Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Under the cover of what else is going on in the middle east, the Iranian regime recently increased the sentences of seven Ba’hai

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leaders to 20 years. Will my right hon. Friend make strong representations to the Iranian Government to stop the persecution of the Iranian Ba’hais?

Mr Hague: Yes, most certainly—my hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to that. The Iranian Government now have one of the worst human rights records in the world. They have four times as many journalists in detention as any other country; they have carried out per capita more executions than any other country so far this year; they have imprisoned the two principal opposition leaders; and they have added to all that the outrage to which my hon. Friend refers, and we unreservedly condemn it.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): The Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary both acknowledged that the Gaddafi regime is at least partly propped up by murderous mercenaries who are terrorising the civilian population. Will my right hon. Friend therefore indicate what steps the Foreign Office, NATO and our allies are taking to stop the entry into Libya of mercenaries from Chad and Niger?

Mr Hague: Yes, that is one of the things attended to in the UN Security Council resolutions, which call for action against mercenaries entering the country. My hon. Friend is quite right that there is a good deal of evidence that Colonel Gaddafi has bought some of the military support that he has employed over the last few weeks. Although I cannot go into any operational details, we will take action whenever we can, and whenever we have the necessary information, against the supply of mercenaries to Libya. We have been in touch with neighbouring countries about that. People entering Libya in order to do violence to the civilian population of Libya do so at their peril.

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Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I heard what the Foreign Secretary said to the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) on asset freezing, but in a statement last week he painted quite a rosy picture to the House about the benefit to the Libyan people of a future Libyan Government spending those assets. Can he reassure us that any loosening of sanctions in response to those deserting the Gaddafi regime will not allow those people to take with them riches gained as a result of their long association with Gaddafi which belong to the Libyan people?

Mr Hague: Basically, yes, any changes in sanctions on people who have defected from the regime are likely, in terms of the quantity of money involved, to be infinitesimal compared with the assets of the regime and its companies. We are talking about tens of billions of dollars. The United States has frozen more than $30 billion-worth of assets, so we are talking about something very tiny when compared with the total scale of assets.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): The House has rightly praised our armed forces for the visible work they are doing, but will the Secretary of State commend the staff of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, particularly the rapid deployment teams, for their sterling work throughout the region in recent times, which is perhaps less visible?

Mr Hague: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Rapid deployment teams in a variety of very difficult situations, including chaotic airports and the aftermath of earthquakes in recent weeks, have done an absolutely outstanding job for this country. The diplomatic mission in Benghazi, to whom I have referred, have, in sometimes difficult and dangerous circumstances, gone into eastern Libya, so he is quite right to praise our diplomats and I will take that praise back to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

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NHS Reform

4.41 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Andrew Lansley): With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about NHS modernisation. Modernisation of the national health service is necessary, is in patients’ interests and is the right thing to do to secure the NHS for future generations. The Health and Social Care Bill is one part of a broader vision of health and health services in this country being among the best in the world; world-leading measurement of the results we achieve for patients; patients always experiencing “No decision about me without me”; a service where national standards and funding secure a high-quality, comprehensive service available to all, based on need and not the ability to pay; and where the power to deliver is in the hands of local doctors, nurses, health professionals and local communities.

The House will know that the Bill completed its Committee stage last Thursday. I was also able to announce last week that a further 43 GP-led commissioning consortia had successfully applied to be pathfinder commissioning groups. We now have a total of 220 groups representing 87% of the country; that is 45 million patients whose GP surgeries are committed to showing how they can further improve services for their patients. In addition, 90% of relevant local authorities have come forward to be early implementers of health and well-being boards, bringing democratic leadership to health, public health and social care at local level.

That progress is very encouraging. Our desire is to move forward with the support of doctors, nurses and others who work in the NHS and make a difference to the lives of so many of us, day in and day out. However, we recognise that the speed of progress has brought with it some substantive concerns, expressed in various quarters. Some of those concerns are misplaced or based on misrepresentations, but we recognise that some of them are genuine. We want to continue to listen to, engage with and learn from experts, patients and front-line staff within the NHS and beyond and to respond accordingly. I can therefore tell the House that we propose to take the opportunity of a natural break in the passage of the Bill to pause, listen and engage with all those who want the NHS to succeed, and subsequently to bring forward amendments to improve the plans further in the normal way. We have, of course, listened and improved the plans already. We strengthened the overview and scrutiny process of local authorities in response to consultation, and we made amendments in Committee to make it absolutely clear that competition will be on the basis of quality, not price. Patients will choose and GPs will refer on the basis of comparisons of quality, not price.

