we can see on our television screens how much they appreciate the troops and how helpful they have been to them. Those professional troops can carry out their duties in such a way only if they are given professional support and equipment that is manufactured throughout the United Kingdom. The defence industry also provides good-quality and well-paid jobs.

Prior to entering this place, I spent a significant amount of my working life in the defence industry, in shipbuilding and systems manufacturing. Scotland makes a large and important contribution to the United Kingdom defence industry by hosting several important establishments that provide and produce the cutting-edge, high-tech equipment on which our forces depend.

Not including subcontractors, approximately £1.5 million of defence expenditure comes directly to Scotland, and an estimated one in 50 Scots are dependent on the Ministry of Defence for their livelihoods. I firmly believe that that would be put at risk if the unthinkable happened and, as recent election results have confirmed, the unlikely break-up of the United Kingdom by those with a narrow and parochial view of life were to become a reality.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing an intervention so early in his speech. Does he believe that employment in Scotland, which is directly dependent on defence equipment expenditure, has increased or decreased since the Labour party has been in power?

Before responding to the hon. Gentleman, I wish to pass on my condolences to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), the leader of the Scottish National party parliamentary group, whose mother has unfortunately passed away. My best wishes are with him and his family at this time.

As for whether more jobs have been created since the Labour party came into power, I do not have the statistics to prove it, but it is undoubtedly true that, had Labour not come into power in 1997, we would not have a shipbuilding industry. It would have been demoralised. However, if need be, I shall obtain such statistics for the hon. Gentleman.

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. I apologise to him that, due to Defence Select Committee business, I shall have to leave early. Does he agree that there would have been no future for Rosyth dockyard in my constituency or for the Clyde shipyards without the United Kingdom Government and their commitment to the biggest warship-building programme in 30 years, in which Scotland has a major share?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Rosyth is a perfect example of Labour in Government. I compliment the management and the trade unions at Rosyth for not depending on MOD work, and instead having a long-term vision and diversifying into the commercial market.

There is no doubt that Scottish workers are involved in producing quality equipment for every sector of our armed forces, directly or indirectly, be it for gunnery sites for land and air forces or for the construction of the warships that patrol and defend our island. I remind those members of the Opposition parties who argued against the decision to build the two aircraft carriers of the disastrous consequences it would have had for the shipbuilding industry if they had been successful. [Interruption.] I have been asked to name them. Lloyd Quinan of the Scottish National party argued that we should not be building both those ships, and said that we should be building only one.

I am particularly grateful that my hon. Friend has given way on the subject of aircraft carriers. Do we have any information on how many aircraft carriers an independent Scotland would require? How many frigates would an independent Scotland require? Would they be built on Clydeside? Can he give me an estimate of the number of jobs he believes would be lost without the Royal Navy orders?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Unfortunately, I do not have access to the SNP's statistics on how many battleships or aircraft carriers we would need in an independent Scotland, but I hazard a guess that one would be too many for that very reason.

The investment in the aircraft carriers was welcomed by the shipbuilding industry in Scotland, which was on its knees. I recall that the SNP spokesperson from Glasgow, Govan was calling for the Government to intervene to save the yard in Govan while, further down the Clyde, her colleague was arguing that we should have only one aircraft carrier, the consequences of which would have been horrendous for the shipyards.

It is important that the major players in the shipbuilding defence industry are sustained, but we must also remember that some of the smaller, commercial shipyards are equally dependent on those orders—none more so than the Ferguson shipyard of Port Glasgow in my constituency that currently faces extreme difficulties because of a lack of orders. It would welcome further investment or work that would flow from the building of the aircraft carriers. In Port Glasgow, many of the indigenous skills and industries were lost because of the devastating impact of 18 years of Conservative rule.

We must remind ourselves of the many communities throughout Scotland that have some of the oldest regiments in the British Army and are also host to a number of RAF flying stations. Many of those bases are used to provide quality training of our armed forces while they are defending our shores—skills that are recognised throughout the world.

Although my hon. Friend is right to speak about the training of the armed forces, will he place on record the importance of the medical corps and the nursing corps, and the support that we receive from the health service via the military? That must be placed on record.

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. She has a proud record of working in the medical field, and she has corrected us when we have concentrated on the soldiers and the manufacturing of equipment. We tend to forget the valuable asset that we have in the medical corps of the military.

While my hon. Friend is going through the list of categories of people whose jobs depend on defence, will he add the highly-paid, professional and clerical staff, many of whom are employed at Kentigern house in the centre of Glasgow, on which the city depends greatly for its employment?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is right, because the staff play a crucial role in servicing front-line forces. Without them, those forces would be unable to function as professionally as they do now. Reflecting again on an independent Scotland, I wonder what would happen to those jobs if that disaster occurred. They are equally important to the search-and-rescue teams based at the site, which provide round-the-clock emergency assistance to people not only in the United Kingdom but throughout neighbouring countries. They do that in all weathers and often at risk of their own lives. My argument is that those bases would be jeopardised by the break-up of the United Kingdom.

Scotland is one of the most important recruitment areas for the armed forces, and provides 10 per cent. of their recruits. Currently, 13 per cent. of the British Army is Scottish. Around £600 million was spent with Scottish prime contractors.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is regrettable that the armed forces are not prepared to produce evidence to show that they are equal opportunity employers? They need to show that people from a constituency such as mine have an equal opportunity to join the officer class, and that there is no monitoring of the areas from which officers and men are drawn. They should provide confidence that the armed forces are not socially selective in their recruitment.

I thank my hon. Friend for his valid intervention. Some people perceive, rightly or wrongly, that the class system still exists in the armed forces. Our armed forces should be transparent and seen to be equal opportunities employers. As parliamentarians, we should ensure that they are.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will endorse the continuing belief that the British Army and the Scottish forces should be selected on grounds of ability. They are the best and should remain so. I accept the point made by the hon. Gentleman about transparency, but nothing should come above obtaining the best people for the best forces that the United Kingdom can command.

Order. I am listening carefully to the debate. The armed forces are the armed forces, and the defence industry serves the armed forces. The armed forces are not part of the defence industry, so I suggest that we concentrate on the subject of the debate.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall continue.

Each year, Scotland accounts for approximately 8 per cent. of the United Kingdom's jobs in defence manufacturing. It is a matter of fact that defence companies have a proud record of investment in quality training for our youngsters who, if they decide to leave, take that training with them into the commercial world. I am a living example of that, although some people may not agree that it is a proud record.

On diversity of skills, there is a crucial role for the Defence Diversification Agency in utilising the skills and technology gained in the defence industry and transferred to commerce and markets. That could and should be exploited if we are to retain this country's leading role in new technology. Tangible evidence of that can be found in the development of the mobile phone, which was designed initially by the military—we know how many jobs that has created throughout Scotland. There are many other examples, including the commercial use of the infrared equipment currently being developed for use in private cars and burglar alarms.

As a former defence worker, I am fully aware of the quality training that our youngsters in Scotland receive. There are many examples of mature individuals developing the skills gained working in the defence industry and carrying them into commercial markets. Many others have used their expertise to develop and grow some of our smaller businesses and create jobs in Scotland outside the defence industry. Not all of them, I must add, are in manufacturing. Some are in the civil and administration sectors, as has been referred to. More than 24,000 members of the MOD and armed forces work at defence sites in Scotland, including more than 15,000 armed forces personnel and 9,000 MOD civil servants. Those are all quality, well-paid jobs that could be put at risk by the destabilisation of the UK.

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether there are more or fewer of those jobs since Labour came to power?

Again, I do not have the statistics to answer the hon. Gentleman accurately. I can only reiterate that, if we are dealing in hypotheses, one hypothesis is that the destabilisation of the UK could result in there being no jobs in Scotland at all.

Can my hon. Friend put that into perspective by hazarding a guess about employment levels in Scotland if the Faslane operation were closed and Trident removed from the Clyde, as is the current policy of the Scottish National party?

My hon. Friend makes a perfectly valid point. There are debates on nuclear disarmament on both sides of the argument, but there is no doubt that an independent Scotland would jeopardise the jobs at Faslane and Coulport. Although the SNP's policy is to remove that facility, I have never heard it talk of replacing that facility, or engage in serious discussion on defence diversification.

Although the employment created by the defence industry is crucial to the economy of Scotland, we must also use every opportunity and resource to encourage companies currently engaged in the defence market to continue research into and development of commercial opportunities and markets that could be exploited to sustain jobs. We must remind ourselves that the Scottish economy is a sufficient beneficiary of the defence industry. Without this Labour Government's prudent handling of taxpayers' money and their long-term view of the country's defence needs, the resources required to protect and defend our country could not be found.

That is why I firmly believe that this debate is crucial to the defence of our country, to its manufacturing base and for the security of thousands of civil service jobs that could be lost by the unnecessary constitutional upheaval of independence. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister and all like-minded colleagues to use every opportunity to spell out to the UK electorate the dangerous and potentially disastrous consequences of the break-up of the UK. Real threats to world peace and our own security still exist. Those who argue that we should stop investing in the defence of our country and follow the Mel Gibson bow-and-arrow philosophy are, in my view, irresponsible and fundamentally wrong.

Order. I can see that a number of hon. Members present wish to speak. It may be helpful if I indicate that it is desirable that the first of the Front-Bench speakers be called no later than 3 o'clock.

2.19 pm

I am grateful to have the opportunity to take part in the debate. I commend the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) for securing discussion of a vital subject: the defence industry in Scotland. I thank him for his gracious comments about the untimely death of the mother of the parliamentary group leader of the SNP in Westminster. I will pass on his comments.

I take the opportunity to commend people in Scotland, who do much to support the service community. I commend communities such as Lossiemouth in my constituency, which last week reelected an SNP councillor, Joyce Stewart, to represent the ward and RAF Lossiemouth. That commendation applies to communities that support defence and manufacturing industries. Many of those communities have ignored the Tory scare tactics of Labour Ministers who have demeaned their office by creating false uncertainty. I single out Rosyth East, which has again returned an SNP councillor.

The defence industry in Scotland does not operate in isolation. It is an integral part of the Scottish economy and it is boosted or buffeted by the Government's macro-economic policy, as well as their determination to support domestic and overseas contracts. There is no dispute between any Members, regardless of our political persuasion, about the skills of workers in Scotland and about the wish of their management to succeed.

