House of Commons
Thursday 4 June 2015
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
My hon. Friend will know that bridge is not currently designated as a sport. The High Court will consider a judicial review on the definition of sport from the English Bridge Union in September, to which the Government will respond accordingly.
I welcome my hon. Friend to her post. Her prowess on the football field is well known, but I wish to address the issue of mind sports. At the moment, Sport England refuses to fund bridge, chess, go and other mind sports. Her predecessor was investigating this, but will she update us on what progress has been made to ensure that Sport England does recognise mind sports for their ability to train the mind?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. As he rightly said, Sport England does not currently recognise the term “mind sports” and does not provide funding to games such as bridge and chess. As I mentioned, the High Court is considering a judicial review of the definition of “sport” from the English Bridge Union. I recognise that many of these games are enjoyed by many people and that the mental agility required in this activity can help with conditions, bringing many health or wellbeing benefits. I therefore suggest that if he would like to seek funding support for these games, he does so through the Department for Education or the Department of Health.
Broadband Coverage (Gloucestershire)
The Government have committed nearly £27 million to the roll-out of superfast broadband in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. This should take superfast broadband coverage to an additional 130,000 homes and businesses across the two counties, providing almost 93% coverage by the end of 2017. Small and medium-sized enterprises in Gloucester and Cheltenham are now eligible for a grant of up to £3,000 to improve their broadband connectivity under the broadband connection voucher scheme.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. None the less, a significant number of homes and businesses in Cheltenham fall between two stools, being, apparently, not sufficiently rural for Fastershire to see fit to step in but too rural for commercial providers to consider it viable to extend broadband provision. Will he meet me to discuss how we can help those stuck in limbo and cut this Gordian knot?
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to this House and commend him for his efforts on behalf of his constituents in order that they obtain superfast broadband. He will be aware that 96% of Cheltenham will already have access to it by the end of 2017, which is above the national target, and many small and medium-sized enterprises can also benefit from the broadband connection voucher I mentioned. We are examining ways of extending the reach beyond that 96%, but I would of course be happy to meet him and some of his constituents to discuss what more we might do to help.
May I support the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and remind the Secretary of State that many rural villages, certainly in my constituency, still do not have sufficiently strong broadband connections? That hampers people who are running small businesses from home, as well as children who are trying to use the internet to learn. What can he do to speed up the provision in those small villages?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern for his constituents, particularly those in more rural areas. As he may be aware, under phase 1 of the broadband scheme we expect to reach 87.1% of premises across the whole of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire by December 2016, and under phase 2 we hope to extend that to 92.8%. Those in the more remote areas may still prove to be outside, and we will be looking at alternative means by which we can reach them with superfast broadband, but, again, I am happy to talk with him further about this.
More than 2.5 million additional homes and businesses now have access to superfast broadband as a result of the Government’s intervention. We continue to add 40,000 more homes and businesses every week.
I feel that I am about to gatecrash a party, but we have exactly the same situation in South Cambridgeshire. Connecting Cambridgeshire is doing a fantastic job of rolling out broadband across much of the constituency, but our roads are at gridlock—a happy consequence of our economic success—and it is vital that we keep people working in local hubs and from home. I, too, am interested in what other technologies we might explore to reach those people who are missing, so please may I come along too?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election and she is a very welcome party guest. The Government are investing more than £8 million in Connecting Cambridgeshire, which will increase coverage in her constituency to 94% by 2017. As she pointed out, there will be some areas that are much harder to reach and it might not be possible to do so by the traditional methods, so we are running pilot projects to explore other ways in which we can bring coverage up to reach even the furthest parts of her and other hon. Members’ constituencies. I would be happy to talk to her further.
My hon. Friend is completely right that although fibre will, we hope, supply superfast broadband to the overwhelming majority of premises in the country there will be some for which it is not practical. That is why we are piloting alternatives through our three pilot projects testing fixed wireless technologies in rural areas in North Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and Monmouthshire. These are being run by Airwave, Quickline and AB Internet. We will consider the results to assess the best way of extending the programme still further into the most difficult areas.
Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election. I know that in his capacity as a former technology editor he brings a particular expertise to our debates on this subject. He is absolutely right that there will be some cases where, for the time being, it will not be possible to extend superfast broadband. I hope that we will eventually be able to do so, but in the meantime I entirely agree with him that it is important that people should be aware of that position. We are introducing a seven-digit postcode checker, which is now on the gov.uk website, so that people can be made aware of that position.
I am pleased to tell the hon. Lady that 97% of UK homes and businesses already have access to 2 megabit per second broadband, up from less than 90% in 2010. We hope that all homes will have it by the end of 2015.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his position. I had hoped that he and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills would form a dream team to tackle the nightmare of broadband coverage in this country, including in areas such as mine in Shoreditch. Can the Minister explain why millions of pounds of public money has gone in and yet, as we have heard from other hon. Members today, there is still a serious problem across the UK with what should be a 21st century utility?
I will suppress my personal hurt that the hon. Lady would prefer to deal with the Secretary of State rather than with me, although we have dealt with her issues in Shoreditch over many months. I am pleased, for example, that in her constituency many businesses are taking advantage of broadband vouchers, that Virgin Media is rolling out broadband and that BT is investing in broadband. Across the country, more than 2.5 million homes are covered by our very successful programme.
The other day I received an e-mail of congratulations from one of my hon. Friend’s constituents thanking me for the broadband that is being delivered to his constituency. As his next door neighbour, I know that the Oxfordshire broadband team is doing a fantastic job in rolling out broadband to thousands of homes across Oxfordshire.
It would be quite nice to have decent internet access from these Back Benches from time to time. We are talking about universal broadband in the country, but while that is important to many of our constituents, a large number of people still not do have any digital access, and with the closure of libraries and other facilities where there is digital access, a real social exclusion issue is developing in parts of the country. What more can he do to make sure that all our constituents have access to digital technology?
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you have taken note of the hon. Gentleman’s comments about wi-fi in the Chamber. Digital inclusion will form part of our new digital implementation taskforce, and I am pleased that at the end of the last Parliament we set aside more than £7 million to put wi-fi in libraries. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need as many community spaces as possible where people can access the internet.
The Minister will have got the point from the last 10 minutes of exchanges that decent broadband speed is now a utility expected in every household, like running water and electricity. How effective does he think that the current programme is in filling in the gaps that, especially in rural areas, make it almost impossible for people to set up successful businesses where they are most needed?
As I have already said, I think that the programme has been successful. We have passed more than 2.5 million homes. By the end of 2015 we should have 90% superfast broadband coverage in the UK, which compares well with almost every other country, and puts us at the top of the tree of the big five in Europe.
