Tuesday 2 February 2016
[Valerie Vaz in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered regional airports and UK airports capacity.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I am delighted to have secured this debate, which could not be more timely in a year when I hope that the Government will face up to some of the most significant decisions in the aviation sector for decades. That could not be more important for regional airports, such as Newcastle international airport in my constituency and countless others around the UK, which are the backbone of regional economies and, therefore, the economy as a whole. The interest in and concern about the issue is demonstrated by the number of hon. Members present.
Newcastle international airport celebrated its 80th anniversary last year. As the Minister knows because he came to visit, it is the largest airport in the north-east and the 10th largest in the UK. It also happens to be the single largest employer in my constituency and is proud of its public-private partnership model, with ownership between the seven local authorities and AMP Capital. Indeed, it served a record 4.56 million passengers in 2014 and supported 3,200 jobs directly on site and 12,200 indirectly. It contributes over £581 million in gross value added to the north-east economy, including £181 million in tourism impact and 1,750 tourism jobs.
Newcastle airport exports well over £300 million of goods every year. The vast majority are carried by Emirates on its long-haul service to Dubai and last year saw the first ever trans-Atlantic service from Newcastle by United Airlines to Newark, which is set to return this summer. Newcastle international airport makes an invaluable contribution to the north-east’s proud claim to be the only consistently net exporting region in the UK, just as other regional airports make an invaluable contribution to their local economies.
This is when we come to the purpose of today’s debate. The Government are facing critical decisions that will determine the future of the UK’s aviation sector, which in turn will have a major impact on regional economies. Those decisions are not new and include where to build the new runway to provide the capacity we need for the future and how properly to support regional airports during a time of considerable upheaval with devolution.
Time and again, the Prime Minister has kicked the can down the road rather than face up to the challenges. It is not just Heathrow or Gatwick that loses out from this chronic indecision. The future growth and sustainability of the UK’s regional airports and, by extension, the growth of our regional economies, are equally put at risk.
Does my hon. Friend, like me, find it utterly extraordinary that, given the huge advantage to many regional airports around the country, the fact that business is overwhelmingly supportive of an early decision on airport capacity and the fact that the private sector trade unions—GMB and Unite—are also campaigning vigorously on behalf of their members to increase airport capacity, the Prime Minister, dithering Dave, is still holding back on bringing a decision to Parliament?
I thank my right hon Friend, who makes my argument for me. Hon. Members will remember the Chancellor’s claim in 2011 of a march of the makers, which he has since forgotten, and his more recent talk of a northern powerhouse. How does he expect the makers to march or the north to become a powerhouse if they cannot export or do business with the rest of the world? That is what is at risk thanks to the Government’s dither and delay.
It is fantastic that my hon. Friend has this debate this morning. The problem with provincial airport capacity using Heathrow as a hub is that we unfortunately rely on flights in and out of Heathrow and those are the very flights that will be squeezed due to the lack of capacity at Heathrow. When they are in competition with increased demand from overseas flights, those provincial flights, which are important for the regional economies, will lose out.
My hon. Friend excellently makes my argument for me. I want to talk about the most important decision on the desk of the Secretary of State for Transport at the moment: airport capacity and expansion. Having pledged to cancel the Labour Government’s plans for a third runway at Heathrow, the coalition Government set up the independent Airports Commission in 2012, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, to assess and to report on long-term aviation capacity options by summer 2015. The commission did exactly what it was asked. Having considered a plethora of options, it decided in its interim report in 2013 to narrow these down to just three, all of which were in the south-east. In July 2015, it produced a thorough and comprehensive report assessing each of these in turn.
Does the hon. Lady agree that it is important not only that airport capacity is increased in the south-east so that regional airports can feed into it but that slots are guaranteed for flights from regional airports? Otherwise, as capacity diminishes because airlines use more and more flights across the world, regional airports will be squeezed again.
Indeed. The commission looked at that issue and its decision was unequivocal: a third runway at Heathrow presents the clearest case and the greatest strategic and economic benefits to the UK. That view was shared unanimously by its members. For the benefit of hon. Members, it is worth revisiting what some of those benefits are.
The commission estimates that by 2050, GDP would be boosted by £129 billion; 78,000 new jobs would be created; productivity would be boosted by £69 billion; and 12 new long-haul routes would be available to UK passengers with 16 million extra long-haul seats. Those benefits far outweigh those that would be provided by an expanded Gatwick. Perhaps most important, the commission said that an expanded Heathrow would
“provide a stimulus to economic growth throughout the UK.”
It estimates that £70 billion to £80 billion of economic benefits would spread across the regions of the UK by 2050.
I recognise the many concerns, both local and national, about an expanded Heathrow, particularly local air quality, noise and other community impacts, not to mention whether an expanded Heathrow is even possible in line with our climate change commitments. The Airports Commission also recognised those challenges and set out a package of measures to meet them. Let us remember that the commission did not simply give an unlimited green light to expanding Heathrow. It recommended that any new runway must be accompanied by a ban on night flights, which is possible only with expansion anyway; a legally binding noise envelope so that noise levels do not exceed current limits; a new aviation noise levy on airport users to fund a mitigation package for local residents; a £1 billion commitment from Heathrow for community compensation; a legal commitment that expansion will happen only if it does not delay local surrounding areas complying with EU limits on air quality; and compensation for homes lost at full market value plus 25% available immediately. That would provide the framework within which to approach the challenges posed by an enlarged Heathrow.
Why is airport expansion in the south-east so important to other regions such as the north-east? The trend in recent years has been towards a hub-and-spoke model of aviation, whereby airlines have routed all operations through a hub airport and joined with other airlines, creating alliances, to provide customers with hundreds of destinations, all accessible through a single hub. We can look all over the world and see that the hub-and-spoke model is key, from the likes of Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt in Europe to the rise of the increasingly dominant middle eastern hubs in Dubai, Qatar and Abu Dhabi, not to mention the well-established far eastern hubs such as Singapore and Hong Kong. Of course, Heathrow stands alongside those, accounting for 70% of the UK’s scheduled long-haul flights and serving 75 unique destinations.
That is not to say that long-haul routes are neither valuable nor viable from regional airports. As I mentioned, the daily Emirates service from Newcastle to Dubai has been transformational, facilitating millions of pounds in exports from the north-east to the middle east, but it has been so successful because it is operating to another hub airport, from which those goods and passengers can travel on, throughout the middle east, to Australasia and beyond. I hope that we will see more of those links developing in the future. Regional airports play a significant role in providing their own direct connections worldwide, in conjunction with connections through a hub such as Heathrow.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point about the fact that the delay in relation to Heathrow could cost the UK economy significant amounts of money. If I am flying from Newcastle, I do not mind which hub I use, as long as I can get where I want to go, so if Heathrow is not developed and the capacity is not there for inbound flights from Newcastle in order for me to change to an international flight, I will happily use Schiphol, Brussels, Paris or even Dublin if I am going to the United States of America. Therefore, it is vital for all the UK’s provincial airports that that capacity is provided as soon as possible.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, but we must always look at this in both directions. It is not about where we would be happy to go via if we want to go somewhere, but where people are happy to come via if they want to come and do business where we are. That is increasingly important.
My hon. Friend is making compelling points about the need to develop airline and airport capacity. Does she agree that to do that, there needs to be a review of air passenger duty? I am thinking of us in the Northern Ireland context having to compete with the Republic of Ireland, where there is zero air passenger duty.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I will come on to that issue shortly.
To go back to the airport expansion issue, Newcastle currently has a six or seven times daily service in and out of Heathrow. It is used by 500,000 passengers a year, including many of my constituents, as well as residents and businesses from across the north-east, 50% of whom use the domestic service into Heathrow to connect to hundreds of destinations worldwide—an opportunity that no other UK airport provides for my constituents, or passengers from any other region, for that matter. As the Transport Secretary himself told the British Air Transport Association last week, we must keep
“beating the drum for the regions in this debate.”
He also said:
“One of the most persuasive arguments for new capacity is the links it will provide to the north, the south west, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Opponents have tried to suggest that a new runway would somehow undermine our domestic network. In fact the reverse is true.”
I could not agree more. However, these vital connections between the regions and Heathrow, which, let us be clear, is where domestic links are most valuable, are at risk. As the Airports Commission found, a crowded Heathrow has led to a decline in the number of domestic services, from 18 in 1990 to just seven at present, but it estimates that that could bounce back to 16, and an additional 1 million passengers a year, if a third runway is built. By contrast, the commission says that if we maintain the status quo at Heathrow, domestic passengers using the airport could fall by a staggering 2.5 million.
In that case, I hope that the Minister will acknowledge the vital links between regions such as mine and Heathrow and the economic benefits that they provide for regional economies. I hope that he can reassure hon. Members today that the impact on regional economies is playing a key role in the weighing up of the decision. Most importantly, I hope that the Minister will set out clearly when we can expect a decision once and for all, and provide a guarantee that we will see no more dither and delay from this Prime Minister.
The other major concern for regional airports in the UK at the moment is the devolution of APD to Scotland and Wales. As a result of the Smith Commission proposals, APD is being devolved to Scotland through the Scotland Bill, and the Government are now considering the case for doing the same in Wales, as part of the St David’s Day agreement signed last year. We know already that the Scottish National party programme for government includes a pledge to cut APD in Scotland from 2018, initially by 50% if the SNP wins power this year, with a view to replacing APD with a “more competitive regime” in the long term. Of course, it was welcome that the leader of the Scottish Labour party, Kezia Dugdale, pledged while visiting Newcastle that a Labour Scottish Government would not cut APD north of the border, acknowledging the risk of such a move to north-east airports and businesses. The implications for airports such as Newcastle and others, including Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham, should not be underestimated. We have long made that clear; we have done so since the Smith Commission’s proposals were published.
The hon. Lady’s mention of Birmingham airport prompts me to intervene. What does she think about the idea of an APD holiday for new flights? For instance, the American Airlines flight that she mentioned from her constituency to Newark is a summer flight at the moment, but potentially, with an APD holiday, could become an all-year-round flight instead.
A number of options are being mooted and discussed as part of the solution. What I want to see from the Government is some certainty about what they will actually do to ensure that regional airports are not disadvantaged by some of these changes. All options need to be considered and taken seriously. Indeed, analysis by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs of the impact of devolving APD to Scotland found that Newcastle would be the most acutely affected, at least immediately, with an initial 10% reduction in passenger numbers. That is the Government’s own analysis. In particular, HMRC’s review forecast that the savings to medium and long-haul passengers from reduced APD in Scotland would outweigh the cost of travelling further.
Does the hon. Lady accept that we do not even have to rely on modelling done by HMRC? We have only to look at the example of Northern Ireland. Passengers are being sucked out of Northern Ireland to an airport 100 miles down the road, where there is no APD at all. The same would happen if we had an uneven playing field in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again; she is making a very powerful speech. The situation is similar for those of us in the north-east, with our regional airport at Newcastle. It is 104 miles from Newcastle airport to Edinburgh. If the Scottish Government were to reduce APD by half or possibly do away with it altogether—there would be a real economic disbenefit for Newcastle airport. However, we are already suffering a major disbenefit because people travelling from provincial airports into a hub such as Heathrow get charged APD twice. There is a charge at Heathrow for being inbound and there is a charge from Newcastle for being outbound, so people are charged twice for flying between a provincial airport and a hub such as Heathrow.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent point. Does she agree that this should not be about persuading Scotland not to reduce this taxation? In fact, I am delighted that Scotland has indicated that it will reduce it. This should be about all of us persuading the Chancellor to remove this pernicious, dirty, nasty little tax on passengers and on business.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister seemed to recognise the issue during the general election campaign. He told regional newspapers:
“We are not going to accept a situation where there’s unfair tax competition...We will do what’s necessary to make sure that England’s regional airports can succeed.”
However, there has been near total silence on this issue ever since and there is a considerable amount of understandable concern that that was simply a lot of hot air.
I echo the comment made by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). It is not a matter of trying to stop regional airports in Scotland from developing. APD was designed to dampen some of the demand here, and it holds back all regional airports. The land border with southern Ireland has been mentioned. If someone from Germany, such as the German side of my family, wants to visit the wilderness, they have a massively different choice between Ireland and Scotland because Ireland does not have APD and it has 9% VAT on tourism. We are ranked 139th out of 140 countries for tourism competitiveness.
It is almost a year and a half since the Smith commission’s proposals were published and accepted by the Government, yet we are still no closer to understanding how the Government intend to protect regional airports that are set to be adversely affected by the changes. In last summer’s Budget, the Treasury belatedly published a discussion paper on options for supporting regional airports through the changes. The document outlined three options: devolving APD in England; varying APD rates in England; and providing aid to regional airports in England. Unsurprisingly, those proposals begged more questions than they answered.
For instance, which bodies in England would APD be devolved to—local authorities, combined authorities or local enterprise partnerships? If APD was left as it is, and the Government provided financial support instead, how would they ensure that adequate aid reached airports acutely affected by lower APD rates across the border in Scotland or Wales? There are stringent EU guidelines on state aid support, particularly in the aviation sector, and we have previously heard the Government promise compensation to sectors impacted by one policy or another, but they have often under-delivered. How will this be any different? Will airports such as Newcastle be left to plug the gap?
Those and many more questions remain regarding the Government’s proposals, yet, six months on from the publication of the paper, there is near total silence from Ministers. I hope that the Minister will break that silence and provide us with some much-needed detail. When will the Government publish a response to the discussion paper that they published last summer? Are all three options still on the table or have some been ruled out? Most importantly, will the Minister tell airports such as Newcastle, Bristol and others how they will be supported by the Government when APD rates are devolved to Scotland and, potentially, to Wales? At the very least, will he tell us when airports can expect to hear about the plans?
The Airport Operators Association has made clear its very strong preference for any future reduction in APD in Scotland to be
“matched, immediately, by a cut everywhere”
so that no part of the UK is “disadvantaged in any way.” It is clear that the continued uncertainty on the issue is very damaging, and it is already having an impact on regional airports when it comes to airlines planning future routes and commitments. It is not good enough to wait and see what happens in Scotland. Action and certainty are required for England’s regional airports now.
A further concern I want to raise briefly this morning is the effect of regulatory charges—including, for example, the cost of a 24-hour police presence and all the security borne by airports—on regional airports such as Newcastle International. I understand that very large airports, with airlines queuing up to use their runways, are easily able to pass on those costs on to airline operators. However, it is much less easy for regional airports to do so, and the impact of the shift in costs is therefore having a disproportionately adverse effect on them. Regional airports are understandably extremely concerned about proposals that they should bear the costs of Border Force operating on their sites. Given that the agency is responsible for national security, I would have thought that responsibility lay squarely with the Government.
The decision on airport capacity and expansion has been kicked into the long grass far too many times, even after a £20 million independent commission made the decision on the Government’s behalf, as it was asked to do. The Government must make a decision in the national interest, but it should be a decision that respects our international commitments and the concerns of local communities. The Airports Commission has set out a plan that can achieve those twin aims, but the Government do not seem to accept it.
It is time to end the dither, delay and prevarication that has prevailed for far too long under this Prime Minister and Chancellor because it is not just London and the south-east but Newcastle, the north-east and many other regions will lose out most. Heathrow is, after all, not a London airport; it is the national hub. Airports across the country are looking for answers and long-term certainty from the Government, whether it is on airport capacity or the tax regime for aviation in the UK. I really hope that the Minister will be able to provide that certainty for them today.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I was not sure that I would be called so soon, but I appreciate the opportunity. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on focusing everyone’s attention on the issue. Clearly, I will be speaking from a Northern Ireland perspective.
The issues of regional airports, including capacity and air passenger duty, are particularly pertinent to Northern Ireland as we share a land border with the Republic of Ireland. My hon. Friends the Members for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) have said that on a couple of occasions so it is clear that these issues concern us all. Another indication of that concern is the number of Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland who are here.
Just a few miles down the road, Dublin airport does not have APD imposed on its flights. Not only does the existence of APD put strain on Northern Irish airports as it does with other regional airports throughout the UK, but we are punished twice by having to compete with foreign airports able to operate at a significant advantage. APD was designed to be a revenue raiser but, in the case of regional airports—especially in Northern Ireland—APD has instead become an obstacle to growth. Perhaps the Minister could comment on the suggestion that revenue could be raised by reducing APD and by making us an equal competitor with the Republic of Ireland.
Just last week, news came out showing that passenger numbers have soared at Northern Ireland’s two main airports: George Best Belfast City airport and Belfast International airport. More than 7 million passengers passed through Ulster’s airports last year—a rise of 9% at Belfast International and a rise of 5.4% at Belfast City. However, despite the success at Belfast City and Belfast International, there was a huge slump at Londonderry airport with numbers down by almost a fifth.
I will certainly speak about that. The figures show an increase, but a much greater increase could be achieved. Perhaps we might dwell on that. A spokesman for Belfast International airport said:
“If we can make advances such as this with the drag of APD impeding progress, think what we could achieve for the Northern Ireland economy if we didn’t have this regressive tax”.
That is a great point, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim also makes. We could do better and much better.
Some 240 million passengers a year join or leave aircraft at the reporting airport. That figure is important because the increase in traffic is yet to be evenly spread out. Other airports outside of London—in Wales, Scotland and, particularly, Northern Ireland—should get the advantage of that. I want to see the connectivity and I know the Minister will comment on that. Those airports are making a case for at least some reduction in APD, with Wales and Scotland already on course to deliver. This debate is important to me as the MP for Strangford because I see Belfast City airport as the airport for my constituents, and they see it that way as well. We want the advantages, across my constituency and across the whole of Northern Ireland, of better prices and better connectivity with other parts of the United Kingdom.
As well as regional disadvantages, APD is at risk of creating a socioeconomic divide, where those with the ability to pay can enjoy the benefits of air travel when and where they want, while those without it are left using other, less appropriate means of transport. APD raises some £3 billion a year in tax revenue, year on year, for the United Kingdom but, despite its introduction, demand has risen rather than fallen. Although APD is a form of revenue, raising it has failed in its aim of reducing demand and carbon demand. If something is broken—and in this case, it is—we should fix it. It is clear that APD does not work for regional airports across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland wants something different.
The benefits of abolishing air passenger duty will be seen across the entire United Kingdom. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, abolishing the duty would see the UK economy grow by a staggering 0.5%, which would give the UK Treasury some £570 million in tax receipts in the first year after abolition due to the increased demand for air travel. That is a win-win.
In Northern Ireland we know all too well how much air passenger duty influences the decisions of airlines about doing business. We compete directly with the Republic of Ireland in this sector, and we need only look at what happened when air passenger duty was abolished in the Irish Republic. The figures are interesting: Dublin airport increased its passenger numbers from north of the border—my constituents—which is proof that APD is an obstacle to business, growth, prosperity and security for our people. We must do everything we can to ensure the future success of Northern Ireland.
My party is on record as supporting a third runway at Heathrow—we said it in previous debates, and we are saying it in Westminster Hall today. Let us get the third runway in place for Heathrow. Let us get connectivity across all the United Kingdom, and let us get it for Northern Ireland—for Belfast City, for Aldergrove and for Londonderry. Let us move forward and give everyone in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland the opportunity to have the advantage of no APD.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing this debate and on her excellent speech.
I am here to talk about rail connectivity to regional airports. The Minister will remember that a little while ago I spoke in a debate about eastern regional airports, specifically about Luton. Since then, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Mr Shuker), I have had a meeting with the owners of London Luton airport and was impressed with their plans for expansion. Airport passenger numbers are increasing rapidly at Luton—they are now at 12.5 million and are on an upward trend—but we want more trains to stop at Luton Airport Parkway station. There are plans to build a fixed link between the railway line and the airport to ensure that passengers can get to their flights more easily.
