House of Commons
Tuesday 28 February 2012
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
London Local Authorities Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (21 February), That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Debate to be resumed on Tuesday 6 March.
London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 6 March at Seven o’clock (Standing Order No. 20).
Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 6 March (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
We are working closely with the transitional Government to provide stabilisation assistance across a range of issues, including policing, security and prison reform, as well as on projects to promote youth and women’s political participation and human rights. We have also worked to ensure that Libya’s assets are available to fund its own reconstruction.
During a recent round table on women in Libya organised by the all-party group on women, peace and security and attended by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), we heard about the importance of the DDRRR—disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration—process of integrating the militias, which helps not only the men but the women engaged in the uprising by, for example, redefining “fighter” to include women. Will the Minister outline what support the UK Government are giving to the Libyan Government in developing their DDRRR plan to ensure that it addresses the concerns of women in post-conflict Libya?
This is a very important issue. From the beginning, including in the very first visit that I made to Benghazi in June last year, during the conflict, we have gone out of our way to support the involvement of women in the transition in Libya. We are working closely with all the relevant organisations on this. We co-funded the first women’s convention in Tripoli in November. We are about to start a six-month programme of support to promote women’s and youth participation in the political process in Libya. I am pleased that the election law that was approved earlier this month will provide, in effect, for a certain proportion of the seats in the national congress to go to women.
On 21 February, Gareth Montgomery-Johnson, a freelance cameraman, and several others were arrested in Tripoli by the Saraya Swehli militia. Despite repeated requests, the militia have refused to transfer Mr Johnson and his colleagues to the Libyan Government or to provide access to Human Rights Watch. His next of kin, who are constituents of mine, are increasingly concerned about the situation. Will the Secretary of State assure them that the Foreign Office will do everything in its power to release my constituent from militia captivity?
Yes, absolutely. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the position of his constituent. We are aware of the situation. The embassy in Tripoli is doing everything that it can to assist. It is important that consular access is given to his constituent and to one other person involved, and so, while we have not yet achieved everything that we want on this, we are continuing to work on it.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office work closely with other EU member states to try to prevent human trafficking. Three of the countries recognised in the Government’s human trafficking strategy—Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia—are EU member states. We are working with partners in these countries to help to combat trafficking at source.
I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary for his work in raising awareness of modern-day slavery. Given the international nature of human trafficking, what support has the Minister provided to the European Commission-backed project, led by the Human Trafficking Foundation, to set up a parliamentary network on trafficking that aims to promote and strengthen a network of parliamentarians and businesses against trafficking in human beings throughout all EU member states?
I share my hon. Friend’s abhorrence of this terrible crime. We are keen to work through the Commission and through other bodies in the European Union, at Parliament-to-Parliament level, and at Government-to-Government level. For example, we share skills, knowledge and experience, and fund projects that help countries to tackle the problem at source.
The whole House will share the Minister’s abhorrence of this form of modern slavery. Will he give an absolute guarantee that nothing that this Government negotiate at the European level will make it more difficult for women, in particular, who have been trafficked to be given proper refuge in this country and that nothing will give them an incentive to continue in slavery rather than risk being sent back to their country of origin to be re-trafficked?
The Government support the Falkland Islanders’ right to self-determination. That support takes many forms, from the military deterrent on the islands to the work of our diplomatic network to promote their rights in the region and more widely. We do all that with the full endorsement of the Falkland Islands Government.
It is a source of regret to us that the many fruitful negotiations between the United Kingdom and Argentina in the 1990s on this topic were effectively suspended in 2007, when the Argentines withdrew their co-operation. We want to work closely, co-operatively and in a friendly spirit with Argentina on a range of issues, including this one. It is a source of regret to us that that has not been possible in recent years.
The whole House and, indeed, the country will be outraged at reports that two British cruise liners, the Adonia and the Star Princess, were refused entry to a port in southern Argentina. What representations have the Government made to the Argentine authorities and to the international maritime authorities about this completely unjustified action?
We make frequent representations to the Argentines and to many other countries in south America. It is a source of sadness and frustration to us that people who are on holiday and who want to further relations between ourselves and Argentina at a people-to-people level are not able to do so. We enter the relationship with Argentina in a spirit of friendship and it is a source of sadness to us that it does not always do the same.
Independent Judiciary (Hungary)
An independent judiciary is necessary for the preservation of democracy and fundamental freedoms. We have urged Hungary to consider the implications of its new laws and to continue working with the European Commission to ensure that those laws are consistent with EU norms.
I welcome that response from the Minister. There have been suggestions in the media over the past few days that progress is being made at the EU level. Will he spell out what that progress is? Will he give the House an assurance that this and the other outstanding issues with Hungary’s new constitution will be pursued vigorously by this Government?
On 17 January, the European Commission released its analysis of the incompatibility of specific elements of the new Hungarian constitution with EU treaty obligations. Letters of formal notice were sent to the Hungarian Government as the first stage of EU infringement proceedings.
Notwithstanding the EU’s concerns, is it not the case that the vast majority of Hungarians voted for Fidesz at the last election? We should remember that that party is led by a man who was at the forefront of the battle against the socialist dictatorship in Hungary, a country in which I have a great personal interest.
I certainly respect the will of the Hungarian electorate. However, we strongly urge the Hungarian authorities to consider the implications of the new laws for political balance and to work with the Commission to ensure that the laws are consistent with EU norms.
EU Economic Conditions
The agreement on a second rescue package for Greece last week is encouraging for Greece and the European economy. The crisis in the eurozone is having a chilling effect on growth across Europe. The Government are arguing vigorously for EU action to promote growth by deepening the single market, boosting trade and cutting red tape.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House what his Department is doing to improve the economic conditions right here in Britain? Are we using our global network of embassies and business contacts to promote British exports, especially those of small companies?
Yes, we absolutely are. The prosperity of the country is one of our key objectives. My hon. Friend may have noticed that our exports to India, Turkey, Brazil and other emerging economies went up sharply in 2011. That is very important, given that the eurozone economy is flat and that our exports have declined. The Foreign Office is highly active in helping businesses, including small businesses, to seek out new export markets.
We have contingency plans for many eventualities in the world, and I ensure that they are fully up to date. The right hon. Gentleman will understand why I do not go into more detail about those plans, because doing so can create a greater expectation that they are going to happen, but we are prepared for any eventuality.
19. I suggest that EU politicians are failing to recognise that the eurozone is a dead man walking. Given the effective suspension of democracy in at least two countries and the deepening democratic deficit across the eurozone, as politicians break the rules in order to save the euro and their dream of political union, why is Britain supporting the anti-democratic zeal of those politicians as they make worse this self-made crisis? (96708)
To put it in a slightly more balanced way, I have pointed out for many years that one of the disadvantages of the euro is the loss of national sovereign decision making to the countries concerned. However, there is one flaw in my hon. Friend’s argument, which is that it is very clear that not only the representatives but, at the moment, the people of Greece choose to try to stay in the euro. That is the democratic choice that they are making, and we should support them in it if that is their choice.
