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Commons Chamber

Volume 464: debated on Wednesday 10 October 2007

House of Commons

Wednesday 10 October 2007

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Wales

The Secretary of State was asked—

Cardiff’s Women’s Safety Unit

1. What discussions he has had with National Assembly for Wales colleagues on future funding of Cardiff’s women’s safety unit; and if he will make a statement. (156149)

The Cardiff women’s safety unit does a fantastic job in helping the victims of the abhorrent crimes of domestic violence. The Assembly Government and the UK Government are committed unreservedly to protecting vulnerable women and prosecuting violent partners.

Every year the Cardiff women’s safety unit supports about 1,500 domestic violence cases. I know that the Minister is aware of its excellent work, but is he aware that the unit is facing funding shortages in the short term, as some charitable funds are coming to an end, and in the long term, with funding for the Cardiff community safety partnership being cut by 14 per cent.? Will he speak to the Home Office to ensure that the unit is able to maintain the good work that it does well into the future?

As mentioned by the hon. Lady in whose constituency the unit is located, I visited the unit recently with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) and saw at first hand the very good work that it does. The unit is a model of good practice and provides an invaluable service. This year it received £247,298 core funding from the Assembly Government, which is secure for 2008-09. That is an increase on the original three-year allocation approved in March 2006. In addition, for 2007-08 the Assembly has awarded £63,442 to fund the male helpline, which operates from the unit, and that is an increase as well. The Assembly is considering its budget plans for future years, but I applaud the work that the unit does and the secure funding that is in place.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the pioneering success of the women’s safety units in halving the number of repeat offences of domestic abuse? That has been achieved about by their pioneering system of holding multi-agency conferences on all cases of high-risk domestic abuse. Is my hon. Friend aware that this system has been copied in 70 areas of the UK, and that Wales has been leading the way in this regard?

Absolutely. It would right and proper to say that we recognise the work of my hon. Friend in taking the initiative forward from its instigation. Yes, the multi-agency risk conferences are not only innovative but are proving their effectiveness. We hope to see more and more of them across the UK. It is worth pointing out the Government’s commitment to specialist domestic violence courts, of which there are eight in Wales and more to come in the UK. That shows how serious the Government are, both at UK level and in the Welsh Assembly Government.

Does the Minister agree that the women’s safety unit and other groups like it should do more to prioritise preventing the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation? Is he aware that since the law against that was passed in 2003, not a single person has been convicted, and that in Wales there is a danger that thousands of women could face that disgraceful and awful practice?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue, but I am sure he is aware that one of the significant feature of the women’s safety unit is the way in which it brings together various agencies and actors from different women’s and male groups in the Cardiff and south Wales areas. They no doubt share the concerns that he expressed, but the core work that the women’s safety unit does in tackling domestic abuse and violence against partners, both male and female, is to be firmly applauded.

Cross-border Rail Links

2. What steps he has taken to assist in the improvement of cross-border rail links in north Wales. (156151)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), take a keen interest in Welsh rail services. This includes regular discussions with ministerial colleagues both in Whitehall and the Assembly Government, as well as with train operating companies and other stakeholders.

In Wrexham we are celebrating the introduction of the first direct rail service to London since 1957, which was announced last month, but we are ever ambitious and we now want the electrification of the Wrexham-Liverpool line. We note with some concern that the rail assessment plan that was issued over the summer somehow made the mistake—I am sure it was a mistake—of putting back the work on that till 2014. Will my hon. Friend have discussions as soon as possible with the First Minister to make sure that the error is rectified?

My hon. Friend has been a tireless campaigner on behalf of his constituents and north Wales rail. We welcome the new direct service between Wrexham and Marylebone. In respect of the Wrexham to Bidston electrification, the co-operation between Merseytravel and the Welsh Assembly Government to examine the feasibility of improving the line is welcome because it could indeed deliver improved rail links, leading to economic and employment opportunities. I understand that the Welsh Assembly Government are considering the options resulting from the feasibility study. Decisions on the way forward will be for them, but as my hon. Friend has been such a strong advocate of rail issues in his constituency and across the region, I am more than happy to meet him and discuss the matter further.

The Minister will be aware of the recent announcement by the Welsh Assembly Government that it is a priority to improve rail journey times between north and south Wales and to introduce electrification. Will the Minister do what he can to assist Ministers in Cardiff to implement that approach, bearing in mind the huge economic, social and other benefits?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue. On 2 October, the Welsh Assembly Government announced new transport priorities, which include a commitment to examine further improvements to north-south rail travel, including a new fast service with business-class facilities operating southbound in the morning and northbound in the evening. On 3 October, the Welsh Assembly Government launched their freight strategy consultation, which aims to deliver a robust, modern and efficient freight transport system. I will take the hon. Gentleman’s views on board. The plans are exciting and ambitious, and we all hope that they can be delivered.

While welcoming the news about the improvement of railway services in north Wales, may I ask my hon. Friend what impact the recently published rail White Paper will have on railways not only in north Wales but across Wales?

The recent rail White Paper will deliver real benefits for Wales. It discusses improved reliability on long-distance services—Virgin, First Great Western and Arriva cross country—increases in safety and an enhanced network capacity at Reading, which, as my hon. Friend will know from campaigning conducted by her and other MPs, is a pinchpoint on the First Great Western route. Most importantly, the White Paper mentions a 20 per cent. increase in capacity into Cardiff at peak times by 2014. We should applaud the rail White Paper and recognise that it is in no small way due to effective campaigning by Government Members.

I want to return to the question raised by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas)—the electrification of the Wrexham to Bidston line, which is extremely important to the economy of north-east Wales. We know that the Welsh Assembly Government were committed to that proposal before the Assembly elections, but now they appear to have shelved the scheme for up to 12 years. Does the Minister know the reason for that change of plan? Was it perhaps a concession extracted from the First Minister by his Plaid Cymru coalition partners to enable them to pursue policies that are likely to find favour in the areas where they are strongest?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the decision is ultimately for the Welsh Assembly Government. However, I have heard what he has said, and we are keen to see the scheme proceed, too. The hon. Gentleman is challenging us on plans for the rail network, but in the past 10 years we have had to deal with the failures caused by the botched rail privatisation by the Tory Administration. Now, rather than offering robust policy alternatives, they are offering us a return to privatisation with threats to break up Network Rail—far from learning from past mistakes, they are condemned to repeat them.

I welcome the additional services proposed by Virgin Trains on cross-border and mainline services. My hon. Friend will know that one of the problems in north-west Wales is the lack of synergy between mainline services, regional services and the ferry port of Holyhead in my constituency. Will my hon. Friend bring together train operators and ferry operators to ensure that we have joined-up thinking and a truly integrated service? And will he agree to meet me to discuss that case in more detail?

Yes, I am open to meeting my hon. Friend and other north Wales Members who are concerned about the matter. I will take up that offer to work constructively with my hon. Friend.

“One Wales” Document

3. What discussions he has had with the First Minister since the signing of the “One Wales” document on the impact of the implementation of that document on the governance of Wales. (156152)

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Is he aware that several aspects of the “One Wales” document, such as council tax relief for older people and consultation on hospital reconfiguration, originally appeared in the Welsh Conservatives manifesto? Will he guarantee that those proposals will be implemented?

If they are sensible proposals, they will be a matter for the Welsh Assembly Government to implement.

I assume that the hon. Gentleman agrees with the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), sitting behind him, who said in The Western Mail on 21 September:

“Some Conservatives like myself, and all my fellow MPs, feel we were correct to oppose the establishment of the Assembly and should continue to oppose further powers”

for the Welsh Assembly. I assume that the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) and Conservative Front Benchers agree with that, as the hon. Member for Monmouth was claiming ownership of all Conservative MPs.

Are not the Welsh Assembly Government to be congratulated on how they dealt with the recent farming difficulties—particularly the single farm payment and the recent health crises? They have been cautious, but practical and swift, in reducing the harm that was likely to be caused to the farmers. Can we now expect a hallelujah chorus of gratitude from the National Farmers Union to the “One Wales” Government?

If there were to be such a chorus, it would be the first. However, I agree with my hon. Friend’s comments on how the Welsh Assembly Government have handled the situation.

Yesterday’s spending review will have a devastating effect on the affordability of the programme set out in the “One Wales” document. It will also show how unfair the Barnett formula is for Wales. If the Assembly review of the formula recommends that it be scrapped, will the Secretary of State campaign for reform and be Wales’s man in the Cabinet, or will he remain true to form and be Westminster’s man in Wales?

I will be both Wales’s person in the Cabinet and Westminster’s person in Wales, because that is my job. The hon. Gentleman has said something extraordinary. Spending, however we define it, has been increased by more than £2 billion compared with the past year, according to the pre-Budget statement yesterday. That is a massive injection: a 2.4 per cent. real-terms increase per year, and an increase over the period of 14.5 per cent. Some £2 billion extra is coming into the Welsh budget; the hon. Gentleman should be applauding that.

We are always interested in what the Secretary of State says in The Western Mail. Given the Plaid Cymru-Labour coalition in the Assembly, how will the governance of Wales be helped by Plaid MPs calling the Chancellor’s settlement for Wales the worst settlement since devolution and the Secretary of State boasting that Wales gets £1,000 more expenditure per head than England and calling Plaid “the enemy”?

Does the Secretary of State agree that in addition to discussions with the First Minister, he needs to have urgent discussions with his coalition partners in this Chamber—or does the proposal and promise of “One Wales” not apply here in Westminster?

For the hon. Lady’s education, I should say that we have a Labour Government here. We do not have a coalition Government with anybody in Westminster, and I am pleased about that.

On the Welsh Assembly Government’s position on the Budget, Andrew Davies, the Welsh Assembly Finance Minister, said yesterday:

“I am confident that we can meet the challenges ahead and deliver our ambitious “One Wales” programme within the level of resources announced this afternoon.”

That compares with a black hole of £5.4 billion in the Tories’ future public financing plans, which would result in savage cuts in the Welsh budget for public services. The hon. Lady should seek to explain that position, not to attack a £2 billion increase—a real-terms increase—in the Welsh budget over the next three years.

Animal Health Measures

4. What discussions he has had with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the cross-border applications of emergency animal health measures. (156153)

The Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on a range of issues, including on animal health measures. The recent crises in animal health and our Government’s reaction prove the seriousness with which we take such issues and that the procedures in place to deal with such sudden events are working well.

The Minister will be only too well aware of the importance of livestock farming to the economy in Wales. He will also know that Wales is designated as a low-risk area for foot and mouth disease. However, what action would be taken if a case were confirmed in Wales?

The Welsh Assembly Government and DEFRA have worked closely on this matter and, as the hon. Lady is aware, many aspects of the powers on animal health measures are devolved to Wales. I applaud the way in which the Welsh Assembly Government have responded. If there were an action, measures are already in place to respond to it, but it is good to stand here and say that we do not fall within the protection zone or need to take such measures.

On farmers, the Welsh Assembly Government are seeking European approval for a lamb welfare disposal scheme, which will be of assistance, and they are also on track to start payments under the single farm payments scheme, as soon as it opens in December.

In view of what the Minister has just said will he ensure during his discussions with the Environment Secretary that the National Assembly is fully compensated for any system of compensation to Welsh livestock farmers? That should happen not least because the foot and mouth outbreak occurred in a UK laboratory—the basis being that the polluter must pay.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that compensation is paid for the culling of livestock and in relation to machinery and equipment affected by disease. This case is different. As DEFRA has done in a different way throughout the rest of the UK, the Welsh Assembly has put in place measures of support for farmers. It is appropriate for DEFRA to do so in England, and for the Welsh Assembly Government to do so in Wales.