Hon. Members are right; this is a problem. As I recall, there was a big underspend—£75 million—on the super-connected cities programme. Would the Minister like to reallocate that to speed up broadband roll-out? I offer him this idea free, gratis and for nothing.
I am extremely pleased to have a free, gratis and for nothing suggestion from the second candidate for the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee who has participated in questions this morning. I suspect that whoever wins that chairmanship will want to investigate broadband and will take note that the super-connected cities vouchers scheme has now taken off like a rocket, with 24,000 businesses now benefiting. In fact, we are going to spend the money by the end of this year.
While I rejoice for the people of Cheltenham—the town in which I was educated—who may be reaching 96% coverage by 2017, I have to worry about the people of my constituency and other parts of rural Essex where, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) has just said, there are now serious gaps. The way business is being done in this country now means that people are spending part of the time at home. That is not to mention the farming community; the Government insist on providing so much information through high-speed broadband that it is essential that we accelerate the programme.
Battle of Waterloo
The Government have announced over £1 million of funding for Waterloo 200—the organisation supporting the commemoration of the battle of Waterloo. It has planned a number of high-profile events, including a service at St Paul’s Cathedral on 18 June 2015. In addition, £1 million has been made available to support the restoration of the Hougoumont farmhouse, and the Ministry of Defence is sending bands and guards of honour to various events.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that this has been an exciting project. In addition to the service at St Paul’s, Waterloo 200 has planned an education programme in 200 schools, to introduce children to the history of the battle, and a descendants campaign. They are also involved with the planned re-enactment of the battle in Belgium. In addition, a number of exhibitions are being held in the United Kingdom and Europe, and I am pleased that many of the events have benefited from heritage lottery funding.
“Scum of the earth”—that is the term Wellington used not for politicians, but for the soldiers who bravely fought at Waterloo. Can we not have more celebrations here in Westminster for the defeat of a cruel dictator, which ushered in 99 years of peace—we have not done that since—and especially about Hougoumont, where 5,000 men died that day? I challenge every Member of the House to visit Hougoumont and learn about that.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Of course, he will know that there is a very good picture of the battle in the Royal Gallery, which for reasons of sensitivity we occasionally have to cover. I am sure that all the planned events will be much appreciated.
Alas, Mr Speaker, I was not, but my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) was. I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. What will we do to celebrate the two thirds of the Duke of Wellington’s army that were, in fact, not British? Some 36% of His Grace’s army were British, of whom about one third were Scots and Welsh—the Scots were fighting for the Union—but 45% were Germans; not Prussians, but Hanoverians and others. I think that we should give credit to what, ultimately, was the first NATO army.
My hon. Friend is a great military historian, and I often listen carefully to what he says about these battles. As he knows, the battle obviously took place with a coalition. Events are being planned across Europe, and we are working with various Governments across the whole European Union. A number of events are taking place in Scotland, including regimental exhibitions at the National Army Museum in Edinburgh.
The Government strongly support the fair distribution of funding for culture and arts across the country. Indeed, last week in Hull the chief executive of the Arts Council announced that the amount of lottery funding to bodies outside London would increase from 70% to 75%.
May I first congratulate the Minister on his re-appointment? I want to refer to what Darren Henley said in Hull on 28 May:
“If local authority funding is widely withdrawn, there will be little our limited funds can achieve. And no net gain to our increased investment of Lottery money outside London. It will be in vain.”
As the Minister has mentioned, Hull will be UK city of culture in 2017, but we have already lost a quarter of our council funding. Does he really think that we will see any progress on closing the unfair disparity between the north and London?
The hon. Lady’s point is well made to Labour councils up and down the country, which is that they must maintain their investment in culture instead of withdrawing it. It is a partnership, which is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer was pleased to give the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull £1.5 million to help it host the Turner prize, but that is accompanied by local authority investment of £3 million. The message to all those Labour councils is that they must support their local arts organisations—particularly those of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
It is indeed good news that the Turner prize will be presented in Hull. It is not always popular on both sides of the House, but what more can the Government do to encourage other such events to support Hull as the city of culture, and to ensure that Hull benefits from that in the long term?
I know that my hon. Friend, who is standing to be the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, is an aficionado of the Turner prize, as well as many other cultural events. He will know—I do not need to tell him—that Derry/Londonderry benefited from a huge range of events, from the BBC and other cultural organisations, and I expect Hull to benefit in the same way.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not answering this question, because only a couple of months ago, when he was the Chair of the Select Committee, he authored an excellent report highlighting the scandal of the imbalance in funding for the English regions compared with London. Now that he is in a position to implement it, will he?
I am afraid that this is the second time that Opposition Members have asked for the Secretary of State to respond. Unfortunately, they have to put up with me, and I apologise for that. I am pleased that the chief executive of the Arts Council took note of the excellent report put forward by the Select Committee. As a member of that Select Committee, the right hon. Gentleman should be aware that civil servants now pore over these reports as though they were sacred texts.
Syria and Iraq (Cultural Heritage)
It’s me again, I’m afraid.
This is a very serious subject. Obviously, we are deeply concerned about the destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq. Discussions are taking place across Government to ensure that we take a joined-up approach towards those horrific acts of cultural vandalism.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we have to stop that illicit trade. We work with partners in the global coalition to put in place international sanctions to prevent the illegal trading of Syrian and Iraqi antiquities. We also have an effective legal framework to tackle the illicit trade, including specific legislation for antiquities from Iraq and Syria.
If you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, I would like particularly to welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House, although he did defeat a colleague of mine from the coalition Government. He is an old friend; I hope that that does not hurt his career in the House.
The hon. Gentleman’s point is well made. The British Museum, for example, leads the way in helping to preserve antiquities that have been saved from looting. All our museums, working with both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for International Development, will continue that work.
I hope that we will get on with it very soon, to be frank. I spend my time making the case to ministerial colleagues for introducing that important legislation to allow us to ratify the convention at the earliest opportunity. The destruction in Iraq and Syria highlights the importance that we must place on safeguarding cultural artefacts from armed conflict.
I echo the comments that we heard a moment ago. Everyone who campaigns on this issue agrees that the two foundation stones that are necessary if the UK is to have credibility are, first, to ratify The Hague convention and, secondly, for the Government to put money where our words have been for many years, by creating something such as a cultural protection fund to protect and support the brave men and women on the ground, under the auspices of great institutions such as the British Museum.
Welsh Language and Culture
I congratulate my hon. Friend on increasing his majority as part of the best result for the Conservatives in Wales for more than 30 years. The House will want to take note of that truly fantastic achievement.
The Government are committed to supporting Welsh language and culture, in partnership with many bodies—including, of course, Welsh language programming with S4C.
