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Westminster Hall

Volume 507: debated on Tuesday 16 March 2010

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 16 March 2010

[Mr. Gary Streeter in the Chair]

Dementia Strategy

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Lyn Brown.)

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak about the national dementia strategy—an issue to which the House has returned on many occasions during the past few months and in which I have taken an interest over a number of years. It is now about 100 years since Alois Alzheimer first described the disease that bears his name at a medical conference in Germany. There is still no cure, and our understanding of the basic biological processes remains limited, although I will say something about current research, which is beginning to peel back some of the uncertainty and lack of knowledge.

My interest in the issue does not come from personal family experience. I have been blessed in having no direct experience of family members suffering from this terrible disease. Rather, it comes from my contact with families in my constituency who are struggling with the consequences of dementia. In particular, I am grateful to have a Princess Royal Trust for Carers centre in my constituency, at Sutton. The Sutton carers’ centre and the Alzheimer’s Society in my constituency have played an important part in educating me about the issues and exposing me to their members who live day to day with the disease.

I am a great believer in serendipity. It came as a surprise to me to learn yesterday that the Public Accounts Committee is to publish its findings today on the National Audit Office’s report on dementia services. As a member of the Committee, I found our hearings in January interesting. I have a few questions from those hearings to ask the Minister today. Both the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office report areas of progress on dementia but point to what the Chairman of the Committee has described as a gulf between promise and delivery so far.

Earlier this year, I was asked to write the foreword to a report published by Oxford university and the Alzheimer’s Research Trust called “Dementia 2010”. The report revealed a number of facts that have added to our understanding of the scale and scope of the problem and the challenge that we face.

Some 820,000 people in the UK are living with dementia. The previous estimate, which is still widely quoted, was 700,000. Dementia costs the UK economy £23 billion a year; the previous estimate was £17 billion. That is twice the cost of cancer, which is £12 billion a year; three times the cost of heart disease, at £8 billion a year; and four times the cost of stroke, at £5 billion a year. The combined Government and charitable investment in dementia research—£50 million—is 12 times lower than spending on cancer research, which is £590 million a year. Heart disease receives £169 million a year and stroke research £23 million. For every £1 million in care costs resulting from dementia, £129,269 is spent on cancer research, £73,153 on heart disease research, £8,745 on stroke research and just £4,882 on dementia research.

I am sure that all that will be clear when it is on the record in Hansard, although it might not be clear now, while I am blinding colleagues with figures. What the Alzheimer’s Research Trust is trying to demonstrate in its report is the lack of ambition evident so far in the funding for dementia research. The report is saying not that less should be done elsewhere, but simply that the case for dementia research is compelling. Every dementia patient costs the economy £27,647 a year, which is more than the UK median salary of £24,700. By contrast, cancer patients cost £5,999, stroke patients £4,770 and heart disease patients £3,455. Delaying the onset of dementia by just five years would halve the number of deaths from the condition, saving 30,000 lives a year. That is a huge opportunity. The UK is undoubtedly playing a crucial role in finding a cure and leading the world in basic and clinical research, yet dementia research is woefully underfunded: the Government invest only 2 per cent. of their medical research budget in dementia, spending many times more on other health conditions.

The 2009 report on dementia by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics stated that

“the major research funding bodies within the UK do not appear to have explicit policies according to which they allocate funds between different conditions, focusing rather on research excellence and the ‘importance’ of the topic… Given the social and economic impact of dementia, we believe that a more explicit approach to research priorities would be likely to lead to significant increases in research funding for dementia. If such an increase were not to be matched by research applications of the necessary high standard, then active steps should be taken to develop and promote research capacity in the relevant areas”.

The issue was recently recognised in the United States of America, which tends to take a fairly legislative approach to pushing issues forward. An Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Bill is currently before Congress. They have lovely names for Bills in the States; our Clerks would not allow us to give a Bill a name of that sort. If the Bill is passed, it will allocate $2 billion to dementia research.

Despite that significant American commitment to dementia research, the UK must play its own role, given our international advantages in dementia and other scientific research. The UK is second only to the US in dementia research impact. British scientists are responsible for 7 per cent. of the top cited dementia papers globally, and important innovations have come from UK research, such as the discovery of most of the genes associated with dementia so far, work leading to the development of the only licensed treatment of Alzheimer’s and the neuropathology of several rarer dementias. Furthermore, the national health service gives the UK a competitive edge in trialling new dementia treatments.

Recently, after the publication of “Dementia 2010”, I was invited by the Royal Society of Chemistry to chair one of its public lectures, by Professor Chris Dobson, who is master of St. John’s college and from the department of chemistry. He lectured on some of the extraordinary work done by him and his team of young graduates on the disease mechanism behind dementia and the role of proteins in the body. It is a potential key not only to unlocking our understanding of the disease, but to identifying treatments for dementia that arrest its progression and might even cure it. The team also established a link to other neurological conditions in our understanding of dementia. That research is being done in this country. We need more such research and the ambition to fund not just a cure, but the discoveries necessary to build bridges to it.

The Minister’s taskforce on dementia research, which is intended to drive the issue forward, held its first meeting on 24 February. Will he tell us a bit about that meeting? There is clear and demonstrable public support for investment and research into dementia. One survey found that 66 per cent. of people think that the Government should spend more money on dementia research, and only 2 per cent. thought that funding should be cut.

The hon. Gentleman is making an important contribution; it is fascinating to hear him develop his argument. He has not yet addressed the question of demographics and the increase in the number of elderly and ageing people, which must have a bearing on the future. Does he agree that in our desperate need to solve the tragic problem of dementia, we must find the means to relate it to the future and the increasing number of people who will inevitably be afflicted as they grow older?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to identify the demographics, which present a problem not only in the increasing number of people who present with dementia, but in our society’s ability to provide the necessary informal care. It is estimated that, over the next 20 years, this country will need an additional 15 million carers to cope with the increased burden of diseases such as dementia. That is why the research figure that 800,000 people suffer from the disease is so relevant.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on highlighting this subject and on the compelling case that he is making. Caring for dementia sufferers is a demanding and stressful job. Does he agree that were people not caring for their loved ones so compassionately, the burden on the state would be much higher and his figures would be different? Does he also agree that there is a stigma around mental health? Rethink is trying to tackle that problem with the “Time to Change” campaign. That is part of the context that causes dementia research and caring to be pushed into the background. We should address it head on.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which I am sure the Minister and others will have heard. He is right to identify the cost of care. A substantial part of the £23 billion economic cost of dementia is the conservative estimate of £12 billion for informal care.

On research, will the Minister say what were the outcomes of the first meeting of the ministerial taskforce and when the minutes will be posted on the website? It would be good to be able to study them. What timeline do the Government envisage for increasing the funding available for dementia research? When will we hear an announcement? Could we hear one in the Budget next week?

I have taken an interest in anti-psychotic drugs for many years. I will not labour this area because of the good work done by Professor Sube Banerjee in his report that formed part of the strategy. When the Government published the action plan to reduce the use of anti-psychotics by two thirds, the report found that 150,000 people with dementia were being inappropriately prescribed and that as many as 1,800 deaths a year could result, thus suggesting that the prescription of such drugs needs to be borne down upon and reduced. The report set out a strategy to do that and stated that it could save about £55 million.

The Public Accounts Committee took evidence from David Behan, the official responsible for social care in the Department of Health, who has been widely credited for his work in this area. I asked him how soon the action plan’s strategy to reduce such prescribing by two thirds might be realised. I left the exchange with the impression that the intention was that it would be done within the next two years. On re-reading the transcript, I found that it may take two years before the baseline is established. The reduction will presumably take a further two years after that. It would be helpful if the Minister clarified whether we will see the two-thirds reduction in anti-psychotic prescribing in two years, or whether it will take two years for a baseline to be produced and a further two years for the reduction.

At the heart of my concerns is the lack of priority. The National Audit Office put its finger on that, as did the Public Accounts Committee report. In December 2007, after the first PAC examination of this matter, the Department of Health published its operating framework for 2008-09. Among the local priorities it stated:

“The Department will shortly be publishing details of the clinical and economic case for investing in services for early identification and intervention in dementia, which PCTs will want to consider when developing local services.”

That was flagged up as a local priority, not a national requirement or even a national priority.

Late last year, the NHS operating framework for 2010-11 was published. It did not identify dementia as a national priority. Only in some weak words under the title “Areas to support local prioritisation” is dementia mentioned. It states that improved efficiencies and outcomes are to be gained by

“the early and accurate diagnosis of dementia”.

In addition, the vital signs indicators to be used by primary care trusts do not mention dementia. The Department of Health has said that vital signs cannot be reopened to include anything else until the next spending review. However, given the stated priority that we have heard from the permanent secretary and Ministers time and again, surely the vital signs should be updated to include a measure on dementia, or separate guidance should be issued to ensure that dementia is a priority nationally and locally.

There is a deficit of awareness of the strategy and its implementation on the ground. Health and social care staff participating in the NAO research could not identify leaders on dementia and felt excluded from the implementation process. It is reported that care homes have received no communication about the strategy and have seen no sector leadership. Only two strategic health authorities were actively working with care homes when the NAO did its fieldwork. The research revealed that many front-line staff—in particular, general nurses—were unaware of the strategy. A lot must be done to close that gulf of understanding among professionals, let alone the public.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Unlike him, I have had the tragedy of Alzheimer’s strike people close to me. Has he read the Alzheimer’s Research Trust report that estimated that 31 per cent. of people with dementia are registered on GPs’ lists? It suggests that that is due to GPs’ lack of training and confidence in diagnosis. However, a person close to me was referred by a GP to a consultant. He actively helped her with the memory test to improve the outcome. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the health service seems to be pursuing a strategy of ignoring the problem unless relatives fight for help, or the illness becomes so bad that it can no longer be ignored?

My hon. Friend makes some powerful points. Evidence has been gathered over the years, by the Audit Commission and others, of diagnostic denial in the NHS with regard to dementia. That is changing, which is good, but some GPs clearly still harbour the view that diagnosis is pointless because there is no cure. I disagree with that, as does the national strategy. We need early diagnosis because it allows families to plan and to come to terms with the condition.

Interestingly, the NAO found that more GPs now feel that early diagnosis is important. That is a good move forward, but some GPs still need to be convinced. In 2006, 68 per cent. of GPs agreed that it was important. In 2009, the figure was 77 per cent. Only 47 per cent. of GPs said that they had had sufficient training in dementia management, and almost two thirds were not confident in diagnosing dementia.

According to the research, there has been no improvement in GP knowledge and awareness of dementia over the past five years. There are widely held concerns among GPs about gaps in post-diagnostic support. That is why there is a question about the role played by the quality and outcomes framework. It awards GPs quality payments for keeping a register of people with dementia and for reviewing cases, but there is not much clarity on whether it is possible to enhance the emphasis on dementia. Will the Minister say what the Department’s position is on using the quality and outcomes framework as a lever to drive change in this area? It could play an important role.

When the Minister launched the strategy, he talked of the ambition of having a memory service in every town in the country. Was that just an ambition? How will it be translated into practice on the ground? How soon will that ambition be achieved?

The more I hear, the more impressed I am with the landscape being painted by the hon. Gentleman. Does he think that this debate will get any national coverage? Would he like to place a bet with me that it will almost certainly not be reported at all?

I have been an MP for 13 years, and I am used to the fact that that is sometimes the outcome of Westminster Hall debates. However, obtaining coverage is not the only reason we have such debates; we have them because they provide an opportunity to talk to a Minister directly across the floor and get a response. That is why I have chosen to initiate the debate. If any attention is paid to the matter that we are discussing, I suspect that it will be paid to the Public Accounts Committee report, rather than to this debate—but we shall see.

The next issue that I want to raise is that of local information on dementia services. Again, a commitment was made at the Public Accounts Committee meeting that, by the end of this month, each primary care trust and local authority would have a joint action plan in place to take forward plans to deliver the strategy, and that that would be part of the baseline audit of dementia. Clearly, we need to know if that will be delivered. Will the Minister tell us whether the baseline reviews are on track for delivery by the end of this month and, similarly, whether the joint action plans will be ready by the end of this month? Is the Minister confident that those things can be delivered on time?

Work force issues are at the heart of how all those measures can really transform lives. It is not just about spending more money; it is about ensuring that we have a capable and competent work force that can properly care for and look after people with dementia. It was instructive to note, during the exchanges at the Public Accounts Committee meeting, that one component of the issue of the work force is the role of the General Social Care Council. At the moment, it registers only social workers. Six years have passed since Ministers promised the House that staff who work in people’s homes would have the opportunity to be registered, and would therefore be covered by the standards set by that body and regulated by it.

We still do not have a time scale and a deadline by which those people who go into others’ homes to care for them will be registered with the General Social Care Council. That is clearly a result of the fact that the body appears to be rather dysfunctional in a number of ways, as ministerial statements have indicated. It would be useful if the Minister could say a bit more about that, and about what discussions are going on between him and his officials with organisations such as the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association about developing dementia care skills for health service staff.

There is a lot of talk at the moment about who pays for care and how we should do so. That has rightly become a much higher priority for debate and, just last week, I attended a round table with the Minister and the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien), in order to contribute to that discussion. I hope that such debates will continue. There is no doubt that people with dementia and their carers are among the hardest hit by the current charging system. Despite dementia being a medical condition, care is still largely provided through social care, and it is mainly means-tested, rather than being funded in other ways, as with other illnesses.

I want to mention some of the excellent work done by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, and by Crossroads Care. Those organisations have rightly been snapping at the Minister’s heels to ensure that the undertakings given in respect of allocations of money to deliver the carers strategy bear fruit on the ground. They have just published research that has revealed some disturbing findings about the extent to which the money that Ministers said would be allocated to carers—particularly for carers’ breaks—has been siphoned off into other NHS budgets.

That research demonstrated that the money is not delivering what it was intended to deliver, and that PCTs planned to spend only 25 per cent. of the £100 million to increase services for carers—that is, from this April. That is a tiny improvement on last year’s situation, but it is still woefully less than what was promised. A significant proportion of the money that is being spent is probably being double-counted against the money allocated for other Government strategies. In my patch, the carers strategy money has been double-counted alongside money for the dementia strategy. The two strategies have been put together, so that the PCT can claim that it is achieving its spend.

The hon. Gentleman is developing a very cogent argument. I dare say that he was as shocked as I was by the bare-faced cheek of these PCTs, who have been given the money and put on notice by him, me and others that the Minister’s wish has not been delivered. The Minister’s answer has always been that MPs should chase the PCTs for a resolution to the matter, rather than getting a grip on the problem himself. However, he said last week that he would get a grip of the issue, but the future projection of the spend is hardly any better than the figures that we have already had. It looks as though the PCTs are spitting in the face of the Minister’s obvious wish.

There is a huge accountability deficit here. PCTs cannot be held to account, and sometimes getting an answer to any such questions is like getting blood out of a stone. I first asked Ministers about the matter eight months ago; I was admonished for doing so and was told that I should be asking my PCT. It took months to get an answer out of them. That answer was disappointing, and the Princess Royal Trust for Carers has had similar responses across the country. In fact, 25 per cent. of PCTs plan to reduce spending on services for carers, despite the extra resources specifically put into budgets to help with those services. A small number of PCTs continue to provide no services whatever for carers, and that picture is reinforced by the fact that, across the country, up to £1 billion that has been allocated may not be reaching its intended recipients. That is scandalous and a disgrace.

Of the £150 million committed in 2009 to 2011, 24.5 per cent. will be used to increase support for carers; the rest has gone somewhere else. The problem is that the issue is not just about the carers strategy; there is clearly a problem with the implementation of other strategies as well—the child health strategy, the end-of-life care strategy and the dementia strategy. All four strategies represent important Government announcements of nearly £1 billion in new spending. It is proving very hard for most of the charities that cover those areas to establish precisely how that £1 billion is being used.

I welcome what the Minister recently said about personally holding PCTs to account. That is very important. However, that positive announcement leads us to ask what the Minister will do to ensure that the PCTs really deliver. What does such an announcement mean in practice? Many PCTs have been advised that they would not be setting budgets until late March. PCTs have known about the extra money since June 2008, and the best committed their spending at an early opportunity. That has to happen, because many of the strategies involve working in partnership with local authorities and, moreover, with the voluntary sector in a local area. Lead times have to be considered if there is to be cost-effective delivery of new services, so why has none of that happened, and why do we not have the mechanisms to hold PCTs to account?

In the Public Accounts Committee hearings, the question of the cost of NHS continuing health care was raised. At the end of the session, I asked the Department of Health to write back to me with further information on the subject. I got the reply the other day, which stated:

“The Regulatory Impact Assessment which accompanied the National Framework for NHS Continuing Healthcare and NHS funded Nursing Care in England (2007), estimated, based on existing data about the costs of care, the overall cost of implementing the new Framework…in the first full year as £219 million.”

The cost of delivering continuing care, funded by the NHS, is £219 million. The important question is: what happens next? Where does that money come from? This is what the Department said:

“The costs of implementation will include a cost shift from Local Authority budgets”.

Some £219 million is needed to deliver the Government’s framework. How much of that £219 million will come from a cost shift from local authority budgets? We all know that social care budgets are under pressure. Social care budgets deliver most of the dementia services that make a difference to families’ lives. How on earth can we find £219 million out of local authority budgets to pay for that? Will the Minister give some reassurance about what is intended by those words? If they are to be interpreted literally, as I fear they should be, they are very scary.

I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to initiate the debate, but I want to bring my remarks to a close. There is clearly now an acknowledgement that dealing with dementia is a huge challenge and that we need to invest in services. Doing so will save money in the long run and transform lives. We need to make sure that that is a clear priority. We cannot just leave individual NHS organisations to choose whether they invest in dementia services, as if they were a luxury item. Those services are no luxury; they are essential. That is why the Government’s rhetoric on dealing with dementia as a priority must be translated into action on the ground. I hope that we will hear a positive response from the Minister on the issue of research, and some indication of a commitment to moving those matters forward. I look forward to hearing the other contributions to the debate, and I hope that the Minister will respond in detail at the end.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) is to be congratulated on initiating this important debate.

On the point about the money that has supposedly been allocated to primary care trusts for carers, particularly for respite care, the further figures produced by the Princess Royal Trust on how the forward allocation will not be spent are disappointing. The frustrating point is that the Government all too often give the impression that something will happen—that a group such as carers will be looked after—but then in reality it does not happen. In my most recent constituency surgery I heard from a constituent who has been looking after his elderly wife, who is suffering from dementia, at home. He has been asking for respite care and some help with physiotherapy for some time now, but he has received absolutely nothing. I put the Minister on notice that I happen to be No. 1 on the list for Prime Minister’s questions tomorrow, so Mr. Speaker cannot fail to call me. I advise the Minister to give some help to No. 10 on the matter, because I may well put that point to the Prime Minister.

The fact of the matter is that men who reach the age of 65 today have an average life expectancy of 82, and for women of that age the life expectancy is 85. The advances of medical science over the past century mean that we now have longer life expectancies than at any time in the history of civilisation, so we can celebrate the fact that more people than ever before will live longer and, broadly speaking, healthier lives. The number of over-60s will therefore increase over the next two decades, both as a proportion of the total population and significantly in absolute numbers, as the post-war baby boomers move into retirement.