Last month, the Secretary of State for Wales incredibly boasted that the Government’s handling of the foot and mouth outbreak had established their reputation for competence. Given that that assertion has been shot to pieces because the outbreak was caused by the Government’s own incompetence, and that many Welsh farmers are facing financial ruin, will the Minister confirm categorically that farmers will be compensated by DEFRA to the full extent of the legal liability and that the costs will not fall on the Assembly budget? We need to know where the money is coming from for our Welsh farmers.

It may be helpful to clarify for the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman that, under the current devolution settlement, there are responsibilities for DEFRA and for the Welsh Assembly Government. I shall outline once again that the Welsh Assembly Government are putting support in place. That is not compensation, but it relates to support mechanisms, including light lambs and their disposal, and ensuring that the single farm payments are on track. That is different from what would have happened if there had been an outbreak in Wales, which currently, I am glad to say, we do not have.

Employment (Swansea)

Up to December 2006, there were over 34,000 people in employment in Swansea East, an increase of over 3,000 in two years.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. I am sure that he is aware that one of the fastest growing sectors in Wales is that of information and communication technology. There has been an increase in jobs in that sector in Swansea, East, with companies such as nSure investing and benefiting from the excellent staff and opportunities in Swansea. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that there will be continued investment in this important sector and that we will drive up employment levels even higher?

Yes, indeed. What nSure is doing is very good, and I notice that Swansea is leading the way with RAP International based at the Technium Swansea. Swansea university has a Technium digital base there, and there is a £3 million Boots centre for innovation, designed to assist global researchers and entrepreneurs. That is a good sign that Swansea is leading the way and becoming a city that will make a major impact in the ICT sector, which, as my hon. Friend says, is crucial to the strength of the Welsh economy.

As well as welcoming the increase in Welsh exports, which was published last week, would my right hon. Friend join me in recognising the importance of businesses such as Machynys golf club, which bring money into Wales and provide jobs in the Llanelli area?

Yes, I do, and I visited the golf club with my hon. Friend. It is a good example of a world-class investment that shows that Llanelli and the whole region of south-west Wales is doing very well, compared with how it was more than 10 years ago, during the miserable experience it had under the Tories.

Economic Inactivity

The Government are planning a wide range of initiatives aiming to help those on benefits back into work in Wales, including city strategy pilots in Rhyl and the heads of the valleys, and extending pathways to work to all Wales by the end of this year.

The Secretary of State will know about the recent Bevan Foundation study, entitled “Caring and Working? A Welsh Case Study”, which addresses the barriers that carers face in returning to work. Does he agree that one of the best ways to help carers in Wales and elsewhere is to review the carer’s allowance and significantly improve their respite care? Does he also agree that the Prime Minister’s review of the national carer’s strategy and his excellent initiative to establish a carer’s commission present an ideal opportunity to assist carers and thus reduce economic inactivity in Wales?

Yes, I do. I commend my hon. Friend for his pioneering work in support of carers—he has done a fantastic job. The Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004 took up much of that work. The Bevan Foundation publication on caring and working, which I have read, is very interesting and will inform our current debate on a national carer’s strategy and our intention to publish a Green Paper once we have taken the work forward.

Wales has the capacity to become the capital of environmental industries for the United Kingdom and, indeed, Europe. Is the Secretary of State willing to meet a delegation representing environmental enterprises to discuss the potential of tackling economic inactivity throughout Wales at the same time as contributing to our sustainable agenda?

I would be happy to meet such a delegation. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that environmental manufacturing and environmental businesses have a vital role in a strong, modern Welsh economy, which we are building in partnership with the Welsh Assembly Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that economic inactivity in south Wales will be greatly reduced by the military training academy at St. Athan, especially if we get the transport infrastructure right? Is he satisfied with the progress that the Welsh Assembly Government are making on that infrastructure?

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary visited in the summer to look into the matter. The St. Athan project is a flagship project for Wales, which will bring in billions of pounds of investment and create thousands of jobs. That shows the value of the partnership between our Government here in London and the Welsh Assembly Government in Cardiff, with Wales as part of the United Kingdom, not taken out of it, as the nationalists propose, or forced to withdraw as a result of the disastrous proposals of the Leader of the Opposition to create first and second-class Members of Parliament.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the transformation in economic success of my constituency. Ten years ago, it was an unemployment blackspot; now it has almost full employment. However, problems remain with economic inactivity. May I draw his attention to the work of the Prince’s Trust and Pembrokeshire college, which are delivering upskilling for young people, 140 of whom are based at the Cleddau activity centre, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary visited in September?

Wearing his other hat as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—

I agree with my hon. Friend that the Prince’s Trust does fantastic work in Pembrokeshire and elsewhere in the country. I also agree that the transformation in the Pembrokeshire economy has been nothing short of miraculous, given the devastation that I remember seeing when I canvassed with him in the early 1990s. Now, more than 1,000 job vacancies have been advertised in his constituency alone. That shows the enormous growth in the economy in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire and the fantastic potential for everybody there to do well, for people to get more jobs and to go from strength to strength.

Cancer Treatment

7. What discussions he has had with Ministers in the National Assembly for Wales Government on the treatment of patients from England for cancer in Welsh hospitals. (156156)

I am in regular contact with all my ministerial colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government. The Welsh Assembly Government are committed to providing a world-class health service that is available to everyone, irrespective of who they are or where they live.

The Under-Secretary knows that the geography of Wales makes transport difficult. When, for example, cancer consultants are being withdrawn from Bronglais hospital in Aberystwyth and people in that part of mid Wales have to go to Caernarfon or even across to Shrewsbury for treatment, it causes genuine difficulty. Will he speak to members of the Welsh Assembly Government to ascertain whether the situation can be resolved?

As always, I am more than happy to take up individual issues that are raised. On the Welsh Assembly Government’s commitment, the hon. Gentleman knows that, in 2007, £5.5 billion is being spent on health in Wales—more than £1,800 per person and more than double 1996-97 figures. Cancer services in Wales now receive £4.5 million extra. Record investment is showing record results.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Conservative-controlled London borough of Bromley on achieving the highest rate of dry recycling in London and on being recognised as an exemplary authority for garden and home recycling? Would he like to come and see the work that we are doing in Bromley? I could take him and show him one of our bottle banks.

The hon. Gentleman will therefore be very pleased with the public expenditure settlement yesterday, which gives huge amounts of money to the environment.

Will my right hon. Friend take a personal interest in helping to resolve the industrial dispute at Royal Mail? I am sure that, as the owner of the business, the Government share everybody’s concern about the interruptions in the cash flow of small businesses, in the contacts between constituents and their MPs and in the daily lives of all residents, including those in rural communities. Given that both sides of the dispute say that they share the same interest—[Interruption.]

This has to be settled by negotiations between the Post Office and the work force, but there is no justification for the continuation of the dispute. It should be brought to an end on the terms that have been offered as soon as possible. I urge the work force to go back to work.

The big question this week is: can we believe what the Prime Minister says? So let us start with his credibility gulf over the election. The Prime Minister was asked, “Hand on heart, if the polls showed a 100-seat majority, would you still have called off the election?” and he said yes. Does he expect anyone to believe that?

I will take no lectures from the Leader of the Opposition. This summer he was for grammar schools, against them and then for them again. He was for VAT on air fares and then against it. He was for parking charges and then against them. He was for museum charges and then against them. I will take no lectures from the Leader of the Opposition about that.

He is the first Prime Minister in history to flunk an election because he thought that he was going to win it. Does he remember writing this? It is in his best-selling book about courage:

“As far back as I can remember, I have been fascinated by men and women of courage. Stories of people who took brave decisions in the service of great causes…especially when more comfortable and far less dangerous alternatives were open to them”.

Does he realise what a phoney he now looks? Has he found a single person who believes his excuses for cancelling the election?

He talks about a clamour for an election. I looked at the Downing street website this morning. There is a petition on the website—[Interruption.]

Certainly there is a petition on the Downing street website calling for an election. It is signed by 26 people—and not one of them is on the Conservative Front Bench. We will govern in the interests of the people, and what matters to the people is the health service, education and housing. We will govern to make housing, health and education better in this country.

The Prime Minister is going to have to do better than that. Let us try another claim. Did the draft of the pre-Budget report, written before the Conservative party conference, include plans for the taxation of non-doms and the raising of inheritance tax? It is a simple question: yes or no?

If the right hon. Gentleman looks back to the summer and to the interviews given by the Chancellor, he will see that he talked about these very issues. We have raised the exemption on inheritance tax on 10 occasions since 1997, and we have dealt with tax avoidance in relation to non-domiciles and non-residents on many occasions since 1997. We are going to continue to take the right decisions for the country. It is very interesting that he has raised the issue of inheritance tax and non-domiciles, and I think that we can have a detailed discussion on this over the next few weeks. He will have to explain to the House, as we will explain to the House, that there are not 150,000, or even 115,000, non-domiciles who would pay this tax; there are only 15,000. When the Conservatives start to look at the official figures, they will find that they could raise only £650 million, not £3.5 billion, as they claim. As for inheritance tax—again, I welcome the debate that we are going to have in the country on this—we can exempt estates below £700,000 by 2010 and put money into health and education. The Conservative party are going to put £2 billion into giving money to those with estates above £950,000—£1 billion to those who are already rich. When the debate is held in the country, people will choose our policies and reject theirs.

I tell you what: if you have got some questions about our policy, find a bit of courage, discover a bit of bottle, get in your car, go down to Buckingham palace and call that election.

The Prime Minister now tells us that he was planning to change the rules on inheritance tax and non-doms all along. He is treating the British people like fools. Next, he will be telling us how much he admires Margaret Thatcher! Let us try another example of straight talking from the Prime Minister. Your manifesto said—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister said that the Labour manifesto was an issue of trust. That manifesto promised a referendum on the European constitution. Do you understand how not holding that referendum damages your credibility?

If we were having a debate on the euro, we would have a referendum. If it was the old treaty, we would have a referendum. But because we have won in negotiations, by standing up for British interests, all the red lines that we asked for have been achieved. When the intergovernmental conference reports, he will see very clearly that these red lines have been achieved. I just ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at the issue of the referendum. Every single shadow Cabinet member who was in this Parliament in 1992 voted against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. Every country apart from Ireland that wanted a referendum a few months ago no longer wants one. We stand up for the British national interest, and we will continue to do so.

Nobody believes him. The Labour-dominated European Scrutiny Committee says that the EU treaty is “substantially equivalent” to the constitution. It says that pretending otherwise is “misleading”. When Labour MPs say this, why should anyone believe the Prime Minister?

Because I have the report here and it makes a distinction between the treaty—[Interruption.] Oh yes—[Interruption.] Well, if people want a debate about the future, they should read the full report. It makes a distinction between the treaty itself and its effect on Britain with the protocols, the opt-ins, the exemptions, the emergency brake and the veto. What the Leader of the Opposition forgets is that we went to Brussels and negotiated for Britain the opt-out, the protocol, the opt-in and the emergency brake. We have stood up for the British national interest. That is more than the Conservative party ever did over Maastricht.

What we will not forget—and what the British people will not forget—is that the Prime Minister made a promise and he has broken it. We have a Prime Minister who will not talk straight about the election, who will not own up on inheritance tax and who will not keep his promises on an EU referendum. Never have the British people been treated with such cynicism. For 10 years the Prime Minister plotted and schemed to have this job—and for what? No conviction, just calculation; no vision, just a vacuum. Last week he lost his political authority, and this week he is losing his moral authority. How long are we going to have to wait before the past makes way for the future?

This is the man who wanted an end to the Punch and Judy show! This is the man who wanted an end to name calling! We are the Government who have created 10 years of economic stability in this country. We are the Government who adopted the minimum wage—against Conservative advice. We are the Government who made the Bank of England independent—against Conservative advice. We are the Government who have delivered record rises in health expenditure—against Conservative advice. We are the Government who are improving our education system—against Conservative advice. We will continue to govern in the interests of the whole country.

Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer revealed that an increase in the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million would hand an eye-watering windfall of £1 billion to just 1 per cent. of the richest estates in this country. Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to cross-reference those figures with the Register of Members’ Interests to find out how many Members would benefit from the Conservative proposals?