Let me indicate some areas where I anticipate that we will be able to make improvements, in order to build and sustain support for the modernisation that we recognise is crucial. Choice, competition and the involvement of the private sector should only ever be a means to improve services for patients, not ends in themselves. Some services, such as accident and emergency or major trauma services, will clearly never be based on competition. People want to know that private companies cannot cherry-pick NHS activity, undermining existing NHS providers, and that competition must be fair.

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Under Labour, the private sector got a preferential deal, with £250 million paid for operations that never happened. We have to stop that. People want to know that GP commissioning groups cannot have a conflict of interest, are transparent in their decisions, and are accountable not only nationally, but locally, through the democratic input of health and well-being boards. We, too, want that to be the case. People want to know that the patient’s voice is genuinely influential, through HealthWatch and in commissioning. Doctors and nurses in the service have been clear: they want the changes to support truly integrated services, breaking down the institutional barriers that have held back modernisation in the past.

As I told the House on 16 March, we are committed to listening, and we will take every opportunity to improve the Bill. The principles of the Bill are that patients should always share in decisions about their care; that front-line staff should lead the design of local services; that patients should have access to whichever services offer the best quality; that all NHS trusts should gain the freedoms of foundation trust status; that we should take out day-to-day political interference, through the establishment of a national NHS commissioning board and through strong independent regulation for safety, quality and effectiveness; that the public’s and patients’ voices must be strengthened; and that local government should be in the lead in public health strategy. Those are the principles of a world-class NHS which command widespread professional and public backing. All those principles will be pursued through the Bill, and our commitment as a coalition Government to them is undiminished.

We support and are encouraged by all those across England who are leading the changes nationally and locally. We want them to know that they can be confident in taking this work forward. Our objective is to listen to them and support them, as we take the Bill through. No change is not an option. With an ageing and increasing population, new technologies and rising costs, we have to adapt and improve. Innovation and clinical leadership will be key. We want to reverse a decade of declining productivity. We have to make productive care and preventive services the norm, and we must continue to cut the costs of administration, quangos and bureaucracy. The House knows my commitment to the national health service and my passion for it to succeed. To protect the NHS for the future must mean change—not in the values of the NHS, but through bringing forward and empowering leadership in the NHS to secure the quality of services on which we all depend.

Change is never easy, but the NHS is well placed to respond. I can tell the House today that the NHS is in a healthy financial position. Waiting times remain at historically low levels, as promised under the NHS constitution. Patients with symptoms of cancer now see a specialist more quickly than ever before. MRSA is at—[ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. The Secretary of State must be heard.

Mr Lansley: MRSA is at its lowest level since records began. We have helped more than 2,000 patients have access to new cancer drugs that would previously have been denied to them. All that is a testament to the excellent work of NHS staff up and down the country,

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and we thank them for their efforts to achieve these results for their patients. The coalition Government are increasing NHS funding by £11.5 billion over this Parliament, but the service cannot afford to waste any money. We can sustain and build on those improvements only by modernising the service to be ever more efficient and effective with taxpayers’ money.

The Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set the NHS on a sustainable course, building on the commitment and skills of the people who work for it. Our purpose is simple: to provide the best health care service anywhere in the world. I commend this statement to the House.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for Health for a copy of his statement shortly before he made it this afternoon. So Mr Speaker, in the middle of confusion, chaos and incompetence, the Prime Minister has pushed the Health Secretary out of the bunker to try and tell people what exactly and what on earth they are doing with the NHS. Why is the Health Secretary here and not the Prime Minister? After all, we have been told that the Prime Minister has taken charge and it was he who made his most personal pledge to protect the NHS and to stop top-down reorganisations that have got in the way of patient care. It is the Prime Minister who is now breaking his promises on the NHS.

Will the Health Secretary tell us why the Tories did not tell people before the election about the biggest reorganisation in NHS history? Why did they not tell the Lib Dems about the reorganisation before the coalition agreement was signed? Whatever the Government say or do now, there is no mandate—either from the election or the coalition agreement—for this reckless and ideological upheaval in the health service. In truth, the Health Secretary is here only because there is a growing crisis of confidence over the far-reaching changes that the Government are making to the NHS.

There is confusion at the heart of Government, with briefings and counter-briefings on all sides, and patients starting to see the NHS go backwards again under the Tories—with waiting times rising, front-line nursing staff cut and services cut back. Yet the Health Secretary has done nothing to restore public confidence in the Government’s handling of the NHS and nothing to convince people to back the Tories’ reorganisation plans. Everything he said today the Government were told about in the consultation—and they ignored it. Everything he said today the Government were told in Committee—and they rejected it.

