House of Commons
Tuesday 16 April 2013
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before questions
London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until Tuesday 23 April (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
I am pleased to say that from 26 March £22.7 million of the Prime Minister’s fund to improve access to what is called intensity modulated radiotherapy—IMR in short—has already been committed. The money is being used to update machines and ensure that radiographers receive extra training if they need it. We are well on our way, especially as it is now a nationally commissioned service, so there is no reason why anybody should not have the access they need to this treatment.
I thank the Minister for that response, but is she aware that new guidelines released by NHS England for treating patients using stereotactic ablative radiotherapy—advanced radiotherapy—say that only commissioning for early stage lung cancer will be approved, and that other treatments for all other cancers can be paid for only in clinical trials? As no trials are being commissioned in England, can the Minister explain how the treatment for patients with prostate, liver and spinal cancer, who were receiving SABR treatment last month, will be funded in the future?
What I do know, having had a long meeting with my officials only this morning, is that the evidence, as they have explained it to me, is clear: SABR is effective only in a small number of people who have, unfortunately, a certain small tumour in their lungs, and it is not suitable for other treatments of cancers. However, if the hon. Gentleman wants to discuss the matter further, my door is always open.
The trouble with all these things is that medical science moves faster than the targets set by the Government. Does the Minister agree with me that proton beam therapy is now almost as important as radiotherapy? How much have the Government spent on this therapy, and how many patients have been helped by it?
We are building two new machines specifically to deliver that treatment. I accept that these things often take a long time, but those machines are planned. In the meantime, NHS England has made it clear that people who need this specific type of treatment can receive it overseas and it will be funded accordingly.
Two years ago, the Prime Minister accepted the installation of CyberKnife as the latest in cancer radiosurgery equipment at the world-leading Royal Marsden hospital cancer centre. At the last Health questions, I asked the Secretary of State whether he would accept one of the countless invitations to visit the Royal Marsden. The consultant clinical oncologist has issued and reissued that invitation, but has had no response from the Department. Will the Secretary of State now please visit CyberKnife at the Royal Marsden?
I have to tell the hon. Lady that, as she knows, there is some controversy over this treatment, which is backed by a very large and powerful American company. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), has visited, and I know that the Secretary of State has an extremely busy and full diary. It is not as simple as a visit; it is all about whether there is any clinical value.
It would take me a very long time to give all the details of the Department’s work. In short, we have run a number of specific campaigns, both locally and regionally, to deal with a number of cancers. We will now evaluate whether those pilots have been successful. What I can say is that, such is the success of the lung cancer campaign, we will be recommissioning it in July.
I thank the Minister for that reply. May I raise, in particular, the issue of poor outcomes in pancreatic and prostate cancer? The problem we face is how to achieve the earlier diagnosis that is needed by GPs, so that we can achieve better outcomes in terms of international comparisons.
It was a great pleasure to meet my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) to discuss prostate and pancreatic cancer. Those cancers are difficult because often the symptoms are not obvious. The “Know 4 sure” campaign highlights some of the symptoms associated with them. We are evaluating this matter, and if we think that there is benefit in a campaign specifically on those cancers, we will run it.
The Minister will be aware that the all-party group on breast cancer, which I co-chair, is holding an inquiry into older people and breast cancer, starting this afternoon. We look forward to seeing her there. What plans do the Government have to ensure that everyone affected by breast cancer, regardless of their age, is diagnosed at the earliest possible stage?
I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend and all those involved with the all-party group—I am indeed looking forward to this afternoon’s session. I particularly commend the group’s work on targeting women over 70. Again, we have run a pilot campaign on that and are evaluating the results, and if there is value in it, it will be rolled out in order to bring huge benefits.
Given the link between smoking and cancer and the fact that 70% of smokers start before they are 18 and 94% before they are 25, what consideration have the Government given to introducing plain packaging in order to drive down the number of young people attracted to smoking in the first place?
We are considering what has been a huge consultation, but I must correct my hon. Friend—I am in no way criticising her—because it is not plain packaging, but what we call standardised packaging. If, like me, hon. Members were to see the cigarette packets now issued in Australia, they would realise that they are far from plain. Some would say that they are a counterfeiter’s nightmare, not a charter for counterfeiters.
People remember the massive improvements in cancer care services under Labour. Now, more and more people are having to wait longer and longer for those crucial diagnostic cancer tests, when they might be worried sick about what they will have to face. Is the Minister happy that more people are waiting longer and what is she doing now to cut those waiting times?
What discussions have taken place with Health ministerial colleagues in devolved Administrations on the need to share best practice in diagnosis, analysis of biopsies and future treatments and care for those suffering from different forms and types of cancer?
We are always open to discuss anything that can improve outcomes for anybody suffering from cancer, and certainly we are alert to all new research. As I said, if that involves talking to devolved Administrations, my officials do that in order to improve outcomes for people in England.
Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the most effective treatments in reducing the impact of prostate cancer is traditional Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture, and does she agree that it is crucial that we get the regulation of herbal practitioners in place as soon as we can?
A freedom of information survey by Labour showed that cancer networks saw their funding cut by 26% between 2010 and 2013 and lost 20% of their work force over the same period, losing vital skills and expertise along the way, despite repeated reassurances from the Government that funding for clinical networks would be protected. Even more shockingly, all this is happening at a time when the Department of Health has handed back £2.2 billion to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. How can the Minister justify handing vital NHS funding back to the Treasury when cancer networks are being cut, specialist staff and skills are being lost and thousands of nurses are being axed?
I think that that was about four questions in one, but I would certainly dispute all that has been said. Let me make this absolutely clear: we know that there was great success in the cancer networks, which is why we have extended them, so that they now include, for example, dementia and mental health, and far from cutting the overall money going to all the strategic networks, we have increased it by 27%.
On 5 March, we published the cardiovascular disease outcomes strategy, which included 10 key actions for commissioners and providers to ensure patients and carers get the best possible support. As set out in the strategy, we will continue to make data available to local authorities to see where their areas of greatest need are and to shape their own response accordingly.
Will my hon. Friend support the efforts of local clinicians, Tamworth borough council and charities such as Tamworth in the Community, which are working with parents, teachers and children to educate them about the importance of healthy eating and exercise, to deal with the health challenges we have in Tamworth and tackle the rather unfair notoriety that Tamworth gained in the press?
I commend the work being done locally in Tamworth to address this issue. As we know, one of the biggest public health challenges facing this country is obesity. The risk factors for cardiovascular disease include diabetes and high cholesterol. If we can tackle obesity and improve lifestyles, we will address both those risk factors directly, so I wish my hon. Friend’s local organisations every success in tackling those challenges.
As the Minister has said, those with diabetes are five times more likely than others to develop cardiovascular disease, which currently costs the national health service £9.8 billion a year. Will he commit to a public awareness campaign and issue guidelines for local health and wellbeing boards so that they make this a priority?
I commend the right hon. Gentleman’s work in raising the profile of diabetes. A lot of the Government’s work is focused on the importance of improving public health in this country and in particular on obesity, and if we are to tackle that we have to deal with diabetes. As a key part of that, we are now giving 40% of the public health money to local authorities to do exactly what he has just described: to focus money in the right places to tackle cardiovascular disease in those communities that most need it, particularly in inner-city areas.
The role of local authorities in scrutinising NHS decisions is now even more important, yet the joint health overview and scrutiny committee of Yorkshire and Humber councils was consistently denied a number of important documents, which was one reason the High Court ruled that the decision taken in the Safe and Sustainable review was unlawful. This is now in tatters. Will the Minister now confirm whether he will instruct NHS England not to appeal the High Court decision?
Surely the validity of evidence is a matter for the court. I am sure my hon. Friend would recognise that there has to be a distinction between what we do here in Parliament and what is done in the courts. If NHS England would like to appeal the decision and if it thinks there are good grounds to do that, it must do that. The decision will then ultimately be made in the courts, on the basis of how valid that appeal is.
The best way to improve outcomes for heart disease patients and get the best value for public money is to help people to manage their condition at home. Will the Minister therefore explain the thinking behind the Government’s strategy of cutting one in five district nurses, so that delayed discharges from hospital due specifically to a lack of NHS community services rise by 40%, costing taxpayers £6 million a month as a result?
The hon. Lady and Opposition Members are fond of saying that we are cutting the NHS. It is their party that has said it will cut; they think it is irresponsible to increase funding for the NHS. We on the Government Benches have invested £12.5 billion more in the NHS. There are 6,000 more clinical staff working on the ground, focusing specifically on early intervention, early strategies and lifestyle. We now have almost 1,000 more health visitors working in the NHS and we have expanded the family nurse partnership programme. All these things will make a difference. Indeed, there is now a lot more joint commissioning between hospitals and primary care, to ensure that commissioning arrangements are in place better to support the role of community nurses and district nurses in preventive care and better look after people with long-term conditions.
Dementia diagnosis rates vary across the country, from 75% in the best areas to a shocking 31% in the worst areas. That is totally unacceptable, given the difference that we know a diagnosis and a good care plan can make to people who have dementia.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is a misconception among some GPs that a dementia diagnosis is pointless and cannot make a difference, when we know that in fact the correct medicines can help between one in three and one in four of those who have the condition. However, some GPs also have a point when they are concerned that it is difficult to access good services for people who have dementia. The way we will change GPs’ minds is for them to appreciate that something will change if someone gets a dementia diagnosis. That is the big challenge that this ministerial team has set the Department.