The European Union is our biggest trading partner, and a resolution to the eurozone crisis is clearly in our national interest. Given that our bilateral relationship with France is central to that, why is it being reported that the Prime Minister has refused to meet one of the leading presidential candidates, François Hollande, when he visits London tomorrow?
Yes, the bilateral relationship with France is of great importance, and it is true that our co-operation, particularly on foreign and security policy, is the closest that it has been at any time since the second world war. Relations with France are very good and very close. Of course, the Prime Minister sometimes meets opposition leaders and sometimes does not, but I am not aware of governmental leaders across Europe taking a different approach from his.
15. What recent reports he has received on the security situation in Syria; and if he will make a statement. (96704)
I am horrified at the continued violence of the Syrian regime against its own people. We will use all diplomatic and economic means to bring an end to the violence. Those responsible for the shelling of homes, the execution of detainees, the killing of political opponents and the torture and rape of women and children must be held to account in the future.
Journalists in conflict zones risk their lives every day to bring us unbiased news, and that is why my condolences go to the family and friends of Marie Colvin. On that note, will the Foreign Secretary update the House on the whereabouts of the wounded British journalist who was in Syria?
My hon. Friend is quite right—the thoughts of much of the nation have been with the family and friends of Marie Colvin. I am happy to confirm, though, that the injured British journalist Paul Conroy is safely in Lebanon, where he is receiving full consular assistance. I pay tribute to journalists who ensure that the world is aware of the crimes that are being committed, which we are determined to document and seek justice for. Too many people have already lost their lives in Homs and elsewhere in Syria, and we will urge the Syrian regime to ensure both an end to the violence against civilians and safe access for humanitarian agencies.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the UK’s initiative to help gather evidence of the crimes against humanity in Syria. Will he update the House on the progress of that important work, and can he confirm whether other nations and international organisations are involved as well?
This work is progressing. We are sending teams to border areas and ensuring that people can come to a single documentation hub to bring together the evidence of the crimes that are being committed. I spoke about that at the Tunis meeting of more than 60 nations last Friday, to encourage other nations to join in that initiative or take initiatives or their own, and I believe that other nations will be doing so.
I have had many discussions over the last week with Turkey and Arab nations on the margins of our Somalia conference, in Tunis and at other meetings. That idea has been debated—in public, never mind in private—but the difficulty of establishing safe areas without agreement with the country concerned is considerable. Without such agreement, military force will be required—and sufficient military to force to be wholly effective, because one of the worst things we could do, I believe, is to tell people that they might be safe and be unable to provide that safety to them. None of those discussions, therefore, have led to the idea being adopted in the international community.
The Opposition welcome the fact that the EU yesterday announced further sanctions on Syria. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that those sanctions included travel bans on a further seven close associates of President Assad? If that is correct, does he agree that the public naming of many more individuals in that way, specifically including military commanders presently engaged in murder and slaughter in Homs, would help to sharpen the choice for individual members of the security apparatus?
Yes—I agree in general. We adopted a number of measures yesterday in Brussels, including sanctions on the Central Bank of Syria. As the right hon. Gentleman says, we also extended by another seven names the list, which is now more than 150 strong, of individuals and entities on whom we have restrictions, travel bans and asset freezes. We are entirely open to extending that list further, but we of course take care to ensure that we are sure of our ground and that those individuals are actually complicit in the regime’s repression. As further evidence accumulates, we will certainly want to add to that list.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the unpalatable fact is that we do not have many options in relation to Syria? Does he also agree that one option worth following is to persuade the Russians to give up their unquestioning support for Syria on the ground that it is deeply damaging to their long-term interests and should cease? Does he remember the impact on Milosevic and Serbia of the withdrawal of Russian support?
My right hon. and learned Friend is right that that would be a desirable piece of persuasion to accomplish. I have had discussions with the Russian Foreign Minister, including at length after the vetoing of our Security Council resolution, and it must be said that the Russians are not yet persuaded of that position. However, I hope others will join in that persuasion. I have spoken in the last hour to the new UN and Arab League special envoy, Kofi Annan, who is charged with promoting a political process and solution. I hope that he will bring his persuasive powers to bear on both Russia and China.
As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, an estimated 70,000 Syrians are fleeing to Jordan and many more to Lebanon. What steps has the Foreign Secretary taken to put pressure on the Syrian regime to allow humanitarian assistance and to enable civilians to leave the country?
It is a constant cry of the international community, including among the more than 60 nations that met in Tunis on Friday, that humanitarian access needs to be granted, but the regime, which, in the view of the UN commission of inquiry, has committed crimes against humanity, is insensitive even to those demands for humanitarian access or for pauses each day in the conflict—it has refused to do that. We are doing our best to send humanitarian assistance. The UK has provided assistance that will amount to tens of thousands of food rations and other emergency supplies, and we are increasingly co-ordinating our work with other countries.
European Court of Justice
We expect to be in a position to nominate a candidate for this position within the next month. The successful candidate should be able to take up the position when the term of the incumbent judge expires later this year.
Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia involve their national Parliaments in the process of selecting the judges whom they send to the ECJ. Given the power that the ECJ can have on this country’s legal system, what plans does my right hon. Friend have to involve the House in any future appointments?
We have improved the nomination procedure by advertising the position publicly and subjecting applicants to interview by an independent panel of experts, prior to ministerial clearance. My hon. Friend raises a legitimate point. As things stand, parliamentary decisions on this matter are inconsistent with existing constitutional practice in the United Kingdom, and any change to the current procedure would, of course, set a precedent with wider implications. That can be debated in the House. I am conscious of the interest that the House takes and commit to keeping it updated on the progress made.
Our private sector initiative in the west bank and Gaza supports about 500 companies. We attribute perhaps £50 million to sales and exports, and also support about 2,200 jobs.
Last year, I visited Rawabi, a new Palestinian city being built near Ramallah. It is the biggest private sector project in Palestinian history and is being facilitated by the Portland Trust with the Palestinian Authority. Does the Minister agree that economic progress will be an important component of peace? Will he update the House on the recent package of economic measures reportedly offered by the Israeli Government in response to the Quartet?
I do indeed agree with the right hon. Lady. The economic development of the west bank has been a significant feature of the past few years, coupled with security improvements, and it is a measure of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that this has continued. We want the discussions between the Israelis and Palestinians that were started in Amman to continue. A package of support is part of those continuing discussions, and there is no doubt that a comprehensive settlement will be of benefit to both the Palestinian and the Israeli economies.
Commerce, restaurants and hotels continue to provide the highest number of jobs in the west bank, according to a recent United Nations Relief and Works Agency report on the Palestinian labour market. Given that these sectors stand to benefit directly from a future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, will the Foreign Secretary reiterate the importance of the Palestinian Authority returning to direct peace negotiations without preconditions?