This is not just a problem with the pace of change; simply doing the wrong thing more slowly is not the answer. It is not just a problem with presentation. In fact, the more people see the plans, the more concerned they become about them. That is why there is growing criticism of the Tories’ plans for the NHS—from doctors, nurses, patients’ groups, NHS experts, the Health Select Committee, the Lib Dems and peers of all parties in the House of Lords. I have to hand it to the Health Secretary: it takes a special talent to unite opposition from Norman Tebbit and MC NxtGen. That is why Labour has been saying that the reorganisation requires a root-and-branch rethink and that the legislation requires radical surgery.

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There are fundamental flaws in what the Government are doing, not just in what they are saying. The test is whether the Prime Minister will now deal with these fundamental flaws. Will he radically safeguard commissioning to draw on the full range of NHS expertise, to prevent conflicts of interests, bonus payments to GPs and to guarantee that important decisions are taken in public not in private? Will he radically strengthen local accountability to the public and to patients? Will he delete the one third of the Bill that breaks up the NHS and makes it into a full-blown market ruled by the forces of market regulation and EU competition law? Will this be just a public relations exercise or will real changes be made in the NHS plans—or has the Prime Minister not yet told the Health Secretary? This is no way to run a Bill; this is no way to run a Government; this is no way to run the NHS.

Mr Lansley: We heard from the Leader of the Opposition earlier that the NHS needed to change, but once again we have heard nothing from Labour Members about how it needs to change. It is not unusual to hear nothing from them. They say that we need to tackle the deficit, but they will not say how. They say that we must change the NHS, but they will not say how.

Interestingly, in January the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) said that he agreed with the aims of the Bill. He said that he supported a

“greater role for clinicians in commissioning care, more involvement of patients, less bureaucracy and greater priority on improving health outcomes”.

At the last election, his manifesto said that he wanted all NHS trusts to become foundation trusts. It said that he wanted patients to have access to every provider, be it private sector, voluntary sector or NHS-owned. Now we do not know what the Labour party’s policy is at all, but what I do know is that the Government will give leadership to the NHS, and that we will give the NHS a strategy enabling it to deliver improving results in future.

The right hon. Gentleman clearly wrote his response to the statement before reading it. In fact, we have made it clear that we will listen to what is said about precisely the issues on which people in the NHS and people who depend on the NHS are united. They know which issues are really important. They know that we must be clear about accountability, and that there must be transparency. Clinicians throughout the health service want to work together, and want the structure of the service to help them to work together so that they can deliver more holistic and joined-up services to patients. We want that, and they want that. We will back up our strategy with detail, but from the right hon. Gentleman we heard no strategy, no detail, and no answers whatsoever.

We are clear about the principles that we are pursuing through the reform and modernisation of the national health service. We are listening, and we are engaging with those principles. We are listening to the people in the health service who have come together to implement those principles, so that we can help them to do so effectively. Labour Members have not even listened to those who threw them out at the last election, because they are still wedded to the past and to a failed, top-down, centralised, bureaucratic approach.

Mr Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): All who genuinely wish the NHS well and consider it to be an important part of our national heritage will welcome

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my right hon. Friend’s commitment to ensuring that clinical practice delivered by the NHS is kept up to date with the best available medical practice, and responds effectively to the wishes of patients. Will he continue to develop effective commissioning as the best way of delivering that, building on 20 years of commitment to the principle of commissioning under Governments of all political complexions since 1990?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He knows and I know—and past Secretaries of State, with the exception of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) also knew—that in order to deliver the best possible care in the NHS, we needed to engage clinical leadership more effectively. That is what these reforms are about. The modernisation of the NHS is about better and stronger clinical leadership delivering better commissioning of care and thereby helping to deliver better provision of care, and about allying that with democratic accountability at a local level. Neither of those things has happened sufficiently in the past, but both are at the heart of our Bill.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Contrary to what the Secretary of State has claimed, waiting times are already lengthening and the quality of service to patients is already deteriorating as a result of his ill-conceived upheaval of the health service. Why does he not abandon it, rather than just pausing for the Easter holidays, before he squanders all the improvements that were achieved under Labour Governments?

Mr Lansley: I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should denigrate what staff in the NHS have achieved over the past year. He will not have read the deputy chief executive’s report on NHS activity, which shows improvements in breast screening rates, improvements in bowel screening rates—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the Secretary of State. I recognise that this subject inflames passions and that there are very strongly held views about it, but there is too much noise on both sides of the Chamber. I gently say to the hon. Members for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) and for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) that they should cease to yell at the Secretary of State from a sedentary position. It is very unseemly.

