House of Commons
Tuesday 27 March 2012
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 17 April (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
We are developing a new patient funding system for all providers of palliative care. It will be fair and transparent and deliver better outcomes for patients and better value for the NHS. Just last week, I announced that we are investing £1.8 million in eight pilot sites to help us in that work. Marie Curie Cancer Care is also providing £2.5 million of funding to support those pilots. The new system will be in place by 2015.
I thank the Secretary of State. Does he agree that current state funding for end-of-life and palliative care provision is at best patchy across the country and needs to be improved? Will he outline the role that he sees for voluntary and charitable organisations in the delivery of improved palliative and end-of-life care in future?
My hon. Friend will know very well of the vital role that the voluntary sector already plays, whether through the hospice movement or through Marie Curie and other voluntary organisations. As he implies, we not only want to secure more consistent, high-quality end-of-life care, to which effect we are already implementing the end-of-life care strategy and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence quality standard for end-of-life care, but through the implementation of the palliative care funding review pilot schemes we want to ensure that the voluntary sector and other providers are equally able to provide the services that patients and their families desire.
For both end-of-life care and social care more generally, the Budget was a real missed opportunity, in that the Government did not signal what they were going to do about the future funding of social care. Will the Secretary of State now update us on the discussions that he has had with the Treasury about what will be done about the gap in the future funding of social care?
On the contrary, the Chancellor set out very clearly his intention that a White Paper on the reform of social care would be published in the spring. The hon. Lady may wish to know that we are in direct discussions with the Opposition to seek consensus about the long-term reform of social care funding.
NHS Reorganisation (Costs)
The cost of the NHS modernisation is estimated to be between £1.2 billion and £1.3 billion. It will save £4.5 billion over the rest of this Parliament and £1.5 billion a year to 2020. We will reinvest every penny saved in the NHS in front-line services.
The Bolton clinical commissioning group estimates that its budget will be about £25 per Bolton resident, or £100 for a couple with two children. Is that not too much, considering that they will get no medical treatment at all from that money, just administration money paid to doctors who should really be treating patients and not sat in the back office?
No, I do not believe it is. The administration figure that has been announced for CCGs throughout the country is £25 a patient, but if a CCG is more effective and efficient in providing administration and bureaucracy and makes savings, those savings can be transferred and reinvested in funding the care of their patients. That is an incentive for them to be streamlined and to ensure that that happens.
If I could explain this to the hon. Gentleman, the £500 million that he is talking about was part of the savings made through renegotiating the IT contract. It is a perfectly normal procedure, because as the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) will know, the average figure for previous years was £850 million, and one year when he was a Minister at the Department of Health, it was £2.3 billion.
As part of the reorganisation, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has decided—rightly in my view—that the Health Professions Council will regulate Chinese medical practitioners, but there is widespread concern in the community that these practitioners will not have protection of title. Will he please ensure that they do when he finishes his consultation?
Last week in the emergency debate, the Secretary of State said:
“Risk registers…are not a prediction of the future. They set out a worst-case scenario”.—[Official Report, 20 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 676.]
I now have an early version of the risk register that civil servants gave him in September 2010. Risk No. 7 of his reorganisation was that “Financial control is lost.” That was red rated and, according to the document, likely to happen with major consequences. Is it not clear that last week the Secretary of State gave an inaccurate description of the risk registers he saw, and should he not now come to the Dispatch Box to correct the record?
May I reassure you, Mr Speaker, if not so much the right hon. Gentleman, that my right hon. Friend did not mislead anyone? The answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is the same as he and his predecessors pursued under the last Labour Government—and was pursued under the Thatcher and Major Governments—which is that Ministers do not comment on leaked documents.
The rest of the world is, and we would be interested to hear the Government’s views on it. Here we have it in full colour. It is not the worst-case scenario, as the Secretary of State claimed, but 43 very real and predictable risks, 21 of which are red rated and 14 likely to happen with major consequences. They include:
“Emergencies…less well managed…more failures…GP consortia go bust or have to cut services…performance dips and key staff lost”.
Is it not now clear for all to see that the Secretary of State and his Ministers have knowingly taken major risks with the national health service, ignored warnings from civil servants and kept those risks secret from Parliament in order to get their unnecessary Bill through?
I am not quite sure which word in my last answer the right hon. Gentleman did not understand, so I will repeat it. Like previous Governments, we do not comment on leaked documents. Instead of coming to the Dispatch Box and talking down the fantastic work that nurses and doctors do day in and day out, why does he not read the quarter, the latest copy of which is full of facts about how the NHS is improving its performance and delivering better quality care for patients throughout England?
Provisional numbers of tuberculosis cases in England in 2011 increased by 556 compared with 2010, although the number of cases is lower than in 2009. This may indicate that TB is stabilising, but it is too early to draw firm conclusions. We expect local NHS organisations, in partnership with other agencies, to sustain their efforts to control TB. On 23 March, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence published new guidance to help the NHS manage TB in hard-to-reach groups, including collaborative commissioning.
I thank the Minister for his answer. London has the highest rate of TB of any city in western Europe, with more than 3,000 cases a year. When faced with the same problem in Paris and New York, respective Governments committed to increasing resources and a clear model of care. Given the scale of the problem here, and the growing concern about drug-resistant TB, will the Secretary of State commit to implementing the London model of care for TB services that was developed by TB health professionals and advocacy groups to stop this ever-worsening problem?
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in this matter. He is a member of the all-party group on tuberculosis, and I believe he is meeting the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) to discuss these matters further. He is right that this is a big issue in London as well as a global issue. The Department is working closely with TB Alert, the tuberculosis charity, which is running a series of programmes to raise awareness. It is working with the NHS and the voluntary sector, particularly in communities with higher risk populations, and we are working with the Royal College of General Practitioners to develop an online resource to promote the better detection and treatment of TB in primary care. I hope that he can explore these issues further, but the Government take them very seriously and are working with other agencies to make progress.
It was 50 years ago that my dad moved on from being research secretary at the British Tuberculosis Association at Harefield because, in the 1950s, TB had ceased to be a killer in the UK. It is a tragedy that it has now come back, largely as a consequence of people with infectivity from overseas bringing TB into the country. What more can be done to enhance the screening of travellers from high-infection areas entering the UK so that those infected with TB can be identified and treated before they infect others in the population here?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about one aspect of the better control of TB and its spread. The Home Office has been running a pilot programme for some years. It continues to evaluate the effectiveness of that programme with a view to establishing whether it is more widely applicable. We know that this disease has moved from the general population to specific high-risk groups, which is why the targeted approach I mentioned in my initial answer is the key to controlling it.
The Minister has heard that TB is a particular problem in London—there was an 8% rise last year—and he will be aware that the current difficulties concern delays in detection and referral and the variability of commissioning and service provision. Given that the Health and Social Care Bill will necessarily lead to further fragmentation, separating health protection and public health from commissioning, how will he ensure that the Bill does not make a bad situation, in respect of TB in London, worse?
The Bill will not lead to fragmentation. It actually supports greater integration of health, social care and public health and, at a local level, it allows health and wellbeing boards to become the means by which to co-ordinate all the agencies that have a part to play when it comes to tackling TB, not least in ensuring that the advice of public health officials benefits not just the NHS but wider public services that also have a role to play in raising awareness of the disease and ensuring that it is properly tackled.
Defective Breast Implants
My officials have kept colleagues in the Welsh Government closely informed about the advice of Sir Bruce Keogh’s expert group and about our plans for the NHS treatment of patients with PIP breast implants.