Birmingham airport can make a bigger contribution to airport capacity. Indeed, it can serve the south-east and London with the right rail connectivity. I recently met representatives of the Airport Operators Association, who said that Birmingham is operating at only 30% capacity. An old friend of mine, Paul Kehoe, who used to be a director of London Luton airport, is now a director of Birmingham airport, and I hope to put this to him, too. Birmingham airport could and should provide much more capacity for not only for the midlands and the north but for London and the south-east, but it needs better rail connections.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but my scheme is rather different from HS2. It is a lot cheaper, more convenient and can be done much more quickly. I am suggesting, as I suggested in a debate some time last year, that we link Birmingham Snow Hill to London. It currently operates to Marylebone, and trains could go to Paddington, too, but electrifying and upgrading the line could provide a rapid, 125 mph service from the centre of Birmingham to the centre of London without changing trains because it could be linked to Crossrail at the southern end. A little track work and electrification would cost no more than £1 billion, according to my railway engineer friends who advise me on such things. A link to the southern end of Crossrail would mean that trains could go both to Heathrow direct and to the City of London, so people could go from the centre of Birmingham to the centre of London. The existing west coast main line, which serves Birmingham airport, links through to Leamington Spa on the Birmingham Snow Hill line, so one could get a direct electrified train non-stop from Birmingham airport to the City of London using Crossrail.
Of course, Birmingham airport could effectively become a satellite, or even a hub, to share the load with Heathrow, because a one-hour service direct from airport centre to airport centre using the Birmingham Snow Hill line would make a real difference to airport capacity and could help to fill the spare capacity at Birmingham. As the hon. Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) said, Birmingham airport could be expanded further. I am suggesting something that could be done relatively quickly and cheaply and that would service the people of Birmingham and the people of the City of London while increasing the usage of Birmingham airport by passengers coming from the south-east and London. I hope the Minister recognises that as a real possibility.
I am the Member of Parliament for a constituency that neighbours Birmingham airport, and devolution and the idea of devo-APD have been discussed. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that potentially devolving APD to airports such as Birmingham, and to authorities such as the West Midlands combined authority, could be a real benefit and bonus to regional airports?
The hon. Gentleman has made his point, and I will not comment because I am concerned about passenger capacity and have not given any thought to his point.
An electrified, non-stop service from Birmingham airport to the City of London without changing trains would make a real difference to the attractiveness of Birmingham to travellers from London and the south-east, and it could provide a direct, one-hour, 125 mph electrified train from airport to airport. Birmingham and Heathrow could effectively serve as a hub, or as hub satellites to each other. Luton airport is doing very well and is going to expand massively over time, but my proposal could be done very quickly. We could see a tremendous benefit to the regions, and particularly to Birmingham airport.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing this debate and on her speech, in which she made many important points. I was a little worried that her speech was becoming slightly political. She sounded somewhat like a cheerleader for Heathrow, so I hope she checked her script with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). I am also surprised that the debate has very much turned to APD—the debate could have been entitled that to give guidance to other colleagues who might have wanted to contribute on that subject. There is a serious problem with what the Scottish Government might do but, by and large, APD has not acted as too much of a brake on the increase in passenger traffic, which is at the heart of the problem of how we provide airport capacity.
Airport capacity is much easier to decide in opposition than in government. Looking back at what has happened over the past decades, the party in government is always the one that is in trouble trying to determine airport capacity, whereas the parties in opposition are freer to comment. The problem with airports, and our country as a whole has never been good with big projects—we agonise over them, and over the consequences in the immediate area where their impact is most felt—is that we struggle because people say, “Of course we want air travel, but we don’t need an airport just near us, thank you very much, because of the disadvantages that come with it for the rest of the year.” It is essential that an island country such as ours has good airport connectivity. Politics does not help, because one party comes in and has to look at airport connectivity more realistically, and then that party goes out. No one is sure whether a policy conceived in one Parliament will be continued in another.
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s point about politics, but does he agree that the point of the independent airports commission, which the Government spent £20 million constructing, was to come up with a viable plan for the whole UK? The commission has made that recommendation, so is it not incumbent on the Government to say whether they support that decision?
One might think that, but the reality is that it depends on what the commission says. The majority recommendation of the 1968 Roskill commission was rejected by the then Government, and the minority recommendation, which was accepted by the Government of 1970, was rejected by the incoming Government in 1974. Such recommendations do not have a very good record.
I will say a little more about the Davies commission before I conclude. We are beset by the division between the capital city and the rest of the United Kingdom, and I find that the term “regional airports” somehow implies second division—it is like talking about the premiership and the championship in football—and that regional airports are somehow different or less good. I am a northerner, and at one stage I represented a Greater Manchester seat. I was very pro the development of Manchester airport, but we have never yet exploited the regional airports to their full. At the moment, there is an urgent need to do so, because they have usable capacity.
Of course I do not want to decry London’s importance to our country, but I think that we do not extol the virtues of the rest of the country. I find the concept of the northern powerhouse exciting. I acknowledge that Government after Government over the past 50 or 60 years have tried to decrease the emphasis and pressure on London and the south-east, but we have never succeeded. There is a still a net drift to the south-east, and it is unhealthy for our country.
A point that has not yet been covered in this debate is the difference between hub and point-to-point. Where the Davies commission falls short is that it recommends a hub airport in London, but then says, “Oh, but we can’t have a fourth runway.” Even a third runway puts us way behind the competition in the rest of Europe. If we are really to have a hub airport, it must have the necessary capacity. Figures suggest that Heathrow’s domestic connectivity with three runways will decline, not improve, because the more profitable long-haul routes will steadily displace domestic services.
We must make more use of the spare capacity in the rest of the country, recognising that there are aircraft types being developed now that encourage the growth of point-to-point services from many of the airports in our country. I hoped that this debate would concentrate on that more than it has so far.
It is a pleasure to serve under you, Ms Vaz. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for securing this debate. Obviously, we are all here to pitch for our local airports, and as usual I am pitching for Prestwick, the UK’s clear-weather airport with a long runway. We have a train station in the airport; what we do not have is a single flight to London. We are obstructed from applying for a public service obligation or the connectivity fund by the 60-minute rule—we are within 60 minutes of Glasgow.
This debate opened with a discussion of Heathrow versus Gatwick. The posters that used to be outside the tube entrance referred to a fantastic surge for the whole of Britain. To us in the very northern powerhouse, Heathrow is almost on the south coast. Therefore, unless whatever airport is chosen has protected routes for domestic airlines, there will be no benefit to the rest of the country.
I would also pick up the mention of point-to-point by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst). Part of the reason for the obstructed capacity in the hubs of Heathrow and Gatwick is that lots of us who live in a totally different place are made to fly through those airports. We do not want to be here; we do not want to go through Heathrow or Gatwick. We want to go point-to-point, but the number of those flights has diminished.
I thank the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene on that point, which I was unable to develop as fully as I would have liked within the time limit. The development of the Airbus A350 aircraft and the Boeing 787 opens up the possibility that an aeroplane that can fly distance with 250 passengers rather than 400 could be economically viable. That is an exciting possibility.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention.
We tend to talk about the business flyer coming into London, and there are certainly plenty of business flyers in my region who would welcome a flight from Prestwick into London, but we also need to start thinking the other way around, as a previous speaker said, about tourism coming in. I would like us to think about the smaller regional airports, which are often in areas of great attractiveness and beauty that are tourism hotspots. For someone sitting in the middle of Europe deciding whether to go for their holidays to southern Ireland, Northern Ireland or Scotland, it is a no-brainer. With 9% VAT and no air passenger duty in the Republic of Ireland, the difference in the cost of a fortnight’s holiday is vast. Unless people are coming to visit family, they will always go to southern Ireland instead of any of us. It is not just Northern Ireland that loses; it is other picturesque areas such as the lakes, Scotland and the mountains in Wales.
It is important that we have some kind of strategy for developing the smaller regional airports. APD is one of the biggest barriers; that is what all the smaller regional airports feed back. Instead of just saying, “It’s not fair if Scotland gets to change it,” we must campaign to cut or remove APD across the country. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report suggested that the growth in GDP would compensate. I know that there would be a time lag, but it would bring jobs into areas where there are often no other jobs.
Although we suffer from the 60-minute rule for being close to Glasgow, being on the south-west coast of Scotland, we can sell ourselves as a golf area—we have the Open this year—and a coastal area. Sailing is one of our biggest tourist industries. People can fly straight into the area that they want to visit. I am sure that there are other small airports in the UK that would like to offer the same.
While we discuss Heathrow versus Gatwick and business coming into and out of London, it is important that the Government have a strategy to support the development of tourism and the smaller regional airports. Another block to that is our 20% VAT rate on hospitality and tourism, versus 9% in southern Ireland. The areas that are strongest in tourism often do not have other industries; that applies right across the UK. There are Members from all parties who live in more rural areas where tourism is being held back by VAT and APD. They are taxes to raise funds, but they are stultifying the local economy. I call for a tourism strategy for the United Kingdom, and it should include smaller and larger regional airports.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing this important debate. As we are time-limited, I will not get into the Gatwick-Heathrow issue, which has been well put in this debate, except to say that I believe we need capacity at both airports over time, and we need to future-proof our airport capacity across the UK.
The regional airports are vastly underused. My own airport—Birmingham airport, on the edge of my constituency—is at only 27% capacity. Stansted operates at 60% and is considered a busy and successful regional airport, and Manchester airport operates at only 40% capacity and is also often held up as a model for regional airports. The unused capacity is a bit shameful, really. As the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), who is no longer here, said in his speech, Birmingham airport is only about an hour from central London. In fact, Birmingham is more convenient to many parts of the south-east than the self-styled London Luton airport. With the advent of High Speed 2, the journey time could be cut to 40 or 45 minutes, putting it within easy reach of the main conurbation of London and its surrounding areas.
We must use our regional airports much more, and I have a few ideas for how we could go about it. In my previous Westminster Hall debate, I was a proponent of air passenger duty holidays for new flights. I mentioned the flight from Newcastle, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), to Newark. There are also many flights from Birmingham airport that operate only in summer. I think that we could go further and create an APD holiday for those areas, which fly to economically important destinations. It is a great shame that in 2010 this country traded more with Ireland than with Brazil, Russia, India and China. One reason is that we do not have regional connectivity with those emerging—well, in many cases emerged—economies. So I would consider the idea of APD holidays for new flights in economically important markets.
However, there is also the devolution of APD. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North said that she would effectively like to stop the devolution of APD to Scotland; that is the Scottish Labour party policy. I would say, frankly, “Good on the Scottish and good on the Welsh for doing what they are doing”, but I want to see such change in other areas as well. We have to be careful, because if we act in terms of favouring one region over another within England, that process will be open to legal challenges. Regarding all the combined authority deals, we should consider devolution of APD.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing this debate.
In the short time available to me, I will just refer quickly to the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), who made a premier league analogy. Well, if someone already has Manchester airport, they already feel like they are in the premier league, and it is great that we will invest £1 billion in new infrastructure, including new terminals, to welcome Pep Guardiola to the city as the new Manchester City manager.
With 23 million passengers a year, which will rise to 43 million a year by 2025, Manchester airport is a serious world international airport. It has the capacity, with the two runways, to go to 55 million passengers a year. A total of 100,000 tonnes of goods are exported out of Manchester airport and it generates 21,000 jobs. There was a jobs fair just last week, with 4,000 new jobs coming on stream; 7,000 people applied, so it was massively oversubscribed.
It was great to welcome President Xi Jinping and the Prime Minister to Manchester airport just a few weeks ago to announce the development of Airport City, an £800 million investment in new, high-tech sectors both south and north of the city. The joke around Manchester was that it was awful to see the Prime Minister kowtowing to the leadership of a one-party state, but there you go—welcome to Manchester.
However, the point that I will address today is rail connectivity, the importance of which was pointed out by the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), who also talked about current capacity. There was a Mancunian entrepreneur and industrialist called Daniel Adamson. In 1860, he saw the north developing a continuous economic region—a powerhouse, as he described it—from the banks of the Mersey estuary to the banks of the Humber, to create a single economic market. In 1886, he then decided to build the Manchester Ship canal. He got halfway there, but there is now an opportunity—in the years ahead of us—to create that single market.
Current rail access to Manchester airport means that the population within a two-hour catchment of it using public transport stands at around 8 million. Currently, the only city that can be reached in that time period is Manchester. However, with the right rail improvements things would improve. Transport for the North, which was funded by the Chancellor in the last autumn statement, is considering three options at the moment. We estimate that if we put in the right transport links from east to west we would create a catchment area for the airport of 18 million people, bringing in Liverpool city region, Sheffield, Liverpool itself and Leeds, with all of them being within around 30 minutes of Manchester and Manchester airport. It would widen the airport’s catchment area massively.
High Speed 2 will bring journey times to Manchester down from the current time of 2 hours 24 minutes to 59 minutes. We can connect our airports and our cities more effectively if we have the right vision, guts and gravitas.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz.
This has been a very agreeable debate. I do not think I have ever attended a debate in which I have agreed with absolutely everything that has been said by every Member—with the exception of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who does not care if he flies from Dublin. I think that Northern Ireland Members can say, with unity for once, that in future we want him to fly from everywhere but Dublin. We will encourage him to do so and get him a timetable to make sure that that happens.
I watched the Minister of State’s reaction to the debate and I noticed that he agreed with a number of points. That is probably because he hails from and represents Scarborough, so he knows the needs of people who come from the north. Of course, whenever he comes to Northern Ireland he does not have to fly north; he just flies west to visit Northern Ireland. So I think he gets this issue, which is important. Members recognise that there is a very distinctive north-south divide here and we must address it very quickly.
A lot of this debate has focused on airport passenger duty, and I agree that it is important. I described it earlier as a pernicious, dirty and nasty little tax, and it is a tax on competitiveness, so it has to go. Frankly, however, it is not up to Scotland or Northern Ireland to do their own side deals on this issue. Addressing APD is an issue that the Chancellor must grasp and deal with centrally. He must recognise that if he does not grasp the issue, unfairness will be created across vast parts of the United Kingdom, which will probably disadvantage the north of England more than anywhere else; other parts of the UK will also be disadvantaged.
What has been absent is a proper aviation strategy that pulls together the tourism need, the business need, the capacity need and all those types of issues. When the Minister looks at this proposal, I am sure that he will bring to the debate a recognition that we need a proper aviation strategy that addresses the needs of other airports in Northern Ireland.
There has been an awful lot of discussion—not just in Parliament but outside it—about sorting out the Gatwick versus Heathrow debate. Yes, that debate needs to be sorted out, and expeditiously, but we also need to address the capacity at London City Airport very quickly.
I agree that we need an aviation strategy, but we also need a much more integrated transport strategy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) pointed out about the expansion of Manchester airport, the problem for the north-east of England is that it takes more than two hours by rail to get to Manchester. The connectivity is simply shocking, and I honestly assure the hon. Gentleman that if I was going to Dublin, I would not start from here.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of ensuring that such a strategy also includes other transport. For example, my colleague the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) has a railway that goes almost to the airport. I have a motorway that gets almost to the airport at South Antrim. We need that entire process joined up, so that passengers, commuters, businesspeople and tourists coming in and out of the airport have an easier time of it getting to and from the airport.
In that strategy, we should also ensure that Gatwick, Heathrow and the other centralised airports have slots for the regional airplanes to reach them. That is important, as it will address the issue of ensuring that the C series, whenever it comes on stream, will be available for the other airports, as well as the Airbus equivalent.
Finally, I will point out that when Holland had APD its airports were devastated by competition from its neighbours in Germany. The Dutch scrapped APD and we need to learn the lesson of history.
It is a pleasure, Ms Vaz, to be involved in this debate; I have learned a lot.
The west of England economy is growing—it is worth about £26 billion annually— and we are a net contributor to the Treasury. Aviation has long been a part of that success story. The British and Colonial Aeroplane Company opened in Filton in 1910, which was the beginning of 100 years of continuous development, design and manufacture, with all the job opportunities and wealth that that development has created. Of course, Filton was later famously home to Concorde and it is currently home to Airbus, GKN Aerospace and Rolls-Royce, among other leading players in the global aerospace industry.
Airport capacity is central to that local growth. Our first airport opened in Whitchurch in 1930, which is now located in my constituency of Bristol South. After the war, a new site was finally opened at the current airport site, outside the city boundaries in Lulsgate. By 1988, 100,000 passengers were being served and in 2000 a new terminal and other infrastructure improvement led to more than 2 million passengers being served.
Last year, Bristol Airport handled nearly 7 million passengers, making it the ninth busiest airport in the UK and a major regional resource for Bristol, the west of England, the south-west and indeed south Wales. It has generated more than 11,000 jobs, many of which are located in my constituency of Bristol South.
Bristol airport’s performance is good; despite being the ninth largest airport in the UK, it has been the most punctual airport in the UK two years running and it is the 10th most punctual airport in the world, which we are very proud of. In 2011, planning permission was given for it to handle 10 million passengers. There is an ambition not only to bring more business travel but to open up tourism to the west of England and the whole of the south-west, which includes the fantastic city of Bristol, neighbouring Bath, which is a unique world heritage site, and traditional seaside and rural areas across the whole of the south-west, including Devon and Cornwall, and Wales.
However, as many Members have already said, two things are crucial to the continued success of Bristol airport and its contribution to the wider economy. First, a decision about Heathrow is needed as soon as possible. Secondly, the devolution of airport passenger duty to Wales, which would effectively result in a redistribution of traffic away from Bristol and into south Wales, has been raised by many hon. Members. Even limited devolution of the duty for long-haul flights would have a detrimental impact. Bristol airport wants to continue to invest in facilities and create jobs, but APD would remove the level playing field on which we currently operate. I am keen to see a western powerhouse built on our tremendous industrial past and our current and future business and leisure offer, and the continued success of Bristol airport is key to that. The Government should better acknowledge and support our regional airports, and provide them with greater certainty about the rules under which they now operate.
I appreciate being called, Ms Vaz, and I welcome the opportunity provided by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell).
We have moved from regional airports right through to the Heathrow-Gatwick debate, local tourism and many other aspects of the matter, including the north-south issues raised by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). I am not sure whether he is talking about the north and south of England or of Ireland—he can clarify that—but the fact is that we in Northern Ireland do not have the same opportunities as many in other parts of Great Britain do.
I listened to the debate about rail links. I would love a rail link from Fermanagh and South Tyrone right into any airport in Northern Ireland, but I do not have one. What we want to concentrate on are the links between our airports in Northern Ireland and those in the rest of GB, particularly Heathrow—it is the national hub, irrespective of what others might believe about their own airports. I am pleased to hear how well Manchester is doing, and that proves that there are opportunities there that we do not have in Northern Ireland. We are also fighting with the airport duty to which others, in particular the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), have referred. What we really need is to develop those links, instead of reducing them. From what I have seen over the past few years, the links from regional airports through to the main hubs are reducing and we need to increase them.
I do not know where the UK Government are putting any finances in, and that takes us back to the debate about whether there should be a new runway at Heathrow or at Gatwick. Who can afford it? I guess that both airports’ business plans say that they can afford it, but can they? If they can, let them bid, and let it be decided on economic terms as opposed to on the best terms for the individual airport.
We must ensure that regional airports, such as Belfast International airport, Belfast City airport and the airport in Londonderry in Northern Ireland, are on a level, fair playing field with others. I listened to the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) talk about airport passenger duty; if it will be taken off in Northern Ireland it should be taken off everywhere. We are happy to participate in the debate and take on those very issues, but we need that level playing field in terms both of regional infrastructure—train services or other public transport—and of the availability of bigger hubs such as Manchester.
I appreciate your efforts, Ms Vaz, to ensure that we are all called in the debate.
I am extremely lucky to have Glasgow airport in my constituency. I have spoken in the past about not only its importance to the local Renfrewshire economy but its economic impact on Scotland and across the UK. It contributes about £200 million to the national economy and supports 7,300 jobs in Renfrewshire. The airport’s success in 2015 led to its being named both UK and Scottish airport of the year. It was a record year, with 8.7 million passengers from all over the world coming to Scotland through its arrivals hall.
The debate provides us with the opportunity to talk about the success of, and the opportunities for, our regional airports, but in doing so we must debate the issue that the Government have clumsily kicked into the long grass until after the London mayoral election—airport capacity in the south-east. The decision to expand Heathrow or Gatwick should not, and cannot, be considered in a vacuum. Regional airport connectivity has to be at the forefront of any plans for airport expansion. The delay until after the mayoral election is causing extreme uncertainty in the sector, which serves no one. All our regional airports have long-term plans and their ability to plan is severely hindered by the constant and lengthy delays.