We need to understand the underlying realities of manufacturing and industry in Scotland at present to assess properly whether Scotland's potential is being realised. Although the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire has done much to bring the issue to the fore, I was gobsmacked that he was unable to confirm whether more or fewer people have been employed in the industry since the Labour party came to Government. I shall return to that shortly.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman gave way before he moved too far away from mention of particular parliamentary constituencies. I draw his attention to the Govan constituency, which his party failed to win despite the best efforts of many. That constituency is particularly involved in shipbuilding. Will he clarify how many aircraft carriers an independent Scotland will build? In the run-up to the next general election, how many aircraft carriers will his party commit an independent Scotland to building in that yard in particular?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing up the issue of shipbuilding, which is close to his heart and to the heart of other hon. Members who represent shipbuilding constituencies. It is a subject that I shall return to later. I will also deal with whether there are more or fewer shipbuilding jobs in Scotland now than when Labour came to power. I will answer the hon. Gentleman's question.

If the Scottish economy, or the defence industry in Scotland, had been at the centre of Labour's plans, we may have had more to celebrate. Hon. Members should be aware that since 1999 the Scottish economy has grown at only a third of the rate of the UK economy as a whole. In fact, Scotland has the worst growth record of any country in the European Union. Since Jack McConnell came to office, Scotland's economy has shrunk. Sadly, unemployment in Scotland is still the highest among the constituent nations of the UK. It is 20 per cent. higher than the average of small EU countries.

Sadly, without the best opportunities, people are leaving. That is why Scotland's population is shrinking, while the UK's is growing. Scotland's population is projected to decrease by 10 per cent. over the next 40 years, while the UK population is set to increase by 10 per cent. Ministers, and no doubt Government Members, will claim that since 1997 the UK Government's policies have created the most stable macro-economic environment for a generation, which is of direct benefit to the defence industry in Scotland. Sadly. the only stability has been that of stable decline, which has affected the defence industry in Scotland.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could get off the point- scoring part of his speech and put things into the perspective of what has been happening in the world. Does he think that the ending of the cold war just might have had something to do with reductions in the defence industry?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention and explanation of why there have been fewer jobs in manufacturing in the defence industry in Scotland since the Government came to office. I seem to remember that the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. The Labour Government came in quite a while afterwards and are the subject of the debate at present. The hon. Gentleman's explanation is not much of an excuse for the economic instability that we have suffered in Scotland. That stable decline needs to be addressed by the Government to help boost all industries and manufacturing, including the defence industry.

Labour Members have been falsely claiming success in securing defence jobs in Scotland since 1997. The reality is that the jobs tally has been in decline. I posed a question to the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire but did not get an answer. The record on job retention and creation consists of a litany of failures. Since Labour came to power in 1997, we have had 250 job losses announced at Faslane; hundreds of job losses at British Aerospace at Prestwick as a result of the end of plane-making; job losses at Yarrow's and Kvaerner on the Clyde; and—this will be of interest to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson)—a total loss of 2,400 jobs in shipbuilding in Scotland. Of course, thousands of jobs were also lost with the closure of the Royal Ordinance factory at Bishopton, of which I am sure the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire is aware.

During the 1990s, defence equipment employment in Scotland plummeted from 14,000 in 1990–91 to 6,000 in 1999. There are reports that that figure has now dropped to around 5,000. [Interruption.] The Minister poses a question from a sedentary position about what prospects an independent Scotland would have in that regard. I draw her attention to the fact that one company in Sweden—a small, northern European country, which is neutral and not a member of NATO—employs nearly three times as many people as are employed in Scotland in the manufacture of equipment for the armed forces. That completely nails the lie about job insecurity with the normal status of independence. If a country such as Sweden can have a vibrant defence industry, why can we not emulate that record?

The hon. Gentleman has indicated that jobs have been lost since 1997 because of Labour party policies on the defence industry. What level of employment would exist in the defence industry in Scotland if the SNP's current policies were put in place?

I am grateful to hon. Gentleman for raising that point. It is important that all hon. Members understand the reality of the situation under the current Government and the options for change. Were Scotland's tax contributions to the Ministry of Defence to be spent in a Scottish military context, the change would be vast. The reality is that there has been a decline in manufacturing and in uniformed and civilian staff in the armed forces.

On the issues raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), Members have mentioned the recent success of securing aircraft carrier and Type 45 orders for Scottish yards. I am convinced that workers at Scottish yards will produce the world-beating quality for which they are known. That is why they received the orders in the first place. I am certain that no Government Member would suggest that the yards received the orders because of the graciousness of one political party. They received them because the workers at those yards are well known for the quality of their labour and of the work that they produce.

My only regrets about the orders that have come to Scotland were adequately expressed in a Westminster Hall defence debate by the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire. He said that the Government were
"encouraging companies such as BAE Systems and Thales to invest in quality jobs, albeit in the central belt."—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 1 May 2002; Vol. 384, c. 187WH.]
That is a big problem for the north of Scotland, although in saying that I take nothing away from the workers on the Clyde and elsewhere who are involved in shipbuilding. That major problem could have been dealt with if at least part of the orders had gone to the Nigg fabrication yard.

I have already given way.

The yard that once employed 3,000 people is mothballed and skilled workers have to emigrate, or commute vast distances to work in the sector.

Members of the Amicus trade union, some of whom lobbied Members of Parliament this afternoon, have dealt with that problem. I do not know how many Members present in the Chamber had the opportunity to speak with Amicus members about what is happening to BAE Systems. It was impressed on me and other Members that there is a serious prospect of major job losses in Scotland—at Prestwick, where 195 jobs are under threat, further south in Woodford and in Charlton, Wharton and Broughton, which I hope I pronounced correctly.

I have a special interest in the difficulties of the Nimrod programme, for the simple reason that the entire maritime reconnaissance fleet is stationed at RAF Kinloss in my constituency. I therefore wish to ensure that the Nimrod project delivers and that the total number of Nimrods that has been earmarked for construction by BAE Systems is supplied. I have sympathy for the BAE workers who fear that their jobs are threatened. I hope that the Minister will take their concerns on board in her discussions with Amicus.

I also hope to speak about the Nimrod contract. I share many of the hon. Gentleman's concerns. Will he acknowledge that both the Government and BAE Systems are putting substantial funding into that contract to ensure that it gets off the ground?

It is interesting that some cost overruns are good and some are bad. I cannot remember what the latest tally is for the increasing cost of the Scottish Parliament but the increase in the cost of the Nimrod contract is nearly £300 million. While we should rightly consider any measure that retains jobs, from a taxpayer's perspective, we should ensure that companies carry out contracts efficiently and effectively. I shall discuss that at a meeting with the Ministry of Defence tomorrow afternoon

I appeal in a non-partisan spirit to the Minister to take on board and explore my suggestions, which would benefit the defence industry in Scotland. Fantastic opportunities are offered through offset contracts. Members will be aware that an offset refers to the compensatory trade agreement whereby the purchasing nation requires the exporting company to reduce or to offset the purchase price of a defence product or service. Offset is otherwise known as industrial participation, and according to the Society of British Aerospace Companies Ltd., it is worth more than £4.7 billion. More than £2.5 billion of that is in the form of indirect offset into the UK. Industrial participation is increasingly used by the MOD in evaluating competitive procurement bids, and it seems that the value to the UK of direct offset is likely to increase as companies exploit its potential as a marketing tool. That is also open to companies throughout Scotland and in the rest of the UK

Unfortunately, the Library has been unable to find any substantial information in the public domain that gives an indication of the geographical spread and regional values of individual offset contracts. That contrasts markedly with the situation in the United States. Under section 309 of the Defense Production Act 1950, the US Department of Commerce is obliged to prepare an annual report for Congress on offset in defence trade. Specifically, the report examines the impact of offsets on the US economy and its defence industrial base

Will the Minister tell us the value of offset contracts in Scotland, and what efforts the Scotland Office is making to secure offset contracts? Why has it been possible for the US authorities to be open, transparent and accountable, while in the UK, the Government cannot account for billions of pounds worth of contracts? When will the UK Government publish those key statistics?

Sadly, the standards of defence services in Scotland are also being challenged by the Government's privatisation agenda. In particular. that is felt in Labour plans to privatise the defence fire service. I pay tribute to the Transport and General Workers Union and to the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) for their part in the campaign against that ludicrous idea. The privatisation is vigorously opposed by my constituents, especially those who depend on the cover of the DFS at RAF Lossiemouth.

Will the Minister either confirm or deny that the Government are considering decoupling the DFS privatisation from the airfield support services project? The SNP and I would very much welcome that. I hope that that position is supported by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) and the hon. Members for West Renfrewshire, for Glasgow, Anniesland, for Glasgow, Baillieston (Mr. Wray), and for Dumfries (Mr. Brown), who signed early-day motion 853 against the privatisation during the previous Session

To follow up the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), how many frigates would the SNP policy produce?

What is important to people working in the manufacturing sector is knowing whether their jobs are secure. What the Government—and Labour Members—have to ask is whether they will honour the legal and binding contracts that have been entered into. All the projects being carried out in Scottish yards are subject to legal and binding contracts. Those jobs are and will be secure. The only thing that would undermine jobs in Scotland is a UK Government, and Labour Ministers and Members, being prepared to countenance breaches in standing, binding contracts

The hon. Lady needs to look to her Front Bench rather than to the official opposition in Scotland if she is concerned about whether people's jobs are at risk. I hope that she gets the opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps then she could tell the Chamber whether she is opposed to the privatisation of the defence fire service—an idea so ludicrous that even the leader of the Conservative party at Westminster described it as a privatisation too far—or perhaps the hon. Lady is to the right even of the Conservative party.

The hon. Gentleman rightly paid tribute to the workers in Govan and Glasgow for the quality work that they carry out. If the SNP were to gain power, would it carry out the current orders in both those yards? How would the hon. Gentleman secure those jobs, and how many aircraft carriers and frigates will the SNP build in Scotland?

I am not certain whether the hon. Gentleman understands that the companies that are building for those contracts are private companies. It is not for the Government of an independent Scotland to undermine a commercial contract that has been entered into. The only people who are likely to breach a commercial contract are the UK Government, and I think that that is unlikely. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has less faith in his Front-Bench team.