I will write to the hon. Gentleman with the latest figures and place a copy of the letter in the Library. Overall, however, I am aware of 5,232 referrals to private providers, as a result of which 2,704 scans have been conducted. Consequently, the decision to explant breast implants has been taken in 298 cases. Some 75 such operations have been completed.
The average cost of an attendance at an NHS walk-in centre was £36 in 2008-09; £42 in 2009-10; and £39 in 2010-11.
I thank the Minister for his detailed answer. Does he agree that in the future new commissioning groups, such as those that will serve my constituency in Bracknell, might choose not to fund walk-in centres—whether ones already established or those in the future—based on clinical justification terms? I, for one, remain to be convinced—indeed, I am far from convinced—of the long-term financial justification for, or clinical benefit of, walk-in centres.
Is it not the case that the walk-in centre that opened in Rotherham a few years ago has given communities that are higher on bad health indices access to health care 12 hours a day, seven days a week? Getting rid of it—it was opposed by some local doctors, because it threatened their business—would be a backwards step. Can we expect the new commissioning groups to start commissioning GPs in areas such as mine, which are higher on bad health indices and do not have enough general practitioners?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question, because he outlines the need to reduce health inequalities—something that the party of which he is a member failed to do in government. I can assure him that the Bill, which has now gone through all its parliamentary stages, will place a duty on clinical commissioning groups to seek to reduce health inequalities —something that his Government never did.
Is the Minister aware that when walk-in centres fail—or when any aspect of the national health service fails—it is because of poor management? Does he realise that good managers up and down the country are leaving the national health service? Doctors are not trained as managers. The Institute of Management has said that 43% of our managers are not up to the job, and we are not training our managers in the national health service because they are GPs.
This Government respect the contribution that NHS managers make, and we respect the contribution that the NHS Confederation makes as well. However, we also want to ensure that clinicians are at the heart of commissioning services. They are the people who understand patients most, and they are the people we are giving that responsibility to, because we think that is the way to drive improvement in the NHS.
Private Finance Initiatives (North-East)
Any plan to rationalise a PFI contract, such as that being considered by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, would be a local decision. Any trust will need to satisfy itself of the value for money of any proposal. Northumbria Healthcare is a foundation trust, so Monitor is also considering its plans.
Many hospitals around the country are struggling under PFI debt. What plans does the Secretary of State have to ensure that other types of organisations, aside from Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust, will benefit from the new deal, just as my constituents in Hexham are?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We have recently made it clear that where there is unsustainable PFI debt—as is the case for seven PFI contracts—we stand ready to support those trusts in meeting some of those costs, which we inherited from the last Government. Beyond that, working with the Treasury, we have undertaken a pilot project that has demonstrated how 5%, on average, can be taken out of the cost of PFI contracts through the better management of them. I hope that will be applied across the country. I welcome, as I know my hon. Friend does, the way in which Northumbria Healthcare, with its local authorities, is looking at resolving its PFI debts, and if that represents value for money, I am sure that others across the country will benefit from the experience.
GPs (Performance Management)
As set out in the Health and Social Care Bill, performance management of general practice will become the responsibility of the new NHS Commissioning Board from April 2013. This will enable, for the first time, a single, consistent approach to be developed for the assessment and management of general practice.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, given his past association as a constituency MP with this subject, because of the problems in his constituency. I believe that we have a strong system of general practice in this country, but I am afraid that more can be done to address variations in aspects of the quality of provision by some general practitioners. As I have said, the NHS Commissioning Board will adopt a single, consistent approach, allowing an overview of performance, which is not currently possible, and ensuring that interventions occur at an early stage. I think that will go a considerable way towards helping with the problems that have been experienced.
As an elected representative for a great many years, I have often been made aware of issues relating to GPs and patient lists. Does the Minister agree that there should be greater co-operation between the Health Department and GPs with regard to their patient lists, and specifically with regard to the transfer of patients?
With regard to the transfer of patients, we are seeking to give greater choice to patients under the modernisation programme so that they can move from one GP, or one GP practice, to another in a way that they cannot do at the moment. That will help to enhance the power of patients to get the GP of their choice and preference.
I am sure that the Minister would agree with me about the importance of addressing alcohol misuse through the alcohol strategy announced last week. On the performance management of GPs, however, does he agree that we need to do more than just monitor how much people drink, and that we need to ensure that GPs are incentivised to tackle the problem drinkers who attend their surgeries?
The first step that the Government should take is to start listening to doctors. Is it not the case that some senior GPs are now spending as little as one day a week seeing patients because they are too busy working on the Government’s massive NHS upheaval? It is costing the NHS up to £124,000 a year to replace each of those GPs with a locum. That is why the Department’s leaked transition risk register warns that GP leaders are not sufficiently developed to run consortia, and that they might be drawn into managerial processes that drive clinical behaviour, rather than the other way round. The risk rating for that is that it is likely to happen, with major consequences. When is the Minister going to get his head out of the sand and start listening?
Well, that interesting rant bore little relation to the facts—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) would just button it for a minute, he will get the answer. The answer is that we are constantly listening to GPs, nurses, consultants and others within the NHS health economy. As we showed during the progress of the Health and Social Care Bill, we listened and we accepted a number of recommendations from the Future Forum and from a number of others, which strengthened and improved the Bill. I have to say that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) just does not get it.
Care at Home
Our ambition is to enable shared decision making for all NHS patients. We expect people who are eligible for NHS continuing care funding to be fully involved in discussions about their care. Subject to the results of the current personal health budget pilots, everyone eligible for NHS continuing health care, including many people receiving care at home, will have the right to ask for a personal health budget, including a direct payment, from April 2014.
I have received a letter from one of my constituents who has had direct payments for 15 years under social services. Following a stay in hospital, she was moved on to health funding, and her life has changed dramatically for the worse. She says that she no longer has any choice in who cares for her and finds it hard to find the right people with whom she feels comfortable. She concludes:
“I’m tired of being bullied. I’m just miserable.”
Will the Minister do something to bring forward the measures more quickly, so that people who have been directing their own care under social services can have the same quality of life and the same choices that they have become used to?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady’s constituent, and with the hon. Lady. We need to ensure that, as soon as possible, the benefits and the control that direct payments give to individuals in social care are available to people in regard to their long-term health care and particularly to continuing health care. It is realistic to say that we can roll this out nationwide by 2014, but I know that the hon. Lady is having discussions with the authorities in Sheffield, and I encourage her to carry on those conversations about the way in which people can use the current arrangements to access those facilities.
Does the constituency case raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) not highlight the increasingly urgent need to achieve much more integration between health and social services, and indeed between different parts of the national health service, in order to provide joined-up care that focuses on patients’ needs and delivers better value for money to the taxpayer?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I urge the hon. Lady to write to me about the matter so that I can respond in more detail, but let me say to my right hon. Friend that it is not just a question of delivering more integration within health care—which is often still too fragmented—or between health and social care; it is also a question of recognising that issues such as housing and leisure are critical to the delivery of greater well-being, and to an improvement in the health of the nation. The Health and Social Care Bill, which has now completed all its stages, gives people in every part of the system a clear duty to collaborate, integrate, and deliver better care for individuals.
There are currently severe constraints on the availability of incontinence pads and on the bed linen laundry service, which is causing immense distress to the many poor families in my constituency. Will the Minister look into the problem? Will he recognise that it is simply impossible for people who are already in difficulties, and who are poor, to find the money for those extra things?