However, the human species is not indestructible, and although improvements in medical science mean an increase in life expectancy, the statistical fact, sadly, is that a proportion of those people living longer will succumb in due course to age-related illness. For example, the incidence of dementia rises sharply for those over 80, from around 6 per cent. for those aged 75 to 79 to 12 per cent. for those aged 80 to 85 and 21 per cent. for those aged over 85. I understand that one in three people aged over 65 will die with some form of dementia. In the Cherwell district in North Oxfordshire, in my constituency, the population aged over 65 is due to increase by 60 per cent., which is significant, over the next decade, largely because Banbury was something of a new town in the 1960s. However, nowhere do I see evidence of a 60 per cent. increase in nursing home provision in the district.

When I was first elected a Member of Parliament 27 years ago, every Christmas I would visit every nursing home in my constituency to meet the residents, who were, by and large, spry widows in their 70s, with the occasional widower. I do not think I heard the word Alzheimer’s until I had been an MP for some years. I no longer visit nursing homes at Christmas, not because I am disinterested—I frequently visit them at other times—but simply because every nursing home in my constituency, almost without exception, is filled with elderly residents suffering from increasingly severe dementia or Alzheimer’s.

I welcome the recent campaign to raise awareness about dementia, led by the Department of Health supported by the Alzheimer’s Society. It has the theme, “Dementia: the more we understand, the more we can help”. As few of us will live lives untouched either directly or indirectly by dementia, it is important that we all have the greatest understanding about it. Indeed, in my constituency I have set up an advisory group, called the successful ageing group, which consists of local people from Help the Aged, Age Concern and the local carers’ centre, because in Banbury we too are fortunate enough to have one of the first Princess Royal Trust for Carers centres, which do excellent work. The group also consists of representatives of the WRVS—formerly the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service—which does some really good work at the Cornhill centre, providing support for older residents in the community. There are representatives from Oxfordshire Links and from specific charities and organisations, such as the Alzheimer’s Society, the Multiple Sclerosis Society and Parkinson’s Disease Society. The intention is to meet reasonably regularly to try to understand what is happening locally in that landscape, because sometimes it is difficult to relate national initiatives to what is happening locally.

That takes me to the Public Accounts Committee report on improving dementia services in England, to which the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, who is a member of the Committee, has referred. It might be helpful if I go through the report’s conclusions. The first conclusion is:

“Although the Department said dementia would be a national priority, it has not afforded it the same status as other national priorities such as cancer and stroke.”

The Committee recommends that strategic health authorities should

“agree with each Primary Care Trust a local dementia implementation plan, comprising costed actions and a timetable, by July 2010.”

Who is leading on that? Will PCTs lead, or in an area such as mine will county council social services departments lead in trying to ensure proper services for those suffering with dementia? The reality, in my experience, is that comparatively few people suffering from dementia will stay in acute hospitals for a significant length of time. They might go into an acute hospital because they have broken a hip, for instance, which is often when their dementia is discovered, but because—understandably—their long-term needs can rarely be met in an acute general hospital, help in a care home or in the community will be sought for them fairly speedily.

One of my concerns is that I often do not think that there is a sense of grip on who is leading. If the PCTs are meant to be leading, they also need to be gripping social services departments, because all too often we have a situation in which everyone is pointing and saying that it is the other person’s responsibility. Indeed, on several occasions I have found that the only way Oxfordshire MPs can sort things out is by getting everyone involved, such as the PCT and social services, in the same room at the same time to discuss blocked beds, for instance. The PCT will say that it would like to move people out more quickly but cannot get beds in community nursing homes, while social services will say that hospitals are not getting the appraisals done quickly enough. We need to know who is leading on that.

The other element is accountability, because whoever is in charge and takes a grip needs to be accountable for what they are doing so that there is transparency and visibility. Has my hon. Friend’s successful ageing group expressed a view on where it would like the leadership to come from? There must be some kind of recognition of where it expects the lead to come from. Does it want it to be the PCTs, the local council, or indeed the Government? It would be helpful to know whether the group has expressed a view, because we could then take something forward.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. People would like to feel that they know who has a grip on the matter. There are similar concerns about who is managing the continuing care budget. Is it being managed by county council social services departments, or by the PCT? If it is being managed by the PCT, as it seems to be, what are the implications for social services if there is some tweaking in applying the budget? Someone has to be accountable, so let us know who it is. That is the important issue.

My hon. Friend raises a very interesting point. I do not want to take him too far away from his prepared remarks, but one of the biggest problems that all of us, the Minister included, contend with is that even when polling takes place to find out what the country’s priorities are, caring for our elderly population is not an item that is polled. It is subsumed in the health service or pensions and is never an item on its own. One of the problems of the demographics we face—based on what my hon. Friend has just said, I dare say that he has picked up on it—is that we find it difficult to identify precisely how people feel about putting it as a priority because it is never disaggregated as an issue of concern.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I suggest to the House that concerns about caring for the elderly will start moving significantly up the political agenda over the next few years. I am sure I am not alone among Members of Parliament who constantly meet constituents who feel incredibly stretched. The husband and wife trying to maintain two jobs while they look after children on the one hand and aged parents on the other feel very much part of the sandwich generation. One comes across an ever-increasing number of elderly carers who are looking after a husband or wife. It is a growing trend and, as I shall say, I am not sure where we will find sufficient carers as we move forward.

In its second recommendation, the PAC states:

“Dementia is like cancer in the 1950s, still very much a hidden disease. There is a need for a massive campaign to promote openness and debate on this important and challenging issue.”

Dementia is distressing for those suffering from it and their families. Obviously, it is difficult for people suffering from dementia to interrelate socially as they once would have done. The disease tends by definition to get hidden away, and it can sometimes be frightening. The behaviour of people with dementia, Alzheimer’s in particular, can sometimes be extremely unpredictable. We all need to make every effort to explain the challenge that dementia poses, and if we are a caring society in which we have a regard to and a concern for the welfare of everyone, we will need to learn much more about dementia and ensure that those who are suffering from it are better cared for.

The PAC’s third recommendation has a familiar ring:

“The Department does not know how the first £60 million of dementia funding has been spent by Primary Care Trusts. The Department has only recently commissioned an audit of costs of dementia services which is expected to be completed in summer 2010.”

I understand that Ministers have a dilemma. On the one hand, they cannot dictate or micro-manage from Richmond house how every PCT spends every parcel of money allocated to it, but one would have thought that the very least the Department could do when it allocates money for a specific function, such as dementia services, is to ask PCTs simply to give an account of how the money is spent. It cannot be right that the Department and PCTs cannot give the PAC an explanation of how PCTs are spending the money.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there should not be national announcements about sums of money allocated to national strategies unless they are accompanied by a clear plan of how local organisations—NHS and PCTs—will account for how they use it? A clear audit trail has to be set up when the money is announced.

I entirely agree; otherwise, confidence in public policy and the machinery of government is very much undermined. Increasingly, people do not give credence to announcements made by Ministers. They believe that there is double accounting, window dressing or double dipping, and that nothing will materialise. When nothing happens, they understandably feel cheated, which is unfair on everyone involved. The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable proposal: why should there not be a straightforward audit trail of money that is specifically allocated by the Department of Health for a specific purpose, whether it be for dementia or for carers, so that everyone knows where it has gone?

The PAC’s next recommendation states:

“The implementation of the Strategy is dependent on achieving”—

an eye-watering—

“£1.9 billion of efficiency savings by increasing care in the community and reducing reliance on care provided in care homes and acute hospitals.”

Let us take that apart a bit. As I understand it, the dementia strategy that the Government are introducing will require somewhere a saving of nearly £2 billion by reducing the spend on acute hospitals and care homes and by increasing care in the community.

Where does care in the community come from? “Care in the community” is shorthand for people being looked after at home by a mixture of carers and care workers, yet the Government’s attempts to give further support to carers at home, by allocating money to help them, have fallen at the first hurdle.

I am sure that when the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam meets carers at his local carers centres and asks them about their needs, he finds—as I do—that they almost always first articulate the need for a break, or respite care. It varies from person to person: some ask for a weekly break, or a few hours off so that they can do shopping and so on. The all-party carers group, of which I am a member, had a meeting with the Prime Minister last year and all of us—officers and members—articulated that need. In fairness, the Department came forward with a chunk of money for carers. It was intended for carers’ breaks, but it is not being used for that by PCTs. What confidence can carers have that the Government will support them if they fail at the first hurdle by not ensuring that PCTs allocate carers the money that was meant to be allocated to them?

Where are the care workers to come from? I have a real concern that nursing homes on my patch seem to be manned almost entirely by good-quality nurses from the Philippines and Bulgaria. I do not mean that facetiously. The nurses are recruited and trained by UK nursing homes, but as soon as they are trained, they are often poached by the local NHS and move into it. Nursing homes are continuously having to train and retrain people. It is an ongoing experience.

I do not see a co-ordinated programme to ensure that jobs in nursing homes are seen as worth while, rewarding and valued in their own right by society. I see no evidence of local further education colleges or universities laying on courses at, for example, national vocational qualification level 4 so that we can have more qualified care workers. [Interruption.] I would be happy if the Minister told me in his summing up that I am wrong. I just do not see evidence of that in Oxfordshire. Whenever I visit nursing homes, I am told that one of their great concerns is recruitment of staff. If we are to have far more people providing care in the community, it will require a considerably larger number of qualified, caring care workers. One can introduce the policy only if such people are available.

The shorthand for that move is “personalisation of care services”, which is the jargon that is being used. May I put down a marker? If people are to be looked after more in the community, that should not be shorthand for their being isolated at home; they still need to be able to get to day centres to interact with others and to have a community life. I am concerned that pressures are being put on social services departments and county councils, on one hand to increase the amount of money that they are giving for care in the community, which is shorthand for people being looked after at home, whereas on the other hand, as a consequence, there is less money for day centres and other provision for the elderly.

The PAC states:

“This should include an immediate requirement for acute hospitals to have an older people’s mental health liaison team in place to ensure that unnecessary admissions are avoided and that discharge to appropriate care is as swift as possible.”

I can only report that I have not yet come across an older people’s mental health liaison team in the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust.

The next recommendation states:

“Early diagnosis of dementia is crucial in providing timely and appropriate care and in preventing more costly hospital or residential care. The Department should work with Primary Care Trusts to ensure they urgently commission good quality and effective memory services.”

I have another suggestion that will help. Most general practitioners are stressed for time, but the condition of a large number of people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia in its early stages will have been picked up by their family or their husbands or wives much more quickly than by the GP. If we asked GPs to set up a voluntary register of people who are carers, and if carers were recognised much more in the NHS system, I suspect that there would be greater opportunity for carers to say to GPs, “I think my husband or wife is in the early stages of some difficulties with memory and perhaps dementia.” It can often be difficult for an individual to acknowledge or admit that they are in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. We need to encourage more people, as carers, to discuss candidly and frankly with their GPs the suffering of their loved one or the fact that they are in the early stages of dementia.

I am sure that all hon. Members, as friends, relatives and constituency MPs, see people who are finding life slightly difficult and who will, in a couple of months or so, start going downhill fairly fast. It is not that people are insensitive or unthinking, it is just that unless someone says to their GP, “Look, this person needs some help”, a diagnosis will not necessarily be picked up early. If we are talking about continuing professional development for GPs, one thing they need to consider much more in their surgeries is how they respond to and work with carers for those who are suffering from dementia, particularly if the Government’s policy is that ever more people should be looked after at home and not necessarily in care homes.

The PAC observes:

“There is unacceptable regional variation in access to diagnostic services for dementia and in access to dementia drugs…Local leadership is still lacking in NHS hospitals, in primary care and in the social care and care home sectors.”

That is a pretty damning conclusion. The PAC advises that every acute hospital should have a “senior clinical leader” by the end of this month, who should

“work with the new Care Homes Champion to develop dementia ‘Champions’ across the care home sector.”

That takes me back to my original point, which is that everyone wants to be confident that there are people in the system who have a grip and who provide leadership, whether in respect of an acute hospital trust, a social services department or within the care homes sector.

The PAC says:

“Most people with dementia receive their day-to-day care from domiciliary carers or care home staff, who have little understanding of dementia, which therefore puts at risk the quality of care and safety of some of the most vulnerable people in society. After six years of debate and discussion, plans to introduce registration of social care staff, many of whom are without qualifications, appears to have been abandoned. As a result these staff will remain unregulated for some time to come.”

It is not just a question of regulation; it is about staff being valued and appreciated, and about who takes the lead and who should be responsible for ensuring that we have enough domiciliary carers or care home staff who are properly and fully trained and who feel valued, just as nurses in a hospital feel valued. The work that domiciliary carers and care home staff do is crucial and invaluable in our society and deserves to be appreciated, valued and recognised. Registration should not be regarded as some sort of indictment. If there is registration, it should be regarded as a qualification that is considered worthwhile.

Lastly, like a number of previous reports, the PAC notes:

“There is inappropriate and excessive prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs for people with dementia, particularly those living in care homes, which has contributed to up to 1,800 additional deaths each year.”

That situation often comes about because care homes have to look after people with dementia with too few staff, and the only way they can manage the numbers is by putting patients on those terrible cocktails of anti-psychotic drugs.

An enormous amount of work still has to be done, and if we are to get a grip on it, there needs to be leadership from Ministers downwards. This is a growing issue—a growing challenge to us all, wherever we live in the country—and we need to ensure as a starting point that in future if the Government make pledges on dementia or other issues, those pledges are not broken.

It is a pleasure to serve under your leadership, Mr. Streeter, and to have the chance to speak in such an important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) on securing it. Throughout this Parliament and his career, he has been a champion for older people and has led the debate on many issues regarding older people, particularly those unfortunate people suffering from the range of conditions that we term dementia, and their families and friends who also suffer.

I do not intend to make a long speech, because my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) have already covered most of the salient points in their excellent speeches. I am sure that this will be our last chance before the election to debate the important issue of health and social care, so it is a chance to assess where we are with the national dementia strategy and what progress has been made during this Parliament. Equally—almost more importantly—all hon. Members have to call for whoever is in government after the election to make dementia a clear priority. I commit myself and the Liberal Democrats to that and to being part of it.

This is not the time for more warm words. It is time for a clear commitment to deliver and to work together to deliver: we are starting to do that more, which is positive. We have to do that because all hon. Members are committed to real breakthroughs in dementia. It is important to say that, and we all want to say it. It is about making a commitment—saying that it will happen.

I want to pick up a few points that have been made and to emphasise some of the questions that have been put to the Minister. First, there is ongoing concern about the apparent lack of prioritisation for dementia care and the fact that the recently published NHS operating framework did not refer explicitly to dementia, which was not considered to be a tier 1 priority, or even a tier 2 or 3 priority. Why is that? More importantly, will the Minister give the strongest assurance that it will be included in subsequent operating frameworks and will not suffer in the meantime from being excluded? Similarly, we have been told that the vital signs indicators have been laid out, but if there are new priorities for the nation’s well-being, why can those vital signs not be updated as we go along?

The second important area is research, about which my hon. Friend spoke strongly. I, too, have referred to it on several occasions. We have heard the figures and about the imbalance at the same time as the ticking time bomb of an ageing population and its effect on costs. It has been estimated that the cost of dementia in England will treble over the next generation from £17 billion to £50 billion. That is simply unsustainable, so clearly there must be an increase in the spending on dementia research. My question echoes that asked by my hon. Friend. Will the Minister indicate the outcome of the welcome ministerial taskforce meeting, and may we see the minutes? Crucially, what timelines do the Government envisage for increasing funding for dementia research? That is what we need to see. Will there be an announcement around the time of the Budget? I would warmly welcome that. If timelines were in place, it would be for other parties to say whether they would commit to them, and that would move the debate on in a way that we would all welcome.

I turn to some of the specific issues of the dementia strategy. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Banbury mentioned the NAO report, and I shall refer to a few of the concerns and criticisms. First, I recently referred on the Floor of the House to memory clinics. In the light of the apparent change in commitment, will the Minister confirm whether the vital services provided by specialist memory clinics will be available to some extent throughout the United Kingdom even if it is not possible to locate one in every town? Secondly, training remains an enormously important part of the strategy, and as hon. Members have said, we still have inadequate training on dementia care for health and social care professionals. Will the Minister give an assessment of what progress has been made, and explain what discussions he has had with the professional colleges, such as the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, about developing the dementia care skills of health service staff?

Carers have rightly been an important part of the debate, and we have all spoken on many occasions during this Parliament about their huge importance. The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), who is not now in his place, reminded us that if they were not caring for loved ones, friends and neighbours, there would be a huge additional burden on the social care sector and the NHS. The startling sum of £87 billion is the contribution that carers make our economy, but carers’ organisations remain deeply dissatisfied about whether the carers’ strategy is being implemented and the money that is specifically allocated goes to the key area of respite for carers.

The Princess Royal Trust for Carers estimates that only 80 per cent. of the money allocated has been used to support carers. It also pointed out the synergy with the dementia strategy and the end-of-life-care strategy in terms of the money being allocated, which is about £1 billion in total. That is simply not being spent on the purposes and important areas to which the Government allocated it. The trust made a powerful point when it said:

“There is a systemic failure in the way that Government attempts to implement or monitor the progress of national strategies.”

We all agree that national strategies are good, but if they are not being implemented and properly monitored, they will fail. None of us must allow that to happen.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a stark contrast has emerged from the National Audit Office’s work? The NAO gave a glowing report on the national stroke strategy’s progress and identified two key differences. First, the money for that strategy was clearly identified in advance and, secondly, clear national priorities were attached to it through the operating framework. Those are missing from other strategies, which his why there is systemic failure.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why there is concern that the strategies, which we all agree are important, are simply not biting or having the impact that we all agree they need to have. I note that 12 leading charities approached the Secretary of State for Health, offering to meet and to work together to share findings and to look for solutions. Unfortunately, that offer was not taken up. Will the Minister say whether that decision could be reconsidered, even at this late stage? I can commit the Liberal Democrats’ health team to working with leading charities in that way and to share findings and advocate solutions.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend who has championed the cause against anti-psychotics. It remains a scandal that they are still used inappropriately from a health point of view and infringe the human rights of some of those for whom they are wrongly prescribed. Will the Minister update us on progress? Clearly, he and the Secretary of State take the matter seriously, so will he give us some firm timelines on when the use of such drugs will be ruled out once and for all in inappropriate cases? This is an important policy area to which we are all committed. We must look forward to the next Parliament, and I will certainly do what I can to continue to raise these issues, as will all Liberal Democrats. I hope that others will also do so. It is time to ensure that the dementia strategy delivers. Warm words are fine, but they must be turned into action and the real breakthroughs that we need.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) on securing this important debate, which succeeds a series of such debates in this House. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) on his predictably excellent contribution.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the dementia strategy today, and to keep up the pressure that we put on the Government in our Opposition day debate to ensure that funding for the strategy breaks free from Whitehall and primary care trust bureaucracy, and reaches patients on the front line, who live each day with the knowledge that their memory is gradually slipping away from them. Dementia is a debilitating and frightening disease, and those who suffer from it rightly want to know what action the Government are taking now to ensure that they may access appropriate care, and what research they are undertaking to discover new treatments for the disease.