I will not, in fairness to the other hon. Members who want to take part in the debate. Mr. Deputy Speaker has urged hon. Members to give others an opportunity to speak

In conclusion, the reality of Scotland's defence industry is different from the rosy picture painted by the Government. There is tremendous potential for a normal independent country where companies can bid for contracts in a competitive economic environment predicated on growth. There is a sad contrast between that and the reality of the decline in employment under Tory and Labour Governments, as well as the Government's continuing privatisation agenda. Scotland deserves better and our defence industry deserves better. Taking the right decisions in Scotland is the best guarantee of success.

2.40 pm

I shall try to address the matter without engaging in political points scoring against a party that has shown a sad lack of understanding of industry in Scotland. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) on securing the debate. Once again, he has shown leadership on an issue about which he is knowledgeable

It will not come as a surprise to hon. Members to learn that I intend to speak about shipbuilding and that I will concentrate in the main on the Govan and Scotstoun yards. The Scotstoun yard is in my constituency and I hope that it has enough work to last beyond my retirement, which is something that I doubt that any previous Member for my constituency—its boundaries have changed—could have said.

The shipbuilding industry was decimated by successive Governments in the 1970s and written off for privatisation in the 1980s. It is easy to sell off an industry for money, but it is impossible to invest while money is being given out to shareholders or friends, which is exactly what the Conservative Government did. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) has been chirping away. I say to him that when an industry has been run down and has not been invested in, it takes time to build it up. The fact of the matter is that 3,000 jobs still exist thanks to the Labour Government. He may not want to accept that, but it is a fact.

Am I to understand it that the hon. Gentleman's argument is that an industry must be in the public sector in order to make significant investment? If that is the case, it is an extraordinary argument that belies the evidence of the past two decades. Industries that require investment can generate it in private industry, and have done so successfully in Scotland.

I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but he cannot put words in my mouth. I never mentioned that point. I said that his party sold off the shipbuilding industry for money alone and did nothing about investing in what was left because it wanted to make sure that there would not be a shipbuilding industry in this country. There were 200,000 workers in the industry in 1960, but now there are only 30,000 in the whole country. The demise of the shipbuilding industry is sad.

The hon. Gentleman's interest in shipbuilding is undisputed, but can I ask him whether there are more or fewer shipbuilding jobs in Scotland since Labour came to office?

I thought that the hon. Gentleman had answered that. There can be no jobs without investment, which is at last coming into shipbuilding. He knows that there are fewer jobs, and I know that. Why are there fewer jobs? It has nothing to do with the Labour Government, which is what he would like to suggest. Thanks to the Labour Government, there are more jobs today than there were a year ago, and there will be more of them in the years to come

Modern apprenticeships—the first for more than 20 years—are currently increasing employment on the Clyde. There were 42 new apprenticeships last year; there are 112 this year; and there will be more to come in the following years. I do not take credit for that as a Labour Member; I take credit for helping to support my constituency and my constituents. The company has been pointed in a direction that it had forgotten about.

As a former shipyard worker who was made redundant, I know that the reasons for job losses were the introduction of new technology—shipbuilding industries elsewhere have been decimated by new technology—and, most important, the end to the demarcation of yards. That relates to the point about congratulating the workers of Glasgow and Govan. The job losses were not the result of any lack of investment.

I thank my hon. Friend for that point.

The fact of the matter is that three Type 23 frigates have been sold to the Sultan of Brunei in recent years. One is ready to be delivered, with the other two to follow shortly. There are also six Type 45 destroyers and two ALSLs—alternative landing ships logistics—to be built, and we have more than our fair share of carrier work for the Scotstoun and Govan yards. I hope that the Ferguson yard in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire picks up its fair share of work. It has 400 workers who need work

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) has also seen shipbuilding decimated in his area. Today, shipbuilding practically does not exist in the lower Clyde. The upper Clyde is thriving, but on reduced amounts of work. The Ferguson yard must be examined too. We need the work that exists, and more of the same. It is up to us on the Clyde to show that we are still a force to be reckoned with.

I suggest that my hon. Friend does not take too much for granted. It is not true to say that the aircraft carrier construction has been firmly committed to the Clyde. It is clear that the initial decision leads in that direction, but a number of break points during the process of ordering and contracting could easily result in manufacturing work being taken to a foreign yard should Scotland become independent. Similarly, the second tranche of frigates has not been firmly committed at this stage, and they could be taken away and given to Vosper if Scotland became independent. Export orders are dependent on a core stream of work from the Royal Navy, and they might also be lost if Scotland became independent. Is my hon. Friend clear about that?

I do not need to re-emphasise my hon. Friend's point, but I commend him for the work that he has done as chair of the all-party group on shipbuilding and ship repair. I have no doubt that the lobbying of Ministers by him and other colleagues helped to secure orders for the Clyde and other areas of the country. They got the rules changed when they managed to secure written confirmation from the Minister with responsibility for defence procurement that all MOD ships would be built in Britain, and that no single part would be built elsewhere, such as in Holland as happened in the case of one ship. My hon. Friend helped to lead ghat effort, and it was a great win for those who have been fighting for so many years.

Where will we get more ships? My hon. Friend said that we should not stand by and say that the ships we have now will be sufficient for the Navy for evermore. We must look to future sales. Most of the early attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq came from ships: rockets were fired from ships, planes were launched from ships, and troops were initially landed from ships. Britain does not have that kind of naval force at present. I know that that is being considered under the strategic review, which represents a new chapter. I hope that it continues to be a subject of the strategic review as the days and years go by. We cannot stop at this point: there is more to be done

We must consider the types of ships that we have. There are ports throughout the world now that will not admit single-hull ships. We may have to build many double-hull ships. My question to the Minister, which I do not expect her to answer today, is how many of our naval ships are single hull and how many will have to be replaced with double-hull ships? Perhaps I could take credit for stimulating shipbuilding, particularly on the Clyde.

I have spoken for long enough—some would say too long. Scotland has been very important to the defence industry for many years. Even today, with only 5 per cent. of the population, it still supplies 8 per cent. of the troops on the ground. We have carried out most of the shipping of goods in the past, and we have done more than our fair share of swirling the kilts, playing the pipes and leading the fight from the trenches. Scotland has a proud heritage and tradition in the defence industry, and I hope that it will continue

I conclude with a bit of point scoring. Withdrawal from NATO would be an absolute disaster, not just for Scotland but for Britain and the rest of Europe. I shake my head at some of the things that have been said about that. I ask the Minister to support the industry in the future.

2.51 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) on securing the debate. I very much agree with his assertion that many jobs that have been created and secured in Scotland by the defence industry would disappear like the proverbial snow off a dike if Scotland were ever to become independent

I wish to raise the matter of the Nimrod contract, which is very important to my constituency. In March, an agreement was reached between BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence to halt the production phase of Nimrod. That resulted in the loss of 1,005 jobs at BAE's five sites throughout the UK. In my constituency, 195 jobs were lost, as the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) has already said. I am pleased that he is taking such a close interest in my constituency. It is more than the Scottish National party candidate did at the Scottish Parliament election, but it is welcome nevertheless

I met BAE's management and the Minister responsible for defence procurement to discuss the matter. I had been aware for some time that the contract was in serious trouble. The Government have provided substantial funding to put the contract back on track, as has BAE Systems. There was a real prospect that the contract would have been terminated if that had not happened. The negotiations were difficult for both sides, and I appreciate that the action that had to be taken was taken. However, as the revised contract stands, all production after the third aircraft will be stopped while the design matures and an assessment is made of the true cost of development. That is likely to create a two-year gap between the design and development phases and the date for restarting production.

What does my hon. Friend think will happen to the skilled labour during those two years? Will it go to other industries and be lost to the defence industry for ever?

That is a good question, and it was asked at the lobby earlier today. When the aircraft carrier contract was announced, BAE Systems and Thales both suggested that there was already a 20 per cent. skills shortage in the area, so it is a major concern

As I said, the company announced redundancies. The job losses will mean that employees who currently work on Nimrod will leave the company, thus adding to the skills shortage to which my hon. Friend referred. That will also have clear implications for the Government, because increased costs will be incurred as new workers on the project will have to go through a learning curve when production is resumed. Where will we get the skilled work force that will be needed once production starts again? As an example of the many lessons that have been learned, the inner wing on the first Nimrod started at a baseline of more than 75,000 hours. By the fourth aircraft, production time had fallen to just over 25,000 hours and was still falling to reach a target of less than 10,000 hours.

I have been aware of the tremendous efforts made by the work force at Prestwick to cut the costs of the project and to recognise the problems. Their efforts, as I have illustrated, had already started to pay dividends before the announcement, but if that skill is lost to aircraft manufacturing, it is likely to be lost for ever. Surely the strategy should be to fill the two-year gap by keeping work going in the meantime. It is recognised that some elements of the strip down and manufacture, which are not subject to design change, could continue in the interim, thereby retaining some of the current work force and enabling a more realistic plan for production to restart. That would also help to reduce redundancies and secure the affected sites for the future

I have a list of stable work that could continue in the meantime, which will not be subject to design change in the future. I hope that the Minister will use her good offices to put forward my suggestion to the ministerial team at the Ministry of Defence. As the hon. Member for Moray said, a successful lobby took place today by Amicus. The fact that it was well attended by Scottish MPs was much appreciated. The trade unions believe that it would be feasible to bring forward such work now. They are not asking for more money from the Ministry of Defence, only that agreed funding is brought forward early

Three important issues are involved, the first of which is mitigating the redundancies. Secondly, capability must be retained and. thirdly. we must avoid substantial restart costs. Such issues are serious and the trade unions have put forward practical proposals that merit serious consideration. It is imperative that, whenever the contract recommences, Prestwick and Scotland benefit from such a substantial investment by the taxpayer. From my discussions with the Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems, I am aware that that has not been ruled out. It is especially important at the moment while the aerostructures division of BAE Systems is up for sale. It may be significant that the Nimrod work was not included in that sale. Nevertheless, whatever the outcome, will the Minister make representations on behalf of the Scottish work force to make sure that Prestwick receives its fair share of the contract when it recommences and any other defence contracts in future?