Does the Minister agree that there is much to be learned from the high rate of dementia diagnosis in Northern Ireland? Is not that an example of how important it is for the devolved powers to share information and tactics for success in their own areas with the other devolved bodies?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Some of the devolved Administrations, particularly Scotland, actually do better than England in regard to dementia diagnosis, and one thing that we must learn from them is the value of a properly integrated care plan. I am working closely with the Minister of State to ensure that we deliver that in England.
My right hon. Friend said in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) that certain aspects of the treatment of dementia patients had to change. Does he agree that that should include the services that are delivered to them becoming more integrated, not only between hospitals and community health care services but between social care services and social housing support, in order to provide a proper joined-up package of care for people who receive such diagnoses?
I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend. I was in the accident and emergency unit at Watford hospital last week when a lady with advanced dementia was admitted. She had bruises all over her face after having had a fall. The shocking reality was that that A and E department knew nothing about that lady. It did not know her medical history, and it did not know whether that was her normal condition. There was no proper joined-up link between the social care system and the NHS. Tackling that issue is probably the single biggest long-term and strategic challenge that we have to address in the NHS.
Was Professor Malcolm Grant, the chairman of NHS England, talking about dementia sufferers when he said today that the NHS would have to charge for particular treatments? If not, will the Secretary of State specifically rule that out?
I should like to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), for his visit to Newark, which was a huge success. However, it has been pointed out that there is a distinct feeling in Newark that dementia patients are not being treated quite so quickly there as they are in other parts of Nottinghamshire. Will the Secretary of State please give that matter his attention?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer). We must urgently tackle the variation in dementia diagnosis rates. In the end, the litmus test of whether we are able to cope with an ageing population in the NHS will be how we deal with dementia, which now affects one in three people over the age of 65. There is still a lot of misunderstanding about the impact that a good diagnosis and care plan can have, and for the sake of my hon. Friend’s constituents and everyone else, this is an area in which we need to make urgent change.
I commend the tremendous amount of work undertaken by the hon. Gentleman on early intervention. Yesterday, he and I attended the Early Intervention Foundation, which he has set up. We are talking a lot about legacies this week, and his legacy and the work that he has done to promote early intervention will certainly stand the test of time. The Government are committed to supporting that work, both through his foundation and through the work that we are doing to expand the family nurse partnership programme and the number of health visitors available to young families.
I thank the Minister for those remarks, and I would like to thank those on both Front Benches for their support for the Early Intervention Foundation, which is greatly appreciated. Would the Minister accept that, in addition to having police and crime commissioners and councils promoting early intervention, the role of GPs, of directors of public health and of health and wellbeing boards will be absolutely central to getting early intervention plans and programmes to scale across the whole of England?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The health and wellbeing boards in particular will be well placed to bring together and join up what goes on in early interventions and to break down some of the silos that have existed in education, social services and health care. It is through the health and wellbeing boards that a lot of the work being done by health visitors and others to improve the life chances of many children, particularly those in the poorest communities, can be taken forward locally in a much stronger way.
My hon. Friend will be aware that local authorities are now receiving 40% of the public health budget. That allows local authorities to have a much more nuanced approach to how and where they direct their budgets. It is of course desirable to focus on the early years to give each and every child the best start in life, to set good and healthy eating patterns and to support the work being done in the health service in expanding the health visitor programme. This also allows local authorities to address other public health challenges in the area by focusing, for example, on areas with high rates of teenage pregnancy, smoking or cardiovascular disease death.
What sort of early intervention have the Government ordered to prevent a contagious spread of measles from the outbreak in the Neath and Swansea area of more than 700 serious cases? Thousands of parents across Britain will have been tormented by the choice of whether to vaccinate their children for measles, mumps and rubella because of the scare. Surely the Minister should take serious action to instruct public health officials to combat this issue.
We are taking exactly that action to make sure that the vaccine is available and to promote the uptake of it. The right hon. Gentleman will of course be aware that the problems and concerns about the failure of some families to take up the vaccine resulted from some mis-used data in the past. That was a regrettable incident concerning the use of medical data, and is unfortunately causing great problems now. We are committed to making sure that those vaccines are available to the children who need it.
When it comes to early intervention with the one in 10 children in this country who have a diagnosable mental health problem, will the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s intention to ensure that those children all have access to talking therapies so that they get the right treatment at the right time, which will make a big difference for them?
In his time in office, my right hon. Friend did a tremendous amount to promote the cause of mental health and to get parity of treatment between mental and physical health. That is exactly what we propose to do with the money going into the talking therapies—to get in place those early interventions, not just for adults, but for children, too. We shall be taking that work forward in earnest in the years ahead.
Does the Minister agree that the most important form of early intervention is for the public to get prompt advice on their symptoms? Does he share my concern that a leaked report on the national performance of the 111 line shows that the service is in crisis with staff shortages, delays, abandoned calls, 11-hour waits for call-backs, staff being wrongly diverted to attend cats with diarrhoea and ambulance crews going without breaks for 12 or more hours? Is this not a trademark Government shambles?
The hon. Lady will be aware that it is important not to rush the roll-out of any service. That is why we kept in place the NHS Direct service in areas where rolling out the 111 service has been slower. A lot of good work is going on in early intervention; it focuses on giving local authorities the budget and the powers to make a difference to local communities. The Labour party should get behind that and do much more to support it. It is this Government who are making a difference in early years, and I hope that the Opposition can support us on that.
Tobacco Product Packaging
I am afraid that I cannot give a timetable, and I make no apology for the fact that this Government are taking a careful look at all the evidence that has come out of the consultation.
Figures from Cancer Research UK show that more than 1,100 of the 10 to 14-year-olds in Barnsley are regular smokers. Given that countries such as Australia and New Zealand have now committed to standardised packaging, I ask the Minister again: are the Government planning to legislate to give millions of children one less reason to start smoking?
I find it most bizarre that the advice I am given by my officials—and I absolutely accept their advice—is that, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, because of judicial reviews of consultations, I am not allowed to have an opinion, so I do not give any opinion, notwithstanding the fact that many people would say that he advances a number of important arguments. I will say, however, that it is important to look at all the emerging evidence, including that coming out of Australia. As he will no doubt know, Australia continues to face a legal challenge that is yet to be resolved. It is also important to be aware of that.
Does the Minister agree that adult smokers have already made a conscious decision to disregard all the health warnings that are so highly publicised, and are therefore unlikely to be influenced by the appearance of a packet of cigarettes? Is not the best way of deterring children from smoking the setting of a good example by responsible parents who know how much money their children are spending without supervision, and what they are spending it on?
If only it were as simple as that. Emerging evidence that I have seen suggests that it is the attractiveness of the packets that leads young people to decide to take up smoking. It also suggests—it is important for us to bear this in mind—that standardised packaging is not intended to persuade those who choose to smoke to continue to do so, and will make no difference to their choices. The aim is to protect children and young people.
22. It is a well-known fact that for many decades cigarette packaging has been there to attract the eyes of not just current smokers, but those who are yet to become smokers. Given that 50% of people who smoke die prematurely, it is clear that, over those many decades, the tobacco industry’s intention has been to attract new smokers, including young children. The sooner we get on with standardising packaging, the better. (150785)
Recent press reports have revealed that as many as a third of the number of cigarettes sold in the London area are contraband. Will the Minister discuss the matter with those in other Departments, in order to ensure that the objective that we are trying to achieve by standardising packaging will be achieved by that means?
I shall be meeting the relevant Home Office Minister today to discuss that very issue, but let me repeat that, far from being a counterfeiter’s dream, the packets produced in Australia would clearly be a nightmare here. A variety of colours, watermarks and holograms, and all manner of other things, can be attached to them, which is why they are described as “standardised” rather than “plain”.
20. This decision is taking too long, and those who care about the impact of smoking on children are at a loss to understand why. Given the U-turn on minimum alcohol pricing, the delaying of the sexual health strategy and, now, the stalling on standardised packaging, I must ask whether the Government have simply given up on public health. (150783)
And it was all going so well. I will take no lectures from Labour Members, who had 13 years in which to resolve this issue, but did not do so because they knew that these were difficult and tricky matters, and that it was important for all the evidence to be considered properly. I do not know what peculiar gestures Opposition Front Benchers are making, but they are clearly not listening and understanding when it comes to stuff that they themselves must have considered when they were in government.
Our priority is to ensure that patients in England, including those with rare and very rare muscle-wasting conditions, have access to new and effective treatments on terms that represent value to the NHS and the taxpayer.
The all-party parliamentary group for muscular dystrophy, which has been conducting an inquiry, was told recently that patients who are experiencing muscle-wasting conditions, and their families, are concerned about the possibility that they will be denied access to potential treatment because of regulatory barriers, and/or on cost grounds. Will the Minister meet the all-party group to discuss measures for the removal of any such impediments?
I am certainly willing to meet the all-party group, but I think that significant new opportunities are emerging. For example, from this month the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence will be responsible for the evaluation of new drugs for the treatment of rare conditions, and I think that that is a very good thing.
One of my constituents, a seven-year-old boy, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. His family are pinning their hopes on a new drug called ataluren, which has not yet completed its trials. Can the Minister give me any idea when it might become available?