The health of the private sector economy is a component part of the all-round package for the future of the Palestinian Authority and Israel to which my hon. Friend alludes. There is no doubt that a comprehensive settlement will benefit both the state and private sector economies, and I am pleased that she raised the matter.
Arms Trade Treaty
The United Kingdom remains committed to a robust and effective arms trade treaty. The recent preparatory conference in New York had a successful outcome as far as the Government and leading non-governmental organisations were concerned, and we look forward to the full negotiating conference in July.
The UK delegation clearly proved crucial in making progress at the conference. Throughout the Arab spring, Governments in the region have used policing and security equipment, including tear gas and batten rounds, against peaceful protesters, sometimes with lethal effect. Will the Minister give his strong support to a genuinely bullet-proof treaty that includes those items?
We have said clearly that we want a comprehensive arms trade treaty, which would include all conventional weapons, including small arms and ammunition. The precise details of the treaty have yet to be negotiated. I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments about the noticeable support of NGOs. I particularly thank Amnesty International for its recent comment on the preparatory conference. It said that
“the UK championed our right to be in the room during final negotiations”.
That is a measure of our relationship with NGOs in support of a robust and effective treaty.
Mr Speaker, you and the Minister will recall that one year ago I asked an urgent question on Bahrain, when the House was shocked to learn that we were still exporting arms to the country used in the repression of its citizens. Today, people are still locked up in prison, and Amnesty reports hundreds, dozens, scores of political prisoners and tear gas being thrown into confined spaces. It is just as brutal as ever it was, yet we have resumed arms sales to Bahrain. Again, may I ask the Minister and the Government to suspend arms sales to these repressive regimes until a political and peaceful solution has been found?
If the right hon. Gentleman looks at precisely what has been sold to Bahrain, he will find that licences for any items that could be used for internal repression have been refused. Body armour, sporting targets and rifles, and naval cannon have been sold, but these things cannot be used for internal repression. We support the reform process that is under way through the independent commission that is working in Bahrain, and we support all political parties in working towards a settlement and reforms there.
UN Commission on the Status of Women
My hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities is currently in New York attending the commission. She will be pressing for more progress on meeting the millennium development goals, tackling violence and discrimination against women, and challenging the way women are represented by the global media.
We are publishing our national action plan today, and Ministers at the Department for International Development have made it clear, in DFID’s “Strategic vision for girls and women”, that stressing the importance of empowering rural girls and women is essential for global prosperity, achieving the MDGs and ensuring safer and more stable rural communities.
At the London conference on Somalia, the international community agreed on the need to inject new momentum into the political process, using the Garowe principles to chart a route to a broad-based constituent assembly, chosen by the Somali people, that will determine a new and representative Government for Somalia.
There is growing concern among British Somalis that the sense of isolation experienced by those who chew the drug khat is being exploited by al-Shabaab to recruit in the UK. Now that the UK is completely out of step with Europe, as the only country not to have banned khat, will the Foreign Secretary raise the matter with the Home Secretary as a matter of urgency?
Khat is certainly quite popular among many Somali people. Indeed, the only other bit of air activity I saw when I visited Mogadishu four weeks ago were planes arriving to deliver khat. However, I will certainly look at the point my hon. Friend raises and discuss it with the Home Secretary, as he suggests.
First, may I congratulate the Foreign Secretary and his team on his work on the Somalia conference? As the final communiqué of the conference says:
“We called on all those willing to reject violence to join the Djibouti peace process.”
How will the Government reach out and engage with those individuals to facilitate the broader base for the Somali Government that is necessary to make progress?
All the decisions that were made and set out in the communiqué at the end of the Somalia conference are to be taken forward by different authorities, and in this case by the authorities in Somalia, through the creation of a new constituent assembly and, then, a more legitimate and representative Parliament. That is a process that is there to be engaged with by people who want to be part of a peace process and want now to transform the position of their country. There will be some who are irreconcilable and wedded to violence, which is why the parallel agreement on expanding the funding of the AMISOM—African Union Mission in Somalia—forces is also important. This process is to be taken forward in Somalia, by Somalis, under the Garowe principles.
May I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend and the whole of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on their remarkable diplomatic and organisational achievement in convening such a widely attended conference? With an estimated 600,000 Somali refugees now living in Kenya, we now have an unusually valuable opportunity to ensure that our overseas aid expenditure goes on resettling them in their own country, before they unsettle Kenya.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks. The conference was well supported by other nations, which were delighted with the outcome. We have received stronger diplomatic support, and a stronger welcome around the world, for this than for any other diplomatic initiative that I can recall in recent years. That in itself is welcome and shows the commitment of the international community to this matter. We do indeed put a great deal of our humanitarian assistance in the direction that my right hon. Friend describes. We are the second-largest bilateral donor to the horn of Africa, for exactly the reason that he described.
Given the Government’s support for the new stability fund, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in order to retain confidence, humanitarian aid, including that for refugees, should be seen as something quite separate, necessary though it is?
Yes, there are many uses for development funds. Much of this is humanitarian aid delivered through international agencies, and it was of extreme importance during the recent famine in the horn of Africa. Increasingly, we want to be able to provide stabilisation support, and the more stable each area of Somalia becomes, the more we will be able to do that. At the moment, 60% of such funding is going to Somaliland, because that has become a more stable area. So, yes, we make a distinction between different things.
12. What recent reports he has received on the political situation in the Maldives; and if he will make a statement. (96701)
We remain concerned and unclear about the events of 7 February, in which power transferred from President Nasheed to his vice-president. We welcome an independent inquiry into those events, and we strongly support the efforts of the Indian Government and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in seeking to secure early elections by the end of this year.
So far, it has not been possible to secure a date from the new Administration. We remain absolutely convinced that an early date for elections—before the end of this year—is essential, and we will continue to support the efforts of Commonwealth and international partners to secure that.
Given that we have no firm date for elections in the Maldives, will the Minister assure the House that the Government will look closely at any invitations to the Queen’s diamond jubilee that might be sent to an unelected Commonwealth President?
My hon. Friend is taking us down a particular route, but we will have to wait and see what happens. We are quite sure that we need answers from the Administration about what has happened. I am in regular contact with the former vice-president and with former President Nasheed, to whom I spoke less than a couple of hours ago. We are watching the situation extremely carefully, but there are still questions to be answered if the situation is to be regularised as far as the United Kingdom is concerned.
13. What assessment he has made of the likely progress on human rights issues at (a) the next meeting of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee and (b) the 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. (96702)
The advisory committee sat from 20 to 24 February, and we shall assess its recommendations when they are presented to the Human Rights Council. I said in an earlier reply that my hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities was currently in New York pressing for progress on ending discrimination and violence against women.