2.57 pm

I am aware of your appeal at the beginning of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall shorten dramatically my contribution. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) on securing the debate on the important Scottish defence industry. I have close historical connections with the defence sector because of the long battles that took place at Rosyth naval base during the review of the nuclear defence industry. I say from the outset that the Government's performance in the allocation of the aircraft carrier programme was carried out in a competitive and honourable fashion. I cannot say that that was the case throughout the Rosyth escapade, but it is best to lay that particular matter to rest

The importance of a defence industry cannot be understated. Our important discussions highlight that and, while we have experienced some political point scoring, there is a need for honesty about the value of the industry, not only to the defence sector. We must remember that many industries that are not defence related feed into the defence sector. It is important to bear in mind that family businesses and shopkeepers throughout Scotland depend on the defence industry. We are not talking only about defence, but the unequivocal value of the industry. When it is bid for and the money is available, it will guarantee resources in the communities that we represent. We should not lose sight of that

I wish to express particular concern about the uncertainty of the commitment on the aircraft carrier programme. I hope that the Minister will assure us that she will use her best endeavours to keep the programme on schedule. In my constituency and in central Fife, companies such as Raytheon are dependent on the defence sector and the jobs in it. They are only asking for a fair opportunity; they do not want unfair political intervention. They want to ensure a level playing surface for companies, which is the only fair way in which to allocate contracts

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire), who represents Rosyth, was present earlier and apologised for her departure to consider other defence matters. Rosyth has always had a proud role in the defence sector, so the issue does not affect only the west coast—that has not been presented as an argument today, although the impact on the west coast is serious. There is a Scottish dimension to the programme and Rosyth stood to gain significantly from the work load

If we do not have the opportunity to retain programmes to which the Ministry of Defence is committed, jobs may be lost in the intervening period. Clearly, it is much more difficult now for companies to retain staff when there is no work for them. if skilled labour is lost, the present successful economy and the employment figures that are lower than they have been for around 30 year; may be affected. People have a better opportunity of moving on and there is a danger of losing skills from the industry. Any internal loss of opportunity may result in the loss of skills and affect a company's competitiveness when making a bid later. That may threaten the work coming into Scotland and that makes a contribution to the Scottish economy

My appeal today is that we should all recognise that, despite any political differences, it is important not to create fear among those employed in the defence sector or indulge in scaremongering. We should tell them loudly and clearly that we care about their future and their valuable skills, that we are doing our best to ensure that they are given a fair opportunity of using those skills on defence work and in the vital industries further down the line that supply the defence industry, so that those people have the best chance to continue to make a contribution

I have been brief in accordance with your wishes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and am grateful for the opportunity to express my concern about the future of the defence industry in Scotland. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire for providing us with the opportunity to debate this important issue today.

3.2 pm

I congratulate the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) on securing this timely debate. I shall show that it is particularly timely, given a matter that concerns my constituency.

The defence industry is of major importance to Scotland, providing a vital backbone for employment. In particular, the Government's shipbuilding programme provides continuity of work in many traditional industries and allows them to be developed. It is important to build on those employment and enterprise opportunities

Defence-related industries provide that opportunity, but, as anyone who has ever undertaken a sector-wide analysis will know, an opportunity may also be a threat and I want to enter one caveat. Scotland's high dependence on defence and defence-related industries comes with the threat that jobs may be lost in future as they have been in the past. It is vital that the Government, in encouraging and supporting the defence industries, ensure the sustainability of employment so that the situation does not arise, as it has in the past, in which today's jobs become tomorrow's redundancies.

It is vital that the Government plan wisely. To a great extent, that will depend on the development of our foreign policy. Who could have foreseen two years ago what we would be asked to undertake at this time? Clearly, that will be an ongoing debate. The recent chapter of the strategic defence review, produced in July 2002, acknowledges that there is still much debate to be had. The essential caveat that I enter is that, in our planning, we must be careful that jobs are not simply for a short period, but remain sustainable

The defence industry can broadly be split into two parts. One part relates to defence establishments, the service contracts that go with them and the related civilian employment. The other part is defence procurement. I shall concentrate on that, but briefly mention the other part of the industry. Our establishments provide welcome and valuable economic support, often in areas that do not enjoy heavy industry and jobs. Interestingly, of the 170,000 service personnel deployed throughout the United Kingdom last year, 14,000 or some 8 per cent., were in Scotland. More interesting perhaps is the fact that, of the 73,000 civilians employed, some 8,000 or 11 per cent. were in Scotland

The bases provide a welcome anchor to many local economies. The Vulcan royal naval training test establishment in my constituency is responsible for the land testing of nuclear reactors for use in all our submarines. It recently landed a new 13-year contract, which is a tremendous support for that economy. The establishment employs 280 people, supported by some five naval staff, and is worth more than £10 million directly to the local economy. There are also two establishments in my community that, unusually, have all the inconveniences, such as noise, but none of the economic benefit. These are the bombing range at Tain, where all the aircraft come from a neighbouring constituency, and the live firing range at Durness. I have made this point before, so I shall not labour it, but the relationship between such places and the Ministry of Defence in the 21st century needs to be considered.

During the previous Session, the hon. Gentleman signed an early-day motion on the defence fire service. Will he take this opportunity to reaffirm that that represents his position and that of his party, and impress on the Minister that the Government should reverse their agenda of privatisation of the defence fire service?

If I signed an early-day motion, I am sure that it represents my position and that of my party

As has been mentioned, defence is an extremely important industry throughout Scotland. It accounts for one in 50 jobs, but I shall not labour the figures. It is interesting that defence does not figure merely in the traditional industries, but is at the cutting edge of modern technology. Research and development has been mentioned, and a point that I came across in researching this subject is that, in Scotland, 31 per cent. of R and D expenditure has been for defence purposes, compared with 15 per cent. in the UK as a whole.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a sad fact that R and D in Scotland lags well behind that in the rest of the United Kingdom? Perhaps he could say why he thinks that that is so.

I certainly agree, but as we must keep an eye on the clock, I should like to proceed with my speech.

I want to deal with shipbuilding and Nigg. I welcome the Government's announcement and the statement that was made at the last Scottish Grand Committee. I shall not go over that ground again, but the Type 45 destroyers and the 10,000 jobs that will come with the future aircraft carriers are a welcome and necessary boost for Scottish industry. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) referred to Nigg. If I may correct him, at its height, there were more than 4,000 jobs, not 3,000, but I am sure that he will join me in congratulating the management on the 200 jobs that they secured in one of the sheds two weeks ago. It is not totally in mothballs. In pushing for some of the work from the future carriers to go to Nigg, I want to make it clear that that would be a relatively small and specialised part of the total expenditure, which the expertise at Nigg is well capable of handling. Placing work there would not be a particular threat to either Rosyth or Clydeside. The key factors are the concept of the dry build, the size of the dry dock, the heavy lifting equipment and the skilled work force

I am delighted to say that I had a constructive meeting with the Secretary of State for Scotland some six or eight weeks ago. The debate is timely because this morning I had a meeting with Lord Bach, who has given me a commitment to make an early visit to Nigg to see precisely what can be done. Immediately after this debate I am going into a meeting with KBR Caledonia, which operates the shipyard. There is a genuine possibility of securing work, and I am grateful to the Government for the support and help that they have given me in pushing the case forward

Given the constraints of time, I shall conclude by saying that the Scottish defence industry is important because it provides opportunities in other areas. We must plan wisely to ensure a commitment on jobs, which must be sustainable. I ask the Government to continue to support the creation of jobs not only in the central belt but throughout the rest of Scotland, and in the highlands in particular.

3.11 pm

In traditional fashion, I, too, join in the cross-party welcome for the success of the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) in securing the debate, which follows a similar debate last year. For those of us who have not worked in the defence industry and have not worked on Clydeside, it is great to hear contributions from him and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), who know the communities and have worked in the industries. I greatly value their contributions. With a few exceptions involving the usual suspects, today's debate has been of a relatively high quality and has involved all parties in Scotland. I welcome its relevance, given the dramatic developments since our debate on 1 May last year

The Scottish defence industry obviously makes a substantial contribution to Scottish armed forces. I understand that the debate is not about Scottish armed forces, but I seek your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, given their importance to employment in Scotland. Our armed forces form 13 per cent. of the British Army and, as we have found out in the recent past, they have made significant and skilled contributions, particularly in Basra. We are all immensely proud of them

I am also aware that the families of servicemen throughout Scotland have made a huge contribution. Those hon. Members who do not have a defence industry locus in their constituencies all have constituents who have made sacrifices, in that they have been worried and concerned over the past few months. Similarly, we all have businesses in our constituencies that have made sacrifices by giving up their reservists. That is an oft-forgotten sacrifice made by industry not only in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom. Because those businesses are flexible, they tend to be very small, and giving up an employee to go on reserve duty is a significant sacrifice for them. I should like to pay tribute to businesses in Scotland that have made that sacrifice in recent months

The defence industry obviously gives Scotland a significant boost. It is worth £1.6 billion to the Scottish economy and provides 8 per cent. of jobs and investment. We cannot gloss over it in a small annexe to a debate on the Scottish economy, of which it forms a significant part

As the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) said, the Scottish defence industry has a two-pronged risk and reward. As we develop our defence industry to its natural capability, there is the risk that we expose ourselves to over-specialisation. Getting that balance right is a significant challenge for the Scottish economy

I pay tribute, albeit briefly—I only do things to nationalists briefly—to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) for his suggestion that one cannot divorce consideration of the defence industry in Scotland from consideration of other industry in Scotland. The two are very much intertwined

I regret to say to the Government that the decline of manufacturing industry in the UK and the specific decline of manufacturing industry in Scotland—part of which is defence—will have a dramatic effect on the ability of Scottish industry to subcontract to defence industries. I recently met a company of subcontractors in the defence industry, and they face exactly the same challenges of budgeting, taxation, red tape and administration as other small businesses in the defence industry the length and breadth of Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be of benefit to everyone with an interest in the defence industry if the Government published statistics showing the value of offset contracts so that we could be fully aware of whether companies in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK are making the most of what those contracts have to offer?