The Minister will no doubt be aware that the National Eisteddfod is the biggest Welsh language cultural event in the world. Next year it is coming to Monmouthshire. Given that Welsh is derived from old Brythonic, which was spoken across the whole of what is now the United Kingdom, and that the Minister has mentioned his role in funding Welsh language television, will he or one of his colleagues consider an invitation to visit the National Eisteddfod in my constituency next year?
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Llefarydd. The Minister’s Department provides nearly £7 million to S4C—down by 93% since 2010. When will the Government announce their financial intentions for S4C so that the channel can move ahead with commissioning?
I think I had better put that point in context. A large part of the funding for S4C—some £74 million—comes from the BBC, so S4C is extremely generously funded, and unlike many media organisations it has secure funding going forward. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) held the office of Secretary of State, she ensured that S4C was protected from any cuts when we had to make cuts.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. The Government’s handling of the finance and governance of S4C during the previous Parliament was an unmitigated disaster. They failed to listen to any elected representatives in Wales, failed to listen to Wales’s excellent Welsh language campaigning organisations, and even failed to listen to the channel S4C itself. It could not possibly be any worse, so may we have a reassurance from the Minister that when it comes to renewing the BBC charter, proper measures will be put in place to protect Welsh language broadcasting this time around?
I can certainly give the hon. Lady that reassurance. As for “an unmitigated disaster”, all I have seen is that S4C has had secure funding and continues to go from strength to strength in producing international hits such as “Hinterland”, which I enjoyed hugely.
Mr Speaker, as you and, indeed, my hon. Friend will be aware, the state opening of Parliament is a designated day for flying the Union flag on Government buildings, but not Parliament Square. The ceremonial arrangements for the state opening of Parliament are a matter for the Palace of Westminster and the Earl Marshal, and any changes cannot be made without their approval.
I thank the Minister for her reply, but will she assure the House that never again will we have the shameful spectacle of empty flagpoles in Parliament Square for the state opening of Parliament on the arrival of Her Majesty the Queen? Will she agree to meet me and representatives of the Flag Institute to ensure that we get the flying of flags in Whitehall and in Parliament Square right for the future?
I know that my hon. Friend is a great expert on these matters, and the Secretary of State and I have some sympathy with his views on the state opening of Parliament. I have therefore asked my officials to raise this issue with the Earl Marshal to look into the possibility of flying the Union flag on the square for future state openings and to establish what the associated costs would be. In the meantime, I would be very happy to meet him and the president of the Flag Institute to discuss it further.
Flags can undoubtedly be a powerful demonstration of pride in our culture and our economic vibrancy. Does the Minister agree that companies that fear an exit from the EU should be encouraged to fly the European flag to demonstrate their commitment to the single market, together with the Union flag, which they might replace on St George’s day with the English flag, on St Andrew’s day with the saltire, on St David’s day with the ddraig goch, and on St Patrick’s day with the tricolour?
I would like to say that I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question, but that would not be true. Designated days for flying the Union flag are decided by Her Majesty the Queen, and any changes to designated days are for Her Majesty to make. It would therefore be an issue for the Department to discuss with Her Majesty.
FIFA World Cup
I have no plans to meet FIFA officials at this stage. However, I did meet the chairman and the chief executive of the English Football Association yesterday, and I intend to keep in close touch with them on this matter and, indeed, on other matters relating to football in this country.
My right hon. Friend might like first to thank the Americans for finally exposing the corruption in FIFA that we have all suspected has been endemic for the past 10 or 20 years. Will he speak to his colleague the Foreign Secretary to see whether there can be a re-analysis with Qatar as to whether the World cup should be held there? Precisely what should our relationship with FIFA be, because Blatter’s departure is not necessarily going to mean that corruption has ended?
I agree with my hon. Friend. In order to achieve the reforms that all of us believe are vitally necessary in FIFA, the first requirement was a change in leadership. We have now obtained that, but that is the beginning of the process and certainly not the end of it. It is for the football associations of the home nations to work with other football associations that are equally determined to see change, in order to ensure that the new leadership is properly committed to achieving those changes.
In response to my hon. Friend’s second question, on Qatar, that is a separate matter. The Swiss authorities are continuing to investigate the bidding process that resulted in the decision to give the 2018 games to Russia and the 2022 games to Qatar, and we await the outcome of those investigations.
I welcome the Secretary of State and the sports Minister to their new posts.
The investigation into FIFA will go on, but the fight for its heart and soul will start now that Sepp Blatter has announced he is standing down. I wonder about these people at the top of FIFA and whether they have ever actually been to a football match for which they bought their own tickets, whether they have followed a football team week in, week out, or whether they have pulled on a football shirt and played in a match. We really need to get rid of these people at the top of the game.
Is the Secretary of State satisfied that Government agencies that are investigating the possibilities of corruption involving UK financial institutions have all the resources they need and that they are doing all they can to root out any criminal activity that may have taken place? Will he say exactly what he can do to ensure that we root out corruption in FIFA?
In the first instance, that is obviously a matter for the Serious Fraud Office and other investigatory bodies in this country, but I have spoken to the Attorney General about it. We will of course ensure that all the resources necessary to carry out a thorough investigation are available to those bodies and we will work closely with the Swiss and American authorities, which are leading on this matter.
On the reforms necessary in FIFA, we are absolutely committed to working through the FA and other football associations to ensure that the new leadership of FIFA is utterly committed to carrying out the sweeping reforms that are so obviously necessary.
This has been a turbulent week for football, with the allegations of corruption eventually leading to the long overdue resignation of Sepp Blatter, and there have obviously been continuing revelations, even today. However, this weekend we once again get to concentrate on what makes the game great, as the women’s World cup kicks off in Canada. I am sure I speak for everyone present, even some of the newly elected Opposition Members, in wishing England the very best of luck ahead of their first game on Tuesday.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his response to and leadership on the FIFA governance crisis, which is in stark contrast to the efficient arrangements for the world’s third largest sporting event, the rugby world cup—coming soon to great venues such as Kingsholm in Gloucester. If FIFA decides in its wisdom that the winter World cup proposed in Qatar should not go ahead, will my right hon. Friend confirm that our nation would be in a position to host it here?
First, I join my hon. Friend in looking forward to the rugby world cup, which many Members are anticipating with eager excitement. On his second question about the decision to hold the 2022 World cup in Qatar, obviously we are watching the investigation, but at the moment that decision stands. If it were decided to change that, I think that, as the chairman of the English FA observed, if Russia hosts the World Cup in 2018, it seems very unlikely that another European country would host it in 2022. However, if FIFA came forward and asked us to consider hosting it, we have the facilities in this country, and of course we did mount a very impressive, if unsuccessful, bid to host the 2018 World cup.
You always say that before I start, Mr Speaker. [Laughter.] And you know about shortness, don’t you?
