House of Commons
Thursday 11 July 2013
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Energy and Climate Change
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. What recent assessment he has made of levels of investment in energy infrastructure. 
Average annual investment in energy infrastructure from 2010 to 2012 has been £8.5 billion, more than double the average for 1997 to 2010. Our electricity market reform and other measures are designed to continue this investment surge and sustain it.
Delivering energy security provides a real opportunity for jobs in the renewable sector for the Humber. What are the Government doing to provide security and encouragement to investors beyond 2017 to develop renewable energy in the UK?
The hon. Gentleman will know that we are taking a whole range of measures. Obviously, the Energy Bill itself gives a very strong legal framework and the levy control framework up to 2020 gives visibility on the overall support for the system. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will also welcome the announcements we made on 27 June, ahead of schedule, with respect to the strike prices for renewables.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision to seek extra investment in the nuclear industry by selling the Government’s share in Urenco, which has many factories in my constituency. Has he entered into any negotiations on the treaty of Almelo to allow non-treaty countries to purchase shares in the company?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments. He will know that the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), wearing both his DECC hat and his Department for Business, Innovation and Skills hat, is very much at the centre of those discussions. We are talking to both the Dutch and the German Governments, who are key to this sale.
The Secretary of State will know that one of the problems associated with infrastructure is the transmission charge in getting the energy to market. Project TransmiT came up with a reform package, but its implementation appears to have been delayed. I understand that it was supposed to be in place by next April. Is the Secretary of State able to tell us when it is likely to come into being and what he can do to push that forward?
The hon. Gentleman will know that Project TransmiT is run by Ofgem, as the independent regulator. Clearly, it would be improper for us to put pressure on the independent regulator. He will also know that we have worked very closely with the Scottish Government on issues such as those relating to the Scottish islands, where there is particular concern about transmission charges. I am sure the hon. Gentleman supports the Government’s announcement last week that we will publish a consultation on strike prices for renewables on the Scottish islands.
Is the Secretary of State aware that this country has a problem with not having enough transmission and distribution electricity engineers and that that is holding up new generation projects from being connected to the grid? What can he do to try to resolve the problem?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is important that the frameworks and policies that we put in place are stable and long-term in order to encourage people to invest in skills. He will be aware that Ofgem’s long-term settlement with the National Grid Company for the networks has been widely welcomed and will give incentives for investment.
Shale Gas (Lancashire)
2. What steps he is taking to encourage shale gas exploration in Lancashire. 
The Government are creating the right framework to accelerate shale gas development in a responsible way, ensuring regulation is robust as well as streamlined and that communities share in the benefits which are created. Cuadrilla announced its updated exploration programme in Lancashire last week.
The British Geological Survey study of shale gas resources in Lancashire has doubled previous estimates of reserves and extended the potential drilling area right across to the east of the county. Although shale gas exploration and extraction has huge potential benefits to the UK economy, the people who live above need to see a real community benefit. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on his plans to ensure that that happens?
We are accelerating the search for shale, streamlining and simplifying the technical guidance for exploration permits, publishing clearer planning rules and consulting next week on fiscal incentives to encourage exploration and production. Later this year the developers charter will commit developers to earlier engagement with local communities and ensure that local areas that host shale benefit financially, directly and significantly.
3. What steps he is taking to meet future energy demand. 
7. What steps he is taking to meet future energy demand. 
9. What steps he is taking to meet future energy demand. 
The Government published their energy security strategy in November 2012, and on 27 June, along with Ofgem and National Grid, we announced decisions on the capacity market and the use of National Grid’s existing system-balancing powers to secure the electricity supply in both the short and longer terms.
Westinghouse Nuclear Fuel, based in my constituency, employs more than 1,200 people. Will the Secretary of State do all he can to ensure that those people benefit from the next generation of nuclear reactors built in the UK, and will he visit at the earliest opportunity?
As regards visiting the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and its installations, I shall consult my diary. At a meeting of the Nuclear Industry Council yesterday, we engaged on a range of issues, from skills to finance and future collaboration, and we have put in place the strongest ever supply-chain measures to ensure that the whole country, including people in his constituency, can benefit.
I commend the Government’s effort to strengthen our energy system and bring about a sustainable reduction in electricity demand, but does the Secretary of State agree that we must take action to ensure that sufficient generating capacity is available in the short term?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we take action on both the demand and the supply side. With Ofgem and National Grid’s proposals, which are out to consultation, we will see measures on the supply and demand side in the short term, and of course our proposal for a capacity market will do that in the medium term. I hope that he realises that we are looking at every single measure in a very structured way.
Given the projected energy gap, the time scales involved and the growth in the economy, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should encourage further construction of gas power stations, especially given the potential exploitation of shale gas in the near future?
My hon. Friend will know that we have done an awful lot to ensure clarity in the strategy to encourage private investment. As he will know, it is not for the Government to build gas power stations, but our gas generation strategy set out a long-term framework for gas investment last year, and with the announcement of the capacity market on 27 June, I think we have a process for encouraging that investment.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the Severn barrage will contribute 5% of Britain’s electricity needs? In deciding on the Government’s response to the Energy and Climate Change Committee’s report, will he support the project in principle and treat it exactly the same as other major power station projects, such as Hinkley, round 3 offshore wind and so on, allowing Hafren Power to raise the risk finance for the necessary work on habitats, environmental impact assessment planning, the strike price and other issues? Otherwise, he might as well kill off the project now.
Obviously, I shall not prejudge our response to the Select Committee, which, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, was not very positive about the Severn barrage scheme, not least because of the costs involved, but if he studies our announcements on draft strike prices for contracts for difference for renewables, he will see in there strike prices for tidal projects as well. It is absolutely clear that we will proceed only if we get value for money for the economy, the consumer and business.
Has the Secretary of State made any assessment of the value of extending the National Grid proposals for a short-term strategic reserve on mothballed plants coming back into operation over a much longer term than is currently envisaged? Does he consider that doing that for only two years, rather than adopting a longer-term proposition, represents poor value?
The hon. Gentleman always makes very informed contributions to our debates. He is proposing that we adopt the policy of strategic reserve, which is a long-term approach, using the powers that National Grid already has. We have looked at that and rejected it, because it is not the right approach to get best value for money and it would create perverse incentives for investment in the wholesale market. We believe that a combination of Ofgem and National Grid measures, using those existing powers, and the capacity market is the best way to meet the security supply requirements, not to impact negatively on the wholesale market and to get good value for the consumer.
Surely the best way to meet future energy demand is to reduce it, yet unfortunately the Government have focused on the supply side, not on energy efficiency measures. It will not be possible to meet future energy demand without real energy efficiency and reductions in demand.
I am genuinely surprised at the hon. Gentleman’s question, because he knows that the Government have done a huge amount on energy efficiency for both consumers and industry. When the Energy Bill was before the House, we tabled amendments on Report for electricity demand reduction to be part of the capacity market. We are operating on both the supply and demand sides. That is a new initiative which has not been seen before, because other Governments have not done it.
Next Wednesday I will hold a community energy event in my constituency, with the local council and local housing association among many others. Does my right hon. Friend agree that rather than carping about the green deal and perversely hoping for its failure, every member of the House has a duty to promote it and ensure that their constituents get all the help available?
My hon. Friend makes a good point and we must promote not just the green deal as part of the community energy strategy, but all aspects of community energy. Right hon. and hon. Members may be aware that we published a call for evidence last month for a future community energy strategy, looking at energy efficiency, energy generation and purchasing energy. I urge Members to talk to their constituencies and to contribute to the formation of Britain’s first ever community energy strategy.
Two weeks ago Ofgem published its latest estimates for future electricity demand and capacity, and warned of possible shortfalls in the middle of this decade. Commenting on its report, the Secretary of State said:
“Without timely action there would be risks to security of supply”.
Will the Secretary of State explain why Ofgem states that the likelihood of blackouts is roughly one in 12 years, while analysis by his Department suggests that the true figure is closer to one in 3,000 years. Why is there such a big discrepancy?
I do not recognise the figures that the right hon. Lady has just given to the House; my officials have been working closely with Ofgem and National Grid. I hope she will acknowledge that the Ofgem figures she cites are from before the measures we announced last week, following the announcement by Ofgem and National Grid on the immediate future, and our proposals for a capacity market. I would have thought she would welcome the fact that this Government have taken action where the last Government failed.
I am afraid that the figures are from Ofgem and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, so I suggest the Secretary of State has another look. Such wildly varying forecasts of possible blackouts do nothing to help us plan our energy security for the future, so let us consider what the Government are doing about it.
On the “Sunday Politics” show on 30 June, the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) claimed that six gas-fired power stations had opened under this Government, and tried to blame the problem on the previous Administration. In an answer given to me yesterday to a written parliamentary question, the Minister confirmed that construction of all those six new power stations began under Labour. In five years of this Government, just one new gas-fired power station in Carrington in Manchester will be built. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that is the case? Would not the country’s energy security be better served if the Government and regulator could produce a coherent and consistent estimate of the likelihood of blackouts?
I am delighted that the right hon. Lady wants to talk about Labour’s record on energy investment. This Government’s record has seen energy investment double, and we want our measures to go even further.
It all started under Labour.
The right hon. Lady says from a sedentary position that it all started under Labour, but I am afraid that the £29 billion of investment in renewables was announced by this Government. I can give the House some good news that the right hon. Lady might want to hear. For the first stage of electricity market reform, as the Energy Bill goes through the House of Lords, and after the deadline for applications for the final investment decision enabling project closed just a few days ago, we have received 57 applications. I am not sure whether they will all go through, but if they do, that would amount to more than 18 GW of power. That is our record on energy investment and we are putting right the appalling record of the previous Government.
Offshore Wind Power
4. What estimate he has made of the number of jobs created in the UK as a consequence of his policies on offshore wind power generation. 
The trade association RenewableUK last year estimated that the wind industry as a whole currently employs around 12,200 people in Britain. As we announced in May this year, since 2010 more than £29 billion of investment has been announced in renewable energy, with the potential to support around 30,000 jobs. Of that, nearly £18 billion and more than 9,000 jobs relate to offshore wind.
I welcome the Minister’s recent visit to the north banks of the Tyne where he saw the employment potential of that exciting new industry. The fabrication work that could be generated, were contracts placed domestically in the United Kingdom, would represent an exciting opportunity for former shipbuilding communities such as the one I represent, which has the skills and energy to do the work, if it could get the contracts. What more can the Minister do to ensure that at least some of that work comes to the United Kingdom?
I have provided at least two regional growth fund grants to yards on the Tyne, and I have visited two of them myself. Tyneside already contributes to future energy infrastructure development. It is becoming a leader in sub-sea technology. I want to ensure that it also benefits from the new generation of offshore wind that is now coming on stream.
This is my first opportunity to welcome the Minister to his portfolio—and a very welcome presence he is too—so may I tempt him with some highland hospitality? The Secretary of State will confirm that it can be very good. I invite the Minister to pay a visit to Kishorn Port Ltd in my constituency, which began with the concept of manufacturing offshore wind turbines and has submitted—and now had approved—a master plan with Highland council, the diaspora of which could see 2,500 jobs being created on that site. That would be a massive boost to the economy of the highlands, Scotland and the United Kingdom. Would he care to pay a visit, perhaps during the recess?
I will certainly see whether that is possible. I am already aware of—how can I put it—the power of Skye hospitality, and I would certainly like to see for myself exactly the potential for Skye to contribute to the offshore wind power that we need.
I, too, represent a former shipbuilding community. I believe that Inverclyde has the skills and the infrastructure to play a full part in offshore wind generation. In that context, I have a meeting next Tuesday with RenewableUK. I extend an invitation to the Minister or the Secretary of State to attend that meeting with me and help to promote Inverclyde in playing a full part in that wind power generation.
Our diaries are filling up. I want our shipyards to reap the full benefit of the work that is now becoming available in offshore wind. I saw for myself recently on a visit to Cammell Laird on Merseyside just how much of that yard’s work now contributes to the Gwynt y Môr field in the Irish sea, and I am sure that there are opportunities for the Clyde as well.
5. What steps he is taking to help households with their energy bills. 
6. What steps he is taking to help households with their energy bills. 
We have a range of initiatives to help households with their energy bills. From our proposals to get consumers on to the cheapest tariffs and the provision of nearly £1 million for the big energy saving network, to the green deal, and from the warm home discount to our promotion of collective switching, this Government are working to help households keep their energy bills down.
Those schemes are supposed to help people such as my constituent Miss Kaur, who lives in a badly insulated home. She is in fuel poverty, but her energy supplier will not help with insulation. It also seems that the energy suppliers in general are not using carbon emission reduction obligation money at all. There is a gap between what fuel-poor households such as hers can afford on green deal finance and what it will cost to do the work. Will the Secretary of State look at the detail of her situation and perhaps agree to meet her with me, so that he can tell her and me how those schemes will help to reduce her energy bills and improve the insulation of her home?
If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me, we can first look at the details before we consider whether any meeting is required, because we might be able to help his constituent more quickly. He will know that part of the energy company obligation is for affordable warmth for people in fuel poverty. I do not know whether that would apply in her case, but if he writes to me with all the details, we will look at them very thoroughly.
Thousands of pensioners in my constituency would be up to £200 a year better off if the Government adopted Labour’s plan to put all over-75s on the cheapest tariff. The Energy Bill will not become law until next year, when the Government say they will put everyone on the cheapest tariff, but why not act now to help 4 million pensioners with their energy bills this winter?
I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s argument. The proposals that we have put forward in the Energy Bill, working with Ofgem, apply to everybody, not just to a part of the population. We want to get benefits for everybody in our society. He says that he will have to wait for Royal Assent for the Energy Bill. He is not right about that: Ofgem is proceeding apace with its consultations for tariff reforms. The Energy Bill aims to support and strengthen that, in case there was any foot dragging by the energy companies, so actually we are acting very quickly—much more quickly than under the proposal he puts forward.
One of the ways we can help the millions of households struggling with an average dual-fuel bill of £1,400 a year—up £300 since 2010—is through energy efficiency. However, less than 1% of households that have had a green deal assessment have so far gone on to take out a green deal package. Will the Secretary of State explain to the House why?
The hon. Lady will know that an awful lot of people are using ECO—the energy company obligation. She did not mention that there are more than 82,000 insulations under the energy company obligation scheme, which shows that we are taking measures. On the green deal, she will also know that these are relatively early days. We have had more than 38,000 assessments. One would not have expected many plans to have been written by now. What she also fails to the tell the House is that some people are funding the green deal package through ECO or self-finance, and it is difficult to get exact figures on that. I would have thought that she would want to support the green deal, as it has the potential to transform energy efficiency.
It is because the previous Labour Government piloted a pay-as-you-save scheme that we want to see the green deal work. We are trying to hold the Government to account. We want to see 14 million homes insulated by 2020, and with the current trajectory that will not happen. I am very disappointed with the Secretary of State’s answer. The Government said that the green deal would be the largest retrofit programme the country has ever seen, but fewer homes are installing insulation since the green deal launched. Thousands of insulation workers throughout the country have lost their jobs, with some estimates putting the figure as high as one in four. This is a disaster for our economy. What is the Secretary of State doing about it?
I have to say that I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s points. If one looks at what has happened in the insulation industry, one will see that there was a boom at the end of last year as people worked hard to meet their carbon emissions reduction target obligations to avoid fines. That was the biggest boom we have seen, so the figure was likely to come down, and it would be good if the Opposition admitted that. We are taking huge measures that will transform things not just for a year, but over decades. The problem will take decades to sort out. We are putting the measures in place to do that.