It is right to pay tribute to the thousands of carers who look after loved ones, and to those charities that tirelessly campaign in the cause of those who suffer from dementia. As if a diagnosis of dementia were not enough to deal with, the last few weeks have added new cause for concern for those suffering from Alzheimer’s. In addition to the National Audit Office’s criticism of the Government’s implementation of the dementia strategy, news headlines have been filled with reports of the Government’s convoluted proposal for a death tax; the inappropriate tube-feeding of elderly and dementia patients in care homes and hospitals; and a rise in cases of malnutrition among older people in the NHS. Alongside that, there has been a political debate about how to tackle the decade-long silence from the Government on social care reform.

Against that backdrop of existing problems surrounding dementia care, we must acknowledge the scale of the challenge ahead. Of the 8.2 million people aged over 65, and the 6 million people using social care, there are currently 700,000 people diagnosed with dementia in the UK, and that figure is set to double over the next 30 years. As we consider how we might deliver better care to dementia patients, it is important to remember that without wider social care reform, the needs of dementia patients will remain unmet.

It is not only the Opposition who have concerns about the Government’s implementation of the dementia strategy. As we have heard, the NAO report published in January criticised the Government on several counts for their actions since the publication of the strategy. To my mind, the NAO’s findings raise three pivotal concerns. The first concern is the lack of accountability in place to ensure that PCTs spend the £60 million from the strategy for 2010-11 on dementia services. We need only look at the recent carers strategy to see how urgently that accountability is needed. Before Christmas, it emerged that the £50 million dispersed for emergency respite care this year hardly reached the front line, having been soaked up by local PCT bureaucracy, and we have had some exchanges on that.

Given that disturbing precedent, I hope that the Minister will tell us how the Government intend to ensure that they keep a grip on the allocation of resources that have been identified and earmarked for the dementia strategy. During the Opposition day debate, the response by the Secretary of State for Health was deeply worrying. On the dementia strategy, he said that he had

“given PCTs the freedom to determine their spending based on local needs.”—[Official Report, 27 January 2010; Vol. 504, c. 831.]

Although autonomy for PCTs should be promoted, that does not mean that the Department should lose track of local spending decisions and have no capacity to check how central funds that are assigned for specific purposes, such as dementia, have been spent.

When the Minister, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam and I met the Princess Royal Trust for Carers last week, I was pleased to see the Minister make a U-turn on his line that it was up to each MP to chase up their own PCT on the issue of the carers strategy funding. [Interruption.] The Minister laughs because he is embarrassed, but he said that the PCTs would now be directly accountable to him, and the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam was there to witness that. It is important that the Minister takes the opportunity to shed some light on how PCTs will be expected to report to him, and tells us what measures he will introduce to ensure that the accountability now in place will be maintained in the long term.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that important point. Although it is incumbent on the Minister to spell out how he will ensure that accountability, given the proximity of the general election, surely it is incumbent on us all to say how we will ensure that the money gets to the front line. Will the hon. Gentleman do that?

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask me about that. If there were time to do so, I would be more than pleased to develop that point. [Laughter.] Suffice it to say, before the Minister has complete hysterics, that the NHS board and the NHS autonomy and accountability Bill, which will be introduced in the first year of a Conservative Government, would be the chaser and enforcer of such matters. That is what is so absent from the Government’s plans—they give headline announcements but have nothing to chase them through, so the accountability fails.

I hope that the Minister will take that point seriously, rather than seek to laugh it off, and that we can move to the second concern, which is the vagueness with which the dementia strategy laid out its funding sources for the next decade. To date, the Government’s impact assessment has identified only £533 million of efficiency savings over 10 years, which leaves nearly three quarters of the £1.9 billion budget unaccounted for. The Government have yet to give a detailed indication of where the money will come from, and I hope that the Minister will provide details on that. Clearly, those savings have already been announced, and we do not need to wait for the Budget for them—that is the normal cover claimed by Ministers at the moment. There is an opportunity this morning to put those details on the record at last.

The third concern with the strategy was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury and also mentioned in the NAO report; it is the Government’s need to tackle the gaping hole in the skills set of all professionals who encounter dementia patients as part of their job. We sought reassurance on that matter during the Opposition day debate, and the Secretary of State said that he had commissioned Skills for Health and Skills for Care to assess training needs. However, he did not specify whether the Government were looking specifically at dementia training or at the broader work force agenda, and I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to clarify that point.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam mentioned the important issue of the evolving discussion that started with the early-hit headline announcement of memory clinics in every constituency. That was downgraded to memory services, and then to services that seem to exist already, mainly psychiatric services and centres. Perhaps the Minister will update us on where he has got to with putting a memory clinic “in every town”, to be precise with the quote. Let us see whether the strategy has been delivered on and has fulfilled the hopes that were raised by the headlines that were secured by the Government’s announcement.

Dementia research is another vital area. We must ensure that we match the commitment to research—particularly where that research has Government funding—that involves tracking the anticipated and known demography coming down the track. We have pledged to give greater priority to research on dementia and Alzheimer’s within Government research budgets, and we hold to that pledge. Hopefully, that will be matched, and I am encouraged by the Government’s more recent announcement of a new ministerial group on dementia research. It would be helpful to find out what progress has been made to date—I think that there has been a meeting—and to learn what support is on offer. We can then ensure that our research, which is world-class and in which we are leaders, can be capitalised on, so that benefits to patients can be developed and accelerated.

I come to a point that has not yet been mentioned, but which is vital. We recognise—uniquely at the moment, although we would be more than happy if other parties were prepared to match the pledge—the need to widen the remit of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. It should include not only cost and clinical effectiveness in its assessments, but the wider societal cost, which is vital. That would require primary legislation, and we have been calling for that change for four and a half years. The best example is, of course, Aricept, which can postpone, and therefore relieve, many of the early onset needs of Alzheimer’s patients, thereby postponing the time when a much greater care package needs to be found.

We have sought to look at the problem of residential care, but the fear of going into residential care needs to be addressed. Tony Blair identified that issue in 1997, but it has not been addressed for 13 years. The arguments for our home protection scheme have been well rehearsed, so I will not rehearse them again today. The scheme seeks to address that element of the care requirement, which is something that particularly affects dementia patients because so many end up going into residential care. That is why the issue is of such vital importance.

In this debate, and as we come to the end of this Parliament, there is an opportunity to hold a stocktake, and I make no apology for doing so. We have heard a lot of promises from the Government, and a considerable number of headlines have been generated. However, despite the warm words and the other utterances that secure headlines—that is the result of any ministerial announcement—it must be right to hold the Government to account, and to ask them to report on how they have delivered, rather than simply promised, not only on the dementia strategy, but on other strategies allied to it. In the 11 minutes that the Minister has in which to reply, he has the opportunity to report on the delivery of those strategies, rather than simply on the promises.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) on securing the debate. We have debated social care and dementia issues on many occasions, and it is always a pleasure, as the Minister responsible for care services, to come to the House to describe the huge progress that we have been making in recent years and our ambitious plans for the future.

Dementia is a devastating disease. It is a disease of the present, which affects many people—more than 700,000. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a higher figure; either way, many people have the disease. It is also a major disease of the future, as other hon. Members noted. The number of dementia cases is set to double within a generation. However, I emphasise that it is not a disease without hope. There are many ways in which we can support people with dementia. It is possible for people to live and to live well with the disease, rather than just die from it. That is one reason why we must challenge the stigma and fear attached to it, and the awareness campaign that we launched last week is set to do that among the public and professionals alike. That is the spirit in which the dementia strategy was developed—to empower and support individuals, families and carers to live full and rewarding lives in the face of dementia. That is why I am determined to implement the national strategy quickly, effectively and in full.

Let me be clear: dementia has been, is and will continue to be a priority for the Government and for me personally. I was delighted to see that that was noted clearly by the National Audit Office report. It measured progress in terms of the fieldwork five months into our five-year strategy, and I was pleased that it said:

“We found strong direction and national leadership for the Strategy by the Director General for Social Care… Departmental leadership throughout development of the Strategy was judged as excellent by most stakeholders.”

Today’s Public Accounts Committee report describes the national and regional leadership as “strong”. Indeed, the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), summed up at the end of one of the oral evidence sessions by congratulating the witnesses, particularly Mr. Behan,

“because I always like to congratulate witnesses who show drive and vigour”.

I could not agree with him more, so I would like to take this opportunity to say that, everywhere I go, I see passion, pace and drive in making change happen. The result is that we are seeing real progress and are firmly on track to deliver the strategy that I had the privilege to publish just over a year ago. The past 12 months have been about an active process to lay the foundations for a major shift—a major cultural change—as much as a change in the practice of health and social care professionals.

The considerable advances that we have made during year 1 of the strategy will put us in a strong position to transform services in years 2, 3, 4 and 5, and I want to place on the record the progress that has been made. There is strong direction and leadership of the strategy, both nationally and regionally. We have an implementation plan in place to lead the reform process. We have a strong governance structure, with a programme board, a working group and an external reference group, driving forward reform and keeping close tabs on progress. We have strong leaders in place nationally. The first ever national clinical director for dementia, Professor Alistair Burns, was appointed in January. Ian Carruthers, chief executive of the South West strategic health authority, and Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association, are national dementia champions for the NHS and the independent sector respectively. All three of those national leaders are working to inspire greater ownership and better leadership across health and social care.

We have deputy regional directors of social care working to secure local buy-in and providing advice to local organisations. There is also clear and substantial action to raise standards and improve knowledge. Forty demonstrator sites have been set up around the country to consider how dementia advisers and peer support networks can help families to obtain the support that they need. I have met many families who find those forms of support very important.

Could I ask the Minister to address the real concern, which is about the money getting to where it is needed, and given that I have asked several other questions that he probably will not have a chance to answer today, will he write to me to answer them?

I will do my best to reply to the hon. Gentleman today in the time allotted to me. Regional baseline reviews were completed in the autumn, paving the way for detailed local dementia plans. He asked whether they would be received this year. Yes, I hope so. They will be delivered as we start the new financial year. New joint commissioning guidance was published in June. That addresses the point made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about how accountability and responsibility have to be shared locally, because it is health and social care that meet the needs of people with dementia. Joint commissioning is the answer about how we ensure that local partners work together to meet the needs of patients and their families.

An online dementia portal has been established to capture and disseminate best practice with regard to the complex number of organisations involved in providing dementia services. The sector skills councils—Skills for Care and Development and Skills for Health—have embarked on a mapping exercise considering training opportunities for professionals working with people who have dementia to address the specific question that I was asked. It is also considering the gaps that may exist.

An earlier area for action is the work that we are doing with the Royal College of General Practitioners—the point about GPs was raised during the debate—to develop new training materials for GPs to raise their awareness and understanding of patients who may have early signs of dementia.

We have accepted the conclusions and recommendations of the anti-psychotics review, including the call for a two-thirds reduction in the use of anti-psychotic drugs. Professor Alistair Burns, the new national clinical director, will lead on implementing those recommendations, starting with a full audit of prescribing practices. We want that completed by this October, to answer the question from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, so the two years will be to October 2012.

We are also boosting public and professional awareness through the dementia awareness campaign that we launched in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society a few weeks ago. I hope that many people will have seen the adverts and the TV campaign, which are doing a great job.

On research, I have set up and chaired the first meeting of the new ministerial group to improve the quantity and quality of research submissions competing for the £1.7 billion of research funds available from the National Institute for Health Research and the Medical Research Council. At the first meeting, I made clear my intention to issue a research call in the future to invite new bids for dementia research covering the causes, cures and care of people suffering from this disease. I will ensure that hon. Members see a copy of the minutes of that meeting. It was a very good meeting. The charities that have been mentioned are involved as partners, and five work streams are under way.

I make no apologies for that long list. I know that others wish to describe us as not having got on with the process of delivery; I am demonstrating thoroughly just how much we are doing that.

Let me deal with one or two other points that have been made. On funding, I have said that dementia is a complex disease that spans health and social care, and we have a variety of levers involving a variety of organisations to achieve the change that we want to see locally. There is cross-party consensus that we should not make it a mandatory requirement in the national operating framework or return to ring-fenced funding. I do not think that anyone has asked for that today. I think that that is right. However, I can confirm that the operating framework of 2010-11 continues to refer to the dementia strategy, building on the recommendations in the 2009-10 operating framework that PCTs should prioritise improvements to local services for the early identification of and intervention in dementia and that PCTs should work with local authorities to consider how they improve those services.

Furthermore, the new QIPP—quality, innovation, productivity and prevention—programme will guide the NHS through the savings that it needs to make over the next five years, and that will cover dementia services. The world-class commissioning programme will continue to enable the NHS and social care to commission the right services.

Most important of all is winning the hearts and minds of people locally, which is what all the people whom I have mentioned, including those leaders in and outside the Department, and I are doing with energy, determination and success. We have given the NHS freedom and flexibility. It is right—I think that the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O’Brien) referred to this—that it has that freedom and flexibility, but it needs to be held to account for its progress. Therefore, we are conducting a full review of progress through a national audit of dementia services. That will examine the number of dementia leads in hospitals, the number of memory services established and the use of anti-psychotic drugs. We expect the first results to be available by the autumn. The audit will consider how money is spent on dementia services as a whole—not just the £150 million, but the £8.2 billion being spent on health and social care for people with dementia.

We are taking this issue forward. I am proud of the work that we have done as a Government. I look forward to being here in June to report further on the progress that the Government have made in meeting the needs of people with dementia.

Defence Industry (Lancashire)

I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise issues relating to the defence industry in Lancashire. Lancashire is probably at the heart of the UK’s defence industry, although when I first moved to Preston in 1975, I did not realise how important the industry there was.

At the time, British Aerospace, as it then was, ran three major aerospace factories in the Preston area. One was at Warton, to the west of Preston, one was Samlesbury, to the east of Preston, and one was at the old Strand Road site, right in the centre of the city. Strand Road had a long history of aerospace production, going back generations and through the second world war. We have a long tradition of producing a variety of aircraft, from the Hampden, the Canberra and the Lightning right up to the Tornado and the Typhoon in the present day.

Lancashire’s defence industry at the time was based around those three major factories, together with two Royal Ordnance factories—one in Blackburn and one between Chorley and Leyland. What always interested me about the Royal Ordnance factory at Chorley was that the Ordnance Survey map would show nothing at the site apart from trees and a bit of green. However, anyone who went on the railway line would stop at a special station, which allowed thousands of ROF workers to get off the train to go to work in the huge factories spread over hundreds of acres between Leyland and Chorley. A third of the site is now in my constituency and two thirds is in the Chorley constituency. The ROF has now virtually gone, and there is a new village called Buckshaw. The railway station will shortly come back into use as a commuter station, and thousands of houses and factories are being built on the site. The old ROF site at Blackburn also closed many years ago. None the less, the defence industry remains crucial to Lancashire. It is based around the Salmesbury and Warton plants, but there are also a large number of small supply companies.

In the early ’90s, when the Tornado was in full production, I attended an unveiling ceremony in Warton for what was probably not quite a prototype—it would be a bit grand to talk about it as such—but a model for what became the Eurofighter Typhoon. Many years later, the Typhoon is coming off the production line. I was pleased when my hon. Friend the Minister signed the contract for tranche 3A of the Typhoon, which has secured many jobs in my area. There are 112 aircraft in tranche 3A, and we need to see whether we can get tranche 3B. Those of us in the area are still working on that.

The Tornado was probably the last major fighter to be a UK-only plane. The Typhoon was a joint production with Germany, Spain and Italy and it has been very successful.

The hon. Gentleman might like to correct himself. The Tornado was a joint effort involving the same partners—Britain, Germany and Italy. It was not just the Typhoon that was built in that way; it built on the Tornado experience.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He and I have a long history of dealing with aerospace issues in this place, being officers of the all-party group on aerospace. I know of his interest in the issues, given that he represents Farnborough, which is the headquarters of BAE Systems. On many issues, we have fought on the same side in the interests of the aerospace and defence industries.

I first became involved in defence and aerospace as a young councillor in Preston in the early ’90s, when Strand Road was closed and we faced large-scale redundancies. I became involved in the situation as an economist and as someone who was concerned about economic development and who wanted to see what would happen. Preston city council got involved with a number of local authorities in establishing the airline network, to see what we could do to speak up for the defence and aerospace industry.

At about the same time, Lancashire county council, British Aerospace and a number of smaller companies established a network to focus on the industry. A gentleman called Dennis Mendoras, who runs a company in Pendle, was a leading figure in the organisation, which eventually became the North West Aerospace Alliance. For a number of years, Dennis was a member of the Northwest Regional Development Agency, a role that he used to speak up for the aerospace industry.

It is interesting that the NWDA has been crucial in supporting the aerospace and defence industries in the north-west in recent years. Let me give two examples. First, there is the aerospace supply chain excellence programme. Its first scheme started in 2006 and received £8 million in funding from the European regional development fund. As a result, four companies from across Lancashire—well, one is slightly outside Lancashire, although it is perhaps in historic Lancashire—secured a £250 million order as part of the new F35 joint strike fighter programme. The companies involved are Hyde Aero Products in Dukinfield, the RLC Group at Altham, near Burnley, John Huddleston Engineering at Blackpool and ThyssenKrupp at Bamber Bridge, just south of Preston. The other programme, called ASCE 2, which receives funding of £3.6 million from the NWDA and £3.5 million from the European regional development fund, started towards the end of last year.

Both programmes demonstrate the importance of the NWDA, so I am concerned about proposals to get rid of it. It is important to have a regional perspective for industry. It has been suggested that if the NWDA were scrapped, the funding would go to local authorities or straight to the Government office for the north-west, or that it would be disbursed by officials down here in London. If the money goes to local authorities, there is unlikely to be a regional perspective in any investment or decisions. If it is disbursed by the Government office for the north-west, it will be difficult to have any accountability. If decisions are made by a civil servant down here in London, that will further reduce the regional aspect of any decisions.

At the moment, decisions are made by people who live and work in the north-west; indeed, the NWDA’s chief executive is a constituent. It makes a difference when we are able to speak to the people who make the decisions because they live and work in our region. The aerospace and defence industry in the north-west has a regional perspective, and the ability to fund developments in the area through a regional body is crucial.

The key part of the industry probably lies with the Eurofighter Typhoon programme at BAE Systems. Shortly, however, the F35 joint strike fighter programme will come on stream. It is a Lockheed Martin programme, with BAE Systems as the main partner because it has certain technical skills that are needed as part of the programme.

Many of us who have been involved for many years in the development of the programme will know how important it has been to acquire the ability to transfer intellectual property from the US to the UK, to ensure that we shall in future be able to develop and use any aircraft we purchase as we want to, rather than relying on the United States model. There have been complex and difficult negotiations over the years to ensure that BAE Systems has had access to intellectual property from Lockheed Martin. I have been pleased at the way the Government have engaged in those negotiations, and even though the deal in question is company to company, given that we plan to purchase 140 aircraft it is crucial to ensure that we have control over their use and can modify and develop them during their lifetime.

Currently, £800 million is being invested in the new Samlesbury plant. I think it is spread over 10 years. I was there a few weeks ago and the construction is magnificent. It is a huge investment in manufacturing in the north-west, of which we should be proud. It will secure many jobs not just now but in the future, as the production there will be for part of every aircraft that is produced across the world. That is thousands of aircraft, even though we are looking to purchase about 140.