I have already welcomed the new Secretary of State, but I welcome the new sports Minister very warmly. I liked her predecessor enormously, but when she was appointed I just wanted to run around and give her a hug. I am very pleased. It is a delight to see the new arts Minister, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), in his place. He looks remarkably like the old arts Minister, except that he has lost his beard. Perhaps that is how he managed to survive. Honestly, it is a delight to see him in his place.
Easy tiger! Sorry, Mr Speaker.
With the news from Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner, is it not increasingly evident that FIFA is a stinking sink of corruption that has polluted everything it has touched? Would it not be wholly inappropriate for any money to pass from the UK broadcasters in respect of the 2018 or 2022 tournaments, unless and until Blatter has actually left, rather than just declared that he is leaving, FIFA is reformed, and the 2018 and 2022 bids rerun?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and welcome the love-in between the two Front Benches, but I am sure it will not last.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s astonishment that, even today, there are new claims being made by Jack Warner. This saga becomes more murky and distasteful by the day. As I said earlier, however, the World cup is a separate matter and we await the outcome of the investigations. If there is evidence that the bid process was corrupt, the case for rerunning it will be strong. However, if the World cup goes ahead, it would be unfair to tell English fans, and indeed fans of the other home nations if their sides qualify, that they cannot watch their sides compete in the World cup because the broadcasters will not purchase the sports rights to cover it. That is a separate matter. The important thing is that we get this all cleared up long before the World cup in 2018.
Right. Well, talking of the licence fee, when the Secretary of State was Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, he said that the Government should get on with charter renewal as fast as possible. I note that it is only 576 days until the charter runs out, so will he get on with it? Can he give us a little clue as to his own inclinations? He was Mrs Thatcher’s toy boy and Norman Tebbit’s special adviser. He calls himself a free-market Conservative and, like Nigel Farage, thinks that it is debatable whether the BBC should even make “Strictly”. He says the licence fee is “worse than the poll tax”, but I think he always supported the poll tax, so is Auntie safe in his hands?
I am pleased that normal service has resumed between the Front Benches. On the BBC licence fee and the charter renewal process, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that there is a tight timetable. However, I hope we will be able to renew the charter on time, by the end of 2016. As for the licence fee, he will have to await our conclusions. I would say that I very much agreed with him when he observed of the licence fee:
“Elements of it are regressive, because everyone must pay it, so it falls as a greater percentage of income on the poorest people”. —[Official Report, 9 March 2005; Vol. 431, c. 1558.]
I have fond memories of my time in Cleethorpes while I was at Hull University. Towns like Cleethorpes contribute a great deal to the tourism economy. We will continue to promote such areas through various marketing campaigns, and will create sustainable growth and jobs through the coastal communities fund.
I am aware of the hon. Lady’s long-standing interest in this matter. She and I share a determination to ensure that fraudulent ticket sites are cracked down on. Measures have been taken to do that. She is right to refer to the statutory review, which was set up as a result of legislation. It has to report within a year and we await its findings with considerable interest.
As my hon. Friend is fully aware, the BBC is under a duty, as are other news broadcasters, to be impartial in its coverage and that should mean giving airtime to both sides of every argument. I do not wish to interfere in the editorial independence of the BBC, something I think we all value. Nevertheless, I am sure it will have heard my hon. Friend’s remarks.
As a Tottenham fan, I find it very difficult to talk about Coventry positively—I am still suffering a broken heart from the 1987 FA cup. We take football governance incredibly seriously and are looking at issues such as financial sustainability. The situation at Coventry raised some real questions. We have met some of the football authorities already. We will be meeting the Football League shortly.
I visited one of the libraries under threat with my hon. Friend. I know that when he was the leader of Brent Council he fought very hard to keep libraries open. They were subsequently closed by the Labour administration. I will review the council’s plans to close its libraries, as I do with every authority that seeks to close libraries.
The hon. Gentleman and I are meeting shortly to discuss local television, so perhaps we can add that to the agenda. I know he is delighted with the groundbreaking deal put in place by the former Secretary of State to increase mobile coverage to 90% of geographic areas in the next two years.
Is the Minister aware of the campaign by the Writers’ Guild, “Free is NOT an Option”, which is based on a survey that found that TV writers are increasingly being asked or pressurised to write scripts for free, even when they are established writers who have previously written for the same show? What can we do to ensure that creative work is valued in the same way as other work?
I am aware of that very important campaign. I find it absolutely astonishing that many independent production companies, which make millions and millions of pounds, cannot be bothered to pay a decent wage to people who contribute to their work. I will certainly work with the hon. Lady to encourage them to do so.
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. It is now absolutely essential that new estates should, as a matter of course, be linked up to superfast broadband. I commend Hampshire County Council for the actions it is taking to achieve that. My hon. Friend the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy is meeting my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning to discuss what further measures we can take to ensure that other local authorities follow Hampshire’s lead.
The north-east continues to lose out when it comes to lottery funding. What will Ministers do to ensure that there is greater transparency around the national lottery, so that we can keep up the pressure to shift money out of London to the regions?
Since the national lottery was formed, it has raised more than £33 billion for good causes and made more than 450,000 grants across the UK. I will perhaps reassure the hon. Lady by saying that 70% of all grants have been awarded outside London and the south-east.
I congratulate Kern Ltd in my hon. Friend’s constituency on benefiting from the scheme, along with the 24,000 other businesses across the UK that have similarly benefited. The scheme has proved extremely popular, and that is why we are extending it to 28 more cities and increasing its budget by £40 million.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
The ministerial code is clear: when Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance to Parliament. I have reminded my Cabinet colleagues of that.
On 21 May, the Prime Minister, in a speech to journalists outside this House, gave details of every aspect of the proposed immigration Bill, a full week before that Bill was announced in the Gracious Speech last Wednesday. Whatever the view of the Leader of the House on that, is it not better that Members of Parliament are the first to hear a new policy, so that they can either praise it or ask questions about it in this House?
With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, the House was not sitting at that point, and during the past couple of months political leaders of all parties have made detailed statements to the media about their plans for the next five years; fortunately, only one party is able to put its plans into effect. We will ensure that we continue to treat Parliament with the respect it deserves.
In the previous Parliament, the ministerial code was clear that Ministers should come to the House first, but it was largely ignored. Early signs are that the same thing is happening in this Session. Can the Leader of the House tell us when the code will be published in this Parliament, whether it will be enforced properly and whether Ministers will come to this House and not go to the press first?
The ministerial code will be updated shortly. Labour Members have certainly changed their tune since they were in government. I remember in my first years in this place, when I was in opposition, all those occasions when not only this House but the occupant of No.10 found out in the newspapers what the Chancellor of the Exchequer was doing.