I thank the Minister for that response. What action are the Government taking to call on the Government of Sri Lanka to bring to justice those who are responsible for human rights abuses—particularly the many acts of violence against women—within a reasonable time scale?
We receive regular reports from our posts in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on settlement activity on the west bank. We were concerned to hear on 22 February of moves to legalise existing housing in Shvut Rachel and Shilo, both of which are deep within the west bank, but we acknowledge that those were the first such announcements this year.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware of the campaign, supported by many of my constituents, to prevent the illegal demolitions in Silwan neighbourhood and the village of al-Aqaba? Will he pledge to continue to raise this important issue with his Israeli counterparts?
Yes, I spoke to the Israeli ambassador on 23 February about our concerns about the demolitions. We will continue to raise that issue. There have been a number of more positive moves over the past few months. I understand that some of the demolitions suggested in the Bedouin area of E1 have now been suspended, which we believe is good progress, as is the decision not to demolish the school at Khan al-Ahmar that I visited a short time ago.
Continued settlement activity on the west bank cannot be helpful in securing peace, but does the Minister believe that this is the only barrier to peace when the total withdrawal of all settlers in Gaza resulted in rule by Hamas and a continuing focus on attacks on Israeli settlements?
The hon. Lady rightly gives expression to the complexity of the situation in Israel and the difficulty surrounding the settlement issue, where one side sees it as an obstruction to progress but the other remembers what happened in relation to Gaza. The United Kingdom is firmly of the view that continued settlement expansion is an obstacle to peace, but that the confidence and security needed to create an overall settlement is essential between the two sides, which is why we welcome the continuing conversations in Oman between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli leaders.
Regional Security (Afghanistan)
In the bilateral conversations with Pakistan and at the Istanbul conference in November last year, there was a focus on regional security in the full light of combat troop withdrawals. The long-term commitment of the international community to the security of Afghanistan will be confirmed at the NATO summit in Chicago in May.
The Minister will be aware of the humanitarian cost of previous fighting in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, including over 1 million displaced people. What assessment has he made of the impact on children and communities of the draw-down of allied forces, and what steps has he put in place to mitigate it?
The Department for International Development has a substantial programme to assist those in Afghanistan. We are acutely conscious of the issues affecting withdrawal. There will be a further conference in Tokyo this year where the long-term commitment on development will be considered. This conference can be seen in conjunction with those in Bonn and Chicago, as I mentioned, that will look comprehensively at the international community’s support for Afghanistan post-2014. Development issues and the protection of women and children are a key feature of that.
Supporting UK firms is at the heart of our diplomacy. Our missions overseas are taking a leading role in campaigns to win new business. We have a dynamic Trade Minister in my noble Friend Lord Green and a highly focused prosperity directorate at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We are determined to play our part in driving up British exports.
Under the previous Government, the number of embassies we had overseas was reduced and exports flatlined as a proportion of gross domestic product, whereas in Germany exports have increased as a proportion of GDP—up to 50% now. What steps are the Government taking to open more embassies to help firms like Herbert Engineering in South West Norfolk, which plans to export 65% of all its goods next year to countries as far away as China and Dubai?
My hon. Friend is spot on. Our exports in 2011 were up 10.7%, while our trade deficit fell from £36.7 billion in 2010 to £28 billion in 2011. It is, of course, our intention to get into surplus. That is one reason why we are opening new missions around the world, including five in Africa. I am glad that my hon. Friend highlighted the excellent engineering business, R J Herbert Engineering, which is a superb example of a medium-sized engineering company succeeding in tough export markets.
We receive regular updates on humanitarian access to conflict areas in Burma from non-governmental organisations and from our embassy and Department for International Development officials in Rangoon. Access is still very restricted, and we continue to press the Burmese Government to increase humanitarian access to all areas.
In addition to medical supplies, Médecins sans Frontières has recently highlighted the chronic lack of antiretroviral and tuberculosis drugs in Burma. In the light of that, what conversations has the Foreign Secretary had with the Burmese Government about the international supply of these drugs?
The Foreign Secretary visited Burma last month—he was the first Foreign Secretary to do so since 1955—and had a wide range of productive conversations with the Burmese Government and others. It is worth pointing out that although no United Kingdom aid goes through the Burmese Government directly, the United Kingdom is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Burma, and will be spending an average of £46 million a year until 2015 on precisely the sort of projects that the hon. Gentleman has identified.
My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to the appalling abuses of human rights that have been taking place in Burma for many years. I think it reasonable for us to acknowledge that progress appears to have been made in recent months, and, when appropriate, to reward it, but we should not anticipate further progress before it has happened. Our ambassador and others, including Ministers, are keen to continue to press the Burmese Government to liberalise society further in that country.
The progress in Burma is very welcome, and no doubt the Burmese Government will want to see changes to the current sanctions regime. I was pleased to note that the Minister said that it was probably too early for that to happen, but what discussions have been held with our European counterparts about the issue?
A decision is likely to be made in a few months’ time. I think it right for Britain to maintain a position on trade with Burma which is very tough, and which takes account of the concerns about human rights abuses in the country that are expressed frequently in the House, but we want to maintain a common European position, because we feel that that is an effective way in which to proceed. We will maintain that position with a hard-headed attitude which I hope will meet with the hon. Lady’s approval.
I attended the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels yesterday. We agreed on a number of additions to our sanctions against the Assad regime, notably the freezing of the assets of the Central Bank of Syria, a ban on imports of gold and precious metals, a ban on cargo flights, and the listing of seven more Government Ministers.
I am always sympathetic about the dangers facing the Israeli people from some of their aggressive neighbours, and will remain so, but does the Secretary of State agree that settlement-building programmes are never a means to an end and are, in fact, becoming a serious obstacle to peace?
Yes, I do agree with that. As the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), has often pointed out, we have made very strong representations to the Israeli Government whenever settlements have been announced in recent times. Settlements are on occupied land, they are illegal—that is the view of almost the whole of the rest of the world—and this is an issue that Israel must address.
Given the recent violence in Afghanistan in response to the unintentional burning of the Koran at a United States air base, and given that it took some time for President Karzai to call for an end to the violence, are the Government fully satisfied with the efforts that he is making to bring the situation fully under control?
Yes. The British Government, along with our partners, condemn any behaviour that disrespects any religion. We welcome the apology from President Obama to President Karzai, which demonstrated sincere regret for the incident—which was, I believe, a genuine mistake, as was reflected in the right hon. Gentleman’s question—and we welcome the calls for calm from the Afghan Government. We echo President Karzai’s call to the Afghan people, as he put it,
“not to allow the enemies of peace to exploit the opportunity for their own ends”.
Is the Foreign Secretary fully satisfied more generally with the work that President Karzai is doing? The objective of achieving peace is one that we all share, but according to the latest reports there are continuing concerns about corruption, governance and, more broadly, the provision of services and security.
