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T6.  Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con):
The Secretary of State has often talked about phasing out car parking charges at hospitals like the Royal United Hospital Bath and the Great Western hospital, which serve my constituency. On the face of it, that is
perfectly welcome. Will he tell us how that will be funded without cutting into front-line medical services, and how that will result in more parking spaces, which is what we need?
Andy Burnham: A consultation on our proposals to change car parking rules in the NHS closed last week. I hope the hon. Gentleman found time to contribute to that. The proposal is to phase out charges for in-patients. I believe it is unfair that people should not receive visits while they are in hospital from those who cannot afford the charges. The introduction of charges symbolised the NHS moving away from the patient and the public. If we can come up with a workable and fundable scheme, I believe it will be widely welcomed by patients and the wider public.
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): Are my constituents in Biddulph right to be concerned that, owing to design delays, their Biddulph health centre could become the victim of NHS capital funding cuts if the Conservatives were to win the general election?
Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am afraid my hon. Friend will have to have discussions. I understand that the newly elected Conservative Staffordshire county council pulled the library out of the project at Biddulph and as a result there have been delays. If a Conservative Government were elected, I would be very fearful about the likelihood of any such project getting consent.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope): The hon. Gentleman and others have raised this issue. As part of the national carers strategy the Government have placed more than £150 million in primary care trusts' budgets to ensure that those primary care trusts could complement the money that we have given to local councils-some £720 million over the past three years-to provide respite care. The combined funding to the PCTs and to local councils for respite care is some £975 million last year, this year and the next. It is a matter for local decision making to assess local needs, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman and others will ask their primary care trusts and their local authorities to do better in delivering the resources that the Government have allocated to provide respite care for carers, who do such an important job in the community.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Is the proportion of hospital trusts with anticipated deficits greater among those with significant private finance initiative funding than among those that wisely avoided significant PFI, such as the well managed and solvent New Cross hospital in Wolverhampton?
Mr. Mike O'Brien: That is an interesting question. I will have to look up the detail. However, PFI has brought forward a series of projects and enabled us to undertake the redevelopment of more than 100 hospitals so that we now have a better health service with more modern hospitals than we have ever had in the history of the country. That is the result of the investment provided by the Labour Government.
T8.  Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): If national health service funding is meant to be allocated to trusts locally according to need, and if wards such as that which I visited in St. Thomas' hospital at the weekend are clearly overstretched, why was Southwark primary care trust top-sliced? Six million pounds was taken back three years ago; it was told that another £8 million of its proper allocation would have to be taken back in the coming year; and it was threatened with more money being taken away from what it is told it needs.
Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): The waiting list on south Tyneside for treatment by an orthodontist is more than three years, and 600 people are on the waiting list. The wait will be reduced to six months, because a new contract is being entered into, but achieving that will take three years. Will the Minister look into the situation and help?
T9.  Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Does the Minister agree that a good way to control binge drinking is to try to highlight and publicise the amount of kilocalories in a drink? Red wine contains 171 kilocalories, alcopops 187 kilocalories and a pint of lager 287-more than the doughnut that I have here, which I just got in the Tea Room. When will the Minister start to publicise those facts?
Gillian Merron: I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing his snacks into the Chamber. The important point is what is on labels for alcoholic products, and we have just launched a consultation on that very matter. There has been huge success in making units better understood, and I regret the proposal from the hon. Gentleman's party, which is to replace them with something unknown-that is, centilitres.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): North Central London strategic health authority is planning massive cuts, a £500 million reduction in its budget and the closure of A and E departments, including one at the Whittington hospital. Many of us find those decisions unpalatable and wrong, but above all we have great difficulty bringing to account the people who are making those plans and decisions. Will the Secretary of State tell me how we can make those officials accountable to the public for their decisions and planning?
Mr. Mike O'Brien: As I understand it, those reviews are at an early stage and there are no clear and firm proposals. Local clinicians need to be at the heart of those recommendations, and any changes need to, and must, be the subject of full local consultation.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Will the Minister ensure that when GPs in rural practices support community hospitals, no restrictions will be put on their rights to refer patients to those community hospitals?