Does my right hon. Friend—
Order. The hon. Gentleman came into the House 30 years ago. Question 8; we are grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
8. What assessment he has made of Ofgem’s electricity capacity assessment report 2013. 
The Government welcome Ofgem’s electricity capacity assessment as an authoritative investigation into security of supply over the next five winters. We will be working closely with Ofgem and National Grid to take decisive steps to ensure that security of supply is maintained in the short, medium and long term.
It is the excitement of your Speakership, Mr Speaker.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the quickest, cheapest and most environmentally friendly way to ensure that the lights stay on at a time when capacity margins are a bit tight is through demand-side measures? Will he explore how Smart technology could be used more effectively to extend time-of-use pricing, which would cut some of the peaks in demand and thereby reduce the need for some of the expensive new capacity that is being considered?
Of course demand-side measures have a role to play, but Ofgem will also be looking at better balancing the system as a whole, using some of the measures it has been using for more than 20 years. We will also be looking at whether some of the previously mothballed plant, or mothballed units at some plant, can be brought back into operation if needed.
The Minister is obviously well aware that even on a sunny and slightly blustery day in different parts of the country, significant amounts of capacity and generation still comes from coal. We have talked about carbon capture and storage a number of times in relation to the long term, but I want to press him on a point that his predecessor, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), made in, I think, his final appearance at the Dispatch Box before moving to the Cabinet Office. He undertook then, in response to a question I asked him, to prepare a short-term strategy for coal. Does that commitment stand, or did it disappear off to the Cabinet Office with the previous Minister?
Our focus on coal over the past three months has been almost wholly on ensuring the survival of the Thoresby and Kellingley collieries, which are two of the four remaining deep-mine collieries in this country. I am pleased to say that UK Coal Operations Ltd entered its restructuring earlier this week, meaning that some 2,000 jobs have now been saved. That has been the focus for my Department, for officials from a whole number of Government agencies and for the management of that company.
10. What steps he is taking to encourage shale gas exploration in the UK. 
13. What steps he is taking to encourage shale gas exploration in the UK. 
16. What steps he is taking to encourage shale gas exploration in the UK. 
Further to my earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), the Government have commissioned the British Geological Survey to carry out a study of possible shale gas resources in the Weald basin in the south-east of England. This will be published in the early part of next year. We are also carrying out a strategic environmental assessment with a view to launching a further onshore licensing round for oil and gas in 2014.
Given that 2 million fracking wells have been drilled in the United States without harm to life or property, will my right hon. Friend act vigorously to thwart the vexatious use of environmental laws by Friends of the Earth and others to keep shale gas in the ground? In particular, will he introduce early legislation to clarify UK red-line planning laws and to restrict them to surface installations? Will he also tell us what he plans to do to prevent the mining waste directive and the groundwater directives from being used expansively to delay and prevent the exploitation of shale gas in this country?
The Environment Agency has already announced its actions to streamline and simplify the system of permits required, which will be in the interest of everyone, including developers and local communities. My colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government will next week announce a simplified system of planning guidance so that the industry can be clear about the necessary planning permissions. As I have said, the Treasury will also announce next week the fiscal incentives that are necessary if we are to see this industry develop on anything like the scale that we have seen on the other side of the Atlantic.
Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), what action can the Government take to help to bust the myths about shale gas and hydraulic fracturing, so that local authorities—which are often a stumbling block—will be more inclined to grant planning applications? In that way, the Treasury, communities and energy users will be able to benefit from this vital national resource.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the debate over shale and fracking is conducted on the basis of evidence rather than myths. I want to ensure that the developers of potential shale resources and those who want to dig exploration wells engage early with local communities. I also want to ensure that those communities that want to host shale are fully aware of the procedures involved and of the significant financial benefits that could accrue.
Given the likely significant increase in Government revenue from shale gas exploration in the north-west, would the Minister consider using a proportion of that revenue to transform the plutonium stockpile in Cumbria from a liability into an electricity-generating asset for the nation and, in the process, secure jobs for the north-west region?
We have a separate plutonium management strategy. I think that that will answer my hon. Friend’s inquiry on that matter. It is worth saying that local communities that are prepared to host shale will receive significant benefits, including some £100,000 for an exploration well and, potentially, between £5 million and £10 million over the lifetime of any production well. Those are significant amounts, and they would rightly recompense local communities for any of the disruption involved.
Bloomberg’s new energy analysis of shale gas states that
“the expectation that UK shale gas could lead to gas prices similar to those which have been seen in the US in the last two years can be discounted”.
Does the Minister accept and agree with that analysis?
We know from the British Geological Survey, which we published two weeks ago, of the central estimate of 1,300 trillion cubic feet in the Bowland-Hodder basin. What we do not yet know is whether that resource can be recovered as economically or, indeed, technically as it has been recovered in the United States. That is why we need to get on and explore to see whether that resource can be made available in the same way and have the same significant reductions in the cost of energy for our businesses and our households.
But do we not have to be careful about going into those old mining areas where the miners and the miners’ welfares were ethnically cleansed by previous Tory Governments? [Hon. Members: “What?”] Yes, that is exactly what I said. In Calow near Bolsover, Cuadrilla is actually thinking of drilling in an area not a mile away from where methane escaped and nearly killed several hundred people in the village of Arkwright. I warn the new Minister: be careful where these people operate. As for some great nirvana—some great future—from this fracking, it has not been proved at all that there is all that much in it for Britain.
Let me utterly reject what the hon. Gentleman said about ethnic cleansing, which I find particularly distasteful in a week when this Government have assisted UK Coal in the safeguarding of 2,000 jobs at Kellingley and Thorseby collieries. We do not yet know the full potential of shale in this country. What is important is that we allow those developers to go down, have a look and see the potential. That is why we are simplifying and streamlining the planning and the environmental system to enable them to do that.
EU Carbon Emissions
11. What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on reducing European carbon emissions. 
I have frequent such talks—bilaterally at European Councils and in other forums. Last year, for example, I invited other Ministers from member states that share the UK’s high ambitions to cut carbon emissions to join me in a new group called the green growth group. This has met three times, most recently in Luxembourg last month.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Last week, however, the European Parliament voted to hold back carbon credits from the EU emissions trading scheme. Does the Secretary of State agree that the 20 Conservative MEPs who voted against the proposals were voting not only against action to tackle carbon emissions and prevent climate change, but against the interests of British business?
The hon. Lady will know that the Government, across the coalition, supported the backloading proposal that the European Parliament voted through. Obviously, I regret the fact that MEPs from Britain or any other member states did not vote for those proposals. But let us be clear: the backloading proposals are a first step in the reform of Europe’s carbon market. We need to go further so that we can get the carbon market and the carbon incentives that we need to see clean energy coming through.
17. Will the Secretary of State clarify something for me? In the spending review of 2010, the Government committed £1 billion to carbon capture and storage projects. Given that this money has not yet been spent and that the Chancellor did not even mention it in his recent spending review, is carbon capture and storage a casualty of that review? 
No, it is not. The Chancellor did mention it in his spending review and in his Budget. That £1 billion remains there for carbon capture and storage.
12. What assessment he has made of the first quarterly green deal and energy company obligation statistics. 
It is early days, but the green deal is building on solid foundations and a robust small and medium-sized enterprise supply chain. Nearly 40,000 green deal assessments have been carried out and more than 70,000 homes have already been given green measures through the energy company obligation. Innovative private finance is now starting to flow. While only four green deal finance providers had entered the market by June, that number has now doubled to eight and is expected to reach around 50 by the end of the year.
I strongly support the Government’s efforts to mainstream energy efficiency via the green deal, among other measures. However, it is widely felt that the scheme needs a serious boost if the Government’s ambitions are to be realised. To that end, will the Minister do all he can and use all his influence with the Treasury to ask it at least to consider bringing in some form of stamp duty rebate, or something similar, for homes participating in the green deal in order to maximise the chances of its success?
I am very glad to say that the Treasury is right behind the green deal and that the Chancellor has given £200 million to help drive demand for it. We are actively considering how we are going to spend more of it, as there is still a significant amount that has not been committed. We will make further announcements in the autumn.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend on his successful campaign to ensure that service families can benefit from the green deal and the ECO. I assure him that we are working closely with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that service family accommodation will for the first time mean warm and comfortable homes.
In times of austerity, why on earth would people want to enter a green deal arrangement where the interest rate is three times higher than what they can get on the high street? Apparently, there are penalties for early repayment.
If ever there was an out-of-touch comment, that was it. How many of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents can get an interest rate on the high street of just 2% or 3%? That is just cloud cuckoo land nonsense. The vast majority of his constituents will be able to access green deal finance. I am glad to say that, with over 40,000 assessments, there is strong early demand. It is early days, but we are very encouraged by what we are seeing.
14. What steps he is taking to promote investor confidence in renewable energy. 
The coalition is committed to cleaner energy and cheaper bills. That means unlocking billions in new investment across the energy sector. Transparency, longevity and certainty for investors are key. That is exactly what our electricity market reforms will deliver.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response, but investor confidence is essential and investors need to make decisions now, otherwise the UK will miss the boat in the forthcoming development of renewables. Therefore, what discussions has he had with investors and what advice have they offered the Government on what is required to establish investor confidence?
It is fair to say that the DECC ministerial team has an unprecedented level of engagement with investors, not just from the UK but globally. Last week, I was with the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and Masdar from the United Arab Emirates at the inauguration of the London array, the world’s largest offshore wind farm. We have proactive engagement with global investors, who all say the same thing: “We back your electricity market reforms, crack on with them, let us get deploying and get past the 13 years of under-investment that we saw under Labour.”
15. What assessment he has made of the effect of large-scale solar arrays on rural environment and agricultural land; and if he will take steps to help communities resist inappropriate developments. 
Solar PV has a big, bright future in the UK, but not at any price and not in any place. Our priority continues to be to work with the industry to drive down costs, but it is also to ensure that deployment is focused on buildings and brownfield sites, not prime agricultural land or areas of outstanding natural beauty.
I am delighted that the Minister shares my concern and the concern of communities in Diptford, south Devon, and other areas about the inappropriate proliferation of very large-scale solar PV on greenfield sites. Could he go further and set out the practical steps that he is taking to ensure that these developments occur in the right places?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Well-sited solar can be great and often is, but inappropriate development risks alienating public support. That is why I am pleased to say that, in the next few weeks, as a result of close work with the Department for Communities and Local Government, we will issue revised planning guidance for renewables. That will mean that renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities. It will also make it clear that care should be taken to preserve heritage assets and beautiful countryside, and include the impact of planning proposals on views and landscape when it comes to things such as solar. That is in addition to our sustainability criteria, on which we are working closely with the industry.
18. What steps he is taking to help households with their energy bills. 
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin).
In the past few months, coal imports have risen sharply again. That creates questions about the future security of energy supplies. Does that not imply that there will be upward pressure on household bills over and above what is there already?
No, it does not, because of the actions of this Government. The fact that we have made the announcements we have on the capacity market will ensure that the supply is there. If we had not made those announcements, there was a danger that wholesale prices would go up and peak at times of low margins, hitting consumers. The fact that we have taken action shows that we are on the consumer’s side.
20. What the Government’s preferred options are for structural reform of the EU emissions trading system. 
The UK supports urgent reform of the EU ETS including through cancellation of an ambitious volume of surplus allowances. We are also examining other options to deliver our climate goals.
I thank the Minister for that response and I strongly welcome the role the UK played in securing a positive vote in favour of backloading in the European Parliament last week. May I urge Ministers to ensure that the UK continues to show strong leadership in strengthening the ETS and tackling the enormous over-supply of allowances?
I can assure my hon. Friend that that is exactly what we are doing, and we will continue to press for a higher level of ambition in Europe on a 2020 target as well.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, which claimed the lives of 167 people, so I am sure the whole House will want to join me in remembering them, mindful of the pain their loved ones must still feel and the scars, both physical and mental, borne by the survivors. The best remembrance is to learn and prevent a repeat of that disaster; and their legacy, and that of Lord Cullen’s inquiry into the disaster, is an oil and gas industry that now has an enviable health and safety record. But of course there remain real risks in operating offshore, so we should be thankful to those who continue to brave the hazards of the North sea and elsewhere to keep our homes warm and our transport moving, and as we meet our energy challenges, let us pay the best tribute to the Piper Alpha victims and their families by doing it safely.
I am sure the whole House will wish to associate itself with my right hon. Friend’s remarks.
While the Government’s announcement on the strike price is very welcome, there are, as my right hon. Friend knows, many parts of the country that want to take full advantage of the future green energy revolution. Certainly in Cornwall we are very keen to become the green peninsula within the UK. Would he be prepared to come to Cornwall and speak to all aspects of the green energy revolution happening there, because we want to take this energy forward?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Cornwall, who have been true champions for green energy and the impact that will have on jobs and the economy in Cornwall. He will know that I have already visited Cornwall, but I am very keen to visit again because it is such a powerhouse behind our low-carbon economy.
I call Caroline Flint—[Interruption.] Caroline Flint?
I beg your pardon, Mr Speaker. I was just caught there by the different opinions on the coalition Benches—whether to be pro-renewables in the south-west or not.
May I join the Secretary of State in remembering the 167 people who lost their lives on Piper Alpha 25 years ago? That stands to remind us continually of the vital importance of rigorous health and safety in our energy industry.
When I asked the Minister, the right hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), at the last Energy and Climate Change questions exactly how many customers on dead tariffs would be moved to a cheaper deal, he said:
“I cannot give the right hon. Lady the exact figure off the top of my head, so I will write to her on that.”—[Official Report, 6 June 2013; Vol. 563, c. 1646.]
Twenty minutes ago I received a letter from him telling me he did not know the answer, so let me tell the Secretary of State that companies like British Gas and SSE—
Order. May I just say to the shadow Secretary of State that we have a lot of questions to get through? What we need is a short sentence and then we can move on.
British Gas and SSE between them have more than 20 million customers, and they have told me that they do not have any customers on dead tariffs. Can the Secretary of State explain just how the Prime Minister’s plan to put everyone on the cheapest tariff is actually going to work?
The right hon. Lady will know that the proposal came from Ofgem, the independent regulator. I know she wants to abolish it—which would be a very silly move, if you do not mind my saying so, Mr Speaker—but if she wants to ask Ofgem, it will have the figures for her.
T2. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Stockport Hydro, a micro-power generation social enterprise, and will he explain how he is going to make it easier for similar projects to prosper in the future? 
I pay tribute to all the people who have worked on that community energy project. Micro-hydro plays a real role at community level. Last month we published the community energy call for evidence, which will cover issues that affect local community developers of micro-hydro. There have been problems, and my right hon. Friend has raised them with me, but I urge him and people who want to develop micro-hydro to respond to that call for evidence so that we can get it right in future.
T3. Last year the Chancellor boasted he was the first to fund a green investment bank, but that is not actually the case, because the Government are now borrowing £158 billion more than planned, and we will not have a proper green investment bank until 2016 at the earliest. How can the green investment bank be part of a growth strategy, and will the Minister provide an update on this? 
The hon. Lady could not be more wrong. The UK Green Investment Bank, which was introduced and created by this coalition—the Labour Government had 13 years to introduce it, but did nothing—has been going for only a matter of months but in that time it has invested £635 million and mobilised, in total, £2.3 billion. It has £3 billion of capital, which was added to in the last spending round, so billions of pounds for green investment are coming directly from this Government, using our genius for financial services. This Government are pioneering it.
T4. Wind energy subsidies were supposed to deliver a reduction in costs by creating economies of scale and driving technological innovation. After the recent strike price announcements, it is clear that wind turbines work only because they are being given the same level of subsidy as before—subsidy begets subsidy, not sustainability. Does the Minister seriously see a future for wind turbines without subsidy and, if so, when? 