Let us have this debate about the future of inheritance tax. I welcome such a debate, because there is a choice to be made between those who favour raising the threshold to £700,000 and using the extra money to spend on health and education, and those who want a £1 million threshold, which would mean giving £1 billion to the top 1.5 per cent. in this country. I know how the British people will feel about that issue: they will want investment in health and education, as well as the improvements in inheritance tax. Once the Conservative party settles down, it will realise that by publishing its election manifesto early, it has ensured that that will be dissected week by week in the House of Commons.

As the Prime Minister has stolen Liberal Democrat policies in order to help the better-off, will he also steal Liberal Democrat policies in order to assist lower and middle-income families, and cut the basic rate of income tax to 16p in the pound?

We are cutting the basic rate of income tax, from 22p to 20p in the pound—but what we will not do is follow Liberal party policy, which would cut the basic rate by another 4p, costing £12 billion and putting the public finances at risk. In exactly the same way as the Conservative party, the Liberals would put the management of the economy at risk. We will not follow that policy.

Let us remember that the Prime Minister’s cut in the basic rate is at the expense of some of the poorest people in the country. Was not the most glaring omission in yesterday’s pre-Budget report statement the absence of any proposals for reform of the unfair council tax? Council tax is set to rise by twice the rate of inflation. How fair is that for low and middle-income families?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman should look at his own proposals. First, he faces an £18 billion black hole in his proposals. Secondly, he is not offering people a free gift on council tax, as he wants to replace it by local income tax, which would mean people paying 3p in the pound more. Thirdly, at every point where I have costed the Liberal party proposals, nothing adds up. The Liberals would be better going back to the drawing board.

The Government are giving considerable assistance to London in preparation for the 2012 Olympic games. I wonder whether the Prime Minister has considered any increase in the assistance going to Liverpool, which next year celebrates being the European city of culture. I am thinking in particular of increased funds for the Merseyside police and the local authorities.

I congratulate Liverpool on becoming the city of culture. Having visited the city and seen what has been done to prepare for that, I know that there is more urban regeneration place in Liverpool than at any time in the last 20 to 25 years. I would also say to my hon. Friend that the local government settlement and the public expenditure plans announced yesterday will help Liverpool and the north-west, ensuring that jobs can be created in the area and that urban regeneration continues. We will keep our promises to the people of Liverpool.

Q2. The Prime Minister might be aware of proposals in West Sussex to downgrade the accident and emergency units at either St. Richard’s hospital in Chichester or at Worthing hospital. Will he therefore clarify Lord Darzi’s comment on the “Today” programme last week that his statement that the days of the district general hospital are gone applies only “to big metropolitan capital cities like London”.Given that neither Chichester nor Worthing is a big metropolitan capital city, will the Prime Minister assure my constituents that both these excellent hospitals are now safe? (156089)

Obviously, I am happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about what is happening in his constituency. I have to say, however, that he should be applauding yesterday’s announcement that health service expenditure will go up from £90 billion to £110 billion. In the interests of accuracy, given that Conservative Members raised the issue throughout the summer, and listed 29 hospitals that they said were at risk or subject to reconfiguration, I should explain that it was immediately pointed out that 10 of those hospitals had no such plans. As far as the Leader of the Opposition is concerned, on the Horton hospital in Banbury, the shadow Health Secretary said,

“We wouldn’t get that wrong”.

The chairman of the local heath trust then said,

“As far as the A&E is concerned, there is no threat, indeed it’s rather the opposite, the board has agreed to invest additional funds”.

Once again, the Conservatives cannot be trusted with the national health service.

Q3. In the past two weeks, we have heard alternative approaches to the taxation of foreign non-domiciles. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he is confident that the Government’s approach will target people who can realistically be expected to be able to pay the tax? (156090)

It is right that people pay their fair share, and we have taken action against avoidance every year for the past 10 years. This will be a debate held over the next period of time, but I have to say that the proposal that we can find 150,000 non-domiciles to tax is completely wrong: only 115,000 are registered in this country, and only 15,000 have earnings and income that would allow them to consider that paying £25,000 in taxation was in their interests; others are nurses and teachers who earn little more than £25,000. When we asked where the calculations came from, first we were told that they came from Accountancy Age, then we were referred back to The Observer, and then we were referred back to a so-called tax expert, who was unnamed. Those who put forward proposals to tax non-domiciles, and say that they can raise £3.5 billion, will have to do better in future.

Could the Prime Minister give us a cheerful answer, and tell me whether he believes that imitation is the surest way to salvation or merely the sincerest form of flattery?

When we made the Bank of England independent, the Conservatives opposed it; now they support it. When we created a minimum wage, they opposed it; now they support it. When we invested in the health service, they opposed it; now they support it. I know who has been leading the argument in this country: it is the Labour party.

Q4. Does the Prime Minister think that people who want to return to work but have become trapped in the incapacity benefit system should be supported and encouraged to seek and obtain work, or forced to do so by the removal of their benefit? (156091)

There is an interesting debate to be heard on the future of incapacity benefit in this country. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: under our proposals, 1 million people will come off incapacity benefit by 2015. Under an alternative proposal, it is said that that figure could be 1.6 million: two thirds of those currently on incapacity benefit would come off it and lose £5,000 per person. It is said that that proposal, put forward by the Opposition, would raise £3 billion. Given the number of constituents we know who are disabled and who are in wheelchairs, and the many who are mentally as well as physically handicapped, the idea that 1.6 million of 2.7 million people could come off incapacity benefit by the beginning of the next Parliament is faintly ridiculous. Given that we already expect 1 million to come off incapacity benefit, those who say that they can raise £3 billion from that proposal are, again, completely wrong.

May I remind the Prime Minister that some time ago an announcement was made about Northern Ireland losing many of its Army installations, and a promise was made in a joint statement that the people of Northern Ireland would benefit from what was done with those areas of Government ownership? Will the Prime Minister give me an assurance today that that will be done, and will he announce the time when it will be done?

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who is the First Minister in Northern Ireland, will accept that the public expenditure settlement reached yesterday was very much in line with what we talked about previously; indeed, it was higher than the figures that I gave him before. I will certainly look at what he says about land in Northern Ireland, just as I am looking, as I promised to do, at the corporate tax regime in Northern Ireland. Perhaps we can talk about these issues at a later date.

Q5. May I welcome the recent uplift in the minimum wage which is helping 90,000 people in the south-west? May I ask the Prime Minister to guarantee that the future of the minimum wage will be assured as long as he is Prime Minister? (156092)

The rise in the minimum wage, which came in on 1 October, is an increase from its initial £3.60, and it is now £5.35. It will continue to rise—obviously, subject to economic conditions. What we have achieved in addition to that in the last few years is a minimum wage for teenagers. We were also able to introduce on 1 October the first number of days of paid holiday entitlement for workers in this country—again, a sign that if we can keep the economy moving forward and have stable economic growth, the rewards will flow to the whole of the population, and not just to some of the population.

Q6. The Prime Minister recently described Burma as one of the world’s darkest corners and said that human rights were universal, but his Government are still trying to deport Burmese dissidents into the hands of that dreadful regime. Will he tell the House why his moral compass has failed to identify this transparent hypocrisy? (156093)

I will certainly look at any individual cases that the hon. Gentleman brings to me, and look at them sympathetically, but there is an appeals system and that will be dealt with.

May I say that I hope that there will be all-party support on Burma? This is a repressive and illegitimate regime. Aung San Suu Kyi was the elected democratic leader of Burma. The sanctions that we will step up in the European Union are necessary to tell that Burmese regime that what it is doing is completely unacceptable. I hope that the Secretary-General of the United Nations will be able to lead a United Nations team that will bring reconciliation to the people of Burma.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reported statement from the Association of British Insurers on future cover for flood damage is deeply unhelpful, and will lead people to conclude that the industry wishes to remove any commercial risk to its own profits and place that risk instead on current and future policyholders, including families and businesses in my own Sheffield constituency?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I think that what the Association of British Insurers announced today is a review of its practices for the future. I hope that it will not take the step that he suggests, which might be considered, of denying people insurance. I also have to say, again in the interests of accuracy, that over the summer and very recently, the Association of British Insurers has asked that by 2011 we spend £750 million a year on flood defences. The figures that we announced yesterday are that we have raised spending on flood defences from £600 million this year to £800 million in 2011. I hope that whatever difference there is between the Association of British Insurers and us—a very small difference, on the figures involved—we can show, as a result of the Pitt report, which will come soon, that we are doing everything we can to improve flood defences in this country.

Q7. On 20 September the governor of the Bank of England said that the market abuse directive had undermined his ability to carry out an operation that would have been in the interests of everyone connected with Northern Rock. Does the Prime Minister agree? (156094)

The Chancellor will make a statement on that very matter in the House tomorrow. There is an issue about the requirement to make dealings that take place to try to rescue companies transparent, and there is an issue that must be dealt with in the European Union as part of that, but other issues arise from Northern Rock which I think are probably more important for the longer term. There is, for instance, the question of how the international community can come together to arrange an early warning system when events happen in America, affect Europe and then affect the United Kingdom. On all those issues, the Chancellor will make a statement tomorrow.

The brutal murder of my constituent Mr. Garry Newlove has highlighted continuing concerns about the effects of under-age drinking. I welcome what the Government have done so far to tackle the problem, but can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will consider what needs to be done now? In particular, will he assure me that he will try to persuade the industry to end the immoral practice of targeting alcoholic drinks directly at young people, and enforce severe penalties for those who sell alcohol to under-age youngsters?

I share my hon. Friend’s sadness, and send my condolences to the family of her constituent.

We are committed to doing everything in our power to tackle antisocial behaviour, and specifically under-age drinking. I have appealed in the past to alcohol and drinks companies to advertise the dangers of teenage drinking far more widely. We have said repeatedly that we will fine, and impose heavy penalties in closing down, shops that sell illegally to young people. I urge councils to use their new powers to ban alcohol in trouble spots. Police already have powers to disperse young people who are involved in alcohol-fuelled disorder, and I hope that they will use their powers as well. Local authorities can designate areas in their towns, including town centres, and make it an offence to drink alcohol there. The combination of all those measures—as well as, I believe, a review of the 24-hour drinking laws—is an essential element of making it absolutely clear that teenage drinking is unacceptable at the level at which it is being carried out in our towns and inner cities, and that action must be taken.

Q8. Does the Prime Minister think it right that a pupil in my constituency receives, on average, £736 less than a pupil in an inner-London borough, although the cost of employing a teacher is the same? Will he put an end to that huge injustice, so that schools in Hornsey and Wood Green can finally be given a fair funding deal? (156095)

I should have thought the hon. Lady would accept that expenditure per pupil in every part of the country is rising. I hope she will accept that although in 1997 we inherited a situation in which average expenditure was only £2,500 per pupil, it is now £5,500 per pupil and rising. Of course we will continue to look at what happens in particular areas—in this case, the outer London area—but it is only because of this Government’s policies in securing economic growth that every school pupil in the country is enjoying additional investment in the future.

Q9. Given the still extremely serious situation in Darfur, will my right hon. Friend explain what steps his Government took during the recess to support Security Council resolution 1769, as well as the wider peace agreement in Sudan, in order to ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered in desperate circumstances, and that this carnage is discontinued? (156096)

I know that my right hon. Friend has taken a huge interest in these matters, and in the future of the whole of Africa. I think the United Nations resolution that was achieved at the beginning of the summer is now being complemented by the United Nations-African Union forces, who are ready to come to Darfur and to be there on the ground. At the same time, we want an end to hostilities, and there is a sense that all the parties in Darfur may be prepared to bring an end to them as the peace talks begin. The combination of peace talks beginning in the next few days, and the possibility of an end to hostilities, gives us hope that this outrage—which has meant that 2 million people have been displaced, 4 million are in famine and a quarter of a million have died—can soon be brought to an end.