Eculizumab is a high-cost drug that makes a profound difference to the lives of people with a rare kidney disorder, yet the Department has rejected the recommendation of the Advisory Group for National Specialised Services to make it available to all patients, instead referring it to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which will delay any decision by at least a year. Will the Minister meet me and specialists from my Newcastle constituency to discuss how we can ensure those patients are not adversely affected by this delay?
As the Minister is aware, the active involvement of patients in biomedical research is one of the areas in which Britain is increasingly leading. Yesterday, I chaired a meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) and the Empower: Access to Medicine group and Les Halpin, who is suffering from a terminal disease and is launching a campaign for greater patient involvement in access to rare drugs. Will the Minister meet me and my hon. Friend to take that forward?
We are supporting NHS England to develop a fairer and more transparent funding system for hospices, to be in place by 2015. We have made £60 million in capital available to hospices to improve their physical environments, and will continue to provide over £10 million in central funding for children’s hospices.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the new NHS commissioning arrangements should increase the opportunities for hospices in the voluntary sector, such as the excellent Katharine House hospice in my constituency, to provide palliative care and terminal care for NHS patients?
I pay tribute to the hospice movement, including Katharine House in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It is crazy that we are spending a lot of public money on caring for people at the end of life in places where they do not want to be. Most people do not want to end their life in hospital, yet about 50% of people still die in hospital. We are looking to create a new funding regime where money will follow the patient, to ensure people’s choice is respected so they can die where they want to, and so that hospices have fair funding.
I recently had a case of very poor care of a terminally ill patient in the last few days of her life. She was let down by a GP who refused to prescribe the pain relief she needed and a district nursing service that provided wholly inadequate support. Given what the Minister has just said and that 20% of people want to die at home, what action will be taken to ensure that such cases do not happen and that instead we start to provide much better support for people so they can die peacefully at home?
My ambition is that the UK have a global reputation for the best possible care at the end of life. Whether we are talking about the Liverpool care pathway and concerns that have been raised about some care in hospital or care in the community and caring for people at home at the end of life, it is essential that people have a dignified death and the best possible care. Everything we are doing is aimed at achieving that. Where there are specific cases such as the one the hon. Lady raises, the relatives have the right to pursue a complaint, and ought to do so if care has fallen below an acceptable standard.
The Secretary of State made it very clear to NHS England in his mandate that we expect to see an improvement in patient experience.
The Francis report recommended that the NHS be held to account on patient experiences. Given that the national cancer patient experience survey is a proven tool in driving up the quality of care, will the Minister endorse calls for the survey to be carried out annually, and support the development of a clinical commissioning group outcomes indicator set indicator based on the results in order to incentivise CCGs to improve cancer patient experience?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments; as he knows, these are now matters for NHS England. I will make sure it is aware of what he has said and his urging it to do both those things for the obvious benefits they would have for a cancer patient’s experience.
The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) is absolutely right: it is essential that the NHS is held to account for the experiences of cancer patients and patients with other conditions, too. Accountability has undoubtedly been weakened, however, as a result of the NHS reorganisation that came into effect this month. Last week, the outgoing deputy chief executive of the NHS, David Flory, said that the loss of experience in the NHS is greater than he has ever seen and that hospitals have been left struggling as a result. How can a service stripped of so much skill, knowledge and expertise provide the accountability that patients deserve?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman’s question depicts a situation that I simply do not recognise. As I visit hospitals and other organisations, both in my constituency and across the country, I am told that there has been a huge improvement, especially in commissioning—[Interruption.] No, by front-line clinicians, who talk with enthusiasm about how the commissioning of services has improved because now at last the clinicians—those who know best—are in charge, and not, as has often been the case, faceless bureaucrats and managers.
Hospital Services: Trafford
Following a referral from the joint Manchester and Trafford health overview and scrutiny committee, the Secretary of State requested initial advice from the independent reconfiguration panel. That was received on 27 March 2013. The Secretary of State will consider the advice and make a decision in due course.
This issue is of huge importance to my constituents, who are concerned about access to accident and emergency and acute services and about delays in discharge into the community in the absence of adequate community provision. So far, Ministers have refused to meet me so that I can make representations about my constituents’ concerns. Will the Minister give me an undertaking that no final decision will be taken until that meeting can take place so that local concerns can be properly taken into account?
I am sure that we would be happy to meet the hon. Lady; I am certainly happy to do so. A number of the concerns she has outlined in the House and at a local level will be taken into consideration by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he considers the report.
I welcome the Minister’s undertaking to meet local Members to discuss these important matters and I endorse the comments made by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) about the importance of a timely resolution. The longer this goes on, the greater the cost will be to local health services.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is important that a timely conclusion is reached. It is also right, as the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) said, that the need to improve community services and preventive care and to provide better support for people with long-term conditions in the Trafford area should be considered.
I also welcome the Minister’s agreement to meetings. Will he and the Secretary of State carefully consider the likely impact of downgrading accident and emergency facilities at Trafford general and the implications for nearby Wythenshawe hospital? Does the Minister agree that a failure to provide proper facilities at Wythenshawe for the anticipated additional 4,500 accident and emergency patients, the additional admissions stemming from that and the extra beds required could lead to long delays and a diminution in the service?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has visited Wythenshawe hospital and can pay testament to the high-quality care available there. All the points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised will, of course, be taken into account when a decision is made.
We have made earlier diagnosis a clear objective in our mandate to the NHS. It is for NHS England and local commissioners to undertake appropriate awareness campaigns on arthritis. We very much welcome the appointment of Professor Peter Kay as the first national clinical director of musculoskeletal disease to advise on specific initiatives.
I will spare my hon. Friend a meeting, but will he tell me what evidence there is to suggest that there was more awareness and earlier diagnosis when spa towns such as Harrogate and Bath provided spa facilities for those most badly affected by rheumatism and arthritis?
Royal Lancaster Infirmary
I would like to reassure my hon. Friend that there are no plans and never have been any plans to close the accident and emergency department at Royal Lancaster Infirmary.
I thank my hon. Friend for that robust answer. Does he agree that the local Labour party fabricated the scare story that the A and E department was going to close? It was never going to close, as he has just stated. Will he assist me in taking the local Labour party’s bogus petition offline?
Kettering General Hospital
18. What assessment he has made of (a) the pressures faced by Kettering general hospital’s accident and emergency department and (b) what can be done by Kettering general hospital to achieve national accident and emergency transition time targets. (150781)
Local health care commissioners have worked with the trust, Monitor and NHS England’s Hertfordshire and South Midlands local area team to ensure that robust plans are in place to improve the trust’s performance against accident and emergency waiting time performance indicators.
The greatest difficulty for Kettering is that it has the sixth fastest household growth rate in the country, and A and E admissions are up 12% year on year. Will the Minister ensure that the NHS Commissioning Board makes sure that population estimates are put into its funding formula?
Along with the hon. Members for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) and for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), I shall meet the chief executive and chair of Kettering general hospital this Friday to discuss the latest steps in the Healthier Together review. Does the Minister agree that it is important that we urge on Kettering general hospital and all the other decision makers that we must maintain our proper accident and emergency and other vital services at Kettering general hospital?
It certainly sounds as though there is a need for an accident and emergency department in Kettering. These are matters for the local commissioning boards to take forward, but it would be wrong for the hon. Gentleman or anyone else to say that as part of the Healthier Together programme there are any site-specific proposals that would in any way threaten Kettering accident and emergency department.
In a week when we are remembering the remarkable contribution made by Margaret Thatcher to our national life, we should also mark the extraordinary contribution made by someone else who died last week—Professor Sir Robert Edwards, the Nobel prize-winning doctor who pioneered modern IVF treatment. One in seven couples in this country experience fertility problems and he has given them hope and, in many cases, wonderful happiness. The whole House will want to applaud not just his scientific boldness, but his moral courage in confronting what was considered at the time to be an extremely difficult ethical issue.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. What Andrew Wakefield said had no scientific basis and caused huge damage and worry to many thousands of parents. It is very important to reiterate that the scientific way to prevent measles, which can be a horrible and even a fatal disease, is to make sure that children have had two doses of MMR. Parents of children of any age who have not had those doses should contact their GP, particularly in the current circumstances.
Accident and emergency departments across England are being closed, even though all are under intense pressure. For 11 weeks running, the NHS has missed the Government’s national A and E target. Last week, in places, one in three patients waited more than four hours in scenes not seen since the bad old days of the mid-1990s. What clearer symbol of the growing crisis in A and E is there than a tent as a makeshift ward in the car park at Norwich? The Secretary of State’s failure to address that cannot continue. Nursing jobs have been lost, ambulances are queuing outside A and E and patients are being treated in car parks. When will he get a grip?
The statistic that the right hon. Gentleman will not give the House is that for the year as a whole, which ended last March, the Government hit our A and E target. Furthermore, he still will not tell the House about the disaster that is happening in Labour-controlled Wales, where the A and E target has not been hit since 2009. He still refuses to condemn what is happening there. There is a lot of pressure on A and E, because 1 million more people are using A and E every year, compared with just two years ago. What are the root causes? They are poor primary care alternatives that date directly to the disastrous GP contract negotiated by his Government, since when more than 4 million additional people have been using A and E every year, social care and hospital sectors that are not joined up—Labour had 13 years to sort that out but did nothing—and problems in recruitment that have been made a great deal worse by his disastrous decision to implement the working time directive. It is time he sorted out his own issues before trying to criticise the Government for sorting them out.