My hon. Friend will be aware that the draft strike prices that we published a couple of weeks ago show declining support for offshore wind. We need to ensure that offshore wind is cost-effective and to balance that against the need to secure—I have been pressed on this earlier—a reasonable degree of UK content in the fabrication.
T7. Ministers have rightly made it clear that replacement boilers under the green deal and the ECO should be technologically neutral, yet the reality on the ground is that most of the big six energy companies will not include liquefied petroleum gas or oil boilers within the scheme, citing cost. Yet again, it seems that off-grid customers are being left out. Can Ministers do anything to put pressure on these companies to include such boilers within the schemes? 
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. Obviously, it is a commercial decision for each company that operates within the green deal which technologies they are going to stock and offer to their customers. If customers are not satisfied, they should shop around. The great thing about the green deal is that it involves a plethora of choice; there are more than 1,000—I believe there are 1,250 or more—green deal installers now, so customers should shop around. We want to drive choice.
T5. The Minister will know that all existing nuclear power stations report operationally to EDF Energy in Barnwood, Gloucester—the home of British nuclear engineering. After my right hon. Friend has agreed the strike price and other details for the next generation of nuclear power stations, will he accept an invitation from me to visit Barnwood and the impressive nuclear academy training ground for so many graduates and apprentices in this vital sector? 
I will consider that invitation, as I am sure my right hon. Friends will. My hon. Friend will know that I spoke recently in Gloucester at Horizon-Hitachi’s supply chain conference in respect of its proposed nuclear station at Oldbury. I confirm to him that negotiations with NNB GenCo on an investment contract at Hinkley remain ongoing and that agreement will be reached only if a deal is fair and affordable, represents value for money and is consistent with our policy of no public subsidy for new nuclear.
This morning, six Greenpeace activists are scaling the Shard in what has been dubbed the “ice climb”. Does the Minister think that drilling for oil in the Arctic is an essential part of meeting our future energy needs? Or does he think that, given the huge environmental concerns about drilling there, it is a price that is too high to pay?
The hon. Lady will know that the six nations that make up the Arctic Council and own the land have sovereignty there—the UK is not one of them. She will know that the Select Committee produced a report on this issue—I believe that was last year—and we responded to it. We want to be part of those discussions to ensure that if anything happens, it is done in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
T6. Will Ministers set out what contribution this Government’s energy and climate change policies will make to the increase in jobs in the UK as a whole and in Greater London in particular? 
My right hon. Friend will know that our policies are playing a big role in that. Three years ago, the Renewable Energy Association calculated that more than 18,000 people were employed in renewable energy in the Greater London area alone. That represented 19% of the share and was a bigger share than any other region had, and we expect that to grow. Across the UK we expect green jobs to be a very important part of the boost that our energy investment restructure will give. The House may wish to know that earlier today we granted planning consent to what will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm off the Lincolnshire-Norfolk coast, with £3.6 billion of investment and 1,130 new jobs created.
Can the Minister give some comfort to the green deal installers in my constituency by telling me how many installations he expects this year rather than how many assessments he expects?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that what is innovative and unique about the green deal is the fact that it is encouraging a huge plethora of new entrants into the market. It is not an old-style left-wing centralised monolithic programme run from London. It is unleashing competition, small and medium-sized enterprises, and diversity and plurality. We therefore want the most that we can possibly deliver.
T8. Setting up the green investment bank was one of the Conservative party manifesto pledges and I was pleased to hear in the reply to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) of the progress that is happening. What specific projects has the green investment bank been backing? 
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it was the Conservatives who set up the Wigley commission, which came up with the original scoping ideas for the green investment bank. In practice, it has been terrific. It has invested £30 million in the Wakefield waste project, £46 million in the Walney offshore wind farm and £57 million in Rhyl Flats. It is supporting the new industrial energy efficiency programmes and, of course, has put a significant slice of debt into the Green Deal Finance Company that will allow green deal finance to flow.
The Minister has made much of the 40,000 assessments that have taken place, but it is my understanding that only four people have signed up for the green deal. How many installations will there be in the year ahead?
The hon. Lady must understand that this is a 20-year programme, not some knee-jerk reaction. I know that the Labour party is heavily invested in failure and is made up of a series of doom-mongers who are never happier than when they are talking down the green economy. I have much greater faith in SMEs to deliver a transformational green economy than they do.
Does the Secretary of State agree with me that some people’s concerns about shale gas are based on fact but many are not? Will he ensure that his Department produces and maintains an up-to-date online database so that people can see what claims are evidently false and, where they are based on fact, what the Government are doing to address them?
That is an excellent and extremely positive suggestion that I will consider immediately.
The Department for Work and Pensions Minister responsible for health and safety will reply to this afternoon’s debate on the 25-year anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster. What is the Secretary of State’s Department doing to build on the safety regime that is currently in place to ensure that the men and women who daily risk their lives by working offshore, contributing a huge amount to the UK economy, have the safest working environment possible?
We are doing a number of things, working with the Health and Safety Executive and the industry. Only last week I held a meeting in my office with a range of people from the industry and with key players to see what progress has been made since that tragedy and what more we can do. It is clear that there is no room for complacency, although there has been a great deal of progress.
What steps is the Minister taking to promote the development of energy storage systems, notably liquid air, which would be a good solution to our energy problems in the future?
My hon. Friend will know that we have an innovation fund directed at encouraging new forms of storage of energy. It is bringing forward a lot of new ideas, including the one he mentioned. We see the capacity market having a role in electricity storage, too.
The Minister has talked around the question of how many green deal assessments have turned into measures being introduced in homes. How many is it, Minister? How many homes have signed up for green deal measures?
As we know from the official statistics published in June, only a handful have completed the process. That is because finance only became available in the couple of weeks before those statistics were published. As I said in my earlier answer, the number of finance providers has now doubled to eight and we expect about 50 by the year end. Opposition Members can continue to carp and we will remember that.
I thank the Minister of State for visiting the Burton Wold wind farm in Kettering on Monday. Did he gain a favourable impression of the level of community support for it?
I had a terrific visit to Kettering and I would like to praise my hon. Friend and his council colleagues for a project which is an exemplar of the way to involve communities in supporting onshore wind and a range of energy efficiency measures, which are seen as part of an holistic whole, bringing new housing, new services and proper infrastructure in a well-planned way that is supported by the community.
We know that many older people do not adequately heat their homes, which puts them at risk of illness and death. Will the Minister update the House on any progress made in discussions with suppliers about the installation of cold alarms, which would alert householders and carers when temperatures become dangerously low?
I cannot give the hon. Lady an up-to-date view on that, but it is a very important measure in which I know that she has taken a great personal interest, so if I may, I will write to her and give her a bang up-to-date report of where we are.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 15 July—Debate on a motion relating to justice and home affairs, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to Europol.
Tuesday 16 July—Second Reading of the Defence Reform Bill, followed by a motion to approve a money resolution relating to the European Union (Referendum) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments.
Wednesday 17 July—Opposition day (fifth allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a general debate on Trident alternatives review.
Thursday 18 July—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by the launch of a report from the Communities and Local Government Committee on the private rented sector, followed by the launch of a report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on “Revisiting Rebuilding the House: The Impact of the Wright Reforms”, followed by a general debate on the economic implications for the United Kingdom of an EU-US trade and investment agreement, followed by matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee. If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments. The House will not adjourn until the Speaker has signified Royal Assent.
The provisional business for the week commencing 2 September will include:
Monday 2 September—A debate on a motion relating to the future for postal services in rural areas, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the all-party parliamentary cycling group’s report “Get Britain Cycling”. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 18 July will be:
Thursday 18 July—General debate on UK shale gas development.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority’s proposals for MPs’ pay and pensions in the 2015 Parliament have just been published. Does the Leader of the House agree that any decisions that IPSA makes after the public consultation on this package of measures should reflect wider economic circumstances and what is happening in the public and private sectors?
Last week I asked the Leader of the House to protect the extra time to scrutinise the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill. In response the Leader of the House said he would
“take steps to ensure that the time that is available for that debate is protected”—[Official Report, 4 July 2013; Vol. 565, c. 1061.]
On Monday and Tuesday we had more than four hours of statements, wiping out all the extra time that the right hon. Gentleman had so generously granted. Will he now tell us why his assurances to this House appear to carry such weight in the Government? And will he tell me exactly what was the point of appearing to grant extra time in the first place?
The Conservative party has a blind spot when it comes to women. First, the Mayor of London said that women only go to university to find husbands. Then the Prime Minister completely forgot about British Wimbledon champions Ann Jones and Virginia Wade when complimenting Andy Murray on his fantastic achievement last Sunday. Finally we had the Foreign Secretary exercising his well-known diplomatic skills by using a phrase about my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) that I cannot repeat in the House. This Tory party is so modern that its members either ignore women completely or casually insult them. It looks like the unconscious bias training that the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) is meant to be organising for them really is not working.
Apparently the Deputy Prime Minister was seen out for dinner last week with Mick Jagger.
Out for lunch.
Indeed. I hear they were discussing Lib Dem theme songs for the next election. How about “You can’t always get what you want”, or “Under my thumb”? Personally, I think that “It’s all over now” might be much more appropriate.
We have all been enjoying the glorious weather. It was lovely to see Tory MPs skipping gleefully around this place last Friday. The barbecues were sizzling, the birds were singing, and the Tory party was banging on about Europe. But even before their prime ministerial burgers were properly digested, they were back to their old ways. After the Home Secretary’s U-turn on the European arrest warrant, another Euro mutiny is brewing. She has been promising the Chairs of the Home Affairs, Justice and European Scrutiny Committees time to scrutinise the Government’s opt-out plan for the last nine months. Why, then, did the Leader of the House come to the Dispatch Box on Monday with an emergency business statement to force a vote, bypassing any kind of Select Committee scrutiny at all?
Not only have the Government shown no respect to those Committees or the House, but they have done so for no reason. The EU treaties, the Commission and even the Government’s own legislation say that they do not need a vote before beginning negotiations, so why is the Leader of the House forcing a vote on Monday? Will he recognise his mistake and put off the vote until the Committees have had time to scrutinise the Government’s plans, as the Home Secretary promised?
While the Leader of the Opposition is taking bold steps to remake our politics, the Prime Minister is failing to answer questions about his dodgy donors. Is not the truth, as the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) told the BBC yesterday, that in the Conservative party money buys influence. Adrian Beecroft donated half a million pounds and was then allowed to write a report calling for the destruction of workers’ rights. JCB chairman Anthony Bamford donated £2.5 million and was then allowed to write a report on manufacturing. At the recent Tory fundraising ball, the Prime Minister had the temerity to tell his millionaire guests that their donations enabled him to give a tax cut to all their millionaire pals and hedge fund friends. I have calculated that 18 hedge fund bosses donated over £24 million before attending their cosy dinners at No. 10.
The Prime Minister was forced by the scandal to ask Lord Gold to investigate, but it has been more than a year and we have not heard a word. Will the Leader of the House tell us when he expects this important report to be published, and does he know why it has taken so long? A quarter of those on The Sunday Times rich list are donors to the Conservative party. They said that we were all in this together, but is not the truth that this is a Government run by the rich and for the rich?
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her questions—I think that there were one or two. As she rightly acknowledged, decisions about Members’ pay, pensions and expenses are not made by this House; they are now matters for IPSA, which is an independent body. IPSA has today published its recommendations on the future remuneration package for MPs from 2015. That is for consultation before any final decision is made in the autumn. I urge anyone who has a view on the proposals to use the opportunity to respond to IPSA. The Government, like the Opposition, have set out our views. We have made it clear that we expect IPSA to take the broader fiscal climate into account, in particular the context of the Government’s approach to public service pay and pensions. I expect that we will maintain that position in any further response to the consultation. I should add that my party’s view is that in tough times we should see the cost of politics going down, not up.
On the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, I was in the Chamber for much of the debate and am confident that in the course of the debate we were able to examine those issues. Indeed, I was pleased by the way in which we were able to respond substantively and positively to the further report from the Parliament Commission on Banking Standards only a short time after its publication.
I am afraid that I do not agree with the shadow Leader of the House at all about her characterisation of the Conservative party’s views in relation to women. As the party of the first woman Prime Minister in this country, we have understood—I have certainly understood since I was but a boy in political terms—the exemplary role that women can play in politics and in other aspects of life. [Interruption.]
Order. May I say to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) that he should not continue to chunter noisily from a sedentary position and to gesticulate as well? It is unseemly and it is not statesmanlike in the way that I aspire him to be. We have a lot of business to get through and we will make speedier progress if we have brief contributions and some order.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
As for tennis, I am of an age where I absolutely remember Ann Jones and Virginia Wade. I know that the Prime Minister merely spoke in a moment of excitement in recognising and congratulating Andy Murray. I do not think for a minute that my right hon. Friend would have forgotten them if he had thought about it for a further second.
I did not know that the Deputy Prime Minister had had a meal with Mick Jagger, but I am looking forward to the “Moves Like Jagger” moment that will no doubt result from it.
May I explain the vote that will occur next Monday to the shadow Leader of the House? It is very straightforward. The Government published their Command Paper. It is not essential—nothing legally requires it—for the Government to have a vote of the House before the opt-out, but back in October the Home Secretary made it clear that we would have such a vote. The vote on Monday is an opportunity for the House to support the opt-out. It is not a vote about the character of the opt-in. Since the negotiation the House is able, in addition, to vote on Monday to take note of the Command Paper. That is the basis on which having opted out in due course, as we are intending to do, the House and the Select Committees of the House will then have an opportunity to consider the opt-in. I am afraid that it is simply not true to say, as the shadow Leader of the House does, that the Select Committees will not have an opportunity to consider the character of the opt-in; they will be able to look at that at the same time as my right hon. Friends are conducting the negotiation with the Commission and with other member states.
May I say a word about Prime Minister’s questions? I listened very carefully, Mr Speaker, when you responded to a point of order from the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), and of course I absolutely agree with everything you said. In the context of what happened this week, I think that, as you rightly pointed out, the public expect high standards of us, but they also expect Prime Minister’s questions, in particular, to be pretty robust. When the public out there listen to the House, sometimes they hear something that is a bit different from just the noise level in the Chamber, and that is okay—that is fine.
However, this week, if I may say so in agreement with you, Mr Speaker, the noise was excessive and it will have had an adverse impact on the public because it will have made it impossible to hear in the normal way the character of the answers that were being given and, indeed, sometimes the character of the questions being asked. I knew exactly what was happening; I make no bones about it. In the context of the heat-seeking missile that was aimed at the Leader of the Opposition in the previous week about Unite’s relationship with the Labour party, Labour Members were throwing out noise and chaff. Of course, they knew they were doing it, we knew they were doing it, and it would be helpful if the public knew they were doing it. However, we will not stop making sure that that missile hits its target. The Labour party is bought by the trade unions. We do not permit donations to the Conservative party to have strings attached. We do not allow donors to buy policy, to buy influence or to buy candidates, and they cannot buy the leadership of this party, but the trade unions do all those things for the Labour party.
Several hon. Members
Order. As right hon. and hon. Members know, it is my normal, almost unfailing, practice to try to call everyone at business questions. I would point out, though, that today we have two Government statements after this, both of which are of course important and of which the House will wish to treat, and then two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, both of which, especially the first, are significantly subscribed. It therefore may not be possible for me to accommodate all colleagues today, though I shall strive to do so and will be greatly assisted in the process by brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike, first to be exemplified by Mr Peter Bone.
Will the Leader of the House adopt a policy on programming whereby he gives a protected number of hours to main debates? As you were saying, Mr Speaker, today we have the problem that Back-Bench business is being squeezed, but if we had agreed a motion providing that it could last for six hours from whenever it commenced, it would have solved the problem entirely. Such a thing has been done before, so does the Leader of the House agree that that would a good tactic to adopt?
