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Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011


Monday 18 July 2011


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Response to DEFRA Consultation on Water Charges in the South West Water Area

The Petition of residents of Torbay,

Declares that the Petitioners welcome the Government’s commitment to fair and affordable water and sewerage services; and further notes the recommendations contained in paragraph 4.18 of the consultation document “Affordable water: a consultation on the Government’s proposals following the Walker Review on Charging”.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to enhance the Water Sure scheme, to introduce a social tariff to benefit water consumers on low incomes and to introduce an annual payment of £40 million to South West Water from public funds to reduce water bills so that they are close to the national average for identical services.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr Adrian Sanders, Official Report, 22 June 2011; Vol. 530, c. 444 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

The Government’s consultation on water affordability closed on 17 June. Paragraph 4.18 of the consultation document invited views on a number of options that could provide additional Government spending to provide further support for households in the South West.

Around 100 responses were received, including responses from Ofwat, the Consumer Council for Water, water and sewerage companies, organisations that represent vulnerable households and individual responses from households in the South West Water area.

The Government are currently considering these responses. We will publish a Water White Paper by December to set out how we will support households who face water affordability pressures and households in areas with particularly high water bills, such as the South West.


Accident and Emergency and Maternity Services at King George Hospital (Ilford North)

The Petition of the residents of North East London and others.

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the proposed closure of accident and emergency and maternity wards at King George Hospital Redbridge would not be in the best interests of the people living in these constituencies.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible steps to stop the proposed closure of the A&E and maternity wards at King George Hospital.

The Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr Lee Scott, Official Report, 6 July 2011; Vol. 530, c. 1622 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Health:

The issues raised relate to proposals for NHS service change under the reconfiguration scheme known as “Health for North East London”.

As part of the local overview and scrutiny process, this scheme was referred by the LB Redbridge, LB Barking and Dagenham, LB Havering, and the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, to the Secretary of State for Health. On 9 February 2011 the Secretary of State wrote to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), asking it to consider whether a full review of the Health for North East London scheme was required. Following receipt of that advice, the Secretary of State has asked the IRP to undertake a full review and to report back to him by 22 July 2011. He will then consider its recommendations.

This Government have pledged that, in future, all NHS service changes must be led by clinicians and patients, not be driven from the top down. Consequently, the Secretary of State for Health announced a review of all service change proposals. He outlined new, strengthened criteria that he expects decisions on NHS service changes to meet. These criteria (known as the four tests) are:

Support from GP commissioners;

Arrangements for public and patient engagement, including local authorities being further strengthened;

Greater clarity about the clinical evidence bases underpinning proposals; and

Proposals taking into account the need to develop and support patient choice.

The local NHS revisited proposals for King George Hospital under the “Health for North East London” scheme. The local debate about changes to services included talking through the issues with GPs, councillors, medical committees, national bodies and local patient representatives, in addition to local MPs.

The joint committee of PCTs (JCPCTs) met in public on 15 December 2010 to consider proposals for urgent and emergency care, maternity, children’s services and the vision for King George Hospital, Ilford. The JCPCTs approved the proposals for change against the four tests and NHS London is assured the four tests have been met.


Abolition of cheques

The Petition of Dr H. Gilthorpe and others,

Declares that the Petitioners are profoundly concerned by the abolition of cheques.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage the Payments Council to reverse the decision to abolish cheques and maintain them as a method of payment for the foreseeable future

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr Nicholas Brown, Official Report, 13 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 425 .]


Observations from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Treasury:

The Government thank Dr Gilthorpe and the other signatories for their petition on the potential abolition of cheques.

The Payments Council is responsible for the proposal to phase out cheques. The Payments Council announced on 12 July 2011 that cheques will continue for as long as customers need them. A previously announced target for closing the cheque clearing system by 2018 has been cancelled.

The Government are pleased that the Payments Council has responded to public opinion by committing to maintain cheque services for as long as customers need them. This decision reflects the view expressed by the Financial Secretary in a letter to the Treasury Select Committee on 14 June 2011, and in discussions with the Payments Council, that cheques should not be withdrawn until the alternatives were widely available and accepted.