As we look forward to the airport expansion decision, a startling statistic that jumps out is that the number of services from Scottish airports to Heathrow has declined by more than a quarter over the past 10 years, and to Gatwick the number has fallen by almost 20%. When the expansion eventually occurs, therefore, we must ensure not only that the number of direct flights from Scotland to Heathrow or Gatwick is protected but that we consider ways of reversing the decline of the past 10 years.
The expansion will have ramifications for the rest of the UK, particularly for the regional airports. I have an unlikely ally in the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who has argued that the expansion will have a significant impact on Scotland and that we should not be disfranchised. I therefore ask the Minister to assure us today that the motion, Bill, statutory instrument or whatever legislative vehicle is used is worded so as to ensure that it cannot be certified. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs must be able to debate, and vote on, the issue at every parliamentary stage.
We have heard that regional airports are achieving significant success, but their importance to the national economy is often not fully appreciated. I see at first hand the impact that Glasgow airport has on the local Renfrewshire economy, but the delayed decision on the expansion is causing unnecessary concern, and I urge the UK Government to get on with it, and make a decision based on what is best for all parts of the UK.
I greatly appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), who summed up entirely appropriately the issues that frustrate and constrain regional aviation in this United Kingdom.
I am proud to have, in east Belfast, George Best Belfast City airport. Its provenance goes back to the second world war, the Sunderland flying boat was launched there in 1952, and the precursor to the Harrier jump jet was trialled in Belfast. On that site, with Bombardier, we are currently developing the C Series, which is an important tool for regional and small airports throughout the United Kingdom that need light, less noisy, as well as efficient and effective aircraft that can get in and out quickly. I am glad that London City airport is considering the C Series. When I was Lord Mayor of Belfast a number of years ago, the city airport was our unique selling point. A passenger can walk out of the arrivals lounge and be in the city centre in five minutes. No other regional airport has such connectivity to its city centre.
The Ards aerodrome has its place, and the kites that are flown there are of great significance.
We are constrained by a regressive and restrictive tax—air passenger duty—which has been fairly reflected on today. The devolution of the duty is the wrong course of action, but I am slightly concerned by the suggestion that we need further strategies and opportunities for the Government to consider what happens next. We need decisions. We have had the devolution of air passenger duty on long-haul flights in Northern Ireland. It sustains our only transatlantic flight from Belfast International airport, but it is not enough. I ask the Minister to reflect on that. In the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee we are currently considering air passenger duty and the variation of VAT on tourism and hospitality, and I hope that our report, when published, will form part of the Department for Transport’s current thinking.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The Government’s 2003 White Paper suggested that we needed to build up the regions to reduce congestion in London, but the truth is that by expanding what we have in the south-east of England we are constraining the regions. We need to give the regions a fruitful opportunity to expand, and to compete on a level playing field.
The hon. Lady is entirely correct. We have as much transport among all our planes in Northern Ireland as we do in the capital, and regional aviation links are crucial for exports.
When something is going wrong or when someone is suffering an injustice or is unwell, we often say, “You would not wish it on your friends, never mind your enemies.” I am quite pleased that there is a threat for the north of England. I am quite pleased that there could be a disparity between APD in Scotland and APD in the north of England, because that would focus minds and attention on the issue. I do not wish to see that disparity, but I do wish to see greater recognition in the United Kingdom of the issues that for many years have been constraining us with the foreign border in Northern Ireland. If the danger that we have faced over decades is now facing those in the north-east of England and across the United Kingdom, that can only be a good thing, because there will be recognition of the dangers, damage and constraints of this pernicious tax on aviation. I hope we find a solution.
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I will try to jet through my comments, as there are quite a lot. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing this debate, because it is important. She talked about the importance of UK airport capacity, and I think there was general agreement on that point. Members were also in general agreement on the impact on tourism, jobs and exports across the piece. On the critical decisions on airport strategy by the Government, the hon. Lady rightly used the expression, “kicked the can”. Lots of other phrases could be used. She also said that growth and sustainability lose out from inaction. All those things are correct. I call for an end to the dither and delay, and I will speak about that in a moment.
There is lots to agree on, but one thing to disagree on—the hon. Lady will have picked this up around the room—is the subject of APD. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) correctly called it a regressive tax. We also heard that it creates a social and economic divide, which it does. The average family of four in Scotland pays more than £100 more because of APD. That is not right. It seems odd to me that the Labour party position is that APD is wrong and we should get rid of it, but not in Scotland, because it is not right to do it there. But I say that it is right to do it there. And by the way—I must say this, because the issue was brought up—when Kezia Dugdale talks about APD, she has already spent the APD money 10 times over on housing, health and education, despite the fact that getting rid of APD creates no new money. I would not go to her for advice on taxation.
Getting back to the main points that we can agree on, there needs to be action, and soon.
I will not, because I am going to make progress; I have very little time to get my points in. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) talked about Glasgow airport and the 7,000 jobs and more than £200 million a year it adds to the economy. He also called on the Minister to confirm that the matter will not be dealt with under EVEL rules, as was suggested by a Scotland Office Minister some time ago. We have heard about the impact of airport expansion on the different nations of the UK, so I hope the Minister will come back with an answer on that.
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) correctly said that the UK has never been good with big projects. That is especially the case with the fudge over airport expansion. He also said that it was essential for island nations to have good links, and he is absolutely correct about that. I think I also heard him use the phrase, “You’ve got to decide”, and the Government have got to decide. The main thing is to get on with it. Whether it is Gatwick, Heathrow, no new runways or something else, the point is that the industry is in a condition of stasis across the piece.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) talked about Prestwick. She is a big champion for the airport. She pointed out the clear weather that we get there, and in other debates she has mentioned it as a location for a possible space port. She talked correctly about the 60-minute rule. One of the things that the Davies commission pointed out was that for regional airports to work properly and share in any expansion, there must be a point-to-point public service obligation decision taken by the Government. They must put regional airports at the heart of any decision and ensure that when we talk about links, it is not just links to London, but to specific hub airports. That is important, because some 90% of international visitors to Scotland come through air travel, and more than a third of them come through the Heathrow hub. Over the past 10 years, while destinations and routes from Scotland have doubled, flights to London have fallen by more than a third. We are not getting the protection that we require for those routes. Speaking of regional expansion, I am delighted to note that the First Minister of Scotland has announced a £20 million expansion of Aberdeen airport that will create a 50% gain in size. That is a real vote of confidence for the north-east.
I will try to bring my comments to a conclusion, but there is so much more that I could have said. There is a need for the Government to make a decision on airport expansion and ensure that regional airports are at the absolute heart of those decisions.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing this important debate. She raised an important series of issues, ably abetted by our mutual friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns). Both of them explained the tremendous positive impacts that Newcastle International brings to the north-east, both as a key employer in the area and through its wider partnerships.
We also heard strong contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) on the need for rail connectivity and from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) on the worries that areas in the south-west have on the threats from air passenger duty and the general uncertainty. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) made a characteristically expansive contribution, giving us the historical perspective.
We heard recently from Sustainable Aviation, which produced a report last week that underlines the massive contribution from the UK aviation sector as a whole. It represents more than £50 billion in GDP. There are around 1 million jobs related to aviation and the industry contributes £8 billion in tax revenue. As Members across the Chamber and the report have said, we cannot rest on those laurels.
Starting with the vexed issue of airport capacity, in July 2015 the Prime Minister promised a response before Christmas, which never happened. Many of us understand the impact of the coming mayoral elections. The Government say that they are considering the questions raised by the Environmental Audit Committee. Those are important questions, but I wonder why the Government were not asking themselves those questions in the six months after the commission’s report came out. We also have a new twist to the saga, as we heard the Transport Secretary suggest on LBC that a decision will not even come this summer. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government will make a decision in 2016, or whether we will be waiting even longer?
It is absolutely clear that there are a whole range of issues here. This morning, we are talking about the effect on the regions. It cannot only be about the south- east, because connectivity to other parts of the UK is vital in rebalancing growth. Any decision on expansion must ensure that flight links are improved across the country and that UK airports are connected to hubs. I must press the Minister on that matter, because at the end of last year, The Times quoted the chief executive of Heathrow, John Holland-Kaye, expressing concerns that a cap on night-time flying would “constrain” links to the rest of UK. Can the Minister assure the House that any eventual expansion will not leave us with a choice between exacerbating noise disruptions and restricting flight slots to UK airports?
Ongoing delay must not mean inaction. For example, Sir Howard Davies recommended an independent noise ombudsman back in 2013. That is universally agreed by pro-expansion groups, as well as by green and local community groups. With Labour’s backing, the Government could introduce that measure now, so why do we not get on with it? Even then, whatever decision is made on Heathrow or Gatwick, it will take eight, nine or 10 years to implement. Aviation will not stand still in that time. We will need new routes to connect with existing and emerging markets. We have heard about the new aircraft that offer possibilities for expanded point-to-point travel, and encouraging that would complement the UK’s existing hub mode. It would enable airports with existing capacity to build new routes to emerging economies and to directly support investment and growth across all regions. There are things that the Government could and should be doing to promote our international gateways.
On improving road and rail access, we had the opportunity to change the way in which we plan connections while improving air quality and CO2 around our airports. Improving surface access is the Airport Operators Association’s No. 1 priority in 2016. So will the Government recognise that too, and endorse Labour’s call for the National Infrastructure Commission to prioritise a review into rail and road access into all airports? In the meantime, let us commit Manchester airport to joining Birmingham International and the HS2 line, and commit to include upgrades to links to Stansted in the next rail investment period.
We have heard the arguments today about air passenger duty. The Government must absolutely get on with it. When can we expect the promised review of the future of air passenger duty in terms of its purpose and how options for reform can improve the competitiveness of different airports in a devolved environment? Will the Minister also outline what, if any, advice the DFT and the Treasury have received from the European Commission over the compliance of the options in the discussion paper?
There is a degree of consensus that we must not let aviation policy stand still while the Government delay on expansion. It is clear that our regional airports need full backing to reach their full potential as international gateways. I look forward to the Minister’s response and his clarifications on when he expects to report on the commission, on the noise ombudsman, on surface access and on APD.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing this important debate on regional airports and UK airports’ capacity. She has set out a strong case that regional airports are essential, not only for maintaining the UK’s air connectivity, but for jobs and economic regeneration across the country. I understand her frustration that the Government are having to take time to make important decisions, but it is vital that the process is robust, and that all environmental and economic factors are fully considered. I welcome the broad agreement that exists across the political spectrum on the importance of maintaining the UK’s position as a leading global aviation nation, which is vital to the UK economy. This is a timely debate, given the Government’s announcement last December on airport expansion in the south-east.
The Airports Commission set out a convincing case for new runway capacity in the south-east by 2030, which the Government have accepted. The Government also accepted the commission’s final shortlist of three schemes. It is important to get the decision right, so that it will benefit generations to come. That is why we will further consider the environmental impacts and continue to develop the best possible package of measures to mitigate the impacts on local people and the environment. We expect the package of further work to be concluded by summer 2016. Importantly, the timetable set out by the Airports Commission for delivering additional capacity in the south-east by 2030 will not alter.
It is important to remember that the UK continues to have excellent aviation connectivity, both on a point-to-point basis and through the London hub. After all, we have the third largest aviation network in the world after the United States and China. The Civil Aviation Authority’s statistics show that the UK’s regional airports handled around 39% of the UK’s air passenger total in 2014: around 92 million passengers. Services from UK regional airports operated to more than 100 domestic and international destinations, providing convenience and travel opportunities, and helping to reduce the need for air passengers and freight to travel long distances to reach larger airports.
It is heartening to see that many of the airports that were impacted by the economic downturn a few years ago are now, like the economy, seeing real growth again. Manchester airport, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), is now the UK’s third largest, handling more than 20 million passengers a year. It has the only regular A380 service from a UK airport outside London and its routes are expanding further—Cathay Pacific is operating direct flights to Hong Kong and, starting this June, Hainan Airlines will operate four flights a week to Beijing. Those are the first direct scheduled flights between mainland China and a UK airport outside of London, worth at least £250 million in economic benefits to the UK. Indeed, my big new shiny railway will be coming to Manchester as well as Birmingham airports.
My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) mentioned Birmingham airport, which completed its runway extension in 2014, enabling larger aircraft to fly to more long-haul destinations. That has allowed greater capacity to destinations such as Dubai, Delhi and Amritsar, and some successful charter operations to Beijing. The airport celebrated its most successful year in 2015, handling more than 10 million passengers for the first time. That is not all. Ongoing investment programmes are also under way at other airports such as Edinburgh; Belfast City, which saw 2.7 million passengers last year, an increase of 5.4%; and Belfast International airport, which saw 4.4 million passengers, an increase of 8.9%.
I welcome last month’s announcement that Ryanair is to begin operating a new base at Belfast International from March with flights to Gatwick, and five other routes will follow. In December, I was very happy to announce successful routes under the regional air connectivity fund that allow routes between Carlisle and Belfast City and Londonderry and Dublin.
Like me, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North was able to see at first hand the newly completed redevelopment at Newcastle International airport’s departure lounge when I had the honour to open it formally shortly before Christmas. It is worth mentioning two more bits of good news for the airport: United Airlines has announced it will repeat its non-stop Newcastle to New York Newark service next summer; and Newcastle has been named the UK’s top large airport in a nationwide poll of Which? magazine readers for the third year running.
Within the UK, airlines operate in a competitive commercial environment, and we consider that they are best placed to determine which routes they operate, and from which airports. We know that the commercial aviation market brings many benefits to air passengers. However, the Government also recognise that, because aviation plays an important role in connecting regions, there may be occasions when aid is necessary to protect certain existing air services that may be discontinued or to develop other services to airports where local economic conditions prove unattractive to airlines.
We are conscious of the possible risk of distortion to competition that could be created by Government intervention in the commercial airline market. That is why we have been careful in balancing the commercial imperative with the need to provide support for existing services and for new air routes from some of our smaller airports. Last November, the Chancellor announced that 11 new air routes from smaller UK airports would be supported with around £7 million of start-up aid over the next three financial years. Those routes, one of which will be operated by Links Air between Newcastle and Norwich, will begin operating this spring and will provide domestic links between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as international connectivity to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland.
The Government have been asked why we cannot acquire or reserve slots at busy UK airports such as Heathrow for domestic services from regional airports, such as those in Northern Ireland. The allocation of slots at EU airports is governed by regulations agreed at European Union level and by associated UK slot regulations. Under the regulations, the process of slot allocation at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and other slot co-ordinated airports in the UK is undertaken by an independent slot co-ordinator independently of the Government, the Civil Aviation Authority or other interested parties. The UK Government therefore play no part in the slot allocation process at Heathrow or other co-ordinated airports, and under EU regulations we are legally prevented from intervening in that process.
Unfortunately, time is pressing. I wanted to say a few words about air passenger duty, but no doubt there will be an opportunity in future. Indeed, it is a matter for the Chancellor, so I will come to a conclusion and allow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North a chance to get the final word.
The Government believe that maintaining the UK’s status as a leading global aviation hub is fundamental to our long-term international competitiveness. We are clear about the economic and connectivity benefits that our regional airports bring to regions, communities and businesses. We have established the right foundations to move forward, gain consensus and secure the benefits that aviation brings for the whole nation.
Thank you for your excellent chairing of this debate and for ensuring that everybody managed to have their say, Ms Vaz.
There are many opinions on this issue and very localised concerns, but there is one overriding message that we can all agree on that applies to airport capacity and air passenger duty. We need decisive action to ensure that our regional airports not only survive the changes ahead, but thrive on them. “Wait and see” is not an option. It is damaging our regional economies and the national economy. We await the Government’s decisions on two key issues.
I was disappointed that the Minister did not have time to deal with air passenger duty. Although it is the responsibility of the Chancellor, I hope that the Minister’s Department will exert all the pressure necessary to get a swift decision, because the issues have a major impact on our future regional connectivity in this country. We need an end to the dither and delay on the vital issue of regional aviation. I urge the Minister to do everything he can to ensure that his Department, the Secretary of State and the Chancellor come back with responses on all the issues raised in the debate without further delay.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered regional airports and UK airports capacity.
Caerphilly County Borough Council
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the financial consequences for Caerphilly County Borough Council of legal action against its senior officers.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz.
This case has been an issue of concern locally in Caerphilly borough for some time, so I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss it in some detail and reflect on the consequences. We have before us a saga that began in September 2012, when the chief executive and other senior officers of Caerphilly County Borough Council were given huge pay increases of up to 30%. In March 2013, the council’s chief executive was arrested. A few months later, the then acting deputy chief executive was arrested on suspicion of committing fraud and misconduct in public office. The head of legal services was arrested later. The three individuals were suspended on full pay by the local authority, as was its obligation.
The Welsh Audit Office investigated, and its public interest report concluded that the senior officers’ pay increases were “unlawful” because the meeting at which the decisions were taken had not been properly advertised and the agenda and reports for the meeting had not been made available for public inspection three days in advance. The report also pointed to other serious concerns, including the fact that the chief executive prepared a report, on which the decisions were subsequently taken, that was far from objective, and that he stayed in the meeting while his own salary was being discussed and decided.
The three officials concerned were the subject of a police investigation throughout 2013 and into summer 2014. Because of the understandably close working relationship between Caerphilly County Borough Council and Gwent police, the investigation was undertaken by Avon and Somerset constabulary. Early in 2014, the three defendants were charged with misconduct in public office. In May 2014, they appeared before Bristol magistrates court and were sent for trial at Bristol Crown court. On 13 May 2014, the trial date was set for 15 June 2015. It was decided that that would give ample time for the defence and prosecution to prepare their cases and for all the evidence to be assembled. From then on, however, there were legal wrangles between the defence and prosecution about the use of materials. There were also problems with the lack of availability of the allocated judge for the estimated trial length—I will say more on that later—so the process grew longer and longer and dragged on through the spring and summer and into the autumn of 2015.
Eventually, in October 2015, the judge dismissed the charges against the three defendants. Judge William Hart said:
“I find that there is no evidence upon which a reasonable jury properly directed could convict any of the defendants of misconduct in a public office on the admissible evidence available.”
In response to the judge’s decision, the Crown Prosecution Service issued a statement, which said:
“This was a complicated, wide-ranging and lengthy investigation into serious allegations against council employees. The investigation was conducted by Avon and Somerset Constabulary at the request of Gwent Constabulary…CPS South West’s Complex Casework unit took the decision to charge the three defendants following extensive consultation with the police. Since that time the prosecution team has pursued the case within the proper judicial process.”
There had been concerns about the length of the trial as the case was progressing. I wrote to the CPS to ask about the apparently excessive delays. In a letter to me, the CPS responded by saying:
“We are conscious of all the public monies that have been expended by the delay in this prosecution but the Court listing is a matter outside the control of the CPS.”
Frankly, that is not good enough. There is widespread concern about how the CPS handled the case and whether it accurately prioritised the pursuit of the most appropriate issues and material.
There is also concern about Avon and Somerset police. Clearly, officers amassed a huge amount of material relevant to the case. It is possible that the ongoing police investigation into other alleged irregularities at Caerphilly County Borough Council meant that they were unable to provide an accurate summary of what material was relevant to the case. The police seized more than 160,000 emails during the investigation, and it is noteworthy that the defence submitted an abuse of process argument, stating that the unused material that had been amassed had not been properly examined by the police.
There is further concern about how the court system itself operated. Following the abuse of process argument, all the parties involved made repeated representations for the case to be listed. Eventually, a new trial date was set for 8 June 2015, but because no judge was available to hear the trial in June, it was further delayed until July 2015—the second delay because of the unavailability of a judge. In the meantime, the defence applied for leave to submit an application for the case to be dismissed. The judge acceded to that request in October 2015.