Our practice on programming is to be flexible. It is sometimes in the interests of the House for time to be protected, but sometimes that would be an unnecessary constraint. As I made clear last week, in the run-up to the recess, there will inevitably be pressing reasons why the Government make additional announcements and statements, which will have an impact on business, but we will do everything we can to ensure that that does not frustrate us in conducting our business in good time.
May we have a debate or a statement from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport about the serious situation that has developed at Coventry football club? The Football League has said that the club can play in Northampton, which would involve people making a 70-mile round trip at great expense. The Football League should have allowed the dispute between the club and the owners of the Ricoh arena to be resolved before it took that disgraceful decision, so may we have a statement or a review of the regulations?
I know from previous questions, not least from my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), that the situation greatly concerns people in Coventry South and neighbouring constituencies. I will raise it once again with my colleagues at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but I suggest to the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) that the matter is precisely the sort of thing that he might wish to raise during next Thursday’s pre-recess debate, should he manage to catch Mr Speaker’s eye.
While I do not share the Leader of the House’s view that Mrs Thatcher was a honky-tonk woman, does he share my view, and sense of surprise, that Sir Bill McKay’s report and recommendations found their way into the public prints this week, apparently before there had been any meaningful discussion in the coalition or across the Floor of the House? This is about proposals on English votes for English-only legislation and on dealing with English and Welsh legislation. Does he have any idea of how the situation came about, and will he tell us the current status of discussions in the coalition and across the Floor? Where does the issue go from here, because many of us who are involved in the Scottish referendum campaign feel that it is better to settle the future of the Union before we get on to deciding how to handle English and Scottish business in a continuing House of Commons?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but I am slightly surprised by what he says. I saw the press report to which he refers but, as far as I am concerned, it did not represent an announcement of anything. Indeed, it did not bring Sir William McKay’s report into the public domain because I believe that it was published in March. As we have reported to the House before, we continue to discuss the report, which we welcome, and we will make a fuller response to it later in the year.
Last week, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions refused to accept that the reason 500,000 people in our country have to access emergency food aid is social security delays. When I tabled a parliamentary question on the matter, the reply told me that Lord Freud had not even visited a food bank. The Trussell Trust confirms today that the delays are the result of changes that have been made since April, so may we have an urgent debate attended by all Work and Pensions Ministers so that they can acknowledge that we have a problem in this country?
Like the hon. Lady, I heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State speaking about precisely that issue during Work and Pensions questions. The situation is not as simple as she characterises it. It is clear, as the Trussell Trust itself rightly says, that the availability of food banks has increased, and they have been advertised through jobcentres, which was not the case before the election. The number of people accessing food banks increased by many times before the election and it has increased since.
What I think has been a particularly pointed issue is whether benefit processing times and delays were themselves leading to people accessing food banks. I tell the hon. Lady that benefit processing times have improved over the past five years. The number of benefits processed on time—that is, within 16 days—is up 4% since 2009-10.
Following an unannounced inspection of Derriford hospital in Plymouth, the Care Quality Commission said yesterday that the hospital had failed to meet five of the nine nationally required standards in protecting patients undergoing surgery. Although I know that the chief executive of Derriford hospital is doing a very good job in trying to get this right, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the progress being made to ensure that we are not producing any more “never events”?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Health Secretary and his colleagues will answer questions on health matters next Tuesday. Having visited Derriford hospital, I know that it is a big hospital with a lot of dedicated staff who are trying to do an excellent job. When I was Health Secretary, we instituted professionally led, unannounced inspections by the CQC and it is important that they take place. They expose where standards are not what they ought to be and I know that the staff will try to respond.
As Health Secretary I extended the list of “never events” and introduced the open publication of the number and character of them by trust, so that we can see what is happening. I think that that transparency in itself will, as it does in so many other ways, help us drive down the number of such events in the future.
It sounds like there is scope for a debate, if in fact we have not already had it.
May we have a debate on the dangers and evils of imperialism and annexation of another country’s territory, whether it be Saddam Hussein in Kuwait or, at the other end of the spectrum, the Westminster Government who, as the front page of The Guardian reports, are bullying Scotland as part of “project fear”? Free peoples across the world will condemn that and stand with Scotland in the name of freedom.
Given that the hon. Gentleman’s question is occasioned by the front page of today’s Guardian, I hope he will be pleased to hear that the Government have not commissioned contingency plans for Faslane. Ideas of the kind described have not come to the Defence Secretary or the Prime Minister and they would not support them if they did.
The Leader of the House is well aware of the phenomenal success of the cancer drugs fund since it was introduced in 2010, but there is growing concern among charities, clinicians and patients about the lack of clarity about its replacement. In a well-attended meeting in March, the Secretary of State for Health said that he would make a statement about this before the summer recess. Will the Leader of the House update us on progress with regard to that statement?
I repeat that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will be here to answer questions next Tuesday. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) is assiduous in taking up these issues and I absolutely agree with him: the cancer drugs fund is tremendously important. It was always clear that it would enable us to meet the needs of patients in accessing new and innovative medicines and it has done so in about 27,000 cases, which is tremendous news. It is expected, however, that from January 2014 we will have a system that will enable patients right across the NHS to access the latest innovative medicines at a price that represents value for money for the NHS.
Yesterday the Committee on Climate Change published a report on adaption, which said that by the 2020s the gap between water demand and water supply could be 120 billion litres—the amount that our farmers extract each year. This is an incredible strain on our resources and farmers. May we have a debate on water extraction and the potential effect on the irrigation of crops?
The Select Committee could seek, in the usual way, to have a debate through the Liaison Committee.
It was not the Select Committee; it was the Committee on Climate Change.
I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. He and others may wish to seek a debate through the Backbench Business Committee. He will be aware of the publication of the national adaptation programme and the importance attached to it in delivering our proactive response to the potential risks and consequences that flow from climate change.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the problems caused by Travellers occupying council or private land, as highlighted by a recent incident in my constituency. I recognise that the Government have made it easier for councils and landowners to take action, but recent incidents highlight that problems remain. Will he find time for a debate on this matter?
I am sure that many Members will understand and share the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend. He will know that we have taken many steps to ensure fair play in the planning system—I draw particular attention to the recent written ministerial statement on planning and revoking the equality and diversity in planning guidance—and to enable a sense of fairness across the community. That is not, in any sense, to underplay the needs of Traveller communities in the planning system, but to ensure that there is community cohesion because everyone is seen to be treated fairly.
Unfortunately, Durham and Tees Valley airport’s regional growth fund bid was rejected in the latest round, yet the Government saw fit to give £145 million to national programmes in which HSBC and RBS were winners. Like many others, I was under the impression that the regional growth fund was meant for the regions, so can we have a statement on why £145 million has been given to the banks, rather than this country’s regions?
I cannot comment on the particular reasons for a decision made under the regional growth fund, but today the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), will be announcing additional allocations of resources to support the regional growth fund, which has had a positive impact and played a significant part in the creation of 1.3 million new private sector jobs since the last election. I think perhaps the hon. Gentleman would be better off applauding that in the first instance.
In view of this week’s ludicrous decision by the European Court of Human Rights on whole-life sentences, may we have an urgent debate on the effect of the Court’s decisions on the confidence of the British public in our legal system, particularly our criminal legal system?
I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that the Government are deeply disappointed by this week’s judgment. We believe that whole-life tariffs are appropriate for exceptionally serious murders. The judgment does not mean, of course, that any offender who has received a whole-life tariff will be released immediately or that they will ever necessarily be released. The Court found a breach because there was no review point in the sentence. The Government will consider the detail of the judgment to determine what action might be necessary or possible, and we will make a further statement in response to the concerns expressed by him and others soon.
I have in my hand a letter from the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary in which they commit themselves
“to ensuring enhanced Parliamentary scrutiny of EU justice and home affairs matters, including the 2014 decision.”
It came with a list of 136 opt-ins for justice and home affairs matters in the EU. Why, therefore, are the Government pressing ahead with a motion on Monday that lists for consultation only the 35 issues in the Command Paper? What happened to the promise that consultation would take place on all these items? Is it not time to abandon this divisive motion?
Perhaps I should reiterate what I said to the shadow Leader of the House. It is very straightforward: the Home Secretary has published in the Command Paper the Government’s conclusions on the opt-out—last October, she made it clear that the Government’s policy was to opt out and then decide whether, and to what extent, to opt back in—and policy conclusions. Monday’s debate will enable the House to respond to that and to vote in support of the opt-out, but to note that we are entering negotiations that will lead to a vote in 2014 on the extent of the opt-in.
For a decade or more, many parts of Wales have received European money at the highest intervention rate, with little obvious effect on the economy. In view of the UK Government’s generous settlement for Wales—again—and the latest round of EU funding, may we have a debate on the effectiveness of EU funding in helping the GDP of areas such as Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There were many happy consequences of the Prime Minister’s negotiating success in the budget negotiations. One was to reduce the overall size of the budget, and another was to give us the flexibility we are looking for, and focus on, improving our international competitiveness, and Wales will receive more than €2.145 billion in European funding from 2014 to 2020. We are focusing those funds on regions with lower GDP per capita, and using the full flexibility available. Among other things, that will provide west Wales and the valleys with an increase of €91 million compared with what the allocation would have been by applying the European Union formula alone.
When can we have a debate on the failure of the Government’s prohibition of mephedrone, which resulted in a 300% increase in its use? The likely effect of the ban on khat will be to drive a wedge between the Somali and Yemeni populations and the police, and also increase use. When can we have intelligent drug policies that decrease use and harm, instead of more populist, prejudice-based policies that increase harm and use?
I believe we have an intelligent policy that focuses not just on harm reduction but on trying to get people off drugs altogether. That is the proper answer and where we need to get to, not just the shift from heroin to methadone with some of the risks and consequences that flow from that, including the risk of reverting to heroin use. I cannot promise a debate, but the hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers will be in the Chamber on Monday and he may like to raise that point with them.
Further to the point from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), is it time we had a debate and vote on whether we should withdraw from the European convention on human rights, following the latest bizarre, perverse, and frankly idiotic, ruling on whole-life sentences? The British public do not want Ministers to say they are deeply disappointed; they want them to do something about it such as leave that ridiculous organisation that is full of pseudo-judges, many of whom are political placemen rather than properly qualified judges.
As my hon. Friend knows, we agreed in the coalition agreement that obligations under the European convention on human rights will continue to be enshrined in British law, and he will appreciate that we took considerable positive steps forward during our presidency of the Council of Europe and in the Brighton declaration, which will help. He and others across the House will continue to be concerned at the nature of decisions by the European Court of Human Rights and its interpretation of convention rights. There will be an opportunity to consider the implications of that on our future relationship with the convention, although I cannot promise that in the immediate future.
Several hon. Members
Order. I appeal to colleagues to put single, short, supplementary questions without preamble, and to the Leader of the House for comparable pithy replies, by which route we might be able to include everybody.
An innovative scheme to reduce fuel poverty in the borough of Stockton-on-Tees is being placed in jeopardy because of excessive but legal charges by BT to refix poles to the side of private houses once work is completed. That matter falls between the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—
Order. I asked colleagues to put a simple question. Please do so.
I apologise, Mr Speaker. Will the Leader of the House encourage the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to back my call for an investigation into excessive charges made by BT for repairs following work for a fuel poverty scheme in Stockton-on-Tees?
I will raise that point with my colleagues and ask them to respond to the hon. Gentleman.
Youth unemployment in my constituency is down 15% since the last election. May we have a debate on the success of the Government’s economic policies and on what more can be done to ensure that all young people have the dignity of work?
Youth unemployment is down by 43,000 this quarter and 60,000 since last year, and I am pleased to hear what my hon. Friend says about additional youth employment in Croydon, which is important. I cannot promise a debate immediately, but the Opposition could always take up the issue in the Opposition day debate next Wednesday.
I know the Leader of the House will not want to upset millionaire moonlighters and parliamentary part-timers on the Government Benches, but I think being a Member of Parliament should be a full-time job. Given the brilliant speech made earlier this week by the Leader of the Opposition, may we have an urgent debate on how we can ensure that Members of Parliament spend their time in Parliament serving their constituents, not outside lining their pockets?
The hon. Gentleman might not have had a chance to read IPSA’s report this morning. Although it says that additional employment and outside earnings are not strictly in IPSA’s remit, it does offer views on the subject. One of the crucial things that IPSA says is that relatively few Members of this House have any significant earnings from outside and about only 10% have second jobs. He might remember that the Committee on Standards in Public Life looked at this issue and reached the conclusion that there was no reason to place any bar on outside employment for Members of this House.
Will the Leader of the House comment on the need for compassion to be shown by Somerset county council on the occasion of medical emergencies? My constituent John, who lives in Cheddar, had to empty his colostomy bag because it was leaking. He needed to fix the situation urgently, but he received a parking ticket while he was doing so. In spite of his many appeals to the county council, it has not budged and he is now threatened with forced collection.
I think the hon. Lady wants either a statement or a debate.
I can offer neither, but I know, as other Members will, that if the county council sees my hon. Friend’s reference to the issue in the House, it will, I hope, respond positively. Some councils do, and I hope hers might.
May we have a statement or at least a meeting with the relevant Minister to find out why the bid from Durham Tees Valley airport was turned down by the regional growth fund? The bid could have created 1,400 jobs and leveraged in another £40 million of investment.
I cannot comment on the bid, but of course I will talk to Ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Whenever there is a bid, it is always good practice to offer as much feedback as possible to those who are unsuccessful.
This week the International Monetary Fund upgraded its forecast for economic growth in the UK, at the same time as lowering the forecast for the rest of the world. May we have a debate about the UK economy, which is now moving out of intensive care, following the record bust created by the last Labour Government?
My hon. Friend is right. We do not know what the Opposition’s choice of debate for next Wednesday will be, but they might like to consider the opportunity to debate some of the economic good news. The deficit is down by a third and we have close to record low interest rates and 1.3 million more people working in the private sector—these are the kinds of things that it would be good for us to focus on. Our success in winning in the global race depends on sustaining the policy path we are on now.
May we have a debate on Prime Minister’s questions? My 83-year-old mother Beryl loves it, and not just because she gets a chance to see me in the Chamber. As a member of the trade union that helped her when she was injured at work as a dinner lady lifting tables, she would understand the noise that was generated by the remarks of a Prime Minister trying to demonise trade unions, from a party that is funded by millionaires and spivs.
My mother is 92, and although she enjoys Prime Minister’s questions, she prefers business questions more.
Why is that no surprise?
Youth unemployment has fallen by 8.3% in my constituency in the last year. However, I am not being complacent and my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) and I are running a jobs fair in my constituency on 24 July. Will my right hon. Friend welcome that jobs fair? May we also have a debate on what the Government are doing to reduce youth unemployment and what individual Members are doing to help young people to get into work?
It would be great if we could have that debate—perhaps the Opposition will take it up. My hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the work he is doing to support young people to get into jobs. Many of my hon. Friends are doing similar things, organising job fairs locally, and we can see the benefit. We can see new jobs being created and young people going into those jobs. It is right not to be complacent; therefore local action is absolutely the right thing to do.
Why are the Government insisting on Monday on a vote on both the hokey and the cokey? We will have to vote on the opt-out and the opt-in, when there is no requirement to start the negotiations for a vote on the opt-out. The Select Committees will have had no opportunity to look at the evidence on the individual measures, nor will there be any guarantees that we will be able to do simultaneous opting out and opting in.