I heard what the Leader of the House said about statements that might have been made before this House was in session, but it was on Monday that the Prime Minister announced details of the Government’s Childcare Bill not to this House but to the media. Does the Leader of the House agree that the Prime Minister was wrong to do so?
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is a distinguished occupant of his office, but he is not simply the Government’s representative in this House; he is also the representative of this House to Her Majesty’s Government. What will he do to enforce any breaches of the ministerial code with regard to releasing information to the press before this House hears it first?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I do take that very seriously. I regard myself as the Leader of the House representing all Members. Of course, it is a matter for the Prime Minister to enforce the ministerial code, but as I indicated a moment ago, I have already reminded my colleagues about the importance of making announcements to Parliament.
It is important that statements are made to the House first, but it is more important that the policies announced are proper Conservative policies and that when they have been announced, they are seen through by the Government. In that spirit, will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will crack on with repealing the Human Rights Act and not shilly-shally over it?
The leaking of information to the press before it comes to the House is increasingly frustrating the public. This question is as much for you, Mr Speaker, as for the Leader of the House: is it not time we started thinking about sanctions for Ministers who indulge in this behaviour—for example, not being able to give the oral statement in the House?
I have no doubt that my colleagues will be making extensive statements to the House about their policy plans, the changes they are enacting and the issues they face. However, given that this is the first Conservative Government for far too long in this country, I ask the hon. Gentleman at least to treat current Conservative Cabinet Ministers as innocent unless proven guilty.
Hours of the House
The Government currently have no plans to bring forward changes to the sitting hours of the House.
A large majority of Members are simply unable to get home in the evenings, and we did not come to London to be given lots of free time. As we have so many new Members, may we ask again whether it is the will of the House that we sit later on Tuesdays and Wednesdays? I would certainly vote in favour of such a proposal, and I know that many other right hon. and hon. Members would agree with me.
Hon. Members had the opportunity to vote in the previous Parliament, and I suspect that my hon. Friend and I were in the same Lobby at the time. The Procedure Committee revisited the situation, and could do so again if Members made representations to it, but I repeat that the Government have no plans to change the sitting hours of the House.
I welcome the hon. Lady to her post; I am sure she will perform extremely well, as she has in other posts. The Procedure Committee considered this matter in the previous Parliament, but does she agree that it would be opportune for the Committee to pick it up again when it is reconstituted, so that current Members can comment on the sitting hours of the House?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome, and I congratulate him on, and welcome him to, his new position too. It is not for the Government to determine the business of the Procedure Committee; it is up to the Members selected to serve on the Committee to do that.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Mole Valley, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Before I call the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) to ask Question 4, it might be helpful to new Members if I remind the House that, to avoid any possibility of compromising our security, we do not discuss operational security matters on the Floor of the House. The question is perfectly in order, but hon. Members should take account of this constraint in their further exchanges.
The short answer is none. The slightly longer answer is that viewing a Member’s emails can be done lawfully only with the consent of the Member, where a circuit judge has made a production order requiring material to be produced, or pursuant to a search warrant and in accordance with the Speaker’s protocol on the execution of a search warrant and the precedent of the House of Commons. Thus, no member of staff, including the parliamentary security director, has both the ability and the authority to view or authorise the viewing of Members’ emails.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Business of the House Committee
There was an absence of consensus on this issue at the end of the previous Parliament, and there is still no consensus at the beginning of this Parliament. The Government therefore have no intention to bring forward proposals.
I did not follow that, because there is now a Conservative majority in this House and it has always been Conservative policy to have a business of the House Committee. In welcoming the Deputy Leader of the House to her new position, I note that she is an ex-Whip, and she knows that such a committee would remove a lot of work from the Whips Office as well as being beneficial to the House. Will the Government reconsider their position?
My hon. Friend knows that the proposal was in the coalition agreement, and that after our great victory there is no longer a coalition. That said, there is still an absence of consensus on how a House business Committee would really work. I hope my hon. Friend welcomes the extra hour for Westminster Hall debates, so that there are plenty of opportunities for Members of all parties to continue to hold the Government to account.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Mole Valley, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
House of Commons Facilities (Corporate Hire)
The House generated £441,000 in net sales from the hire of catering and event facilities to third parties between January 2014, when such hire was permitted, and May 2015. This was from a mixture of corporate, wedding, private and charity events that took place when the House was not sitting. Smaller amounts were raised from other activities, including charges for filming on the estate. It is not possible to identify separately the amount of income raised from the corporate sector.
Is the hon. Gentleman as concerned as I am that it is unhealthy for our democracy if this House becomes more and more dependent on hire fees from corporate interests? Will he therefore look again at this policy of hiring out our facilities to the very people who caused the financial difficulties that the House is trying to meet?
I ought to remind the hon. Gentleman that the matter was looked at carefully by the Administration Committee; it was looked at by the Finance and Services Committee; it was looked at by the House of Commons Commission; and it was agreed by the House. The hon. Gentleman may find that he is in a slight minority on this issue.
NHS Success Regime
Where is he?
I welcome the success regime, details of which were published by Monitor yesterday. The purpose of the success regime is to improve health and care services for patients in local health and care systems that are struggling with financial or quality problems. It will build on the improvements made through the special measures regime, recognising that some of the underlying reasons may result from intrinsic structural problems in the local health economy. This will therefore make sure issues are addressed in the region, not just in one organisation.
The regime is designed to make improvements in some of the most challenged health and care economies. The first sites to enter the regime—North Cumbria, Essex and North East and West Devon—are facing some of the most significant challenges in England. They have been selected based on data such as quality metrics, financial performance and other qualitative information.
Unlike under previous interventions, this success regime will look at the whole health and care economy: providers, such as hospital trusts, service commissioners, clinical commissioning groups and local authorities will be central to the discussions. It will be supported by three national NHS bodies, whereas existing interventions tend to be delivered by individual organisations and to concentrate on one part of a health economy—for example, the commissioning assurance framework led by NHS England that concentrates solely on commissioners, or special measures led by NHS England, the Trust Development Authority or Monitor, which focuses on providers.
Together, Monitor, TDA and NHS England, with local commissioners, patients, their representatives such as Healthwatch England and health and wellbeing boards will aim to address systemic issues. The national bodies will provide support all the way through to implementation, with a focus on supporting and developing local leadership through the process.
As we have just heard, this announcement has far-reaching implications for people in Essex, Cumbria and Devon. It was being finalised on Tuesday, when the House was engaged in a full day’s debate on the national health service, yet there was not one single mention of it during the debate. What are we to make of that, and why was the Secretary of State not here to make this announcement to the House? Why does he think that it is always more important to make announcements in television studios or to outside conferences than to Members of Parliament in the House of Commons? That is not acceptable. People in Cumbria, Essex and Devon will be worried about what the Minister has just said, and what it means for health services in their areas.