This whole legal saga dragged on for more than 18 months. There were many reasons for the longevity of the case. It was certainly complex, but a measure of responsibility must be borne by those involved in its prosecution: the police, the CPS, the judiciary and the legal system as a whole. If it stops anywhere, the buck stops with the Government and the Ministry of Justice, who are responsible for the legal system. Caerphilly County Borough Council were legally obliged to suspend the three officers concerned from the moment they were arrested. To date, the bill to the council and its council tax payers is more than £1 million. There is no need to remind the Minister that, like all other local authorities in the country, Caerphilly County Borough Council can ill afford £1 million at a time when services are being cut and jobs are at risk.
As the long-drawn-out legal proceedings were not the fault of Caerphilly County Borough Council or its council tax payers, will the Minister give careful and serious consideration to my request that the council be reimbursed for the salaries it was obliged to pay to the suspended staff? If he accepts the morality of my case, he should surely find a way to ensure that the people of Caerphilly are not unfairly penalised.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I congratulate the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) on securing this debate. He is diligent and conscientious in all that he does for his constituents, so it is no surprise that he brought this important matter to the House of Commons to get a proper answer for his constituents. I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to this debate. I understand the concerns of the people of Caerphilly about the cost of the case, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the justice system’s obligation to investigate cases, even when they involve high-profile individuals, and the duty on judges to make decisions according to the information before them must continue.
I have spoken previously about the Government’s commitment to a one-nation justice system, and a fundamental part of that is the rule of law. Those responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct must be able to do so robustly and without intrusion, and it is crucial that those who make decisions in the system are independent and protected from undue state influence. It is not for this place to challenge the Wales Audit Office’s investigation, the independent prosecutorial decision to bring the proceedings or the judicial decision to bring the proceedings to a close. If it is felt that the investigation or prosecution was lacking, the right place to seek redress is with the Auditor General for Wales or the Director of Public Prosecutions. Those who feel that the case should not have ended in the way it did could have requested that the judge’s decision be scrutinised by the higher courts by bringing an appropriate challenge within the timescales prescribed in law.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said—particularly about the long time it took to arrive at a conclusion. He is, of course, aware that several factors influenced that timescale—indeed, he alluded to some of them—including the defence’s challenge of the police review of unused material, and judicial and defence counsel availability. Notwithstanding those factors, the case was concluded well within the average time for such complex cases. Cases of that nature take, on average, 25 months from charge to conclusion. That case was dealt with more quickly than the average for complex financial cases. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned listing, which is a judicial decision. Bristol Crown court sees a high number of fast-tracked sex cases, so it takes longer than usual for it to see other types of case.
The Government are undertaking a substantial programme of reform to improve the criminal justice system for those directly involved in it and the general public. In January 2015, Sir Brian Leveson published a review on efficiency in criminal proceedings, which included 56 recommendations for improving efficiency in the criminal courts within the existing legislative framework. His recommendations are the result of considerable consultation across the criminal justice system, and they cover a range of areas, including improving case management and progress in magistrates and Crown courts.
In his review, Sir Brian emphasised the need for more robust case management, and noted the importance of getting it right the first time. He recommended that one person in the police, in the Crown Prosecution Service and for the defence must be responsible for the conduct of each case. That recommendation is being taken forward as part of a better case management initiative, and will be rolled out nationally from the beginning of January following its successful introduction in eight Crown court centres in October 2015.
The initiative emphasises the importance of effectively managing proceedings while preserving judicial discretion. It aims to deal more quickly with cases where there is a guilty plea, which will free up capacity to manage more actively cases that go to trial. It aims to ensure better communication between practitioners and the court before the first hearing; more effective hearings; more guilty pleas; the disposal of many cases without the need for adjournment; and robust judicial resistance to applications to adjourn.
According to the Leveson review, to improve case management it is crucial to encourage early engagement between the prosecution and the defence. Sir Brian recommended that the criminal procedure rules make it clear that the parties are under a duty to engage at the first available opportunity. In response to that recommendation, we made amendments to the criminal procedure rules, and we are due to make more in April. Earlier engagement between parties will ensure greater collaborative working. It will allow parties to focus on the key issues, possible pleas, missing evidence and other material that could help them reach an early resolution.
I appreciate the Minister’s point and I welcome the reforms that he says are in the pipeline, but I refer him back to the costs incurred by Caerphilly County Borough Council through no fault of its own. With the benefit of hindsight, would it not have been better for case to have been heard somewhere other than Bristol Crown court if the pressures of work on it were so great? If the case had been held elsewhere, it could have been expedited, and matters could have been dealt with much quicker.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. He will appreciate that it is for the judge to determine who pays the cost of the trial. The judicial process must be based on the legal advice that the council can take. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the cost of employing additional staff to manage the work while a long case is going on is a matter for the council.
On transferring the case to somewhere other than Bristol, I hope that our reforms will enable a broader perspective to be taken on board and allow people to say, “Although this is a local issue, in order to secure justice for the people involved and for justice to be seen to be done quickly, would it be better for it to be dealt with in another nearby court where there is more capacity?” I hope that our reforms will ensure that cases are dealt with quickly and promptly. If there is a delay in one court, we should certainly look at neighbouring courts that have capacity; I do not rule that out. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Ministry of Justice is putting in place ambitious plans. I am confident that they will be in effect in due course, but I am sorry that they could not benefit his constituents at the time of the case that he refers to.
Improving awareness of the criminal procedure rules will also allow more robust case management. The Judicial Office has been working with the judiciary and defence practitioners to raise awareness of and embed the criminal procedure rules. Discussions have been taking place with the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Judicial College and the criminal procedure rules committee. Compliance with the criminal procedure rules will ensure that court time is deployed to maximum effectiveness and efficiency.
Sir Brian also recommended using technology to improve case management. Case management hearings have become inefficient and expensive. They are essentially administrative in nature and do not always require all participants to be gathered in the same room. He therefore encourages the use of video and audio technology to hold case management hearings outside court, reducing the time spent on unnecessary travel and making case management hearings more effective. Pilot hearings have been implemented in Reading Crown court and are soon to be expanded to Aylesbury and Oxford. Those hearings will be evaluated after a couple of months and should then inform national implementation.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman can feel assured that this Government, together with the judiciary, are taking active and practical steps to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system. In saying that, I do not intend to imply any criticism of the handling of this particular case, as it is not the role of a member of the Government to comment on the outcome of this or any other case. As we improve the system in the coming years, nothing will be done to fetter or interfere with due process, which must be independent of Government and managed by an independent judiciary. I thank the hon. Gentleman again for raising this important issue on behalf of his constituents.
Question put and agreed to.
Huddersfield Royal Infirmary
[Mark Pritchard in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered A&E services at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. Labour’s ruinous private finance initiative deal; Tory top-down reorganisation; socialist independents’ sniping; Lib Dem opportunism; UKIP wanting to privatise the NHS; Socialist Workers using the issue to scrap Trident and bring down capitalism—that’s all the party politics done. Let us put that to one side. I hope that for the next 89 minutes, we can continue with our cross-party consensus to make a compelling case for keeping our full A&E services at Huddersfield Royal infirmary.
I would like to thank my parliamentary colleagues for attending today, particularly the hon. Members for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), who applied for this debate along with me. I was fortunate enough to be successful, but we are all here together, along with the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox), with one strong local voice.
The background to this issue is that the Greater Huddersfield and Calderdale clinical commissioning groups have unanimously voted to put their “Right Care, Right Time, Right Place” proposal to a public consultation, which could lead to Huddersfield losing its A&E service. We anticipate that the 12-week consultation could start next Monday, 8 February.
The CCG’s preferred option is to close Huddersfield’s A&E and keep the provision at Calderdale Royal hospital in Halifax. The background to that proposal is the ruinous PFI deal negotiated in the 1990s and signed in 1998. The initial cost of Calderdale Royal hospital was £64.6 million, but it will end up costing the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust an incredible £773.2 million when the deal expires in 2058. That scandalous PFI deal is now influencing clinical and community health decisions, with an enormously detrimental effect. That dodgy deal is set to cost lives, and we are set to lose our A&E in Huddersfield while the PFI money makers stuff their pockets.
Throughout the past 12 months, our local CCGs have been mooting a reorganisation and reconfiguration of emergency and acute care and high-risk planned care, with HRI being the preferred location. In fact, the CCG’s own modelling of option 5B stated that Huddersfield Royal infirmary should provide all acute and emergency care and clinically high-risk planned care, because it was “in line with” the clinical model of safer and higher quality services, 24-hour consultant-led care, undisturbed planned care and a more resilient workforce model. It was only when the PFI financial considerations were factored in that the appalling proposition of closing A&E at Huddersfield suddenly emerged.
What has been the reaction to that plan? I was shocked at the proposal, and so was our community. I live in the village of Honley; I do not live anywhere else or have a second home—that is where I live. I have had to use HRI A&E a number of times, and I have always received excellent care. I put on the record my thanks to the wonderful staff there. In 1995, I fell seriously ill on my return from deployment in Turkey and northern Iraq while serving in the Royal Air Force and had to go to A&E. Eighteen months ago, I fractured my elbow in a fall while running the Honley 10 km race—being fit is not good for your health, by the way. My parents, who live just up the valley, have used our A&E. My mum had a bad fall on the ice a couple of years ago and had severe facial injuries, so getting to our local A&E in wintery conditions was crucial.
I am so proud that our community has come together to fight to keep our A&E at HRI. Karl Deitch set up a Facebook group, which now has more than 46,000 members. From that, we have already seen a rally in St George’s Square in Huddersfield, where more than 1,000 local people came together. The group has formed a campaign committee, which is meeting again tonight to plan the way forward. I would like to say a huge thanks to Karl and the whole team of volunteers for their superb community campaign. We are right behind them.
I have told my story of using HRI A&E. On Saturday, at the Huddersfield Town match, Sean Doyle, a constituent and friend of mine from Brockholes, spoke movingly on the pitch at half time about when he had a massive heart attack in Greenhead Park in Huddersfield. He owes his life to the emergency care he received at HRI, which was just up the road, where A&E staff used a new electronically powered chest compression system. Sean says he would not have survived if he had had to go to Halifax. I have received many emails from other constituents telling me how they owe their lives to the location and proximity of HRI A&E and how the golden hour saved them.
The campaign to save our A&E is by far and away the biggest local issue I have dealt with while I have been the Member of Parliament for Colne Valley. There are posters everywhere. Volunteers are taking petitions from door to door. The hashtag #handsoffHRI is being projected on to public buildings, and we are all receiving hundreds of individual emails. It is so clear that this proposal is just plain wrong.
The proposed reorganisation, which would leave Huddersfield without an A&E, is being done under the rationale that there will be no change of provision in the other half of Kirklees district. However, the diminution of services at Dewsbury and District hospital, which sits within my constituency, is a significant change—not least for the A&E, which is a key service for local constituents in neighbouring Dewsbury and elsewhere. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is an embarrassing oversight, with the potential to leave the eleventh largest district in England without a fully functioning A&E? That is not in the public interest and not in our constituents’ interest.
Absolutely—the hon. Lady makes a great point; she must have read my speech, because I will make that exact point in about three pages’ time. She is spot on.
Huddersfield Royal infirmary is in my constituency of Colne Valley, which includes the western side of Huddersfield, Colne Valley itself and Holme Valley, where I live. That means that if any of my 81,000 constituents or their children need to go to A&E in the back of an ambulance, they will have to pass HRI before undertaking the congested trek over to Halifax. In fact, most signatories to the parliamentary petition are from my constituency. I thank the 46,000-plus people who have signed the petition so far and the volunteers who are working tirelessly to get more folk signed up.
May I also say a big thank you to our local Huddersfield Examiner newspaper? In an era of digital online media and falling newspaper sales, we are so lucky to have a quality six-day-a-week local paper that is backing this campaign 100%. I thank the editor, Roy Wright, and his energetic and committed team of local journalists. Their excellent in-depth analysis has included an interview with Mike Ramsden, chairman of Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, who is quoted as saying:
“The reality is the CCG in Huddersfield exists to represent the health issues of the local population. If the proposals are now being delivered because of the financial pressure on a hospital in Halifax, then it’s my belief that it’s not a matter for Huddersfield CCG… it can’t be seen to be fair that a PFI deal in Halifax is taken on by people in Huddersfield.”
That is the view of a top NHS boss.
Let me address the issue of this proposal coming from the CCG. It is a panel of local doctors, and yes, I voted for CCGs to take over from primary care trusts, because I saw the faceless bureaucrats of the old PCT downgrade maternity care at HRI. Remember that, back in 2008? I believe that healthcare professionals will, at the end of the day—and they will need a lot of support and encouragement from us—make the right decisions for patients.
We need to make sure that the voices of all our local doctors are heard, and not just those on the CCG. A doctor from a surgery in my constituency wrote to me to say that moving A&E services to the town with the smallest population is “crazy”. Unfortunately, she is not one of the doctors on the CCG panel, although perhaps we wish she was. Another local GP from Colne Valley—a high-profile one—says that care for patients in Kirklees and Calderdale should not be driven by the PFI. Strategy should be driven by care needs, not financial concerns.
As I said, we have excellent cross-party parliamentary co-operation on this campaign. Local folk have really appreciated that, and my colleagues and I are committed to continuing that unity. I do not know whether the Minister has ever visited Huddersfield—he is trying to remember—but we are a growing, vibrant university town. If this appalling proposal goes ahead, we would be the largest town in our country not to have an A&E within five miles.
Huddersfield has a population of 146,000, and it is growing. We have more than 20,000 students, with thousands of international students, at our award-winning University of Huddersfield. Sadly, I have already had an email from a father whose son is now not going to apply to the university for fear of not having a local A&E. If Dewsbury loses its A&E, the whole Kirklees council area will be without one, as the hon. Member for Batley and Spen rightly said—442,500 residents who would be without an A&E in their council area. The hon. Member for Huddersfield and his team have calculated that that would potentially lead to an extra 157 deaths a year, and I am sure that he will elaborate on that later.
In this debate, it would be very easy to go down the route of just being emotional, but as the Minister is seeing we are laying out hard facts about why the proposal is plainly wrong. We will all make these points and arguments to the CCG as well once the consultation starts. However, I would like to highlight two other main areas.
Syngenta on Leeds Road is a top-tier COMAH—control of major accident hazards—safety site. It handles parquet, sodium cyanide and methyl chloride, and other operators on site handle toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. Its community safety plan states that
“we handle chemical substances which are classified under the regulations as toxic, very toxic, oxidising and flammable.”
Just imagine if there were an incident; the proximity of an A&E would be crucial. Has the CCG looked at that? In response to such an incident, response times and getting to an emergency treatment centre close by would be everything. The CCG has not mentioned Syngenta in its consultation document.
I turn to travel times, which really are a key issue—remember the golden hour. It is all well and good talking about average travel times to an A&E, but emergency care is not about averages. My constituents have been sending me Garmin and TomTom reports—other satnavs are available—of their recent journeys from Huddersfield to Halifax. It can take up to 45 minutes and in some instances, even longer. It is an extremely congested journey. Bad weather, floods, damaged bridges, increasing housing developments in the Lindley area, and the Ainley Top roundabout see our local road system creaking at the seams. That is before we even start analysing peak travel times from, say, Hade Edge or Marsden in my constituency.
My constituent Elaine writes that she has regular appointments on a Thursday morning at 9.15 am at Calderdale and has told me that the Elland bypass is regularly blocked twice a day, with her average journey time taking over an hour. It recently took a Huddersfield Examiner photographer 52 minutes in morning rush-hour traffic to get from the centre of Huddersfield to Calderdale Royal hospital. Hepworth in my constituency to Calderdale Royal is 13.7 miles. Most parts of my constituency and Kirklees will have to travel past Huddersfield Royal infirmary, or what is left of it, to get to CRH.
HRI serves a number of outlying and rural communities. My team and I have been scouring the consultation document and there are some really interesting little facts in there. Page 215 of the consultation document acknowledges that
“the population of Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield is aging slightly faster in the rural areas than in urban areas.”
On page 239, we learn that A&E attendances are high among those aged between 65 to 80 and highest for those aged over 80—so, those most likely to need A&E will now have further to travel, and that will cost lives.
Page 76 states that most journeys to A&E under the dual sites are less than 30 minutes—we may want to dispute that, by the way. However, the document goes on to admit—this is the official consultation document—that a single site could push travel times well over that, particularly at peak times. Let me repeat that: the consultation document states that travel times could be pushed well over 30 minutes, particularly at peak times.
My constituents at the top of the valleys in Holme village or Marsden could face an hour to get to Halifax. That brings me to the point made by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen. Patients who live at the tops of the valleys are already being diverted to Oldham and Barnsley, so the predicted patient models just do not stack up. My mum and dad are regularly sent to Barnsley from Holmbridge for routine tests. Huddersfield needs to be at the heart of our region’s emergency care. This proposal just has not been thought through. The whole proposal needs to be scrapped, with Barnsley, Oldham, Wakefield, Bradford and Halifax all part of a proper plan for emergency healthcare for where we live.
I just want to reinforce that point for the Minister. It seems as though there is a lack of regional oversight about the implications of both this public consultation and what is happening at Dewsbury and District hospital. We have raised that issue directly with the Minister, and I raised it with the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust last Friday to ask who holds responsibility for the pan-Kirklees, pan-Yorkshire, strategy, to make sure that none of our constituents loses out from these individual public consultations and reconfigurations. It would be very helpful if the Minister focused on that oversight.
Thank you very much for that incredibly constructive comment.
I have been talking about how we need a regional plan. I have been trying, as I come to the end of my speech, to dispel some myths. Some party political activists have been bleating on about budget cuts, but that is just a myth—it is plain wrong. This proposal, if it goes ahead, could actually end up costing £490 million, as it would see HRI knocked down and replaced with a much smaller hospital on an adjacent site. Surely that financial injection, if secured—and that is a big “if”—would make better sense if it was invested in A&E in both Halifax and Huddersfield.
What happens next? I have specific questions for the Minister. The hon. Member for Huddersfield and I wrote to the Secretary of State last week. Will the Minister expedite an urgent meeting for me and the hon. Members for Huddersfield, for Dewsbury and for Batley and Spen, and others who are not here, with the Secretary of State to discuss the future of emergency healthcare in Huddersfield and Calderdale? In an ideal world, I would like the Minister to intervene to avert this appalling proposal and I hope he will explain the process. In the meantime, will he launch an investigation into the PFI deal, which many are calling one of the worst ever signed?
When the Prime Minister visited Halifax last year, he said:
“After the election we want to do what we’ve done with other hospitals, which is sort out the PFI mess and financial mess that they’re in.”
Will the Minister explore the potential of uncoupling the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust so that the PFI deal can be tackled and removed from clinical decision making? For the record, we want Calderdale Royal hospital to keep its A&E. Calderdale’s population is increasing, as is that of Huddersfield and Kirklees.
In conclusion, I think, we think, the campaigners think and all our community thinks that Huddersfield and Halifax require and deserve excellent A&E services. The decisions should be based on saving more lives, improving experiences and delivering better outcomes, not short-term financial implications. Patient safety must come first, which means keeping our A&E, so hands off our Huddersfield Royal infirmary!
It is indeed an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. Before I start my speech, I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing this incredibly important debate and on his constructive and reasoned speech.
Kirklees is an area with a population of over 430,000. My constituency has a population of 110,000. The majority of my constituents access emergency care at either Dewsbury and district hospital or Huddersfield Royal infirmary. Dewsbury district hospital is already subject to a planned downgrade, which hospital bosses propose to bring forward. It will take place this year. It will see the accident and emergency department downgraded to an urgent care centre with no provision for acute emergency care.
Dewsbury district hospital’s A&E currently sees around 80,000 patients a year. The downgrade was referred to the Secretary of State for Health by the Kirklees and Wakefield joint health scrutiny committee because its members believe there remains sufficient doubt to provide the necessary assurance and confidence that the proposals are in the best interests of the local population. The planned downgrade hinged on the fact that many of the patients who currently access Dewsbury and district hospital would travel to Huddersfield for emergency care.