Mr. O'Brien: GPs will need to work with their primary care trusts to ensure that hospitals referrals are made appropriately. GPs have a broad range of clinical freedoms in order to decide where they want to refer their patients.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): A number of consultants at Wexham Park hospital have sent me a letter, which I have forwarded to the Secretary of State, expressing their belief and concern that the hospital's accounts were rearranged to ensure that it achieved foundation trust status. Will the Secretary of State look into that question and ensure that the consultants' concerns are responded to as quickly as possible?
T10.  Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con):
Further to the question that my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) asked, is the Secretary of State aware of the great controversy about car parking at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in King's Lynn, involving the displacement of cars on to quiet residential roads in neighbouring communities? Surely one way forward is for hospitals to charge on exit,
rather than on a pay and display basis, so that people pay for the car parking that they use.
Andy Burnham: I know that this issue raises strong feelings throughout the NHS. Indeed, at many of our surgeries it is one of the issues on which we receive most representations. The NHS needs to pay a little more attention to the price and availability of car parking, and that is what I am encouraging it to do.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Given the success of the Government's breast cancer screening programme in reducing mortality in London by some 30 per cent. in the past 10 years, and given that breast cancer remains the UK's most common cancer, affecting one woman in nine, will the Minister ensure that there is a continued high rate of research in order to improve the survival rates and quality of life for cancer sufferers?
Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Why are the Government pressing ahead with the closure of small maternity facilities and increasing the size of those that are left when the evidence suggests that smaller units offer better services to expectant mothers?
Ann Keen: At all times the safety of the mother and baby is taken into account. Any discussion in relation to closures or openings is always undertaken with the safety of the mother in mind, and that is done by clinicians.
Mr. Speaker: Following the decision of the House last night on motion 16, relating to the presentation of public petitions, I am announcing today the new arrangements that will come into operation for petitions presented on Monday 1 March.
The names of Members wishing to present public petitions formally before the daily Adjournment debate at the end of the sitting will now appear on the Order Paper. Accordingly, Members will now need to give notice in person in the Journal Office on the third floor above the Chamber. The deadline for giving notice will be the rise of the House on the previous sitting day. When giving notice, Members will need to have with them the front page of the petition, certified by the Clerk of Public Petitions in the Journal Office.
Just before we come to the daily Adjournment debate at the end of the sitting, I shall call in turn the Members whose names are listed on the Order Paper to present their constituents' petitions. The Member will make a brief statement limited, as at present, to describing who the petition is from and what it is about, and, finally, reading out the prayer that sets out what the House is being asked to do. The Member will then bring the top page of the petition straight from the Member's place to the Clerk at the Table, who will read out the title and hand the top page back to the Member, who will then put the whole petition, with its supporting signatures, into the bag at the back of the Chair.
Members may continue to place valid petitions in the bag behind the Chair in the usual way informally at any time during a sitting of the House. All petitions, whether presented formally or not, are printed in Hansard, forwarded to the relevant Select Committees, and sent to the Government Department most closely concerned. Observations received from the Government are also printed in Hansard.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that on 9 February, at column 771, we had an exchange about the inadequate answering of parliamentary questions by the Department for Work and Pensions, and you gave me what I thought was very sound advice suggesting that tabling a further question on the Order Paper or raising a point of order on the Floor of the House would concentrate the minds of Ministers. I did indeed do that. Before the recess, I tabled a lengthy question asking when a range of questions-up to 30-would be answered. You can imagine that yesterday, when that question was due for answer, I was not very impressed to receive a further holding answer from the Minister of State. It seems to me, Mr. Speaker, in the light of our exchange and the significant number of unanswered questions, two of which date back to last year, that this is a case of Ministers treating the House with contempt. What may I do to get answers from Ministers given what I have already done?