The hon. Gentleman is right about the offset contracts, in as much as we should be maximising the value of the whole defence industry to the Scottish economy. There is no doubt that more transparency on that is the least that should be expected of any Government, and no less of this one

As I mentioned, 13 per cent. of those employed in UK forces are from Scotland. It is a significant employer by any manner of means. I would point out that in the UK there are 6,000 fewer people employed in the armed forces than there were in 1997. That has had an effect in Scotland, and we need to see some concentrated attempt from the Government to redress that balance and address the recruitment and retention crisis that plagues our armed forces

I said that we have had a mixed debate. The mixed element came from the hon. Member for Moray, who possibly faces the frightening prospect of being defence Minister in an independent Scotland. If that did not frighten anyone else in the House, it certainly frightened me. I find extraordinary the appeal that he made for jobs for the carrier contract to be dispersed around Scotland—particularly to Nigg. His double standards on that matter know no bounds. The simple fact is that his party's policy would leave Scotland under-defended. It would not develop new orders for the products or deliver further work for shipbuilding contracts, never mind the delivery of an industry that is capable of fulfilling the existing ones

To give a further example of SNP doublespeak on the defence industry, in my constituency I recently saw off the SNP MSP. As part of his—unsuccessful I am delighted to say—electoral plank, he criticised the run down of Qinetiq in West Freugh. I heartily agreed with him that that was a dreadful development for my part of the world. However, the simple fact is that Qinetiq is a high-quality, highly specialised, high-technology partner to the UK Government in defence, and there would be no research and development in an independent Scotland defence force—certainly not of the quality of the work done at West Freugh

The carrier orders are the obvious significant developments since we last considered these matters, and I would like to make a few further observations to those that I made in response to the statement given at the last Scottish Grand Committee. We retain considerable reservations about the link with Thales, particularly given the developments of the last two or three months with regard to the French Government. We remain concerned about the way in which such contracts are awarded over decades rather than years, particularly for the maintenance and development of technology over those decades. It is of concern that we are tying ourselves to a foreign Government and a situation in which we have no guarantees for the future

I accept entirely the point made by the hon. Members for Glasgow, Anniesland and for West Renfrewshire about the skills gap. That is surely the highest priority, following on from the announcement about the carrier orders. I accept that it is a particular locus for the Scottish Executive, but in some way we all have to address the skills gap in Scotland. Otherwise, we will not be able to fulfil these orders to the maximum of our abilities. In addressing the future of our shipbuilding industry, I am happy to quote the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland—I hope correctly this time—and say yes, we have an opportunity for the future. However, we must get beyond this crisis-to-crisis stumbling on Clydeside and the other shipbuilding yards throughout Scotland. It is not acceptable simply to delay major decisions until we hit a brick-wall crisis, then rely on another major decision by the MOD suddenly to come to the rescue. We require long-term planning, we must address the skills shortage and, crucially, we must have a level playing field internationally. Concerns remain that the international shipbuilding market is not universally fair to Scotland's defence industry

The defence industry cannot be overlooked when considering a successful Scotland in the future. I commend the Government for the part that they have played in ensuring that defence decisions that apply to Clydeside have been taken when necessary. I look for further decisions in the near future, to take the industry forward.

3.20 pm

Those hon. Members who would recognise it will know that this is not my normal voice. I put that down to a great deal of zealous campaigning last Thursday—with significant success

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) on securing this important debate. In doing so, he has allowed us to consider an industry that is one of the cornerstones of the Scottish manufacturing base, notwithstanding some of the comments that we have heard this afternoon. I should also like to thank my hon. Friends and other hon. Members who have taken the time to participate. I am delighted to respond to the points raised, although I suspect that I will not be able to respond to very many of them. I shall cover as many as I can

Like most Scottish MPs, I am well aware of the important contribution that Scottish defence industries make to the Scottish economy, and recognise the value of Government spending on defence programmes and the contribution that that makes to the manufacturing sector in Scotland. It is no accident that, during the past 15 years and from two parties in Government, we have had no fewer than three Secretaries of State for Defence from Scottish constituencies. That highlights the importance that defence plays in the whole political dynamic in Scotland

I also recognise that the defence industry, in all its manifestations, from manufacturing through to the provision of home bases for service personnel, underlines the strength of the partnership in the United Kingdom: a view amply reinforced in the results of last week's elections to the Scottish Parliament. If there is one point that I should like to put to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson)—which picks up on something that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Fife (Mr. MacDougall) said—it is that defence is not just about the deployment of forces or the building of ships; it is about communities. It is about the schools, shops and local community facilities that are sustained by service personnel in—dare I say it—some of our more fragile areas. The hon. Member for Moray and his colleagues should ask the small shopkeepers how much they will lose if the whole defence industry is withdrawn from its positions in Moray. To be perfectly frank, it is not good enough for members of the Scottish Nationalist party who represent constituencies with a strong defence base to say that they support defence, when the party has at its core a policy of pulling Scotland out of NATO, out of the United Nations and into isolation.

No, the hon. Gentleman has had more than his fair share this afternoon. It is important that he is allowed the opportunity to reflect on some of those arguments, and perhaps consider how he can address them with his constituents

Almost every part of Scotland is touched by defence, from Caithness to the borders. The list of defence industries across Scotland includes everything from Crew Toll and the Gyle in Edinburgh to Rosyth, Faslane, Govan, Glenrothes, Hillend, Donibristle in Fife and Newbridge in West Lothian—it stretches across the whole of Scotland. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Moray can chunter all he likes, but I shall not allow him to intervene

I do not want to reiterate some of the points made, but it is worth stressing that approximately £600 million of defence contracts are based in Scotland. As everyone here realises, that is not the full picture. There are all sorts of additional and added-value connections with defence: Scottish companies have subcontracts for defence expenditure not only in Scotland, but in other parts of the United Kingdom. A prime example is the 2001 award of the Bowman contract to CDC UK

Further benefits to Scottish industry included the subcontract work awarded to CDC UK by Alenia Marconi Systems at Hillend in Fife, which secured almost 100 jobs—an important security for the people in that community. AEA Technology in Thurso also provides employment in the constituency of the hon. Member for Caithness. Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso)

Scottish Executive support mechanisms are also in place. They established a new facility in Glengarnock, creating an initial 600 jobs with the opportunity for more.

I said that I would try in a short space of time to answer some of the issues raised. While I am speaking about the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, I want to congratulate him on the way in which he has pursued the Nigg issue. He told us exactly what he had done. He had been to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and has had meetings with the various companies involved. That stands in stark contrast with the sniping—dare I use that word?—in a defence industry debate from some hon. Members from the Scottish National party sitting to his immediate left

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sandra Osborne) raised a concern about the Nimrod contract. I know that there was a lobby today. I am sure that some of the messages from that lobby will be taken to Ministry of Defence Ministers. I also assure her that I will discuss some of the comments that she made today with my colleagues in the MOD

We heard this afternoon about the decline in defence jobs. I want to tell the 1,600 employees at Clydeside, the 2,000 at Rosyth, the 2,000 at BAE Systems in Edinburgh, the 500 at AMS, the 600 at Raytheon in Fife and the 5,000 at Faslane that the claim that the Government are not helping out and supporting our defence industries is palpably untrue.

I do not want the hon. Member for Moray to go away with a complex. I shall give him just one nugget. I heard his comments on the offset contracts, and assure him that I shall raise that issue with my colleagues in the MOD

We have had an opportunity to reflect on the benefits of the defence industry in Scotland, but it is not all take. By being involved in that industry, we also provide a great deal of support, not only in high tech, important though that is, but in everything from warships to missile control systems, from uniforms and training to simulation systems. We cannot underestimate the input of Scottish industry: companies such as Thistle Garments in Cumbernauld, which produces waterproof outerwear for service personnel. It was awarded an MOD contract for 28,000 sets of high-tech combat clothing and is expected to create some 50 jobs.

Last week during the Scottish election campaign, I visited a carpet manufacturer in Aberdeen. I would not have expected to find anything to do with defence jobs in a carpet fibre factory in Aberdeen, but members of staff told me that they had a massive contract for guy ropes for tents. The company has picked up such contracts as part of its diversification—apparently, we are all putting down laminate flooring instead of carpets.

I appreciate that the time available to me is short, and I shall soon move to the subject of Ayrshire and Auchancrow, but I must say that the importance of the defence industry in Scotland is not open to question. If I could give just one message to colleagues, it would be that we should not undermine the importance of our defence industry by constantly harping on about what it does not do. We should be positive and concentrate on what it does do. If we need ambassadors for Scotland, we should look no further than the Black Watch, which acted with great dignity in Iraq. It was no doubt sustained in that theatre of war by a great deal of industrial technology, and, dare I say it, some of the more mundane things, such as clothing et cetera.

Scottish Agricultural College

3.30 pm

I am particularly grateful to lead this debate in this parallel Chamber. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sandra Osborne) and the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) would like to say a few words if they are able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is certainly okay with me, and I understand that it is okay with the Under-Secretary of State.

One or two eyebrows were raised in one or two quarters, including those of the Under-Secretary of State, about the relevance of the topic to Westminster. I must confess—honest as always—that it is, of course, principally a matter for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive. However, there are significant British and overseas interests that it is our duty to consider and to protect. Indeed, as the chairman of the Scottish Agricultural college says in the foreword to its 2002 annual report:

"This report details activities which will aid Scottish agriculture, and agriculture in other parts of the UK."
Page 13 of the same report notes that:
"consultancy and training have been carried out in countries as dispersed as New Zealand, Poland, Japan, and the USA."
When I was a Minister at the Department for International Development, I visited the Auchincruive campus to see the excellent and much-needed work that was being done to help the developing world, funded by DFID.

Page 15 of the annual report describes the pressure from the general agreement on tariffs and trade and the World Trade Organisation, for which we have responsibility, to phase out headage payments. On page 30, where the college's research and development funding is broken down, we see that the UK Government contribute more than £2.3 million. Research councils, levy boards and the European Union also make significant contributions. Therefore, this matter is of importance to us. Some, or all, of us are threatened by the plans being considered by the board of the SAC. Owing to funding pressures, the college has, understandably, been looking at ways of saving money. I do not object to that. However, the proposal that it has come up with flies in the face of all logic.

In 1990, the SAC was created by the merger of three agricultural colleges in Scotland—those at Ayr, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. The staff, students and public in Ayrshire and in Dumfries and Galloway contend that there was a clear commitment at that time to maintain and indeed to expand the teaching and research presence at Auchincruive. Any proposal that goes against that is a clear betrayal of trust.

I accept that the SAC board has a duty to ensure that the college does not continue to run at a loss, but I challenge the options that it has been considering and the basis on which they have been arrived at. The Deloitte and Touche report of 20 February 2003 was mischievously described by Dr. Maitland Mackie, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr knows, as the Finnie report, because it was called for by the Minister for Environment and Rural Development.