The loss of full emergency services in Dewsbury was a bitter blow. We now hear that Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield clinical commissioning groups are planning their own hospital downgrade. The plan, as we have heard, is to close the A&E department at Huddersfield and to transfer all emergency services to Calderdale Royal hospital in Halifax. Those plans will see the whole of Kirklees without any accident and emergency provision. Over 430,000 people will have to travel outside the borough for vital emergency healthcare for themselves and their loved ones. How on earth can that be acceptable? Kirklees is a vast geographical area that spans many towns and rural and semi-rural areas. Many people rely solely on public transport as a means of travel and parts of the borough are in the bottom 10% of the country’s most deprived areas, which brings about huge health issues and inequalities.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley alluded to Huddersfield being a university town with over 24,000 students, many of whom come from outside the area. Many of them are not registered with a local GP, so are more likely to attend A&E.
A large part of my constituency nestles between Huddersfield and Dewsbury hospital. My constituents will be among those hit hardest by the closure. We have heard in recent days that the proposed changes could result in 157 more deaths a year. We know that the closure will not improve life chances or enhance health care provision, but is purely a cost-cutting exercise that could result in lives being put at risk.
In 2007, prior to being elected Prime Minister, David Cameron said:
“I can promise what I've called a bare-knuckle fight with the government over the future of district general hospitals.
We believe in them, we want to save them and we want them enhanced, and we will fight the government all the way.”
We welcome the Prime Minister’s possible intervention. If any Health Minister, the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister would like to visit our beautiful part of Yorkshire, I am sure that we would, on a cross-party basis, be delighted to show him the issues that the closure would cause.
Hospital downgrades and closures are happening up and down the country. Two out of three NHS trusts are in deficit and the situation is only set to get worse. Headlines in our national newspapers scream of “NHS facing…worst financial crisis in a generation”, “NHS deficit soars to £1.6bn” and “Will 2016 push the NHS over the edge of chaos?” Searching “hospital closures” on the internet shows the full scale of the problem nationally.
A pledge was made that the PFI deal in Calderdale would be sorted out, but that neither hospital would close. It is beyond absurd that the price to pay for keeping Halifax A&E open is the closure of the Huddersfield facility. Across the two hospital sites, there are 141,000 A&E visits a year. How can one hospital, which is already buckling under the pressure, cope with that many emergency patients in one year? In addition, there will be further pressure on Yorkshire Ambulance Service to transfer acutely ill patients away from Kirklees to hospitals on routes that are often congested and severely gridlocked. Current proposals would see the average ambulance transfer time increase from 16 to 21 minutes. I reiterate that that is an average, so many patients would be in an ambulance for much longer.
I have received a number of emails, as I am sure have my hon. Friends, from understandably concerned constituents who have recounted extremely problematic journeys between the two sites, leading to real fear that there could be a catastrophe in a life and death situation. I recently undertook the journey between Huddersfield and Halifax after the recent rally in Huddersfield centre. I was caught in severe traffic and saw an ambulance held up. I would have hated it if a loved one or someone I knew had been in that ambulance being prevented from getting essential emergency care.
Another issue for cross-party consensus is the lack of a coherent, integrated transport assessment of all the reconfigurations across Kirklees, in Dewsbury and in Huddersfield. Many of our constituents are on low incomes and rely on public transport. With congested roads, moving people around is not easy. I am not reassured that either trust has looked fully at the transport implications of these reorganisations and what they will mean for our constituents.
I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. She has almost read my mind. I have just come out of a meeting with the chief executive of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust and put that exact point to him. I was incredibly alarmed to hear him say that it is working on the modelling for how to transfer patients between hospital sites given the number of reconfigurations in the area. I emphasised that that should have been resolved before, and he acknowledged that perhaps it should have been. The work has not even been carried out, yet there are proposals on the table that hospitals should be downgraded.
Yorkshire Ambulance Service has its own financial pressures and is struggling to meet its current performance targets. We have heard this afternoon that it is failing to meet performance targets for red 1 and red 2 ambulance patients. The question needs to be asked. Have they been consulted about these plans and can they deliver on the promises made by the clinical commissioning groups, despite the fact that we have received an acknowledgement this afternoon that the work is ongoing?
Other factors that need to be seriously considered include the looming adult social care crisis, impending pharmacy cuts—which could mean that 25% of community pharmacies close—lack of GP provision and uncertainty regarding junior doctors. All these factors impact on our local hospitals, and we need to be confident that they are addressed and answered.
Just yesterday evening we learnt that Calderdale Royal hospital and Huddersfield Royal infirmary were on black alert, which meant that they were unable to take any more patients because of a shortage of beds. The trust was said to have implemented the senior level gold command arrangements. Let us imagine the situation had that occurred when only one of the A&E services was functioning.
In the less than two weeks since the plans were announced, we have seen a massive public outcry—bigger than anything that I have witnessed before. Like the hon. Member for Colne Valley, I thank, applaud and pay tribute to all the people involved in the campaign. We have seen the message “Hands off HRI” projected on to many public buildings and looking absolutely fantastic. Sweatshirts and T-shirts have been printed. There are car stickers. People have been going door to door with petitions. There has been a wonderful community response. There is a Facebook campaign with more than 45,000 members—I wish that my MP page got that level of support—and there is an online petition with more than 46,000 signatures. I am pleased to say that at a recent Kirklees Council meeting, councillors voted to work cross party to oppose the changes. All those voices need to be heard, and we must have as long a consultation period as possible to ensure that they are.
Casually sitting back and watching this situation develop is simply not an option. Action must be taken, and it is our job, as elected representatives, to stand up and fight for our constituents. I for one will not be lying down on this issue and I welcome the cross-party pledge from all my MP colleagues—I know that they feel exactly the same way about this issue—that we will work together for a better funding deal and a solution to the chaos that we now find ourselves in.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), who have eloquently made the case and saved me from spending an awful lot of time going into the detail. However, I must repeat some of the narrative. Mr Speaker often, I think, verges a little on ageism when he points out how long I have been in the House of Commons, but it does mean that I have a long memory and I know the narrative of what has happened in health provision in my part of the world. That is always difficult for Ministers.
I noticed that this Minister, when asked whether he had visited Huddersfield, looked down at his papers rather intently. I do not blame him for that—there are parts of England that I have yet to visit—but Huddersfield is an absolute gem of a place. It nestles in the Pennines. I once had an American student who said, “I’ve found out the difference between Lancashire and Yorkshire—you’ve got the Pyrenees between you.” I said, “A lot of people in Yorkshire wish it was the Pyrenees; actually, it’s the Pennines.” That is a slightly humorous remark, but the fact is that it is a very hilly area; conditions can be very difficult. We see the special signs up in bad weather. Can we go over the tops? Often the conditions are such that we cannot. Very close to us, it is very hilly, with very difficult road networks. There is not much flat land. We were looking for industrial investment. You and I, Mr Pritchard, care very much about the manufacturing sector, and when people are trying to attract new businesses, they are all the time looking for flat land. We do not have any flat land; that is the truth. It is very difficult to find a flat space in our part of the world. It is difficult terrain.
What is nice about this debate is that from both sides of the Chamber we are making it clear that we do not want to beggar our neighbour. We want good health provision throughout our area. Good health provision is what motivates all of us. We want the highest-quality health provision. However, we do want accountable delivery of health provision. Many of us feel that the old system had its imperfections and the new system has its imperfections. Both the hon. Member for Colne Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury talked about the PFI. I have a long knowledge of PFIs. When I was chairing the Select Committee on Education, PFIs were used, as you know, Mr Pritchard, for much school building. I learnt over many years of controversy over PFIs that one cannot dislike PFIs on principle, but one can be against bad PFIs and in favour of good PFIs. I think that that is the truth of the matter.
There is a lot of evidence that some of the health PFIs were entered into with a rather amateur group of people representing the health trusts. That is the only explanation if we are to be kind to those people who made the arrangements. They were dealing with some pretty clever people—leading consultancies and people who really knew their stuff from the City of London. A senior professor said to me that some of the people sitting on the other side of the table were not as sharp as they could have been. They may have been local accountants and solicitors or the local management team, and perhaps they did not see quite how much the PFI was going to cost them over the number of years for which it was to run. That is the context.
A particularly worrying PFI was agreed for the Calderdale hospital in Halifax. There were two trusts in those days: the Halifax trust and the Huddersfield trust. The Huddersfield trust was always very well managed and had plenty of reserves, but when Halifax and Calderdale ran into trouble, we were pushed by the then Department to merge with the trust that was limping rather. People may remember this. We did merge, because we did believe in a good health service for all the people in our part of Kirklees and in Calderdale. That is the history; now we have to bring ourselves up to date.
There is a new dilemma, and I do not want to make it party political, but the urgent question on national health service finances yesterday did point to the fact that up and down the country a number of trusts are in serious financial trouble. Until comparatively recently, our health trust was in pretty good shape. Only comparatively recently did we suddenly have some real financial challenges. The Minister will be very familiar with this dilemma. On the one hand, we are being asked to make savings, efficiencies—4% every year—in order to maintain a good record with all the organisations that look at our health provision. On the one hand, there is that pressure for greater efficiency and saving money, but at the same time on our patch we have this PFI that is a great drain. On the other hand, we have what is a pretty old hospital in modern terms. I was once with Harold Wilson in the hospital when I was a very young MP. He had come up, and we were waiting for the top brass to come down and guide us. He said, “Barry, I don’t think I’ve ever been here before,” and behind him was a great marble stone that said, “Opened by Harold Wilson in 1965”.
The hospital is a classic early 1960s building. Some of us love some of the 1960s buildings. There are some that we cherish, such as the Barbican. Many people hate the hospital; I quite like it. There is a kind of brutalism that one likes. However, a lot of 1960s building was a little bit below par. We have on the one hand a hospital PFI that is very expensive and on the other a local hospital that is getting old. It has been invested in over the years. A great deal of investment has gone in, but I am told that a conservative estimate is that at least £200 million would be needed really to get it back on track. That is a great pressure on local health provision.
All of us across the parties in our area—local councillors have also been very active in the campaign—understand that we want the best possible healthcare for all the people on our patch. I know that the Minister is not so familiar with our part of the world. Not only is it hilly but it has a very mixed population. A lot of wealthy people live on our patch. There are a lot of middle-class people and a lot of people who are more challenged in terms of their income. It is a very mixed area, and that is the beauty of it. It is not boring; it is in every sense a vibrant area. I recently challenged the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to come to Huddersfield and have a decent suit made of fine Huddersfield worsted; we still make the finest worsted in the world. Indeed, Mr Speaker is now also coming to Huddersfield to have a fine worsted suit made. I see you looking interested, Mr Pritchard—the invitation could be extended.
The fact is that, were there not so much contest between the smaller towns, the area might have had the name “Greater Huddersfield”. It is a city—one of the biggest urban conglomerations in the country—but people, especially outsiders, do not realise that because we have broken it up into different names. Kirklees is vast, which means that there are great healthcare challenges. Put that together with our difficult geography and an interesting history, and we face real challenges. We want the Minister to be open-minded and to enter into a discussion to find a way to get the very best result for the people of our area.
I shall be quite blunt about my resistance to CCGs. I wanted to be independent in assessing PFIs, and I said that there had been good PFIs and poor PFIs. There are also good CCGs and not so good CCGs, and I am not impressed by the quality and leadership of my local CCG. Although I have some resistance to CCGs, the general model is not a difficult one. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on management, so I am keen on good management in the health service and outside. Sometimes I see doctors managing CCGs; management is not part of any medical course I know of. We would not expect it to be. We train doctors to be good clinicians and good GPs, not to be managers. Some CCGs have real difficulties because they lack quality management.
There has been a failure of management in our local CCG when it comes to a proper, rational assessment of where we are now and how we can get the best possible healthcare in our area, taking into account all the difficult pieces of information that I have mentioned, including an ageing hospital that needs investment, a newish hospital that was built under a PFI, and difficult communications. I ask the Minister to look very carefully at what has been going on in our locality and to get the whole situation appraised carefully, independently and objectively.
I understand that this is an issue for the A&E in Huddersfield, but the hon. Gentleman mentioned getting other advice. In Northern Ireland, the Minister has set up a new panel to look at the whole health service and how best to take it forward in an area of financial restraint. Does he agree—I suspect that he does—that it is time to share those ideas across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Thereby, we can all learn together.
I very much welcome that information, which relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox). She said that there was no clear, strategic plan for the broader area of West Yorkshire. West Yorkshire is very close to Barnsley on one boundary. On another, it goes a long way right up the valley to where a very large number of people live in places such as Todmorden, where a bridge was recently affected by floods. Those places are in strong Manchester commuting territory. The area is vast and complex, and I cannot remember a proper evaluation across the piece, rather than an assessment that just carved out one bit of territory and looked into that very carefully.
I do not want to go through how many people are enraged, but they include—I read in the Huddersfield Examiner—Sir Patrick Stewart. Until recently, he was the chancellor of Huddersfield University, which was university of the year last year. He sends, from Hollywood, his solidarity with the people of Huddersfield on the issue of keeping the A&E department open.
On 11 March this year, we celebrate the centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson—a great man and a great Prime Minister—who was born in Huddersfield. When I used to drive him around Huddersfield, we would pass the old further education college, which was the old, old Huddersfield hospital, and he always said, “My appendix is in there.” The area has a great history. Please, in this special year, let us listen to the voices of the people of Huddersfield and Halifax, and get this right. At the moment, the suggestion of closing A&E in Huddersfield is not right, nor is the suggestion that Halifax is the only alternative. Personally, I think that there is a scheme by which we could keep both A&E departments open. My request to the Minister is: get that rigorous, independent, thoughtful appraisal of what the hell is going on, and get it right.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) on securing this extremely important debate, and on the eloquent and powerful way in which he set out the issues in his opening speech. We heard quite a remarkable volley of NHS-related slogans at the start. I aim to keep a copy of that Hansard extract in my pocket for future use at rallies and so on, such was the power and breadth of his comments. He deserves praise for the non-partisan way in which he presented the issues, and his passion for the local hospital, which he and his family have clearly used on a number of occasions, shone through. He spoke with great personal knowledge about the geography of the area and how it does not lend itself to the proposals, and he pointed out, quite rightly, a need for a wider, sub-regional focus on services.
I pay tribute to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), who spoke with typical passion and sincerity, and brought with her a wealth of experience from the health sector. She rightly questioned whether Halifax will be able to cope with the extra A&E visits, and we all ought to take note of her revelation that the ambulance service has not yet worked out the implications for its service.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) spoke with typical authority about how his constituents will be affected. His recounting of the history of healthcare in his area was highly informative. He rightly pointed out that the financial pressures that this trust faces are not unique and he was characteristically forthright about what he considered to be the failings of the local CCG.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) on her intervention. She spoke eloquently and clearly about how significant the issue is when she pointed out that an entire Kirklees Council area will be without its own A&E unit. She also astutely pointed out that the issue has ramifications far beyond the immediate CCG area.
All hon. Members who have contributed to the debate have clearly set out their constituents’ concerns about the proposals, which will fundamentally change how NHS services are delivered in Huddersfield, Calderdale and the surrounding areas. The question of how services are configured in the area has been the subject of discussion for some time, but found a new impetus on 15 January when Calderdale CCG and Greater Huddersfield CCG released the pre-consultation business case on a reconfiguration of hospital services across Calderdale and Kirklees. As we know, the proposal is to treat emergency cases at Calderdale Royal hospital in Halifax, while a newly built Huddersfield Royal infirmary will tackle planned cases. That will involve the closure of the A&E department at Huddersfield, which has understandably caused a great deal of anxiety locally and has been much of the focus of today’s debate.
It is not just hon. Members who have expressed concern. Stellar characters such as Patrick Stewart have joined in, and there has been a considerable reaction in the community. On 25 January, a paramedic was quoted in the Huddersfield Examiner expressing concerns that the proposals had the potential to create delays of up to an hour in taking a 999 patient to casualty. As we heard, a local statistician has warned that there could be an additional 157 deaths a year if the changes go ahead. It is hugely important that the CCG responds to those claims as part of the consultation process, as patient safety must be the primary consideration when any changes to health services are proposed.
It is clear from the pre-consultation business case that the changes are significant. As the risk assessment states,
“the most likely areas for negative impact is to those groups who are high users of accident and emergency services, such as younger, older people, and some ethnic groups.”
As the hon. Member for Colne Valley mentioned, the risk assessment also states:
“We understand that the population of Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield is ageing slightly faster in the rural areas than in urban areas. This means that new service models could place older residents at a slight disadvantage if the services they need to access are located further away than the services they are currently using.”
We know before we start that older people are more likely to be particularly affected by the proposal to close Huddersfield A&E, as they are more likely to live in rural areas that are further away from Calderdale Royal and, of course, they are far more likely to use emergency services. It is therefore vital that there is the widest possible consultation on these proposals and that the consultation is meaningful. I note from the business case that seven separate engagement exercises have so far been undertaken. However, not one of them has asked this simple question: “Do you want the A&E at Huddersfield Royal infirmary to close?” It is vital that residents are now given the opportunity to engage with those core issues through accessible methods.
Residents of Calderdale and Huddersfield may well be a little disappointed that we are even discussing this issue today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury said earlier, residents will remember that in 2007, when in opposition, the Prime Minister visited, posed for photographs and spoke about having a bare-knuckle fight with the then Government to safeguard A&E services at Huddersfield Royal and many other hospitals. The Prime Minister’s attention has been elsewhere recently, so perhaps he needs to be reminded of those comments now. The Minister will know that when the Prime Minister visited Halifax last year, he promised to
“sort out the PFI mess and financial mess that they’re in.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) had hoped to be here today, but she has whipping responsibilities on the Energy Bill. She has been persistent in trying to hold the Prime Minister to account for that promise. I trust that the Minister will be able to set out what is being done to sort it out.
I am sure the Minister will also be gracious enough to acknowledge, as the hon. Member for Colne Valley did, that although the PFI deal was signed when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, much of the work and negotiating was done when John Major was in charge. I am sure the Minister will also agree that the residents of Huddersfield would be right to say that arguing about who is responsible takes us no nearer to finding a solution.
It would also be fair to say that the financial problems faced by the trusts are not solely down to the PFI deal, nor are they alone in facing such challenges. Despite the warm words on funding, a number of challenged trusts are now being asked to consider headcount reductions additional to the current plan. The truth is that the Government have lost control of NHS finances. By slashing social care budgets, they have created a crisis in the sector that is adding pressure to every part of the NHS. By completely mismanaging staff issues, they have created a crisis in recruitment and retention, leading to a surge in spending on agency staff. The report makes it clear that workforce issues are a factor in driving the need for reconfiguration. In 2010-11, the spend on agency staff at Huddersfield and Calderdale was £7.2 million; according to page 29 of the business case, this year the figure is forecast to be £21.2 million, an increase of 194% in just five years.
That issue is not unique to Huddersfield and Calderdale; it is a deeply worrying trend that we see replicated across the country. One of the key reasons for that increase, which again is set out in the business case, is recruitment, retention and vacancy challenges. An example of that is the Government’s decision, after taking office, to slash the number of nurse training places, which led to far fewer nurses qualifying than in previous years. The upshot of that, as the Royal College of Nursing and the Labour party warned at the time, is that trusts across the country are simply unable to fill all their vacancies and are left to rely on expensive agency staff. I ask the Minister, as I have asked him before, whether he will now accept that cutting the number of nurse training places was the wrong thing to do and is a fundamental cause of the increase in spending on agency staff.
The business case also refers to sickness rates being a worrying 5.3% in the clinical directorate, with by far the main causes being anxiety, stress and depression. Sickness rates are high and retention rates are low because the NHS workforce are, frankly, demoralised. I look forward to hearing what the Minister intends to do to improve the position, as many of the challenges facing this trust pervade throughout the NHS.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I, too, thank my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) for the clear-sighted way in which he set out his case. This clearly is a cross-party effort, for which I respect him all the more. Everyone sitting in this room has come here with earnest intent on behalf of their constituents, and I take their representations very seriously indeed. I appreciate the comments of those who have spoken in this debate, including the hon. Members for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox), for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff). I also thank the shadow Minister. There was an intervention from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who has left.