I hope that as a result of the announcements we made yesterday to increase the money for flood defences from £300 million in 1997 to £600 million now, £650 million next year, £700 million the year after and £800 million the year after that, the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and every other constituency where there are flood defence issues, will benefit. He might have heard the head of the Environment Agency saying this morning that it would be able to continue to spend more money on flood defences not only in his region, but all over the country.

Q11. Will the Prime Minister consider visiting Milton Keynes to see the large number of new houses being built as a result of this Government’s policies, together with new schools and GP surgeries, and does he agree that building more houses is the most effective way of increasing the supply of affordable housing, and that a cut in stamp duty would simply be taken up in increased prices if demand continues to outstrip supply? (156098)

If we are to have a housing strategy that ensures that there is affordable housing for young couples, we need to build more houses, and the demand and supply equation must be improved. In the last 10 years there have been almost 2 million more owner-occupiers. For the next few years, we hope to build 3 million new houses by 2020. I must say, however, that Conservative councils that are resisting plans to build more houses will not help the country meet its objectives. There must be a common effort by all parties if we are to achieve the number of houses that people need.

Health and Social Care

After a decade of unprecedented investment in the NHS, we see the results in more staff, 1 million more operations each year, 100 new hospitals, reduced waiting times and lower mortality rates, particularly for cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Having expanded capacity in the service, we can now focus even more closely on raising quality. Last week, Lord Darzi published his interim report setting out a vision for world-class health and health care in England, developed and owned by patients, staff and the public. Yesterday’s comprehensive spending review settlement enables us to take the measures necessary to begin to implement that vision.

It is a good settlement for the NHS: locking in current record levels of spending and adding real-terms increases—year on year—so that total health spending will rise from just over £90 billion in 2007-08 to £110 billion in 2010-11. That represents a real-terms increase of 4 per cent. a year on planned spend, compared with an historic average of 3.1 per cent. In 18 years under the Tories, real-terms growth was 3 per cent. In the five years up to 1997, it was 2.6 per cent. In 14 years under Labour up to 2010-11, real-terms growth will average 5.6 per cent. That extra funding is essential if we are to meet the challenges of an ageing society, the opportunities of new technology and the demands of rising public expectations of what a health service in the 21st century should deliver. I am proud that it is a Labour Government that have delivered, and will continue to deliver, these necessary increases in funding.

Lord Darzi’s interim report drew out four overarching themes for the NHS over the next 10 years: fairness, personalisation, innovation and safety. First, an NHS which is fair: no single institution has made a greater contribution to social equity in this country than the NHS, yet 60 years on, whilst the health of all income groups has improved dramatically, stubborn health inequalities remain. We will begin to address one important element of this problem with a new £250 million access fund that will deliver at least 100 new GP practices in the 25 per cent. of primary care trusts with the poorest provision. These practices will bring the most modern health care models direct to the nation’s most deprived areas. They will offer an innovative range of services, will be open for longer, and will have a specific remit to prevent ill health rather than simply treat it. That is crucial when lifestyle choices are responsible for as much as half of the gap in health outcomes.

Secondly, we want an NHS that is personalised. That means that GP practices should fit around people’s lifestyles, not the other way around. We have set a clear aim that, working with new and existing GP practices, we will ensure that at least a half of all surgeries are open either at weekends or after work. We will also explore all the options for making it easier to see a GP nearer to the workplace for those who commute.

The new access fund will also establish at least 150 new GP-run health centres in easily accessible locations, open seven days a week from 8 am to 8 pm. These will offer bookable appointments, walk-in services and, in some cases, access to physiotherapy, diagnostics and social care services. There will be at least one in each PCT area.

More than a third of GP time is spent dealing with mental health problems, from which one in six people suffer at any one time. Mental illness accounts for 40 per cent. of those on incapacity benefit. Prescription medication provides a successful treatment for many, but we know that psychological therapies work equally well, and often prove to be more effective in the long term. The time has come to do much more to help those with depression and anxiety.

I can announce today—which is, of course, world mental health day—that we will build a groundbreaking psychological therapy service in England. Backed by new investment rising to £170 million by 2010-11, the service will be capable of treating 900,000 additional patients suffering from depression and anxiety over the next three years. Around half are likely to be completely cured, with many fewer people with mental health problems having to depend on sick pay and benefits.

Thirdly, we want an NHS that is innovative. British scientists have been responsible for discovering some of the most important medical breakthroughs in history. In this modern age of rapid medical scientific and technological advance, we must ensure that the NHS remains at the cutting edge of developments in products, processes and procedures.

We will establish a new health innovation council to drive a more innovative NHS, identifying and removing barriers to change. The council will bring together all the splendid work that is going on, from discovery through development to adoption, and ensure that ideas can pass efficiently from the labs to patients without any compromise to patient safety. In addition, we will set up a new £100 million fund for innovation jointly funded with the Wellcome Trust.

We will also expand the single fund for health research to £1.7 billion. In the 18th century, Edward Jenner discovered the smallpox vaccine. In the 19th century, British scientists developed anaesthetics and antiseptics. In the 20th century, Alexander Fleming discovered antibiotics. In the 21st century, we want British scientists to combine to lead in the fight against global killers such as cancer and HIV/AIDS.

Fourthly, we want an NHS that is safe. Health care-acquired infections are a growing problem around the world. Hospital cleanliness should be the last concern of patients and the first duty of everyone in the health service. We have announced that all hospitals will be deep cleaned at least once a year. Isolation wards will be extended wherever possible, and we will empower and encourage matrons and nurses to use their expertise to fight infection on the front line.

The Health and Social Care Bill contained in our draft legislative programme will provide the new health and adult social regulator with tougher powers, backed by fines, to inspect, investigate and intervene in those hospitals that fail to meet hygiene and infection control standards. As Lord Darzi recommended and the CSR provides for, we will invest £130 million to introduce MRSA screening for all admissions, elective and emergency, over the next three years. We will also put a further £140 million into reducing clostridium difficile infection rates.

To develop an NHS that is clinically led and locally driven we need more local accountability. I have already said that there will be no top-down structural reorganisation of strategic health authorities and primary care trusts for the foreseeable future. Although we must ensure minimum standards, we will not impose a swathe of new targets. We know that future improvements will come from more local ownership, fewer top-down targets and concentration on better health outcomes.

As Lord Darzi has said, any change to NHS services must clear a high clinical bar, based on full engagement with patients and the public. Ensuring that the health service is clinically led will be pivotal to ensuring that the service moves from good to great—world class in all aspects instead of just some. How we match local ownership with greater local accountability will be one of the principal aspects of Lord Darzi’s continuing work.

The historical problem for the health service has been under-investment. The challenge today is to ensure that we maximise the potential of this unprecedented level of increased investment. The public want more money to be spent on the NHS, but they also require it to be spent well. Measuring productivity when quality of care is paramount is not an easy task, as Wanless highlighted recently. The better care, better value indicators, published yesterday, showed that £363 million of productivity improvements were achieved last year. Those first-step savings came from reducing the length of stay and from increasing prescriptions of low-cost generic statins for patients with high cholesterol. Those gains are modest but they point to the potential of what can be achieved without compromising patient care.

We must now look to build on these achievements, systematically and sensibly. Over the course of this spending round, the NHS will deliver average value for money gains of 3 per cent. every year, releasing more than £8 billion a year by 2010-11 to spend on front-line care. There are some obvious areas that can contribute in that difficult task. Improving community-based services so that people with long-term conditions can receive greater support in the community could bring savings of about £500 million a year. Intervening with preventive action, such as regular health check-ups, when someone is at risk of illness could reduce the costs of chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or lung cancer. Spreading new technologies and best practice across the health service could lead to savings of £1.5 billion a year. Improving procurement could save £1 billion a year, and by introducing MRSA screening for all admissions we can reduce the risk of huge costs occurring later.

In the face of unprecedented demographic change, it is clear that our social care system needs to respond. The Chancellor has announced that we will develop a Green Paper exploring options for reform, with the aim of increasing dignity and reducing dependency for those who rely on our social care systems. The social care settlement is divided into two parts: local government grant and direct funding from my Department for social care. The local government support grant will increase by £2.6 billion by 2010-11 and direct funding from the Department of Health for adult social care, which covers, for example, carers, mental health and the social care work force, will increase by an average of 2.3 per cent. a year in real terms, worth £190 million.

That funding will enable social services to do more to give service users and their carers greater choice and control over the way in which their needs are met. In particular, the investment will enable further expansion of care tailored to the individual; it will go into prevention and improving people’s quality of life. It will enable more individuals to live independent lives in their own home. But as the Wanless report on social care identified, we need a radical rethink about how we fund that crucial element for everyone in need, not just the elderly, in the future. The Green Paper will begin that important process.

Those are our concrete plans for future investment in the NHS, which our party created and then rescued from Tory decline. The Opposition promise to spend £2 billion on a tax cut for a wealthy elite, whereas we will spend that money on delivering a better health system for all our people. They have a black hole to fill and a dilemma to fix: either they break their promise on inheritance tax or they break their commitment to match our investment in the NHS.

Lord Darzi and his team of 1,500 clinicians will finalise the NHS next stage review in time for the 60th anniversary of the NHS. This is an exciting time for everyone involved in health care, but as the comprehensive spending review demonstrated, it is patients and the public who will continue to benefit from a national health service that is rising to the challenges of the 21st century. I commend the statement to the House.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the opportunity to see the statement in advance. I am sure that the House will be grateful for the opportunity to debate the announcements on health spending that were made yesterday, and indeed Lord Darzi’s interim report, which was mysteriously brought forward to be part of what we have just heard from the Secretary of State—a cobbled-together, pre-election series of announcements, which add up to no vision at all for the future of the national health service.

Where was the reference to patient choice in what the Secretary of State had to say? Where was the reference to a voice for patients, a voice that the Government have persistently taken away from them? Where is the freedom for doctors, nurses and NHS professionals, so that they can deliver the care that they want for their patients, free from top-down targets? Where are the separate public health investment and the dedicated resources for delivering on public health measures, which have failed under the Government in the past decade? Where was the reference to an NHS that is open to new providers, bringing in new investment and new capacity? In contrast, over the past year the Government have cut the national health service’s prospective building budgets.

The Secretary of State talked about Derek Wanless. Let me remind him that last month Derek Wanless reviewed the report that he gave to the Prime Minister. He said,

“what is equally clear from this review is that we are not on course to deliver the sustainable and world class health care system, and ultimately the healthier nation, that we all desire.”

And why? Because none of the three requirements that Wanless set out five years ago—the need to improve productivity, technology and public health—has been met. There was nothing about improving public health in what the Secretary of State had to say. There was nothing about technology or the review, which is absolutely necessary, of the NHS IT programme.

On productivity, we all know, as do people working in the national health service, that what really matters is not just the resources that they receive, but the ability to deliver improving and effective care as a result of them. However, in reality, under this Government there has been bureaucracy, over-regulation, distorting top-down targets and declining productivity. The Office for National Statistics made it clear that there has been a 1.3 per cent. a year reduction in productivity in health care. Just last month, it said that there was a 2.1 per cent. a year reduction in productivity in social care.

The Secretary of State reiterated the numbers from yesterday’s comprehensive spending review statement, but as always with this Government, and in particular with this Prime Minister, one has to look at the small print. The Secretary of State says that there is a 4 per cent. real-terms increase, but in reality, in the Budget in March this year, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer took £2 billion out of the national health service’s planned capital budgets. Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he would put that £2 billion back in by 2011, but of course, as he had reduced the denominator, he made the percentage increase look larger than it would otherwise have done. If the £2 billion that had been taken out in March was still in planned Department of Health spending, the real-terms increase to 2011 would have been just 3.2 per cent. That is less than half the rate of increase of recent years and, indeed, well below the 4.4 per cent. minimum real-terms increase that Derek Wanless recommended to the then Chancellor five years ago.