That report comes to the wrong conclusion. Its analysis is based on a faulty remit and subjective weightings, with no justification whatsoever.

The remit was drawn up and the options were assessed by the executive management team. That team, under Professor Bill McKelvey's leadership, favours centralisation of the operation in Edinburgh. Therefore, the assumptions that it has made inevitably favour the Edinburgh option. The conclusions fly in the face of logic and of fact. To suggest that it is cheaper to centralise all operations in Edinburgh—where we know that costs are substantially higher, the economy is overheated, transport is congested and housing is scarce and expensive —is manifest nonsense. To attempt to recruit a further 1,100 full-time student equivalents to King's Buildings in Edinburgh, where, at present, only 115 have chosen to study, is pure fantasy. That policy, which would transfer staff from Ayrshire and Aberdeen to Edinburgh, runs contrary to the Scottish Executive's policy of dispersal from Edinburgh to other parts of Scotland. That is quite apart from the nonsense of having an agricultural college in the middle of a city.

Staff and students at Auchincruive are against the plan, as was evident at the meeting that I convened in Ayr at the end of March, which was attended by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr. At that meeting, MPs and MSPs from all parties, including my MSP, Cathy Jamieson, who is a Minister in the Scottish Executive, expressed strong opposition to the proposal. The National Farmers Union in Ayrshire issued a press release saying that it opposes plans for the closure of the Scottish Agricultural college; all the local NFU leaders are quoted.

I have also had letters, e-mails and phone calls from constituents opposing the plan. Indeed, I have had more communications on the subject than 1 had on the war in Iraq, so strong is the feeling in Ayrshire. A member of staff writes to me:
"The last few years have been very difficult with the mind set of the new management regime pro Edinburgh centralisation and clearly uncaring about operations in the south west of Scotland."
Things have indeed been difficult for staff. I know of staff who have felt pressurised and threatened by the attitude of the management team.

In a memorandum to me, the member of staff points out that over half of the second year HND agriculture students at Auchincruive are from Dumfries and Galloway. I am sure that the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale will have something to say about that. My correspondent also says that it is not uncommon for local Ayrshire students to do the milking and to feed the stock before starting college in the morning. Both those things would be impossible if the college were centralised in Edinburgh. He adds that Edinburgh now has the highest housing costs in Scotland and the Scottish Agricultural college has no hall of residence facilities to offer students.

As a representative of an urban constituency, I am at a loss to understand some of my right hon. Friend's arguments. However, what I cannot figure out is how students are ever going to get practical experience of milking cows, herding sheep, or delivering lambs in a city such as Edinburgh. The best method of learning such things is to do them. How will that be achieved in Edinburgh?

I was happy to give way to my hon. Friend because it is his birthday today—we all congratulate him on that—and because he has a lot of experience. He may represent an urban constituency but he used to be a shepherd, so he knows what he is talking about. He is absolutely right. Auchincruive has a farm on campus and other farms all around it, so it is easy to get practical experience. King's Buildings. however, is right in the centre of Edinburgh and it would be impossible to get such experience.

I understand that Professor McKelvey has a vision of Auchincruive not as an agricultural college but as a high-level research establishment linked to the university of Edinburgh, and that he is prepared to sacrifice agricultural and horticultural education to that vision. I am not prepared to accept that, and I hope that others feel the same. My correspondent tells me that, at a staff briefing at Auchincruive, the principal said:
"We intend to implement this plan regardless of the Scottish Executive's views."
That coincides with my own perception. I understand that one official from the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Development Department—I hope that the Minister will look into this—told the principal:
"it doesn't matter what the politicians think—this is going ahead."
That kind of arrogance and lack of sensitivity to local wishes gives Governments a bad name. Unfortunately, it is politicians who get it in the neck in this area, as in other areas.

I want to leave time for other hon. Members to speak, so I will move on to my requests to the Minister. When my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr and I met the chairman and principal of Scottish Agricultural college in Edinburgh last month, they agreed, under sustained pressure from us—we really laid it on the line—that they would consider other options if directed to by Scottish Ministers, so long as the financial consequences were taken account of. The board later confirmed that. Will the Minister, or the Secretary of State, arrange a meeting with colleagues in the Scottish Executive and ask them to review all the options for the Scottish Agricultural college? All the options given in the Deloitte and Touche report should be reviewed. I also respectfully suggest to the Minister that, once the Rural Development Committee of the Scottish Parliament is reconstituted, it might consider conducting an inquiry into the matter and reporting on it to the Parliament.

May I ask that all the points that I have raised, that other hon. Members will raise and that other Ayrshire MPs and MSPs have raised, should be taken into account before a final decision is made? I accept that the decision must ultimately be taken by the Scottish Executive and the Parliament. However, I hope that, when they take that decision, they will remember that it will have an impact throughout the United Kingdom and overseas. It is vital for the people whom I represent—staff, students and the community. I am concerned about those people and that is why I am grateful to have the opportunity of putting their case—forcefully, I hope.

3.40 pm

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) for allowing me a couple of minutes to demonstrate the cross-party strength of feeling on the issue, which does not divide us: it unites the south-west of Scotland and particularly Auchincruive. I will leave the advocates from Aberdeen to speak about that area.

Auchincruive is Scottish farming in south-west Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that farming in that area is critical to our development. At the point in our regional development when farming is becoming more difficult and more sophisticated, and when the need for training in farming is greater than ever before, we face the prospect of having the greatest vehicle for the delivery of that training taken from us. That is extremely regrettable. The sense that nothing will change, irrespective of how many politicians speak out against the proposal, is also deeply regrettable, and I hope that the Minister can offer some reassurance that that may not be the case.

The proposal runs directly contrary to all the directives on decentralisation, and to all the wise words about getting agricultural and rural-related jobs into rural areas. It is not possible to run a farming-related course in the centre of Edinburgh. A sophisticated research base can be operated in Edinburgh. That is not what Auchincruive was meant to be.

On behalf of my party in south-west Scotland, I am delighted to lend support to the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, and hope that the Scottish Executive and the Minister will think again.

3.42 pm

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Do on Valley (Mr. Foulkes) on securing the debate. He has been a marvellous supporter of Auchincruive, and never more so than at this crucial moment. He ably underlined the importance of Auchincruive to the UK and internationally, which is why it is important to raise the matter in the House of Commons.

Although Auchincruive is in my right hon. Friend's constituency, many of my constituents work or study there, so I share all his concerns about the issue. I am grateful to him for organising the public meeting and for mobilising support throughout Ayrshire—across the political divide, as he and the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) said—among students and staff, in the local council and in the local community in Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway. All unanimously oppose the proposal and will fight to get it reconsidered.

During our visit to Edinburgh to meet the management, I was amazed to see what King's Buildings was like, and that anyone would think of siting an agricultural college in a landlocked city, compared with the site of outstanding natural beauty at Auchincruive. Anyone would regard that as ludicrous but it seems to be a serious proposal. As my right hon. Friend said, to move from a prized educational site such as Auchincruive to a highly pressurised area flies in the face of the Executive's policy of decentralising jobs throughout Scotland. That is one of the most important issues to underline in relation to south-west Scotland.

At our meeting, it was clear that the management seemed, as my right hon. Friend said, to regard the research element of their business as more important than the agricultural college. No one would deny the difficulties of the farming industry, but it seemed ludicrous that Scotland would not want to support and to develop a thriving educational facility for the farming community. A fundamental reaffirmation is needed by the Scottish Executive and the management that that facility and the funding to support it are absolute requirements for Scotland.

Like my right hon. Friend, I have been extremely impressed by the way in which the staff and students have worked together to rebut in great detail the consultants' report. At our meeting, the management signalled that they would take no irreversible action until there could be further discussion. Although it took some persuading and we put a bit of pressure on them—my right hon. Friend certainly did so in his inimitable fashion—we secured that agreement. That provides us with a window of opportunity. I know that, in Ayrshire, people are getting together to ensure that we use it to the nth degree.

Auchincruive college is important for Ayrshire economically, for tourism, for the rural community and for ensuring that there is a fair spread of Government jobs. I hope that the Minister will take on board my right hon. Friend's comments and do all she can to influence the decision and to retain Auchincruive as a marvellous facility.

3.46 pm

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) on securing this important short debate on a matter that is clearly very close to his heart. I did not so much raise my eyebrows as stand back in awe at his undoubted skill in persuading the Speaker's Office to hold this debate in the parallel Chamber. I have known of Auchincruive for many years. When I was young, wide-eyed and innocent—if I ever was, and that saves anyone else from saying that—I was going with a young accountant who used to do the audit of Auchincruive. I ended up marrying him. I do not know whether it was the good Ayrshire air, but something worked.

As my right hon. Friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sandra Osborne) and the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) have acknowledged, the Auchincruive campus delivers a range of services to the local farming community and far beyond. It also has links, mainly on a project-funding basis, with Government Departments other than its core funding and sponsorship by the Scottish Executive. The fact that the agricultural college is currently working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Bristol university and various other research institutes across the United Kingdom may have encouraged my right hon. Friend to consider that there was a hook for Scotland Office interest and intervention. I will come back to that, as I suspect that that may not be the case.

My right hon. Friend argued that those links raise issues that could be realistically described as coming within the reserved policy interests of the UK Parliament. As he and others have identified, primary responsibility for matters related to Auchincruive's current and prospective position lies with the Scottish Executive. However, it may be helpful if I outline the factual position in relation to the matters raised in the debate.

The Scottish Agricultural college was created in 1990 through the merger of three existing agriculture colleges, with campuses at Ayr, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. It provides services to land-based communities and businesses of three main types: advisory and consultancy, research and development and education and training. As of December last year the SAC had just over 900 staff, comprising 166 at Aberdeen, 225 at Auchincruive, 328 at Edinburgh and 208 at area offices. Analysed by function, those figures break down at just over 200 staff in research and development, more than 100 in education and more than 400 in advisory consultancy. There are about 160 staff in general administrative duties.

The college has a turnover of around £45 million per year, including approximately £18 million in sponsorship from the Scottish Executive. I understand that, in recent years, the SAC's student numbers have decreased and the college has been making a loss. As a result, the SAC is seeking to rationalise its estate so that it can reduce costs and operate more effectively and efficiently.