T2. The all-party group on men’s health, of which I am vice-chairman, has assisted in research that seems to show that men’s poor sexual health is often symptomatic of more serious problems, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Will my hon. Friend assure me that all robust measures are being put in place to ensure that that is not overlooked and that men do not die unnecessarily because that situation is taken for granted? (150789)
I completely agree with everything my hon. Friend has said, and the sexual health document we published in March relates specifically to those matters. Men are not very good at going to see their GP, a nurse or another health professional when they fear that they might need some sort of assistance. It is beholden on all men to follow the lead of women.
T5. Evidence from the all-party muscular dystrophy group’s inquiry into access to high-cost drugs for rare diseases has highlighted the importance in clinical trials of centres of excellence, such as the International Centre for Life, which is based in Newcastle. Will the Minister, with NHS North of England, meet me to discuss changes to specialist neuromuscular care in my area as a result of the new NHS set-up? (150792)
I am tempted to say no, but I would not get away with it—so, yes, of course the hon. Lady can join all the rest and arrange to meet me. I would be very happy to discuss her concerns. While I am at the Dispatch Box, may I pay tribute to the International Centre for Life, which does really important work?
T3. The all-party group on global tuberculosis has just published a report on rising rates of drug-resistant TB. One recommendation is for a national strategy for TB in the UK. Will the Minister comment on that? The officers of the all-party group would also be grateful if he fitted us into his very busy schedule of meetings. (150790)
My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) is having a break on that one. The continuing outbreaks of TB cause a lot of concern, especially in certain communities. I have no hesitation in agreeing to meet my hon. Friend to explain what NHS England is doing and the development of a national strategy.
Here comes another request for a meeting with the very obliging Minister. Last month he promised the House that he would rewrite the section 75 regulations to rule out enforced competitive tendering in the NHS. However, before Easter the respected House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said this of his redraft:
“The substitute Regulations are substantially the same as the original Regulations.”
It is no surprise that it seems to many that the Government are intent on privatisation by the back door, putting large parts of the NHS up for sale. With a crunch vote in the Lords next week, it is turning into another shambles. I make this offer to the Minister: will he again agree to withdraw the regulations and to sit down with us and the professions this week and come up with wording that is acceptable to all?
This really is the most outrageous scaremongering from the Labour party. In March 2010, the Labour Government issued guidance on European procurement law that described the limited circumstances in which one could avoid going out to tender. The wording used in these regulations is exactly the same as that used by Labour in March 2010, yet Labour Members will not admit that. There are also added safeguards in the redrafted regulations to ensure that there is a clear incentive for integrating and co-ordinating services for the benefit of patients.
T4. The Secretary of State is aware of the widespread management failures of East of England ambulance trust, and last month we saw the belated resignation of its chair. Will he ensure that the trust makes patient care the No. 1 priority, and will he join me in calling for its remaining non-executive directors, who presided over these management failings, to reflect on their own positions? (150791)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her campaigning on this. There must be full accountability for what went wrong in that ambulance trust. It is absolutely a top priority for me and my Ministers, two of whom represent Norfolk and Suffolk, to sort out what is happening in the trust, and that is why very decisive action has been taken.
T7. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), several of my constituents with desperately ill relatives are very angry about the Government referring to NICE a decision on the use of eculizumab. The continuing delay is risking lives and also means that people have several invasive treatments that could well cost more. To save space in the Minister’s diary, may I add a request to join the meeting with my hon. Friend to talk about how this dangerous delay is causing very great distress to many constituents? (150794)
T8. Kettering general hospital’s new £30 million foundation wing has a new 16-bed intensive care unit, 28-bed cardiac unit and 32-bed children’s unit, and it opens to patients for the first time this coming Saturday. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State take this opportunity to congratulate all those at Kettering general hospital who have brought this project to fruition? (150795)
I would be absolutely delighted to do that. I had an excellent visit to Kettering hospital that was hosted by my hon. Friend, and I saw at first hand just how hard people are working in tough circumstances, with big increases in A and E admissions causing a great deal of pressure throughout the hospital. One had a sense at the hospital that there was a mission to turn things around and make things better, and a management team who were totally committed to doing that. I congratulate them and all the front-line staff who are doing such an important job for the people of Kettering.
A year ago, GPs in Hackney bid to run the out-of-hours services. Earlier this year, they were told that it had to be tendered because the board was fearful of legal challenge from private health companies. Who is running the NHS—the Secretary of State or the private health company lawyers?
That is an absolutely extraordinary question given that it was the previous Labour Government’s decision to contract out out-of-hours services in the first place, which has led to the massive pressure on so many A and Es. The regulations in place for many of these arrangements were laid by the previous Labour Government.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I pay tribute to him for raising this issue frequently. We will not have properly integrated, joined-up health and care services unless we crack the issue of data sharing. There need to be protections for people so that they can prevent their data from being shared if they do not want that, but by the same merit we have to make sure that there is better availability. For example, delayed discharges from hospitals, which are causing pressure on A and Es, would be directly helped if we cracked this. That is why we have called for a paperless NHS by 2018.
Under the previous Government, my constituents could get an appointment with their GP within 48 hours. I recently heard of a wait for a routine appointment taking three weeks. Is not this one of the reasons there is such pressure on A and Es, and will the Secretary of State reintroduce the 48-hour appointment?
The reason there is so much pressure on A and Es is the disastrous GP contract negotiated by the hon. Lady’s party in government, since when—I do not know whether she was listening to what I said earlier—an additional 4 million people every year are going to our A and Es. That is what is causing the huge pressure, and that is what we are determined to put right.
T10. The Secretary of State will know that the number of people donating organs after their death has risen by 50% in the past five years. Does he credit the network of specialist nurses who support bereaved families in hospital for that increase and, if so, what lessons does he take from that? (150797)
This is an example of a programme that has been a huge success and I pay tribute to the work done by the previous Government as well as this Government in making sure that we can tackle this very serious problem. All I would say to my hon. Friend is that three people still die every day, I believe, because we are not able to get the organ donations we need. We should not think that, despite the success, we have solved this problem. There is much work to do and I personally think that it is something that everyone should think about doing. It can be a source of personal pride to put oneself on the organ donation list and we should all encourage our constituents to think about it as well.
I have listened very carefully to what the Secretary of State has said on A and E, but he has not addressed the fact that under the previous Government waiting times reduced and under his Government they are growing and are now at their longest for more than a decade, so what is he going to do?
As I said to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) earlier, we actually hit our A and E waiting time target last year. If the hon. Lady is talking about waiting times in general, the number of people waiting for more than a year for an operation was 18,000 under the previous Government, and the figure has fallen to just 800 under this Government.
If there is a smidgeon of space in any of the Ministers’ diaries, is there a chance that they could meet me and representatives of the nursing profession to address not the issue that I think the Government are saying they are opposed to—mandatory nurse to patient ratios on wards—but that of adequate registered nurse levels on hospital wards?
Of course, I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this matter further. He can be reassured that I have regular discussions on these matters with representatives from the nursing profession, both in my clinical work and, more specifically, in my ministerial roles.
In Brixham in my constituency, 94% of five-year-olds are protected against measles. Just up the road in Totnes the figure is only 70%. There are many reasons for the variation, but does the Secretary of State share my concern that if parents believe they are protected by, for example, homeopathy products, they might be less likely to use an evidence-based treatment? Will he make an unequivocal statement that such products will not give any protection?
I am happy to do so and thank my hon. Friend for bringing up the issue. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that homeopathic products can provide protection against measles. The right thing to do is to get two doses of the MMR jab. As I said earlier, anyone whose children, whatever their age, have not had those two doses should contact their GP.
As we have heard, A and E waiting times are at their worst level for a decade, yet we hear of proposed A and E reconfigurations based on tackling so-called inappropriate presentations. Does the Secretary of State agree that that approach is the wrong way around and that he would be better off tackling why people are going to A and E first, before he embarks on any reconfigurations?
That is exactly what we are doing. We are looking at the root causes of the fact that admissions to A and E are going up so fast—namely, that there is such poor primary care provision; that, as we discussed earlier, changes to the GP contract led to a big decline in the availability of out-of-hour services; and, that health and social care services are so badly joined up. That is how we are going to tackle this issue with A and E, and that is what we are doing.
I am delighted to learn that there will shortly be a new national clinical director for neurological conditions, focusing in particular on conditions such as Tourette’s syndrome. Will the Secretary of State reassure us that that appointment, which is so long overdue, will be expedited at the earliest opportunity?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the real value of this appointment and I think that the clinical director’s work will emphasise the importance of addressing conditions such as that to which he referred. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is showing such clear support for this initiative.
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to compile statistics on gender ratios of foetuses aborted in the United Kingdom, and where available overseas; and for connected purposes.
It is a tragedy that, in some countries, the words “It’s a girl” are not always a source of joy but sometimes of danger. The abortion of baby girls occurs in huge numbers simply because of their gender. The UN states that it is a problem of “genocide proportions”, with one expert estimating that gendercide has cost the lives of about 200 million women and girls worldwide over the past 30 years.