First things first. Can the Minister confirm that services in those areas are safe and sustainable? Are there enough staff, and will work be undertaken immediately to deal with staff shortages? Are plans being drawn up to close A and E departments, or other services, as part of this process? Could it mean mergers between organisations, and job losses?
We welcome action that means taking a broader view of challenged health economies—indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) has long called for such action—but what will the new regime mean for local NHS bodies? Will it be possible for NHS England to overrule them? The House will recall the last occasion on which the Secretary of State tried to take sweeping powers to close health services over the heads of local people in south London. It did not end well; indeed, it ended with his being defeated in the High Court. Can the Minister assure us that patients will be consulted before any changes go ahead?
Is not the fact that NHS is taking drastic powers over whole swathes of the NHS in three counties a sign of the failure of the Government’s plans for local commissioning, and evidence of five years of failure of Tory health policies? Is it not evidence that care failures are more likely, not less likely, on the Tories’ watch?
This is no way to run a health service, and no way to treat Parliament. The Minister, along with the Secretary of State, is trying to shift the blame for things that have gone wrong in the NHS on their watch—for problems that are of their making. We will not let the Secretary of State do that. He should have been here to do Members who are affected by this announcement the courtesy of giving them answers, and I ask his junior Minister to relay that to him directly after the debate.
The shadow Secretary of State has spoken at length—in his answer to his urgent question—about NHS bodies. He has spoken about local commissioners, about NHS England and about the Department of Health, but Members will have noted that there was one group of people about whom he did not speak, and that was patients. It is extraordinary that, once again, he has come here to speak, again and again, about structures—about the NHS and its bodies, about jobs, about providers and about deliverers—but not about the people who are being failed at local level, namely patients in Essex, west and north-east Devon and north Cumbria.
Let me deal with the right hon. Gentleman’s points in detail. First, he made accusations about television studios. I think it is a bit of a cheek to make such claims—and I should tell the House that the Secretary of State will very shortly be addressing the NHS Confederation.
The urgent question was submitted this morning.
Coming from a shadow Secretary of State who is, one might suspect, using urgent questions and the subject of the NHS not to address issues relating to the quality of care, but for his own political reasons—as he always has—this was a shameless attack. It reflected rather badly on the right hon. Gentleman himself, rather than reflecting on the cause that he should seek to pursue: the better care of patients, which lies at the heart of what NHS England is attempting to do. If he had read what Simon Stevens said when he announced the plans yesterday to the NHS Confederation, he would have noted that they are being drawn up, co-ordinated and, in part, led by local commissioners rather than—as was the case before—by monolithic centralised bodies headed by bureaucrats. This process is being led, locally, by clinicians, who are being supported and helped by NHS England and professional regulators.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about staff shortages. I am surprised that he mentions that, given that he was in part the author of the staff shortages that hobbled the NHS at the end of the previous Administration and that led in part to the problems at Mid Staffordshire that we have been seeking to address. Only this Government, in their previous incarnation, promised to correct that situation, in part through our pledges on GP numbers over the next five years.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about plans for accident and emergency departments and about job losses. I would say to him that it is different this time. These plans are being drawn up by local commissioners, who are now beginning the process of working out how to improve their local health economy. This is not a plan that will be devised centrally in Whitehall, imposed on local areas and announced as a done deal for local people. I know that that is what the right hon. Gentleman is used to, but in this instance it is a genuine conversation between local patients and local commissioners with the aim of improving their local health economies, and it will be supported by national bodies.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about south London and about consultation. I was a candidate in a constituency that had a solution imposed on it, during his tenure as Minister for Health, without any decent consultation. That proposal was eventually thrown out. The previous Government never consulted local people properly when he was in control, but we have changed that. These local plans will involve local people, patient bodies and health and wellbeing boards from the outset.
The shadow Secretary of State asked about the powers of NHS England, about localisation and about the co-ordination of local services. I ask him once again to go back and read Simon Stevens’s speech. He will see how things have changed. This is not about decisions being made by politicians in Whitehall. I dare say that the right hon. Gentleman does not know the solution to the problems in the local health economies in Devon, Essex and Cumbria—
I am so glad that the shadow Minister is such an augur of knowledge. I will tell him who knows the solution: it is the patients and the local clinicians. They will provide the answers and make the changes. We want patient care to be improved for local people to provide excellence in the local NHS—excellence delivered and excellence for patients—and we were supported at the general election in that mission to create a world-class NHS.
Order. I understand that there is a high-spirited atmosphere in the Chamber and a great deal of interest in this subject, but I remind Members that brief questions and brief answers should be on the subject of the urgent question—namely, the success regime. It is with that matter that we are dealing this morning.
I welcome the additional support for struggling health economies, even if it is a classic example of NHS newspeak to call it a success regime. Will the Minister reassure the House that, in looking at a wider approach to health economies, he will also look at the funding formulae for health and for social care, which do not adequately take into consideration the impact of age or rurality?
I thank my hon. Friend for her typically gracious welcome for the proposals. She understands why this matter requires a whole-system approach at local level. I can confirm that the NHS will be studying every single aspect of the local health economy and all that that entails.
Is it not disgraceful that in the health debate on the Gracious Speech two days ago the Secretary of State had nothing to say about the financial crisis affecting the NHS and refused to answer my questions about his plans for Devon, and that this announcement was made to the media yesterday with no details of how it is going to affect patient care or the quality of services in my area? The Minister is very keen on quoting Simon Stevens, but Mr Stevens told BBC Radio Devon this morning that this chaos was a direct result of the fragmentation following this Government’s reorganisation of the health service. When is the Minister going to admit that that reorganisation was a disaster, and when are the Government going to get a grip on the spiralling financial crisis in our NHS?
I heard the right hon. Gentleman’s comments during the debate on the Queen’s Speech, and I know that he has taken a keen and detailed interest in the problems in his local health economy. I know also that he has been very careful and keen to include local commissioners and those who understand what is happening on the ground. That is why I had hoped he would be pleased about the introduction of the success regime, which will build on the financial consultations and discussions that have been going on, will involve local commissioners and, importantly, will provide the back-up of national regulators and NHS England. I did not hear the comments of Simon Stevens on local radio but I did read his speech, in which he made the opposite point to the one that the right hon. Gentleman suggested. The reforms that were brought in, far from being as the right hon. Gentleman characterised them, have saved £1.5 billion in this year, in addition to the £5 billion previously—money that is being invested in care in his constituency.
I am grateful to the Minister for the statement. How will my constituents in mid-Essex and the local health economy in mid-Essex see the results of what is going to be done under this regime? Can he assure me that it will examine the funding formula for health care per head of the population in mid-Essex, which has historically been skewed away from mid-Essex towards other parts of the country?