The NHS needs certainty. Given that the Government have failed on reform and that the NHS needs a new Conservative Government as soon as possible who will deliver that reform, I make it clear to the House that a Conservative Government will match the Government’s proposed health spending through to 2011. But we will spend the money better. We will not be a Government who cut 8,000 beds as a consequence of financial deficits when patients are contracting hospital-acquired infections because of excessive bed occupancy. We will not be a Government who permit a situation where 14,000 junior doctors apply for training posts and do not attract them in the first round. We will not have a situation where trained nurses, physiotherapists and midwives who are needed in the NHS cannot find jobs. We will be a Government who deliver better productivity.

The Secretary of State said that 1 million more operations were taking place. If the productivity gains before 1997 had continued since then, there would be 2 million more operations taking place in the NHS rather than 1 million, and waiting lists would be a thing of the past.

What have we heard from the Secretary of State? He has given us re-announcements—I have the details here, should hon. Members wish to see them. In January 2006, the previous Secretary of State said that the Government were going to remedy the failures of their own general practitioner contract and secure more GPs in deprived areas. Two years ago, we were told that that would be done with immediate effect—that did not happen. In January 2006, we were told that there would be extended opening hours for GPs, but that has not happened and the Government are re-announcing the measure now.

The Secretary of State said that there will now be money for screening for admissions to hospital. Does he not know that such a provision is already in the published code of practice, which was debated in this House, but it just has not been implemented? He is now borrowing our policies. In our manifesto for the last general election, we made it clear that we would provide additional resources for the rapid screening of patients for hospital-acquired infections. It has taken two and a half years for the Government even to catch up with our policies.

The Government’s latest announcements contain a U-turn in respect of individual budgets that embrace both health care and social care. We have recommended that. If the Secretary of State were to think back to January 2006 and the White Paper, he would recall that when I challenged his predecessor to do precisely that, she and the Government said that they would not do so. They have now had to do a U-turn and accept Conservative policies.

On social care, the Government have failed time and again. The Secretary of State talks about a partnership model, but the King’s Fund report made it clear that Kent county council, a Conservative local authority, had undertaken a pilot project on a partnership model and wanted to do further analysis. What did the report say? It stated:

“In the end, Kent County Council found there was no appetite from either the Department of Health or the Treasury to fund further modelling on how such a scheme could be implemented, each department wanting the other to sponsor the work.”

The Government cannot join up the work of Departments—in fact, there is not even a joined-up approach inside the Department of Health.

Today’s social care announcements are for a 1 per cent. real-terms increase in social care budgets in local authorities, the effect of which will be to create additional charges for adult social services in local authorities across the country and to force an increase in council taxes. Those will be the consequences, but what we need are individual budgets and the greater efficiency that will come from them.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about support for talking therapies and mental health services. Professor Layard and my colleagues have been asking for just that. Is the Secretary of State confident that the thousands of additional counsellors and therapists needed to make that happen will be available? Does he see this as reflecting the pilot in Newham, which has an integrated model with other agencies, or is it closer to the one in Doncaster?

What we have heard today contains no vision, but it does contain re-announcements of things that the Government have said before and policies stolen from the Conservative party. The Government are flagrantly unwilling to apologise for the cuts and closures that are happening in the NHS across the country because of their failed management. We have a Secretary of State who has no ideas of his own, a Government who have no chance of delivering change and a Labour party that has no hope at an election now or in the future.

That was very disappointing. The hon. Gentleman has been on the Front Bench since 2003, but nothing in his contribution takes us any further forward on health policies.

Let me deal with the first point, because it shows how pathetic the Opposition are getting. We have heard criticisms, the first of which was that we brought the Darzi report forward—another was that the Prime Minister opened a hospital twice. On the first point, I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that on 4 July I said in this House that Darzi’s interim report would be presented in three months—it was presented on 4 October, which was exactly three months later—and that it would come before the comprehensive spending review.

On the hospital, I must admit that I was rather crushed when I visited that splendid new facility in Basildon, of which we should all be proud, where some £60 million has been invested in cardiothoracic surgery. It was so exciting that I asked whether I could open it. I was told by the people running it, “No, we have asked the Prime Minister or the Queen to do it.” That put me in my place. Indeed, they wrote in early July to ask the Prime Minister to open it in October. Unless the Conservative party has been so long out of government that they have forgotten that many buildings open and then are officially opened some time afterwards, it is a strange

The hon. Gentleman asks me to say something of substance. Well, I could mention the new community hospital being built in Beverley, which he curiously never mentions in any debate on health.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) also said that we have somehow abandoned choice and abandoned new providers. The Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), has been talking all morning to the independent sector about precisely the announcement that I have made about introducing these new, state-of-the-art facilities, which will be open from 8 am to 8 pm, seven days a week, into 150 PCTs around the country. We are talking to the independent sector all the time. I have made it clear in the House that we will judge the use of the independent sector on whether it can add to capacity, whether it provides value for money and whether it can improve the service.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire also mentioned Wanless. I shall make it clear what his report said:

“The funding increase has helped to deliver some clear and notable improvements–more staff and equipment; improved infrastructure; significantly reduced waiting times and better access to care; and improved care in coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke and mental health.”

Wanless also says that

“the direction of health care policy now being pursued by the government”

is

“correct to address the key challenges identified in the 2002 review.”

For good measure, he said:

“The NHS is now in better shape than in 2002 to deliver improved quality and increased productivity”.

I will swap Wanless quotes all day.

The hon. Gentleman also raised an important point of substance on productivity, which I mentioned in my statement. I said how difficult this issue was and that we have made modest gains over the past year. As he well knows, the difficulty is that people can examine two calculations. One can show that productivity has declined by 7 per cent. since 2002 and the other can show that it has increased by 8 per cent. The problem is how one defines quality of care when examining productivity. GPs now spend four minutes more with each patient than they did in the early ’90s. The onus must be on spending more time and personalising care. The National Audit Office and others have found it almost impossible to define how one puts quality into productivity considerations. That is the dilemma. It is not that NHS staff are not working hard and doing their best: it is about how we reflect that in the statistics.

The hon. Gentleman also talks about the 4 per cent. real-terms increase. This is an amazing continuation of record investment in the NHS. It is a 4 per cent. increase on forecast spend in this year. He promises to match it, and he also suggests that the Conservatives will go further on social care. That will just add to their black hole problem. Incidentally, the most recent document that I have read on their policies in this area contained just one sentence on social care.

We are saying that the 2006 Wanless report was a very important contribution. We need to move forward on it now, because Wanless made some important points, not least of which concerned the need for a partnership to cope with social care. He was examining how we provide proper social care in 2026.

Our self-regard increases all the time as the Opposition nick our policies, but let us get this straight. They have now signed up to the NHS funded by the taxpayer. The patient passport, which was their policy, has gone. They have signed up to the idea of the NHS 60 years after we created it, having opposed it bitterly when it was introduced. They have signed up to the 10 core principles of the NHS plan, which we introduced in 2000 and they opposed. They have just come round to signing up to the spending commitments that we agreed in 2004. Accusing us of nicking their policies is rather rich coming from a party that has decided at last that it cares about the NHS. The public will see through that.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and its implications, particularly the £250 million access fund to open up another 100 GP practices in areas where there are great health inequalities. That is not rocket science, yet for 60 years areas of the country have had high ill-health indices and high levels of health inequalities, but have not had the high levels of activity in the national health service that there should have been. Patient-GP ratios are a simple measure showing where we should be working. In some areas those ratios are far too high. I welcome the Government’s revolutionary initiative. To say that it is not new is nonsense—it is new, and it is welcomed by those who represent areas such as mine.

Order. The right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) did not ask a question. So far there have not been many questions. Perhaps we can have questions from now on.

One thing that cannot be denied is the enormous contribution that my right hon. Friend has made over a number of years. He will remember the Black report, which was commissioned under a Thatcher Government to look at health inequalities. It was published on a bank holiday Monday, 260 copies were produced and it disappeared without trace. The Conservatives did nothing about health inequalities, apart from worsen the situation.

My right hon. Friend is right. The Opposition say that there is nothing of substance in the statement. However, we have announced £170 million to be spent on psychological therapy services, £270 million on health care-acquired infections, £250 million on access, part of which is for the crucial 25 per cent. of PCTs with the least provision, and £100 million on innovation. That is not bad for a seven-minute statement.

I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of the statement. In his response to the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), he referred to the fact that he had delivered the interim report exactly three months after he had promised to do so, which was before the summer recess. That must be the first time ever that a Government report has been published on time. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his impeccable timing.

I start by acknowledging the good things in the report. We warmly welcome the extra investment in psychological therapies, which is long overdue. There are many people languishing on incapacity benefit who could be helped back to work but who are not getting the help that they need. I also welcome the announcement on screening for hospital-acquired infections—a necessary change. I hope the Secretary of State agrees that there should be a zero tolerance of low hygiene standards, following the Dutch example, which nails down the standards expected in hospitals.

I welcome the greater flexibility in accessing GPs and the focus on securing more access to GPs in the most deprived communities. The fact that people in those communities have poorer access to primary care is wholly unacceptable. If the proposal starts to address that, it is a good thing. The statement refers to local accountability. For a long time the Government have used the rhetoric of local accountability, but what does it mean? Will there be any substance to the assertion that it is important to listen to local communities and that they should have a say, rather than just staff having a say, important as that is? Innovation and spreading best practice are clearly good things. Is it right, though, to set up another quango to deliver them? Is that necessarily the best way of achieving the aim? How will it sit alongside the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which already does work in this area?

The statement gives little attention to care for elderly people—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State laughs, but this is an important issue. Is not Niall Dickson of the King’s Fund right that the failure to support frail and vulnerable older people is one of the unrecognised scandals of our time? Although I welcome the tentative step towards some sort of resolution, is not the issue far more urgent than the Government acknowledge? The royal commission in 1999 recommended free personal care. The Liberal Democrats forced such a provision through in Scotland, and we want people in the rest of the UK to benefit in the way that people in Scotland already do. [Interruption.] The Tories scoff, but it is a question of priorities. They prefer to give tax cuts of £300,000 to millionaires. We think that people who lose everything when a loved one develops dementia are a greater priority. Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that in Scotland there is more care as a result of the introduction of free personal care, more innovation in services and public support for the policy in Scotland some years after it was introduced? Is not the truth that the funding of social care—care for the elderly—continues to lag scandalously behind other funding?

The pre-Budget report highlights the fact that there is a 4 per cent. increase in NHS funding, which is absolutely necessary, but just a 1 per cent. increase for social care provided by local authorities. What is the justification for care for the elderly having such a low priority in the overall funding settlement? In the Department’s budget for social care initiatives, why do we have to wait until 2010-11 before the bulk of the extra funding comes through, with very little extra funding next year or the year after? Is not the reality that social care continues to be cut and that yesterday’s statement will do nothing to change that?

Is it right that there should have been a 25 per cent. drop in households receiving domiciliary care in the past 10 years? The criteria tightened massively so that only the most urgent cases receive support, and charges were massively increased for people needing care in their own home. Is that not unacceptable treatment of elderly people? Why will we have to wait an interminable length of time before any reforms come in? Will the review include respite care? When I spoke to carers last week, they made it clear that their top priority was gaining access to respite care, which is unavailable to many people in many parts of the country.

What is the timing of the review? When will concrete proposals be introduced and will the review be given priority? Is there any real hope of reform, given that public finances are much tighter? Why, when yesterday’s statement perpetuated the funding crisis for elderly care, should we have any confidence that the Government are genuinely committed to badly needed reform?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for congratulating us on probably the only report delivered on time. We should proceed on that basis in future.

On the question of how we develop the psychotherapy proposals, we are running trials, and we will extend the pilots to inform the way in which we introduce the measures. The aim is to provide a groundbreaking network right across the country, which will be set up during the comprehensive spending review period.