I have explained to the hon. Gentleman and the House that the vote on Monday will enable the House to take a view in response to the Government’s publication of the Command Paper, at a point when my right hon. Friends are conducting a negotiation. That will strengthen their hand in negotiation. We have been clear about the opt-out. Support for the opt-out is the essence of the debate on Monday. The extent of the opt-in will be the subject of a further vote in 2014.
May we have a debate on how Jobcentre Plus can advertise more jobs locally, for instance in industries such as fruit and vegetable growing and packing, so that local people seeking work are made aware of them?
That is an important point. In fact, I will raise it with my friends in the Department for Work and Pensions and ask them to respond. In many constituencies Jobcentre Plus does a very good job, but we should be tireless in trying to ensure that we match people out of work to the unprecedentedly high number—more than 500,000—of vacancies. It would be really good news if we did that.
The whole country can see the IPSA car crash unfolding. We all know that the Prime Minister will be forced to intervene eventually, so why do we not have a debate before the summer recess on what we need to do to amend the IPSA rules and put this fantasy proposal to bed now?
I repeat to the hon. Gentleman and the House that just four years ago—not a long time ago—this House passed legislation to create an independent body. Many of the problems emerging from this issue stem from the simple fact that Members are not willing to let go. We no longer have a say on our pay and pensions. We can express our view, but we do not determine them. It would be immensely to the benefit of the House and the public debate if that were recognised by the public and the press. We do not have a say: IPSA has the say. Go and express views to them. We will do so on a personal and party basis.
Unemployment in Tamworth is now at its lowest level since 2008—before Labour’s crash. That has been driven partly by the distribution and logistics sectors. May we have a debate on those sectors so we can explore the job opportunities they provide, particularly to young people?
My hon. Friend understands well from the geography of his constituency—it is in a central position—how distribution and logistics work. We have competitive sectors, but we are in a global race and constantly have to improve our competitiveness. That is why the fact that this country has moved up in the competitiveness league tables is great. What is equally great news is that the UK was regarded in a recent survey as the best place in the world in which to do business.
When the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate visited my constituency recently it found more than 70 separate breaches of the law governing how people are paid, and £100,000 owing to local workers through underpayments. The Government’s consultation on the recruitment sector closed on 11 April, so may we have a debate on the future of the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate?
I fear I cannot offer an immediate debate; I do not have one immediately in prospect. The hon. Gentleman and colleagues with like interests may care to raise the issue with the Backbench Business Committee, but I will of course raise his point with my colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions.
Residents in my constituency are becoming increasingly concerned about the local plan being developed by Warwick district council. They feel that their voice is not being respected and I believe that the council needs to rethink its ill-conceived proposals. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on planning policy and on how we can give greater democratic control of the planning system to communities?
My hon. Friend makes a specific point relating to his constituency and his local council. I hope his local council will listen to what he says. The Localism Act 2011 sets out to give power to local authorities and neighbourhood plans, and tries to ensure that they take account fully not only of the simplified national planning policy framework, but do so in the context of local decision making by local people. He is right to stress that point.
The independent living fund has transformed the lives of severely disabled people. May we have a debate on the likely impact of the decision to transfer the fund to local authorities? Severely disabled people are greatly concerned about the likelihood of losing their independence.
I will of course talk to my hon. Friends in the Department for Work and Pensions; it seems that I shall need to do that quite a lot today. The hon. Gentleman is describing the transfer of those funds into the hands of local authorities. Those local authorities will have the ability to look at a range of benefits and assess how they will work in the context of the link to people’s own housing responsibilities, and I know that that is proving to be a positive way of enabling people to manage to a budget more effectively. In so many of these circumstances, however, the ability to have discretion at the margin to deal with difficult cases is something that every council will have to look at carefully.
In recent days, two companies in Montgomeryshire—Control Techniques and Invertek Drives—have announced 90 new local high-tech jobs. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to make a statement on how we can work with the Welsh Government to build on this success as the UK moves out of recession?
My hon. Friend is a great cheerleader for mid-Wales, and he is absolutely right to suggest that there are some great businesses helping the UK to compete in the global race by investing and expanding their operations. I will draw his comments to the attention of the Secretary of State, but if he is in his place next Thursday when the Secretary of State is responding to questions, he might have a further opportunity to raise the matter then.
The Leader of the House will have noted that IPSA is back in the news. May we have a statement on what IPSA is going to do to improve its cumbersome IT systems, which waste an awful lot of MPs’ staff time, and to address the fact that the organisation remains incommunicado for large parts of the day?
I will not promise a statement at the moment but, if I may, I will draw the hon. Gentleman’s point to the attention of my colleagues on the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. I know that the Committee has raised a number of issues with IPSA as a consequence of its examination of the organisation’s estimate. We will take the hon. Gentleman’s point on board when we further consider some of these IPSA issues.
In recent months, my visually impaired constituent, Doug Hollingsworth, has been having great difficulty in accessing audio correspondence from the Department for Work and Pensions. May we have a debate on how people with visual impairments can gain better access to that Department?
I am sure that the House will be sorry to hear of the difficulties that my hon. Friend’s constituent is experiencing. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing them to our attention. I will raise the matter with the Department for Work and Pensions, which I know has the facility to offer a range of formats, provided as “reasonable adjustments”, for visually impaired or blind people, including materials in audio format, large print or Braille. I shall bring the case to the Department’s attention, so that it can look into whether it is making the necessary adjustments.
Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 389, which deals with the sudden closure of the Maypole club in Harlow?
[That this House is shocked and saddened at the closure of the Maypole Club in Harlow; notes the vital contribution that the club made to the community of Harlow; further notes that many Harlow residents had special occasions booked at the club, and football teams will no longer be able to use their pitches with immediate effect; believes the staff and managers of the club should have received notice before it closed; and therefore urges the new owners to provide an alternative clubhouse and alternative pitches to local football teams.]
On Tuesday, I was shocked to hear that, after an overnight sale of its lease, the Maypole club, which makes a huge contribution to our local community, had been boarded up. No notice was given to management, staff, members or the many sports teams that use its facilities. May we have an urgent debate on small community clubs, and will my right hon. Friend contact the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and ask him to look into this matter?
I will draw my hon. Friend’s early-day motion to the attention of the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson). I know that the people in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) will be grateful to him once again for raising their concerns about community services.
When will the Bill to ensure that foreign nationals will be charged for using the NHS come before the House? Will it address the concerns of the constituent who wrote to me this week to say:
“As an NHS nurse of 33 years…I find I am providing care for elderly patients with chronic health needs who have never lived in the UK at any point of their life, who have come to live with their family members who have recently settled in the UK…most recently from Bulgaria, Greece and Slovakia”?
My hon. Friend will recall that, the week before last, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health published a consultation relating to access to NHS services for those coming from abroad. That consultation will enable us to introduce the legislation described in the Queen’s Speech later this year. On my hon. Friend’s point about his constituent, any NHS services provided to older and retired people from other European Union member states can be charged back to the member state, and that is what we do.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Order. Points of order come after statements. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that, and that it had just momentarily slipped his mind. I feel sure that we will see him later today, and perhaps hear from him as well.
Health Services (North-West)
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about changes at Trafford general hospital and, separately, about the provision of vascular services in Cumbria and Lancashire.
Our primary objective as a Government must be for the NHS to provide the best service for patients. Sometimes that means taking difficult decisions. Both of the decisions I am announcing today fall into that category, but both are necessary if we are to provide safe and sustainable health care in the north-west.
Let me first address the changes at Trafford general hospital. Greater Manchester is home to some of the best and most innovative health care in the country. The reconfiguration of acute stroke services in Manchester has contributed to an overall reduction in deaths of around 250 since the changes were implemented. Salford Royal and Wythenshawe are two of the finest hospitals in the country. The area is blazing a trail in the integration of primary, secondary and social care services, but more needs to be done to ensure that emergency care continues to be safe, which is why the local NHS proposed some important but difficult service changes, which affect A and E provision at Trafford general hospital.
On 8 February 2013, I received a letter from the chair of the joint health scrutiny committee for Trafford borough council and Manchester city council, formally referring proposals about the future delivery of health care services at Trafford general hospital. I then asked the Independent Reconfiguration Panel for its advice on the proposals, which I received on 27 March 2013. Today, I have accepted its advice, which will be published on the panel’s website, in full. I have also written to the chairs of the panel and of the joint health scrutiny committee and to local MPs, informing them of my decision.
The clinical case for change in Trafford general hospital is clear. It is one of the smallest hospitals in the country. Its accident and emergency department is the second smallest in the country. Between midnight and 8 o’clock in the morning, the A and E department sees on average only two patients an hour. Even at peak times, the unit sees on average only seven patients an hour. Over half of local residents already use accident and emergency services outside Trafford. Trafford clinical commissioning group’s chief clinical officer, Dr Nigel Guest, himself a local GP, said:
“This makes it difficult to attract new doctors, it means that services cost more than they should and it compromises our ability to ensure good clinical outcomes. In short, it means that for too long local people have not been getting the type of service they should and deserve to receive.”
The problems are not confined to A and E. The low number of patients using intensive care means it, too, is not sustainable, and is likely to become unsafe in the future. According to the Greater Manchester critical care network, the unit needs to treat a minimum of 200 patients a year to be safe, but it treats fewer than 100. Emergency surgical services are also not sustainable. The Royal College of Surgeons states that emergency surgery should serve a population of at least 300,000— ideally 450,000 to 500,000. Trafford general hospital serves a population of around 100,000.
Trafford is currently able to provide a range of high-quality clinical services. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to safeguard those services in a way that is sustainable in the long term. As a result, the National Clinical Advisory Team of independent health professionals has advised me that there will be clinical and safety issues if the hospital continues practising as it currently does. I accept its advice.
Initially, the A and E at Trafford general hospital will be replaced by an urgent care centre. The A and E currently sees just 100 patients a day. The majority of those patients—around 75%—will continue to be seen at the urgent care centre. That means around 25 patients a day will be treated at the three neighbouring large university hospitals, all within a 10-mile radius. In the longer term, as services are developed over the next two to three years, the urgent care centre will become a minor injuries unit. Trafford general hospital will become a centre of excellence for elective orthopaedic surgery. That will see all other in-patient surgery stop, but there will be an expansion of day surgery, such as ophthalmology and other vital local services.
On 24 January this year, the PCT cluster, NHS Greater Manchester, approved the implementation of these proposals subject to the prior fulfilment of six conditions. Those included addressing transport issues for local residents, accelerating the implementation of a local integrated care system and ensuring continued access to out-of-hours mental health services when the urgent care centre eventually closes. Progress will be assessed and evaluated throughout the transition by NHS England in conjunction with the local joint health scrutiny committee. Following the advice from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, I am also satisfied that the four tests for reconfiguration have been met.
As a result of the changes I am supporting today, Trafford CCG will be able to reinvest an additional £3.5 million to deliver what local people have asked for—more choice, more preventive care and more services closer to home. That will include community matrons and a community geriatrician, a 72-hour rapid response team, as well as an in-reach team to A and E to support people with complex needs and mental health issues.
I know that the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) have met the Under-Secretary of State for Health to raise their concerns. Others, including the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), have written to me directly. That is why I have wanted to reassure myself since receiving the advice that the NHS has arrangements in place to ensure patient safety is not compromised during the transition to new services. I can assure all Members that there will be a rigorous assurance process overseen by NHS England and that no changes will occur until unequivocal assurances have been given by a provider’s board or chief executive that their organisation can safely receive additional patients and activity, however small.
Because A and Es around the country have been under increased pressure over the past few months, I also make a commitment today that changes at Trafford will take place only if the three neighbouring A and Es that will need to treat additional patients are consistently meeting their waiting time standards. Progress will be assessed and evaluated throughout the transition by NHS England in conjunction with the local joint health scrutiny committee. The Department of Health has also set aside funds to support investment by the University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust in expanding Wythenshawe hospital’s A and E department. That application for funding will be treated as a priority.
I turn to the provision of vascular services in Cumbria and Lancashire. On 19 February, the chair of Cumbria’s health scrutiny committee wrote to me formally to refer proposals about the provision of vascular services in Cumbria and Lancashire. I subsequently asked the Independent Reconfiguration Panel for its advice, which I received on 19 April. Today I have accepted its advice in full, which will be published on the panel’s website. I have also written to the chair of the panel and of the Cumbria health scrutiny committee, as well as to local MPs, informing them of my decision.
The changes will concentrate vascular services in three specialist centres, in line with the IRP’s advice for a population of around 2.8 million people. More routine services will continue to be provided locally. Seven hospitals, including the three specialist centres, will continue to provide services such as screening, out-patient clinics, day surgery, diagnostic tests and rehabilitation services. The centres will be at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust in Carlisle, East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust in Blackburn, and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Preston. Day casework and out-patients will continue to be assessed and treated in local hospitals across the region.
The three centres will provide sufficient cover both for the sparsely populated north of the region and for the densely populated south, which includes significant pockets of deprivation and unmet health needs. The concentration of vascular services is in line with national policy, as recommended by the Vascular Society of Great Britain and Ireland. The move will give patients access to better care and treatment than is currently possible with vascular services spread more thinly across the region.
The IRP accepts, as do I, that an inevitable consequence of concentrating specialist services at centres of excellence, is that some patients will have to travel further for treatment. However, the IRP informs me that the evidence in favour of concentrating services is particularly strong in relation to vascular surgery and that there is a strong clinical consensus that doing so will improve outcomes for patients. I know that Members representing north Lancashire and south Cumbria are particularly concerned about the distance patients will need to travel for specialist treatment. I do sympathise, but in the end have taken the difficult decision that the clinical benefits of concentrating specialist services outweigh any disadvantages in terms of additional travel times. I add that the Royal Lancaster Infirmary along with six other hospitals will continue to provide more routine vascular services.
These changes offer an opportunity to provide significantly improved vascular services to the people of Cumbria and Lancashire. I am therefore asking NHS England, working with local NHS organisations, to address the outstanding concerns raised by Cumbria health scrutiny committee. Local people need to know that changes are indeed leading to improved outcomes and that reasonable steps are being taken to support those with further to travel. In line with the IRP’s advice, I also want to see a programme of public information about the changes.
The public are rightly concerned about any major changes to health provision, and I particularly recognise the concerns people have about having to travel further, which is significant not just for patients but for their families and friends. However, my priority, and the Government’s priority, has to be what offers the safest and best clinical outcomes and what will save the most lives. That is why, after careful consideration, I have accepted independent clinical advice on both these decisions. I have also accepted the view of the IRP that the process leading to the decisions has been the right one, and I thank it for its work on these decisions.
I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement on matters that are of major significance to the NHS in the north-west of England, but I am not the only north-west MP taken by surprise this morning by the lack of advance notice. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), in whose constituency Trafford hospital lies, was heading home, but had to abandon her journey at Stoke and is now heading back down to try to get here. This is not just a major discourtesy to her and the House, Mr Speaker; it is an insult to the people of Trafford, and it is no way to treat people who have campaigned to save their A and E, and who should have rightly been able to expect that their voice be heard in this House today through their elected Member of Parliament.
It says a lot about this Secretary of State. His advisers could find time to get texts sent to the Murdochs with market-sensitive information before an earlier statement he made, but he could not find time to give a local MP advance notice of a statement about the closure of her accident and emergency department: disgraceful.
This is not just any A and E: 65 years and six days after Nye Bevan opened the NHS at Trafford hospital, we have the spectacle of this Secretary of State scurrying to the House to rush out an announcement without the scrutiny of local MPs about a major downgrade of the hospital. What clearer symbol could we have of a Government who disrespect and disregard the views of NHS staff, patients and local people?
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston is trusting that the west coast main line will get her back before the close of this statement, and I hope you will allow her to contribute, Mr Speaker, even though she has clearly missed the opening of this statement.