I turn now to the specific issue of the debate. In September 2001, the SAC announced plans to withdraw from its Auchincruive campus and to consider a partnership with the university of Paisley in Ayr. For those colleagues who do not understand the geography, there are all sorts of connections in Scotland. It wished to build links between its Aberdeen campus and the university of Aberdeen. The plans attracted considerable opposition, which prompted a debate in the Scottish Parliament in March last year.

Scottish Ministers concluded at that time that the SAC's proposals were not grounded in a clear strategy; nor had the SAC produced a detailed analysis to support its conclusions. They asked the SAC to conduct a full review in consultation with stakeholders of what services it should be aiming to provide, and then to conduct an appraisal of the options for delivering those services.

The SAC engaged the services of external consultants, and Deloitte and Touche produced the first of two reports in October last year. It identified the SAC's strengths as being in veterinary and advisory services and in certain parts of the research programme. The report also noted that the SAC had lost ground in its education function and needed to review objectives in that area.

The SAC accepted the recommendations in the first report in most respects. However, Scottish Ministers could not confirm their agreement of the position until the SAC had completed its analysis of its education markets and could provide a clear education strategy on the basis of that analysis. Scottish Ministers agreed, however, that the SAC should proceed with appraising the options for the physical infrastructure required for delivering its educational and research services.

The second Deloitte and Touche report was published in February this year. It identified that the SAC's combined estate is five times greater than its requirements and that significant cost savings and economies of scale and staff utilisation could be achieved through rationalisation. Of the 10 options assessed in the report, the recommended option for both financial and non-financial reasons was that the SAC should consolidate its estate at the Edinburgh and Bush campus. That recommendation has attracted significant criticism and comment in this debate.

I understand that services would continue to be provided across Scotland, with the advisory and consultancy and veterinary services—which are currently delivered from area offices and veterinary centres—remaining unaffected by the proposals. Furthermore, education outreach centres would continue and be developed on or near the existing campuses at Auchincruive in Ayrshire and Craibstone in Aberdeen.

The Deloitte and Touche recommendation to consolidate campus-based education and research facilities in the Edinburgh area is the SAC's preferred option. In order to implement this option, the SAC would require Scottish Ministers' approval for the reinvestment of the proceeds of the sale of the surplus assets at Craibstone and Auchincruive. Moreover, it would require continued funding by the Executive for its core functions of educational research and advisory services.

There is a recognition that the SAC cannot compete because of the mismatch between the level of business that it now has and the facilities that it has inherited from the three former agricultural colleges. Nonetheless, I gather that Scottish Ministers continue to have a number of concerns about the college's position.

As my hon. Friend says, Scottish Ministers have several concerns. She seemed to indicate earlier that she did not believe that it was appropriate for the Scotland Office to intervene. My understanding is that she and the Secretary of State have regular meetings with Scottish Executive Ministers. I know that some officials might say that they have to gang warily and tread carefully not to upset them, but I remind her of a mutual friend of ours who said that

"we're at our best when at our boldest."
Will she or the Secretary of State consider putting that on the agenda with Ross Finnie or his successor to ensure that the points that my hon. Friends and I have made today are properly considered?

I was coming to my response to my right hon. Friend's individual questions, and I will cover that point in a minute.

As I was saying, Scottish Ministers have expressed some concerns. The college has been made aware of those concerns and has been tasked with undertaking additional work on its strategy for education services, the impact on projected student numbers and the financial viability and affordability of the options in the second Deloitte and Touche report.

It is also worth mentioning that the SAC's preferred option runs counter to the spirit of the Scottish Executive's relocation policy, a point that was noted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr. The SAC has been asked to re-examine the extent to which it proposes to relocate services from the west and north-east of Scotland. In addition, it has to consider where some of these services could continue to be provided in Aberdeen and Ayrshire, either by the SAC alone or in partnership with other organisations.

I can confirm to my right hon. Friend that the SAC has been encouraged to take the concerns fully on board and come back to the Scottish Executive with revised proposals. I gather that the process is likely to take several months and, as a result, no decision has been taken on the final outcome of the option appraisal work. I have noted carefully the various points made by my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members that sought assurances about the UK Government's interest in the topic. I assure my right hon. Friend that I will follow through on that as necessary with colleagues in the Department for International Development and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

As a former insider in the Scotland Office, my right hon. Friend will be aware that we have regular meetings with colleagues from the Scottish Executive. I must say that there is a difference between being bold and crossing the devolution settlement, of which he is a great supporter and was a great advocate. I am sure that our colleagues in the Scottish Executive who are charged with determining Auchincruive's future will take a keen interest in this debate.

Mr. Peter Duncan rose—

I thought that the Minister might have a minute. Does she accept that this Parliament has a remit for employment and that there are significant employment issues? Jobs are once again at risk of being moved from rural to central Scotland and she has the opportunity to do something about it.

I have never been offered so many temptations in half an hour to cross a constitutional line The hon. Gentleman will understand that the issue comes under the devolved settlement for the Scottish Parliament and Executive. However, given that hon. Members are already working in partnership with their Scottish Parliament colleagues, I will undertake to ensure that the proceedings of this debate are raised with Scottish Executive colleagues when Ministers are in place. I am sure that hon. Members who have participated today will do whatever they can and need to ensure that the Auchincruive issue is kept alive during the continued consultation on its future.

Maternity Services (Ashford And St Peter's Hospitals)

4 pm

May I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to convey to Mr. Speaker my thanks for this opportunity to raise a very serious quality of care issue affecting my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond)?

I have two preliminary points. First, I do not view this opportunity as a party political occasion. That is the last thing with which I wish to get involved. Secondly, although there may be criticisms of individual people, the overwhelming majority of the trust's staff work their socks off under very difficult circumstances and I mean no criticism of them in any shape or form.

I shall start by setting the scene for this brief debate. The Ashford and St. Peter's Hospitals NHS Trust was set up in 1998 from a merger of two separate hospital trusts. One was the Ashford hospital trust, which is in my constituency and serves my constituents and those of the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen), and the other was St. Peter's hospital trust in Chertsey, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge. Therefore, we have a joint interest in the matter.

The merger was, to put it gently, controversial and problematic. From its first moment, the trust has lurched from one financial crisis to another. As a result, in 2000–01 it was awarded no stars at all and the upshot was that it was selected for franchising of its top management. That was a controversial experiment. All that I will say about it, because it is not immediately relevant to the debate, is that luckily the franchise plan seems to have disappeared without trace. I urge the Minister not to look for it because he will realise if he rediscovers it that to implement it he would have to find much more money than would be needed to deal with the financial issues that I am about to raise. In fact, it would be useful if he tore up the plan because it mainly contains attempts to make yet more cuts at Ashford hospital, and he will have a battle on his hands if he tries to do that.

Ashford's maternity unit was closed the year before the merger. It goes without saying that that was fiercely opposed as well. Essentially, there were two justifications for the closure of what was then the maternity unit in my constituency: first, that it was unsafe and secondly, that if it continued as it was, the royal colleges would withdraw their recognition of it for training purposes. Given such arguments, I suppose that one had to listen carefully to them.

The objections to the closure were that St. Peter's simply would not be able to cope with the extra work, however hard-working and dedicated the staff, and that it would lead to poorer services and, in the most extreme case, to personal tragedy. That is exactly what has happened.

Among its many recommendations, the report of the Commission for Health Improvement on maternity services at Ashford and St. Peter's hospitals suggests doing more maternity work at Ashford hospital. I agree, but we should go further and reopen the maternity unit at Ashford. That decision would have the support of the trust. There are many examples in this country of midwife-led delivery units and such a unit would go a long way to solving the problems. I urge the Minister to back that idea.

My hon. Friend may be aware that I have received a written answer from one of the Minister's colleagues that indicates that although there will not be any additional money for the implementation of the recommendations of the report there will be a Government response. Will he ask the Minister whether that response will cover not only the wider issues that the report raises but those that it raises that relate to Ashford and St. Peter's?

I do not think that I need to ask the Minister, as my hon. Friend has done exactly that and I am sure that we shall receive an answer in due course.

As I read the report, two themes underlie what has gone wrong. The first is inadequate funding; the second is insufficient staff. I do not want to put the matter too indelicately, but the trust is bankrupt. It is trading illegally and ran out of cash to pay its bills last Christmas, as did other hospitals. Despite the fact that it is making cuts, the trust has been kept afloat only by annual bail-outs. It has a brought-forward debt of more than £7 million. Last year's debt was £11 million and the trust is predicting the same or worse this year. The trust faces a stark choice: continue to trade illegally or cut even more services. Unless the Government end the underfunding of that trust, there is no way that the 40 recommendations will ever be implemented.

The other underlying theme is staffing. Recruitment and retention at the trust are huge problems and the facts speak for themselves. The midwife vacancy rate is 28 per cent. and the maternity registrar vacancy rate is 40 per cent. That is the extent of the staffing problem. However hard the people in post work, it is no surprise that that situation causes service quality problems or that it leads to the use of locums and agencies, which adds to the financial crisis.

The primary cause of that inability to recruit and retain is the local cost of living. There are some simple facts in the report. The average cost of a house nationally is £145,000, whereas the average cost in Ashford is £195,000 and in Chertsey, in my hon. Friend's constituency, it is £231,000. Those prices must be considered in the context of national pay scales. The situation has been made worse since the closure of the maternity unit at Ashford because all the staff on the Ashford site get the outer London weighting, which is £2,522 a year, but none of them do at St. Peter's. When the Ashford unit was closed, people did not go to St. Peter's—surprise, surprise—but went into London. The consequence was catastrophic. The Minister must deal with the pay pressures of south-east England and the pay differentials across the two sites.

I shall now deal with the details of the report, although there are far too many to talk about in such a short debate, so I have had to select what I consider to be the two biggest problems: the staffing problem and a consultant problem.

The staffing problem involves not only vacancies but funding, which is also wrong. One example of many says it all: established posts for midwives. Although the Minister will put me right if I am wrong, as I understand the matter, the Government and the national health service use Birthrate Plus to say what the standards should be. If the trust operated up to the Birthrate Plus standards, it would have 152 whole-time equivalent midwives. However, the Government funds the trust for only 99 midwives, not 152. That is bad enough, but the reality is that the trust only has the equivalent of 70 whole-time midwives. Given that fact, it is no surprise that page 35 of the report says:

"The trust's funded establishment of midwives is one third less than the establishment recommended by Birthrate Plus. The trust's current permanent midwifery staffing levels are less than half the Birthrate Plus recommendation."
The midwives that we have work as hard as they possibly can and are skilled and dedicated, but they do not stand a chance while those circumstances continue. Not only must the underfunding of the trust end, but the proper funding of establishments must become a priority.