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the hospitals in Essex that have been placed in special measures. He will also be aware that focusing on one or several particular institutions is not sufficient to sort out the problems in the wider local health economy. That is why the success regime is being brought in—to try and deal with those systemic issues. Once the success regime has been concluded, I hope that his constituents will rapidly see an improvement in the service that they receive and that they deserve, wherever they are in the county.
On his second point about funding per head, he will know that NHS England has already started to look at that and, in some instances, address it. I have the same problem in my constituency in Suffolk, and it needs sorting out in the medium term across the country.
The Minister talks about consulting commissioning groups locally, but why is he not willing to listen to groups of doctors across the country who talk about the point I made on Tuesday—fragmentation? We need integration. Local authorities are having their budget taken away, which means cuts to social care. Social care companies are one thread away from bankruptcy. We need to fund both sides of that, yet we are running round looking at structure. We need to move and look at outcomes. I have heard the Minister talk about “Five Year Forward View”. In Scotland we are already doing that as part of 2020 Vision: look at the patients, as the Minister says.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Lady on her entry into the House and on her maiden speech, which I enjoyed listening to in the Queen’s Speech debate. In England we are addressing the issues surrounding social care and its integration with the health service. That is why we have introduced the £5 billion better care fund. Under the success regime, far from looking at structure, we are trying to see how we can better link up services. That is why local councils will be a key partner at the table in the discussions.
I welcome the announcement, which I see as an opportunity to review the whole health economy in north Cumbria. It is a chance to review the strengths and weaknesses of health care and patient care in and around Carlisle and north Cumbria. However, will the Minister confirm that this will not hinder other developments, such as the acquisition of the Cumberland infirmary by Northumbria NHS Trust?
It is such a pleasure to see my hon. Friend return to the House. I know that he has been a tireless campaigner for the people of Carlisle. The success regime, as I said in answer to previous questions, will look at every single part of the local health economy, and every single partner in those discussions will be locally based or national regulators and NHS England.
I am desperately concerned about the state of our health services in west and north Cumbria, as are many of my constituents. Many people told me during the election that they want their services delivered as close to where they live—as close to home—as is possible. That is challenging in west Cumbria. I hope that the success regime recognises that, and that we stop talking and consulting and actually have action to deliver the services where people live. That is challenging because of recruitment, and those issues need to be taken into account. I would like the Minister’s assurance that that will be part of the success regime, because without it there will be no success.
I welcome the hon. Lady to her seat. She is right in much of what she says, and the entire purpose of the success regime is to take action, rather than just to keep on publishing PowerPoint presentations. We will be addressing every single part of the failures in her local health economies, and that may well include recruitment.
If a major feature of the success regime is ensuring that there is adequate care in the community, so that people who no longer need to be in acute beds can be released safely and comfortably and to the assurance of their relatives and family, is that not something to be welcomed?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that, and he has got to the nub of the point in a way that the shadow Secretary of State did not. This is about patient care and the excellence we expect from it. That is precisely why I agree with him that success regimes will be successful only if we ensure that we are improving patient care, and that might well include improving access to care at a local level.
The hon. Lady should not be confused because the success regime is indeed dealing with local failure and we intend to turn it into a success. That is the point of what we are doing. We have made these decisions where the NHS has assessed areas as having quality and financial problems. We intend to address them rather than just talk about them, which is why I am so glad that this will be locally led, finding local solutions to local problems.
This intervention affects every one of my constituents, and if it improves their patient care of course I welcome it. The Minister has done extremely well from the Dispatch Box in one of his earliest outings, but can he tell us the timescale of this intervention and how we will measure whether or not it has been a success?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. He should be aware that success regimes will begin imminently, but we have no set timescale for them yet, because that will be determined by the plan drawn up in the initial stages by local commissioners. Again, that goes to the root of what we are trying to do; this is going to be a plan led by local clinicians, commissioners and providers, in order to provide a local solution.
There are real concerns in the north-west generally about deficits and problems with patient care and safety if those deficits continue. Let me ask the Minister a specific question on the issue before us today: who will have the final say in these areas? Will it be commissioners or will it be NHS England? If it is the commissioners, will they be able to call for more funding, and will the Government meet that?
The hon. Gentleman should know that the success regime will be co-ordinated by local commissioners, supported by NHS England, the TDA and Monitor. They will come together with a plan, which will then be implemented. The only way these success regimes will work is if they are owned by everyone who makes decisions locally. [Interruption.]
I welcome this announcement. As my hon. Friend will know, Basildon hospital has been making good progress in improving patient care, but that has been at a cost. This regime will allow it not to have to choose between balancing the books and providing a safe environment. Can he confirm that patients and the public will be involved at every stage of this process, so that they can suggest any changes that may be necessary to achieve the success we are after?
They will not just be involved; they will be central to the discussions. The jeers and taunts from Opposition Front Benchers give the game away: they expect a decision to be made centrally—that is what they want. That is the only way they think. Conservative Members believe that local people should be central to that decision and that we should fix the whole local health economy, as opposed to trying to deal with individual trusts as they encounter problems.
Will the Minister explain how the problem of chief executives who are not performing properly will be dealt with under this regime? Let me give him an example. Under the coalition Government’s watch the chief executive at Hull, who was disastrous, was moved to Harlow where he is now earning £170,000 a year. He had the help of the TDA in that move and left a disastrous situation in Hull.
I was not aware of that situation and would very much like to talk to the hon. Lady about it afterwards. If the facts she states are true, that is indeed wrong. The whole point of the success regime is to get away from the idea of being able to change one chief executive or commissioner in one provider in a challenged health economy while expecting to see a change to the whole system. We are trying to correct the system so that local care for local people is improved.
If this intervention improves healthcare for my constituents, I will welcome it very much. However, will my hon. Friend clarify the impact on Derriford hospital in my constituency and whether the intervention will put any new management into our hospital?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and welcome him to this place. To repeat the answer I have given several times so far—[Interruption.] Those on the Opposition Front Bench say that I do not know, but I must explain to them once again that this is not about a Minister sitting in Whitehall making a decision having never visited an area. That is what the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) did when he tried to destroy local services in my constituency and other places in Suffolk. This is different. It is about trying to fix problems in these challenged local health economies, which in some places have been present not for months or years but for decades. We are trying to ensure that the decisions are corrected and made by the local commissioners and clinicians.
Ministers will be aware of the plight of the Barts Health NHS Trust, which is in special measures. Part of its problem is the weight of the interest on its private finance initiative, a new Labour policy that I did not support. It is having to pay that back at £500,000 a month. Surely a success regime for Barts and other hospitals burdened with PFI debt would be a serious attempt to renegotiate those PFI agreements.