Of course there are always things that we are urging the Afghanistan Government to do, and addressing accusations of corruption and improving governance—both from Kabul and around the country—are important examples. However, our relations with the Afghanistan Government are very good. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Prime Minister and President Karzai met a month ago to sign a long-term enduring partnership between our countries, which demonstrates the good basis of trust between our Governments.
T3. Burhan Ghalioun, chairman of the Syrian national council, has said that a revolution in Syria will not be successful without the support of the minorities in that country, and he has offered to ensure that the rights of minorities are protected in a post-Assad Syria. With Kurds representing up to 20% of the Syrian population and the Christian community a further 9% to 12%, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the SNC and its chairman on this subject? (96714)
I discussed that issue, and many others, with the chairman and his SNC colleagues in Tunis on Friday. I have long encouraged them to set out their determination to protect minorities and to seek to represent all communities in Syria. On this occasion, I was impressed by the chairman’s determination to do so and by the speech he gave to the conference in Tunis, which contained a full commitment to democracy and the protection of minorities. It is very good that the Syrian opposition have made those things clear.
T2. Does the Foreign Secretary share my concerns about the proposed evictions of Palestinian families and the demolition of their homes in the Silwan area of East Jerusalem? If so, what representations is he making to the Israeli Government and what actions are the UK Government taking to help prevent the destruction of these Palestinian homes? (96713)
On behalf of the United Kingdom Government, I have made representations on Silwan both to the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister and the Israeli ambassador. It remains a matter of concern for us, and we continue to press on these issues in the manner that the Foreign Secretary set out a moment ago.
T4. Given that the eurozone is a slow-motion train crash, will the Government divert some of the extra billions of pounds they are, yet again, about to throw at the inflated EU budget into furthering trade relationships with the Commonwealth? A shared language, shared accounting and legal systems and growing markets suggest that that is a no-brainer. (96715)
I think that my hon. Friend has had the euro as both a dead man walking and a train crash in the same Question Time, so his metaphors are becoming a little confused. However, we certainly are putting much-increased effort into our trade with emerging economies across the world, including many Commonwealth nations. My hon. Friend might like to know that the Commonwealth represents a steadily increasing proportion of the trade of the world. That underlines the importance of our renewed commitment to it under this Government.
T9. Twenty-four hours ago, a new President was sworn in in Yemen, yet at the same time 26 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack in the south. What steps are the Government taking to support the new Government of President Hadi at this crucial moment in Yemen’s history, and when will the Foreign Secretary visit the country? (96720)
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have visited Yemen, as has my ministerial colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire and he will be visiting again in the not-too-distant future. Over the past few weeks we have had discussions with the then vice-president, who has since been inaugurated as the new President. Yemen now has a genuine moment of opportunity. We will revive the Friends of Yemen process, which has the potential to bring a lot of co-ordinated international support to the efforts of the Government of Yemen to bring stability and peace to their country.
T5. Last August the Deputy Prime Minister announced that up to £20 million from the Arab Partnership Fund would be allocated to Libya from 2012 to 2015. That investment is co-funded by the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. How much of the money will be spent on poverty-reducing economic growth? (96716)
I cannot confirm the exact amount because the Arab Partnership projects in Libya are still being rolled out, but money is being spent not only on building capacity in Ministries that will be designed to work on these difficult issues, but on democracy building and the like. I will ensure that my hon. Friend receives a full list of current projects as soon as possible.
Ministers will know that there is a sizeable Somali community in Leicester, many of whom followed the deliberations of the recent conference with great interest. I am keen to find out how Ministers plan to continue to engage with that community. In addition, to what extent was the role of children discussed at the conference? What more can be done internationally to protect children in that part of the world?
There has been a huge amount of engagement with the Somali diaspora in this country, both on the part of FCO Ministers and from the Prime Minister downwards. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has met Somali diaspora groups on a number of occasions, and I have had five such meetings and have visited the Finsbury Park mosque as a result of an invitation from the local MP. We will carry on that engagement, because understanding the views of these groups and their vision for the future, including that of their children, is incredibly important.
My hon. Friend will be aware of our policy on Iran, which was debated thoroughly at the beginning of last week, when the Government’s approach was massively endorsed in this House on 20 February. So we have set out our policy in detail. We are not calling for or advocating a military attack on Iran, and at this moment we advise others not to do so. But we also believe that it is important to keep Iran under pressure and that no options are taken off the table.
If the Secretary of State is committed to the UK being a world leader on business and human rights, as I am sure he is, what is he doing to persuade the Secretary of State for Justice to drop the provisions in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill that will shift liability for cost and insurance away from multinational companies and on to innocent victims in developing countries?
My Department has had discussions with the Ministry of Justice about this matter, and the hon. Lady will be aware of the Government’s position, as set out by the Justice Secretary. Of course if there is any change in that position, it will be for my right hon. and learned Friend to announce it.
T7. There is considerable nervousness among Christian communities across the middle east in these uncertain times, and apparently many Copts are beginning to leave Egypt. What discussions have the Government had with the Egyptian authorities on religious tolerance? (96718)
My hon. Friend raises a subject of considerable concern, not only in Egypt, but across a range of countries, as she rightly said. We engage bilaterally with those countries on the importance of the rule of law and of rights, stressing to Governments how important those things are. Equally, I keep in contact with the non-governmental organisations that deal with this issue; I saw representatives of Christians from Pakistan in my office just last week. This is a matter of concern all over the region and so the remarks made by Burhan Ghalioun in Syria about reaching out to Christian minorities there were particularly significant.
Reference has been made this afternoon to the emerging political and security difficulties in Afghanistan. Have the Government assessed how capable the Afghan state is of effectively administering the presidential elections due in 2014?
As the hon. Lady says, those elections are due in 2014. Over previous elections the Afghan state, supported by the international security assistance force, has shown an increasing capability to administer elections safely. I am sure that that capability will increase much further over the next two years, given that the build-up of the Afghan national security forces is continuing. As she knows, it is our intention that by the end of 2014 the Afghan national security forces will be able to conduct security all over Afghanistan for themselves, and that includes supervising elections.
T8. Given the growing tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran, which are extremely worrying, what are we doing to upgrade our diplomatic support to Azerbaijan, which is both politically and economically extremely important to this country? (96719)
We have good links with Azerbaijan, particularly given its current membership of the UN Security Council—it joined a few months ago. So our diplomatic contact and co-ordination with Azerbaijan has increased. As to the level of representation, we regularly review that but I do not have any new announcement to make about that at the moment.
There are good arguments for and against maintaining diplomatic relations in these circumstances. We have seen in recent days some of the advantages of maintaining relations, because our ambassador in Damascus has been very active in trying to secure the safe passage out of Syria of the injured journalist whom we were discussing earlier. Having people on the ground and having a channel of communication has a value, even when we so deeply disapprove of the conduct of the Government concerned. Of course, we must keep under review for security reasons the position of our embassy in Damascus and I stress that that is something that I keep under very intense review.