In a balanced contribution, the hon. Gentleman’s other positive point—I will address his criticisms in a moment—concerned the introduction of pre-screening across the health service. In the Netherlands, the incidence of MRSA was reduced to 1 per cent. over a long period, and one of the biggest factors was the introduction of pre-screening everywhere. As the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire mentioned, many hospitals pre-screen for elective surgery, but the introduction of pre-screening for emergency care requires isolation facilities. Reducing the length of the testing process, which is between 24 and 48 hours, is important. New technologies will allow us to do that and open up a new war against MRSA.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about local accountability. If politicians are removed from the process of reconfiguration, it will be clinically led. I have removed myself, so if a case is passed to me, I will pass it to the independent reconfiguration panel, which is clinically led. If that is to become a permanent arrangement, which is what Lord Darzi is considering, we need proper local accountability in the system. The hon. Gentleman is right that we should listen to local communities, and that will be a big part of Lord Darzi’s final piece of work heading towards the report next year.

On innovation, a quango will not be involved. I understand the point about the other initiatives and NICE, but the organisations involved have welcomed the setting up of the innovation council, because, as I said in my statement, a lot is happening on development. There is no overarching view, which is what the innovation council will bring. The Wellcome Trust is enthusiastic, and I think that the scheme has achieved widespread buy-in. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no danger of duplication.

The hon. Gentleman made a long contribution, and I am trying to respond to the issues he raised. In his criticisms, he stated that we should go down the Scottish route and provide free care for the elderly, but that is not what the Wanless report states. The hon. Gentleman is sitting close to the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), who is a Front-Bench health spokesperson and who said in the House that she regretted the fact that her party’s manifesto had misled people to believe that care could be free. There is a disagreement not only between the hon. Gentleman and Wanless, but between the hon. Gentleman and the person who is two seats away from him.

It is not only unaffordable. In Scotland, the cap on payments is £214 a week, and the average cost of health care is £217 more than that. The majority of people in Scotland pay for health care for the elderly, which is why Wanless examined an affordable and sustainable solution.

I have detained the House far too long. The hon. Gentleman has raised some important points, which we will debate at length at some stage. However, he should have welcomed the whole statement rather than some of it.

May I tell my right hon. Friend how much I welcome the visionary decision to put £170 million of new money into psychological services? Mental health trusts in Derby city and Derbyshire serve patients who in some cases have waited two years to access those services. Where will we get the clinicians, psychiatrists and therapists? Furtherthermore, there are serious organisational deficiencies around the country in how services are provided, not least in Derbyshire.

My hon. Friend is right about the urgent need to introduce such services. We made that manifesto commitment in 2005 and examined some pilots. We must secure the resources and tackle the organisational problems that my hon. Friend rightly raised. We do not intend to wait for the end of the three-year period, and we will immediately start to recruit extra staff and set up centres across the country to allow us to deal with the 900,000 people who are just offered drugs, when many of them would find therapy far more effective.

During the recess, I became involved in the case of an elderly, retired farmer living in a rural area who was terminally ill—he was on both morphine and oxygen. I was incensed that the local PCT would not provide continuing health care—free care at home—for my terminally ill constituent. Social services found it extremely difficult to provide any form of care at home, and the family had to carry an unfair burden. Must not the Government and the national health service address such cases? That man, who was dying, deserved free care so that he could die with dignity.

If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about that case, I will look into it. We issued new guidance on 1 October, because, as he rightly pointed out, the issue is important. This is a dreadful American phrase, but the NHS was not particularly good at “end-of-life issues”—indeed, there was an element of postcode lottery. The hospices were set up to counter the fact that the NHS was not concentrating on that issue as much as it should have done, but the situation is changing. One of Lord Darzi’s clinical review groups is considering that issue, and Lord Darzi will report on it next year. The guidance that we issued on 1 October was meant to address some of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. The case that he described may have occurred in the recess before 1 October, but I want to look into it, because I agree that it is unacceptable.

May I tell my right hon. Friend how much I welcome the statement and everything that it does to tackle health inequalities, particularly in areas such as Stoke-on-Trent? Last week, I visited North Staffordshire Carers Association, and I am sure that it will welcome the extra £190 million that will be available nationally. The real issue, which Opposition Members have raised, concerns social care and the Green Paper. Will my right hon. Friend hold urgent talks with the Alzheimer’s Society on how we can ensure that the radical rethink will enable all the people who need extra social care to be treated with dignity?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. In the spring, we will publish our new deal for carers. I recently attended a reception in Bournemouth, where all the charity organisations and voluntary groups were enormously excited about the level of consultation on the new strategy. We have a new approach to dementia, which we need to tackle more intensively. Along with many other mental health problems, it is an important issue, but it has not been at the top of the agenda—in some cases, it was not even considered important, although it is the single biggest cause of ill health in this country.

Will the Secretary of State accept that more deaths result from preventable venous thrombosis in hospitalised patients than from MRSA? Does he support measures to make risk assessment mandatory, which would result in wider prevention?

Lord Darzi is considering that specific issue. Indeed, I believe that he recently spoke to the hon. Gentleman.

If Lord Darzi has not done so, he will be in touch soon, because he wants to talk to all the members of the Health Committee. We have an enormous amount in common on that issue—whether we can proceed as quickly as the hon. Gentleman would like is another thing—and I think that that conversation should take place.

It is great news that the Government are investing much more in psychological therapies, which is surely an example of spending to save. However, if we are not going the full hog and adopting the recommendations of the royal commission, why are we waiting to implement the reforms on social care recommended by Wanless? I know that that would cost money, but yesterday the Government found money to help the winners in the lottery of life—those who will not develop dementia or other conditions that require long-term care and who have assets in excess of £350,000. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a Labour Government should give priority to the losers in the lottery of life who develop such conditions, end up having to sell their homes and have no inheritance tax for the Government to take?

Wanless was considering a vision for social care in 2026. His report came out in 2006. We need to appraise it, and achieve close integration between Government Departments before we can begin the debate with a Green Paper. That does not mean that nothing will happen on social care between now and the publication of the Green Paper—and the debate on it. For a start, there has been a 39 per cent. real-terms increase in the money invested in social care since 1997. Secondly, a concentration on individual budgets and individualisation is being led by authorities around the country. Recently, I was in Barnsley, where terrific things are being done. The settlement will allow us to move that forward.

The situation is much like that relating to pensions a few years ago. We need cross-party consensus, because we are looking towards 2026. It does not have to be done this way, but we need a Turner report on social care that can cross boundaries that have never been crossed before. The NHS has never provided social care free of charge; it did not do so under Nye Bevan, and it does not do so now.

Will the Secretary of State reflect on the false economy of removing fundamental services across health and social care and on its consequences? This week, a report from Age Concern about the consequences of the removal of chiropody services on the frail elderly was published. If people cannot cut their own toenails—a pretty basic thing—and have no one to do it for them, they may fall over trying to do it themselves, which can be life threatening. They become less mobile. I hope that the Secretary of State will take account of that sort of thing, at that very basic level, as he seeks to improve services.

As always, the hon. Lady makes a sensible and pertinent point. Incidentally, Help the Aged has welcomed our commitment to a Green Paper and is part of the consensus on the need to discuss Wanless seriously, as grown-up politicians, and find agreement. The very point that she raised is why the issue is so important, because we now find in some areas that only those in need of the most desperate care are provided with help. People with serious needs, such as the elderly person mentioned by the hon. Lady, find that their services have been cut, and we need to address that. As Wanless pointed out, the cost of doing so effectively for everyone—given an ageing population, demographic change and all the other things that we know about—would take up the whole pot of public money. We will have to find a solution that is different from the one found in Scotland.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about spreading new technologies and best practice, and I urge him to ignore the sniping of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) about the connecting for health programme. I used the recess as an opportunity to see the photo electron and x-ray—PAX—digital programme at Ipswich hospital, which is absolutely fantastic. It delivers improved diagnostic imaging, which elicited unrequested congratulations from members of staff on the quality of the investment that the Labour Government have made in the PAX programme and on the benefits to them and their patients, as well as the savings—

Order. The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members should be putting questions. The hon. Gentleman can write to the Secretary of State and tell him what he did during the recess.

The question was about whether I agreed that lots of good things were happening in new technology in the NHS, and I am happy to say yes.

Why was there an important omission from the statement? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the GPs in all the new medical centres that he proudly announced will be free to prescribe what they consider the most appropriate and best medication for patients with conditions such as Alzheimer’s and age-related macular degeneration? There should be not only social equity but health equity between some of the most vulnerable and elderly people in England and their counterparts in Scotland and Wales.

Well, I can happily say that I am not prepared to go back to those days. One of the world-class features of our NHS system that people around the world try to imitate is NICE. For the first time we have a system under which it is compulsory for all parts of the NHS to offer a drug, provided that it has been approved by NICE, which was a huge step forward. We could not go back to the days when it was up to a GP to decide such things, without a proper clinical examination.

I welcome the announcement of additional funding for social care and a radical rethink in social care. However, as well as being radical, will the rethink be careful? Vulnerable adults and frail elderly people are already anxious about the services that they receive. They need reassurance that they will continue to receive support. They also need reassurance that their voices will be heard in any development of new services.

My hon. Friend is right. As I mentioned earlier, tackling the Green Paper does not mean that everything goes on hold. That additional funding is another real-terms increase on top of the 39 per cent. real-terms increase in social care. It is a combination of the funding from the Department of Health and from the Department for Communities and Local Government that goes to local government. That funding will result in far greater independence for the vulnerable people whom my hon. Friend mentioned.

May I tease out the limits—if there are any—to what the Secretary of State described in his statement as the matching of local ownership and greater local accountability in Lord Darzi’s work? I am thinking especially of the integration of all health care with social care. Would the Secretary of State be prepared, for example, to consider local authorities taking on entirely decision making and budgetary control from PCTs?

“Steady as we go”, is the answer to that question. I am not yet able to say that we are getting to that position. However, in many local authority areas somebody from local government is on the PCT, so there is far greater integration. I do not know whether that is the final solution to the issue. I accept that I do not have the solution; I just know that Darzi’s work is important to ensure local accountability. Otherwise if we remove politicians at national level and there is no increased accountability further down the system there will be a gaping hole. That is where the accountability needs to be. We need to talk the issues through, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make an important contribution to that debate.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the £250 million access fund, which will deliver 100 new GP practices, and the establishment of 150 new GP-run health centres, are nothing but good news for areas such as County Durham and for my constituents in Sedgefield? Will he meet me to see how best to implement those changes in Sedgefield, where health centre provision has been an issue?

Following the recent by-election, I know the constituency of Sedgefield. Those provisions will specifically help areas such as Sedgefield and others such as my constituency in Hull which have been under-doctored and have been for many years.

For GP practices in the 25 per cent. of areas that are most poorly provided for, the statement unleashes 900 staff—doctors, nurses, health professionals, health visitors and community nurses—into the most deprived areas in our country, giving the very best services to areas that previously had the worst. I will happily talk to my hon. Friend about how that is being implemented in his constituency.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that although the title of his statement is “Health and Social Care”, only 12 words in it were about the major providers of social care in this country—local authorities? Does he recognise that they are spending billions over their standard spending assessment on social services, withdrawing preventive work, intervening only in life-threatening cases, pushing up charges and piling pressure on the council tax? Would it not have been better to share the proceeds of growth more evenly between the national health service and social services?

Lots of the money that we provide through the NHS will provide greater resources. I am not a representative of the Department for Communities and Local Government, but we will have an opportunity to talk about that issue.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about local authorities, which, incidentally, will have ring fencing removed as part of the settlement to give them greater freedom to spend money on priorities. That could well mean spending much more on social care. The problem that he identifies is how we keep that contribution sustainable, as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) said, so that an increasing elderly population receive better care services than they do at the moment. [Interruption.] It is a question not just of putting in better resources, but of dealing with the whole organisation and, as the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) says from a sedentary position, of the better use of existing resources. That can be done and some local authorities are doing it brilliantly. We need to spread that best practice more widely.