I am so glad that the hon. Lady welcomes the success regime and the potential it might have. I spoke to one of her colleagues the other day about the troubled hospitals that she mentioned and I was about to invite her in to have a discussion about them, as we must try to find out what the core issues are with Barts Health NHS Trust. She raises an interesting point about PFI, however. One reason we are struggling in some cases, and why we have struggled over the past five years to provide the funding within the NHS that it requires, is the enormous NHS PFI debt that was loaded on to it by the previous Government and that has cost it billions of pounds over the past 10 years.
I thank my hon. Friend for his very thoughtful comments and replies. Does he recognise that one of the problems for the Devon clinical commissioning group is that it covers a large rural community and also Plymouth, the largest conurbation west of Bristol? We need to find a way in which this can all work to ensure that the city of Plymouth gets looked after and that levels of deprivation and so on are considered.
My hon. Friend makes the point better than I did. How do we sort these problems out using the local knowledge that he has just demonstrated rather than having a Minister in Whitehall with a map thinking that he or she can make the decision themselves? The success regime seeks to harness that local knowledge and the local solutions.
It is simply not acceptable that an announcement of this magnitude should have been made without first being debated in this House. As I understand it, the success regime applies to a number of areas of the country but not to London. My local hospital, King’s College hospital, has a deficit well in excess of £40 million. It is nigh on impossible in parts of the constituency to see a GP when people need to. We have a crisis in the NHS across the country. What is the comprehensive plan to address that? We need that rather than a piecemeal intervention in only parts of the country.
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. She will not know that there was an Adjournment debate at the end of the last Parliament on precisely this issue. I invite her to seek such a debate if she wishes to discuss local issues with me or other Ministers. The success regime has been devised by Simon Stevens and NHS England. It will be clinically led, fulfilling our desire to see the NHS led by doctors, not Whitehall bureaucrats.
I welcome the announcement. Colchester general hospital is in special measures. One of the biggest issues facing our hospital is the recruitment of nursing staff. Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that county-wide recruitment will be included as part of the success regime?
Having listened to the Minister’s answers, it seems to me that patients have every right to be worried about whether care is safe in the NHS. Does he not realise that, unless the Government reverse the cuts in social care, the problems in patient care will not be resolved anywhere in the NHS—not just in the areas covered by the so-called success regimes?
May I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that this Government and their predecessor changed the culture of trying to suppress bad news, whether on care or money, and instead tried to understand what was best for patients, even when that meant facing up to difficult decisions? That is precisely what NHS England is doing with the success regime, and that is why we are addressing seriously challenged local health economies, rather than pretending that there is not a problem, which I am afraid was the attitude of the Labour Front-Bench spokesman when he was in power.
Order. I must say that it is a pleasure to welcome back to the House the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who when he celebrates 45 years in the House this month will I think be approaching the mid-point of his parliamentary career.
At this crucial mid-point, thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for that unusual way of calling me.
Does my hon. Friend the Minister recall that the whole purpose of introducing the purchaser-provider divide many years ago, which was developed by the Labour party and is now known as local commissioning, was to concentrate on patient care, patient outcomes and local priorities? Will he therefore, with this welcome announcement, continue to stick by NHS England, allow it to do that, and resist the blandishments of the shadow Health Secretary, who seems to pine for the days of centralised bureaucracy and is still feebly trying to weaponise the NHS for party political purposes?
It gives me particular pleasure to respond to my right hon. and learned Friend. He was an exceptional Secretary of State for Health because he understood the centrality of local decisions by patients and their doctors and commissioners. I confirm that we will continue to allow local commissioners to make the decisions, rather than try to wrest power back from them to Whitehall, which is precisely what the shadow Secretary of State did when he was Secretary of State.
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. I only hope that she does not have the same contempt for her constituents that her predecessor seems to have expressed. It is interesting how it all comes out afterwards. I repeat to the hon. Lady that the decisions will be made locally by local people and local commissioners in response to local problems, and where they arise we will seek to address them.
I have heard that trusts in my constituency were potential candidates for this regime. Will the Minister please make it clear that, unlike some previous oversight regimes, this regime will enable local health care organisations to work together to solve their problems and will involve not just scrutiny but more support?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I am delighted to see her in her place. She has experience and expertise in this area. She will know that elsewhere in the country, before 2010, local commissioners, doctors and providers often came up with good solutions, but then strategic health authorities would come in with a completely different answer and override all of them. That is what we are seeking to avoid.
The Minister is right that patients are key to this, but so are the people who deliver hands-on services. He has mentioned the role of clinicians a number of times, but what about the voice of care workers, nurses and other people on the front line? Will they be listened to, and will their representative bodies, such as trade unions and colleges, be listened to, or will they be completely and utterly ignored, as was the case with the Health and Social Care Bill?
The early stages of these exchanges would have been better had the Opposition asked how the Government will respond to the deficiencies shown in the Care Quality Commission report. I recommend that all Members read the article in The Guardian today by Diane Taylor and Denis Campbell, which sets out the problems that this is tackling. Will my hon. Friend ensure that those areas where there are no major problems, such as Coastal West Sussex, are given support and not overlooked, and that resources are not taken away from them, because they are as under-resourced as others?
This is not about moving resources around the country. I must say that I differ with my hon. Friend on his views about the CQC. It was a complete basket case when the Government came to power in 2010, but it has since been turned around and is now providing exceptional inspection regimes, which is changing the whole nature of safety and quality in the NHS. I hope that it will continue to improve.
The Minister says that there are systemic issues in Devon, Cumbria and Essex. Did the National Audit Office confirm that, and did he know that before the election? Why did he not reveal his hand then to say that he would intervene in one or more of those areas, or is he simply playing politics with patients’ lives?
The hon. Gentleman should know that there have been issues in those areas not just for months and years, but sometimes for decades. We have sought in the first instance to deal with problems with providers, which is why in two of the areas we have hospitals in special measures, or formerly in special measures. We are now seeking to fix the problems in the wider local health economy, led by local people. We are getting on with that, rather than just talking about it, which is what happened before.
I do not at this stage anticipate—I have received no indication from NHS England—that the success regime will be extended in any way. I repeat that this is a particular intervention by local people, in co-ordination with NHS bodies, to fix local NHS problems. It they arise elsewhere in the country, I am sure that local people will want to look at them too.
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. We are now repeating discussions we had in the previous Parliament, because I am afraid that the Labour party still does not understand that these decisions are not being directed from Whitehall. I know that is uncomfortable for them, because what they want to do is pull a lever and hope that something happens at the other end, but that does not work. The only way to get success is by having local clinicians, supported by national bodies, providing the solutions that local people deserve.