That is where we are now, but perhaps we can think about where we could be in future. I have visited the Warton site many times, and several times have visited its unmanned aerial vehicle centre, which has been doing considerable research and development on UAVs for several years. There are at the moment two UAVs that are key to the future. One is Taranis, which was launched in 2006; it is a joint Ministry of Defence and industry project, led by BAE Systems, to test the viability of UAVs. The first prototype, with a unique stealthy flying wing, is currently being built. It has not yet flown, but that will happen in the not-too-distant future. The second aircraft, the Mantis, has already flown. It was produced within 19 months of the first consideration of the concept, and flew towards the end of last year. The target was for it to be able to fly for 36 hours without landing.

That area of development is crucial for the employment prospects of people in the defence industry in Lancashire. If we look beyond the F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon it is difficult to envisage future generations of fast jets that will create jobs in their current numbers. The current thrust for military aircraft is towards UAVs. It is important that we should be at the forefront of that development. We need to ensure that future investment will continue and that the defence and aerospace skills that exist in Lancashire will go on. Such skills have been in the area for generations. When I visit schools there, it is interesting that many children have parents who work in the defence and aerospace industry, and grandfathers and great-grandfathers who worked in it too.

The technology and engineering side of things is important in Lancashire. I visited a technology competition on Friday. It was run by the local Rotary clubs and sponsored by BAE Systems. It was fascinating to see the involvement of groups from a host of schools in my constituency, including groups of girls—it is good that more women engineers are coming forward. We need to take the Lancashire tradition of work in defence and aerospace into the future. I worry that when the existing programmes come to an end there will be nothing afterwards. If UAVs are what will be needed at that time, their development needs to be thought through.

Moving on, perhaps I may make my remarks a little more political. I am conscious of the importance of the F-35 joint strike fighter, but I have been concerned about the fact that although the Government have been positive in supporting it—they have been active in the negotiations to ensure that intellectual property can be transferred, and have made the decision to go ahead with the carriers from which many of the aircraft will fly—that is not necessarily true of all parties in the House. I was interested to read the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) in a debate on 1 March.

My hon. Friend talked about shipyard conveners visiting Opposition parties. They came away reasonably happy from a meeting with the Liberal Democrats:

“However, the convenors were greatly depressed when they went to meet the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who, speaking on behalf of the official Opposition, made it clear that the action that a Conservative Government would take on day one would be to examine the break clauses in the contract. Had he said to them, ‘I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything because it will take us six months to set up a review, and then a year to have the review, and then maybe a couple of weeks at the end of that to decide on it, so it will be 18 months or so before we can come a decision’, they would not have been happy with that, but they could have understood it, because that had been a relatively consistent position; indeed, it was the Liberals’ position until they accepted the strength of the convenors’ arguments. But no, the Conservatives said that on day one they would examine the break clauses—no one examines the break clauses on day one unless the intention might be to apply them on day two.”

That set alarm bells ringing for my constituents, who wonder what a Conservative Government would mean. If there is no commitment to the two aircraft carriers, there is no commitment to go ahead with the order for the F-35 joint strike fighter. In that same debate, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) quoted from a leaflet distributed by the Labour party in my constituency, and referred to it as “scurrilous”. The part he quoted said that

“it is a bit worrying that the Conservatives, should they get elected, are looking to scrap a number of Defence Projects.”—[Official Report, 1 March 2010; Vol. 506, c. 703-09.]

He did not quote the editorial in the Lancashire Evening Post of 17 September 2009 that said:

“David Cameron has fuelled fears that a Conservative government will ditch crucial defence contracts at the cost of thousands of Lancashire jobs.

The Tory leader threw his support behind Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, who sparked outcry from the defence industry when he pinpointed the £20bn Eurofighter Typhoon project as a potential scheme to cut.”

The hon. Gentleman is clearly anticipating much of what I shall say, but I want to put him out of his misery—or rather to disrupt his joy at spreading false rumours. He has picked up a quotation from the Lancashire Evening Post. I have a copy of his leaflet. As I made clear in a letter that I sent to the leaders of the defence industry, there was no such imputation to be made in relation to the remarks of the shadow Chancellor. He did not list any programmes that were scheduled to be axed. He was asked a question in another context. In my letter I made it clear that we shall have a defence review and I shall set those things out later. I hope the hon. Gentleman will address the headline in his leaflet, of which I have a copy. It says, “Vote Conservative and destroy the defence industry”. Will he explain, and apologise for that?

I was somewhat puzzled that the hon. Gentleman mentioned the leaflet, because Aldershot is obviously a long way from South Ribble. However, when he cited the fulsome praise of the Conservative candidate who is to be my opponent in the general election, I twigged that she comes from the same part of the world as him and that the leaflet was probably passed to him on a weekend trip to the south.

The leaflet was not passed on in that fashion. It was posted to me. Lorraine Fullbrook, who is the hon. Gentleman’s doughty and feisty opponent—she has every prospect of succeeding him in this place—has, as he well knows, been resident in the area for five years. As the hon. Gentleman said, when he went to Lancashire in 1975 he did not know that it had an important aerospace industry. Lorraine Fullbrook knew even before she clapped eyes on Lancashire.

I have some sympathy for the hon. Gentleman, because I know that he is a strong supporter of the aerospace and defence industries. However, having read his speech of 1 March and having seen various Conservative party statements, I see that the party has a formula should it come to office; it will carry out a strategic defence review. However, until that is done, it is unable to make any commitments. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to be able to reassure my constituents that, should there be a change of Government, the programmes for the Typhoon and the F-35 would be safe, but he is unable to do so.

It was significant that the hon. Gentleman should comment on a leaflet circulated by the Labour party in my constituency, as I have seen a leaflet circulated by the Conservative party that makes the identical point—that the Conservatives would carry out a strategic defence review and then decide which programmes were to go ahead. That is the Conservative position. I am sure the hon. Gentleman wishes he could do more.

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that our position is precisely the same as the Labour party’s.

Not at all.

The Minister, who is shortly to leave Parliament, says not at all. It is a fact, and I can confirm it. Both parties will undertake a defence review. That review will consider all the options and force structures. That is what the nation requires. That is what the armed forces require.

I shall move on. It has been interesting to watch the debate about procurement and other such matters over the last few months. The Government have signed contracts for the carriers and work is going ahead with them. The shadow Defence Minister made it clear to conveners from the defence industry that the break clause would be considered on day one, which questions the Tory commitment to the carriers. If the Conservatives have no commitment to the carriers, it is difficult to see how they can be committed to the F-35.

The hon. Gentleman continues to make such observations. In a written answer, the Secretary of State for Defence said:

“We have been very clear since the publication of the Defence Green Paper that everything other than Trident is included in the Strategic Defence Review.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 20W.]

If there were to be another Labour Government, they would review all programmes except the Trident successor, just as the Conservatives would do. Our positions are identical. I hope the hon. Gentleman will explain that fact to his constituents.

I recall that just before Christmas, at a meeting of the Select Committee on Defence, I asked my hon. Friend the Minister about the Government’s commitment to the F-35 joint strike fighter. My hon. Friend told the Committee that the Government would purchase 140 aircraft.

Everything else that my hon. Friend has said is absolutely correct, but I did not say that there would be 140. I said there would be up to 150. In practice, 140 is pretty close but the formulation is important.

Indeed, and we have already signed a contract for three aircraft in order to do evaluation trials.

I asked a similar question of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He made it clear that he saw the Typhoon and the F-35 as the two fast jets at the core of our military capability, and that he was not looking to get rid of them or to buy anyone else’s aircraft. I am disappointed that the Opposition have not been more specific in their commitment. Their lack of commitment to the aircraft carriers undermines their commitment to fast jets.

If I was an employee of BAE Systems in Lancashire, I would be concerned about my job. I would be inclined to stick with a party that has shown a commitment to the industry by signing contracts for the Typhoon before Christmas, by starting work on the carriers and working hard to ensure that the F-35 programme goes ahead, rather than turning to a party that can give no such commitment.

May I say what a pleasure it is to have the opportunity to contribute to this timely debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Streeter? I congratulate the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) on securing the debate. I pass on the apologies of my hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Nick Harvey) and for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie), both of whom are unable to be here today.

As will become obvious, I do not share the analysis proposed by the hon. Member for South Ribble. However, both of us hold firm on the importance of Lancashire and the north-west of England as a prime region for defence. Many thousands of families across the region have given unstintingly of their efforts, being involved in iconic defence industry products such as aircraft, which are of particular interest to him and me, and others. It will a sad day if the historic importance of Lancashire and the wider north-west is forgotten. I hope that that never happens under any Government.

I shall not indulge in internecine warfare about who said what in which leaflet. I am at a disadvantage in that I do not have copies of the said periodicals with me. That may be some relief to you, Mr. Streeter. However, I shall speak on the subject of the debate and put a number of questions to the Minister.

I was asked to speak for my party today as a Member whose constituency is in Cheshire—it is just over the border from Lancashire—and who represents the many hundreds of highly trained skilled engineers and technicians who work at the BAE Systems Woodford site and who live in my constituency. As the hon. Member for South Ribble said, like many other sites, Woodford has a proud history, involving the RAF and the very best of British engineering skills.

Those skills go back for many generations, to the Lancaster bomber of the second world war, the Vulcan from the cold war, the first Nimrod, the MR2 and the MRA4 programme. I have been fortunate enough to visit that site on many occasions and am well aware of the fantastic job done by the whole team, both management and unions. The expertise of our defence sectors workers is world-renowned, and it is on their behalf, as well as on behalf of my party, that I speak today.

Today’s debate is of interest to not just those fortunate enough to live in Lancashire, but the general public as a whole. The Defence Analytical Services Agency puts total nationwide employment in the industry at around 300,000. Direct employment stands at 155,000, with a further 145,000 jobs in the supply chain. In total, the defence industry accounts for 10 per cent. of manufacturing jobs in the UK. For every job created in the defence industry, about 1.6 jobs are created elsewhere in the economy. It is estimated that £100 million investment in the defence industry would create 1,885 jobs throughout the UK economy, 726 of which would be in the defence industry. For that very reason, there are more small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK defence industry than in the French, German, Italian and Spanish industries combined. As things stand, more than 65,000 jobs in the UK are currently supported by defence exports.

I was delighted to read recently that the Minister, who is in his usual place today, lavished praise on the defence industry in Lancashire, and he was right to do so. I am sure that every Member present today will testify that Lancashire has a world-scale, world-class defence industry. The combined turnover of the north-west aerospace companies is some £7 billion a year, one third of the UK’s total aerospace sector, which itself is the second largest in the world. The MOD’s own statistics puts defence spending-dependent employment in the north-west at 14,000 people, which seems a little on the conservative side. An article in the Financial Times last year reported that some 1,000 companies employ 60,000 people in the north-west. Perhaps in his response, the Minister might like to address that particular issue and clear up the confusion regarding the figures.

It is my understanding that BAE Systems employs 12,000 people in the north-west and has a supply chain of 1,000 companies in the region, which supply it with services and products.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but what I said was that the Financial Times had reported that some 1,000 companies are employing 60,000 people in the north-west, so there is no dispute between what he and I believe to be the case.

The Northwest Regional Development Agency has consistently talked about boosting the aerospace industry. However, despite its excellence and expertise, there is no doubt—the hon. Gentleman has made the case very eloquently—that Lancashire is suffering from a downturn in fortunes. Last November, BAE announced plans to cut a further 640 jobs, citing a reduction in military spending on both sides of the Atlantic. Such cuts will take the total number of redundancies at the defence contractor this year to about 2,300. In Lancashire alone, 205 jobs will be lost at Samlesbury, 170 jobs at Warton and a further 57 jobs will be lost in the Military Air Solutions operations based in Chadderton. Not even the Government’s misguided investment in the multi-billion pound nuclear submarine programme has been enough to save cuts of 5 per cent. in the 4,500-strong work force at BAE Systems’ naval base in neighbouring Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria.

Let me reinforce the point of difference that we have heard expressed from the two Front Benches today. It is certainly our contention that it is quite erroneous for the Government not to have included the future of the Trident nuclear submarine programme in their strategic defence review. It seems wholly ridiculous that such a review, which is looking at all aspects of defence spending—it is doing that because of the state of the economy and because no party can afford to do everything that it would like to do—is not considering that single biggest issue.

Let me say a few words about the Woodford plan, because not only is it a region that I represent, but its problems epitomise the very issues that the hon. Gentleman referred to from his constituency’s perspective. Last September, BAE confirmed that it would close the site in Woodford in 2012 with the loss of the remaining jobs—well under 1,000—as a result of the conclusion of the Nimrod project. To be fair to the Minister, he visited the plant just before the announcement. He had a look around and talked to the people directly involved. He made it clear that the option to convert three further development aircraft to production standard would not be taken forward. Whichever way one tries to wrap up that decision, it was a body blow to the hundreds of workers still employed at Woodford. The decision was all the more remarkable given the fact that the RAF had stated that it had an operational requirement for a further three aircraft. Given that the Government have now effectively chosen to buy three American Rivet Joint aircraft instead of Nimrods, will the Minister use this opportunity to explain how such a decision sits with the Prime Minister’s declaration of British jobs for British workers, which now sounds rather hollow in Woodford?

Any decision to contract the planes out to the US results in not only skilled workers losing their jobs earlier than necessary, but the UK defence industry losing the military aviation expertise that has been built up over many years and that is such a vital part of the north-west economy. There are many questions about exporting jobs and military aviation expertise, not least of which is that—I have put this point directly to the Minister before—if we are going to use American aircraft for intelligence and reconnaissance jobs, which is what such planes are for, who has first claim on the intelligence? I understand that we have a close working relationship with our American allies, but surely only one party has first claim on that intelligence. The Government will also lose the expertise developed in Woodford and various other locations that would help future possible productivity, leaving the UK with no option but to return to the US time and again for upgrades and maintenance.

Let me make one thing clear, and this echoes points that were made earlier. The argument is not one of protectionism. Our priorities must be to give our armed forces the best equipment, to get value for the taxpayer and to support a strong defence industry—in that order. However, the decision is about short-term savings overriding long-term defence interests and financial common sense, which is why it would be economically advantageous in the long term to have stayed with the Nimrod programme.

Let me turn now to the Eurofighter, which is where I differ from the hon. Gentleman and possibly the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). It is our contention that the project represents very little financial sense. I realise that such a remark will cause a great deal of consternation, not least to the hon. Member for South Ribble. It is accurate and fair to say that the programme has been beset by cost overruns, delays, technical problems and it is now an expensive and, as some might say, an unnecessary and inappropriate capability. The Eurofighter is considered by many people to be a damning indictment of this and previous Governments’ military priorities, and is viewed as an anachronistic piece of cold war kit that serves no purpose in the modern world. Instead of fighting the wars of the past, the Government should be looking to utilise the skills base of those employed in the Eurofighter project to invest in technology such as UAVs, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, that could help save lives in Afghanistan, where we have troops on the front line, putting their lives at risk every day of the week right now.

Air Vice-Marshal Martin Routledge, the outgoing chief of staff for strategy, policy and plans at RAF HQ Air Command, has been vocal in his belief that the MOD and the RAF have not invested enough in this so-called agile technology. UAVS, such as the Reaper, can be used to monitor routes commonly used by troops to see if improvised explosive devices or mines are being planted by insurgents. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that some drones are already being used for that purpose, but the simple fact remains that there are not enough UAVs to handle all the operational demands. It is our view that the Government should embrace that technology, and when they finally do so, I am convinced that Lancashire and the wider north-west region have the workers with the necessary expertise and determination to get it to the front line.

Members will be all too well aware today that the defence industry faces a great deal of pain as the economic downturn makes its inevitable impact on defence spending. However, Members should also remember that the MOD had saddled itself with massive debt even before the current downturn had begun to take shape. Bernard Grey’s report last October described the MOD’s procurement policies as “incompetent” and revealed a disparity of about £35 billion between our commitments and the resources that are available to fulfil them.

We know that about £2.5 billion is wasted every year on equipment projects. That is Labour’s legacy—a budget that is out of control and a programme that is years late. It is also a legacy that has caused a great deal of uncertainty among the thousands of people working in the defence industry in Lancashire and elsewhere.

Given the tight financial shackles that the MOD will inevitably be operating under in the foreseeable future, it is vital that the Government learn the lessons from past procurement blunders. We have a situation now where some aircraft, such as the Eurofighter, are built with parts that are made all over Europe and then shipped somewhere else to be put together, purely as a result of political deals. A company such as BAE Systems, which still employs thousands of people in the north-west region, would do better in a more commercial atmosphere that had less political horse-trading. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will at least agree with my final point, which is that British industry has nothing to fear from a more business-led approach to military procurement.

It is customary on these occasions to congratulate the hon. Member who secured the debate, and I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) on having done so. It is somewhat disappointing that so few Members from the north-west were able to join us on this occasion to celebrate a British success story, because there is no doubt that Lancashire and the aerospace industry are a continuing success story of which the whole nation should be proud.

However, I fear that the hon. Gentleman had another motive in securing this debate. Indeed, he alluded to it, and I intervened on him to ensure that those who read reports of these proceedings understand precisely where he is coming from. It was unfortunate that he was not able to take part in the debate on defence in the main Chamber on 1 March, although I see that he has assiduously studied the remarks made in that debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, and by me. I gather that the hon. Member for South Ribble was also unable to take part in the debate on defence in the main Chamber yesterday, so I suspect that the principal purpose of this debate is to allow him to put something on the record, which he can then distribute around his constituency, as something of a panic measure, before the general election, in which, according to the opinion polls, he is likely to lose his seat.

I will perhaps return to the polemics of the issue in a moment, but I think that there are a number of things on which the hon. Gentleman and I agree. He was right to mention that we are both officers of the all-party aerospace group, which is promoted by the Air League, an excellent organisation promoting air-mindedness throughout the kingdom; it has just celebrated its centenary. Britain has excelled in probably the most important industry of the 20th century—an industry in which we continue to be world leaders.

I share with the hon. Gentleman a concern about the implications of the joint strike fighter in respect of the exchange of intellectual property with the United States. It is absolutely imperative that the United States understands that if we do not have operational sovereignty over that aircraft, the project clearly must be reviewed. We, as a sovereign state, cannot find ourselves in a situation where we cannot operate that aircraft in a sovereign fashion. So I make wholly common cause with him on that issue.

The hon. Gentleman may remember that a few years ago, in about 2006, I addressed a conference in Washington, where I spelled out in words of one syllable how we in the United Kingdom, having contributed so much in support of the United States, expect some reciprocity from the US. Before I went to that conference, I had a briefing with Lord Drayson, a man for whom the industry has a high regard, as do I. Lord Drayson and I discussed the matter, and again we were completely ad idem—that means “of the same mind”, for those who have perhaps forgotten their Latin—on it. So I am happy to make common cause with the hon. Gentleman.

On that point, does the hon. Gentleman agree that a lot of progress has been made on the transfer of intellectual property, and that it is important that the UK continues to deliver its side of the bargain and does nothing that could allow members of Congress to seek to reopen the deal and start putting obstructions in the way of the transfer of intellectual property in the future? I say that because the project is going ahead in stages. Until now, agreement has been reached stage by stage; the intellectual property that has been needed has been transferred, and things have gone smoothly. The hon. Gentleman will recall that we had a number of arguments, and discussions with various politicians, in Washington to get the process started. A large number of British MPs have visited Washington over a long period and have engaged in discussions, which were successful. If we are not careful, however, there is a risk that the process could unravel.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but the United Kingdom needs to take a very robust stand with the United States. The relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is in need of a bit of tender loving care. There have been a number of issues on both sides of the Atlantic that have been unhelpful to our relationship, not least the recent withdrawal by EADS of its tanker proposal for the United States air force, in the light of its belief that the entire programme has been re-jigged to fit the Boeing tender.