If the right hon. Lady sends me the details, I will look into the individual case. I agree with her that it is unacceptable for such products to be rationed. I think it essential to base their provision on an assessment of individuals’ needs, and for those individuals to receive what they need for a good quality of life.
My constituent Joyce Benbow was discharged from Redcar hospital last November, but is still there owing to a failure to agree on her care package. When will the managers of health and social care budgets be more joined up so that people receive the right provision at the right time?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point about the importance of joining up hospital care, community care and social care, which has often been overlooked. We have invested more than £300 million this year in developing more re-ablement services, and in January we invested an extra £150 million in support for them. We are also extending our plans for more tariff reform to ensure that local hospitals have the means to drive the development of such services in their communities.
111 Telephone Service
I have received representations from the British Medical Association and the NHS Alliance, both of which support the NHS 111 model, requesting an extension of the roll-out deadline of April 2013. I am actively considering that, and will be discussing it with the clinical commissioning groups who are leading the development of NHS 111 in their areas.
Will the Secretary of State accept representations from me? I have used the 111 service on behalf of a family member, and I know that it is not working as well as it might, which is quite distressing. The call time and the script do not allow a person receiving a particular type of care to be fast-tracked to a clinician. I believe that there is a case for delaying its roll-out, and that the service would be infinitely better if the Secretary of State took my representations on board.
I will of course accept representations from my hon. Friend and, indeed, from anyone else. Pilot schemes are under way in County Durham and Darlington and in Nottingham, Lincolnshire and Luton. The system is also live in Derbyshire, the Isle of Wight, Cumbria, parts of Lancashire and parts of London. An evaluation will be published shortly by the university of Sheffield, but an interim evaluation suggested that 93% of patients were pleased with the service that they had received, and, most important, 84% felt that it had delivered them to the right place first time.
We have made it very clear that GPs should not be using 0844 numbers for that purpose and charging patients for them. One of the benefits of NHS 111 is that it will be a free service for patients, and will give them an opportunity to gain access to integrated urgent care wherever they are in the country. That is why we want to roll it out as soon as we can.
My hon. Friend will recall from my first answer that I am looking to discuss the timing of the roll-out with clinical commissioning groups. I do not want that to be unduly delayed, because there are clear benefits to patients in the 111 system in that it gives them a more integrated single point of access to the NHS.
Nurse to Patient Ratio
Guidance on staff ratios and the proportion of registered and unregistered staff can play a useful part in supporting local decisions about setting safe and sustainable staffing levels. Both the Royal College of Nursing and the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement have produced such guidance. We have no plans to impose centrally determined ratios, as in our view that would undermine professional judgment.
First, let me say that we greatly welcome the survey the RCN published last week, and the work it has done for many years to highlight ratios such as the ratio of nurses to beds. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the ratio has improved under this Government. We are working with the RCN and others to identify the processes and paperwork within the NHS that occupy nurses’ time and take them away from the bedside, which is the priority.
When I last asked the Minister from the Dispatch Box about the loss of 3,500 nursing posts, he told the House that that was “factually incorrect”. He was right, and I apologise: the actual figure, published last week, is 4,096. In what will surely be one of the Secretary of State’s final outings in his current post, before he is reshuffled to where he can do no further harm, will he tell the House how many of those nursing posts would have been secured by the £500 million spending cut he agreed with the Treasury in last week’s Budget?
Raynaud’s Disease and Scleroderma
Routine commissioning is a local responsibility, which in future will be led by clinicians, who best understand patients’ needs. From April 2013, the NHS Commissioning Board will have a clear focus on commissioning services for people with rare, specialised conditions. The commissioning of those services directly through one national commissioner to a national standard should ensure better planning and co-ordination of services, which will be of benefit to patients. The scope of this commissioning, and the extent to which it will cover complex rheumatology services, is still being considered.
I thank the Minister for that reply. I am very proud to have the headquarters of the Raynaud’s and Scleroderma Association based in my constituency. It was founded 30 years ago by a remarkable lady, Anne Mawdsley. It is still run from a terraced house in Alsager, and she has raised £12 million through undertaking some remarkable feats, including, I think, swimming with dolphins. Will the Minister commend her work and assure her that scleroderma patients will be able to access the best specialist centres for diagnosis and treatment?
I pay tribute to the work my hon. Friend does and to the work the Raynaud’s and Scleroderma Association has done over many years in raising funds, raising awareness and making sure there is a greater focus on these issues. I can assure my hon. Friend that the work we have done in establishing the NHS Commissioning Board will mean that in future, for the first time, there will be one organisation that will be able to look at issues involving specialised and complex needs that require a national focus.
Adult Congenital Cardiac Services
The review of adult congenital heart services is a clinically-led NHS review, independent of Government. I understand that an expert advisory group has been established and its first task will be to develop designation standards and a model of care that commissioners can use to help determine the future pattern of services.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but adult cardiac patients in Yorkshire are both disfranchised and extremely worried because of the review of the children’s heart unit, as if it is closed, they, too, would lose access to surgeons. Does the Secretary of State agree that it does not make sense to have two separate reviews, and that they should instead be brought together?
My hon. Friend will know that no decision has yet been taken on the location of children’s or adult congenital heart surgery centres in England. Neither the draft adult clinical standards nor the proposed standards for children’s services require services for children and adults to be collocated.
On both children’s and adult congenital heart services, all relevant clinical factors should be taken into account in the review, but I reiterate the point that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland): the standards for those services do not require children’s and adult services to be collocated.
Vision Screening (Children)
The Department of Health has made no assessment of the provision of vision screening for children. However, the UK National Screening Committee, which advises Ministers and the NHS on all aspects of screening, has commissioned a national mapping exercise to look at how many primary care trusts offer vision screening.
As my hon. Friend will be aware, the National Screening Committee recommends screening for visual impairment for children between the ages of four and five, and encourages all PCTs to follow those recommendations and ensure that children are screened. However, the Government are aware that, as my hon. Friend says, there are variations in the commissioning of vision screening across PCTs, and it welcomes the review that is being undertaken. We await its recommendations as regards those variations, but we hope that under the new arrangements, after the abolition of PCTs, there will be a far more uniform approach to commissioning and screening.
Services for Older People
A number of inspections, reports, independent audits, and investigations have revealed long-standing and unacceptable variations in the standard of care that older people receive in the NHS, and in social care. The Government are determined to root out poor-quality care wherever it is found. We have established the national Nursing and Care Quality Forum to work with patients, carers and professionals to spread best practice.
The British Geriatrics Society’s “Quest for Quality” report identified that too many people in care homes were without access to NHS services, including psychiatric, physiotherapy and continence services. What action are the Government taking to ensure that care home residents get the high-quality NHS care that they deserve?
In England, one of the things that we are doing is making sure that a programme of special inspections of care homes, conducted by the Care Quality Commission, looks at those issues to ensure that we provide the right range of support services for people in care homes. In addition, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has produced quality standards; in particular, it has been working on quality standards relating to issues affecting older people—incontinence, nutrition support for adults, patient experience, delirium, dementia, and many others. All that is critical to delivering really good-quality care in care homes.
22. Russells Hall hospital, which serves my constituency, has reviewed recent reports, and done its own research, on dignity and care for older patients. It has elevated the qualities of care and compassion to the top of its criteria for recruiting health care assistants. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Nursing and Midwifery Council should apply similar learning to nurse training? (101894)
It is important that that is applied to all who have direct responsibility for delivering care, and hands-on care in particular. The work that Russells Hall hospital is doing on care and respect, and in its responsibility programme, is a good example of that. On issues such as dementia, we are clear that we need to ensure good advice, training and support for all nursing staff—we are working with the Royal College of Nursing on this—so that they treat people who have dementia with dignity.