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Regular attenders at sittings of the House will know that he is persistent and feisty, probably beyond comparison in the House, in highlighting the phenomenon of unanswered questions or those to which tardy replies are given. He must continue to be persistent. I know that no Health Minister- [ Interruption. ] Order. I was going to say that no Health Minister is on the Government Front Bench, but the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) is getting ahead of himself. The Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) is on the Treasury Bench, and she is always a keen listener; I know that she will hear the point that I am making.
Ministers must reply quickly to parliamentary questions, and the replies that are provided must be substantive rather than merely formulaic. They should not be replies along the lines of "I hope to reply as soon as possible." When the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) has waited for a period of several days or possibly weeks-this goes for all Members-the Member is entitled to a substantive reply. I hope that it will not be necessary continually to repeat this point. The hon. Gentleman and other Members will be aware that the tracking system means that this information is becoming available for public view, and I have a hunch that he will not wish this matter to remain secret and will probably want to give it the widest possible coverage.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When a Minister gives a holding answer saying that they will write to the Member concerned, how long do you expect that holding answer to last before we get the substantive answer?
It is very difficult to be precise, because-I hope Members will accept the validity of this response-it rather depends upon the terms of the question, how much information is sought and the difficulty and possible cost of obtaining it. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman, whose point of order is helpful, that it should be a matter of only a few days and no more than that. As a
matter of course, I should think it very odd, and frankly worthy of comment and objection, if a substantive question did not receive a substantive answer within, for example, a week. We need a timely exchange. That is what Members expect, and I think most Ministers would accept that it is legitimately required of them.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to your very helpful statement on petitions, which I am sure the House will welcome, may I ask what the position is as regards electronic petitions? Are they to be recorded on the Order Paper or just in the general official record?
Mr. Speaker: That is an extraordinarily good point of order, to which the answer is that a system of the kind that the hon. Lady hankers after does not yet exist; it is a matter of work in progress. She rightly points to the need for further developments, but work is taking place, and I hope that she will content herself today with the holding answer that I have provided. [Laughter.] I am very glad that the House is in such a good mood-this is all very encouraging.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require providers of rental accommodation to ensure that the accommodation complies with certain minimum standards of thermal insulation; and for connected purposes.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I should perhaps have said-I think it has now happened-that Members leaving should do so quickly and quietly. I am sure that the House will want to hear the hon. Gentleman's ten-minute rule motion.
It is a rather sad fact that in this country of ours, some 400,000 private tenancies are currently occupied by people who are defined as being fuel-poor-those who spend more than a fifth of their income on the fuel necessary to heat their home. That is largely because those homes are very poorly insulated. It is, I believe, the incontestable view of all that the need to improve the thermal insulation of domestic properties of any kind of tenure is of paramount importance, for obvious environmental reasons such as those related to global warming but also for financial reasons for those who occupy them and for social welfare reasons. It is a matter of practical fact that excess cold puts people's health, and indeed their lives, in jeopardy. We know that more people die during the cold months of the year in this country than in comparable countries, or even in countries with much more extreme climates, because of relatively poor insulation.
The thermal comfort element of the decent homes standard now extends to private housing the same consideration that has historically applied to social housing, but there is a big gap between private housing and social housing, and to an extent between private housing and those in owner-occupation. The problem in the private rented sector is that the private tenant has no capacity whatever to make improvements through investment in insulation and so on, which would allow the thermal efficiency of their property to be improved. But nor, alas, do landlords necessarily have an incentive to improve, at least not in the current circumstances.
As we know, the Government have already made significant steps, which I very much welcome, to bring about a change in the private rented sector. For example, the introduction in October 2008 of energy performance certificates means that all properties will in future have something that tells us how thermally efficient they are regarding insulation. In addition, the Government introduced in 2006 the energy saving allowance, which gives landlords up to £1,500 per property to introduce insulation improvements. However, the problem with that scheme, frankly, is that landlords often do not know that it exists; and even when they do, the incentives are still too small to make a real difference.
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