I do not believe that the United States understands anything other than the most robust language. Our constituents across this realm believe that we in Parliament have done our bit in supporting the United States; indeed, some of our constituents believe that we have gone too far in supporting the United States, particularly over the Iraq war. The United States must understand that if our relationship with it means anything, it has to ensure that we are able to reassure ourselves, and those whom we represent, that we remain a sovereign nation, capable of operating equipment made jointly by ourselves and the United States in a sovereign fashion.

One should not go into the negotiations with the United States in a frame of mind that is anything other than robust. If anybody is in any doubt of the merit of our having that frame of mind, I remind them of the exchange between our former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, and the then US President, Ronald Reagan, when he invaded Grenada, a member of the Commonwealth, without first consulting the United Kingdom. She unleashed a salvo of weaponry, the like of which had not been heard in the Oval Office for many a long year. The result was not that we impaired our position with the United States; instead, we deservedly won its respect for that approach. Such an approach may be required again. So I make common cause with the hon. Member for South Ribble on the issue of relations with the United States.

Obviously, I also praise the role of BAE Systems, which is one of the principal employers in Lancashire, as the hon. Gentleman said, with 12,000 employees there—7,000 at Warton and 5,000 at Samlesbury. Those employees have some of the most high-tech jobs in the land, involving the highest modern skills, in an area where Britain leads the world.

When I visited one BAE Systems site recently, it was interesting to see the degree to which industry has become much more agile in responding to the needs of the defence world, including, obviously, the needs of Her Majesty’s Government. The hon. Gentleman singled out the unmanned aerial vehicles that are being developed by BAE. There is no doubt that the Mantis is an example of the agility of which I have spoken. From inception to first flight, the project took less than 18 months. That is the way that the industry needs to go. One aim of the defence review will be to ensure that we create systems to allow within Government the same agility that the industry is beginning to show.

I share an anxiety with the hon. Gentleman: I am nervous about the extent to which we in this country accept that we will not again build a manned aircraft. The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) was critical of the Typhoon, as I prefer to call it; it seems a better name than the one that he used. The Typhoon is a state-of-the-art air superiority fighter. Anyone who thinks that this country can do without an air superiority fighter has no understanding of modern warfare. It just so happens that we have not faced an air threat in recent conflicts. I remind those who do not think that air power is important of Simon Weston. The entire nation has in its mind the visage of that heroic Welsh Guardsman, who survived an attack on the Sir Galahad in Bluff Cove during the Falklands campaign. That attack was perpetrated by an insignificant, but on this occasion highly effective, Argentine aeroplane. Those who do not have command of the skies put their land forces at risk of annihilation. That is why air power is vital.

It is important that this nation should understand that the Typhoon is not a cold war relic or, as the hon. Member for Cheadle described it, an anachronistic piece of kit that serves no useful purpose. That is a fundamental misunderstanding. If that is Liberal policy, the nation needs to know about it. The Typhoon is a superb aeroplane, acknowledged by the Americans as a class act, in terms of air superiority. We must have it. It is not one that I would delete from my armoury.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are legitimate concerns that the strategic defence review might end up listening to those who have learned their lessons from the conflicts of only the past 10 years, which might result in us drawing up a military system based on the needs of those past 10 years, rather than on what could be needed in the next 20 or 30 years? Fast jets, aircraft carriers and other big bits of kit that have not been needed much in the past 10 years may well be needed in the uncertain future that we face.

The hon. Gentleman is right. That is the predicament facing whoever forms the next Government; obviously, I hope that it will be the Conservative party. I have no doubt that we will face immense challenges in determining the force structures that are required to meet not only today’s immediate threats but the potential threats of the future.

We politicians must not concentrate simply on the here and now. Although we may accept the importance of winning in Afghanistan, it is not the be-all and end-all. It is our duty as politicians to look to the future, to protect the people whom we represent and to protect this nation and its interests around the world. I see no scenario in which air power can be confined simply to unmanned aerial vehicles loitering somewhere in the stratosphere.

The hon. Gentleman drew attention to some of my earlier remarks. I was not making a point about defence aviation generally; I was talking specifically about the Eurofighter, as the record will show. However, I certainly stand by my remarks.

The hon. Gentleman says that politicians must look beyond the here and now, but does he not accept that all politicians have a duty to provide leadership in the debate about reductions in public spending? Defence is a major spending area. I understand that he and his colleagues have ruled out Trident from the strategic defence review, as have the Government. What potential savings does he think we ought to be considering? Nobody is suggesting that we need to scrap the whole of military aviation—I was talking specifically about the Eurofighter—but at least I have offered specific suggestions on how money can be saved. He and his party have offered nothing but vagueness on the matter.

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that he can save money by scrapping the Typhoon, he has failed completely to understand the argument I was deploying a few minutes ago: we require an air superiority fighter, which is precisely what the Typhoon is. It is also a top-class aircraft. It is not an also-ran in the international stakes of air superiority fighters. I will address the hon. Gentleman’s point about the economy later, because it is a good one.

The hon. Member for South Ribble spoke exclusively about his constituency, but the hon. Member for Cheadle widened the debate to Lancashire, albeit from a vantage point in Cheshire. I hope in passing that he will notice my lapel badge. It is a Woodford badge, for it is a Vulcan bomber. I am a trustee of the only flying Vulcan bomber in the world, XH558, and I am pleased to say that we have just raised £1 million to ensure that we can display it on the air show circuit this summer, subject to a modification being made. Woodford has played a noble part in the history of Britain’s aerospace industry, not least with the phenomenal Lancaster bomber and the Avro Vulcan, both designed by Roy Chadwick. As Members will know, only 12 years separated the first flights of those two aircraft.

More generally, the hon. Member for Cheadle mentioned some points about employment. Defence Analytical Services and Advice, known in the trade as DASA, estimates UK regional direct employment in the north-west dependent on Ministry of Defence spending to be about 14,000. I suspect that he is right and that it is an underestimate. Virtually all the 12,000 jobs at BAE in Warton are aerospace-related, so I imagine that taking the supply chain into account, there are substantially more than 14,000.

Indeed, I understand that 19,000 people are directly employed in the region. The local industry represents the largest single concentration of aerospace employment and production in the UK and has long been recognised as a global centre of excellence. Aerospace accounts for 89 per cent. of all local high-tech jobs in the north-west sub-region and as the hon. Member for Cheadle said, it contributes no less than £7 billion a year to the local economy. We should not forget Rolls-Royce at Barnoldswick. Rolls-Royce, the world’s premier aero-engine company, is at the leading edge of technology and contributes to that important industry in Lancashire.

More than 800 aerospace companies are represented by the North West Aerospace Alliance, the flagship organisation representing companies and others involved in the north-west aerospace cluster. It is one of eight such alliances around the country. As the hon. Member for South Ribble said, my constituency includes Farnborough, where the Farnborough Aerospace Consortium is based. I met the consortium the other day, and we discussed how successful such alliances are proving in promoting some of the most highly skilled technology jobs in the United Kingdom. That is where I hope a large part of our future prosperity will lie now that the bubble of the financial services business has well and truly burst.

[Mr. Robert Key in the Chair]

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Key. If you will forgive a little aside, I note that you are a keen follower of defence matters. I thank you for all that you have done to promote defence during your time in the House of Commons. It has been appreciated by us all. You have been a stalwart and sometimes outspoken proponent of the defence industry.

The hon. Member for Cheadle mentioned Rivet Joint, which is a technical issue and a classified area of defence activity. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am extremely concerned about the implications of the Government’s moving down the route of the Rivet Joint proposal. I understand the concept of taking three existing United States aeroplanes—old though they are—rather than developing the Nimrod, which has been one of the least successful programmes in the BAE stable. My view on that is well known. It has been a terrible chapter of mismanagement over a long period.

The Rivet Joint position is worse than the hon. Member for Cheadle suggests. He asked who gets first call on the intelligence. As the Minister knows, we provide intelligence; we are contributors and exchangers, not takers of US intelligence, because we have something to contribute. Under his proposals, not only will there be a three-year capability gap when we will have no such ability to obtain intelligence for ourselves, but, even more critically, we will have nothing to contribute. That will result in the United States once again being the only supplier and will put us in the position of supplicant. That is a serious matter. For obvious reasons, I do not encourage the Minister to address the fundamentals underlying it, but he must own up and say why the capability gap will exist in such a vital area, where we and the United States enjoy a special relationship in the exchange of intelligence.

I shall conclude my remarks fairly soon, but I make no apology for returning to some of the more partisan points made by the hon. Member for South Ribble. He raised issues that he wants to promote around his constituency during the general election campaign. I understand why Labour and its trade union paymasters want to misrepresent Conservative policy. It is rather sad given the common ground that the hon. Gentleman and I have shared on these issues in the past, but it is predictable.

The headline in the leaflet—“Vote Conservative and destroy the defence industry”—is absolutely outrageous. The hon. Gentleman owes an apology not only to the Conservative party, but to his constituents, whom he seems determined to frighten the life out of. The leaflet states:

“How much of this would be stopped if the Tories had their way?”

As I tried to point out to him, we have made it clear that we will have a defence review. There is no difference between my party and his on that issue. If one programme after another is exempted from the review, there is no point in having a review.

No, because I anticipate that the hon. Gentleman wants to ask why we have excluded Trident. We have excluded it for the very good reason that we believe that decisions have to be taken, unlike his party, which thinks that a Trident successor can be magicked up in a few seconds. It cannot be; it is a long-term programme and a strategic issue. We have made up our minds, as indeed have the Government.

To be fair, the hon. Member for South Ribble pointed out that the Labour and Conservative parties share common ground on the need to replace the independent Trident nuclear deterrent. To exclude other programmes would be to undermine the whole purpose of the strategic defence review. There has not been such a review since 1998. When I first broached the idea, I thought that senior military commanders would object and say that it would mean more cuts. However, they said that we need a defence review because there is a new world order that requires us to step back and look at the big picture. We need to consider what threats we face, and, therefore, what force structures we require and what equipment we require to support them.

As you were not here earlier, Mr. Key, perhaps I can repeat what the Secretary of State said in a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring as recently as 8 March:

“We have been very clear since the publication of the Defence Green Paper that everything other than Trident is included in the Strategic Defence Review. But unless the review takes us in a very radical new direction, aircraft carriers are likely to remain critical elements of our force structure.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 20W.]

That is Labour’s position. The Conservative position was stated on 1 March:

“We have always made very clear our arguments about seaborne air power projection. It would be perfectly reasonable to expect the carrier programme to continue under another Government, unless there were strong reasons in a strategic defence review for it not to.”—[Official Report, 1 March 2010; Vol. 506, c. 673.]

The position is identical. If the hon. Member for South Ribble persists in spreading the lie that the Conservative party has a different position from his party, he will do a disfavour to himself and to those he claims to speak up for, namely the highly skilled employees of the aerospace industry on whom our armed forces depend. I urge him not to do so.

I make it clear that the Conservative party is committed to a vibrant defence industrial base. I put on the record what my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring said on 8 February in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute:

“In order to ensure we are able to respond to rapidly changing threats we must have a vibrant defence industrial base. Without it we would have no operational sovereignty—thereby threatening our national sovereignty.”

Our position could not be clearer. We are not believers in buying off the shelf, which would mean buying American. As I said to the Minister, that would mean ceasing to be a partner and becoming a supplicant. There is common ground in wanting a vibrant defence industrial base in the United Kingdom.

In the launch book for the new trade organisation, AeroSpace Defence Security, which replaced the Society of British Aerospace Companies and the Defence Manufacturers Association, the Leader of the Opposition stated:

“I am delighted to welcome the arrival of ADS to combine the interests of the Aerospace, Defence and Security sectors. Together, these industries harness some of the best of the nation’s high-tech skills to develop world-leading technologies for military and civil applications. I am committed to the creation of a vibrant and diversified British economy where ADS member companies can flourish, continuing their proud record of contributing to Britain’s prosperity and its security, and my colleagues join me in wishing you every possible success.”

I do not think there is anything between the parties on what they want to do.

The hon. Member for South Ribble singled out a quotation from the Lancashire Evening Post in the leaflet he referred to. To ensure greater accuracy, I have obtained a copy of the letter that I sent to the industry on 16 September. It stated that the shadow Chancellor’s comments

“were not part of his prepared speech but made in a Q&A session at a Spectator conference, when George was asked if the Conservatives felt able to undertake an SDR whilst in Opposition. Naturally, he highlighted the severely limited access which the Opposition has to MoD documents and accounts without which an SDR cannot be undertaken. When pressed on the material to which access would be required George mentioned a number of factors, including commercial procurement contracts, and listed a number of programmes as examples.”

My hon. Friend did not single out any programme to be axed. I put that firmly on the record.

This great industry is one of Britain’s huge success stories. Lancashire, along with other parts of the country, has a proud tradition of pre-eminence in the aerospace industry. We all wish those involved in the industry in the area continuing success not only in delivering high quality kit for our armed forces, but in contributing to the defence of these islands and the United Kingdom’s wider interests around the world.

As the hon. Member for Cheadle rightly said—I said I would come back to this point—we face an economic sandstorm as a result of the Prime Minister’s complete and abject mismanagement of the economy, both in his current role and as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was not the golden boy of the Treasury; his judgment resulted in our selling off the gold reserves at rock-bottom prices, which led to the destruction of the pensions industry. The dreams of millions of our fellow citizens were destroyed in the process.

The Prime Minister has never properly funded the armed forces to do the job that is required of them, and there is no doubt that the incoming Government will be faced with an economic wasteland that he created. He inherited a strong economy from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), but he destroyed it and saddled this nation with debt. Some very hard decisions will have to be made, but as I have said, the first duty of Government is the defence of the realm. We face a very uncertain and volatile world and this is no time to be receding. If this country wishes to maintain its role in the world, ways have to be found to ensure that we can continue to bring our national influence to bear on the world stage, because I think we have something to contribute as a nation.

May I begin by saying that if I do not agree with the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) very much during my remarks—and I may well agree with him very little—I thoroughly agree with his comments about you, Mr. Key? Your long and distinguished record in the House means that all hon. Members have a universal respect for your knowledge about, contribution to and judgment on defence matters, which has been displayed over the years both on the Front and Back Benches, and it could not be more appropriate that you are presiding over this debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) on securing the debate and on something even more important than that: he has done a good job not only as a powerful advocate for his constituents and Lancashire, but for the country as a whole. He has put his finger on something of enormous importance, which I do not think has yet been properly appreciated in this country: Tory plans to cancel the carrier programme would be a disaster not only for the shipbuilding industry—on the Clyde and the Tyne, in Portsmouth and elsewhere—and for the national defence capability, but for the aerospace industry, because if we do not have carriers, we will not be purchasing aircraft to fly off them.

May I make it absolutely clear to the Minister that he is completely wrong? It is terminological inexactitude to say that we have plans to cancel the carrier. I have set out our position on the carrier, which, if he reads his own Secretary of State’s written answers, he will see is identical to his position.

Our position is certainly not identical to the hon. Gentleman’s position. There is a gulf about the size of the Grand Canyon between the Government’s policies and the Tory party’s plans on the carrier programme. The Tory party regard the strategic defence review as a kind of excuse to conceal their plans to make subsequent defence cuts; but, in fact, their plans for the carriers are no longer a secret.

The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), the Conservative defence spokesman, has let the cat out of the bag—it is a very large, ugly cat, and it is right out of the bag. His remarks the other day to the convenors from the Clyde were clear. He said that in the first days of a Tory Government, if there were such a thing, he would be looking at the break clauses in the carrier contract. That is nothing to do with the SDR. The hon. Member for Aldershot kept talking about the SDR and the fact that the Tories would not make any cuts until it had been completed. However, that is not at all the message that the hon. Member for Woodspring has given to the House and the nation by the comments he made to the convenors the other day. It is clear that, in the first few days of a Conservative Administration, he intends to cancel those carriers right away. That would be a disaster.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble has pointed out—it was very necessary to do so—that such a policy would also be a disaster for the aerospace industry. People in Lancashire may well feel that they have nothing to do with the shipbuilding industry, which is correct, but they very much have something to do with the aerospace industry. That industry provides an important part of the joint strike fighter F-35 programme, which is likely to cost $250 billion—or perhaps a little more—and involve some 3,000 or 4,000 aircraft. The contribution of this country’s industry to that programme will certainly be not less than 10 per cent. and could be as much as 15 per cent. We are talking about between $25 billion and $40 billion-worth of exports for British defence industries. That is an enormously important economic factor for British manufacturing, and it is disproportionately important in the north-west, where so many of our aerospace and aerospace-related industries are located. Before people vote—whenever that is over the next months—it is important that they take into account the implications of Tory party plans on the carriers.

In my hon. Friend’s remarks, he has represented well not just his constituents, but all the people of the north-west and all of those involved in aerospace. It is certainly true that there is a remarkable concentration of very impressive industrial assets in that area. I have visited most of them. There is Sealand on the Welsh border in the south-west. That Defence Support Group base repairs avionics and other equipment for the British armed forces and does an extremely good job. Moving towards the Manchester area, I have also been to Broughton, where EADS produces wings for the Airbus and is involved in world-leading technology.

Moving to the south of Manchester, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), there is Woodford, which he mentioned. I deeply regret that the Woodford site is now closing. I am afraid that these things happen in life. At the end of large programmes, changes will obviously be made. I deeply regret the decision to close Woodford rather than somewhere else, but that decision was, of course, made by BAE Systems. It was not in any way made by the British Government. I certainly hope and pray that many of the people with those remarkable skills who have been doing so well building the MRA4 and previous aircraft will find new opportunities for their skills in the expanding work force in Warton, Samlesbury or elsewhere. There will be great prospects, particularly because of the Typhoon programmes—I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman disparaged those—and the JSF, which clearly would not be safe in the hands of a Conservative Administration. I hope we will not have a Liberal or a Conservative Administration, and that those businesses and industries will continue to thrive and provide employment in the future, as in the past, for the very highly skilled workers and engineers who are so vital to the aerospace industry.

Moving further north, part of the Typhoon—the fuselage—is being built in Samlesbury and shipped to Warton to be assembled. Moreover, important parts of the F-35—the JSF—are currently being made. A few weeks ago, I saw those parts—the tailfins and the back of the fuselage—on the assembly line at Samlesbury. Those parts were then shipped to Fort Worth, Texas, where they were assembled on to the aircraft. The reason why BAES has secured that important work share in the project is that, largely as a result of the Typhoon, it has achieved engineering tolerances in automated machining that are greatly superior to those achieved in the United States. The F-22 had to be largely machined manually, because the Americans could not achieve the high tolerances on an automatic line that are required for aircraft subjected to those kinds of strains and stresses. BAE Systems has solved those engineering problems and is making that vital contribution to the F-35 programme. That is a good example of the synergy that exists between aircraft programmes, and it has certainly incorporated the remarkable skills of people in Samlesbury.

Then there is Warton, which, in addition to assembling the Typhoon, is the main locus for work on the Mantis and Taranis programmes, which are enormously important for the future, as was rightly said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble. They are beginning to employ in a big way, including many of the aerodynamicists and aeronautical engineers who up until now have been employed by the manned combat aircraft, particularly the Typhoon and the JSF F-35 programmes.