BILLs PRESENTED

Microgeneration and Local Energy

Dr. Alan Whitehead, supported by John Austin, Lorely Burt, Colin Challen, Mr. David Chaytor, Mr. David Drew, Dr. Ian Gibson, Julia Goldsworthy, Chris Huhne, Alan Simpson, David Taylor and Mr. Mike Weir, presented a Bill to make further provision in relation to microgeneration; to promote local energy provision and energy efficiency; and for connected purposes.: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 October, and to be printed. [Bill 155].

Fixed Term Parliaments

David Howarth, supported by Mr. David Heath, Simon Hughes, Chris Huhne, Danny Alexander, Lynne Featherstone, Paul Rowen, Mr. Paul Burstow, Mr. Nick Clegg and Norman Baker, presented a Bill to fix the date of the next general election and all subsequent general elections; to forbid the dissolution of Parliament otherwise than in accordance with this Act; to allow the House of Commons to change the day of the week on which a general election is held; and for connected purposes.: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 October, and to be printed. [Bill 157].

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While reading my Hansard this morning, I realised that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), in summing up last night’s debate, said that I had got my figures wrong when I told him that only 3 per cent. of lamb served to our troops is actually British. He said that it was 13 per cent. Whoever is right—

Order. I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to continue. This is a matter of debate and rebuttal; it is not a point of order. It took place during a debate, and the hon. Gentleman should find an opportunity to rebut the case that the Under-Secretary made.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State for Health has now on two occasions accused me of failing to mention the new community hospital that will be built in Beverley, even though that hospital is only at the stage of putting in a bid to the strategic health authority, and therefore has no certainty of funding whatsoever. I wonder whether you could advise me, Mr. Speaker, on how I could get confirmation from the Secretary of State that it will be funded, or on how I can ask him not to mislead the House and the nation by suggesting it is going ahead.

The Secretary of State would not mislead the House, nor would any other Member. If the hon. Gentleman comes to the Chair on a quiet occasion, I will tell him how to go about these things.

Opposition Day

[19th Allotted day]

Department for Children, Schools and Families

We now come to the first debate on the Opposition motions. I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

I beg to move,

That this House notes with concern the fact that fewer than half the nation’s schools are good according to the measure preferred by Ministers, that 40 per cent. of children leave primary school without having reached the standard in reading, writing and arithmetic demanded by the Government and that more than a million young people are not in education, employment or training; and therefore calls for an improvement in the leadership and culture of the Department for Children, Schools and Families to make it a stronger and more effective voice for better education.

May I say what a pleasure it is to see the Secretary of State in his place? Having read the newspapers last week, it is something of a surprise that he is here with us today because in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph just a fortnight ago—how long ago that must seem— he boasted proudly:

“I…opened the new campaign office in my constituency and told my local party it is important we're on a general election footing.”

Now that the Prime Minister has shot himself in his general election footing, I am glad that we can get back to debating the issues. However, may I congratulate the Secretary of State on something? That campaign office must be the one building officially opened by a member of the Government this year where the Minister was actually present and the building was genuinely new.

May I also congratulate the Secretary of State on something else? I was intrigued by his speech to the Labour party conference, where he made so much of where some of my colleagues went to school. I turned to “Who’s Who” to see where he might have been educated, presuming it was a properly inclusive sort of place. But imagine my surprise when I saw that no school—primary or secondary—was listed. I know that when the Secretary of State was growing up in Nottingham—fine town that it is—a very good independent boys school there sent many of its lads to Oxbridge. But in the Secretary of State’s entry—penned of course, I presume, by himself—the first establishment mentioned is Keble college, Oxford, where I read he got a first in philosophy, politics and economics. What an amazing achievement: a first at Oxford without having been to any primary or secondary school. All I can say is what everyone in the Labour party is saying: what a phenomenon.

It is a pity, however, that I cannot congratulate the Secretary of State on more, but the news from his Department during the past few months has been grim. For our youngest school children, just starting out in life, the education system is flatlining. The proportion of students achieving level 2 in maths and reading at key stage 1 is exactly the same as in 2002.

No. Writing results have declined from 86 per cent. to 80 per cent. since 2002 and are now at their lowest level for a decade. That is a failure to support the youngest. For children at the end of primary school, making the transition from seven years of education under this Government to the testing environment of secondary school, the Government are also failing. Nearly half of children are unable to read write or add up properly at age 11: a failure to prepare a whole generation.

For young people preparing to meet the challenge of a changing world of work, this Government have failed to deliver on the basics. The number of students getting five good passes at GCSE, including English, maths, science and a modern language, is now 25 per cent. of the total, down since 1997: a failure to equip the young for a world of rapid change. [Interruption.] I notice that the hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin) is monosyllabic; he is capable of uttering only one word. If he would care to make an intervention, I shall be delighted to hear it. [Interruption.]

Order. We are debating serious matters today. We must not have continual interventions from a sedentary position—[Interruption.] Order. From either side of the House.

On a point of order, I was wondering whether the hon. Gentleman will take interventions from a standing position.

Whether or not Members addressing the House take interventions is entirely a matter for them.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I look forward to taking interventions in just one moment, including from the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar).

I will come back to the hon. Lady in just one second because it is important that she realises the scale of this Government’s failure.

We now have the tragedy of more than a million young people not in employment, education or training: wasted talent let down by a system this Government failed to reform. Ministers, and ambitious Back Benchers, cannot deny the scale of this failure, for one of their own has acknowledged it. According to Lord Adonis, a Minister in the Secretary of State’s Department, a quarter of secondary schools in this country are “wasting pupils’ talents”. Some 800,000 pupils are in schools that, according to Ministers, are simply unacceptable. As Mrs. Alastair Campbell wrote in The Guardian this week:

“With friends like Lord Adonis, Ed Balls and Gordon Brown don’t need enemies”.

How fortunate for the Secretary of State that, after last week, no one else in the Labour party is at all unhappy with him.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for eventually giving way. Last year, my local education authority was the second most improved at key stage 2 in English and maths. The children and the teachers are proud of themselves. Would the hon. Gentleman have me tell them that they are failures?

I certainly would not. I am happy to congratulate teachers and pupils. Ministers are the people who have been failing—they are incapable of securing results. How can anyone be complacent about education in this country when 43 per cent. of young children leave primary school incapable of reading, writing or adding up properly? Labour Members might consider that good enough, but millions of parents and I are not satisfied.

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that 100,000 more 11-year-olds attain level 4 in maths now than in 1997?

As I said, 40 per cent. of children leave school incapable of reading, writing or adding up properly. Since the hon. Lady mentioned mathematics, is it not a scandal that fewer than half the people who teach it in secondary schools have a degree in the subject? After 10 years of massive investment, there is still a failure to provide the teaching that we need. There is complacency among Labour Members and a desire for change among Conservative Members.

The hon. Gentleman is strong on statistics for where we are now. Would he like to rattle off those for where we were in 1997 after 18 years under the Tories?

As I have already pointed out, fewer people are getting five good passes in good GCSEs, including maths, science, a modern language and English, now than in 1997. As the Minister knows, the Office for National Statistics has pointed out that productivity in education has fallen under the Government. Again, there is complacency among Labour Members and an agenda for change in the Conservative party.

I mentioned Lord Adonis, the Minister’s colleague, whom he failed to defend at the Dispatch Box. I am sure that full notice of that will be taken at the other end of the Building. Although Lord Adonis may be more candid than prudent, the Secretary of State should be grateful to him because his honesty emphasises the need for genuine reform to improve our education system. It also creates an opportunity for the Secretary of State to live up to his noble Friend’s high hopes and prove himself to be a genuine reformer.

When the Secretary of State first appeared at the Dispatch Box a few months ago, we offered to work with him and with the Liberal Democrats to advance reform. Since then, I have been encouraged and heartened by the Liberal Democrat leadership’s bravery in embracing greater choice and control for parents and moving away from a defence of producer interests. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) deserves credit. I am sure that he will give me none in his speech, but I quite understand. Given his party’s poll ratings and his position as leader of his party’s sensible tendency, he has to put up a pretence of anti-Tory feeling. We shall not hold it against him.

However, while there has been a movement towards consensus around genuine reform from the Liberal Democrats, there has been the opposite from the Secretary of State. Far from moving forward, he has gone back; far from modernising, he is retreating. Way back in 2005, when the right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) was Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the then Prime Minister wrote a preface to the Government’s education White Paper. For those on the Labour Benches who cannot remember him, he was a chap by the name of Blair. Sadly for them, he is no longer in the House and is therefore incapable of filling the great clunking vacuum at the top.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to reform. Does he favour the support from part of the Conservative party for the reintroduction of grammar schools?

I have no idea from where on earth the hon. Lady gets that idea. We support good schools, wherever they exist in the state system, and oppose the Secretary of State’s attempt to undermine them. Wherever there are good schools, we will back them rather than undermine them for party political reasons. We are not selective about championing excellence.

In his preface to the education White Paper, the former right hon. Member for Sedgefield argued that,

“reforms must build on the freedoms that schools have increasingly received, but extend them radically. We must put parents in the driving seat for change and to underpin this change, the local authority must move from being a provider of education to being its local commissioner and the champion of parent choice.”

He wanted

“genuinely independent schools in the state sector”.

I could not put it better myself. The case for reform is clear, urgent, modern and rejected by the Secretary of State.

In his first statement to the House, the Secretary of State slammed the brakes on reform. Academies were told that they could not open if Labour local councillors wanted to deny parents that choice. Far from being built on, freedoms were further restricted. New academies were told that innovation would be stifled and that they would have to follow a much more restricted curriculum. Since then, he has moved backwards further and faster. In his speech to the Labour party conference, he played to the left-wing gallery, making it clear that the educational establishment would stifle innovation, encouraging Labour LEAs to take an even bigger role in interfering in schools and slamming the door on genuine independence for new state schools and genuine choice and control for parents.

The Secretary of State cannot provide the change that the country needs because he has made himself a prisoner of the forces of educational conservatism. He has even fallen back on the lamest mantra of them all—a line so hackneyed that even the Prime Minister felt he had to abandon it as too threadbare a cliché. The Secretary of State said that he believes in “standards not structures”, but, as Tony Blair was forced to concede,

“I shifted from saying ‘it’s standards not structures’ to realising that school structures… affect standards.”

That is the truth that the Secretary of State denies, and why he is doomed to fail.

What makes the failure worse is that, at the same time as the Secretary of State thwarts any chance of structural reform, he fails to drive though a genuine improvement in standards. Indeed, he does the opposite. Far from using every lever at his disposal to insist on rigour and excellence, he has been afraid to take on the establishment that presides over mush and muddle in our curriculum.

On the Secretary of State’s watch, we have been told that children should have five-minute lessons because they cannot pay attention for longer. His bureaucrats said that children should mark each other’s work because that is more liberating and his people took Churchill out of the curriculum because he was no longer considered relevant to today’s children. Our most courageous Prime Minister no longer relevant? I suppose I can understand why this Government would want him written out of history. What happened only when we objected to the change—not before? The Secretary of State rang round the newspapers, shifted the blame on to his officials, said that he was not consulted and promised to change course not, I think, your finest hour, Secretary of State.

A Secretary of State who was determined to drive up standards would put rigour back in the curriculum and give children the chance to take pride in our national story. However, under this Secretary of State, there has been a refusal to show any courage in taking on the entrenched interests who stand in the way of excellence. I fear that he has been interested in only low partisan politics and shallow tactical positioning.