The practice is pervasive in China. The country’s one-child policy and its traditional preference for boys have led to widespread abandonment, infanticide and forced abortions. China now has 37 million more young males than females. We hear of towns and villages where young men outnumber young women by up to 30:1. Quoting China’s official figures, the Financial Times stated recently that there have been 330 million abortions since the one-child policy was introduced—a policy tragically indirectly aided and abetted for many years by funds provided by successive British Governments.
Similarly, there are markedly more males than females in India, with various regions facing serious and growing gender imbalances. The murder of a student who was gang-raped on a Delhi bus at the end of last year sparked outrage across India and shone a spotlight on the place of women in Indian society. That and the country’s long history of expensive dowry gifts on the marriage of a daughter are among the factors that are resulting in the illegal but widespread practice of female gendercide.
Female gendercide in such countries is fuelling human trafficking and sexual slavery. It is resulting in tragic practices such as the kidnapping, sale and imprisonment of young girls in places far from their home towns to act as so-called “wives”. Such avoidance of female births is gender discrimination in its worst form. It constitutes violence against women even before they have a chance to live.
Why am I relating these tragic situations in this place today, when so many Members are well aware of them and condemn them? The reason is that if we are to condemn gendercide in countries such as China and India, we must be ready to condemn and challenge any suggestion that gendercide is taking place in the UK. I acknowledge and respect the wide range of sincerely held views on abortion, but such wider discussions are not the subject of this ten-minute rule motion. The motion seeks to draw the House’s attention to indications that illegal gendercide appears to be taking place in this country. I hope that the House can unite in registering profound shock at even the possibility that that it is happening, in whatever proportion.
The House will have seen early-day motion 936, an all-party motion that I tabled on this topic. It has attracted more than 50 supportive signatures. I am therefore confident that the concerns about this issue are shared by a number of Members from all parties in the House.
On 8 January, the Department of Health confirmed in a written answer to my noble Friend Lord Alton of Liverpool that there are discrepancies in the balance between the number of boys and girls born in the UK to some groups of women that
“potentially fall outside of the range considered possible without intervention.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 January 2013; Vol. 742, c. WA2.]
That indicates that there may be evidence that a significant number of abortions are taking place on the grounds of gender or sex selection, a practice that is wholly illegal in this country. Any doctor who performed a termination on that basis would potentially be committing a criminal offence.
I welcome the decision of Ranjit Bikhu and other British Asian women to establish a campaign to challenge anti-girl and anti-life attitudes and practices. It must never be a matter of choice to end the life of a girl merely because of her gender.
An investigation by The Daily Telegraph in 2012 uncovered strong evidence, including filmed evidence, that doctors at some British clinics are agreeing to terminate pregnancies by arranging abortions on the grounds of gender and to produce the relevant paperwork. The investigation also exposed a practice termed “family balancing”, with boys being aborted too, thus stretching the possibility of gendercide taking place in the UK well beyond certain cultural groups. One doctor, highly experienced in this field, said he believes the practice is “fairly widespread”.
Technological advancements in prenatal diagnostic tests now enable the gender of a fetus to be determined at 10 weeks’ gestation. As that technology continues to develop and becomes widely available, there is much concern that it will increase requests for abortions when the gender of an unborn child is not what a mother or father were hoping for.
My Bill reminds the police and the Crown Prosecution Service that abortion on the grounds of gender is illegal in this country, and it calls on the Department of Health to put in place procedures to record the gender of babies aborted under the provisions of the Abortion Act 1967, once the sex can be determined. The Bill would also impose tougher penalties on anyone found to have facilitated the abortion of a child because of its gender, or made arrangements to travel overseas for such an outcome. In addition, it calls for further consideration of the practice and implications of the wide, deeply concerning and, in some countries, extensive practice of female gendercide overseas.
Here in the United Kingdom, a country that prides itself on striving for gender equality and tackling discrimination in all its forms, any indication of this most fundamental form of gender discrimination and violence against women must surely be investigated further. A key purpose of my Bill is to highlight concerns about abortion on the grounds of sex selection taking place in the UK, and to remind us all, whether regulators, prosecuting authorities, doctors, the Department of Health or, crucially, Ministers, that we cannot turn a blind eye to the issue and should be proactive in preventing, challenging and stopping it as something that is wholly unacceptable in the UK, as well as abroad.
Before I say “I commend this Bill to the House”, this would until yesterday have been the end of my speech. Quite remarkably, however, bearing in mind the fact that my Bill is called the Abortion Statistics Bill as set down several weeks ago, just yesterday the Department of Health announced a consultation on abortion statistics and their publication. I would flatter myself by thinking there was any connection; none the less it gives me the opportunity to mention the issue. I understand that the Department of Health is seeking the public’s view on the publication of abortion statistics, in order—and I quote from its overview—
“to ensure that the reports remain relevant and useful.”
In the light of the causes for concern that I have highlighted today, I trust that the Department will consider including in those statistics a record of the gender of babies aborted, if ascertainable. I hope that many responses by the public to the consultation will support that call.
Finally, in further support of my motion, I draw the House’s attention to the recent call by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for member states to
“collect the sex ratio at birth, monitor its development and take prompt action to tackle possible imbalances.”
I understand that the Department of Health is currently finalising its response to the Assembly on that issue, and I note the comment from the Health Minister Earl Howe that
“this is an important piece of work and demonstrates how seriously this issue is being taken not just in this country but across Europe.”
Let us ensure that we lead the way in monitoring, challenging and—most important—preventing this deeply worrying practice. I commend this Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Fiona Bruce, Dr Thérèse Coffey, Ms Margaret Ritchie, Mrs Mary Glindon, Jim Dobbin, Robert Flello, Pat Glass, Mr Virendra Sharma, Jim Shannon, Rosie Cooper, Daniel Kawczynski and Jeremy Lefroy present the Bill.
Fiona Bruce accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 April, and to be printed (Bill 158).
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance and assistance. I tabled a round-robin question on 4 December 2012, asking how many computers, mobile telephones, BlackBerrys and other pieces of IT equipment had been lost or stolen in 2010-11 and 2011-12. I have received interesting replies from every Department except the Cabinet Office. I chased an answer on 16 January, expecting one on 21 January; I raised the matter at business questions on 7 February, and the Leader of the House kindly endeavoured to get me an answer; and I raised the continuing lack of an answer again on 26 March. I am always grateful when Ministers agree to allow themselves to be held to account by the House, but I wonder whether you could give me some guidance on the further steps I might take to return to a state of grace on this particular question.
I am bound to say to the hon. Gentleman that I should have hoped that it would not have been necessary for him to take further steps, but, as the saying goes, we are where we are. First, I might suggest that he consult the Leader of the House, who I know attaches a premium to timely and substantive replies. Secondly, he might wish to have another go at business questions. Thirdly, he should rest content that his remarks today will be transmitted to the relevant Minister without delay. The situation is disappointing, as the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General is responsible for the co-ordination of Government policy, among other matters. Fourthly, I advise the hon. Gentleman, if he remains disquieted about the matter, to raise it with the Procedure Committee, whose Chairman, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), will, I am sure, lend a sympathetic ear. I hope my advice is of use to the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas).
Business without Debate
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
That the draft Small Charitable Donations Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 14 February, be approved.—(Karen Bradley.)
Question agreed to.
European Union Documents
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),
Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes
That this House takes note of Unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum dated 26 February 2013, submitted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, relating to a draft Directive on alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes and amending Regulation (EC) No. 2006/2004 and Directive 2009/22/EC (Directive on consumer ADR), and a draft Regulation on online dispute resolution for consumer disputes (Regulation on consumer ODR); and supports the Government’s general position to increase consumer confidence and enhance the internal market as intended by the proposed legislation.—(Karen Bradley.)
Question agreed to.
Growth and Infrastructure Bill (Programme)(No. 3)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order. No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Growth and Infrastructure Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 5 November 2012 (Growth and Infrastructure Bill (Programme)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement at today’s sitting.
2. The proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.
3. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.
Time for conclusion of proceedings
45 minutes after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments.
Nos. 7, 1 to 6, 8 to 24 and 26 to 40
Two hours after the commencement of those proceedings.
4. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
5. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Karen Bradley.)
Question agreed to.
Growth and Infrastructure Bill
[Relevant document: the Seventh Report of Communities and Local Government Committee, The Committee’s response to Government’s consultation on permitted development rights for homeowners, HC 830.]
Consideration of Lords amendments
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 25.
Back in October, the Government introduced a Bill to this House that contained a number of important growth measures designed to help stimulate the economy. I am very pleased to report that both Houses of Parliament have given the Bill the priority it deserves, and that six months after its introduction both Houses have completed their consideration. We must now reach agreement with the other place on the final version of the Bill.
Let me explain that the Government agree with 38 of the 40 amendments that have been made. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will address those in the second group of amendments for debate. It is right that we set out our reasons for our disagreement with the other place in two important respects.
The Government do not support amendment 25, which seeks to remove clause 27—a clause that this House supported and that would establish the new employment status of employee shareholder. I urge the House to confirm its view that this imaginative proposal should continue to be made available and clause 27 should be retained.
Clause 27 establishes a new employment status in our labour market—the employee shareholder—in addition to the existing categories of worker and employee. Employee shareholders will have more employment rights than workers but fewer rights than employees. Importantly, employee shareholders will be given at least £2,000 of shares in the company they work for, or in its parent company. The first £2,000 of value will not attract income tax or national insurance contributions, and the first £50,000 of shares will not be subject to capital gains tax.