This is one of what I imagine will be a series of debates on reconfigurations, because throughout the NHS’s history—I am sure the hon. Member for Huddersfield will know this better than me—reconfigurations and the configuration of health services has been a feature of how the NHS works. In beginning to respond to the debate, it would be helpful if I set out where the Secretary of State and I stand in relation to reconfigurations. That will explain what I am able to do and, perhaps more helpfully, what I am not able to do, because that has changed in the past few years.
I recognise that the clinical commissioning group has presented a very detailed plan—the plan is very detailed, whatever one’s arguments about its merits, or otherwise—but it has, rather classically, chosen a title, “Right Care, Right Time, Right Place,” that is so generic in its quality and so indirect in its aspiration that the CCG should first look to change the title to say what it actually proposes to do. Such generic consultation titles and bureaucratic-speak are a feature across the NHS, and it does not help anyone to get to the nub of the matter.
Were the reconfiguration to procced, it would be for the CCG to make the decision about how it wished to buy services on behalf of the people it serves. That is a key reform of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 but, even before then, previous Secretaries of State—Labour ones—recognised that it is wrong for Whitehall to make determinations on matters of reconfiguration because it is often influenced by politics when it should be the clinical voice that is heard first and foremost.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson a number of times. Harold Wilson was a well-known exponent of valuing expert opinion, and we should do that in the NHS above all, because we are dealing with people’s lives. That is why I ask people speaking in this debate more broadly to listen carefully to what clinicians are saying on both sides of the argument and to weigh up their opinions before coming to a settled point of view.
I absolutely agree with the Minister. It is the clinicians who are talking to us. The clinicians in hospitals do not want this reconfiguration and do not agree with it; it is general practitioners jumped up into management in the CCG who are putting this before us. The clinicians to whom my colleagues and I have talked are almost uniformly against the reconfiguration. He is absolutely right. If we listen to the clinicians, we will have A&E in both hospitals.
I will come on to that process. It is a little unfair to characterise the clinical commissioning group in that way. Primary care is the frontline of all patient care in this country. GPs see and deal with the majority of patients in the health service, and they guide the patient pathway. Therefore they should have responsibility for ensuring that services are fit and proper for patients. It is GPs who make the decision on how that happens. If local people disagree with that decision, as the hon. Members for Dewsbury and for Batley and Spen are experiencing in their own areas, a referral can be made to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel via the local authority’s overview and scrutiny panel. The Secretary of State will then take the recommendations of the independent panel.
So far, out of a number of Secretaries of State, none has chosen to go against the panel’s recommendations, although there is always a first time. However, the panel exists, and I do not think that anyone disputes its independence. That is the process. All that I can do here is set out the broader clinical arguments on which I know the CCG will draw, and with which I expect all Members will agree, to talk about private finance initiatives and answer the specific questions raised by speakers in this debate.
For the record, I will explain what the CCG claims are its reasons for the reconfiguration. It is important for people watching this debate to know the CCG’s side of the story also. The CCG believes that the NHS services in Halifax and Huddersfield, as currently organised, do not deliver the safest and most effective and efficient support to meet patients’ needs. It believes that the trust is affected by shortages of middle-grade doctors and a high use of locums in its accident and emergency department; I will turn in a minute to the remarks on that matter by the hon. Member for Huddersfield. Sickness absence levels are high, and clinical rotas are described as “fragile”. There are difficulties providing senior consultant cover overnight and seven days a week, which is a wider issue in which hon. Members will know the Government have an interest.
Both hospital sites operate an emergency department and a critical care unit. The care provided by both those services is, in the CCGs’ view, neither compliant with some of the standards for children and young people in emergency care settings nor fully compliant with guidance on critical care workforce standards. Neither site satisfies the Royal College recommended minimum of 10 consultants per emergency department and 14 hours a day of consultant cover.
Inter-hospital transfers are often necessary due to the lack of co-location of services on both sites. Those factors have a direct bearing on the safety of patient care. The co-location of emergency and acute medical and surgical expertise can result in significant improvements in survival and recovery outcomes, most notably for stroke and cardiac patients. The most seriously ill with life-threatening conditions have a much greater chance of survival if they are treated by an experienced medical team available 24/7. That last comment is not just the opinion of the CCG; it is the recommendation of Professor Bruce Keogh, the medical director of NHS England. I think that we all agree on the principles from which he speaks.
The CCG believes, first and foremost, that the proposals are designed to save lives. It is not an issue of cost. However, there is an issue of cost involved in deciding where the co-located services should go. We must be open about that; the CCG has made a value for money determination suggesting that the better site is in Halifax, at Calderdale Royal hospital, and not at Huddersfield.
On a value for money basis, because of the ability to release the Huddersfield site to build the new hospital and the more modern facilities available in Calderdale. That is the CCG’s determination, and it is important in these discussions that everyone examines whether they believe that the CCG has made the right determination.
Turning quickly to an issue of numbers, I want to make a general point about the number of people being supported by A and E services across the country. The current chief executive of NHS Improvement, Jim Mackey, ran a successful large hospital system in Northumberland where a reconfiguration is providing some of the finest patient outcomes not just in the United Kingdom but in western Europe. It was brave and controversial at the time. What he has proved, and what has subsequently been proved in Manchester and in London stroke services, is that where services are reconfigured sensibly, outcomes improve. I know that that is the driving ambition of clinicians in Mid Yorkshire, and indeed in Huddersfield and Halifax. Whether they are arriving at the correct way of delivering those improved outcomes should be the exercise of the consultation, so it is an appropriate way to start the debate, but it is important to inform the discussion with all the current facts.
According to Public Health England, the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust serves a population of 402,000 across two hospital sites. That means that each hospital serves what is, in the scale of the NHS, a small population group. To give some local comparisons, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust serves a population of 752,000, and Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust is also a bit larger at 553,000. Within the scale of local health economies, Calderdale and Huddersfield serves a relatively small population, across two sites. The CCG’s judgment, and I suspect clinical opinion across the NHS, is that something must be done to improve clinical outcomes by concentrating consultant and clinical offer. I am not making any judgment about where that should happen, merely about the principle being established by senior clinicians.
Turning to the issue of deaths, it is the judgment of Professor Bruce Keogh, who is coming to the end of his urgent and emergency care review, that intensive procedures are best done by people who are well practiced and do many a year. The best way to do so is to ensure that they are concentrated in centres of excellence. The understanding of the rest of the world is that we prevent deaths by doing so. The hon. Member for Huddersfield contends that we could cause 157 deaths by joining the services.
Yes. I caution the hon. Gentleman about using such figures. Whereas the CCG has been careful not to use a precise figure for how many lives will be saved, merely citing international evidence about improved outcomes, that figure, which has been provided to him, makes the serious error of conflating and confusing emergency admissions with emergency attendances; they are two completely different things. Using those two figures has allowed the person who made that figure to come up with 157. The figure itself is erroneous, and it is important that it is not repeated until there is a proper statistical base that can be shared with local people, because it will clearly frighten people. It is important that that figure, if it is true at all, has a proper statistical base before it is used.
Likewise, figures have been quoted about PFI. I actually have a dogmatic view on PFI, which is that it is a less than elegant way of borrowing money. Classically, the Government will borrow money at around 4%, and the private sector at 6% or 7%. One can get PFI deals that work; there are some. They work when one can incentivise efficiency over a long period, but it is very difficult to measure, and the jury is still out on even the best deals. There are circumstances in which they do work, but they do not work in every circumstance.
None the less, it is important that we present local people with the figures. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley has mentioned in the House the figure of £773 million over the course of the contract; I believe that that figure is just the sum of all the unitary payments made year by year. If we strip out inflation, as we must in order to come to a real figure, we arrive at a sum that is about two thirds of that: £527 million. If we then subtract from that £527 million the costs of providing maintenance, cleaning, porterage and the other functions that form part of the PFI deal, we come to a figure about half that, or about £263 million or £264 million. It is difficult to divide it up precisely, because it is a unitary payment. That is the financing charge.
If we compare that financing charge with what it would have been for public debt if the money had been borrowed, as it would have been at the time in order to build the hospital, we are talking about a difference of about £90 million to £100 million. Again, when presenting these figures to the public, it is very important that we are consistent about it. This figure is not £773 million and in that sense it does not matter who signed it, and I will be the first person to stand here for hours defending Sir John Major. It is much closer to £100 million over and above what would have been paid for had it been public debt.
Again, I think that puts it in context and may explain why this figure is not the defining figure, because when £100 million is divided up by the course of the contract it comes out at a much smaller figure than might be supposed. It is not the determining factor in what the CCG is trying to do, and I am convinced of the CCG’s arguments in that respect.
However, the CCG is very open about the value for money that it says there is in using the Halifax site as opposed to the Calderdale site, and Members should discuss that with the CCG. They might have a very interesting discussion with it about how it will dispose of the capital one way or another.
I will just run through the CCG’s proposals quickly in response to the problems it has identified in the local area, and then I will just turn quickly to some of the additional comments that have been made by Members.
The trust identifies that in the area the summary hospital-level mortality indicator—the SHMI mortality figure—was 108.9 in March 2015 against an expected benchmark of 100, so it is significantly over the expected figure. The trust did not achieve a reduction in its mortality rate during 2014 and 2015; it was not able to narrow the gap in the mortality rate to 100. In large part, it puts that down to the operating problems it has on the two sites.
Therefore, the trust’s answer to that problem is to provide exactly the kind of specialised concentrated care that Members from all parties have identified—albeit they think it is in the wrong place—as part of a joined-up community care plan, which it is developing in co-ordination with the wider local area.
The hon. Members for Dewsbury and for Batley and Spen came to speak to me in great detail, and very interestingly, about the proposals for their area. I take very seriously the remarks that the hon. Member for Batley and Spen made about looking at the wider area of mid-Yorkshire in co-ordination with this work.
I do not know whether I have been to Huddersfield and I told the hon. Member for Huddersfield why. I spent the first year of my life in Wakefield, as I explained to the hon. Members for Dewsbury and for Batley and Spen the other day, and so maybe my mother took me to Huddersfield. I would like to return in the near future and experience it properly as an adult, and I shall. Nevertheless, it is clear that the area we are discussing is a very complicated one to deal with. It is a hilly area, something which—being a boy from East Anglia—I do not understand very well, and it has a lot of towns of considerable population that are divided by difficult terrain, and travelling between those towns can be less simple than travelling in other parts of the country. So I take on board the points that the hon. Gentleman made.
I will certainly take back the suggestion by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen that this issue we are debating today should be looked at in the wider context, and I undertake to ask Jim Mackey to see whether there is a co-ordination between these two plans and whether he can encourage the CCGs to adopt a more joined-up approach to what they are doing. Maybe they are already joined up—I am not prejudging the conversations that have happened—but it is important that the CCGs answer these questions.
On the figures, we listened intently on the lesson on PFI. But these figures have been in the public domain from many sources since the announcement and the PFI has been looked at. People find these sums difficult to understand. It is our job to ensure that we make the toughest case we can. Yes, we have used those figures, and they are still pretty appalling. Regarding the figure of 157, we got it from an impeccable source; we will go back and check it, but I think it is good.
I would submit both figures. There is a difference between £773 million and £100 million, although one is larger than the other. I am not justifying the original deal, but it is important that we put it in context.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley asked me whether I would arrange a meeting with the Secretary of State; of course, I will be happy to do so. However, can we wait for some of these issues to have been thrashed out with the CCG, so that we have a proper evidence base that we all agree on? That is part of the point of a consultation. Then we will have an even better informed meeting than if we had one tomorrow. So let us have a proper public debate locally and allow the CCG to respond to some of the accusations that have been made here and elsewhere.
My hon. Friend also asked about investigations into the PFI deals. Each PFI deal is different; some are legally very difficult to unpick while some are easier. We have unpicked quite a few during the past few years and I know that the team are looking at all the PFI deals on a revolving basis. Therefore, I can make a commitment that the Department of Health will continue to look at PFI deals—each and every one of them—to see whether we can get more value from them. However, I have to be clear with my hon. Friend that this deal, which was one of the earliest to be made, has been very carefully worded.
This gets to the nub of the matter. May I just confirm that the Minister’s team will specifically look at the Calderdale PFI, because it was a bit generic there as well? There are discrepancies over the figures, which are slightly different. Incidentally, my colleagues and I would be absolutely delighted if this process were not being influenced by the PFI; if the issue is down to clinical reasoning and other matters, Huddersfield will keep its A&E unit.
May I just respond to my hon. Friend’s original point?
We must remember that the PFI deal is borne by the entire trust, so it is not as if it fixes precisely on one site or another; it does not influence the decision of where to go. It could be possible to run a cold site on the PFI hospital and fill the hospital that way. It does not have to be filled with the particular function that the CCG wishes to put there. The CCG just believes that the buildings there are better, more suited and more modern—the hon. Member for Huddersfield would agree with that assessment—for the particular purposes it wants to put there.
It is for the CCG to justify that; I cannot speak with any authority about this, because I do not know. However, I really do not think that the PFI has a bearing, because no matter where the services are put, the PFI deal will still exist. All I am saying is that I want to be realistic about our ability to unpick every single PFI in the country, because in many cases they have been very carefully worded and agreed in a lawyerly fashion—
Order. I remind colleagues and the Minister, first, that the Minister should face inwards, so that we can get a good shot of him on camera. This debate is being televised—just a gentle reminder. Secondly, those Members who want to make comments should stand up to do so, so that the Hansard writers can identify who they are. Thank you very much indeed.
Thank you, Mr Pritchard. I hope this is a useful intervention. We have written to the Public Accounts Committee to ask it to have a look at this particular PFI, on the basis that it would be a very good one to try to unpick. That might be helpful to the Minister and us.
I am sure that the Chairman of the PAC will listen carefully to the hon. Gentleman, who is her esteemed colleague. I know that the PAC has looked at the PFI issues many times before, but I would be glad if it were willing to look at them again.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury raised the issue of traffic, as did other hon. Members. Again, it is for the CCG to ensure that it justifies the traffic times that it is putting in the consultation document. I have sympathy with Members who say that these consultation documents are often impenetrable. I cannot speak for this one, because I have not read it in its entirety, but such documents must be written well—especially the parts that will be put to local people—so that they are understandable to people who do not speak NHS-speak. It is not a question of people’s intelligence; it is about ensuring that the document is written in normal English in a way that people can understand. As to whether the document could ask, “Would you like your A&E to move?”, as long as people are informed about the facts of the case and understand that such a move could improve their children’s outcomes, and there is a reasonable case for it, I see no reason why that question should not be put.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), both raised the issue of wider deficits across the NHS. We addressed that point in the urgent question yesterday; there is financial pressure in the NHS and there are reasons why that should be the case, which I will not go into now. The issue is not cuts, because the amount of money going into the NHS is increasing. The NHS faces a raft of challenges, as it has since its foundation, and our job is to ensure that the money is used as efficiently as possible, which is why we have brought in the controls on consultancy spend, locums and agency workers.
What is true is that under the previous Labour Government and the coalition Government, the number of doctors in training went up. I genuinely do not blame the previous Labour Administration for the current shortages, but we have inherited the numbers from decisions made in the 2000s about the length of doctor training, and before that date about consultant grades. The fact is that, in some parts of the country, it is difficult to recruit—sometimes because the clinical base under which consultants, especially A&E consultants, are asked to operate is not safe. Again, I cannot speak, publicly, about the situation in either of the two hospitals under debate, but that is the case elsewhere, while in some metropolitan centres it is easy to recruit vast numbers of doctors. How do we create hospital bases to which we can recruit clinicians who want to work in a safe place, and carry out good procedures—and numerous ones, to keep the rates up? That is one of the challenges for all healthcare systems across the world, and one that we are determined to meet here in England.
Finally, the shadow Minister spoke about the overall control of finances in the NHS. It is important not to link the overall financial performance of the NHS with this consultation, which, as the CCG makes clear, is centrally about clinical outcomes. I know that the shadow Minister cares very much about ensuring good clinical outcomes, as do all hon. Members; to do that, it is important that local people get a full grasp of the facts. Although we might have a broader argument about NHS finances, it is important to focus on the core facts of the situation. This is about clinical outcomes, the difficulty of providing the outcomes on two sites where they are best provided on a single co-located site, and the value-for-money arguments about what that site should be.
If we can have a strong, well-informed and nuanced debate, and take into consideration the surrounding area—a point well made today—local people can come to a good decision that is supported across the patch, which will mean better health services for those living in Huddersfield and Halifax and the surrounding areas, an improvement in clinical outcomes, and better life chances, especially for those who are born with the least.
I used to have good discussions with the Minister’s father. One thing I know about him is that he, like me, was really interested in good management. The Minister has not come back to us about the quality of management, which is something that CCGs in many places do not seem to have. Good managers in the health service seem to be undervalued. I made what I think was a good point about medical training not containing any management element. I am sorry to remind the Minister of his father’s excellent commitment to good management, but I am sure that he shares that view.
I share the view of the hon. Gentleman. Good management is, of course, vital in the NHS, which is why I am never particularly keen to beat up NHS managers—a predilection of politicians on both sides. But it is true that we have not considered carefully enough the quality of management in CCGs; I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that. That is precisely why we are bringing in a CCG scorecard, just as we have done with the Care Quality Commission rankings for hospitals—that is a well-led domain—that describes precisely how well a hospital is managed.
We want to do similar work for CCGs, which will enable the hon. Gentleman to say, “Empirically, my CCG is poorly—or well—managed compared with neighbouring ones”. That will be useful for our holding them to account. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that I will be able to deliver, in the next year, precisely what he wants.
I thank the Minister for his thorough and detailed response, which we will obviously pick through. I thank him also for his specific commitments. We will have a cross-party meeting with the Secretary of State for Health once the consultation is up and running, which is imminent, as we want to get the best value from it. The Minister’s team is considering the PFI deals, including the one at Calderdale. I assure him that he will be seeing a lot more of not just me but my parliamentary colleagues here in the coming months, as the consultation gets under way.
I also thank my parliamentary colleagues for their contributions. I work with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on so many issues. We co-chair the all-party Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire group. Many people who watch debates in Parliament do not realise that we work cross-party on important issues for our local areas. Such working is not uncommon, and it will continue.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) gives an extra perspective, and her passion really came across loud and clear today. I thank the shadow Health Minister for his kind comments and support, and the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox), who was here earlier. The hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) was here, too, for much of the debate, although he could not stay because of other pressing commitments; his presence shows how our region is closely considering the issue. Also, of course, there was the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), from Northern Ireland, who talked about similar issues in his part of the world.
The consultation is about to start and this is where the battle begins—with me and my parliamentary colleagues, the community campaign, the volunteers and the 46,000 people who are now in the Facebook group. We have firm, clinical evidence and logical, safe, patient-led reasoning to persuade the GPs on the clinical commissioning group to keep our A&E at Huddersfield Royal infirmary. We will fight all the way. We have worked together so far and will continue to. We will say once again, “Hands off our HRI, we’re going to save our A&E at Huddersfield!”
I thank colleagues for their co-operation today. My intervention earlier was due in part to some of the microphones not working today, which is unusual. We will have an inquiry into that. But do not worry; Hansard is here and everything was captured on television also.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered A&E services at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary.
Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust Schools
[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust schools.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Sir Edward. All Members would agree that a good education gives young people, no matter what their background or where they live, the life chances to be the best that they can be. Education is an open door to opportunity, and that is something I want for every child in Telford. The Minister, who is not here, may be aware that in Telford all our academies benefited from the highest level of Building Schools for the Future funding. Every school is newly built with impressive facilities that every student can be proud of. Good education, however, is more than investment in the best buildings and facilities; it is about good leadership, high expectations and enabling students to reach their full potential, giving them a sense of personal responsibility and self-worth and ensuring that they feel cared for and valued.