Mr Lansley: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall not go through a long list, but many services in the NHS have improved and continue to improve. Our objective is very clear: it is to support that improvement, including improvement in waiting times. For example, last year the median wait in January for non-admitted patients was 4.8 weeks, whereas last year it was 4.9 weeks. For diagnostic tests, the average wait this year is 1.6 weeks, exactly the same as last year. Meanwhile, many other factors are continuing to improve as well.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): As the Secretary of State may know, I still have a faint link with the NHS and medicine in general. The GPs I have met in my constituency and elsewhere are very much in favour of the proposals. In contrast, the complaints are circular

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letters that have been well organised. Does the Secretary of State agree that GPs will be devastated if there is any reversal and backtracking?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. He and other Surrey Members will be aware of that primary care trust’s past failure to manage effectively within its budget. The GPs in Surrey are, like many others across the country, coming together and demonstrating that they can achieve much greater service improvement within NHS resources—and those resources will increase in future years.

Mr Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State recognise that the reorganisation and introduction of competition under this Bill have created chaos inside the national health service? What message does he have for the 40% of people who work for Rotherham PCT who have now taken redundancy, and who are getting out because they know they are aboard a sinking ship?

Mr Lansley: As we have demonstrated, NHS performance is continuing to improve, and it will improve further with clinical leadership, but we can achieve that effectively only if we achieve a £1.9 billion a year reduction in administration costs in the NHS. We have started that process: since the election, we have reduced the number of managers in the NHS by 3,000 and increased the number of doctors by 2,500.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s continued support for the NHS in Cornwall, with the cash increases this year, the long overdue integration of adult social care with the NHS, and the real opportunity of giving power to local people through the health and well-being boards. Will he ensure that the central changes he wants to introduce to achieve the aim of “no decision about me without me” are kept absolutely at the heart of what he does?

Mr Lansley: I will indeed do that, and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her comments. She represents a Cornwall seat, and she and I know that over the years many people in Cornwall have felt they wanted a greater sense of ownership of the decisions made in the health service, not only for individuals but for the health service in Cornwall itself. That is precisely what we are going to make available through both local commissioning and local authorities.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): The Secretary of State listed in his statement concerns to which he intends to listen, but every single one of them has been raised with him before, going back to the time of the publication of his White Paper. As he did not listen to those concerns then, why should any of us believe his positive commitment to listen to them now?

Mr Lansley: I am afraid the hon. Lady is completely wrong about that. We have continuously listened. After the publication of the White Paper, we had a full 12-week consultation with more than 6,000 responses, and in December’s Command Paper we set out a whole series of changes that were consequent on that, including to the structure of commissioning and the timetable for

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the transfer of NHS trusts into foundation trusts. In Committee, we have introduced further amendments, not least to make it clear that competition in the NHS will be on the basis of quality not price, which is very important because that is a concern that people raised.

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s efforts in modernising the NHS. The concept of GP commissioning has been widely supported by politicians from all parties for many years. May I urge my right hon. Friend to keep putting patients first by increasing GP involvement in the NHS?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. We have now—earlier than any of us had imagined—arrived at the point where most of the country has pathfinder consortia in place. It is absolutely the right moment to engage with them to discuss how we can ensure that the concerns that have been properly raised, about transparency and accountability in governance and the avoidance of conflicts of interest, will be dealt with in the legislation. We want the legislation to work for them and the people we serve.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State has spoken a great deal about ill people, but the health service is also, very importantly, about promoting health. With local authorities taking the lead in the public health strategy, what is his mechanism to ensure that GPs are fully involved and contribute fully to the wide range of initiatives on which primary care trusts took a lead, such as those on child protection, teenage pregnancy, diet and exercise, child safety and obesity?

Mr Lansley: If the hon. Lady reads the Bill, she will see that one of its changes that has been most widely supported, including by local authorities across England, has been the transfer of public health leadership into the health and well-being boards, with ring-fenced budgets for local authorities. The previous Government could have done that, but they did not. Such an approach will allow continued engagement with general practitioners and their practices, both because they are participants in the health and well-being boards and because Public Health England and the local health and well-being board will be able to influence directly the quality and outcomes framework, which incentivises GPs in the work that they do.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Colleagues on this side of the House will know that the Secretary of State has a great passion for the health service, and great mastery of his brief. Will he confirm, for the sake of all hon. Members, that the object of getting rid of PCTs and top-down targets is to free a lot of money for patient care? That should be in the interests of all hon. Members and their constituents.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Before the election, the previous Labour Government said that it was necessary to save up to £20 billion in efficiencies in the NHS, but they never said they would reinvest that money in the NHS. We have said that we will reinvest it. In order to deliver those efficiencies,

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10% of that gain will be achieved by cutting the costs of bureaucracy and administration. We have set out how we will do that, but the previous Government never did.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State understand that those who care about the future of the NHS believe not only that he got his presentation wrong, but that his Bill is fundamentally wrong in principle?