British companies are competing in a global race to increase their competitiveness and create wealth. What is at stake here is choice and a new status that companies can use to give themselves a competitive edge and more flexibility in deciding how to structure their work force. By combining share ownership and favourable tax treatment—with appropriate steps to prevent any tax avoidance—we are giving companies, especially young companies, a tool that may tip the balance in their favour as they seek to attract high-calibre individuals who can have a disproportionately positive impact on how the company performs. That is why the Government want to create the new employment status—to promote enterprise and aspiration.
Much has been said about the new employee shareholder status. Throughout the scrutiny in this House, I stressed that we do not want people coerced into this new type of status. That is why the Government chose to add protections to the status on Report. We added protections for existing employees by creating a new unfair dismissal right and by inserting the right not to be subjected to any detriment if they turn down an employee shareholder contract. Those protections are important. They allow existing employees, if offered an employee shareholder contract, to say no, in the knowledge that the law will protect their decision.
The Government have always been clear that this measure is voluntary for both individuals and companies to use if it suits their circumstances or business needs. For people on jobseeker’s allowance, our priority is to minimise periods of unemployment by helping them to move into work as soon as possible. During proceedings in this House, I listened carefully to concerns raised by, among others, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), who is in his place today. In response to the concerns he expressed in Committee, I agreed that guidance to decision makers in jobcentres would make it clear that an individual should not be mandated if there were good reasons for refusing an employee shareholder offer. However, the other place was unconvinced that this employment status would be truly voluntary for jobseeker’s allowance claimants if there was the possibility—however remote—that a claimant could lose their JSA if they turned down an employee shareholder job.
I want to make it absolutely clear that this new employment status is voluntary. That is why the Government have looked at all this again in the light of comments and speeches by noble Lords. We have decided now to remove any remaining ambiguity, which I hope will reassure both this House and the other place. I can tell the House that as a result of considering the policy further we have decided that jobcentre advisers will not be able to mandate jobseekers to apply for employee shareholder positions. The Government will amend the guidance for DWP jobcentre advisers to state explicitly that a jobseeker cannot be mandated to apply for an employee shareholder job. Draft guidance will shortly be placed in the Library.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and, in particular, for having listened carefully to what was said in this House and in the other place. Will he say a little more about the guidance that will be provided, the timetable and the implementation? Can he give us an assurance that it will be in place before the Bill receives Royal Assent and comes into force?
I certainly can. It is not possible, under the procedures of the House, to place the guidance in the Library before I have first explained it to the House, but I will lay the draft guidance in the Library as soon as the transcript of this afternoon’s debate is available.
Let me be clear about what the draft guidance will mean. It will mean that a jobseeker cannot be compelled to apply for an employee shareholder job, nor can their jobseeker’s allowance be reduced or cut if they turn down an offer of an employee shareholder job or refuse to apply for an employee shareholder job. This explicit change to the guidance puts beyond any doubt our intention that no one should be forced into this new status.
While the benefits of the new status are considerable, it will not suit all companies or individuals—and we have never pretended that it would. It is up to companies and individuals to decide, and we have published guidance for individuals so that they fully understand the implications. That guidance sets out the employment rights associated with these jobs, the risks and rewards of being a shareholder, and other factors they may wish to consider before deciding whether to accept an employee shareholder position.
We are now, therefore, debating an employment status that is absolutely voluntary. Jobseeker’s allowance claimants will not be penalised if they do not want to apply for employee shareholder roles. Existing employees can turn down the offer of an employee shareholder contract from their current employer without fear of suffering a detriment or being dismissed if they say no.
Will the Minister confirm that there has been great excitement in many areas of the business community, especially in smaller tech companies, which is a positive reinforcement of the Government’s enterprise policies? We should pay tribute to the Minister for bringing this exciting proposal forward.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We have never specified the type of company that is most likely to take up this new status, but obviously younger companies at the beginning of their lives will be able to use this status at a time when they might not be able to pay their staff more than competitor companies, or those already established in the marketplace. They will therefore have an extra edge to offer to those individuals whom they wish to recruit. We have had much interest already from such companies, who see the new status as an exciting way to motivate their new work forces.
Protections for people do not end there. The Bill confirms that someone can be an employee shareholder only if they are given at least £2,000 worth of shares, and if they are not the person will not be an employee shareholder and will have all the normal employment rights that are associated with employees.
Clause 27 also stipulates that a person can be an employee shareholder only if they receive fully paid up shares. This means that the employee shareholder will not be liable for any debts should the company fold. Of course there will be circumstances where an employee shareholder leaves the business. It should be apparent from all that I have said that it is not the Government’s intention that employee shareholders are left with shares that they can sell back to the company only at prices that are unfair or where the buy-back arrangement would leave the employee shareholder at a financial disadvantage if there is no other way of disposing of the shares for value.
On Report in this House, we introduced an amendment to make a power to allow the Government to set a minimum value for the buy-back of shares if the company and employee shareholder enter into a buy-back agreement. That reserve power will be used, if it is needed, to safeguard employee shareholders in the unlikely event that employers behave unscrupulously. By including these protections we are ensuring that individuals understand the implications of employee status and are genuinely free to decide whether to accept it. No one can be pressurised, bullied or coerced into accepting this new status.
With this announcement of further explicit protection for jobseeker’s allowance claimants, I urge hon. Members to disagree with the other place and reinsert clause 27 into the Bill. The new employment status gives young companies in particular a new option that they can use to attract high-calibre individuals to help grow their business. It is important that we give companies that choice, but it is also important that we give people this opportunity to share in the growth potential of the company they work for. The clause should be part of the Bill.
The Opposition agree with Lords amendment 25, which seeks to remove the part of the Bill that provides for the new status to which the Minister referred.
Let me start by making an observation. We are debating the Bill the day before many in the country will pause to observe the funeral of the late Baroness Thatcher. Coincidentally, in supporting the Lords amendment to dump the Government’s proposal, we find ourselves in the extraordinary position of being on the same side of the fence as at least four of her former Ministers: Lord Lawson, Lord Forsyth, Lord Deben and Lord King. The reason for this unusual state of affairs is simple. Notwithstanding the admittedly notable concession that the Minister has just given, this is an ill-thought-out and bad idea, and that is why there is strong cross-party opposition. Lord Forsyth put it well in the Lords when he said that the proposal
“has all the trappings of something that was thought up by someone in the bath”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 March 2013; Vol. 744, c. 614.]
I have to say that I agree with Lord Forsyth on another matter, too. I cannot understand why my opposite number, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), who I note is not here today, is going along with this. The Business Secretary engaged in some considerable media in respect of the Beecroft proposals, and said how outrageous they would be. I am, of course, aware that the Minister perhaps has a different view. As Lord Forsyth said, at least Beecroft did not take away entitlement to redundancy payments. This is worse than Beecroft because it does.
There are a number of reasons why we support the Lords amendment. They were all mentioned in the other place and we wholeheartedly agree with them. First, this is supposed to be a “growth” Bill. No evidence whatever appears to have been adduced by the Government to show how this measure would boost growth. The attitude of businesses, at its most generous, is divided; at its worst, it is overwhelmingly opposed to the measure. In the latest published survey of 700 companies by Barclays Corporate, which was published this week, the proposal appears to find favour with just 25% of respondents. In the Government’s own consultation, only five businesses out of the 200 responses received showed any interest in taking up the scheme.
Secondly, why connect employee ownership, for which there is widespread support in all parts of the House, with giving up rights to not be unfairly dismissed, redundancy pay, flexible working and time off for training? No coherent answer has been provided by the Government during the Bill’s passage through this House or the House of Lords. In fact, as the Conservative Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said, their proposal simply risks giving employee ownership a bad name. After all, if businesses with employee shareholders are looking to carry out a redundancy programme, who are they likely to let go first?
The hon. Gentleman gives me a choice of things to argue about, but I will pick up on just one—the survey. He refers to 25% of companies supporting the measure. He is overlooking the fact that it is designed to attract small and medium-sized enterprises—niche companies. It will never enjoy full use by 100% of companies. We should focus on the small businesses that will take advantage of it and become tomorrow’s medium and large enterprises.
With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, my understanding is that the survey was conducted among the very businesses to which he refers. As far as I am aware, the Government have not claimed that it is specifically for small businesses. I am happy to be disabused if I have got that wrong.
Thirdly, the proposal could do immense damage to workplace relations and to the standing of business more generally. I say that from a common sense point of view and as an employment lawyer. What on earth are employees to think if suddenly, out of nowhere, their employer says, “Will you give up all your fundamental rights in this workplace if I give you some shares?” What signal will that send to the employee? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) says from a sedentary position that it is voluntary, but what does that say about one’s relationship with an employer if they are talking about taking away fundamental rights at work? As Justin King, CEO of Sainsbury’s and until recently a member of the Prime Minister’s business advisory group, said, what will the population at large think of businesses that want to trade employment rights for money?
Fourthly, and this applies more generally to the Government’s moves to destroy the unfair dismissal regime, removing people’s rights to claim unfair dismissal, or a redundancy payment for which compensation is capped will simply increase the likelihood of employers facing spurious discrimination claims brought against them, for which compensation is unlimited. That was a point made by Baroness Brinton in the other place.