The Government are rightly building on Labour’s national dementia strategy, and the Minister should know that the dementia crisis cannot be addressed without tackling the crisis in care. Yet his Government have cut more than £1 billion from local council budgets for older people’s care, services are being withdrawn and care charges for dementia sufferers are soaring. The Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK say that these cuts have pushed the system to breaking point. Does the Minister agree with them, yes or no?
The hon. Lady, of course, offers no solution, merely a problem. I say to her that this Government identified £7.2 billion of additional investment to go into social care over the life of this Parliament, and those resources are being used creatively by some local authorities to protect front-line services. I urge her to applaud the authorities that are doing that and join me in condemning those that are cutting services despite being given the resources.
Health Care (Professional Standards)
The Government have commissioned Skills for Health and Skills for Care to develop a code of conduct and minimum training standards for health care support workers and adult social care workers in England. That will inform the development of a system of assured voluntary registration for this group, which will be reviewed after it has been established for three years.
I will write to the hon. Lady with any specific details about the precise costs of rolling out such a register. I say to her that, for the first time, we have a Government who have decided that leaving unclarified the training requirements, standards and codes of conduct for health care assistants and care assistants is unacceptable. That is why we have commissioned this work. It will involve working with unions and other health care professionals to make sure we get those standards right, because we know that that is key to delivering dignified care.
My responsibility is to lead the NHS in delivering improved health outcomes in England; to lead a public health service that improves the health of the nation and reduces health inequalities; and to lead the reform of adult social care, which supports and protects vulnerable people.
An estimated 50,000 people, mostly men, are misusing anabolic steroids to build muscle, which can result in liver cancer, depression, a damaged immune system, kidney problems and cardiovascular disease. Will the Secretary of State examine the public health implications of the 56% rise in steroid misuse over five years? Will he work to address its causes, such as body image anxiety, as well as just treating the problem?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making a good and important point. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be subjecting these drugs to greater control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, restricting their illegal import into this country. Controlling supply is one part of the effort. Prevention is also important; people need to be fully aware of the risks to their health. The FRANK service, which provides advice to young people and parents about drugs misuse, will make it clear that the misuse of steroids is dangerous. I would encourage local areas to work with local businesses, such as gyms and fitness centres, to publicise those risks.
T2. The Department’s latest estimate shows that alcohol misuse costs the NHS £3.5 billion every year. Will the Secretary of State now champion a 50p minimum unit price? That would save more than 3,000 lives a year, rather than 1,000 a year, which is what his public health responsibility deal is expected to secure. (101898)
The hon. Gentleman should have welcomed the alcohol strategy that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary published last Friday. Not only did we see the Government’s intention to introduce a unit price, but on that day 35 business organisations across the country collectively, under the responsibility deal, pledged themselves to take 1 billion units of alcohol out of the UK market in the course of a year.
T7. Many hospitals, including the Norfolk and Norwich university hospital, have reported a dramatic increase in alcohol-related admissions over the past 10 years, so I welcome the latest alcohol strategy. But what steps is the Secretary of State taking to support the expansion of treatment and early interventions for dependent and harmful drinkers in Norfolk and elsewhere? (101905)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, and he is absolutely right to identify the priority that this Government are now placing on dealing with the harm caused by alcohol, not least because of the 1.2 million alcohol-related hospital admissions. The strategy outlined by the Home Secretary last week is about education and raising awareness; enforcement; and treatment—making sure that the treatment services are more widely spread. It is also about recognising that this is a cross-government responsibility, not the responsibility of any one Department. That is why the proposals to use a national minimum unit pricing policy will tackle cheap booze and the binge culture.
T3. We now know that the Conservatives have received more than £8 million in donations from private health care companies since 2001. This goes beyond simply cash for access to a much more sinister issue of cash for policy influence. Ministers have said that they do not expect any increase in private sector provision in the NHS, but how will this be measured in years to come? (101899)
Nobody buys influence over the policy of the Conservative party or the coalition Government. That is in complete contrast to the situation with the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and his friends on the Opposition Front Bench, who are the wholly owned subsidiaries of the trade unions.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. As he will be aware from his time on the Bill Committee this Government have for the first time in the 64 years of the NHS put into legislation a duty to reduce health inequalities. That will be done through the NHS Commissioning Board and clinical commissioning groups, each being under a duty to have regard to the need to reduce inequalities in access to and the outcomes of health care. The Secretary of State will also have a wider duty to have regard to the need to reduce inequalities relating to the health service. That will include his duties for both the NHS and public health. It is a great step forward and I am surprised that the previous Government did not think of doing it during their 13 years.
T4. At a time of major upheaval in the national health service, the people of west Lancashire and other areas of Lancashire are being failed by the chief executive of the Lancashire primary care trust cluster. Living in Yorkshire and working from Lancaster, Janet Soo-Chung has failed to meet with me or other colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr Hoyle). Can the Secretary of State assure me that the necessary time and development is being invested in health services in west Lancashire to ensure that authorisation takes place in a timely way without conditions and that the health services provided to my constituents are good? (101900)
I will, of course, ask Janet if she will meet the hon. Lady and her colleagues, but I think the hon. Lady might have noted that the NHS is performing magnificently. The quarter document published just this morning gives details of 14 performance measures across the NHS, in five of which performance has been maintained and in nine of which there has been improvement, so there has been no deterioration in performance. When the hon. Lady gets to her feet she should say to the NHS, “Well done for improving performance.”
Currently, there is a review into paediatric cardiac services going on. I recognise that that is independent of Government, but we now have the independent analysis of patient flows, which says exactly what we have been saying—that patients in south and west Yorkshire will not go to Newcastle. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an important development and that the options should reflect that because this is a serious problem for heart services in the north of England?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his persistent championing of his constituents, but sadly I cannot be drawn into a discussion about evidence, facts and figures that might come up around this issue, because as he will appreciate it is an independent review which is divorced from Ministers.
T5. Mindfulness-based meditation techniques have been deemed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to be more effective than drug-based therapy in the treatment of recurring depression in many circumstances. Will the Minister tell the House his views on mindfulness-based techniques and say what other conditions and diseases he thinks would benefit from such therapy? (101902)
The Government are committed to extending the range of NICE approved therapies when it comes to access to talking therapies. Certainly, we will look very carefully at how we extend it in the area he has suggested. I will write to him in further detail about this.
What reassurance can the Secretary of State give to Members of Parliament representing areas that have received an allocation from the formula which has been significantly below their target, given the change in arrangements to clinical commissioning groups in future?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the distance from target on the existing formula for Cornwall in particular has narrowed and is only just over 2%. For the future, I hope that he and all hon. Members will take considerable reassurance from the fact that not only will the formula continue to be the subject of independent advice, but new statutory provisions will set out that it should be intended to reflect the prospective burden of disease in each area, so it should be matched as closely as possible to the need for services in each area.
T6. The Government say that clinicians understand patients best, but there are doctors in Walthamstow who will not provide contraceptives to local women, and we now have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and repeat abortions in the country. Will the Ministers agree to meet women from my constituency and help them understand who, under the new system and the new layers of bureaucracy, they can hold to account for these problems—yes or no? (101904)
The hon. Lady should first have expressed a welcome for the fact that there has been a further reduction overall in the numbers of teenage pregnancies. As she knows, in her constituency there are doctors who, as she says, do not provide contraceptives, but there are also many other practices that do—17 out 18 GP practices in Walthamstow provide contraceptive services. There was a 60% increase in a decade in the number of managers in her area and the result seems to be that she does not understand how services were managed in Walthamstow. Under local authorities and the clinical commissioning groups in the future, there will be a clearer system.