T10. The Minister will be aware of the shocking murder of Christians in Borno state, northern Nigeria, by Boko Haram. Will he outline what steps the British Government might be able to take to assist the Nigerian Government in dealing with that problem? (96721)
I certainly share my hon. Friend’s outrage at these attacks on both Christians and Muslim groups in northern Nigeria. The Prime Minister met President Goodluck Jonathan last week and the UK has offered to share experience on counter-terrorism policy, doctrine and legal frameworks. We have also offered to promote more bridge-building initiatives between Christians and Muslims.
In view of the fact that the Argentines are economically blockading the Falkland Islands and threatening the self-determination of the Falkland Islanders, will the Foreign Secretary make representations to his right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary to ensure that the UK votes differently at the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank and instead supports American efforts to galvanise a coalition among G20 countries to deny such loans to Argentina? In fact, will he make representations that we should stop making contributions to those loans?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s fury and frustrations about the economic blockade that the Argentines are seeking to enforce against the Falkland Islands. On this specific issue, I have made inquiries as I know that there are concerns in the House and I have been told that no UK taxpayers’ money is spent on providing finance to Argentina through the World Bank, nor does the Department for International Development give any aid at present to Argentina.
Building on the success of the marine protected area in the British Indian ocean, may I ask the Minister what recent assessment he has made of the merits of establishing marine protected areas in Pitcairn, Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands?
My hon. Friend might be interested to know that 90% of Britain’s biodiversity lies in the overseas territories, which is why a very important part of the forthcoming White Paper on the overseas territories will be devoted to how we manage that habitat and its biodiversity. Of course, the territories he has mentioned will play an important part in that exercise.
Health and Social Care Bill
I am glad to have this opportunity again to set out the purposes of the Health and Social Care Bill. It will give patients more information and choice, so that they can share in decision-making about their care. It empowers front-line doctors and nurses to lead the delivery of care for their patients. It cuts out two tiers of bureaucracy and strengthens the voice of patients and the role of local government in integrating services and strengthening public health.
The values of the Bill are simple: putting patients first, trusting doctors and nurses, focusing on results for patients and maintaining the founding values of the NHS. We are constantly looking to reinforce those values, strengthening the NHS to meet the challenges it faces. We know change is essential; we will not let the NHS down by blocking change. Throughout the development and progress of this Bill, we have engaged extensively with NHS staff, the public, and parliamentarians.
The Health and Social Care Bill is the most scrutinised public Bill in living memory—[Interruption.] With over 200 hours of debate between the two Chambers and 35 days in Committee, we have ensured that Members and peers have had every opportunity to examine, understand and amend the Bill to—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
We have made this legislation better and stronger. We have made significant changes to the Bill, including in response to the NHS Future Forum’s work and we have been open to any further changes that would improve or clarify the Bill. For example, so far in the Lords, the Government have accepted amendments tabled by a number of Cross-Bench, Liberal Democrat and Labour peers.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Baroness Williams wrote to their Liberal Democrat colleagues explaining their support for the Bill, with those changes and some further amendments they wish to see. They said, for example, how we must
“rule out beyond doubt any threat of a US-style market in the NHS”.
I wholeheartedly agree. The Bill is about quality, not competition on price. It will not permit any NHS organisation to be taken over by the private sector. It will put patients’ interests first. The Bill does not permit any extension of charging, and care will be free, based on need. Where the doctors and nurses on the ground know that competition is in the best interests of their patients—where it is based entirely on the quality of the care and treatment provided and not in any way on the price of that care and treatment—then competition can play an important role in driving up standards throughout the NHS.
We will not see a market free-for-all or a “US-style” insurance system in this country. I believe in the national health service. I am a passionate supporter of our NHS, and that is why I understand the passionate debate it arouses. It is also why I resent those Opposition Members who seek to misrepresent the NHS, its current achievements and its future needs. We—and I do mean all of us on the Government Benches—are using the debates in the Lords further to reassure all those who care about the NHS. I am grateful for this chance to reassure all my hon. Friends regarding the positive and beneficial effects of debate in the other place and about the work we are all doing to secure a positive future for the NHS.
On Friday, the Prime Minister promised there would be no more amendments, and yesterday lunch time the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) said that the whole Government backed the Bill as it stood, but hours later the Deputy Prime Minister called for changes to a flagship Bill that he has supported all the way. The Government appear to be in complete disarray—or perhaps this was pre-agreed coalition choreography for the Deputy Prime Minister to save face. Either way, this House is entitled to ask, “What is going on?” The NHS matters too much for us to allow it to be carved up in the unelected House in cosy coalition deals, so we are grateful, Mr Speaker, that you have brought Ministers here today to start providing some answers.
First, on the process, will the Secretary of State tell the House when he was first made aware of the Deputy Prime Minister’s letter? Was he consulted about its contents in advance and did he consent to the apparent change of policy or was he overruled by the Deputy Prime Minister? Who is in charge of health policy? Is anyone in charge?
Secondly, on policy, will the Secretary of State update the House on the precise detail of the changes that the Deputy Prime Minister is seeking in the five areas he identifies? For instance, we hear that the Deputy Prime Minister, having previously defended the 49% private patient income cap for foundation trusts, now wants “additional safeguards”. What are those safeguards? Are the changes still under discussion or do they now represent Government policy? Yesterday, the Liberal Democrats played up the changes, but the Secretary of State’s Department has dismissed them as minor. Is his view the same as ours that the amendments do not affect the substance of his Bill but rather are cosmetic changes designed to make the Deputy Prime Minister look good in advance of his spring conference?
The Prime Minister has been clear: this Bill is about competition at the heart of the health service. The Deputy Prime Minister has supported it all the way. Are not these just empty gestures designed to save face? This is a bad Bill that cannot be amended. Last week, the president of the Lib Dems spoke for his party when he admitted that the Bill should have been dropped. Does that not explain what this posturing is all about? In their heart of hearts the Liberal Democrats hate this Bill but have not had the guts to stand up to the Prime Minister and say so. Both coalition parties are putting their political pride before the best interests of the NHS. Is it not time for them to do what they said they would do at the start—listen to doctors and nurses and drop this Bill?
I am not sure the right hon. Gentleman even read the Deputy Prime Minister’s letter, judging from what he has just said. I will tell him exactly what the process is. The process is for detailed discussion in another place. There were 15 days of debate in Committee in another place. It is the habit in another place not to amend the Bill in Committee, but to use those debates in Committee as a basis for amendment on Report. The process is straightforward. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, together with Baroness Shirley Williams, explained to their Liberal Democrat colleagues some of the amendments on which we have been working together in order to make sure that there is further reassurance. [Interruption.] That is literally true.