Let me now turn to the substance of what the Secretary of State has said. He is right to say that the IRP provides excellent support and advice to Ministers. It did so to me and my predecessors in the last Government, and I am sure it is doing the same for the current Government. Where it can be shown that changes will save lives and reduce disability, in my view all Members of this House have a moral obligation to support them. Changes to vascular services in Cumbria and Lancashire clearly fall into that category. The concentration of this highly specialised surgery on three sites will save and improve lives, but given the geography it is essential that people are supported with travel. The Secretary of State made a vague commitment, but can he be more specific about the support that will be made available to patients, particularly in the sparsely populated northern part of our region, who will now have to travel much further to receive this life-saving surgery?
Although we support the Secretary of State’s decision on Lancashire and Cumbria, we have much greater concerns about the process that has led to the decisions today about Trafford hospital. While the IRP has undoubtedly done what it has been asked to do, I wrote to the Secretary of State in November last year to express serious reservations about the Trafford review proceeding ahead of Healthier Together, a much wider review of acute and emergency services across Greater Manchester. Speaking as a Greater Manchester MP, I cannot see why it makes sense to pick off Trafford hospital ahead of this review without looking at things in the round. It does not feel to me that this is part of a coherent plan for the NHS in our city region, and I ask the Secretary of State today why his decision is justified, given that the wider considerations affecting health services in Greater Manchester have not yet been completed.
The Secretary of State claims that the patients affected by the closure of Trafford can be easily and safely absorbed by the neighbouring A and Es. How can he say that when all the A and Es that will now have to absorb extra patients missed his own A and E target for at least four months during the worst winter in the NHS for a decade? Have the Secretary of State and the IRP made their decision looking at the very latest evidence of growing pressure on A and E departments in Greater Manchester? He mentions extra funding for Wythenshawe, which is welcome, as the hospital was built for 70,000 patients a year and is currently seeing almost 100,000, but will other affected A and Es also receive additional funding?
Finally, Mr Speaker, the appalling mishandling of this statement today, which has left the people affected unable to put the Secretary of State under scrutiny, is just the latest example of the wider mishandling of hospital reconfiguration under the coalition, which has seriously damaged public trust in our ability to make changes to hospitals. Picking off Trafford ahead of a wider review broke the illusory moratorium on hospital changes announced just days after the general election outside Chase Farm hospital by the Secretary of State’s predecessor and the Prime Minister—incidentally, that hospital is also now downgraded.
Sir David Nicholson has today said:
“If a political manifesto does not say that service change is absolutely essential and that you need to concentrate and centralise services—it will not be being straight forward with the British people.”
Might he just have had the last Conservative manifesto in mind when he made that statement? Will the Secretary of State today admit that this false moratorium was a cynical and dishonest policy designed to win votes in marginal seats, and will he commit never to repeat it?
Worse still, the Secretary of State’s officials have been in court in the past few days trying to justify the indefensible: a decision to rob a local community in south London of a successful A and E to solve problems in another trust that were not of its making. Is all this not causing severe damage to trust in how these decisions are made? Will he give a commitment to the House today that if the court finds against him, he will abandon his plans to downgrade Lewisham A and E? Labour Members will support changes where they are clinically justified, but where communities are picked off unfairly by this arrogant Government we will stand with them and fight for fairness.
Many members of the public are understandably concerned about these decisions, but from someone who was Health Secretary and who argued the case many times for changing services what we have heard today is not sensible argument, but political opportunism.
Let us examine what the right hon. Gentleman said only last week in Hastings. He said that people like him have a moral imperative to support the doctors who are making these decisions. Well, these changes are supported by the Trafford clinical commissioning group, Greater Manchester critical care network, the Royal College of Surgeons and many other doctors. How many doctors does he need to support this decision before he actually does what he said he would do last Friday, which is support doctors making difficult decisions? On the very day that NHS England is talking about the need to protect services for patients by facing up to difficult decisions, his approach is more than inconsistent—it is irresponsible, and he knows it. Let us examine what he said about changes in Trafford when he was Health Secretary—
Answer the questions.
Order. We must have order from those on the Opposition Front Bench, and I know that the Secretary of State will want to respond to the questions asked of him. I just remind the House that it is not a generalised debate; it is a statement and a response to questions.
Absolutely, Mr Speaker. I think that it is very important that on both sides of this House we have consistent arguments. It is very important to the questions that I was asked that I remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he said when he was Health Secretary. “I am disappointed,” he said, that politicians
“are going around Greater Manchester undermining the clinically-led process”.—[Official Report, 30 March 2010; Vol. 508, c. 620.]
The local medical director says that these changes will save—[Interruption.]
Order. The temperature needs to fall. This is a very highly charged matter, there is considerable sensitivity about it, it is extremely important and we want to hear what the Secretary of State has to say. When he has said it, everybody will get a chance to come in, but please let us lower the decibel level. We certainly do not want to imitate what happened to the considerable discredit of the House yesterday.
The other point the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) made was that we should not make these changes to A and E services when those in other hospitals are under pressure. It is important that I remind the House of what he did when he was Health Secretary. After 2004-05, Labour missed its A and E targets in 12 quarters but closed or downgraded 12 A and Es. Now, in Wales, the A and E target has not been met since 2009, yet Labour is embarking on a big reconfiguration programme with his full support. So it is one policy when Labour is in opposition, another when it is in power. There is one person who agrees with the right hon. Gentleman, and he was campaigning in Trafford on Friday—Len McCluskey. When it comes to a choice between supporting local doctors or the unions, the Opposition support the unions.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Order. We cannot have points of order in the middle of a statement. The Secretary of State has been asked specific questions and I know that he will now respond without any delay to those specific questions and nothing more. Other Members wish to contribute and there is other business. The Secretary of State is an extremely important man, of course, but there are a lot of other people involved, too, and we need to get on and hear them. I call the Secretary of State to respond briefly.
Thank you for that rare compliment, Mr Speaker.
The right hon. Member for Leigh asked a specific question about travel and I will ask the local NHS trusts to work closely with the overview and scrutiny committees to ensure that proper arrangements are put in place for people who have to travel further. He asked me about deferring the decision until the Healthier Together programme for the whole of Greater Manchester was decided, but the IRP specifically said that it would be wrong to defer the decision—the point is that local doctors are saying that doing so would not be safe for patients, and that is why I am accepting the advice.
The NHS is a great institution, but we have to take difficult decisions sometimes. The proposals will help patients, but I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman is interested only in politics.
Many people will be disappointed, of course, by the decision on Trafford general, but I thank my right hon. Friend and his ministerial team for their openness in hearing the concerns of local Members and Trafford council in building up to what has obviously been a serious and carefully made decision. I thank him for the extra investment for Wythenshawe and for making the changes contingent on ensuring that the capacity is there in surrounding hospitals to ensure that this is safe. Will he also give us an assurance that the Trafford health economy will not suffer financially if those contingencies are not met in time?
I thank my hon. Friend for the constructive approach he has taken in this process. I assure him that this will help the local Trafford economy. Three major teaching hospitals are used by the people of Trafford. Two of the three are meeting their A and E targets and one is not. These proposals will help the one that is not meeting its target to do so. They will also mean that an extra £3.5 million can be invested in community and prevention services, including local geriatricians and community matrons. That will be of huge benefit to my hon. Friend’s constituents and to many other people in the local area.
May I first ask the Secretary of State to respond to the issue raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) about the lack of notice of the statement? I have had good news for my constituency from the Secretary of State, but many of my colleagues have had bad news and it is genuinely discourteous for the House not to have been informed. This is not a market-sensitive issue, after all, and we could have been told yesterday or earlier.
Secondly, on the merits of the concentration of vascular services in Lancashire and Cumbria, may I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the decision that he has made, not least in respect of East Lancashire Hospitals Trust in Blackburn? This is an important vote of confidence in the excellence of the facilities in Blackburn at a time when many of the clinicians and others have been under great anxiety because they have been subject to the Keogh review. I think all my constituents recognise that sometimes they will have to travel, as mine have had to travel to Blackpool for many years, for very serious cardiovascular surgery. Provided the outcomes are much better where there is a concentration of resources, and assistance with travel is given in appropriate cases, I think my public and that across the north-west will accept these decisions.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his wise words. If we level with the public about these difficult changes, they do understand that there are times when they get a better outcome even if they have to travel further. Perhaps the most dramatic example of that has been how trauma services have been centralised on fewer hospitals. Even after incidents as dramatic and dangerous as road traffic accidents, people are not necessarily taken to their nearest A and E. They are stabilised and then they are taken to an A and E that has the equipment that is necessary to give them the treatment that is most likely to save their lives. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that.
I absolutely followed and would always want to follow the procedures of the House with respect to advance notice of statements. The request for a statement went in only last night. The Speaker made his decision this morning. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) is here and I hope she is allowed to speak. I said to her on the phone this morning that I am willing to meet her separately to go through any concerns that she has. [Interruption.]
Order. I thank the Secretary of State for his courtesy. I know the right hon. Gentleman well, and I know that he would not seek for one moment to mislead the House. He was trying candidly to respond to the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). For the avoidance of doubt, let us be absolutely clear. I can quite accept that the Secretary of State requested, within the Government machine, permission to make a statement today. However, the House will wish to be aware that I myself was aware of the request to make a statement only this morning. Let us be clear about that.
There is a strong clinical case for the concentration of vascular services in Cumbria and Lancashire at three sites, but is it not ludicrous that the three that have been chosen are so geographically located that one is virtually on the Scottish border, then there is a gap of almost 100 miles, and then there are two that are nine miles apart? Does not that leave south Cumbria and north Lancashire dangerously under-provided for? Given the current difficulties, shall we say, at Morecambe Bay, does not robbing Morecambe Bay of those skills and that expertise make a difficult situation potentially even worse?
I know that my hon. Friend has campaigned, rightly, to represent the concerns of his constituents about the extra travel that they will have to undertake. I would like to reassure him that we considered that issue very carefully. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel recognises that travel is a consideration, but also believes that for his constituents, even for the people who have to travel further, there will be better clinical outcomes for specialist vascular surgery. We are not talking about routine surgery, diagnosis or rehabilitation work but about conditions such as aneurysms and carotid artery disease which require specialist care. Patients can get much better help if that is concentrated in specialist centres.
As to why those particular centres were chosen, it was a genuinely difficult decision. There is a bigger concentration of population in the south of the region and there is also more social deprivation and more unmet need. I know it was a difficult decision, but it was decided that that would be best for the 2.8 million people in the area and also better for my hon. Friend’s constituents.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to ask a question, and I apologise for missing the opening statements. As you know, I think, it was only when we saw this morning’s Order Paper that we knew that a statement would be made this morning, and I was on the way to Manchester at the time to meet constituents. I am very grateful indeed for the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State a question. My constituents would be horrified were I not in the Chamber this morning to do so.
This has been one of the most contentious and difficult issues facing the health economy in Trafford since my election. Although I welcome the Secretary of State’s offer to meet me and I was grateful for his time on the phone this morning, he will understand that people are concerned that doubts and fears about the future of Trafford general hospital are already leading to a downward spiral in people going to that hospital and the level of staffing and service that they receive there. What absolute guarantees can he give my constituents that there will be no diminution whatsoever of the service they receive during what may have to be a very protracted transition process, and that in particular there will be no repeat of our experiences over the most recent winter months, when neither Manchester Royal infirmary nor Wythenshawe A and Es were able to meet the accident and emergency waiting time targets on more than 15% of occasions?
I recognise that the hon. Lady would have liked to have been here for the statement, and indeed that she made a huge effort to get here. As I told her on the phone this morning, I am more than happy to meet her separately to discuss her concerns. With regard to her concern about a downward spiral, I hope today to reassure her constituents that a clear decision has been taken that will secure the hospital’s future as a successful and important hospital, a centre of excellence for elective orthopaedic work, and a hospital that has a very important role to play in the local health economy. We are making huge efforts to ensure that there will be no diminution of services but that services will improve. Of the three major teaching hospitals that will now provide A and E services for her constituency, one—Central Manchester university hospital—is not meeting its A and E targets. The measures announced today will help it meet those targets and make it more likely that her constituents will get a better service in A and E. However, as I made absolutely clear in my statement, I will not allow the changes to be made until all three hospitals are consistently meeting their A and E targets.
Can my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that the decision on Trafford general hospital should not be seen as putting the provision of A and E services at Fairfield hospital at risk?
This decision is about Trafford general hospital’s A and E services. What we are considering in this decision is whether the other hospitals can absorb the extra patients who will come to them as a result. We think that the neighbouring A and Es will initially have to absorb only about 25 patients in total. It is not a decision about the future of other A and Es.
The new service in Cumbria will have to be managed, and part of the problem in Cumbria is poor management, yet we have been waiting for two and a half years for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to take over in Cumbria. When will we see that acquisition?
I am keen to resolve that issue as soon as possible. Indeed, I think that it is really important, given what we heard this morning from NHS England about the big challenges facing the NHS, that we try to take these difficult decisions much more quickly than normally happens. When we have paralysis and decisions being put on hold, that creates uncertainty and the worries that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) talked about, so I want to ensure that we decide these things as quickly as possible.
Dr Nigel Guest, chief clinical officer at Trafford clinical commissioning group, has said that making these changes to services at Trafford general hospital
“is vital to secure a long and vibrant future for the hospital.”
Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that that will be the case?
Yes, and I hope that what we have announced today will give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We have announced a future for Trafford general hospital as a centre of excellence for elective orthopaedic work. We have also announced a significant increase in investment in community services, an extra £3.5 million that will pay for community matrons, community geriatricians, a 72-hour rapid response team and better support in A and Es for people with mental health needs. This is a very big step forward, but it is part of the country that has gone further and faster than many others in delivering integrated care. This announcement will take that further and will mean that it stands out as a beacon of what good care can look like in an ageing society.
May I echo the comments of right hon. and hon. Friends about the lack of notice? It really is outrageous that Members with a constituency interest were not given adequate notice.
May I ask the Secretary of State specifically about the funds that he says have been earmarked for the expansion of the A and E department at Wythenshawe hospital? That is essential, because at least another 4,500 patients will be coming to the A and E following his decision. Can he confirm absolutely this morning that that funding will be made available in full, in advance of any changes? How will the funding be made available? University Hospital of South Manchester is a foundation trust, which means that it cannot receive NHS capital, and it has already borrowed to the limit.
First, let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that 25 extra patients a day will have to be absorbed by the three neighbouring hospitals to Trafford, so it is not a large number. We want to make sure that all hospitals, including Wythenshawe, which I have visited—it is a superb hospital—are able to absorb that capacity. It is currently meeting its A and E target. The application that has been made for extra capital grant to help it to expand its A and E department will be treated as a priority.
Safety should always be paramount, but public confidence is also important. As the Secretary of State faces further tough decisions on reconfiguration in the coming years, will he assure me and other Members of this House of two things: that he will be conscious of not applying urban solutions to rural areas; and that where alternative pathways of care can be put in place, that will happen before changes take place?
My hon. Friend makes two important points. I explicitly said that we will not proceed with any of these changes until neighbouring hospitals have been consistently meeting their A and E standards and any necessary changes have been put in place so that we can be sure that they will improve care for patients. That is really important if we are going to maintain confidence.
On my hon. Friend’s point about urban versus rural, part of the underlying reason for these changes is that we need to get more care out of big hospitals, which are often in urban areas, and into the community—into settings near people’s homes. That is very important for rural communities where there are often large concentrations of older people. Today’s decision will mean an additional investment in those community services. As we look at the big changes we need to make in the NHS, we will need to make more decisions that allow more to be invested in out-of-hospital care if we are to prevent the illnesses that ultimately put so much pressure on our A and E departments.