In my constituency, the education of 2,000 children was affected by the collapse of the Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust last year. Following inspections by Ofsted, all four secondary schools within the trust were put into special measures after receiving “inadequate” ratings. All four Ofsted inspections made similar observations. There were widening gaps in the achievement of the most disadvantaged children and a culture of low expectations on achievement, behaviour and attendance. Specifically, Ofsted said that the multi-academy trust had failed to take action to halt the decline in achievement and failed to provide effective support and challenge to the schools.
The “inadequate” ratings were based on far more than merely exam results. The schools failed because of failings at the top and because of the leadership decisions taken by the multi-academy trust. Ofsted was clear in every report that that was the case. It is true that schools within the cluster had very poor GCSE results in consecutive years. Only 20% of the most disadvantaged children were achieving five good GSCEs including English and maths. All four schools within the trust fell below the 40% floor target, with two falling below 33%. In one school, almost three quarters of children failed to achieve five good GCSEs in consecutive years.
In seeking to raise the issue, I speak as someone whose mother was a teacher in a comprehensive school and as someone who has been a governor in schools in areas of significant disadvantage, so I understand the challenges that teachers and governors face. I pay tribute to those at the coalface in Telford who tried so hard in circumstances that in hindsight were far too challenging. However, I also want to speak for the young people who were failed. We can make no mistake: in schools where 80% of children are in receipt of the pupil premium and 80% are leaving school without getting five good GCSEs, we have to ask about their life chances and talk about the impact on their future. Children’s education, particularly that of children from the least advantaged, least educated families, is an important duty of local authorities.
In the case of the Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust, the portfolio holder for children and young people was on the board of directors, as was the local authority’s assistant director of education. In 2014, it became apparent that there were difficulties. Immediately, the local authority ceased its involvement, leaving behind well-intended, ill-equipped and inexperienced people to shoulder the burden of financial failings and educational shortcomings. After the schools were placed in special measures, councillors brought a motion at a council meeting in Telford in October 2015 expressing
“deep concern and censure of the authority’s…leadership with regards to Education policy, provision and achievement”.
The portfolio member responsible for children and young people claimed that the way Ofsted had conducted the inspections had triggered the problems, but that in any event it was an academy chain, so the local authority had no responsibility. It appeared to many that what had happened was being brushed under the carpet.
The portfolio member could have accepted that the children had been let down. He could have recognised the shortcomings and seen an opportunity to learn lessons for the future. Instead, he criticised those who wanted to find out what had gone wrong. He claimed they were guilty of playing party politics with our children’s future. In reality, everyone supported the schools while they were in special measures. Opposition councillors did not raise the issue publicly until students had finished their 2015 summer exams. As the new MP for Telford, I have waited until now to raise the issue, because as the Minister may know, a new sponsor has been found and things are starting to go well.
Whenever something goes wrong there are lessons to be learned. Unless we are prepared to speak out, nothing will change and an opportunity to build a better future for our children will be lost. There are three clear lessons from the Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust story. They are on, first, the crucial importance of strong leadership and governance; secondly, the high expectations of students and of teachers; and, thirdly, the willingness of a local authority to intervene quickly when things go wrong and to accept a duty towards every child in the borough. In his response, will the Minister confirm that a local authority has a statutory duty for every child in a borough, academy or no academy? It must be right to ask whether the local authority fulfilled its statutory responsibilities in this case.
I commend my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. There is surely nothing more important than the next generation and ensuring that they have the very best opportunities going forward. Education and good schooling are absolutely critical to that. She does full justice to the strain and stress around Ofsted and around being in special measures and what that means for the school and the wider community. I subscribe to her plea that the local authority has a duty of care in that. We all have a very important part to play. She talks about school leadership, but I commend her for showing significant political leadership in bringing this issue to light to better help the children of Telford.
I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent intervention and sensible words. I know how experienced she is in this field, and I am grateful to her.
I believe those asking questions on behalf of the children who lost out are right to do so, and their questions deserve answers. Will the Minister confirm that if things are not working—if leadership and governance are struggling—local authorities should be proactive and get help from the Department for Education and regional schools commissioners? Will he encourage local authorities to intervene early and not to tolerate an inadequate education for any of our children, but particularly the most disadvantaged?
The Minister will be pleased to know that there is good news in Telford. We already have two fantastic academies: Madeley Academy and Abraham Darby Academy. Those schools give their students a good and rounded education. They serve areas with a similar demographic to those served by the Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust. Those schools show that no matter where someone lives and no matter what their background is, they can have a good education.
The Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust was dissolved. The DFE got involved and a new sponsor was found. The sponsor formally took over in November 2015. It is early days, but the signs are encouraging. The new academy chain has ensured a full staff restructuring, with shared leadership across all schools. New timetables, new day structures, new approaches to behaviour and teaching and new leadership and governance processes have been successfully put in place.
An early DFE monitoring visit saw examples of excellent practice being identified, and there were two successful Ofsted monitoring visits where the positive impact of the new trust and the work of the school-based leaders were recognised. The chief executive told me earlier this week:
“We are still in the early days of school improvement and there is still much to do, but the young people in the schools are getting a better deal.”
A recent Ofsted visit found that the trust
“has played a crucial role in removing barriers to the academy’s progress and putting in place a clear strategy for the academy’s improvement. The structures, mechanisms and foundations are now in place...to secure sustainable improvements.”
I offer my full support to the new trust chain, the leaders, the teachers and the students as they all move forward on this exciting journey, and I know the Minister will join me in that support.
I will conclude by saying to the Minister that if the Government’s education policies are working, the Telford schools will be a benchmark of that success. If in four years’ time, given the right leadership and high expectations, the schools have been turned around, and if children from the least advantaged areas in Telford have the same life chances as others, that will show that the Government have got their education policy absolutely right.
As Telford’s MP I will pay close attention to the progress of the schools and the students. I will continue to raise their progress with the DFE and with the Minister. As we look to the future, we should not discard the lessons of the past or avoid an understanding of what went wrong. We should all hold on to the belief that young people, no matter where they live or what their background, deserve the life chances that a good education provides and an open door to opportunity.
I apologise to you, Sir Edward, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) for being a few minutes late for the start of this debate. Never has the journey on foot from the Department for Education to Westminster Hall been as swift as the one that I have just undergone in order to hear my hon. Friend’s speech and to be able to respond to it. I congratulate her on securing this debate. I pay tribute to her for her work on this and other education issues, particularly for her work on children in care. She made a powerful speech on children in care in early January, and today she has made another powerful and compelling speech about education in her constituency.
I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) that our hon. Friend the Member for Telford is showing significant political leadership in taking up these issues in Westminster Hall today. She is right to celebrate the achievements of the Community Academies Trust in improving schools in her area. The trust is a fine example of the success of the academies programme, which is raising academic standards by giving headteachers greater freedom and also greater responsibility. Before 2010, there were just 203 academies, but the Academies Act 2010 opened the programme to every school in the country so that the benefits of academy status were available to any school. Headteachers have seized the opportunity to raise standards. There are now more than 5,000 open academies, and 65% of all secondary schools are academies or free schools.
In 2015, secondary converter academies outperformed national average attainment at GCSE by 7.2 percentage points, with 64.3% of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at A* to C, including English and maths. I am pleased that there are already 10 open academies in Telford and Wrekin, and I know that my hon. Friend is encouraging more schools in her constituency to consider the advantages that academy status brings. Despite the overall success of the programme, the performance of some academies falls short of our expectations. Where this is the case, we do not hesitate to intervene swiftly so that the necessary improvements are secured. The answer to the question about intervention that she raised in her speech is that it has to be swift, and it is swift thanks to the academies programme.
My hon. Friend raised particular concerns about the performance of the Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust, which was joined by four academies in Telford in April and June 2013: Lakeside, Phoenix, Sutherland and Wrockwardine. At the time of conversion, the schools were performing well. In February 2015, however, all four schools were judged inadequate by Ofsted and serious financial issues were uncovered by the Education Funding Agency. Standards at the schools had dropped significantly, as cited by my hon. Friend in her speech, and fewer than 40% of pupils were leaving the schools with good key stage 4 results.
Although technically part of the trust, the four schools effectively operated in isolation, losing the benefits of closer collaboration and support for each other. The poor performance of the schools was unacceptable. The Department therefore intervened and secured the trust’s agreement for a new sponsor, the Community Academies Trust, with a proven track record of school improvement. CAT was originally formed by two outstanding schools, Polesworth secondary school and Birchwood primary school, in 2012. In all the schools within the trust, there has been significant improvement, and the two founding schools continue to be judged “Outstanding” by Ofsted. At Polesworth secondary school, 64% of pupils achieved five A* to C, including English and maths, and 38% achieved the EBacc combination of GCSEs in the summer of 2015. At Birchwood primary school, 80% of pupils achieved at least a level 4 in reading, writing and maths.
The Community Academies Trust took responsibility for the four TCMAT schools in November 2015. I am pleased to confirm, as my hon. Friend has said, that recent Ofsted monitoring visits in December and January have noted significant improvements. Ofsted inspectors commented positively on the schools’ leadership and governance, and praised the support being provided by the Community Academies Trust. Specifically, Ofsted has said:
“New leaders have acted with drive and determination to alter the culture and ethos of the academy...The clear strategic vision and ambition of the executive head of school and Community Academies Trust, supported by an able team of deputy headteachers, is now beginning to have an impact on standards...The quality of teaching, pupils’ attendance and behaviour are improving. This is starting to raise the achievement of some pupils...The signs are that pupil numbers will be up to sustainable levels within the 4 years.”
This approach—recognising and quickly addressing underperformance—is fundamental to the academies programme. To date, we have issued 134 formal notices to underperforming academies and we have ensured a change of sponsor in 123 cases of particular concern.
The Education and Adoption Bill will strengthen the Department’s powers to ensure that every failing or coasting school, whether maintained or an academy, receives the support that it needs to improve. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising these issues today, and I congratulate the Community Academies Trust on the progress it has already made. I wish the schools in her constituency every success as they continue to improve.
Question put and agreed to.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered gender pricing.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, for the first Westminster Hall debate I have secured in my own name. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will have noted the research recently conducted by The Times that shows that items marketed at women are, on average, 37% more expensive than similar items marketed at men. It analysed hundreds of products marketed at men and women, and found only one example of a male item priced higher than a female item—boys’ underwear is more expensive than the equivalent for girls—but numerous examples of female items that cost more. Clothes, beauty products and toys for women and girls were found to cost more than the equivalent items marketed at men and boys. Such price differentials were found in some of the UK’s biggest retailers, including Tesco, Boots and Amazon.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Will she join me in welcoming the news that Boots has announced today that it will take action? It is withdrawing two products that it identified are priced in a sexist manner.
Of course I welcome the news that Boots announced today that it will withdraw those items and charge a rate equivalent to that of men’s items. The onus is now on other retailers to do the same.
Some of the examples brought to light by The Times’ research are remarkable. Tesco charges double the price for 10 disposable razors simply because they are pink. In fact, standard razors for women cost, on average, a huge 49% more than the equivalent products for men. At Argos, identical children’s scooters are £5 more expensive in pink than in blue. Bic sells a range of “for her” ballpoint pens that are more expensive than its ordinary range, even though the products are almost entirely identical. Amazon sells a Playmobil pirate ship for £12.59, while the equivalent fairy queen ship, marketed at girls, costs £14.99. According to The Times, neither Amazon nor Playmobil will comment on the rationale behind that price gap.
The Times’ study follows a similar study conducted by New York City Department of Consumer Affairs in December. It compared nearly 800 products with clear male and female versions from more than 90 brands sold both in-store and online, and found that products for female consumers were more expensive than those for male consumers in all but five of the 35 product categories. Across the sample, the research found that women’s products cost more 42% of the time, whereas men’s products cost more just 18% of the time. The DCA report remarked:
“Over the course of a woman’s life, the financial impact of these gender-based pricing disparities is significant.”
In 1994, the state of California studied the issue of the gender-based pricing of services. It estimated that women effectively pay an annual gender tax of approximately $1,351 for the same services as men.
The Government must ensure that an independent analysis is conducted to identify the extent of unfair gender pricing and marketing practices in the UK. The full impact of gender differentials in pricing on women must be quantified. Women may pay thousands of pounds more over their lives to purchase similar products to men. Will the Minister commit to conducting such an analysis?
It could be argued that some products for women have additional design and performance features, and that others are priced individually based on factors including formulation, ingredients and market comparison. Of course, a women’s jumper might be made with better-quality fabric, and a men’s jumper might be made with cheaper material, but The Times’ study indicates that that is often not the case. Frequently, the only difference between the two products is the colour.
In 2012, Development Economics conducted research on gender-based pricing on behalf of the insurance provider Aviva. It found that women pay an average of £200 more per year than men for essentially the same consumer goods and services. The only difference is that the products are specifically designed for and targeted at the female market.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her very fine presentation, her compelling argument and the research she has done. Does she agree that for many women, particularly those on low incomes and those who depend on benefits, it is difficult to purchase the more expensive gender-based products?
Once again, I completely agree.
If there is no discernible difference or advantage to purchasing a product designed for women, but the consumer is led to believe that there is, we must ask questions about advertising standards and whether consumers are able to make properly informed choices. What is it about a multipack “for her” ballpoint pen that makes it more custom-fit or specially designed for a woman? If female consumers are told that they should purchase a specific product because it is the only version suitable for women, when in fact there is no discernible difference in the product, it can be argued that they are being misled.
This debate raises concerns about the kind of choices and information available to female consumers when they make purchases and whether discriminatory practices are taking place, but we should also consider the worrying pattern of gender economic inequality under the Government. The UK gender pay gap currently stands at 19.2%—well above the EU average. Low pay and poor employment practices persist in sectors in which women are the majority of employees, including the care, retail and hospitality sectors. Analysis by the TUC found that more than half of the job growth for women since 2010 has been in low-paying sectors, and that 29% of women earn less than the living wage, compared with 18% of male workers. Women are paid less and are expected to spend more on products and services. They are charged more simply for being women.
Will the Minister agree to Labour’s calls for a cumulative gender impact analysis of the Government’s policies since 2010? If the Government will not do anything to tackle intrinsic gender economic inequality, they must at least not make matters worse. The recently published research raises numerous issues about consumer rights, fair advertising and gender economic inequality. Women are paid less but are expected to spend more on products that are often not discernibly different to the equivalent products for men.
In the absence of a Government gender equality strategy, I ask the Minister to respond to the following questions. Will the Government ensure that independent analysis and further study is conducted to identify the extent of unfair gender pricing and marketing practices in the UK? Will they seek to quantify the full cumulative impact of gender differentials in pricing for women? Will they meet the UK’s major retailers to identify what steps they are taking to rectify the situation?
Once again, I welcome the news that Boots has taken steps this afternoon to change some of its pricing, but I have just received an email from Tesco suggesting that its pink razors are significantly more expensive than the blue or black versions because they are produced in smaller quantities. I struggle to see how that justifies the extra cost. We need to meet retailers and have that discussion.
How will the Government discern whether gender pricing differentials amount to discriminatory practice? Will they produce a cumulative impact analysis of their policies on women since 2010 to understand the true extent of gender economic inequality in the UK?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Edward. I commend the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) for securing this timely debate. We should all be thanking The Times for its investigative skills in uncovering yet another form of sex discrimination that was, frankly, hiding in plain sight: the pricing of similar or the same products. Many women were clearly unaware that stores charge different prices for the same product depending on whether it is marketed at men or at women, and many people find this quite surprising. On a closer look, one can find similar research from France and in the United States. It is surprising that people experience such price differentials not only in the UK, or perhaps we should not be surprised because the manufacturers and retailers mentioned could well be those that have fallen foul of the research done elsewhere, France in particular.
When the report was published by The Times some 10 days ago, the Women and Equalities Committee, which includes my friend the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), happened to be meeting that day, and we immediately deemed it appropriate for the Committee to undertake a short investigation into the findings of this piece of journalism. We have written to several of the manufacturers and retailers cited in the report to ask for the rationale behind why they differentiate their pricing in this way. They could find themselves well out of step with their customers following the exposure of the findings, because there cannot be many customers who visit our supermarkets and expect exactly the same product, whether a razor or any other of the vast range of products put under the microscope, to be charged at a discount to men and a surcharge to women.
Having spent almost 20 years in advertising and marketing before I came to this place, I know first-hand that marketing departments and retail outlets are making such choices. It is not happenstance or a mistake; a conscious choice is being made to price the same products differently depending on whether it is expected to be bought by a man or a women. I cannot understand why that would be the case. Retailers and manufacturers need to explain themselves clearly and quickly. I do not think that the Government should get involved in this issue, because customers ultimately vote with their feet. If such organisations cannot explain themselves clearly enough, that is exactly what customers will do.
I welcome the swift action that Boots has taken in making right the pricing on two products that were part of The Times’ research, and I think it is undertaking to look further at the matter, which shows real responsiveness. I thank Tesco for the email I received a few moments ago, which, as the hon. Member for Dewsbury said, did try to explain its product pricing. That is the start of a conversation and certainly not the end of one.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Gender stereotyping helps no one. It does not help women or men. As we go forward, people will be calling for a reduction in gender stereotyping and far more gender-neutral approaches to the products and services that they purchase.
I again commend the hon. Member for Dewsbury for securing today’s debate. I hope that she follows the work of the Women and Equalities Committee as we consider the evidence that we receive and decide what to do next. We may even invite some retailers and manufacturers to give oral evidence if we feel that there are further questions to ask. I thank her for her support in an important area of work for women’s equality.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who served with distinction as Minister for Women and Equalities. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) on securing this important debate. She made her name with the tampon tax, which made waves even if it did not quite get legislative change, so let us hope that such change will result from today’s debate.
I agree with everything that has been said. This is an example of everyday sexism. As my hon. Friend pointed out, it hits from babyhood to old age. There are so many examples. It is a great hidden gender swindle perpetrated by the retail trade, which has spotted an opportunity that many of us do not notice because someone would have to be quite diligent to do the comparison every time.
In 2016, we have been led to believe that gender barriers are dissolving and eroding in many areas, but there are examples of price differentials from toys to toiletries and even in clothing. A white T-shirt for a man in Tesco’s F&F range costs a lot less than the woman’s equivalent. It just seems wrong that products for her are much higher priced than the equivalent for him. The Times’ research found that the differential can sometimes be 37%, which is quite a lot, and the total cost of that can rack up over a woman’s life, and yet it happens without anyone noticing.
There was a disagreement over whether tampons and sanitary products were luxury items. This is not about those Yorkie bar wrappers saying, “It’s not for girls!”, which make my blood pressure rise—I am off Yorkies now. The issue will never be one of those things that is emotive in the same way as “Made In Dagenham” and the Equal Pay Act 1970 or the suffragettes, about whom a film was also made recently, because it happens without our noticing. It is not totemic in the same way. When shopping, the relationship is usually between value and quality, but here it has been subverted by gendered commodities. It seems strange to have two different versions of a product. Surely a razor is a razor and a pen is a pen, no matter the gender of who uses it. At Boots—I think—eight women’s razors cost £2.29, but it is £1.49 for 10 men’s razors. It makes no sense at all. If it is true that Boots has bowed to pressure, that is good news.
The campaigning has been thoroughly modern. The Fawcett Society started a petition that was spearheaded by Stevie Wise of Middlesex University and gathered some 35,000 signatures. This has happened a few times on women and equality issues recently. A constituent of mine ran a petition that achieved nearly 4,000 signatures, protesting that none of the 70 composers on the A-level music syllabus were women, and there has now been movement on that. When the new draft regulations for A-level politics come out, I think we will see that feminism has been reinstated in some form. The petition for that received nearly 50,000 signatures. It is a thoroughly modern, bottom-up way of campaigning that has led to Boots caving in. I said that I would be brief, but I just want to agree and commend my hon. Friend for her initiative. There are things that can be done.
Counterintuitively, in America, capitalist land of the free, they are more progressive than we are. The New York research that was mentioned earlier led to retailers sitting down around the table. We should be doing the same, including with Amazon and other online retailers, even if we think that their tax arrangements are a bit too friendly and they seem to be able to pay what they want. In fact, in New York they have rent control as well. I know that that is not pertinent to the subject of the debate, but on some of these issues, counterintuitively, the Americans have got it right. Surely we can catch up.