The Secretary of State will be aware that under the allocation formula a number of PCTs have built up historic deficits, which have required us in Warrington, for example, to reduce our in vitro fertilisation services. Can the Minister confirm that with the transfer to GP commissioning, those historic deficits will be written off, which will in effect inject large amounts of money into local health economies such as Warrington’s?
I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend. PCTs carrying legacy debt into 2012-13 must clear it. Clinical commissioning groups will not be responsible for resolving primary care trust legacy debt that arose prior to 2011-12. It is expected that aspirant CCGs will continue to work closely with primary care trusts and primary care trust clusters in 2012-13 to ensure that no PCT ends 2012-13 in a deficit position.
One NHS consultant told me that
“NHS reorganisation could mean that you are forced to spend around 10% of your income on private health care insurance.”
Does the Secretary of State accept that the doctor is right to say that people will either wait longer for care or they will have to pay for it?
That is complete rubbish. The legislation is absolutely clear that it does not lead to privatisation, it does not promote privatisation, it does not permit privatisation and it does not allow any increase in charges in the NHS. It simply creates a level playing field so that NHS providers will not be disadvantaged compared to the private sector, as they were under a Labour Government.
The present Wycombe hospital consultation has proceeded with a number of hiccups, not least because of the false sense of local accountability engendered by Labour’s top-down system of health management. Will the Secretary of State meet me and a small delegation of my constituents to discuss how things will improve under his reforms?
Of course. I will be glad to meet my hon. Friend and his constituents. I recall how he has been an advocate on their behalf in the past and a vocal advocate of services in Wycombe. I emphasise to my hon. Friend that we are looking towards not only the clinical commissioning groups, but the local authorities injecting further democratic accountability so that in his constituency and those across the country we see much greater local ownership and accountability for the design of services.
The Chancellor’s evidence to the independent pay review body chairs last week contained curious if not dubious references to nursing pay and non-nursing pay, and possible outcome linkages of those. Does the Secretary of State understand those and can he explain them?
I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday on dementia care. What assurances can the Secretary of State give me that this will be an aggressive strategy, looking at matters such as new access to drugs, early diagnosis and support for carers of those with dementia?
Not only were there the announcements made yesterday, but as part of that there was the establishment of three sets of champions, including Angela Rippon and Jeremy Hughes from the Alzheimer’s Society, working together as champions to raise awareness and understanding, Ian Carruthers and Sarah Pickup as champions on improving treatment and care, and Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, and Mark Walport from the Wellcome Trust, as champions for research. Their objective is specifically, as the Prime Minister told them, to hold our feet to the fire, not only for the ambitions we set out yesterday, but for going further and faster.
Is the Minister aware of the publication today of the industrial action review by the London ambulance service, which details that on 30 November, the day of the public service strikes, in the afternoon and the evening, requests for front-line staff to return to front-line ambulances were made by the London ambulance service. However, of the three unions to strike, only Unison responded to say that it would not ask staff to return to work. Three hours later, after three repeated requests for help, a patient who had been unable to get an ambulance had died. The report has called—
The industrial action to which my hon. Friend refers showed both the best and the worst sides of industrial relations in this country. On the one hand, it showed the worst excesses of union militancy and intransigence in failing to put effective contingency plans in place ahead of strike day, and then in refusing to call off the strike. On the other hand, it showed the best traditions of public services when the Metropolitan police, St John Ambulance and many out-of-hour providers came to the aid of the London ambulance service. Were it not for their help, the situation could have been even more serious.
One year on in the responsibility deal we are seeing successes, including the elimination of artificial trans fats, further reductions in salt in manufactured foods, and over 8,000 high street outlets sharing and showing calorie information. The monitoring and evaluation of the deal is vital. We are committed to this and we are making up to £1 million available to fund an independent evaluation.
National Planning Policy Framework
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about planning policy. I am delighted today to be publishing the national planning policy framework and our response to the Communities and Local Government Committee’s report of 21 December 2011.
Our reforms to planning policy have three fundamental objectives: to put unprecedented power in the hands of communities to shape the places in which they will live; to support growth better to give the next generation the chance that our generation has had to have a decent home, and to allow the jobs to be created on which our prosperity depends; and to ensure that the places we cherish—our countryside, towns and cities—are bequeathed to the next generation in a better condition than they are in now.
To achieve these objectives, reform is sorely needed. A decade of regional spatial strategies, top-down targets and national planning policy guidance that has swelled beyond reason—over 1,000 pages across 44 documents—has led to communities seeing planning as something done to them, rather than by them. As the planning system has become more complex, it has ground ever slower. In 2004 Parliament required every council to have a plan, but eight years on only around half of councils have been able to adopt one.
During the past decade, starting long before the financial crisis, we built fewer homes than in any peacetime decade for 100 years. The average age of the first-time buyer is approaching 40, and rising rents mean that families have to spend more and more on housing, and less and less on themselves and their children. We cannot allow this to go on. To do so would be to deny our responsibility to young families, to tell them that the property-owning democracy was for our generation, but not theirs.
Not all of that is down to sclerosis in the planning system, but some is. The British Chambers of Commerce has said that the planning system has become
“too complicated, too costly, too uncertain. It discourages investment, creates mistrust and holds back our recovery.”
It is not as if what has made it through has made up in quality what it lacks in quantity. Too much development in recent years has been mediocre, insensitive and has detracted from the character of the areas in which we live and work. Too many of our habitats have been degraded and seen nature driven out. The effect has been that much of the public have come to assume that any particular change to our built environment will be negative and that it will tend to impair beauty, damage the environment and make our lives worse. What a disastrous state of affairs in a country that is home to some of the most talented designers and the best architects and craftsmen in the world, and which has over the years constructed villages, cities and buildings, such as the one we meet in, that people cross the world to see.
Our reforms to the planning system take on each of these challenges. They enshrine the local plan, produced by local people, as the keystone of the planning system. They make planning much simpler and more accessible, reducing over 1,000 pages of often impenetrable jargon to around 50 pages of clearly written guidance. They establish a presumption in favour of sustainable development that means that development is not held up unless to approve it would be against our collective interest. The framework guarantees robust protections for our natural and historic environment and goes further by requiring net improvements to put right some of the neglect that has been visited upon us. It raises the bar on design standards so that we have the most exacting requirement for design that the English planning system has ever contained.
I have always regarded reforming the planning system as a serious responsibility. From the start I made it clear that Parliament should be central to the development of the policy. We have had three full debates in this House and in the House of Lords, and I asked the Communities and Local Government Committee to consider the draft NPPF and give me its considered advice. I put on the record my thanks to the Chair and members of the Committee, and to the Environmental Audit Committee, for the seriousness and thoughtfulness they brought to the task. I am pleased to tell colleagues that, of the Committee’s 35 recommendations, I have been able to accept 30 in whole or in part. In particular, the final framework makes it clear that the local plan is, as the Committee put it, the keystone of the planning edifice.