Is any consideration being given within the Secretary of State’s Department or NHS England to reconfiguring the A and E services between St Helens and Whiston hospitals and Warrington and Halton hospitals? He might not be aware that the chief executive of Warrington and Halton hospitals and the chair of its trust board recently told me and my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) that they think they will run out of money in about 18 months’ time such are the pressures that they have at the moment. Will the Secretary of State investigate this and tell me whether any consideration of that reconfiguration is taking place?
With regard to pressures on A and E, we are working very hard with A and Es across the country to make sure that they learn the lessons from what happened last winter and are properly prepared for this winter. Those discussions will include the A and E departments that serve his constituents. He will know that any decisions about service changes or reconfigurations are a matter for the local NHS; they come to me only if they are referred to me following a formal proposal by a local health overview and scrutiny committee, and that has not happened in this case.
Like other Members across the House—I speak particularly on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock)—I condemn the poltroonish way in which this statement has been handled. Will the Secretary of State concede that instability is corroding health services right across Cumbria? Will he guarantee that when North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust is acquired by Northumbria Trust this decision will not be yet again reconsidered?
Today is a sitting Thursday and we have followed parliamentary procedures. I am doing everything I can to help the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) to have as much engagement as she needs given that she was not able to be here at the start of the process. With regard to stability, the hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. If he wants stability and wants decisions to be taken decisively, then he has to support the Government when they take difficult decisions like today’s and not be opportunistic, in the way that the shadow Secretary of State was.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) about the apparent benefits of relocating to Blackburn and concentrating resources, but despite seemingly being a beneficiary of this reconfiguration, I am worried about the treatment of Lancashire and Cumbria MPs. What notification was given to those Members, and what consultation took place with them on the decision?
The process has taken a long time because we have consulted extensively with the local community and local Members. There have been debates in the House about it, and Members have regularly asked about it during oral questions. I asked for hon. Members to be given advance notice of today’s statement. Consultation is important, and we asked for advice from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel—
No; wrong. You did not give advance notice.
I follow the procedures of the House, and the right hon. Gentleman should know that we did nothing different from what he did when he was Health Secretary.
The Secretary of State cites social deprivation as a justification for his decision on the configuration for Cumbria and Lancashire. I fully support that principle, so will he take it further by ensuring that those of us who represent constituencies in which health outcomes are much worse than those in the south of England, for example, get larger allocations of cash in future distributions of moneys? If he is going to use the principle once, he must do so consistently.
That is already built into the funding formula. We made reducing health inequalities a duty of NHS England in the NHS mandate, and that needs to be done in a way that is also fair to socially deprived people living in the countryside, in rural areas and even in the fringes of affluent areas. We have to find a way of ensuring that the process is fair to everyone who is socially deprived and to do what we can to reduce health inequalities.
No one should be in any doubt that there will be huge shock back home in Greater Manchester at the announcement about Trafford. The conurbation has specific problems with its hospitals, such as mine in Tameside, where we have finally changed the management. We have the Healthier Together process, which is reviewing practically everything, and we are still coping with the impact of the reorganisation with which the whole country has to contend, and now we turn up at Parliament on a Thursday morning to hear the unilateral announcement that Trafford is going. Given the scope of the Healthier Together process, how can the Secretary of State honour the assurances that he gave in his statement? He could not answer the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) about foundation trusts and capital at all. What further changes to hospitals in Greater Manchester is he going to spring on us in the future?
Foundation trusts can apply for a capital grant, and I said in my statement that, as soon as we get a business case, we will give that a high priority. We are sympathetic to awarding it, but we have to wait for the business case to be presented.
In a period in which the NHS faces huge pressures, it is important to show leadership, and that means local MPs understanding that difficult decisions sometimes need to be taken that are in the interests of their constituents, as a number of Members have done today. It also involves supporting what local doctors have been arguing for over many years, but taking the line of the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) by supporting the unions, not the doctors, is totally irresponsible.
Several hon. Members
Order. May I say to the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) that I am sure that she would not seek to use this statement as a back-door method of talking about health services in Lewisham? If she wishes to expatiate on health services in the north-west, we will hear from her.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker.
The Health Secretary repeatedly said that changes will be made at Trafford only if the neighbouring hospitals that have to take additional patients are consistently meeting their waiting time targets for A and E. Will he define “consistently” and clarify exactly what he means by that? Will it apply to all A and E reconfigurations throughout the country?
We are absolutely clear that we will not proceed with A and E reconfigurations unless the outcome will be an improvement in clinical care. That applies across the country as well as in Trafford.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I say to the hon. Lady that it is only exceptionally that points of order are taken between statements, and if they are taken they must relate to the matter just discussed, which I rather suspect hers will. I am not going to have a general debate; I shall take one point of order from the hon. Lady.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for a Secretary of State for Health to announce the closure of another Member’s A and E, which is a very serious matter for all MPs, without making any effort whatsoever to even advise the Member concerned that they might wish to attend the Chamber the following day?
It is quite simple.
It is quite simple. The short answer is that nothing disorderly has taken place. The Secretary of State is entitled to come to the House and make a statement at a time of his choosing. I have experienced a great many Ministers in my time in the House. Different Ministers adopt different approaches. In some cases Ministers have conversations with Members in advance—I know that the Secretary of State himself has done so on other occasions—and signal an intention to make a statement, or the possibility of a statement, at a particular time, but on other occasions they do not do so. On the strict question of whether it is in order, I can confirm that the Secretary of State’s conduct is not disorderly. Beyond that, it is for hon. and right hon. Members to make their own assessment of the handling of the matter. There is scope, as with so many matters, for different points of view. I think that is the fairest thing I can say.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Ministry of Justice’s electronic monitoring contracts with G4S Care and Justice Services and Serco Monitoring.
These contracts provide for the tagging of individuals on bail and offenders under supervision in the community. The current contracts were awarded under the previous Government in November 2004 and are due to expire shortly.
The House will recall that I made an announcement on 17 May indicating that my Department had identified a number of issues surrounding the way in which we have been billed for monitoring under the current contracts, and that as a result I had ordered an independent audit of the billing arrangements under both contracts.
Let me begin by explaining to the House the nature of the issues that prompted the audit. As part of my Department’s work on tightening up procedures—both to prepare for the new electronic monitoring contracts which are now out to tender and to improve the quality of our contract management—we identified what appeared to be a significant anomaly in the billing practices under the current contracts. It appeared that we were being charged in ways not justified by the contracts and for people who were not in fact being monitored.
Following this discovery, I took immediate steps to investigate the issue, commissioning an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers. I also sought assurances that there was no risk to the public as a result of issues we discovered, and I am clear that these billing issues have not given rise to any risk to public safety.
This audit has now confirmed the circumstances in which the Department was billed for services. This has included instances where our suppliers were not in fact providing electronic monitoring. It included charges for people who were back in prison and had had their tags removed, people who had left the country, and those who had never been tagged in the first place but who had instead been returned to court. There are a small number of cases where charging continued for a period when the subject was known to have died. In some instances, charging continued for a period of many months and indeed years after active monitoring had ceased. The House will share my view that this is a wholly indefensible and unacceptable state of affairs.
The audit team is at present confirming its calculations, but the current estimate is that the sums involved are significant and run into the low tens of millions of pounds in total, for both companies, since the contracts commenced in 2005. The audit shows that the overcharging began at least as far back as the commencement of the current electronic monitoring contracts in 2005. It might even date back as far as the previous contracts let in 1999.
The audit also reveals that contract managers in the Ministry of Justice discovered some of the issues around billing practices following a routine inspection in 2008. Although it appears that these contract managers had only a limited idea of the scope and scale of the problem, nothing substantive was done at that time to address the issues. None of that, however, justifies the billing practices followed by the suppliers. The House will share my astonishment that two of the Government’s biggest suppliers would seek to charge in this way. The House will also be surprised and disappointed, as was I, to learn that staff in the Ministry of Justice were aware of a potential problem and yet did not take adequate steps to address it.
Let me set out for the House what we are doing in response to these findings. The billing practices in question were clearly unacceptable and the Government will take all necessary steps to secure a refund for the taxpayer. In view of the seriousness of the issue, however, and having taken full legal advice, I am clear that, as Lord Chancellor, I must not only take action in terms of financial recovery, but seek to rule out the possibility that what went on involved dishonesty by anyone involved in the contracts. I have therefore put it to the two companies that we should now carry out an independent forensic audit, not just of the contractual arrangements, but of the evidence, such as internal e-mail trails between their executives, to establish the detail of what happened. I have now received their responses.
Let me deal with each company in turn. Serco, which is one of the Government’s biggest and most important suppliers, has agreed in full to such a forensic audit. It has said that it will co-operate fully with our auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and that it takes the issue extremely seriously, and it assures me that senior management were not aware of it. It does not believe that anything dishonest has taken place, but we have agreed that if the audit does show dishonest action, we will jointly call in the relevant authorities to address it. Serco has also agreed to a forensic audit of all my Department’s contracts with it to ensure that there are no other issues. In addition, it has decided that it would not be appropriate for it to continue to participate in the current tender process for electronic monitoring and has agreed to withdraw. I am grateful to Serco for its co-operation.
Let me now turn to G4S. We put the same proposal for a further detailed forensic audit to G4S last night. It has rejected that proposal. I have given careful consideration to how to respond. I should state that I have no information to confirm that dishonesty has taken place on the part of either supplier, but given the nature of the findings of the audit work so far and the very clear legal advice that I have received, I am today asking the Serious Fraud Office to consider whether an investigation is appropriate into what happened in G4S and to confirm to me whether any of the actions of anyone in that company represent more than a contractual breach. I am also disappointed that G4S still feels it appropriate to participate in the tendering process for the next generation of electronic monitoring contracts, which we are in the process of renewing. I have therefore started a formal process to determine whether to exclude it from this competition. Furthermore, we will be commencing forensic audits of all existing contracts that the Department has with G4S.
Let me deal with some other immediate procurement issues that I need to address. My Department was also due to announce the results of the competition to take over the management of prisons in Northumberland and Yorkshire. I can tell the House that the winning bidder for Northumberland is Sodexo, and that this transfer will continue as planned. However, the leading bidder in Yorkshire was Serco. I have decided that we will delay the award of this contract until the audit process I have put in place is complete, and clearly it will only be awarded if that process is completed to our satisfaction. We have also begun work on two new house blocks at prisons run by Serco and G4S. Since these are construction contracts at existing prisons and are an essential part of our replacement strategy for the older parts of the prison estate, I intend to proceed with this construction work.
As I have said, it is not only the behaviour of the suppliers that needs to be examined closely. I am making changes in my Department because it is quite clear that the management of these contracts has been wholly inadequate. I have put in place an entirely new contract management team, led by my procurement director and validated by the independent auditors. The Permanent Secretary is also instituting disciplinary investigations to consider whether failings on the part of individual members of staff constitute misconduct. I have also commissioned an urgent review of contract management across my Department’s major contracts, which will report by the early autumn. It will include independent audit expertise and will be overseen by my Department’s lead non-executive director, Tim Breedon, the former chief executive of Legal and General. I want to put in place arrangements that are robust and at all times deliver value for money for the taxpayer.
On wider Government contracting, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr Maude), is today announcing a review of all contracts held by both G4S and Serco across Government. In addition, this review will determine how Government will better manage similar contracts in the future. Separately, the National Audit Office is looking at the scale of Government contracting activity with key suppliers and how effectively those relationships are being managed by Government.
I have made it clear from the outset that I regard this as a very serious issue and have taken immediate action to address it. I would, though, like to reassure the House that, however serious these problems are, they concern billing arrangements rather than wider issues of public protection. I remain committed to the use of electronic monitoring as a powerful tool in supervising offenders. The steps we are taking to retender the contracts will deliver a significantly improved service that will be subject to robust contract management in the years ahead. I believe that the private sector brings significant benefits in delivering efficient and cost-effective services to the public, but we will not tolerate unacceptable activity of any kind, no matter who is responsible. I am angry at what has happened and am determined to put it right. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Justice Secretary for advance sight of his statement, which I read in the presence of his officials 20 minutes ago. I can honestly say that I was left speechless.
Tagging is a crucial part of the criminal justice system, and the use of this technology has allowed the much greater use of curfews and home detention over the past 20 years. The Justice Secretary’s statement is a serious one, with wide-reaching consequences, and I have some questions for him. What other sanctions has he considered taking against the companies concerned? I remind him of what has happened: charging for people who were back in prison and had had their tags removed; charging for people who had left the country; charging for those who had never been tagged in the first place, having been returned to court; charging continuing when the subject was known to have died; and, in some instances, charging continuing for many months and years after active monitoring had ceased.
To the lay public, that appears to be straightforward fraud: obtaining property by deception. The Justice Secretary mentioned the SFO, but does he not agree that both companies should be investigated by the SFO, not simply G4S? Will he pass on all the papers from the audit to the police and the SFO and ask them to investigate whether any criminal offences have been committed? I am sure he will agree that the law applies to everyone, including big multinationals. What we need is the police and the SFO going to G4S and Serco offices and preserving evidence, not some cosy arrangement with one of the two companies. Will he confirm that all the evidence has been preserved by the two companies, as well as the Ministry of Justice? A forensic audit is one thing; what we need now, though, is the proper external authorities to investigate. I hope he agrees.
How soon will G4S and Serco be repaying the amount overbilled, or, as some will infer, claimed by fraud, and how much will it be? Have the companies concerned accepted guilt? Have the MOJ officials accepted their part in this? In May, I asked the Justice Secretary to ask the Public Accounts Committee for a full investigation into this? Will he now ask it to do so?
In 2012 and 2013, G4S and Serco were paid more than £500 million of taxpayers’ money just by the MOJ, and the MOJ paid nearly £800 million—10% of its entire budget—to five companies. Will the Justice Secretary agree an independent audit of all contracts with the MOJ? How confident is he that none of the other private companies with which the MOJ has contracts has over-billed?
I understand that G4S and Serco have a number of contracts with the Home Office and a number of other Departments—I know the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), raised a number of concerns over the past year about the conduct of G4S. Serco and G4S are two of the Government’s biggest contractors. The Justice Secretary mentioned the Cabinet Office, but in the light of his statement will he agree to the National Audit Office investigating all contracts that those two companies have with the Government?
There appears to have been a systematic pattern of fraud, and if we add to that the events of the past week and the inquest verdict, the fiasco at last year’s Olympics and the security that G4S failed to provide, we see a pattern emerging. Will the Justice Secretary confirm that those two companies will not be awarded any further Government contracts? Giving that tagging involves potentially dangerous offenders, we must be sure that public safety has not been compromised. Some 20,000 people are tagged at any one time, so what specific assurances can the Justice Secretary provide that public safety was not undermined at any time?
At the same time as serious failings have been exposed in the way the MOJ buys in hundreds of millions of pounds of services, the Justice Secretary is proposing a massive expansion in the amount of work handed over to private companies. He will be aware that the same two companies responsible for today’s statement are responsible for a number of other contracts in the MOJ—he has already referred to the prisons contracts—and they are the leading contenders for the privatisation of the probation service. In the light of that, will he confirm whether he intends to bar those companies from the retendering process for tagging and from any future contracts? He will be aware of concerns about the risk register and the privatisation of the probation service. Given today’s statement and its implications for G4S and Serco, will he delay the roll-out of the privatisation of the probation service to allow full and proper consideration of those findings?
The Justice Secretary has raised serious matters and we must not only get to the bottom of what has happened and see justice, but lessons need to be learned. We hope that the Justice Secretary will learn the right lessons.