Let me put the right hon. Gentleman right about something. What is at the heart of the Bill is improving the quality of care for patients. I note that he did not quote me or represent that he was quoting me. I have never said that competition is at the heart of the Bill. Competition is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The purpose of the Bill is to achieve quality. Where competition enables us to deliver better quality for patients, we should use it. Where integration of services and an absence of competition is in the interests of patients in delivering quality, that is the basis upon which the NHS should proceed. The Bill has been tremendously strengthened and is now a long-term sustainable basis for the NHS to deliver the quality of care for patients that we are looking for, while maintaining all the values of the NHS.
Has my right hon. Friend yet been able to understand how it can be that a party which, when in government, promoted practice-based commissioning that involved GPs in commissioning, promoted private sector investment in NHS institutions, and promoted the commissioning of care from private sector providers where that was in the best interests of patients now thinks all those principles undermine the national health service to which he, we and presumably the Opposition are still committed?
My right hon. Friend makes extremely good points. It is interesting that the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) appears to be trying to represent us as not agreeing about matters. He is chronically incapable of agreeing with himself. In June 2006 the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said that what the NHS needed in future was foundation trusts, practice-based commissioning, more involvement for the private sector and payment by results. The thing is that Labour in office did not achieve any of those things. It is only through the mechanism of the legislation that we are putting together that we are going to enable the NHS to achieve those things in a way that does not entail all the difficulties that Labour had, such as getting the private sector involvement with the NHS wrong. We are going to get those things right.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the Salisbury convention requires the House of Lords not to reject a measure if it has an electoral mandate? As all the parties in the House were mandated not to totally reorganise the national health service, would it not be wholly proper for the Liberal Democrats in the Lords to have some guts, join with Labour and Cross Benchers and vote the whole measure down?
The right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong about that. Perhaps he was not here last Wednesday when we debated health matters. [Hon. Members: “He was.”] Well, then he did not listen. I set out very clearly how the Bill was responding to the manifesto mandate that we in our party had, and it was a manifesto mandate that the Liberal Democrats brought to the coalition Government, not least in relation to the role of local government, bringing greater democratic accountability, which is precisely how some of these things have been achieved. If the right hon. Gentleman is talking about a mandate in the Lords, he might like to tell his colleagues that at the last election his party was elected on the basis of supporting foundation trusts, for example, to be able to be free to increase their private income.
Given that the right hon. Gentleman inherited an NHS with record short waiting times, record high public satisfaction and improving competitiveness, does he ever in his darkest moments wish that he had not embarked on this damaging and costly upheaval?
At the last election the average waiting time for in-patient treatment was 8.4 weeks. In December 2001, when the most recent data were published, it had come down to 7.7 weeks. The right hon. Gentleman might like to reflect on the fact that the number of people waiting more than a year for treatment in the NHS is now more than half what it was at the last election.
I thank the Secretary of State for accepting many of the amendments to the Bill proposed by our colleagues and others and thank his colleague in the House of Lords for accommodating not only Liberal Democrat and Cross-Bench peers, but Labour peers who have joined us in bringing forward such amendments. Will he give an undertaking to continue to work collaboratively to improve the Bill to the very end and reject Labour’s allegations that it did not force privatisation on the NHS, which we are definitely not doing?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and thank him for his positive remarks about my noble Friend Earl Howe. I attach to that my appreciation to Baroness Northover for the work she has been doing in another place and to the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), who is responsible for care services, who has been heavily engaged in discussing some of the amendments. I recall that nearly a year ago there was a clear expression of interest from the Liberal Democrats, as a party, on how they felt the Bill should be improved. I was pleased that we were able to bring forward changes that reflected virtually all those. Indeed, they are reflected directly in what my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said in his letter yesterday.
If the competition in the Bill is just an extension of what the previous Government did by introducing independent sector treatment centres and everything else, why are more than 90 clauses writing into the law of the land that competition policy should run the NHS, not the NHS, as has been the case in the past?
I would not characterise this as an extension of the independent sector treatment centres programme. That is precisely what we do not need to do with the private sector. Under the Labour Government, the private sector was paid 11% more than the NHS, which was wrong, and in another place there is a legislative provision that will prevent discrimination in favour of the private sector. The Bill will carry forward exactly the principles and rules of co-operation and competition, as reflected in the panel set up under the previous Government. As NHS Future Forum set out, the reason for having that in the Bill, with Monitor exercising those responsibilities, is so that there will be a health sector regulator, rather than that being done without health expertise by the Office of Fair Trading.
Some Conservative Members never criticised, and in fact supported, the previous Government when they introduced private health care providers into the NHS. In his letter, the Deputy Prime Minister said that the use of private health care firms has been explicitly prevented as a result of his involvement. Is that really true? If so, should someone not tell him who is running this Government?
My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that we are a coalition Government and, therefore, this is a coalition Bill that reflects the views of the whole coalition. To that extent, I reiterate to her and to the House that, as the Deputy Prime Minister has quite rightly said, the legislation will not allow discrimination in favour of the private sector in the way that the Labour party did.
All those royal colleges, all those nurses and all those doctors know that this Bill is about privatisation. Along come these tin-pot Liberals, who put forward an idea to make a few marginal shifts. It is the biggest con trick of all time. This is about trying to save the face of those people, who should have opposed the Bill from the very beginning. Drop this lousy Bill.
Order. May I say to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) who is chuntering inanely from a sedentary position, to no obvious benefit or purpose, that the Chair is perfectly capable of adjudicating upon what is and is not in order and that it does not behove an hon. Member to seek to intervene in such matters? These proceedings have thus far been entirely orderly. That is the beginning and the end of the matter.
There is an old political saying that the Liberal Democrats say one thing at one end of their constituency and another thing at the other end. Will the Secretary of State lay that rumour absolutely to rest—that they are not saying one thing at this end of Parliament and another thing at the other end?
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the debate so far risks ignoring the importance of the Bill’s renewed outcomes? In cancer, for example, such focus is instrumental in driving forward earlier diagnosis, which in itself could save quite literally thousands of lives.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am sure that in that context he shares with me the appreciation of the benefit that will come from campaigns to promote the early awareness of cancer, such as, following piloting, the roll-out of the national campaign for the awareness of bowel cancer symptoms.
May I ask the Secretary of State today to confirm again that when the Bill becomes law the national health service will remain funded through taxation and free at the point of use regardless of ability to pay? Opposition Front Benchers should stop scaring our constituents with grossly inappropriate scare stories.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I share his deep resentment at the way in which Opposition Members misrepresent and distort what is in the legislation and then, when people write to us concerned about what is in the legislation, accuse us of not listening to them. Opposition Members should read what is in the Bill, find out that it achieves the purposes that my hon. Friend describes and not distort it.
Order. I simply say to the Secretary of State that to refer to somebody “distorting” something is perfectly in order, but I know that he would not want to use an unparliamentary term and talk about anything being “misrepresented”. I think he is accusing a Member of being erroneous. I think that is what he has in mind.