I shall now discuss the consultant problems. I am talking only about two of the trust's eight consultants. I would not want anyone to think that my criticism is levelled at all of them. The report's key conclusion on the subject is nothing short of damning. At the bottom of page viii in the executive summary, it says:
"The consultant obstetricians and gynaecologists do not function as a team. There are poor working relationships and very challenging human resource issues within the consultant group. These difficult circumstances have diverted management time and have been a barrier to more effective team working within the service. The situation is unacceptable, poses a risk to the quality of patient care and requires urgent resolution."
That is blunt and damning and requires action.

Part 8 of the report spells out the issues a little more clearly:
"CHI found substantial evidence of problems that impact upon the ability of consultant obstetricians and gynaecologists to work as a cohesive team. Other bodies are currently involved in some of the associated issues. The General Medical Council has made a judgement about the professional conduct and fitness to practise of one of the clinicians working in the maternity unit. The National Clinical Assessment Authority has been contacted for advice. The Centre for Effective Disputes Resolution…is working with the trust to provide a mediation service. It is not appropriate for CHI to investigate or comment on individual clinicians".
Why ever not?

I spoke to the chairman about the issue and on 1 May he wrote as follows:
"You are aware that Kevin Gangar had a case concerning his conduct considered by the GMC in February 2002. He was reprimanded but returned to work in the Trust in March 2002 with the recommendation that he should only work under specified supervision. Under these circumstances the Trust were deterred from 'stronger action".
I think that the time for stronger action has come. I have a simple question for the Minister: will he back the dismissal of Dr. Gangar? I hope that he will.

Another issue arises from the subject of consultants, but it is almost totally ignored by the report. There is just a brief mention of it in the introduction. That, really, is the reason why the report came about in the first place. It says:
"This followed the death of a baby in the trust's maternity unit. At the time of writing, the death of this baby is still the subject of a police investigation."
That is all there is on the subject in the report. What actually happened was that the trust properly and swiftly reported the death to the coroner, and I applaud them for it. The coroner, having considered the circumstances, called in Surrey police, who investigated what they described as a potentially serious offence.

The clinician concerned was a locum employed by BUPA. He was suspended by the trust. He then left the trust and went back to BUPA. BUPA was formally informed of what had happened, and—amazingly—did not do much except place its locum in Chichester, where he remained carrying out his work until he left the United Kingdom. That cannot be right and my question to the Minister is, will he investigate? What, if anything, was the health service in Chichester told about what had happened? I have not investigated, as it is not in my constituency, but I have had a discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie).

There is a further aspect to this deeply disturbing issue. For reasons that will become clear, I shall approach this aspect with care. The police investigation resulted in a decision to charge someone. What happened during that investigation and what has happened since a decision was taken, is worthy of further inquiry, consideration and debate. Earlier this week, I received from Surrey police the following statement, which is headed "Dr. Vladan Visnjevac":
"Proceedings against a man have been commenced by obtaining a warrant for his arrest. This warrant has been obtained because he is no longer within the jurisdiction. These proceedings are now active for the purposes of the Contempt of Court Act".
I respect that statement, as I respect the rules of this House, and I am aware that I am protected by parliamentary privilege so the last thing that I want to do is prejudice justice or a fair trial. There will come a time, however, when the Minister will need to investigate that issue.

The picture that emerges from the report is that my local maternity unit has serious problems. My constituents are receiving an inferior service. The report confirms that the investigation was justified and I applaud the trust for requesting it.

I shall end with a few questions for the Minister. Will he end existing underfunding? If he does not, things will get worse, not better. Will he increase the number of funded midwives? If he does not, the problems will continue. Will he arrange for St. Peter's staff to receive the same outer London weighting as the Ashford staff? If he does not, staff vacancies will continue. Will he back the dismissal of Dr. Gangar? If he does not, consultant troubles will continue. Will he investigate BUPA? If he does not, more tragedies might happen. Will he scrap the trust franchise plan? If he does not, he will have to find even more money. Most of all, will he support the reopening of a maternity unit at Ashford? If he does not, the unacceptable pressures and troubles at St. Peter's will continue. If he does, however, he will deserve and receive the thanks of us all.


I congratulate the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) on securing this debate on the future of maternity services at Ashford and St. Peter's trust.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are committed to modernising all maternity units throughout the country, to increasing the number of midwives and providing women with greater choice in childbirth, and to ensuring that women receive the highest quality of maternity care. Those aims are key to the direction in which we are travelling and to much that the Government are doing in this area.

Maternity services are a core function of the NHS. About 560,000 deliveries took place in England in 2000–01. We are committed to ensuring that the care provided in maternity units throughout the country, including St. Peter's hospital, is of the highest quality.

I acknowledge the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raised and I am aware that the maternity service has experienced well documented problems. I reassure him that the Department, the strategic health authority and the trust take such issues seriously. Unfortunately, he will know that even in the best units there are, occasionally, tragic events. The families involved in such tragedies have my heartfelt sympathies. The NHS and the Department strive to eliminate all causes of such events and to learn from them to continue to improve service safety and quality.

For that reason, in May 2002, the Department and the trust asked the Commission for Health Improvement, an independent body, to undertake an investigation into the management, provision and quality of maternity services provided by St. Peter's hospital, so that women, their partners and the wider public could be reassured about its services. The report published in March this year identified various areas for improvement, including problems with staffing, concerns about patient information and involvement and the need for improved team working. However, overall the unit was found to be safe and improving, despite many of the challenges.

The CHI also identified some examples of good practice, including the one-to-one parent education support for teenage mothers, work with mothers expecting multiple births and the births reflection service. It is correct that when we discuss matters of this kind we put them in context and pay tribute, saying where things have gone well and where they have not gone as well.

The report was published only a month ago, but the trust has already taken positive action to address the concerns highlighted by the CHI. The trust has implemented various modifications, as follows: a new managerial structure, implemented in February 2003, to provide clearer lines of communication; the appointment of a consultant midwife, who will lead and further develop the provision of "home-from-home" delivery of care led by midwifery; and improvements in clinical governance arrangements, which have been led by the appointment of a new consultant in charge and a new directorate committee.

One of the CHI's main concerns for health improvement relates to staffing problems and I am pleased to report that the trust is actively working to recruit additional midwives. The trust has a strengthened team of support staff, including 16 midwifery care assistants, who provide support to women before and after they have their babies. Midwifery care assistants free the midwives so that they may concentrate on using their own skills to best effect. In addition, there are 40 hours of consultant cover on the ward, out-of-hours ward rounds and on-call arrangements.

In February this year the clinical negligence scheme for trusts gave St. Peter's a positive review of its risk management process; its maternity care scored 100 per cent. against the pass mark of 75 per cent. for level 2.

The Minister talks about improvements the trust is making, but my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) made it clear that it is under severe financial pressure; it is supposed to clear its accumulated deficit within the next two financial years. Can the Minister make it clear, for the record, that he will support the trust if it decides to invest in services to correct the appalling deficits in the maternity unit, rather than to clear the accumulated deficit, as his Government require it to?

I wanted to put on record the improvements in the trust and the work that it is doing following the CHI report to make sure that the real challenges that it faces—which the hon. Member for Spelthorne has set out—are being addressed. That is the right context in which to have this debate. In opening the debate, the hon. Gentleman was keen to ensure that it was not partisan, as am I.

I will speak about the finances, but I want to make it clear for the record that we have given the primary care trust a record allocation this year, and, as the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) will know, the deficit problems in the area go back a decade or so. In a sense, when he lays much of the blame for the matter at the Government's door, that is not entirely the picture. I hope to move on to that.

I accept that the Minister has given the PCT a record amount, but what will he do about the PCT pointing out that it is £20 million short on its budget and if it does not receive £20 million, it will have to cut £20 million pounds worth of services this year?

Those are issues that I want to move on to, but I know that the hon. Gentleman wants me to deal with them now. I cannot deal with them other than in a political way. In another Chamber in this House, a debate is taking place about foundation hospitals. It centres on the Government's thrust to localise services. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are members of his party who believe that that is the right direction in which to be going.

We have said that we cannot run every hospital, every primary care trust or every GP practice from Whitehall. The hon. Gentleman asked what the Government will do. The Government's job is to set out the standards and to ensure that increases in funding and investment are made at local community level. There was an increase of 9.29 per cent. in cash terms for the strategic health authority that is responsible for the hon. Gentleman's local trust. Once that decision is made, it is for the trust, working with the hospitals, to take it forward. It cannot be right that we should micro-manage, from the centre, what is going on in an individual trust. We cannot do that, and we should not do that. How have we made the position easier? We have given that allocation over three years—the hon. Gentleman's local trust will be experiencing that—so that the plans can be put in place and individual trusts can work closely with the strategic health authority to make the position better.

Not only is the PCT underfunded, but the trust itself has made it clear that, notwithstanding the extra money that it is given, it will have to cut services if that is all the money that it is to receive. To say how much it is given is irrelevant; it is how much it costs to provide the service that matters, and that is what the Government must address.

The debate is unfortunately descending into politics, which is the business of the House of Commons, so let us get on with it. As a Conservative Member of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman cannot, on the one hand, vote in the Lobby against the 1 per cent. increase that we want to give the NHS through the national insurance budget, and, on the other hand, have an Adjournment debate and ask the Government to give even more money to an individual trust. That does not stand up ideologically, intellectually or politically.

I say to the people of Ashford and St. Peter's that, as a Government, we are doing our part. We have increased the funding by 9.29 per cent., and by 2005–06, the rise will be 29.97 per cent. There are massive increases, and it is for the NHS locally to decide how that money is spent. Ideologically, the hon. Gentleman must decide whether or not he supports a nanny state, but it must be for his local managers to decide how that money is spent and, at the same time, to recognise that the maternity unit is undergoing £1.4 million of modernisation and refurbishment. That has created not just a new antenatal department, but new rooms for consultants and consultations, a new parent education unit, and more.

The list goes on. Despite the challenges that exist, we invest in the NHS, and people living in the hon. Gentleman's constituency will benefit from that, as will people throughout the country.

It being half past Four o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.