We have had no leadership on reform or standards and no honesty about funding. Only yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer failed to level with us in his pre-Budget report—a document that would earn a fail in any examination for being copied from someone else’s work. We were promised an extra £250,000 on personalised learning for every pupil, but that amounts to only £34 for every school student—just enough to buy a copy of “Courage” by Gordon Brown and pay for 20 minutes of teaching time. With that book and only 20 minutes, one could probably help any class learn the meaning of “hubris”.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the pre-Budget report and the comprehensive spending review. Is he defending Tory party policy of putting £2 billion into the hands of 9,000 of the country’s richest families rather than investing it in health and education, as the Government will?

Is the hon. Gentleman in the right debate? We are discussing education, not reading out tired, photocopied lines from the Labour Whips Office, which will not save him in High Peak. He should start campaigning for better education instead of trying to curry favour with the leadership—it will not help him. We have already been promised capital funding for schools, in the Building Schools for the Future programme, but so far only 14 of the promised 100 new buildings have materialised. The rest are just not there. They exist only in Ministers’ imaginations and in Labour party press releases—a bit like photographs of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Select Committee on Education and Skills recently issued a report on the sustainable school, which deals with Building Schools for the Future. We applauded the Government’s slowing down of Building Schools for the Future, because the process needs full consultation with the school if we are going to get the schools right. We said clearly that we much preferred the delay, so that local communities, the students and teachers could participate in the process of designing their own schools. We get good schools that way. The hon. Gentleman should please not make any easy assumptions without reading the report.

I am glad to see that the ghost of education policy past has now become the spirit of fearless truth, in pointing out that the Government have failed to deliver on time and that it is time they thought again. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s candour in at last finding the courage, valuable virtue as it is, to criticise the Government.

To add insult to injury on funding, the Government are now clawing back money with a retrospective levy that plunders the balances of good schools to fund their own agenda. Sharp practice and hypocrisy, excellence penalised and central control stifling good practice—a perfect snapshot of Labour’s attitude to education. So no progress on structural reform, no bravery on standards, no honesty on funding—what does that leave as the Balls agenda? Naked, narrow partisanship.

In an interview that the Secretary of State gave to the New Statesman in 2006, when he was still just a humble Back Bencher—well, a Back Bencher anyway—he explained why he disliked more independence for schools, distrusted the reform agenda and disagreed with the stewardship of the Department for Education and Skills under the right hon. Member for Bolton, West. What was needed, he said, was to

“get back to a clear dividing line on education policy”—

not constructive reform, not a consensus for change, not children first, but division as our future.

Since that time, the Secretary of State has been as good as his word. Conservatives and Liberal Democrats now agree on the need for greater parental choice and control. Even the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), the man who was campaign co-ordinator the last time Labour actually won an election, now agrees with us. Modernisers in every party now champion the case for greater parental control. There is a growing consensus for change, but the Secretary of State wants to divide and just says no.

There is another consensus as well. All three parties were agreed that a pointless assault on existing good schools was a distraction from the key issue of our time, improving education for the most disadvantaged and for those in failing schools. But what has happened under this Secretary of State? On Saturday—I wonder why it was then—the press were briefed by his Department:

“Labour wants to reignite the political row over selective education by making it easier to force the closure of…local grammar schools.”

How cynical can one get? When their judgement was found wanting, their egotism backfiring and their hubristic plans imploding, what do these Ministers do? They try to reignite a political row, try to sow division and try to shut down good schools. Instead of learning from what makes schools successful and arguing for the adoption of appropriate policies across the state sector, as we have, with our comprehensively excellent campaign, they prefer to play silly political games and abdicate their responsibility to govern in the whole national interest. They prefer the easy course of pursuing class war to the hard work of securing improvements in every classroom.

But then, that is all of a piece with the cynicism that the Secretary of State has brought to his office. Invited on the radio to discuss our children’s future, all he was really interested in was his clique’s future. He talked of election timing and mused on where the “gamble” would be, treating the serious business of government as though it were a casino game in which they could treat people as mere counters to be shoved around at their convenience. But when the chips were down, the Government folded. They were tried and found wanting, tested and found hollow, totally incapable of being trusted any more. It is time for real change that puts pupils and parents first. It is time for the Conservative agenda.

I beg to move, To leave out from “House” to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

‘commends the real and substantial improvements achieved over the past decade in educational standards and welcomes the Government’s commitment to a world class education for all; applauds the unprecedented investment in education over this period, so that per pupil revenue spending has increased nationally by £1,840 per pupil (66 per cent.) in real terms between 1997-98 and 2007-08 and that by 2010-11 there will have been a seven fold increase in real terms in capital investment since 1996-97; acknowledges the proportion of pupils achieving the required standard in English at age 11 increased from 63 per cent. in 1997 to 80 per cent. in 2007 and in maths from 62 per cent. to 77 per cent.; further acknowledges that the proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSEs (at A*-C grades) increased from 45.1 per cent. in 1997 to 58.5 per cent. in 2006 and from just 35.6 per cent. to 45.3 per cent. for those achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths; notes that in 1997 there were 616 schools where less than 25 per cent. of pupils achieved five good GCSEs and that this number fell to 47 in 2006; welcomes the proposal to raise the participation age for education or training to 18 years; further welcomes the launch of the first five Diplomas as a key step towards this objective; and further commends the 10 Year Youth Plan and the creation of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, bringing together strategic leadership for all services to drive up standards, tackle poverty and ensure all children and young people have a safe, secure and happy childhood.’.

May I say that it is a great pleasure to debate the track record of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, just three months after it was established in July? Notwithstanding today’s Opposition motion, which I shall come to later, or the rather Punch and Judy, pugnacious speech that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) gave, I welcome the courteous and serious way in which he and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) have taken up their new shadow responsibilities since July and the support that they have given the new Department. I am grateful to them for the proper and helpful discussions that we have had over the complex issues around safeguarding and the work of Sir Roger Singleton in recent months. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath for the honest and mature way in which he praised the achievements of our A-level students this summer, in marked contrast with previous shadow Ministers.

I also welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for our new independent standards regulator, which I announced two weeks ago. I also welcome his blessing for the review of speech and language therapy being led, with his full support, by our mutual friend, the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). So despite today’s motion, I am pleased to stand across the Dispatch Box from the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. In spite of our differences, it is my hope that we can make more progress in the coming months to forge a deeper and wider consensus on what needs to be done to give every child the best start in life and to give every young person the chance to fulfil their potential.

Just three months after the Department was first established, I hope that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath and hon. Members on all sides of the House can agree that we have made some real progress. Since July we have welcomed the best key stage 2, GCSE and A-level results ever; we have expanded personalised learning and launched Every Child a Writer to help children in primary schools who are falling behind; we have reformed the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to establish a new independent standards regulator; we have raised the bar on standards for discipline and introduced new powers for head teachers to tackle truancy and bullying; we have signed up 12 additional universities to get involved in sponsoring academies; we have opened our first 30 trust schools; we have launched our first five new diplomas; we have set out a 10-year plan to transform youth services; we have introduced new standards for school meals and more hours of school sports; and we have started a national children’s plan consultation. The Department is showing that it is a strong and effective voice not just for better education, but for every child and parent in this country.

The Secretary of State has not yet mentioned the families side of his Department. I appreciate that the Department is new and that he is probably going to come on to this, but will he say whether part of his brief will be to support and strengthen family relationships, and in particular to consider the needs of separated families, on which the Department for Work and Pensions is looking to his Department to help with the new information and advice service?

That was the first serious contribution to this debate from Opposition Members. I am happy to say that we will support all families in this country, whether they are married, single-parent, separated or divorced families. We will never tolerate an approach to supporting family policy that stigmatises or counts as second best those families that are separated, widowed or divorced. That is why we reject the approach to family policy that was set out by Opposition Members earlier this summer.

When the hon. Member for Surrey Heath was speaking very prettily, taking time off from moonlighting as a journalist, did my right hon. Friend notice that, unlike the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), with whom I had the pleasure of serving on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, which dealt with such issues, he never mentioned families at all in either his motion or his speech?

My hon. Friend is quite right.

As I have just said, this new Department is a strong and effective voice for education for every child and every parent in this country. And, as the Chancellor confirmed yesterday, the new Department has also secured a further £450 million for the spending review period on top of our budget settlement, which will mean that education spending will rise to record levels and that we will have £21.9 billion of schools investment over the next three years, which will deliver 400 more secondary schools and 675 new primary schools. It will also mean that every school will become an extended school, full details of which are being published this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners. It will mean more schools capital investment in the next three years than in the entire 18 years of Conservative Government between 1979 and 1997.

I am listening carefully to the Secretary of State, as I did when he had his former job in the Treasury. He has given us a catalogue of what he considers to be the great successes. If there has been so much success, why are so many of our children failing to read and write and failing in maths at the age of 11? If everything is so wonderful, what has gone wrong to allow this to happen?

I am coming on to that point right now. But before I do, I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in praising the 700 per cent. increase in capital investment that his local authority will be getting in today’s announcement, compared with 1997. I hope he will put out a press release to congratulate us on that.

In a sec.

As the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said, we should start by agreeing that, despite the substantial progress that we have made, there is still some way to go before our education system can be described as world class. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that fact today. He is right to point out that 23 per cent. of young people are leaving primary school at 11 without having reached level 4 in maths, that the figure is 33 per cent. for writing, that 40 per cent. are not reaching level 4 in reading, writing and maths at key stage 2, and that too many 16 to 18-year-olds are leaving school and college without proper qualifications. I agree that that is not good enough.

Putting the debating points to one side, let us go back and look at the history. In 1997, it was not 20 per cent. failing to make the grade in maths; it was 38 per cent. In 1997, it was not 20 per cent. not making the grade in reading, but 33 per cent., and it was not 40 per cent. not making the grade in the three Rs, but 57 per cent. So let us agree that, although we have further to go to be world class, we are going in the right direction and we have made substantial progress from what was a desperate, taxing inheritance.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will also agree that the reason we have made substantial progress since 1997 is our investment and our reforms. We have 38,000 new teachers and more than 100,000 more teaching assistants, and more than 1,100 new schools have been built rebuilt or refurbished. There has been a 25 per cent. fall in permanent exclusions. Another fact not reflected in the hon. Gentleman’s motion is that the number of failing schools—those that do not have 25 per cent. of students gaining five good GCSEs—is down from 616 in 1997 to just 47 today. I want to go further: I want to get rid of all of them, but the fact is that there were 616 when his party left office, and the figure is now down to 47.

The Secretary of State just touched on the subject of exams, and I wonder whether he shares the concerns of head teachers in my constituency about the quality and consistency of online exam marking. A growing number of actual grades are varying significantly from the predicted grades; this is happening to a worrying degree. Some of the exam boards are now moving to oral online marking. If this situation is not reviewed and monitored, the problem is likely to increase.

If the hon. Lady goes to the House of Commons Library, she will find that the capital allocation for her local authority area is up 5,000 per cent. since 1997. On the particular point that she has raised, the reform that I have announced in recent weeks to establish an independent standards regulator will give parents and teachers the confidence that the exam boards are doing a good job and that standards are not declining. I will make sure that the standards regulator looks at the precise issue she has raised.

Was it not significant that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) failed miserably to cite the figures for the 1997 key stage 2 results? I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has put the record straight. Furthermore, if we are going to have a serious debate on this matter, should we not recognise that simply because a boy or girl does not reach level 4 at key stage 2, it does not mean that they are illiterate? We need a far more considered approach to describing the abilities of children who do not reach level 4.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I think that, outside the Chamber, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath would agree. I have found it is possible to have a serious conversation with him outside, although perhaps not in this debate. Of course it is not the case that a child of that age who does not reach level 4 cannot read, write or do arithmetic, but they are not doing as well as they should be to prepare for going on to secondary school. That is what we want to turn around. It was striking, however, that, despite the intervention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners, the hon. Gentleman failed to acknowledge the progress that has been made since 1997. It is impossible to have a serious, rational debate unless he can acknowledge that we have made substantial progress, although there is much more to be done.