If an employee is to be offered this special type of employment status, it is important that they should be able to access proper advice on it, particularly in this climate when jobs are few and far between. That point was made by the noble and learned Lord Pannick, who proposed the amendment. The Government have refused to accept that statutory rights should be lost only if the agreement is in writing and the person concerned has received proper independent legal advice on its consequences. That is how it applies in relation to compromise agreements.
Then there is the issue of the shares themselves and tax. How on earth are these to be valued, particularly given—if the hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) is right that the measure is aimed at small companies—that many are unquoted. How will the value of shares be determined without incurring exorbitant fees that would render the whole exercise worthless? According to the Treasury, it will cost the Exchequer £l billion by the end of the forecast period, but the true cost may well be more because, as the Treasury’s December 2012 policy costing document says, it is hard to predict how quickly the increased scope for tax planning will be exploited. That point was picked up by Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, who said that
“just as government ministers are falling over themselves to condemn”
“that same government is trumpeting a new tax policy that looks like it will foster a whole new avoidance industry.”
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue of tax avoidance. Is there not also an implication for lower paid workers? The Minister has just told us that only the first £2,000 of shares will be exempt from PAYE and national insurance. Does that not mean that workers with, say, £4,000-worth of shares will be hit with a tax bill?
That is absolutely right.
My final and principal objection to the proposal is this: last November, I put it to the Business Secretary in this House that an employer in his Twickenham constituency would, under these arrangements, be able to make acceptance of job offers conditional on people agreeing to accept employee owner status. He denied that that was the case, yet patently the arrangements allow for it. The risk in the current jobs market of people being pressurised, or feeling under pressure, to take jobs with this type of status will be increased.
I am pleased about the Minister’s concession today. I raised the point with him on Report, but did not get the kind of assurance or concession that he just gave, and it is good that he gave it. Lord Forsyth said he was astonished that the coalition was even thinking of bringing forward a measure under which people could have their right to jobseeker’s allowance withdrawn if they did not accept a job on this basis. Of course, we will need to study the guidance. We have not seen it yet, and the first we heard of the concession was from the Minister just now. Notwithstanding the concession, however, and for all the reasons I have just given, we continue to support Lords amendment 25.
I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight a couple of points in favour of the Government’s measures. Judging from the comments of the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), obviously the Opposition see this fundamentally as an attack on rights, whereas I see it as a chance to empower individuals and workers to become owners and shareholders and to move from employment to entrepreneurialism, which should be encouraged, not fraught with fear.
I will come to that. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a history in corporate mergers and acquisitions. When I started my business some time ago, engaging with individuals and offering them a stake in my business was fundamental. It was all about the people I worked with, so I gave away shares to individuals to whom I wanted to give them in order to make them part of the company. I did not have the advantage of what is being offered today, but neither did I have the disadvantage of the market we are in today. Back then, we had not seen the massive increase in employment regulation that came in from Europe under the previous Government.
My hon. Friend, like me, has experience of running small businesses. On the connection between rights and responsibilities in a small company, does he agree that it is fundamentally in start-ups and micro and small businesses, where regulations and red tape hold back progress, that we need to help employees to understand the link between the two? Furthermore, does he agree that that is why the measure has been welcomed by entrepreneurs and senior business people, such as Brent Hoberman, the co-founder of Lastminute.com, and Stuart Rose from M&S? Brent Hoberman said that this imaginative new proposal would be welcomed by British entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial employees alike and that it will encourage workers to be company owners and give fast-growing businesses more flexibility in return.
I agree. The point I am trying to make, in as balanced and fair a way as I can under the circumstances, is that, like many people, when I started a business I did not worry about employment rights and legislation. I tackled it with enthusiasm; I went for it. When I did that, however, in the late ’80s, I did not have to think about the issues that are now facing many people and which are now at the forefront of their minds. That is why I welcome the proposal.
I want to stick to my main premise, in response to the comments from the hon. Member for Streatham. I do not believe that anyone will lightly give up shares in a business. It is not something that employers do. They give shares up only in return for value, and they get that value from people or by selling them. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that employers will look for value from what they give up. As he will know with his background, however, we also have to bear it in mind that by transferring shares, employers also transfer rights—in contrast to what he said about employment rights—under the Companies Act 2006, which was introduced by the last Government, which enhanced the rights of minority shareholders, such as on matters of prejudice. Employees can even form quasi-partnerships through small minority shareholding. Employers do not lightly give up shares, and when they do, they actually give rights to individuals.
I do not disagree with many of the hon. Gentleman’s points, but I still fail to understand—he will have to forgive me—why, despite what he says, we need to link giving up shares and allowing employees to participate in the way he describes with taking away their fundamental rights at work.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand, as I am sure he does, that the best chance of success for a micro niche business—the people who will benefit from this measure and become tomorrow’s medium businesses—is to be in the most flexible market possible. The supply side has to be flexible, so that employers can afford to take the risk.
These very modest removals being offered to individuals—they will not be compelled to take them—will be attractive to entrepreneurial, non-risk-averse employees as well as to small, flexible business leaders wanting to start a business.
The hon. Gentleman makes the point—it is a legitimate point, but I happen to disagree with it—that these regulations are over-burdensome. One person’s regulation is another person’s basic employment protection. The critical issue, however, is surely the link. His argument might well be worth hearing in this place, but why link the two? That is the critical issue that my constituents do not understand.
The biggest step someone takes when they start a small business is employing someone. They cease to be a sole trader working in their own environment; their own boss without responsibility for anyone else and having to meet only their own needs and those of their family. They do not want to take that step chained by too many onerous responsibilities too early on. They seek therefore to strike a deal with their investor or partner, and in return for that flexibility they do not ask for a single penny in cash to invest in the business. That is a good deal. I would have taken it, had it been on offer to me and had I faced these regulations.
I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Streatham, who speaks very eloquently, expresses his support for employee and share ownership, but neither am I surprised that while expressing their support the Opposition will probably vote against it.
I want to leave the House with one thought. We all want Britain to succeed. We know, from the statistics that we have traded across the Floor many times, that growth will come from the small and medium-sized enterprises that dominate our economy. The small businesses that I believe will take up this offer—I believe the Government also recognise this—will become the medium enterprises that are so critical to our growth.
One of the most significant features of the current recession has been the flexibility in the labour market. In contrast to the ’80s, when there were widespread redundancies, as people were just laid off, we have seen remarkable flexibility and partnership between management and employees, with reduced working hours and pay. It has been a great tribute to employees and management. That flexibility has been proven to work. Would not the temptation be, under these proposals, simply to get rid of those staff?
No responsible employer would ever relish the prospect of losing the experience that he has invested in to help to develop his business. I have had the pleasure of offering people jobs and of recognising that in some cases, if they have come from unemployment, it can be a life-changing experience for them. However, I have also shared the pain of having to lose people, often through no fault of their own, and I will take no lectures from anyone about how employers relish losing people. It does not happen.
I want to make four simple, brief points. The first is about share ownership. I tabled amendments when the Bill was debated in this House to try to extend share ownership without connecting that with the loss of rights. It is noticeable that the Government opposed those amendments. As people look to reconstruct the economy and learn the lessons from what has happened in this economic crisis, there is a genuine willingness to look at greater involvement by the work force in the management of companies. Part of that is about extending share ownership to workers. That is a development that we have welcomed in both Houses. The problem is that linking the two things in this way will not act as an incentive for companies to recruit the best; in fact, it will act as a deterrent. If someone faces the choice of going to a company that offers them share ownership without the loss of rights, they will go to that company. If they have the opportunity of going to a company where they will have to sell some of their rights, that will obviously act as a deterrent.
I agree with my hon. Friend’s point about workers in that situation, but we should also challenge the account that is being given about how attractive this measure will be to small businesses. I have run a small business. The idea that I would have to work out the tax and other implications of this measure with my work force when I had far more important things to do—building a good, strong work force and running a business—does not stack up to me.
On that point, the assumption has been made that all employees will opt for this status, but in many cases some workers will, while others will refuse, leading to two types of worker in the same business and even more complexity for the very small businesses that we are trying to support.
That leads on to my second point—I do not want to delay the House. This measure opens up the process of recruitment, retention and promotion to potential victimisation and abuse. Despite the formal protections that the Government assure us will be put in place, the reality is that informal pressures will be put on those who wish to be recruited, retained or promoted and these will override the formal protections. Those who have represented people at tribunals and elsewhere will know that it is extremely difficult to prove victimisation and bullying in the work force. Those informal pressures will eventually undermine the credibility of the scheme. My fear is that they will also undermine the credibility of employee share ownership schemes overall.
Thirdly, I look forward to reading the draft regulations and guidance on protections for jobseeker’s allowance. However, ministerial statements on JSA protections in recent months, as recorded in Hansard, have proved not to be worth the paper they are written on. I refer to assurance after assurance we were given that there were no targets for sanctions in individual jobcentres, when we now have concrete evidence that that is the case. Ministerial assurances on the operation of JSA have so far not proved to be effective. I believe that, at the end of the day, they will prove not to be effective in this case either, because the same informal pressures will be put on jobcentre workers to meet targets for sanctions overall.