It is crystal clear that sustainable development embraces social and environmental as well as economic objectives, and does so in a balanced way. It refers explicitly to the five principles of the UK’s sustainable development strategy. It goes further than ever before and is clear that councils should look for net improvements on all dimensions of sustainability. It makes it explicit that the presumption in favour of sustainable development works through, not against, local plans. It makes it clear that relevant policies, such as those protecting the green belt, sites of special scientific interest, national parks and other areas, cannot be overridden by the presumption. It recognises the intrinsic value and beauty of the countryside, whether specifically designated or not. It makes explicit what was always implicit: that councils’ policies must encourage brownfield sites to be brought back into use. It underlines the importance of town centres, while recognising that businesses in rural communities should be free to expand. It takes a localist approach to creating a buffer of housing supply over and above five years, and in the use of windfall sites. It allows councils to protect back gardens, those precious urban oases. It ensures that playing fields continue to benefit from the same protection that they have currently.
The final framework has been strengthened by the contributions of everyone who has taken the trouble to submit their views, and I am very grateful to them. It has always been my intention that councils which do the right thing and have either adopted, or made good progress towards adopting, local plans will not be disadvantaged by the change to the new policy.
Accordingly, I have introduced transitional arrangements suggested by and agreed with the Local Government Association. They accord weight to plans based on how advanced they are, but I have gone further in two respects: I have allowed 12 months from today for existing plans to be adjusted in order to be in complete conformity with the new framework; and I have made it clear that weight can be given to emerging plans.
Finally, this House has a particular role to play in safeguarding the interests of our successors. I will ensure that Parliament, having shaped the development of the new framework, supervises the implementation of the policies, starting with a debate on the Floor of the House soon after we return from the Easter recess.
The purpose of planning is to make the way in which we live our lives tomorrow better than it is today. This national planning policy framework will help build the homes that the next generation needs; it supports growth to allow employers to create the jobs that our constituents need; and it protects what we hold dear in our matchless countryside and in the fabric of our history. It does so by taking power away from remote bodies and putting it firmly into the hands of the people of England. I warmly commend it to the House.
I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of his statement, although much of it has been leaked over the past few days.
Planning helps us to get the right development in the right place—development which we need, and that is why it is so important to get the balance right in this, the most fundamental change in planning policy in more than two generations. It is therefore extraordinary that the Government managed to make such a mess of the process, which did nothing to inspire confidence in all of us who want an effective planning system and the right kind of sustainable development, but who are determined to conserve the intrinsic character and beauty of England’s green and pleasant land—something that successive Governments have supported.
Councils were particularly concerned about the presumption in favour of “sustainable development”—ill defined—if they did not have up-to-date development plans, and, as we know, Ministers lashed out at those who had the temerity to express concern—such revolutionaries as the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, I remind the House—calling them “semi-hysterical”, “left-wing” and “nihilist”.
Ministers claim that planning is the obstacle to building homes, when 300,000 dwellings that have already been given permission have not yet been built. Why is that? Because of the failure of the Government’s own economic policy. It is no wonder they have been arguing fiercely among themselves, with one unnamed Cabinet Minister—I just wonder who that might be—quoted as accusing the Chancellor of behaving like the Taliban on planning: a very revealing comment if a pretty inappropriate one.
There has also been a lack of transparency. Can the Minister before us confirm for the House whether any of the developers whom he and his colleagues have met since last June are donors to the Conservative party? We cannot find out for ourselves because the quarterly publication of Department for Communities and Local Government ministerial meetings is now nine months out of date—in clear contravention of the ministerial code. I have twice raised that issue with CLG Ministers in this Chamber, and on both occasions I have been promised that it was about to appear. It has not.
I welcome the U-turn on protection for playing fields and open spaces. Why on earth Ministers thought they could get away with removing it in the first place, I fail to understand. I welcome also the reference to the five principles of sustainable development, which we had called for.
On brownfield land, why are the Government so against a national, as opposed to a local “brownfield first” policy, given that it is the best place to build the millions of homes that we urgently need, and the best way to protect the greenfield sites that so many Members are concerned about?
Can the Minister explain exactly what the new requirements for statutory consultees such as the Environment Agency and English Heritage will involve? How will they be, in the rather menacing words of the Budget Red Book, “held to account” for delivering sustainable development?
Will the Minister clarify the reported remarks by Professor Andrew McNaughton, the chief engineer of High Speed 2, about 100,000 new homes being built between Coventry and Wolverhampton, and about a “new docklands” to the west of London? Given the Government’s professed commitment to localism, will he tell us when the local authorities covering these areas first knew about this, and what will be the Government’s role in the development of new towns and cities to help us to build the homes that we need?
On town centres, will the Minister confirm that he has accepted our proposal that offices should remain in the sequential town centre test, given their importance to the economies of our towns and cities, including through the business generated by those who work in them,? What changes is he planning to make to use class orders? Will local authorities be given greater flexibility in determining those?
On the crucial question of transition to the new arrangements—the point that Members raised more than any other in the debate that we had back in October—we know that about half of councils currently do not have development plans. While the Minister has talked about providing 12 months to produce up-to-date plans, annex 1 of the framework is rather less clear. Will he produce further guidance on how the transition is going to work in practice? Where councils do have plans, who will determine whether they are “silent”, “out of date”, or “indeterminate”? Those words remain in the final framework, so presumably the presumption in favour of sustainable development will apply—the opposite of localism. Who decides what is “in the public interest”—the phrase that the Minister has been using in his interviews today? In particular, who will decide when an application goes to appeal?
Not only has Parliament not been given the chance to vote on the final version of the framework, but it is coming into force from today—before Members in the House have even had a chance to read it.
The country needs a planning system that will help to produce the much-needed homes, businesses, jobs and transport connections of the future, but will also protect the green spaces and special places we value. However, this revised NPPF may end up doing neither. Far from giving us certainty, there is likely to be delay as developments are held up by appeals and by the courts having to rule on a new and untested approach. In other words, there is uncertainty and chaos—the worst of all worlds—instead of the best of planning.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s response. His family may have forsworn their aristocratic origins, but he does the best impression of Lady Bracknell’s righteous indignation that we have seen in the House for some time.
It is a shame that the right hon. Gentleman has not approached this in the constructive spirit in which his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), to whom I pay tribute, embarked on this process in July. She said right at the beginning that it was important that we should work together and have a constructive response to what is a shared problem to make sure that future generations continue to benefit from homes, jobs and the protections that are in place. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) maintained that approach, but it does not seem to have transmitted itself along the Opposition Front Bench. I am disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman has taken a partisan approach today.
Let me answer the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. It is important that we bring brownfield land back into use. The essence of localism is that every place is different, so it is clearly not the right approach to have a single national target that needs to be as appropriate for a country shire district as it is for an inner-city district. As he will see, the plan-making section of the framework clearly allows local councils to set a locally appropriate target for bringing brownfield land back into use. That has to make sense.
On the statutory consultees, one of the innovations of the Localism Act 2011 is that it creates a truly statutory obligation on the part of consultees, including those that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, to co-operate with local authorities to make sure that they do not renege on their responsibilities. The Act imposes a legal duty to assist local councils in putting together their local plans.
On the High Speed 2 proposal, I was as bemused as the right hon. Gentleman when I read about it in the weekend papers. He will know, having read the framework this morning, that the protection for the green belt is clear and unequivocal, as we have always said. That is one particular case, and I do not see its relevance.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we are insistent that our town centres should receive support to help them to revive. As Mary Portas, the retail consultant, pointed out, town centres lose out to out-of-town centres because they cannot provide the necessary car parking spaces, which were suppressed by the previous guidance. One change that we are making is to allow local councils to set the parking standards, to reflect what is required locally. Offices will remain part of the “town centre first” policy, but with an exception for rural offices, because the creation of jobs in rural areas is important for the sustainability of villages.