I was in Preston, which is further north in Lancashire, several days ago at the opening of the new office of the North West Aerospace Alliance, which has been referred to already and does a superb job. I must tell the hon. Member for Aldershot that there is considerable concern among the people I met there about any future Conservative Government. Indeed, there was much concern about the Conservatives’ entirely nihilistic intention to destroy the regional development agencies, which are doing an excellent job across the country—the Northwest Regional Development Agency clearly has the respect of management and unions throughout the region—so their abolition would be an extraordinary negative thing for the Conservatives to contemplate. I hope that they will not have the opportunity to do anything about it.

Further north in the region, BAE Systems has its submarine-building capability at Barrow-in-Furness, which employs around 4,500 people. It is true, as the hon. Member for Cheadle said, that some of them are facing redundancy, but other people are being taken on, so on a net basis, I am not sure that the work force there are falling. It is inevitable in the course of a programme that the mix of skills required will change and that changes in the work force will be needed, but people are certainly being employed at the same time as others are being made redundant voluntarily. That superb national asset is one of the few loci, if I may use a Latin term—the hon. Member for Aldershot was allowed to—for the building of nuclear-powered submarines in the world. Only we, the French, the Americans and the Russians currently have that capability.

The news until now for the north-west, and for the wider defence industry, has been pretty good, and there is no question but that it will continue to be so under a Labour Government. Among the programmes that we are all proud of, and on which I have spent much of my time over the past two years, is the Typhoon. I was able to announce the successful negotiation of the tranche 3 arrangements last summer, and those aircraft will keep BAE Systems fully occupied for the next five years. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Cheadle said, there are no delays or cost overruns whatever in tranche 2 or tranche 3, so that is pure imagination on his part. I am sorry that the Liberal Democrats are so ill-informed on such matters.

That is of great interest to people in Lancashire and, indeed, in the country generally, so would the Minister tell us what stage negotiations are at for tranche 3B and whether he has made up his mind on that yet?

We proceeded with tranche 3 last summer, and we are purchasing the aircraft for which we currently see an immediate requirement. I do not exclude the possibility of purchasing more Typhoon fighters in future at all, but equally I am not prepared to commit to that. We must ensure that we commission the number of aircraft that we need for the purposes we foresee. The strategic defence review will be a major informant of our future needs. The Government see the SDR as necessary at present for guidance on future decisions, as we have not had one for a long time. It will not be used as an excuse to cancel existing programmes and projects— far from it. I would not want to decide on whether to order further Typhoon aircraft until we have the results of SDR. That does not mean for one second that there is the slightest chance under a Labour Government of going back on the existing commitment on Typhoon tranche 3, or indeed anything else. We have no intention of doing so, and I make that statement absolutely advisedly and clearly.

We have also recently heard good news on the A400M programme. In Berlin, we were able to reach agreement on the terms and conditions for the renegotiation of that programme. We will be securing 22 of those aircraft, which is an important capability for the RAF, as the aircraft will have a greater capability than our existing Hercules aircraft—the C-130Ks and C-130Js—which carry about 20 tonnes. The A400M will carry more than 30 tonnes and so will carry the new generation of heavy armoured vehicles, including the prospective Scout vehicle, the Mastiff and the Warrior. It will have a strategic capability and will be able to do some of the work currently undertaken by our C-17s. Of course, we ordered another C-17 recently and will be taking delivery of that soon as well.

The A400M programme will also create thousands of jobs in the north-west for many years to come, and I trust that that programme will not end with the purchases of the partner nations. I believe that that will be a great commercial success, certainly after production of the C-17 is ceased, which might happen as early as next year. I look forward to many export orders and to the aviation and aerospace industry in the north-west having many continuing orders for that programme.

I know that the wings are being made at Filton, but I am not aware of any other major components of the A400M being made in the north-west. What other components will be made there?

The major sections are being made at Filton, as the hon. Gentleman says, but I can assure him that there are other subcontractors and suppliers in the north-west for components for that programme. I learnt that when I attended the function at Preston to which I referred earlier.

In the few minutes remaining, I will deal with some of the extraordinary illusions that I am afraid both the Liberal and Tory parties appear to have on important defence matters. With regard to the Helix programme, which was mentioned by both spokesmen, I of course regret that we were unable to use the MRA4 as a platform for continuing signals intelligence capability. Frankly, however, after I wrote to BAE Systems on that matter, it made it clear that it could not deliver the capability in the time available, which was by 2016. Therefore, BAE Systems wrote itself out of consideration for that. Apart from everything else, it would certainly not have been a risk-free approach to delivering that capability, because it would have required BAE Systems to engineer a new mission system and an entirely new airframe.

I will not give way, because I am coming to the end of my time. That would have been a risky operation. I have to tell the hon. Member for Aldershot that the arrangement that we have with the Americans is one that we will most certainly have in the intermediate period, starting rapidly, I trust, with full access to all the data. Subsequently, we will have British crew on those aircraft from the beginning, and when we take over those aircraft ourselves, we will deliver the data ourselves and pass it on to the Americans, as we do at the moment. We will determine the mission programme entirely—no doubt, after listening to any suggestions from our allies—and pass on the output, as we do currently. The difference is that we will have a much more capable mission system than we have at present. The hon. Member for Aldershot rightly said that I should not go into more details than that, and I will not, but I am happy to say that that new mission system will be a great deal more capable.

The hon. Member for Cheadle said that we did not have enough UAVs, which I though was an extraordinary comment, as we ordered some more Reapers—I cannot say how many we have in theatre—in December, if I recall correctly, so we are increasing the number of UAVs that we have in theatre. We are expecting Watchkeeper to come into service within the next year, and that, as a core programme, is a major investment. I have no idea where he got the idea that we are not investing in UAVs and are simply waiting for Taranis and Mantis. That was another ill-informed comment.

I am afraid that I cannot give way, as I have less than a minute to go. The debate has been extremely useful and has revealed some extraordinary misunderstandings, to put it politely, on the part of the Opposition parties on some fundamental facts about defence. It has highlighted the mortal threat posed to the aerospace industry in the north-west, to many other industries across the country and to our national defence capability by Conservative plans, as we know from the comments of the hon. Member for Woodspring.

NHS (Wellingborough)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Key. I thank Mr. Speaker for granting me this debate on NHS facilities in Wellingborough, which is one of the greatest concerns of my constituents.

I am delighted to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen). She is widely and correctly regarded as one of the Government’s best Ministers, not only because of her genuine concern for health matters but because of her ability to get things done. I am delighted that she is here, as she has in-depth knowledge of the matter that I shall discuss in detail. I am particularly grateful to her because I know that yesterday she responded to an Adjournment debate, and that she had just been travelling all around the north-west. Rather cheekily, I put in a special request for this Department of Health Minister, so I appreciate her coming today.

When I applied for this debate, I intended to discuss a wide range of problems that we have with health facilities—or, more importantly, the lack of them—in my constituency, but an individual health case has overtaken what are otherwise extremely important matters. As I will show later, the constituency case of Zachary Knighton-Smith is a matter that just cannot wait; in fact, it is a matter of life or death.

To touch briefly on the other issues, Wellingborough does not have its own hospital with accident and emergency facilities. The surrounding areas of Corby, Kettering, Northampton, Daventry, Bedford and Milton Keynes all have one or more hospitals, all of which have major or minor accident and emergency facilities. Yet the Wellingborough constituency and the adjoining area of east Northamptonshire do not have a hospital, and, with 52,000 new homes planned for north Northamptonshire in the next few years, it will be impossible for the existing hospitals to maintain a proper standard of care.

More than 90 per cent. of the people who answered my “Listening to Wellingborough and Rushden” survey want a hospital in the Wellingborough and Rushden area. Six thousand people have written to me about the need for a hospital, and last month I presented a petition to the Prime Minister in Downing street. We really must have a hospital in Wellingborough.

The Government might correctly ask where the money will come from, but as the Minister will know, Northamptonshire has been the worst-funded primary care trust for years. In fact, according to the Government’s own national capitation formula, they have underfunded it by £175,468,000 since 2003-04. If the PCT had the correct funding, it would have no problem building a hospital in Wellingborough that would serve my constituents and relieve pressure on the acute hospitals in Kettering and Northampton. However, as I do not have enough time to pursue that matter in detail, I simply ask the Minister to take the point on board. Instead, I want to turn to a specific constituency case.

Three months ago to this day, I had a debate in this Chamber regarding a constituent of mine, five-year-old Zachary Knighton-Smith, who suffers from neuroblastoma. The treatment that he is currently receiving for this rare cancer gives him only a 20 per cent. chance of survival. Let me give the background on this little boy and what has happened since the last time we debated the issue.

Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer of the sympathetic nervous system, which is a nerve network that carries messages from the brain throughout the body. The disease is usually found in young children, and it is the most common cancer among infants. Solid tumours that take the form of a lump or mass may begin in nerve tissues in the neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis or, most commonly, adrenal gland. They may spread to other areas of the body, including bone and bone marrow.

I could continue by quoting the statistics—the disease affects only up to 100 children a year, and the current survival rate with the treatment that Zach is receiving is only 20 per cent. I could describe this horrendous disease in medical terms, but that does nothing to get across the true horror of it. For each child who suffers, the family to whom the child belongs suffer with them every step of the way. Zach’s family are a shining example of how the tremendous will of a family can operate. Zach’s cousin Chelsea died in August last year of the same disease, and they are absolutely determined not to let that happen to him.

The course of treatment is devastating. Treatment varies from patient to patient depending on their age, the stage of the disease, where the disease is in the body and the molecular biologic and cytogenetic characteristics of the tumour. I shall give one example of treatment for neuroblastoma—it is, in fact, the treatment that Zach has been undergoing.

Since being diagnosed with the disease in February 2009, Zach has had a 72-day course of chemotherapy, spending three days in hospital and then seven days at home. That significantly reduced the size of the cancerous tumour. As the doctors were unable to give a 100 per cent. guarantee that it would all be removed, little Zach underwent surgery to remove it. He had already undergone a horrific experience: he had to have high-dose, intense chemotherapy before Christmas. Unfortunately, he caught an infection at that time and the dose of chemotherapy had to be postponed until he had recovered sufficiently.

On 8 February, Zach restarted his high-dose, intense chemotherapy. What do I mean by “high-dose”? The chemotherapy, which stopped on 12 February, was given for 24 hours a day. For five straight days, and for every second of each and every day, he underwent chemotherapy. Just three days after that ordeal, he had a stem-cell transplant, which re-inserted stem cells that had been frozen before the chemotherapy was administered.

Because his immune system was completely shut down, Zach was kept in isolation throughout his recovery in hospital. The risk of infection was high and, despite being isolated, he contracted severe mucositis, which caused severe blisters of the mouth. He was discharged from hospital on 6 March and is due for scans next week to see if the residual disease in his abdomen has gone. After that scan, he is to undergo radiotherapy, which is the standard treatment for neuroblastoma. However, he still has only a 20 per cent. chance of survival. In short, Zach had chemotherapy followed by surgery, then high-dose chemotherapy followed by stem-cell transplant, and then radiotherapy, but this brave young boy still has only a 20 per cent. chance of survival.

However, as discussed in my previous debate, a new course of treatment can be given after the initial treatment. Monoclonal antibody therapy increases the survival rate to around 70 per cent. Normally, a person’s immune system makes antibodies to attack germs such as bacteria or viruses; unfortunately, it will not attack a neuroblastoma because such tumours are part of our bodies. However, an antibody that attaches to the neuroblastoma can be made in a laboratory and then given intravenously to the patient. The antibody will circulate in the bloodstream until it finds and attaches itself to a neuroblastoma cell, and then the patient’s own immune system will attack and kill the cancerous cell. The treatment has been carried out in the United States for several years and has proven very successful. Since my last debate, trials to administer the treatment have been set up in Europe, first in Austria and now in the UK.

As Dr. Gaze, chairman of the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group—I know he is watching this debate closely—stated:

“There is now clear evidence, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting last May, and shortly to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that immunotherapy schedules containing monoclonal antibody produce a significantly improved chance of survival in children with high risk Neuroblastoma”.

Unfortunately, Zach missed out on taking part in this trial by a matter of weeks, due to his falling ill during that first dose of chemotherapy. As the trial has strict regulations on whom it lets in, he was unable to take part. Half a dozen other children suffering from neuroblastoma were also left out of the trial.

Since the previous debate, I have been in regular contact with the Minister, and I am grateful for all the help that she has given to try to find a solution for young Zach. We are left with a couple of options. The Government could pay for Zach and the other children to go to America at a cost of between $250,000 and $800,000 per patient. With the Government spending £120 billion a year on the NHS, that is just a drop in the ocean. Were they to pay for the treatment in the United States, the NHS could save up to four times that amount in the long run. If the children did not receive that treatment and relapsed, the cost of treating them would run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Sending Zach to America will save the NHS money. In addition, the treatment gives Zach a complete chance of survival: he will grow into a young man and will pay the Government huge amounts of money through the tax system.

A further option was suggested by Dr. Brock, a paediatric and adolescent oncologist, and Dr. Gaze. They are the leading consultants on neuroblastoma at Great Ormond Street hospital. Their idea was to enable all the children who were not in the trial to participate in a separate study set up alongside the trial, which would enable the remaining children—in total no more than six children—to receive the monoclonal antibody therapy. Any newly diagnosed cases of neuroblastoma would automatically go on to the original trial.

Last week Dr. Brock went to Europe to ask SIOPEN, the European neuroblastoma research network, to set up the study. Unfortunately, a study was not agreed to. However, in principle, a separate trial has been agreed on that will enable the other children to receive the treatment, which is exceptionally good news; but unfortunately, for Zach it will not come early enough. His treatment must commence by mid-April, which is some 30 days from today.

Dr. Johann Visser, Zach’s consultant at the Leicester Royal infirmary, where Zach is being treated, has applied for an individual funding requirement in the hope that Northamptonshire primary care trust will pay for Zach to go to New York and receive the treatment. Dr. Visser kindly copied me in on a letter about Zach that he wrote to the chief executive of Northamptonshire PCT:

“American colleagues in the Children’s Oncology Group, who under the direction of the FDA, are treating patients within a single arm study with immunotherapy but he is unfortunately also not eligible for that. Failing this we contacted the team at Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital in New York who has a Monoclonal antibody therapy (3F8) which is administered with GMCSF. They have been very helpful and are willing to treat him”.

The other children who fell out of the original trial are now likely to go into the second trial. All the children who are now diagnosed with neuroblastoma will go into the original trial.

Zach is now clearly a unique case. He will be the only child in Britain with neuroblastoma who is unable to receive this potentially life-saving monoclonal antibody therapy—little Zach, who has been so brave throughout all this, and so determined not to let anything get him down. I have met Zach. I also have a nine-year-old son and I just cannot imagine what it would be like for my son to have gone through the sort of treatment that that little boy went through. Zach is still so joyful and hopeful. His family, who have had to go through the torture of seeing Zach’s cousin, Chelsea, suffering from, and eventually losing to, this killing disease, have been incredibly strong through all this.

I spoke to Zach’s mother yesterday; she is one of the most determined people you will meet. She said that she could not sit and watch another child die, and that she will do everything in her power to help save Zach. Like his mother, I believe that we all have to do everything in our power to save this little boy. Northamptonshire PCT is meeting tomorrow to discuss whether funding can be provided to pay for Zach to go to the United States.

Although I intended to contribute to the next debate, having heard my hon. Friend speak I should like to congratulate him on his doughty defence of the interests of this child. As a Member of Parliament, he is doing a tremendous service to his constituent and his constituency as a whole.

Coming from my hon. Friend, that is a kind compliment.

The problem is timing. Time is of the essence. We need to get Zach accepted to receive the treatment in America. I appreciate all the efforts that the Minister has made up to now. I have only one question for her: what can the Government do to prevent this little boy from dying?

It is a privilege to speak with you in the Chair today, Mr. Key. I thank the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) for his kind words about my concern in this case.

I compliment the hon. Gentleman on his diligent work in relation to Zach. He takes a keen interest in health matters and he has ensured that this debate deals more with the case of his constituent, Zach Knighton-Smith, than the original wording of the debate suggested. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to NHS staff across Northamptonshire for their hard work and dedication in delivering health care services, which have shown massive improvements in waiting times and other areas because of investment.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Northamptonshire Teaching PCT is being brought closer to its fair share of funding. It will receive an above-average increase in funding allocations of 11.9 per cent. over the two years, 2009-10 and 2010-11. It is important to put that on the record, but now we all want to address the most important issue.

I reiterate what I said when we last discussed the case of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, Zach, here in Westminster Hall in the last few hours of Parliament before the Christmas recess: all hon. Members and all those present today sympathise with Zach and his family and appreciate how heart-breaking it must be for a parent to discover that their child has cancer. From my own involvement as a nurse, nursing children who have such distressing diseases, I know how their families suffer. Watching little ones suffer is the worst thing we ever do.

The previous debate highlighted the fact that research into the disease has brought the good news that children diagnosed with neuroblastoma will have the chance to receive monoclonal antibody treatment in this country as part of a European trial announced in December last year. Sadly, we learned that Zach, and a small number of other patients each year, would not meet the eligibility criteria for the trial. At the time I advised that because the drug was not licensed and the treatment had not been appraised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, the primary care trust must take the decision on whether to fund the treatment. Zach’s consultant subsequently applied for individual funding for the treatment. The investigators for the trial independently approached the Department to highlight the fact that although some patients would fall outside the trial criteria each year, there might be an alternative approach that would enable all patients with high-risk neuroblastoma to be treated with antibody therapy. We subsequently met the research team, and I was able to take the hon. Gentleman with me so that he could hear the details of the proposals.

Dr. Brock, the trial’s chief investigator in England, met her European colleagues in Austria two weeks ago and, with our support, made some proposals to enable all high-risk neuroblastoma patients to be treated with antibody therapy. I am pleased to report that I have today received a letter from Dr. Brock, which I will make available to the hon. Gentleman, explaining the outcome of her discussions in Austria. She reports that her European colleagues at the meeting agreed that all children in Europe who could benefit from the antibody treatment should have access to it. They also agreed that there needs to be a new way of making antibody treatment available to children who do not meet the necessarily stringent criteria of the current phase III trial supported by Cancer Research UK.

The proposed solution is to open a phase II trial of antibody treatment, plus interleukin 2, with much wider eligibility criteria. That should include all those with a chance of benefit who are at present not eligible for the phase III trial. Dr. Brock assures us that that will broaden access without compromising the scientific validity of the current trial, which is important if the trial is to be taken seriously.

To make the new phase II trial possible, another batch of antibody production needs to be funded. We are working on the details of funding, but as soon as it is confirmed that it is in place, the existing antibody may be used to open the trial quickly without waiting for the new batch to be manufactured and tested. I understand that Dr. Brock will have a good deal of paperwork to process to get the trial under way, and we will continue to provide what support we can to assist her in that.

Dr. Brock has advised me that she hopes to be able to open the phase II trial in the UK in time for Zach to benefit. She says that it would be reasonable for him to receive the antibody treatment starting on day 140 after high-dose treatment, which would be in line with the post-high-dose treatment timing of the European trial. The phase II trial will not have strict timelines.

I am grateful to hear what the Minister is saying, which is very encouraging. Is it conditional in any way on the Government’s agreeing to fund the new antibodies? Are the Government making a commitment to fund them? I am worried because in a couple of weeks we will shut down for the general election. Are the Government making a commitment, so that it will happen?