On the last point, it is important to say that we are learning the right lessons. That is why the issue emerged in the first place. The tighter contract management procedures that we are putting in place have revealed shortcomings that took place under a contract that was let in 2005, and information that came to the Department in 2008. The right hon. Gentleman will remember who were in government in those two years. This Government are taking a more robust approach to contract management, and this issue has arisen as a result.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a point about the privatisation of the probation service. We are outsourcing probation to a range of different organisations not linked to today’s situation, and a large number of organisations have expressed an interest, including those from the voluntary sector that have immense skills in this area. I would not countenance a situation in which those organisations are tainted by the actions of two individual companies, or where we allowed a debate about two contractors to taint the reputations of outsourcing organisations that work and do a good job across government.
The right hon. Gentleman made some specific points about the two companies involved. Last night, we put to those companies that we would ask for a forensic audit, at a level that will meet any kind of investigative standards, to be carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of our leading independent auditors that works on such investigations. I am satisfied about the quality of the investigation it will carry out with Serco, and the management of Serco has accepted that the consequence of that investigation, if dishonesty is found, will be a joint reference to the authorities. To my mind, that audit meets any test we need to address. Unfortunately, G4S has not chosen to accept such an audit, and we have therefore passed the matter straight to the Serious Fraud Office.
I must be careful because this is a sensitive legal process. At this time, I do not have evidence of dishonesty. I have a situation of unacceptable practice, but not of dishonesty, and that is why I have commissioned a detailed forensic audit from those with expertise in such matters. For G4S we have done what people would expect us to do and invited the Serious Fraud Office to rule on the matter.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office. I confirm that the National Audit Office has been aware of this investigation from the start. It is already investigating contracts within Government, and we are liaising closely with it. He mentioned all other contracts, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General will today set out his plans to take forward work he has already started to address contract management across Government. The review I have announced led by Tim Breedon, our lead non-executive director, will address the issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman about all contracting with major contractors across the Department, including smaller contractors.
I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman on public safety as I sought to establish that very early in this process. I have seen no evidence whatsoever to suggest that public safety has been compromised. The issue is about people who were recalled to court or to prison but where the charging continued, so I can lay to rest the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns on that point. He also asked about the acceptance of guilt, but, in the legal process, I cannot comment on the position of the companies. They must set that out themselves. I have said that Serco is being constructive and collaborative, and I have set out the process for G4S. I say clearly that there have been failings at the Ministry of Justice that go back over the past decade, possibly longer. Those shortcomings are now being addressed but they should not have happened in the first place and I have indicated that, if necessary, disciplinary proceedings will be undertaken.
These are serious matters. We are entering a legal process and hon. Members across the House will understand that I must be cautious in what I say to avoid compromising legal proceedings. The House should be under no illusion, however, that I am dealing with the issue with the utmost seriousness. We will take all appropriate action and we cannot allow such things to continue unchecked.
May I praise the strong, expeditious and decisive action taken by the Lord Chancellor in response to this issue, and the way he has co-ordinated the Government’s response with the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, and the Attorney-General? As he indicated in his statement, Whitehall needs to raise its game on contract management. Will he continue to work as closely as possible with our right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General to get this matter resolved at permanent secretary level as soon as possible?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments and I give him that assurance. Looking back to when the issue first became visible in the Department, it is clear that existing expertise in contract management was not up to the job. Those failings and shortcomings should never have happened, and I intend to introduce measures to ensure that they never happen again.
This is a shocking statement and I believe that the Lord Chancellor has acted swiftly and decisively in dealing with the issue. G4S should never have got another Government contract after the shambles of the Olympics. G4S and Serco hold 17 contracts worth £118 million with the Home Office, and although I accept what the Lord Chancellor has done in referring G4S to the Serious Fraud Office and the police, I think he should have done the same to Serco. When its chief executive appeared before the Home Affairs Committee on 25 June, he said that he did not believe that Serco had overcharged. The right hon. Gentleman is right to have acted as he did, but he should not take a different approach to Serco. We need the high-risk register that the Home Affairs Committee recommended after the Olympics. That register should be held by the Cabinet Office, and any company that has failed the taxpayer should be on it and should not get another contract.
Let me be clear about the different treatment of G4S and Serco. I have followed the legal advice I received very closely, and the right hon. Gentleman and all Members of the House would expect me to follow such advice in the interests of the taxpayer and the Government. I have done that, and the approach I have chosen follows closely the legal advice I received. I would not expect any Member of this House to expect me to do otherwise.
As for how the Cabinet Office approaches contracting, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who is sitting next to me, will have heard what the right hon. Gentleman said. The Cabinet Office is taking both this issue and the broader issue of contracting very seriously, and my right hon. Friend will be saying more in due course.
These are very serious matters indeed. Like others, I welcome today’s statement and the measures that the Secretary of State is taking. We have had interesting reactions from the two companies, and I hope that there will now be a robust means of oversight in his Department and in others, as contracts are looked into. The public’s concern is whether this is a security issue, so will he confirm to the House that this is a billing issue and that it had no impact on public safety?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. This was obviously a matter of great concern to us, as we looked at these issues back in May for the first time. I can confirm that the Department has looked closely at the individual cases. The audit carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers so far has gone through cases line by line. We have found no evidence of any issues that would give rise to public safety concerns; this is a financial issue.
First, I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and also for his courtesy in letting me know that he was going to make it, although I quite understand that, for reasons of commercial sensitivity, he could not inform me of its content. I share the intense anger and shock of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) and, above all, the Secretary of State himself about this issue, not least because it was during my watch in 1999 that the original contract was let, before I was again responsible for the contracts between 2007 and 2010. It is a matter of deep regret to me that these failings happened at a time when I was the Secretary of State responsible for them. I want to know exactly why the failure happened, and I am glad to hear that steps are being taken to ensure that robust systems are put in place.
When the Secretary of State said in his statement that there was “a routine inspection in 2008”, but that “nothing substantive was done at that time to address the issues,” can he say whether the “nothing substantive” included not telling Ministers? I do not have complete recall of the contents of my 365 boxes in 2008, but I do not recall the matter ever being drawn to my attention. It would helpful to know whether it was. Lastly, I commend the review that the Minister for the Cabinet Office is establishing, because the control of long-term contracts with outside contractors is an issue that has bedevilled successive Governments for many decades.
I have seen no evidence to suggest that the issue reached the right hon. Gentleman’s desk. I can reassure him that there is no suggestion that he was briefed about it. There is no evidence that we have so far seen that the Department was aware of the nature of what was happening up until 2008. There have subsequently been a number of interchanges in relation to this matter. In no case do we believe that the Department had full sight of the scale of what was happening, but it is clear to me that things were known at a junior level about what was going on and it should have been addressed. One of the things we are investigating is why it was not, and that might include disciplinary action, as I set out earlier.
The right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) referred to the Public Accounts Committee. As a member of that Committee, may I say how welcome it is to see the firm, fair and quick way in which the Minister has brought the issue before the House and gripped it in a way that is different from many other areas that come before the Public Accounts Committee?
Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), will my right hon. Friend say explicitly whether the contracts were let before 2010, in which case the over-billing would predate the last general election? Will he also be clear that the reason the issue has come to light is because of the way he is gripping the renegotiation of such contracts?
I can confirm that the contracts were originally negotiated in November 2004 and implemented in 2005. The original contracts date back, as the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) said, to 2009.
To 1999—I beg the right hon. Gentleman’s pardon.
As for how the issue has been addressed more recently, let me be clear that none of the team leading the effort in the Ministry of Justice today was in position when the matter first came to the Department’s attention in 2008. The team who are leading the renegotiation have done a first-rate job of putting together a much tighter contract management framework, which highlighted this issue. It is to their credit that they found it, and I am very grateful to them that they did.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, which is quite shocking in its content. Does he not think there is a case for advising local government and the national health service, both of which have large contracts with both companies, of what action he is taking and why he has taken it, to see whether they might care to look at their contracts with the two companies and the performance of them? Does he not think for a moment that his almost love affair with contracting out services to the private sector should be tempered by possibly thinking of a public service option for delivering such important government services, rather than taking the first position, which is always to go to a private contractor?
I am absolutely certain that my colleagues in the Cabinet Office will make both local government and health service bodies aware of what has happened. That would be right and proper.
On the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, I appreciate that he did not always agree with the leadership of the previous Government—I give him credit for that—but when he talks about a “love affair” with contracting out, I would remind him that the contracts were not let by this Government, but by the last Government.
May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on the robustness of his response? The emphasis of his statement is quite right, but will he extend his remarks and say something about the legitimate levels of pricing in such contracts? Earlier this week I visited the Cabinet Office to see how the Government Digital Service is wrestling with some really quite appalling pricing levels, which are the legacy of the last Government. Will he be able to drive down the cost of such contracts in future?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. In fact, we are about to launch a revolution in tagging generally. The arrival of GPS tagging will enable us not simply to monitor whether an offender has left their home, but to understand whether they are breaking a curfew or, for example, whether a paedophile is going close to a school. That will transform the way in which tagging works and will do so—I can assure him—at a much lower price than we have paid up to now.
I join others in commending the Justice Secretary for the action he has taken and the statement he has made today. I say that as the Minister for prisons and probation in 2004, when the contracts were awarded. If there has been wrongdoing, he is right to root it out in the way that he has set out.
May I press him a little further on his plans for the probation service? I can only ask him to accept my word that I do so not in a partisan way, but because, like him, I care about the protection of the public. Given that two major players are facing serious questions and are likely to be out of the game, does it not make sense to look at having a more limited competition for certain services in one part of the country, rather than moving so rapidly to a national roll-out?
I would make two points to the right hon. Gentleman. First, we must be careful not to apply the judgments that will inevitably be made after today’s announcement to all private sector contractors that work with Government. That would be a great shame and the wrong thing to do. I should also say that even in the two companies in question, there are large numbers of people—all our constituents—who are at work today, doing their best to operate on behalf of the public sector. We should not allow them individually to be tainted by what has happened.
At the same time, when we look at our plans for probation reform, we see a large number of organisations —public and voluntary organisations, as well as potential mutual organisations from staff—interested in providing a solution to what is a glaring problem, whereby at the moment people who go to prison for less than 12 months get no supervision at all. The longer we wait to introduce the reforms, the longer those people will walk our streets without supervision. When people talk about “leading candidates” for contracts, I am clear that there are no “leading candidates” for contracts in our probation reforms. We have not started a contracting process. We are actively encouraging as wide a range of participation as possible. I have been talking to the social investment sector to bring in social capital. We are working actively with the Cabinet Office to encourage employee mutuals to come forward, either individually or in partnership with potential investors. This is not a world that will simply be handed over to a couple of big companies. I am very much of the belief that there is expertise out there, which I want to capture, and skills that will help to bring down reoffending.
G4S is headquartered in my constituency and operates a number of contracts there, so these fraud allegations in connection with electronic tagging are deeply troubling. May I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friend that, as the local Member of Parliament, I will be kept up to date with the investigation, particularly as it will be concerning to many of the day-to-day, honest employees who work for the company and who are going about their business?
I give my hon. Friend that assurance absolutely. I say again that, as of today, I do not have evidence of dishonesty in either company. What I do have is legal advice that says that, on the back of the audit we have carried out, I have a duty to do further detailed forensic work to establish where there is a possibility of dishonesty. Serco has agreed to co-operate with that work. To my regret, G4S has not. That is what has prompted me to believe that I have no option but to ask the Serious Fraud Office to consider whether a formal investigation should take place.
First, I put on record that I welcome the firm action the right hon. Gentleman has taken today. I would like to push him a little further on the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). Although we have established that no Ministers were told of this, the Secretary of State said:
“contract managers had only a limited idea of the scope and scale…nothing substantive was done”.
What does he mean by “limited idea” and “substantive”? To use the word “substantive” means that something must have been done. On the “limited idea” of the scale of the problem, why was that then not followed up with further action?
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point to which I do not yet know the answer fully. It is clear that, between 2008 and the present, on various occasions information has reached the Department that suggests something was amiss. It is also clear that that information was never followed up in a way that would have presented the true picture of the problem. We are now launching formal proceedings internally, which are likely or may well include—depending on the circumstances of the individuals—disciplinary proceedings to establish precisely what did go wrong. Something clearly did go wrong. Enough knowledge came into the Department to flag this issue some years ago, but it was not acted on.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for the strong and decisive action he has taken. Given that both companies are substantial major companies, we may reasonably expect that all the moneys will be recovered. That will effectively amount to an unanticipated lump sum of income for the Ministry. Will the Lord Chancellor say at this stage what plans he has to use the lump sum? May I suggest that perhaps it be used to improve, modernise and upgrade the tagging system?
I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend’s ambitions. The upgrade of the tagging system will happen anyway within the Ministry’s existing budgets. The difference in the next couple of years will be marked. It will provide a much greater and more effective resource to both those monitoring offenders and to the police guarding such places as our town centres, to understand who is where at any particular time. It will also, at times, exclude people from suspicion of an offence, because tag records will show if they were not at the scene of a crime. He can be reassured that that is happening anyway.
I have every intention of getting back every last penny to which we are entitled. Our auditors are working on the exact sum at the moment. That is the right thing to do for the taxpayer.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will recall that during the statement from the Health Secretary, considerable concern was expressed regarding the lack of notice given to Members of Parliament with hospitals and accident and emergency units in their constituencies that would be affected by that statement. Speaking personally, I was informed by my Whips Office just before 9 o’clock this morning that the statement was to be made. I had had no contact at that point from the Secretary of State.
The statement has major implications for Trafford General hospital in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). She found out about the statement when I phoned her. She was on the train to Manchester and had to get off the train and get on to another train going back to London to be here in time. Fortunately, she caught your eye, Mr Speaker, and you allowed her to speak. You ruled earlier that nothing disorderly had happened, but surely something discourteous happens when such important decisions are announced without any notice being given to Members. I wondered whether you could give us any further advice.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order, which was put to me in the measured and courteous terms that are his hallmark. As he implies, there is a distinction between disorder and discourtesy. The Secretary of State was not guilty of disorderly conduct in any way. Ultimately, it is for Members of the House to judge whether there was a discourtesy. I did indicate in my response to an earlier point of order that there are ways of handling these matters. It is often the case that a Minister will seek to inform Members in advance at least of an intention to make a statement on a matter, even if the Minister is not in a position to guarantee it or indicate the precise date. These courtesies are important. Members must form their own assessment, but I hope that in the future we can operate, in respect of matters of this kind, in a way that commands general assent across the House. That, I think, would be helpful to all concerned. It is probably best if we leave it there for today.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At last week’s Work and Pensions questions I asked the Secretary of State about the increasing number of people accessing emergency food aid from the Liverpool central food bank in my constituency. I put it to him that one of the chief causes of the increase were delays in receiving social security support. In his reply, the Secretary of State told the House:
“The story that the cause is an increase in waits is not true”.
He also claimed that a director of the Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest provider of food banks, had said that the real reason was
“The growth in volunteers and awareness about the fact you can get this help if you need it”.—[Official Report, 1 July 2013; Vol. 565, c. 604.]
The executive chairman of the Trussell Trust has since written to me to say that this is not correct. Further, figures released today by the Trussell Trust confirm that more people proportionately are being referred to food banks with benefit-related problems since the Government’s welfare reforms came into effect in April. Mr Speaker, can you please kindly outline by which means the record can now be corrected?
The hon. Lady, who is as perspicacious as any Member of the House, has identified the required method and she has deployed it. In that respect, she has found her own salvation. The concerns of the people in her constituency have been placed on the record. If a Minister judges that the content of an answer requires clarification, or indeed correction, it is incumbent on the Minister to provide it. Meanwhile, the hon. Lady has discharged her obligations. We will leave it there.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I