The transitional arrangements begin today. They have been agreed with the Local Government Association. As of now, there is a team in the Planning Inspectorate comprising representatives of the Local Government Association, the Planning Inspectorate and my Department to assist any authority that wants help in revising its plan or advice on any aspect of it. The team will be there for as long as is necessary.
The essence of our reforms is localism—to put power in the hands of people. This is the end of the central targets and top-down direction that put people off the planning system. If we want more homes to be built, we have to work with the grain of local communities, rather than against it. That is what we are doing. We are putting power in the hands of local people. I understand that that makes an old centralist like the right hon. Gentleman unhappy, but that is the direction in which we are going and these reforms are a significant step in that direction.
Order. A large number of colleagues are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that there is a ten-minute rule motion to follow, and then a debate under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee that is extremely heavily subscribed. I shall try to accommodate as many colleagues as possible, but I am looking for short questions, without preamble, and short answers.
I very much welcome the thrust of my right hon. Friend’s statement and the changes that he has made to the consultation paper. In particular, I welcome the fact that he has protected greenfield sites designated as green belt, sites of special scientific interest or areas of outstanding natural beauty, of which we have some in Wiltshire. Is he not also concerned about the 60% of green land in England that has no designation? What will he do under the framework to ensure that those areas have protection equal or similar to that of the green belt?
I welcome the fact that we will have the opportunity to debate the changes when the House comes back from the recess. However, given that the changes will take effect from today, what assurances will the right hon. Gentleman give the House about transitional arrangements for the almost 60% of local authorities that do not have local plans in place? Is it not the fact that, despite what he says, economic development will trump sustainability on every occasion?
I thank the hon. Lady for the contribution of the Environmental Audit Committee. It provided a serious consideration of the matter and she will see that we have taken it in that spirit. The transitional arrangements, which were agreed with the Local Government Association, give weight to emerging plans. Although only about half of the plans are close to adoption, most places in the country have plans that are well advanced in preparation. At the suggestion of the LGA, we said to the Communities and Local Government Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), that we should give weight to the policies in emerging plans, so that they can be relied upon. That will take place from today.
One of the monstrosities that have afflicted our green and pleasant land is the thoughtlessly over-rapid development of wind farms in the countryside. Many of my constituents fear the speed of development of such wind farms. Does my right hon. Friend’s framework offer any comfort to them?
Two factors are relevant to that question. The first is the intended abolition of the regional strategies, with their targets. That will remove the imposition on local councils of those targets, as will be the case with other targets. The policy also contains the ability for local councils to map and set criteria for where renewable energy would be appropriate, and to use those criteria for subsequent applications to determine what would—and, by implication, would not—be appropriate in each of their areas.
The Secretary of State prides himself on being a blunt-speaking, plain-speaking Yorkshireman. Will the Minister adopt some of that plain speaking and give the House a definition of the word “sustainable” that people in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and even Kent can understand?
We followed the suggestion of the Communities and Local Government Committee and used the classic Brundtland definition, which is about protecting the ability of future generations to enjoy the benefits that the present generation enjoys. We have also included the five principles of the UK’s sustainable development strategy. In practice, the policies outlined in the national planning policy framework will determine, in each case, what is and is not sustainable. For example, it is not sustainable to have a shopping development outside the town centre and it is not sustainable to build in the green belt. There is a high level of definition, and the practical application is very clear in the policies.
We encourage neighbourhood plans to set out, at a more local level than the council’s plan, what should be the look and feel of towns. Bury St Edmunds is a town with a great deal of civic pride and would benefit from that. Neighbourhood plans have to be consistent with the broad approach of the local plan, but it is right that specific local details, which in towns such as my hon. Friend’s may relate to architectural design and historical consistency, should be expressed in a neighbourhood plan. They would then become part of the formal plan and determine planning applications.
I thank the Minister personally for the way in which he has dealt with the Communities and Local Government Committee and for what seems to be a generally favourable response to our report, although we are still to see the detail. I have two specific issues to raise. Will he confirm whether the proposal that the
“default answer to development proposals is ‘yes’”
is in the final document? If the “significantly and demonstrably” test remains in the document and an application for development meets that test but fails the sustainable development test, which test has priority?
Among the plethora of policy failures under the previous Government, such as regional spatial strategies, parking and density targets, was the fact that between 1997 and 2005, 117,000 homes were built in floodplains. Does the document, which I strongly endorse and support, contain appropriate safeguards on residential development in floodplains?
There is little dispute over the need for new, sensibly located affordable housing. The dispute is over whether it is the planning regulations that are preventing it. Many of us do not think that it is. The draft NPPF stated that any conditions on development proposals must allow “acceptable returns” to be made. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the final document clarifies who will be responsible for defining “acceptable returns”, and how he will ensure that company profits will not be prioritised above high environmental standards?
No, they will not be. Nothing that is unsustainable can override that fact by using the viability test. That is for local plan makers and local councillors to determine. On the contribution that the planning system makes to impeding the development of affordable homes, there was broad consensus in the consultation, including among homelessness groups such as Shelter and housing associations, that the excessive bureaucracy of the process was an impediment to the development of affordable housing, as well as other types of housing.
I thank the Minister for his constructive listening approach. Has he been able to support existing lawful business against objections by more recently arrived residents who seem to think that they should be able to dominate the local community to the detriment of economic activity, employment and jobs?
It is a reasonable expectation that if a business has located in an area and traded successfully, it ought to be able to continue in its line of work, especially if it is creating jobs and is part of the local scene. The new framework provides protection for businesses to continue in their trade.
Mike Slade, the chairman of the Conservative property forum, has given more than £300,000 to the Tory party over the past decade individually and through his property company Helical Bar. Mr Slade says:
“You do run the thin line of someone saying: I’m only doing this to have access and influence, but that was what politics was always about. It’s a little unfair, but there must be 20 per cent truth in it.”
It is easy to see what is in this policy for the Tory party and the developers. What is in it for my constituents?
Today is a landmark for localism and for consultations being listened to, because the three points that I made in the consultation, about brownfield land, windfall and the localisation of the buffer, have all been adopted. I am absolutely delighted. Will the Minister clarify for my local councillors, who will now be in charge, how the transition process for the community infrastructure levy will work?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her contribution to the consultation. We have listened broadly. I know that people are cynical about consultation exercises, but I think they will find that practical and sensible suggestions have been listened to and incorporated. The community infrastructure levy will be introduced, and we are about to publish some regulations regarding the conduct of it. I will update her in a few days about when they will take effect. Among other things, the levy will provide funding for neighbourhoods for the first time, so that communities that host developments will get to share in the proceeds at a very local level.
My right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State touched on the fact that there are thousands of acres on which there is already planning permission for homes but the developers and builders are not building. What are the Government going to do to get them to build?
Two things. First, the framework will allow those sites to be included in the housing assessment that is required. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the new homes bonus is available for homes that are brought back into use as well as those that are built. That is a powerful incentive for councils to bring back into use homes that are not being used at the moment.
My hon. Friend will know that I have taken a long-standing interest in the matter since I was a Back Bencher. The new framework makes it absolutely clear that decisions can be taken locally. If a local council wants to protect back gardens because they contribute to the character of its area, it will be entirely free to do so and that cannot be overridden.