There is clearly no mandate, either in this House or in the other place, for these huge changes and massive top-down reorganisation. Some 162,000 people have signed an e-petition calling on the Government to drop the Bill, so may I remind the Secretary of State that his own party’s election manifesto stated that
“any petition that secures 100,000 signatures will be eligible for formal debate”?
Does he not think that it is time for us to have a full debate about the issue, to find out who is in favour and who is against and to drop the Bill?
The hon. Gentleman, himself, was present at 40 sittings in Committee, during which his hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), the shadow spokesman, said that the Bill had been thoroughly scrutinised. We have debated it; in another place they continue to debate it very fully and very constructively; and I believe that that will deliver us the right Bill for the NHS.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this Bill is superb news for patients, and that under the Secretary of State’s new Bill, my constituent who requires less invasive hip treatment in a neighbouring county will be able to choose to go to that other provider for a less expensive operation that will do him less harm and more good?
Yes, indeed. For the first time, not just through the legislation but through the modernisation of the national health service, patients will be able to see, through the data, the quality of the service provided in the NHS by a range of providers. When patients are asked whether they want—on that basis, as NHS patients with a free service based on their need—to be able to choose who should provide them with care, 81% say that they want that choice. We will give them that choice; Labour would not.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s letter promised
“additional safeguards to the private income cap”.
Will the Secretary of State explain what are these additional safeguards aimed at ensuring that foundation trusts cannot focus on private profits before patients?
We have already made it very clear in another place that the legislation will ensure that foundation trusts should have the freedom to increase their private income, not least in relation to international work. However, their principal legal purpose is for the benefit of NHS patients, and so they already have to make sure that they reflect that in their annual reports and in their annual plans. As the letter indicates, we are, with my hon. Friends in another place, working on a further corporate governance mechanism to ensure that foundation trusts reflect their principal legal purpose in all that they do. [Interruption.]
Under Labour, local democratic accountability in the NHS was reduced by the abolition, without consultation, of the community health councils. The letter refers to the creation of the health and wellbeing boards, which will increase local democratic accountability for the health service. Will the Secretary of State explain how that will ensure that local services in the health service better fit local health needs?
That is a very powerful and positive step forward. Through the joint strategic needs assessment and the strategy derived from that, local authorities and the NHS will now increasingly work together to deliver integrated services extending across health, social care and public health.
The previous Labour Government, of whom the shadow Secretary of State for Health was an active member, negotiated private finance initiative contracts that are costing the NHS almost £3,000 per minute. Will the Secretary of State detail what his Department and the Treasury are doing to help to alleviate this enormous level of debt, which has risked the viability of some NHS services?
We are helping all trusts with PFI contracts to manage the costs of those contracts. Seven trusts were left with unsustainable PFI contracts, and we have made it clear that we are willing to help support them. Labour Members—they are not even listening—are distorting the nature of this legislation, which does not permit privatisation. Given that during their time in office they left the NHS with 102 hospital projects owned, in effect, by the private sector, with a PFI debt of £67 billion, it is outrageous for them to sit there pointing fingers at us.
If this is such a marvellous measure that protects the NHS, as the Secretary of State has been saying, why is it opposed by virtually all those in the medical profession and by most of the public, to the extent that he has become almost a hate figure? Is it because he lacks persuasiveness or because this is a worthless Bill that will undermine the NHS?
The hon. Gentleman should go and talk to the clinical commissioning groups across the country that are delivering on the clinical leadership that will modernise and improve the NHS rather than simply sitting reading the newspapers and imagining that he knows what is going on in the NHS.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when she was in government, Baroness Williams was one of the chief architects of ruining the state education system in this country? Given that, why would a Conservative-dominated Government wish to dance to her tune?
Last year, when the Bill was in its infancy, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), gave me an assurance that NHS services in Trafford undergoing changes would not be privatised. In the light of all the amendments, is the Secretary of State able to offer me the same assurance, especially given that the Co-operation and Competition Panel in his Department has instructed the local NHS to devise a contract that is divided into six separate lots, with a warning that competition must be prosecuted, otherwise there will be severe consequences?
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the previous Government were, in 2006, given the advice that it was neither possible nor desirable to ensure that competition was not allowed in the NHS because it is subject to EU competition rules?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has made that important point. People such as the former Chair of the Select Committee on Health, the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron), who is no longer in his place, are fond of asking why we are introducing competition into the NHS. We are not. The Bill does not introduce competition to or extend competition within the NHS. The legal advice disclosed in one of today’s national newspapers makes it clear that the previous Labour Government introduced the reach of competition law into the NHS by introducing the elective choice programme in 2006.
If the Health Secretary believes so much in the value of his Bill, why did he not take the time to explain it to voters before the general election, instead of promising that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS?
I encourage my right hon. Friend to read the minutes of the Hinckley and Bosworth health and wellbeing partnership meeting. He will see that clinical commissioning groups are in place and that there is a priority on early intervention. There is support for the health and wellbeing board and its priorities. Does that not go completely against what we are hearing from Opposition Members?
I had the pleasure—before Christmas, I think—of meeting the local authority, the director of public health and the three clinical commissioning groups from across Leicestershire, who are all enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by the modernisation of the NHS legislation.
Is it not clear to even this Secretary of State that the Bill is now a dog’s breakfast? Given that doctors, nurses, the public, the Lords and many Government Members oppose the Bill, what mandate does he have for such a radical change of the NHS?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the point I made about the mandate. Beyond the mandate, staff across the NHS have been clear for years that they want more clinical leadership and clinically led commissioning; they want local authorities to integrate health and social care services more effectively; and they support the transfer of leadership in health improvement into the hands of local authorities. The Bill achieves those principles. That is why all through last year, the Royal College of Nursing told me that it supported the Bill.
The Secretary of State is not the only one who has noticed a shift in the Opposition’s stance on independent sector provision. I have started to receive letters from constituents who are concerned that Labour will next call for much-loved NHS services that are currently provided by the independent and charitable sectors to be shut down. Will he assure me that if those calls are made, he will fight them?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about what would happen if we followed the apparent views of the Labour party. More than 11% of mental health services in this country are provided by the private and charitable sectors. Recently, I was in Northampton, where St Andrew’s Healthcare provides important services. I opened its new building, which will provide first-rate, state-of-the-art care for mental health patients. The attitude of the Labour party is that all that should be shut down.
Up and down the country, thousands of NHS staff have already been laid off—so much for no top-down reorganisation—and many of them are being re-employed at vast expense. When will the Secretary of State publish the costs to date, before the Bill is even law, of this overarching reorganisation?
I do not know whether the hon. Lady has read the latest monthly data on the NHS work force, but since the election the number of non-clinical staff has gone down by 15,000, including the number of managers by 5,800, and the number of clinical staff has risen, including more than 4,500 more doctors.