I hope to reassure the hon. Gentleman. Dr. Brock has also stated that if the phase II trial does not open in time for Zach in the UK, he should be able to receive the treatment in Germany under Professor Holger Lode, who will be the European sponsor of the phase II trial, and has done all the work on the humanised antibody in Europe. I am also pleased to confirm that Zach’s PCT—it will only just have received details about the proposed new phase II trial and the anticipated timelines—is minded to support funding for treatment as part of the phase II trial in this country or, if necessary, in Germany.

The proposed phase II trial will offer hope to the five or six young patients a year who are not eligible for the randomised control trial to benefit from the treatment, together with children in other European countries. I am informed that the randomised control trial is currently open in only four countries: Austria, the UK, Italy and Israel. The other countries are still negotiating with their health regulatory authorities. The UK was the first country to open after Austria, the European sponsor. I am sure that hon. Members agree that it is a testament to our long tradition of research and excellence in this country.

May I take this opportunity to express my thanks to the Minister for what she has achieved? It is extremely encouraging and a great step forward.

That is rather overwhelming. As the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) inferred, this is an excellent way of representing our constituents—working together with Dr. Brock, Dr. Gaze, Cancer Research UK and everyone who was so willing to ask, “What can we do?”, after Zach’s case was highlighted. Children who take part in the Cancer Research UK trial and the new phase II trial will join the many other children and adults involved in clinical trials of cancer treatment. It is a tribute to all those who work in the NHS, the cancer charities and the commercial sector that the percentage of cancer patients who enter trials each year is higher in England than anywhere else in the world. We are good at criticising each other in this country, but to say that that number is higher in England than elsewhere in the world is an achievement to be proud of.

When we visited Great Ormond Street hospital, we went to a meeting room, and I was asked to meet one of the little ones receiving the treatment. I met Sophie McGuire, who was having her treatment. She gave me a little bunch of flowers. One cannot go into Great Ormond Street without coming out saying, “What are we moaning about? What do we have to concern ourselves with?” I pay tribute to every member of staff who works with those children, and I thank the hon. Member for Wellingborough for taking the opportunity of this debate to highlight again such an important issue. All of us, on both sides of the House, wish Zach and his family all the very best, and hope that he has a happy, long and exciting life.

Online Child and Adult Protection

We now move on to the next debate, but before calling the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson), I seek clarification. Have the hon. Gentleman and the Minister agreed to the participation of another hon. Member?

It is a pleasure, Mr. Key, to have you in the Chair for this debate. I am delighted to have secured it, and to have the opportunity of exchanging views with my hon. Friend the Minister. I look forward to hearing his comments, and his commitment on the wider issues that I shall raise. I shall start by discussing the current state of child and adult online protection in the social media, and what can be done to improve matters.

I was brought to this subject today following events in recent weeks, and the sad deaths of Ashleigh Hall and Camille Mathurasingh. Ms Mathurasingh was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend, after he viewed pictures of her with another man on a social media account. Although the case received mass media attention, I am aware that it is an impossible area in which to legislate.

The case of Ashleigh Hall is more worrying. She was stalked by a 33-year-old paedophile posing as someone half his age. He met up with Ms Hall, and then abducted, raped and murdered her. Although the circumstances of the cases differ, they illustrate the problems of protecting ourselves in the virtual world from danger in the real world.

Social media websites, such as Facebook, have inextricably changed the level of interaction in our society in the last few years. The concept of friendship has been downgraded, and we show pictures and share intimate details with hundreds or thousands of so-called friends, many of whom we have never even met. I speak with experience, because I have 500 new friends on Facebook whom I never knew I had. On a serious note, the downgrading of personal friendship bonds online has hidden consequences. Online relationships spring up without face-to-face contact ever being made, and children may have communication with people of which their parents are unaware.

Social networking websites are clearly at the forefront of that new level of communications. According to a recent Ofcom report, UK internet users spend more time on networking websites than any other country in Europe, with 39 per cent. of UK adults using them regularly. Facebook is particularly primed for the UK, where it makes up 45 per cent. of the social networking market—double that of Bebo and more than three times that of MySpace. That is impressive if one considers that the total global social networking website market is topped by MySpace, which has 71.92 per cent. of the market, while Facebook holds only 16.91 per cent. The success of Facebook in the UK compared with the US is due to the fact that it has managed to spread beyond university students and has socially stratified down to other levels of society. That is not the case in the US, where Facebook and MySpace are divided along lines of ethnicity and class, with Afro-Caribbean and Latino school leavers favouring MySpace, and university students favouring Facebook.

Recent research, commissioned during the national year of reading 2008 on white working class boys—C2 and DE grades—aged between 11 and 15, found that 80 per cent. had access to the internet through computers in the home. That highlights the fact that this issue affects everybody in our society, and even those who are not online might have family members who are. It is understandable that problems of security will arise in such a diluted online community.

Some experts link the rise in teenage rape, which was up 23 per cent. on last year, to a growing sexualisation of young teenage girls on social network sites. I do not believe that that is the only reason for the rise, but it may be an influential factor. Either way, that reiterates the fear that we have about this matter. In the case of Ashleigh Hall, more could have been done by the social networking site Facebook to protect her by adding a report button. I know about the report button from my work as chair of the all-party group on communications. It was created by the Home Office’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre—CEOP—and is free to use for any social media website, with no charge for take-up. CEOP has stated that since its creation, the button receives thousands of clicks a month. Facebook has had access to the button since 2006, but has not yet put it on its user sites. I read in the papers that internet security consultants in the USA found 8,000 paedophiles on that website, and it is well documented that MySpace removed 90,000 paedophiles from its website. However, in spite of that, neither website has fitted the report button. Will the Minister help in this matter, and try to find out why those internet service providers will not put that button on their sites?

The problem is that no industry code exists that requires social media websites to fit such buttons. Many people believe, as I do, that the market cannot and does not regulate itself, and often, the commercial entities that come into these environments are driven by venture capital. Companies try to do as much as possible for as little as possible, until they are bought over. Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with the business model, but when talking about child safety, companies must operate in an enterprise zone with special terms and conditions. That could be based around business rates and other incentives, but people should not be allowed to operate in blatant and flagrant abuse of construction, use or child safety regulations. That should be no different in the online environment; a panic button should be present. It is free, and will not cost a thing.

I feel that the Government should ask questions of those sites that do not have such a button and have never answered those questions. In my role as chair of the all-party group on communications, I have come into contact with many leading figures in the online sector. Last summer, the group held an inquiry into internet trafficking and took evidence from Jim Gamble from CEOP. He informed the group that if someone could click on a CEOP red button, it would do three things. First, it would reassure parents that the button was present and that there was a route to law enforcement services other than the police. Secondly, it would deter the offender in the same way that a burglar alarm on the front of a house moves a burglar to the next house. Thirdly, it would reassure the child who has lessons in school—there are 4.3 million of them and numbers are growing—and teach them that there is someone they can go to who will make a positive difference and help them. Many questions should be asked of social networking websites that do not have such a button. The online infrastructure is in place for social media websites to use it, so why does every website not want to have that type of reassuring mechanism built into it for the protection of their users?

No one wants to detract from the fact that Ashleigh Hall’s murderer was a depraved and sick individual, and let me be clear that, although Facebook is in the news at the moment, it is not the only such site and Bebo, MySpace and other industry leaders are equally culpable. Social media websites such as Facebook and others have a responsibility to do their bit to ensure the safety of their users, especially their young users. I return to what I said earlier—the 90,000 paedophiles that MySpace in America threw off its site, and the 8,000 removed by Facebook, would suggest that there are a lot more. That was just in the United States; we have not looked at the issue anywhere else.

Every site that is a public place online, be it a social networking site or another self-generating site through Web 2.0, should have the CEOP report button, for example, on its screen. I support the Government’s policy on ID cards, but we are having this debate because in a world where we give our personal details to social media websites based in California, there is a need for the individual to secure their identity. I feel that more has to be done to secure our online identity, and I welcome the Government’s moves in that area.

As a result of their close connections with Facebook and other social media platforms, search engines such as Google put all our identities online and make them accessible to anyone and everyone. The caveat is that privacy options are provided, but as anyone with young children will know, most young people never consider the ramifications of not securing their identity and personal details. In an online world where social networking websites have a responsibility towards young people, they should provide an area of safety for the young in our society.

In this technological world, the internet is accessible on mobile phones, which causes another concern. I believe that network operators and retailers should work together to provide e-safety for mobile phones. Ofcom should insist that all mobile access devices are fitted with child protection filters that protect the identity of the child. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on that.

I do not want to paint a completely dark picture because some ISP providers are doing something about this issue. For example, last year BT estimated that 42 per cent. of its broadband customers with children between 5 and 15 years old had set up BT Yahoo! content-filtering control settings. However, that is a small proportion and there is a lack of knowledge on the subject. I should be interested to know the Minister’s thoughts on that.

In conclusion, I know that there is no panacea, but small steps can be taken to increase online protection. I recognise that the Government and the Minister have done a considerable amount, but I feel that there is much more to do. As the Minister will be aware, paedophiles must register all their e-mail addresses and, if found using an alternative one, can expect a five-year jail sentence. What does my hon. Friend think of expanding that idea to social media accounts?

What can be done to encourage the uptake of CEOP’s report button by social networking websites? Will the Minister consider forcing all mobile phone companies and internet providers to provide child protection filters with every contract to under-18s? What does he think of my suggestion that everyone in the country should have their own e-mail account on a website such as Directgov? That would help to increase people’s knowledge of online provision. What does my hon. Friend believe can be done to improve online child protection on social media sites? What plans are there to increase awareness among parents and children of child protection filters available from ISPs? Will my hon. Friend consider the increasing use of CEOP and how else it could be used? I look forward to hearing from him.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Key, and to the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) for allowing me to make a brief speech. I very much agree with what the hon. Gentleman said, and it is a tribute to him that he has brought this issue forward. There must be a proper balance between new technologies and the uses to which they may be put. That is something that we have experienced over many centuries. I am thinking of the introduction of printing, the introduction of books on a massive scale, and radio and television. We are now into the new technology of the type that the hon. Gentleman so clearly described.

The problem, as I see it, goes back to a wave of very considerable laxity that developed in the latter period after the war, in the 1950s and ’60s, which gradually developed to such a point that in 1977 my then hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath, Mr. Cyril Townsend, came to see me to try to stop child pornography, because at that time it was possible for a person to take photographs of children but to escape conviction under the then enactments, as they had not touched the child. Through a simple change in legislation, we introduced the Protection of Children Act 1978, which was bitterly opposed, I have to say, by Labour Ministers until the late Lord Callaghan became Prime Minister. I asked him what made him give extra time to a private Member’s Bill on Report, which was so unusual in those days and still is. It was very simple. He said, “We took it to the Cabinet because there was so much concern, and my wife told me that she wouldn’t speak to me again if I didn’t get the Bill through.” That was the beginning of a change, and I pay tribute to the late Lord Callaghan and to all those who were responsible for making that change.

With regard to what followed from that, I think that I am right in recollecting that in the 1990s, when my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) and I were in the House, he, too, took a great interest in the question of how to deal in a proportionate manner with the difficulties of child pornography. We were often criticised for invading freedom of speech, freedom of expression and so on, but let us just consider briefly the fact that what we are discussing leads to horrific murders in certain cases or to the general degradation of society, and that although it may not be fashionable to do this, cycles in appreciation of these matters do occur over the decades and we are due for a rebalancing of what I would describe as the moral force. That needs to be brought in to get the balance right. We do not seek to be negative about the new technologies or the advantages that can come from them, but we wish to make absolutely sure that we do not expose children to paedophile rings. I may say that the Protection of Children Act, as amended, has been used to deal with international paedophilia to great effect.

So I strongly support what the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West said. The return to a balance, and all the suggestions that he made, are practical measures that could be implemented. Claims of freedom of expression must not be allowed to interfere. This has nothing to do with freedom of expression. The Government must properly regulate the evil people who use the new technologies to pervert and undermine young children. That has to stop, and I am sure that the Minister will have something constructive to say along those lines.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) on securing a debate on an important matter that ought to concern us all. Let me deal with the speech from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). He warned me last week that on some matters, I might be agreeing with him too much for the good of my career, but I very much welcome his contribution and I broadly agree with him. He reminded us of the history of some of the issues, which was valuable, but he also raised the ongoing challenge that new technology brings and the balance that there must be, with safeguards for the public. I agree about the need to have that debate.

I thank my hon. Friend for those comments and, through him, I thank the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) for his contribution. It just shows that the issues are not new; we have been here before. Although the technology is new, the problem is the same.

Indeed. I was about to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work as chair of the all-party group on communications, which means that he brings to these matters considerable experience and wisdom.

Let me place on the record my condolences to the families of Ashleigh Hall and Camille Mathurasingh, whose lives were taken in tragic circumstances—circumstances on which we all need to reflect to see what more can be done to prevent such tragedies in the future.

In the time that I have, I should like to say a little about the context in which the debate is taking place and to return specifically to the questions that my hon. Friend raised. Like him, the Government recognise the benefits to individuals and, indeed, to children of being able to use online services, including social networking services. I have to confess that I am of a generation that finds them rather baffling and makes limited use of them, but my children use new technology as a matter of course and, as a parent, I am of course concerned about their safety and the use that they make of those services.

The reality is that social networking sites enable children to have fun in a different way, to share gossip, to play games, to build online friendships and to use some of the services available online, but as my hon. Friend pointed out, that raises issues about how we can keep them safe in those environments, particularly when there is an unusual friendship and when social contact clearly does not take place in the traditional way, which can bring protection to children. The process can be quite isolated, if we are not careful.

It falls to Government to ensure that we keep children safe online as far as we can. There will always be people who look to use new technology for criminal ends. The horrific case of Ashleigh Hall demonstrated how the internet can be used by those who seek to harm others. At one extreme, as in Ashleigh’s case, we are talking about murder, but elsewhere on the scale there is a whole range of criminal activities, including fraud, for example.

I want to say something about the way in which we have tried to keep children safe. Sometimes this is forgotten, particularly when individual cases make headlines, but we in the United Kingdom have one of the most robust mechanisms in the world for dealing with sex offenders, and for protecting children from them when offline. We work, and have tried very hard, to ensure that the same principles apply in the online world. That means having the right legislation in place to deal with online and offline offences against children. It means a dedicated law enforcement response to handling reports of online threats to children and to tackling offenders, and a structure to bring together all the groups with a contribution to make in protecting children online.

That latter point is important. The Government believe—as the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said in its report on personal internet safety—that although the Government have responsibilities on the issue, they cannot address all the problems facing us on the internet on their own.

What we have done, and will do if necessary, is turn to legislation. Many of the offences committed online are old offences, albeit in a new medium. We must ensure that our legislation keeps pace with the fast-changing online world. That is why the Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduced the offence of grooming and made it a crime to attempt to prey on children, including through the internet, for sexual purposes. The law made it clear that such activities would not be tolerated in the United Kingdom. Subsequently, more than 100 people have been convicted of the offence. We will continue to respond to the need for changes in legislation as technology and services change.

Does the Minister agree that schools should have an educational role in that regard, so that children have specific advice on such matters?

Yes. I will come to that point. That is very much a pillar of the work that we want to do. As has been said, ensuring that we have the legislation in place is not a panacea, but it does help to build confidence among adults and children.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West, is interested in blocking illegal images, so let me briefly say something about that. We want to make sure that people are protected online from images that might be sent to them. My hon. Friend will know of the excellent Internet Watch Foundation list and of our efforts to ensure that internet service providers take it up, but we want to go further. We have already discussed with the Office of Government Commerce the idea that one of the criteria in the selection process for Government contracts for IT services should be the need for suppliers to block access to sites containing illegal images, as held on the Internet Watch Foundation list, and I am pleased to say that the OGC will be issuing guidance. That is important in itself, but it also sends a message to the industry that we are putting our house in order and that it should therefore do everything that it can to put its own in order.

On law enforcement, we recognised that the growth of the internet and children’s use of social networking and other services that allow online contacts to be made raised significant safety issues. Many children were going online regularly, and there was a need to consider how law enforcement could be provided to help protect children. In 2006, the Government set up the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre to tackle threats to children online. I am pleased to say that, under the superb leadership of Jim Gamble, CEOP has been tremendously successful in safeguarding more than 500 children and in helping to track down those who use the internet to contact and harm children. Using intelligence gathered through the “Click CEOP” button and other sources, it has made more than 800 arrests of suspected offenders, both itself and working with the wider UK law enforcement community. It has also worked closely with non-UK law enforcement agencies to tackle what is clearly an international problem.

The hon. Member for Stone mentioned education in his intervention, and a major element in protecting children online is educating them about the threats and giving them information on how to protect themselves. CEOP has developed an education programme for children and their parents and carers called thinkuknow. It is based on CEOP’s research and on the experience that it has gathered during its work. The thinkuknow website contains advice for children in clear and relevant language, as well as information for parents, carers and teachers on the dangers and how they can help children to avoid them.

In addition, the Home Office, working with the Department for Children, Schools and Families, created the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. UKCCIS launched the “Click Clever Click Safe” campaign on safer internet day, which was on 9 February. A core element of the campaign is the “Click Clever Click Safe” code, which has been designed to give parents the confidence to help their children to enjoy the internet safely, and to give children and young people a better understanding of how their online experiences can expose them to risks. We want that code to be as familiar as the green cross code is to children, who are in danger of having accidents when crossing the road.

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but part of the problem is that children are much more adept at using the internet than their parents. We should perhaps be talking about educating parents, rather than children.

I agree very much. That is why a key part of the strategy is not just about the number of children who have gone through the programme in schools and elsewhere, but about working proactively with parents to make sure that they understand the risks and how to address them, and take whatever precautions they can.

I am grateful for the work of not only CEOP and others, but charities and industries, which have played an important part through the Home Secretary’s taskforce for the protection of children on the internet and, following the Byron report, UKCCIS. One of the first pieces of work carried out by the taskforce was the development of guidance for social networking providers. That guidance set out good practice, and that was at the core of my hon. Friend’s speech. Some of the big social networking sites work hard to deliver on that guidance. When it was launched in 2008, the document was the first in the world dealing with how children can be kept safe and what service providers can do to ensure that children have safety information available to them, and that includes using the “Click CEOP” button.

None the less, we remain disappointed that a number of major providers of such services have not yet implemented the “Click CEOP” button. I expect those responsible for the provision of services online to take responsibility for providing safety mechanisms and information to their users. In the case of services where there can be communication between people who have not previously known each other and where identities can be invented, I expect providers to make the “Click CEOP” button available to allow users who feel threatened or vulnerable to make a report.

My hon. Friend posed a number of questions, to which I want to respond directly, although I hope that I have touched on them in my remarks. He talked about registering paedophiles’ e-mail addresses. He will know that we have legislated for a power to add such a requirement to the existing sex offenders register notification requirements, but that power has not yet been implemented. That is because we are awaiting legal advice. We will get that advice after a judgment from the Supreme Court on the F v. Thompson case. We certainly do not want to prejudice that appeal, but once we get that advice, and provided that it does not rule out adding new restrictions, we can and will work with social networking companies to see how information can best be used to protect children online. If that means disclosing details of child sex offenders’ e-mail addresses to social networking sites, so be it.