The Minister will know that one of the greatest planning problems right across the United Kingdom has been in the consistency of planning decisions. He said that businesses in rural communities should be free to expand. How will he monitor that to ensure that there is consistency?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right that the general presumption is that office development should be contained in town centres. However, we know that one of the most important sources of rural employment is the conversion of agricultural buildings to very small-scale offices, and our policy means that authorities can now allow that. The Planning Inspectorate supervises and approves all the plans through a public examination, and it is there to ensure that there is consistency with national policy, but ultimately the decisions are for local people to take.
I would like to develop a little further the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley). The Minister knows that I submitted a suggestion to the consultation that communities should in very specific circumstances be able to say an absolute no to edge-of-centre and out-of-centre retail development. That was also recommended by the Communities and Local Government Committee. Can he explain why that measure was not adopted and how some of our more iconic small towns might prepare their neighbourhood plans to afford themselves some measure of protection from such development?
My hon. Friend is an ingenious policy maker and submitted that suggestion to the consultation. Unfortunately, it was found to be illegal. The framework that we are publishing is guidance, and it is open to anyone to submit a planning application and have it considered against the local plan and other material considerations. It is not possible to do what he requests through guidance.
There are occasions when long-standing brownfield sites provide an opportunity for renewed open space in densely built-up urban areas. Is there not a problem that with the presumption to develop, it will be very difficult for a local community or local authority to ensure that disused industrial land can become valuable park or playing space rather than just high-density development, which would continue the problems in the area?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. That is why we have specified in the framework that the priority to reuse brownfield land is subject to its not being of high environmental value. I know that in constituencies such as his and others in the centre of cities up and down the country, land that may be technically brownfield, having previously been in use, makes an enormously important contribution to the well-being of residents and wildlife, and it is clear that it should be kept that way.
I welcome the continued robust protection of green-belt land, but will the Minister clarify and confirm that greenfield land and ordinary countryside will not be prioritised over brownfield land, despite the pressure that might come from developers?
The encouragement is to reuse brownfield land. Obviously there are national protections for areas such as green belt and sites of special scientific interest, but it is entirely open to authorities where greenfield areas are very important to the well-being of the community not to give priority to housing and development, and that is very likely to happen. Local plans can now specify that without being overridden.
My constituency is 300 square miles in size. The Campaign to Protect Rural England came to see me and showed me that under the Minister’s proposals, more than half of it could now become a building site. Is that not just another example of the coalition Government abandoning the countryside?
There are a number of causes of the requirement for new housing. Immigration contributes to it, and so does the happy fact that we are living longer than we used to. Of course, Government policy is addressing immigration to get it to manageable levels, but I gently suggest to my hon. Friend that it is beyond the planning system to do much about that.
To be clear, does the national planning policy framework endorse planning policy statement 4, which recognises the importance of protecting the English countryside for its own sake? To avoid any allegations of impropriety, when will the Department publish details of the property forum? Thanks to the wonderful Peter Cruddas, we now know how policy is made in the Tory party.
My constituents will be heartened to hear that there will now be an explicit instruction that brownfield sites should be developed before greenfield ones. What else can the Government do to make that more practical and cost-effective, and to make developers want to do it rather than develop easy and cheap greenfield sites?
Of course, it is open to local authorities, in allocating the land that they have to be developed, to allocate land that is derelict, and to do that rather than allocate green fields. If that is how they specify it, that is the land that has to be developed.
Much of England is now in drought across the south and east, and that problem will only be exacerbated in the next 20 or 30 years. Can the Minister say what in his policy framework will be in place to ensure that we tackle that problem?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. This is why we need to have a plan-based system. We cannot have a plan-based system if half the country does not have a plan. If local authorities adopt a local plan, as we are encouraging every council to do, it is precisely so that they can anticipate future needs, such as the need for water, schools and infrastructure. With that in place, they have a fighting chance of ensuring that any homes that are provided have the facilities needed to accommodate them.
I thank the Minister for having clearly listened to the representations that he has heard from Members of Parliament. I was especially encouraged by his remark that councils’ policies “must” encourage brownfield sites to be brought into use. Should councils’ policies fail to do that, perhaps as a result of being overly generous in their allocation of cheaper greenfield land, how will they be made to comply?
Between July and December 2011, the Conservative party received more than £500,000 in donations. Will the Minister confirm or deny the amount of influence those developers had on this document?
I am very disappointed with this theme from the Opposition. It is the case that in the past the shadow Minister, when he was a Minister, received a donation from a property developer, a Mr Abrahams, who was somewhat controversial. I do not think for one moment that that influenced any policy thoughts in his head. I have absolute faith in the right hon. Gentleman’s integrity, and it would be a service to the House if other hon. Members extended the same courtesy.
I thank the Minister for his statement and welcome his intention to give communities a greater say in planning decisions, but as I encourage my local communities to develop their neighbourhood plans, can he tell the House what steps he is taking to increase the protection for community facilities and important local assets?
The Minister has conducted this process with great courtesy and consideration. Does he share my concern that councillors have too often felt intimidated into making decisions that they would prefer not to make by the threat of legal costs, and does this new framework offer them support in that area?
Yes, it does, because the threat of legal costs arises at the moment from the very real prospect that a local decision can be overturned by, for example, the regional strategy imposing different policies. One of the reasons we want to rid ourselves of these unwanted strategies is so that decisions that are taken locally stay local, and people can have confidence in them.
Darlington borough council does a very good job in providing for the Gypsy and Traveller community, and has done so for many years. We have two very large sites that are run responsibly and, by and large, things are okay. Why is it that Darlington is now being asked to provide more sites because it has done a good job, whereas other localities nearby are not being asked to do anything at all? Will the Minister look into that?
As a result of the written statement that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) made on Friday, Darlington council will be able to make its own assessment of those needs without having a number imposed on it.
In Broxtowe, a Labour-Lib Dem council is planning to build 4,000 houses on green-belt land. People throughout this country love and value our green-belt land. Will this framework continue to protect our green-belt land? Will it strengthen, weaken or diminish the existing protection of our green-belt land?
Yes. Where there is evidence that windfalls are, paradoxically, predictable and there is a record of them coming through that can be relied on—as happens in many places—they can be included in housing numbers, with the exception of back gardens, which are in a separate category.
May I welcome the protection that my right hon. Friend has announced for the green belt? I invite him to become a champion of a positive attitude towards the green belt across Government as a whole, so that the Government show that they understand the importance of the green belt to counties such as Hertfordshire, where the green belt prevents communities merging into one another and becoming a vast urban sprawl.
May I suggest gently to the Minister that it would have been helpful if Members had received the policy framework shortly before the statement, as other Ministers have done? On a specific point, can he confirm that once a district or borough council has decided on its plan, it will not be possible for a developer to build in an area that is not designated for development? Is that an absolute assurance?
On my hon. Friend’s first point, I thought that it was the convention to publish the document to the House with the statement, and it is in the Vote Office now. On his other point, the answer is yes. It is clearly stated in the new policy framework that proposed developments that accord with the plan should be approved, and those that do not should be refused.
I welcome the transitional arrangements and local councils’ ability to set their own local targets, but developers wanting to build in my constituency still seem to be quoting not just the local development targets but the targets under the top-down regional spatial strategy. When will the effects of the locally set planning regime that the Government are introducing hold primacy, and when will there be no ambiguity about the figures?
My hon. Friend knows that it is the Government’s intention to revoke the regional strategies. The courts have determined that they are in place and we are engaged in a voluntary strategic environmental assessment, which will be completed shortly, but the Government’s intention to get rid of these unwanted strategies is capable of being a material consideration.