Finally, this measure sets an extremely dangerous precedent. The idea of selling rights could creep into other areas of policy making. For example, will landlords in future be able to offer reduced rents for reductions in security of tenure? Will consumer rights be sold for a reduction in the price of particular goods? That is much more significant than the scheme being proposed in this debate. The idea that rights can be sold in any sphere of government activity sets a dangerous precedent for the future development of rights in this country.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that businesses throughout Britain have been laden down with regulation, particularly in employment, and that we have to try constantly to make it easier for them to take people on, particularly at the moment, when we need to do that to create jobs?
With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I disagree. We have heard this argument about the overburdening of regulation year after year, and it is usually used as a justification to give employers the facility to sack people, cut their wages or undermine their employment rights.
Did not the last intervention let the cat out of the bag? This is essentially about deregulating the labour market via the back door.
It is, but I was trying to be a bit more subtle about the process of allegation—I appreciate that it does not really suit my style of speaking.
The point I am trying to make is that, in addition to the process of selling rights, the scheme will not just be unworkable—because its implementation will increase burdensome regulation even more, as my hon. Friends have said—but will act as a deterrent against positive moves towards the development of share ownership and worker engagement in companies. On that basis, I think that, apart from being iniquitous, this measure will be counter-productive. That is why I wholeheartedly agree with the points my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State made in support of the Lords amendment.
I want to speak briefly in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) and talk about the narrative that is developing among Opposition Members. We heard the same bleating for settlement agreements and we have heard the same rhetoric for these proposals. We have heard no tangible idea from the Opposition of how we might make life easier for the thousands of small businesses in North Yorkshire that are creating the bulk of the jobs in my constituency or for the tiny companies across the UK that are struggling with the six regulations a day that Labour piled upon them.
The proposals that we are discussing are part of a suite of proactive measures to make business easier in this country. Business was laden with regulation, taxation and more and more bureaucracy by the Labour party in power. We—our party and this Government—are doing absolutely the right thing by looking at every opportunity to find ways to make life a bit easier for the hard-working men and women who are waking up in the middle of the night, worried about whether they can pay staff the next day. I commend these proposals and the others that the Government are making across the range of their enterprise policies.
I, too, would like to say a few words about this proposal of shares for rights. Of the various types of employment legislation that have come before this House over the years—these provisions are basically employment legislation—there can scarcely have been any with as few friends, on either side of industry. I welcome the fact that the House of Lords did its revising job well and removed the offending clause. I am only sorry that the coalition parties, Conservative and Lib Dem, have chosen to bring it back today, instead of withdrawing quietly and gracefully.
Given that this provision has so few friends, I suspect that very few employers will want to make use of it. That is because employers who want to extend employee share ownership, of which I am a great supporter—the year after I entered this House I introduced a private Member’s Bill to promote it—will not want to do so in ways that force their employees to give up important rights at work. The type of employer who wants to work with their employees is not likely to be one who at the same time wants to alienate them by taking away their rights, which is what this measure would force such employers to do if they made use of it. Of course, it is hard to see any employees volunteering to adopt such an arrangement either. I suspect that employers who would make use of the measure would be those who are in difficulty.
I take the point that was made earlier about businesses that want to start up and take on more workers making use of the scheme, but the problem is that, although a new business could behave with the best will in the world in involving its workers in a collective enterprise, it will be when things go wrong and people fall out that those workers will need the protection that is enjoyed by the workers of this country. That is why we should be loth to throw that protection away.
One objection has involved the suggestion that tax dodges and loopholes could be taken advantage of as a result of the measure being introduced. The Government say that they will ensure that that does not happen, but we all know that tax lawyers will find new ways round legislation and that Governments will have to try to catch up with them, no matter what measures are introduced to prevent that from happening. I suspect that, in a couple of years’ time, measures to deal with new loopholes and tax dodges will have to be quietly introduced in a Finance Bill, in the hope that no one notices the embarrassing results of the changes.
There is a possibility that the scheme will lead to a growth in the number of workers with fewer rights, and to the deregulation of the labour market to which the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) referred. If that were to happen, it would be insidious to see a spread of businesses or employers giving up some of the most important rights to be won by workers and their trade unions over many decades. Incidentally, a different Liberal party was proud to speak up for those rights in the past, but in its current guise it seems happy to see them taken away.
It is also foreseeable that businesses making use of the scheme might eventually have to implement redundancies and lay-offs in which people lost their jobs. It is precisely at such times that the potential for legal challenges would arise. I do not have time today to go into all the possibilities, but it does not require much imagination to understand the prospect of all sorts of legal challenges—
With the leave of the House, I should like briefly to respond. I am afraid that we have had a fairly predictable debate today. We have heard the voices of the employment lawyers on the Opposition Benches, and the voices of entrepreneurs on this side of the House. I have made it absolutely clear that the proposed status will be entirely voluntary and optional, and I have introduced a further change today to make it absolutely clear that those who are on jobseeker’s allowance will be fully protected. Nobody has to take up this status. Nobody can be harassed or bullied into taking it up, but there are plenty of businesses that are ready and willing to do so.
I should like to finish by citing Miss Becky McKinlay, who said that she would have welcomed such a scheme when she set up her company six years ago, because she could not afford to outbid her peers on wages. Her company is called Ambition, and we should be ambitious—
Forty-five minutes having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of the Lords amendment, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 25.
After Clause 4
Development orders: development within the curtilage of a dwelling house
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 7.
I agree with amendments 1 to 6, 8 to 24 and 26 to 40, but I ask the House to support the motion to disagree with Lords amendment 7.
I would like to thank the noble Lords for their well-informed debates since this Bill passed to the other place just before Christmas. Those debates brought about a number of positive changes, and we are happy to support a significant number of them. I recognise the constructive proposals put forward in particular by Baronesses Byford and Parminter and by Lords Jenkin of Roding, Tope, Shipley and Greaves on the Government Benches; by Lord Best and the Earl of Lytton from the Cross Benches; and, indeed, by Lord Berkeley on the Opposition Benches.
The amendments to clause 1 take into account the very poor performance of a small number of authorities in failing to meet statutory deadlines. They confirm that designation can be made only on the basis of inadequate performance in the determination of major applications and that the criteria of those designations must be laid before both Houses of Parliament before coming into force.
On report in this House, in response to arguments put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) as well as by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford), the Government made a commitment to amendment 12 to exempt rural exception sites from the provisions of clause 6 on affordable housing. In addition, we have always said that we intend clause 6 to be a temporary measure to unblock existing stalled housing developments, and we were happy to introduce an amendment to ensure that the sun would set on it on 30 April 2016.
We have made clear that the Planning Inspectorate’s assessment of the viability of a particular scheme will be independent, and that any evidence on which inspectors rely in their discussions will be made public. We also support the amendments that will guarantee consistency with existing mayoral planning powers relating to applications that are of strategic importance in London.
I thank the Secretary of State for announcing an important measure that will deal with the mischief of many years during which people were unable to know what arguments developers were advancing for the delivery of less than the locally affordable housing limits. It will allow us to hold to account, publicly, developers as well as local authorities.
I agree. It will ensure that important information is provided where it should be provided, within the community.
Lords amendment 15, which amends clause 8, constitutes a direct response to points made with passion and persistence by Lady Parminter, and also by the English National Park Authorities Association, about the precise drafting of our proposal to accelerate the roll-out of superfast broadband coverage. The amendment will ensure that we retain important safeguards that will continue to protect our national parks and other protected areas.
I hope that the House will support Lords amendment 8, which will simplify the process of making local development orders; Lords amendment 16, which will reduce the period of grace for the registration of town and village greens from two years to one; Lords amendment 23, which will remove ambiguity from development consent orders; and Lords amendment 24, which will enable the Mayor of London to delegate his planning responsibilities.
Let me now deal with the important issue of permitted development rights for home owners. The proposal in question was not part of the Bill as introduced in the House of Commons. I overheard one of my right hon. Friends expressing a desire to vote against it and claiming to have voted against it persistently during all the Bill’s stages in the Commons, but I must point out that this is the first occasion on which it has been before us. It stems from an amendment tabled by Lords True, Tope and Lytton, and I know that it has engaged the interest of many Members of the House of Commons as well. I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the way in which the planning system strikes a balance between the rights of home owners to improve their homes and the right of the state to specify the improvements that they are allowed to make.
Let me now quote, with considerable approval, from a document which states:
“No one today would assert that property rights should be unrestricted but…those restrictions must always be justified and remain as limited as possible… many planners who have grown up with the view that the property owner is only one stakeholder among others. There are too many who act as if they believe that most people cannot be trusted to make decisions themselves without the superior advice and judgement of professionals. Some councillors, too long on planning committees, react to a restatement of the inherent rights of property by fearing loss of control! It is that word which is the key.
Too much planning has become development control… the time and trouble that has been spent on dealing with planning applications for extensions and additions, porches and garages…cannot be seriously said to have been cost-effective.”
Those are the magnificent words of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), together with those of John Gummer, in the wonderful Quality of Life policy group report, published in 2007.
I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees that the local government family is like the curate’s egg: good in parts, but bad as well. Does he agree, however, that the issues that he has raised would have been ventilated much more effectively had the consultation period been longer—along with the Cabinet Office guidelines—and had the Department itself arrived at a settled consensus in response after 16 weeks? Unfortunately, that has not happened.