My hon. Friend’s second question was on the use of the CEOP button by social networking sites. As I said, we have argued that it should be used by all sites. Many sites, such as Bebo, have taken it up, while others have agreed to do so at some point in the future. We see absolutely no reason why sites should not take it up. I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that the Home Secretary and I will meet representatives of Facebook later this week to impress on them the need to allow users who feel threatened to have access to the CEOP button.

My hon. Friend asked about child protection filters on mobile phones. We work closely with the mobile phone industry, where technology is moving very quickly. As part of those ongoing discussions, we are considering child safety issues relating to the use of a new generation of phones, rather than exclusively to images. I was interested by what he said about people having a personal e-mail account on a website such as Directgov. Let me take that idea away and think about it. If I may, I will write to him in detail on the issue.

What more can we do to improve online child protection on social media sites? As I said, we have taken a number of actions, but the most important point is that all of us, including the industry, have a responsibility to work together to tackle the problem and to ensure that children are safe on the internet. The Government will continue to provide a law enforcement response, as well as information and education about the threats, but we expect the providers of services to play their part by providing those who feel threatened with links to law enforcement bodies, support and information. I hope that I have reassured hon. Members that the Government take these matters seriously and that work is very much in progress.

Educational Standards (City of Westminster)

For many years, successive Governments have assumed that simply tinkering with the structure of education leads to an almost automatic improvement in educational standards, yet the message that is coming loud and clear from schools and colleges is that much of that constant interference does not work. Schools want the autonomy to decide how best to achieve great results within their own unique community, supported only by local education authorities, when necessary. In my view, the local council’s role should be to represent and advise parents in securing a good education for their children, while supporting schools by providing certain services that are beyond the capacity of individual schools to provide.

In an attempt to get that balance right in my constituency, the leader of Westminster city council, Councillor Colin Barrow, decided in June 2008 to launch an independent education commission, charged with calculating how our local authority could assist schools in improving the attainment of Westminster’s young people. The education commission report proposed 10 recommendations to help the city of Westminster overcome the economic, cultural and social challenges of providing education in an inner city environment. Although the recommendations understandably focused on the city of Westminster, the commission believes that the challenges and opportunities facing the local authority are mirrored elsewhere. As a result, its analysis and recommendations have an important contribution to make to the wider debate and further policy development in education.

I often emphasise in the House how misunderstood my constituency is. Many assume that it is a place only for the global super-rich. Although it has pockets of great wealth, for sure, the reality is very different: it is a place where great poverty and great wealth live cheek by jowl. Anyone who had a chance to read the excellent recent Evening Standard series on London’s dispossessed will know now of the huge contrasts present in that seemingly ultra-modern, prosperous and dynamic city.

The impact of that wealth disparity on schooling in my constituency makes the challenges of providing a good education in Westminster considerable. Many of our families are new to Britain. Westminster’s population is 236,000 and of those people 51 per cent.—including me, I hasten to add—were born outside the UK. There is a massive population turnover, with 25 per cent. of residents arriving or leaving each year. Most of the children in our state schools do not speak English at home. As one might imagine, the difficulties of educating a child who arrives mid-year, whose classmates move to different areas regularly and whose parents are unaccustomed to the British education system present a major challenge to Westminster city council. Of course the same could be said of other inner city areas in the UK. Yet, together, our local schools and Westminster city council achieve good results, which are improving fast, in both absolute and relative terms.

The most tangible demonstration of the quality of Westminster schools, however, is the number of children from other boroughs, such as Lambeth, Southwark, Camden and Brent, who come here to be educated. Indeed, I know that when families in social housing are moved to other parts of London, they are normally keen for their children to continue to be schooled in Westminster. Nevertheless, the results averages mask wide differences in outcomes. Westminster city council wants keenly to rectify that by bringing every classroom up to the standard of the best; but how should it go about achieving that admirable goal when its influence over national education policy is limited and all secondary schools in the borough are independent of direct local education authority control? How can it be a useful partner to the right schools in the locality, while granting them the autonomy to make the right decisions for their pupils?

To begin answering those questions, Councillor Barrow launched the education commission in June 2008. Led by Professor David Eastwood, a group of education experts spent six months last year speaking to the widest range of local stakeholders, to gain a clear understanding of the current state of education in Westminster and to advise the council how it might improve its service. All the commissioners accepted that invitation on the basis that their work would be untrammelled, that their report would be entirely independent and that their recommendations would form the basis of a commitment to action.

The education commission report was eventually published in September last year. It recognised the social, economic and cultural challenges that Westminster faces, the significant improvement achieved in many of its schools in the recent past and the capacity constraints on a relatively small London authority. It also produced 10 key recommendations that it advised Westminster city council to take forward. First, it suggested that senior management from the children’s services department should make an annual visit to all schools. Each school’s wider achievements should be celebrated, in the publishing of a school report card, and collated into an annual “Education in Westminster” report. The report also strongly encouraged all councillors to become governors of Westminster schools. In a borough where a large number of Conservative voters send their children to private schools, the subsequent taking up of that recommendation is, I believe, a tangible demonstration of councillors’ commitment to all those in the constituency, not just their political patrons.

The report recommended that the council should work with schools on extended services, such as programmes for the gifted and talented and for the raising of aspirations. It advised that early years provision should be reviewed to determine how effectively it is targeting those most in need and suggested the extension of educational opportunities for children with special educational needs and the improvement of care provision for students with behavioural and emotional difficulties.

As for the council’s responsibilities to parents, the report called upon it to provide high quality, impartial guidance to parents and carers and to facilitate improved information sharing between primary, secondary and special schools and the pupil referral units at the point of transition.

On a broader level, the commission suggested that the council should acquire a right to strategic engagement with all schools if children’s educational experiences are jeopardised and a right to access information from academies to allow such interventions to be made. It also advised that the council should increase its capacity to share best practice through the development of a collaborative inner London board.

Finally, the commission recommended that the council should invite the director of schools and learning to attend the strategic executive board and immediately appoint a cabinet member for education. That was the only recommendation that was subsequently rejected outright, once the council, after consultation, decided that having one cabinet member for all children’s services was more likely to fit with statutory requirements.

I think that there is an acceptance, to be honest—trying to put party politics to one side—that because inner London authorities are very small, by their nature, some collaboration is needed and that, without necessarily moving towards the re-institution of the Inner London Education Authority, there are certain benefits to such collaboration, which I hope will be developed in the future.

The council later added two further recommendations of its own: to support parents so that children’s outcomes improve and to give further attention and resources to enhancing attainment in the key subject areas of English and mathematics, setting two key ambitions—to improve key stage 2 level 4 results from 73 per cent. to 80 per cent. and to get the number of children achieving 5 GCSE grades at A* to C, including English and maths, up from the current 51 per cent. to 75 per cent.

Most importantly, the commission drew attention to the role of the local authority in the context of the continual change to which I referred earlier. Schools deliver education, but, as the Minister knows, the council has statutory powers to ensure that education is provided to the highest standard. The commission recognised that it is a challenge—it would be for any inner city council—to carry out that statutory role when all secondary and many primary schools, as in Westminster, are independent of direct council control. The mobility of students across borough boundaries also presents a further challenge in collaborating with neighbouring local authorities to raise attainment and achieve the best outcomes. Those challenges require the council to be clear about its role. In that sense, it was concluded that the ultimate objective should be to ensure that, when children leave Westminster’s schools, they are prepared for the next stage of life—whether that is in college, work or university—and as far as possible for independence.

I attended the launch of the report in September last year, and I was inspired by the leadership of the council on this important matter, first under the dedicated Councillor Mark Page and now under the outstanding Councillor Nickie Aiken, who is cabinet member for children and young people. At the launch, the council leader said that he aspired to making Westminster’s schools the first choice for local parents. He said:

“In throwing open our schools to external scrutiny and by setting up the Commission we have placed ourselves at the very heart of one of the most important debates of our time—how we can radically improve the life chances of children in today’s society.”

He continued:

“A particular challenge for us is how we ensure high quality, cost effective services and support all our schools within a relatively small authority. The report’s proposals around the development of cross borough collaboration and potential mergers offer a real and exciting opportunity for a regional response which could deliver effective savings for local taxpayers.”

We all know that it is one thing to aspire to change; it is another to enact it. As a precursor to applying for today’s debate, I contacted the council to learn of its progress in adopting the commission’s recommendations. I was pleased to find that the council had already responded with vigour. First, it hosted a series of workshops with local stakeholders to ensure that everyone—teachers, school leaders, members, officers, parents and others—was on board with the recommendations.

The council has also been building on the commission’s recommendations. It recognises that it needs to ensure that Westminster has outstanding leaders and managers in its schools. The council will therefore strive to attract and retain the best, through academies and organisational changes such as executive headship, as well as monitoring challenge and intervention by high-quality school improvement partners. It is also putting renewed attention into early years services by providing multi-agency support through children’s centres, where vulnerable children and those with additional learning and behavioural needs can be identified and properly cared for.

Through capital and joint-funded programmes, the council hopes to improve local learning environments and maximise the use of new technology. The Minister probably shares my view—we may have been educated at a similar time—but whenever we visit schools, we see how much they have changed. It is taken as read that there will be huge amounts of technology in all schools. That is a positive way forward, but we need to utilise that technology to the full in all schools.

The family information service in Westminster provides a single portal of information on all services for children and their families. The school report card gives parents clear and unambiguous advice on which to base their choices, and the service seeks to remove barriers to learning by building a special educational needs strategy. I hope that that will develop high-quality provision in the borough by maximising choice and providing better value for money.

Most importantly, it is proposed that the city council should become a commissioner of education rather than a provider, moving away from the traditional model under which all services are provided and delivered by the authority to one that has a strong, central team of expert education commissioners, with a focus on broader educational improvement. The aim is to improve outcomes; to provide stronger financial planning and control; to implement strategic commissioning; to achieve greater transparency; to develop a mixed economy model that balances good outcomes and value for money by using approaches such as outsourcing, the shared services to which I referred earlier and the use of the voluntary sector; and to commission services with neighbouring boroughs to create new capacity, specialist services and extended management capacity across the entire range of expertise.

Although the academic results in the challenging inner-city borough of Westminster are getting better, given the council’s continued efforts to improve the state offering to local residents, Westminster city council has never been content to rest on its laurels. In launching its independent education commission, the council has made a set of robust recommendations that can be used as a catalyst to drive standards forward. The commissioners’ report also provides a platform for thought and debate, and I hope that it will inspire politicians, council leaders, teachers and officers, who will all need to engage to take the initiative forward. One hopes that Westminster city council will become a beacon authority. In enacting the recommendations, the council looks set to lead the way again, remodelling the role of a local authority in the provision of education.

The most important of the suggestions put forward by the commission is that of clarifying the role of the local education authority as a commissioner of education, rather than as an old-fashioned provider. In pursuing that model, it is hoped that independence for schools and value for the taxpayer will be compatible with ever-improving educational opportunities for the youngest, both in Westminster and beyond the borough boundaries.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) on securing the debate. My first debate as a Minister was with the hon. Gentleman; it was about home education in Westminster, so I know that he is a strong advocate for the well-being and future success of students in Westminster. I know that it is something about which he is passionate. I, too, want to ensure that students across the country receive an excellent education, and that the standards in our schools continue to rise. That means, of course, that I want to see standards rise in Westminster too.

During my time in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, I have been responsible for London schools and have visited some of our capital’s finest schools. I am pleased to say that the many schools I have visited have all been of an exceptionally high standard. Only this morning, I visited Hillyfield primary school in Waltham Forest. It is an outstanding school, with Steve Lancashire, a national leader in education, as its head. In north Westminster, we have St. George’s school, one of the most improved schools in London.

Before speaking about the specifics of schools in Westminster, it is important to outline how far schools standards have come nationally. My Department, working in close partnership with local authorities, school leaders and teachers, has done much to be credited with since 1997. We now have over 40,000 more teachers; they are the best-qualified work force in our history, and are supported by more than 180,000 teaching assistants. We have 4,000 new or refurbished schools, and have seen the biggest school building programme since the Victorian era. Over 100,000 more children are leaving primary school secure in the basics. Only one in 12 schools is now below our basic minimum benchmark of at least 30 per cent. of pupils achieving five good GCSEs, including English and maths, compared with one in two in 1997. That rigorous focus on standards has resulted in there being more high quality schools on the doorstep of many communities across the country.

I am pleased to say that those high standards of education are also present in the city of Westminster. The percentage of students gaining five A to C GCSEs has recently improved significantly. In 2005, the figure was 38.1 per cent., and in 2009 it had risen to 52.8 per cent. That increase of 14.7 per cent. is greater than the London average of 10.7 per cent. and the national improvement in maintained schools of 8.2 per cent.

At key stage 2, 73 per cent. of pupils in Westminster gain a level 4 or above in English and maths, which is 1 per cent. above the national average. Westminster is in the top 10 local authorities for progression in English at key stage 1, with 88 per cent. of pupils making the expected level of progress by the end of key stage 2, which is 6 per cent. more than the national figure. Westminster’s key stage 2 to 4 progression data show a 3 per cent. increase in both maths and English. That breaks down to 66 per cent. of pupils achieving the expected level in maths, and 69 per cent. in English. In maths, 82 per cent. of pupils in Westminster made the expected level of progress compared with 81 per cent. nationally.

I am pleased to see Westminster pupils’ excellent rates of progress in English during key stage 2. I believe that is partly due to the great work of the Making good progress pilot, which has been running in the borough for the last two years. It is an encouraging picture of continued progress from key stage 2 in primary school to key stage 4 at the end of secondary, with a 3 per cent. increase this year for pupils in Westminster in both maths and English compared with last year.

At the heart of the improvement in Westminster schools is a clear school improvement strategy. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Westminster council has ensured that significant additional funding has been channelled to the secondary school improvement team, which has resulted in positive outcomes on a range of indicators. In real terms, per-pupil increases between 1997 and 2005 were £1,720. In 2005 our funding system changed but our investment in education continues, with a real-terms per-pupil increases between 2005 and 2008 of £720, a 13 per cent. increase, compared with 8 per cent. for England.

There are clear plans for each school in Westminster to use detailed data analysis to target support. To Westminster’s credit, it has used structural solutions, including the formation of academies, to help secure improvements in pupil outcomes. There are no maintained schools with results below the GCSE floor target, which is a great achievement, and a credit to the local authority’s good work. Such achievement is shown in Ofsted’s results. From September 2005 to August 2009, Ofsted inspected 56 schools, with 39 rated as either good or outstanding. All secondary schools have been judged as either good or better for behaviour, and the local authority continues to tackle attendance issues well, and is now ranked third nationally for levels of persistent absence. There has also been a reduction in permanent exclusions.

The hon. Gentleman has made extensive reference to the Westminster Education Commission report, which was published in the autumn. I looked at the report with interest. I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the need for Conservative borough councillors to serve on the governing bodies of local schools. That is a helpful way forward, because local representatives need to know what it is going on in their schools to be able to make good decisions at local level.

It would also be ideal for the minority Labour councillors to do their bit serving as school governors, as some already do. I was not making a party political point. The idea is that it should be almost a prerequisite for all people who aspire to be councillors to do a stint on a governing body. They might even enjoy it enough to continue for some years after they have left the council.

The hon. Gentleman and I agree on that point. It is very helpful to have local councillors from all political parties serving on the governing bodies of local schools because it gives them a real insight into what happens in the classrooms.

The hon. Gentleman will also know of the schools White Paper, which recently started its progress through the House of Commons in the Children, Schools and Families Bill. It includes the development of the new school report card, which echoes an issue raised in the commission report. The report card is part of the wider changes to strengthen schools’ accountability to parents and the public generally, raise standards and reform pupil testing and assessment.

The school report card will include information, ranging from exam data to pupil well-being, that will provide a broader and clearer picture of each school’s performance in one easily accessible place. It will provide a single, clear and prioritised set of outcomes against which schools can be judged by all parts of the system, with predictable outcomes for both excellent or poor performance.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the need to support parents and all the different community groups in Westminster. We too acknowledge that strong, stable families are the bedrock of our society. Families give children the love and security they need to grow up and explore the world, and families are where most of us find the support and care necessary for a happy and fulfilling life—as children and adults, parents and grandparents.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are strongly committed to supporting all parents, including grandparents and carers, in sustaining strong and resilient relationships. The recently published Green Paper focused on enabling families to help themselves, and its proposals are clearly set out.

The national strategies programme has been working closely with the local authority in Westminster and has praised it for its high-quality secondary team, which makes effective use of school improvement partners, consultants and external advisers. The authority should also be applauded for its advanced plans to construct a centre of support and excellence, which will be forged from combining two special schools and the development of their strong outreach capacity to help more teachers and school leaders in the local authority to support students with special educational needs.

For the one Westminster school that is currently judged by Ofsted to require special measures, the school improvement partners and the local authority are working closely to ensure that improvement is rapid and sustainable. Clearly, Westminster is a local authority that is committed to raising school standards for the benefit of all students—an accolade that it has progressively worked for and one that it will continue to prove.

Much of the fine work for which Westminster is being recognised in this debate could also relate to London as a whole. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, today’s London schools have come on quite a long journey from where they were at the start of the century. In 2001, 179 London schools had fewer than 30 per cent. of their pupils achieving 5 GCSEs at A to C grades, including English and maths. Last year, that figure had dropped to 15 schools.

During London’s journey, from one of the poorest to one of the best performing areas of the country, the implementation of our London challenge has played a key role. The hon. Gentleman talked about the need for boroughs—particularly the smaller ones—to collaborate. I am struck by the collaboration that has already happened in the sharing of best practice. Through the challenge, we can identify and prioritise the schools that need extra help and analyse particular issues for the London education system.

For each school, we worked with local authorities to develop specific and targeted solutions to the problems, including tackling low attainment in individual schools and addressing the issues that were facing London in particular, such as low aspiration and a shortage of high-quality teachers. As London continues to improve, I want us to ensure that success is spread across the capital. To that end, we are supporting all London boroughs to work together in clusters on aspects of school improvement.

Westminster is the lead authority for a five-borough cluster that has been working together since autumn 2009, funded by London challenge. The Westminster cluster is making immediate headway on narrowing the gap in achievement between disadvantaged children and their peers through cross-borough working with a core group of schools. That work has a particular focus on hard-to-reach families, parents and carers, and local culture and values and the early years sector. Work has started with more than 30 schools, and targets have been agreed by all. I look forward to seeing the progress that will be made in the coming months.

Westminster has also been funded by London challenge to work with Kensington and Chelsea on a pilot research project, which draws on an approach initially established in New York schools. It has been delivering significant results for some of the “hardest to move” pupils, improving their skills, motivation and attainment. The model has been adapted for use in a UK context, and 12 primary schools across the two authorities are involved in the pilot. Teachers will work collaboratively to develop strategies to unlock and accelerate the learning of a small group of students, as a means of improving teaching and learning across the whole school. Such examples show how my Government have worked in partnership with Westminster council and Westminster schools to deliver dramatic improvements in results.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and thank him for highlighting what is going on in education in Westminster. If we want educational standards to improve, we must treat each school individually, and offer them tailored support and guidance so that they can do even better. Many Westminster schools are working closely with teachers, students, local authorities and other educational professionals to offer local students the best education possible.

Through this partnership and our continued work in the London challenge, we can ensure that those standards not only stay high, but steadily rise in the years to come.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.