I hope that the Minister will have some good news. We thought that progress was being made on women’s equality. After all, at Prime Minister’s questions at the end of last year, the Prime Minister declared to me across the Dispatch Box that he is now a feminist. He needs to put his money where his mouth is and do something, because it seems like women are viewed as cash cows. One might say that we can vote with our wallets, but, as the right hon. Member for Basingstoke said, how many people are really going to make the comparison all the time? It happens beneath the radar. It often seems like we are sleepwalking into discrimination. We have anti-discriminatory legislation in this country—introduced by Labour Governments—so this rip-off needs to stop.
It is quite interesting that you say that, Sir Edward. I thank the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) for securing this debate on a subject that is very close to my heart. It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I apologise for the gender imbalance today. I think we are outnumbered 8:2, which is never a problem for me—I thoroughly enjoy being outnumbered by women.
As a hairdresser, barber and salon owner, I worked for most of my adult life in a sector with universally accepted gender pricing inequalities. A haircut for a man with short hair could cost 40% less than one for a woman with short hair. An average women’s haircut in London is 97% more expensive than the average men’s haircut. That difference in average prices caused a lot of debates and arguments—most of them humorous—in my own salons over the years, especially when a man, a wife, a daughter and a son were sitting together, because I had to do some very quick mental calculations to show how I had thought things out thoroughly. I can assure Members that it caused an awful lot of problems, and still does.
The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) mentioned New York. It is interesting to note that New York addressed gender-differentiated prices. Salons were nudged into harmonising their prices. It has worked for most of them, and there are some great examples. Unfortunately, it can work the wrong way, as when a men’s haircut went from $10 to $75. It was similar to the difference between the price of a cup of tea in one railway station and another: the prices will never come down; they always go up. There are some cases, particularly in my profession, of a legitimate business need for gender pricing, but the fact is that society is not generally aware of gender pricing inequality, which is of great concern.
We are teaching our daughters, and thereby perpetuating the myth, that being a woman is be more expensive. It is our duty and responsibility as MPs to consider what we could and should do to address such inequality. The example I gave of haircuts is relatively frivolous, but I picked it because it exemplifies the wider social issue: our general acceptance that it is more expensive to be a woman.
As I said in my speech in yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on state pension age inequality, the UK Government’s fiscal programme and determination to push through austerity measures has affected women disproportionately. Coupled with a failure to do anything about the gender pay gap and gender pricing, we are left with what is essentially a triple charge on being a woman.
I am proud to be a member of the Scottish National party, as is, I am sure, my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley). We are committed in Scotland to the cause of gender equality. The SNP is the only party that is committed to the removal of VAT on female sanitary products—it is in our manifesto.
Recent reports have shown, again, that women pay more than men for nearly identical items in nearly every demographic from childhood to old age. I have a son and a daughter. They are older now, but over the years I have noticed the differences between the prices of something for a boy and something for a girl. Christmas presents were always difficult as I tried to spend the same amount of money on my daughter and my son but, generally speaking, my girl’s presents were always far more expensive than my son’s.
On average, products marketed at women are 37% more expensive than their male equivalents—from razors to cologne to children’s toys and clothing. Hundreds of products are priced higher for women. In the 21st century, when we strive to be a progressive, tolerant and accepting society, that is not something that should be ignored or accepted. There should be no premium on being a woman. It is for that reason that I am keen to hear the findings of the Women and Equalities Committee’s investigation into price discrimination if and when it is launched.
I suspect that the findings of any investigation will be self-evident. Retailers charge more for feminine products and services because they can. They charge as much as the customer is willing to pay. However, retailers have a corporate responsibility to treat women and men using similar products and merchandise equally. I hope that some of our large retailers take the lead on this, similar to the lead taken by Boots and similar to the lead taken by John Lewis and Waitrose in reducing the sugar content in their food and drink products.
Let the Government and the Select Committee forgo this political navel-gazing. If the architects of choice—the retailers—do not take the lead, the behavioural insights team employed by the Prime Minister should guide the Government to do the proper thing and take action to legislate against gender-differentiated prices of goods and services. Marketing and commerce can be deeply discriminatory. We must work to build a society in which women are not treated as overcharged second-class citizens. I urge the Government to address the issue of gender pricing and the wider issues surrounding gender inequality.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) on securing the debate. This debate is welcome because, surprisingly, it is the first debate on the topic in any Chamber of this House. However, I suspect that if men were paying the premiums that women are, there would be outrage on the Floor of both Houses, and in boardrooms, and perhaps action would have been taken before now. In fact, one of the primary arguments for why we should have more women represented in our Parliament and in our boardrooms is so we can ensure that someone is taking serious action.
The reality is that the gendering of products starts at an early age—pink for girls and blue for boys—and continues throughout our lifetimes. It includes everyday items such as perfumes, deodorants, razors and shaving cream, but it does not stop there. Studies suggest that women pay more for mortgages, insurance premiums and even cars.
I welcome the points raised by other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Dewsbury rightly pointed out that women pay 37% more than men for the same products, which seems ludicrous, yet it is a reality that has an impact on the incomes of women on low pay. The fact that 25% of women earn less than £10,000 a year should be a stark reminder to us that this is something that we should tackle in this House. Although it is the responsibility of retailers, we in Parliament and those in the Government have a responsibility to put pressure on retailers to take serious action.
Does the hon. Lady share my concern at the fact that just 9% of executive positions in big businesses in Britain are held by women? Does she think that, in some way, that may be part of the reason that these issues are not taken more seriously at a board level?
Absolutely. It is something that we have looked at closely in the Women and Equalities Committee. Across Parliaments—in Scotland and the UK—action needs to be taken. There is only so much that Governments can do but we need all companies of all sizes to take serious action to ensure that women are represented at every level of the organisation, and not just to have boardrooms full of men. I suspect that that is a large part of why we find ourselves having this debate.
I welcome the fact that Boots has withdrawn two of its lines, and I think Argos recently conceded that a pink scooter had to be repriced on the basis of the price of a blue scooter, but it seems ridiculous that we should have to point out such things and make such comments in a modern-day society.
Gender stereotyping does exist. The fact that I can plainly state that pink is for girls and blue is for boys is absolutely ridiculous. In a society where many people identify as non-binary or do not identify in clear gender stereotypes, why should we have products catering to that market? As the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) has previously pointed out, the reality is that this is marketing and it is what people are paying for. Unless we raise awareness of the issue, there will continue to be higher prices for products.
The Government can take action in one regard, in that female sanitary products are subject to VAT and are considered a luxury. Unlike Jaffa Cakes, sanitary products are not a luxury.
I was very proud to table the amendment in the House last year calling for the Government to attempt to renegotiate the rate of VAT on feminine hygiene products. We welcome their attempts to do that, but does the hon. Lady agree that we must see that they are putting this on an equal footing with their other EU negotiations and that they are not treating women as second-class citizens in this regard?
Absolutely. The hon. Lady is a mind reader. My point is that sanitary products are not luxuries. Although I appreciate the difficulties that block the way to change with regard to EU legislation, I am sure that the Government can and must do more. Perhaps while the Prime Minister is renegotiating our position in the EU he could pay some attention to the gender inequalities that exist as well.
The regulation that appears to restrict us from removing the tampon tax has been in place since the 1970s, so this is not a new subject and it is surprising to me that it is only now coming to the fore. Issues such as the use or misuse of the terms “swarms” or “migrants” have become topical in discussions on the EU and yet, the topic of a tax on women has not been a serious issue for the Prime Minister to address, so I hope the Government will do so.
I thank the hon. Lady for picking that point up, and I am delighted that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Gauke), has already started to have these sorts of discussions. I commend him particularly for taking such a strong stand on this issue, and I am sure all our good wishes will be with him to achieve a successful negotiation.
Absolutely, I think it is in everyone’s interest that there is a successful negotiation. I am only sorry that it has taken so long for this conversation to happen at all, to be perfectly honest.
As has been cited, research conducted by the Fawcett Society indicates that 85% of the cuts have come at the expense of women. Whether we are talking about the welfare cap or cuts to carer’s allowance, women have borne the brunt of the austerity measures imposed by this Government. I say that not to politicise the issue, but simply to make the point that women are paying more than men for some decisions that are taken. The measures that require women to prove that they have been raped are also an abhorrent policy and something that must be addressed quickly and urgently.
The Government have forgotten women on many occasions, and although many actions have been taken by members of the Government to address those points, whether this is about gender pricing or gender-specific policies, we must do more to eradicate the inequalities that exist between men and women. We must do that, so that one day a little girl will not end up earning less than her brother, so that one day our sons and daughters will be equal, and so that one day a person’s gender will not determine how much pay they take home.
In conclusion, although I appreciate that it is the responsibility of retailers to take a lead and to continue to urge all Governments to tackle this issue, serious inequalities do exist between men and women, and I would like to hear what actions the Government plan to take to tackle gender inequality. Beyond rhetoric, there must be action.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. This is the first time I have responded from the Front Bench and I am very grateful for the opportunity to do so.
I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) for securing the debate and for her eloquent and insightful comments. I also thank everyone from all parts of the House—the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the hon. Members for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), for South Down (Ms Ritchie) and for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) —who have all contributed to the debate. This is an important, principled debate, and it should not be a party political issue. I congratulate The Times journalists on reporting on this issue and bringing it to the forefront of public and mainstream media attention. Their calculation that gendered products marketed at women are 37% more expensive than their male counterparts reflects a wider reality of how women are expected to engage with the high street.
Women are expected to spend more on their personal hygiene, appearance and presentation than men, which is often reflected in advertising and the everyday pressures that we put on women from a young age to look and dress in a certain way. The overcharging of women for products on the high street is symptomatic of the way in which, more broadly, our economy makes women pay. Women are hit the hardest by austerity, and tampons are taxed as luxury goods.
Our domestic violence rescue services have suffered enormously over the past five years. Ironically, funds were only injected in the spending review through the tampon tax. Like grievances against the tampon tax, this debate is grounded in a principled belief that people should not pay more for products that, beyond the packaging, are identical. High street retailers should not exploit female-marked products in that way. To borrow the title of an article in The Guardian on this issue, women are overcharged every day. Imagine if that happened to men.
I applaud the work of campaigns such as “Let Toys Be Toys” that fight against unnecessarily gendered products. Gendered products on the high street are not only harmful to women in terms of pricing but often impose unnecessary gender stereotypes on to products. The Government must ensure that there is independent analysis to identify the extent of unfair gender pricing and marketing practices in the UK. The full impact of gender differentials in pricing on women must be qualified. I call upon the Government also to look at the United States and the action taken in New York and California to see what more can be done to eliminate unfair practices. Legislation has been passed in those two states to outlaw gendered pricing. An encouraging statement was released by Boots today saying that, following a Change.org petition, it has conducted a review and will be taking immediate action to amend the pricing of certain products.
I finish by expressing support for those who have campaigned on this issue, and I would welcome a meeting on this issue with the Minister and leading retailers in Parliament.
It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Sir Edward. I welcome the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) to her place—I look forward to working opposite her. I add my voice to those congratulating the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) on securing this important debate and on all her hard work and effort. This is a fundamental issue, and I have listened to all today’s contributions with enormous interest.
This is not a straightforward issue. It seems like a case of simple, unacceptable injustice, but the closer we get, the more complex it is. Many people here, and others in the press, have raised interesting and important points about the way that pricing structures can exploit women. The general public have also been active partners in this debate, and rightly so. They are asking whether there is a tax on womanhood in the British high street. I am pleased to hear from my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) that the Women and Equalities Committee will be considering this important issue. She has had to leave, but she and her Committee will display their normal tenacity and insightfulness.
I will first respond to the hon. Member for Dewsbury by explaining that this position is tricky because it slips between equality and consumer law, and I will then set out the more general implications for gender equality. The Equality Act 2010 provides that a retailer must not discriminate against a customer, either by failing to provide goods or services or by providing them on different terms, on the basis of someone’s gender. In the cases described in the research that we are discussing, retailers are not refusing to sell goods to female customers; in fact, I am sure that they are only too pleased to sell them, because they make more money doing it that way. Retailers are not applying discounts for men that they are not applying for women. We are all equally able to buy the same products. It is just that the ones marketed at women seem to be inexcusably higher in price. Goods and services that are in the high street can be bought by either sex at the same price, regardless of whom they are designed or marketed for. As long as the treatment is the same for both sexes, we are within the realms of equality law.
With very few exceptions, we do not operate price controls in the UK, and businesses are generally free to set their own prices on the goods that they sell to consumers. It is of course fundamental that businesses listen to their customers and any concerns that they have about pricing. It is very good news, and not a little ironic, that we are now beginning to hear from some of the major retailers that that is indeed what they are doing today. Responsibility for ensuring that markets operate competitively falls to the Competition and Markets Authority. Complaints of market failure need to be addressed to the CMA. I will be speaking to the CMA about this issue and I encourage everyone who has any evidence of this behaviour to do so, too.
There have been calls today for the Government to conduct an independent analysis of gender pricing. I am listening to those calls very carefully. It is important to understand that consumers are a very important priority for the Government. We need to have confident and well-informed consumers, because that drives effective markets and the UK economy. Only last October, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 came into force. It sets out a simple, modern framework of consumer rights. Consumers are also protected by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which ban traders from engaging in unfair commercial practices against consumers—for example, giving them false or deceptive information or descriptions of products, or misleading them by leaving out important information that they need to help to make a purchasing decision.
What about the role of advertising that exploits gender stereotypes? Product advertising is controlled primarily by self-regulation. The Advertising Standards Authority has responsibility for ensuring compliance with “The British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing”. The code is a body of rules by which the advertising industry agrees to abide. It requires all forms of advertising to be legal, decent, honest and truthful and prepared with a sense of responsibility to both consumer and society. The ASA says that it is happy to look into consumers’ concerns, and again I encourage anyone who feels concerned about the way products are advertised to speak to it.
When it comes to the law, it is important to consider whether we are talking about selling the same product at a higher price, or similar products aimed at different markets. If it is the latter, no laws are broken, yet it is absolutely valid to feel concerned at what is happening. Some people are asking: are manufacturers and retailers exploiting gender stereotypes to make women feel inadequate unless they pay a premium for products that implicitly or explicitly suggest that they are “for them”? That is the crux of the matter. Personally, I have a slight aversion to pink products that are specifically designed for ladies—maybe I am just a bit contrary like that.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury, who initiated this very important debate, has already given a number of examples of gendered marketing from recent years. Some of those have been largely met with ridicule. I do not know whether any hon. Members remember the stream of online reviews when a certain ballpoint pen manufacturer manufactured a lady’s version, in pastel shades. Hundreds of women went online to express their heartfelt gratitude. One said:
“My husband has never allowed me to write, as he doesn’t want me touching men’s pens…Once I had learnt to write, the feminine colour and the grip size (which was more suited to my delicate little hands)…enabled me to vent thoughts about new recipe ideas, sewing and gardening.”
I am sure that we can all sympathise with that. Men joined in with complaints that the delicate pens were too slippery for fingers calloused from a hard day’s shark wrestling, and that they hated the visions of fairies and rainbows that they got whenever they used those pens.
I have seen, as I am sure we all have, special women’s Sellotape, dental floss, earplugs, energy drinks and even blenders, as well as the women’s haircuts highlighted by the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally). A personal favourite of mine is the men’s and women’s versions of unperfumed deodorant—because people might guess—and let us not forget that old favourite, man-sized tissues for man-sized noses.
However, there is a serious side to the issue, as hon. Members from all parties have pointed out. It is absolutely right that we empower consumers to ask whether there is a clear difference in the products and production costs, or whether the manufacturers believe that women can be persuaded to pay more than men. Consumers are within their rights to ask retailers to explain why. Why might a pair of women’s jeans cost more than men’s? Is it due to a larger range of different fits, lengths, colours, types of stitching and qualities of denim, or is it just that they are particularly marketed towards women?
I recently had a constructive meeting with the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium. She informed me that although the consortium is keeping a lookout for the issue, it has not been raised by BRC members. Helpfully, though, a number of retailers have contacted my office within the last few hours to discuss the matter. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke and others correctly pointed out, Boots today corrected the price of disposable razors and eye roll-ons, Sir Edward, so we will be paying the same price for those in future.
Well, you might now. It seems that the power of the female consumer’s voice, once it is brought to public debates such as this, is starting to be heard. We encourage that, of course, and we encourage other retailers to take note. We heard from the British Retail Consortium that non-food prices have fallen continuously for the past 33 months, and that that may be in part because consumers are more informed than ever before. Long may that continue.
Another serious issue is the impact on children, which the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) mentioned. I know from my postbag that many parents are concerned about the impact of gendered marketing on children, which is compounded if, as we are discovering, there is a price differential too. Children learn through play, so it is important that they have access to a wide range of toys and interests, whatever their gender. So what if boys want to wear pink and girls want to play with train sets? At least, as we heard a couple of weeks ago, Barbie has finally put on a few pounds. That is something to make us all feel a bit better. That is why the Government are committed to supporting parents and teachers in raising the next generation of informed consumers by developing media literacy and resilience to restrictive stereotypes.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Only last week, I was at an event geared towards getting girls into science, technology, engineering and maths. Those sorts of initiative are so important. In order to correct the gender pay gap, which we have discussed, we need women to aim for those higher-paid careers.
The hon. Lady also raised the point that if we could get more women on boards, gender discriminatory decisions might not be made. I am pleased to say that we have made enormous progress on that under Lord Davies; the 25% target for women on boards of FTSE 100 companies has now been met, although we agree that more needs to be done to improve the executive pipeline. At the moment, less than 10% of people in the FTSE 100 executive pipeline are women. We have accepted his recommendations to establish a new review focusing on the executive layer of FTSE 350 companies. That is important to ensuring that the retail issues change.
I do not want to make a massive party political point out of this, but I gently say to the hon. Ladies who have spoken about how cuts have hit women hardest that a record number of women are in employment. We all want to see women in higher-paid employment, but that record number is a good thing. The female participation rate has increased by more since 2010 than it did during the previous three Parliaments combined. Women’s salaries are rising in cash terms. We are cutting tax for nearly 13 million women by 2017-18 and the gender pay gap is at its lowest level. No one should think I am in any way complacent about that. I know that there is still more to do, but we are dedicated to that.
As the Minister for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, I am happy to keep a very close eye on the issue raised today, but I fundamentally feel that is up to us all as intelligent, questioning consumers to demand an explanation from retailers and manufacturers for the different prices, if we have questions or concerns. Actions speak so much louder than words. While women’s voices must unite on this issue, it is even more powerful if women speak with the power of our purses. As a result of the growing debate on this issue, I know that more women will understand that they do not have to buy pink razors. The blue ones are just as good, and men are of course welcome to try the pink ones out if they wish, Sir Edward. I know that if the tables were turned, men would be proudly choosing pink earplugs if they realised that they cost a third less.
Thank you, Sir Edward. I will sum up briefly. I thank all the contributors to today’s debate. It was refreshing to hear the spirit in which the debate was entered into, and to have representatives from four political parties. I pay special tribute to the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally), who has joined us this afternoon.
The Women and Equalities Committee has a significant role to play in this issue going forward, and I welcome its investigation. I completely agree with the Minister that retailers have some questions to answer, but equally, the Government have a role to play, and I urge her to consider the analysis on the cumulative impact on women.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) made a powerful point about people power. We have seen that this afternoon, with the response from Boots. The hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) made a powerful point about the need for more women MPs. The number is going up, but it is not nearly enough. I am proud to belong to a party that practises positive discrimination for women with all-women shortlists. Equally, there need to be more women on boards. I acknowledge the progress that has been made, but until we reach 50%, I will continue to champion the cause.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for her contribution. She made a valid point on advertising and the pressure on women to look and behave a certain way. I agree that we could definitely learn from some of the research that has been undertaken in America. Like many others, I will be watching the issue carefully. I hope that I can contribute going forward by speaking to retailers. Let us see some positive difference in this area.