Mr Lansley: No, I do not accept that for a minute. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne, who sits on the Opposition Front Bench, has freely acknowledged that I have met and talked to many people in the NHS over the course of seven and a half years, and that I am passionately committed to the NHS. If one set of beliefs lies at the heart of the reforms and the Bill, it is the belief in the NHS as a free, comprehensive, high-quality service that delivers some of the best health care anywhere in the world. We will never achieve that without the clinical leadership that is essential to delivering high-quality health care.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I thank the Secretary of State for having the grace and courage to respond to legitimate concerns. Given the agreement that exists in the House—not about the effects of the Bill, on which there is no agreement, but about its aims—does he agree that we should not get hung up about whether substantial changes will in future be referred to as “tweaking”, “surgery” or, possibly, “surgical tweaking”? Is not the main thing to get a Bill that carries the broad support of Parliament, NHS professionals and the country? We do not need to sell this Bill better; we need to take the spectre of salesmanship out of the NHS.

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman and I know one another well enough to know that we share a commitment to the NHS and that I am determined. Perhaps I sometimes get very close to all of this because I am very close to the NHS. I spend my time thinking about this subject and I spend my time with people in the service. I spend my time trying to ensure that the Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it right for people in the NHS—they want to be free. The British Medical Association made it clear that it wants an end to constant political interference in the NHS. We can do that only if we secure the necessary autonomy for the NHS, and if we make accountability transparent, rather than having constant interference from this place or from Richmond house.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): How many managers who have lost their jobs will be re-employed during this pause?

Mr Lansley: I do not have a figure for how many have been re-employed. The hon. Lady will know that under the process by which people agreed with the NHS to take resignation and, more recently, in voluntary redundancy terms, after six months there is an opportunity for people to take jobs—we are not depriving them permanently of the ability to take jobs. Indeed, one of the responsibilities of the commissioning consortia will be to find the best people, but we are doing that now. That is why we continue to make progress on the ground by the assignment

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of PCT staff to commissioning consortia and to local authorities, in order to ensure that they are beginning to take on their responsibilities.

Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): My right hon. Friend will know that many GPs are very excited by the opportunity that his reforms will give them to serve the needs of their local communities even better. Can he assure those GPs that he has no plans to water down that strengthening of their pivotal role in the national health service?

Mr Lansley: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. This is born not of political opportunism, as it seems to have been characterised by the Opposition, but of a determination to support those people in constituencies that my hon. Friends on this side of the House have been talking to and listening to. As he knows, GPs in his area have come together. For example, when I met people at Southampton hospital recently, they were able to talk about how they were working together on improving the clinical design of services for patients in his area.

Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North) (Lab): Why has the Secretary of State waited until now, after the passing of the Bill through its Committee stage, to announce a so-called natural break in which to listen to and engage with the public? Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but would not the normal process involve getting the brain into gear to avoid putting the foot in the mouth?

Mr Lansley: If I did not come to the House to make a statement, I would be accused of not doing so, but when I do so, the Opposition ask why. The reason is very simple: it is because we are going to listen, and to engage with people actively over the course of the coming weeks, and I did not want the House to see that happening during the recess without having been told about it beforehand.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that only the most cynical people could criticise him for wanting to consult more about the changes that he wants? [ Laughter. ] And that only the most cynical could treat the NHS as a laughing matter? Will he maintain the goal of delivering the prize, which is to give local people, through their local GPs, more control over the resources that the NHS spends in their name?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I agree. Indeed, in north-east Essex, the consortium under Dr Shane Gordon’s leadership is doing exactly that. I personally think that leadership and listening are not mutually exclusive, and we are going to continue to do both.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): In the spirit of openness, will the Secretary of State please place in the House of Commons Library a copy of the legal advice on whether EU competition law will apply to the provisions in the Bill?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady should know, as a member of the Health Select Committee, that I wrote to the Chair of the Committee just last week and set out the position very fully. The Bill does not extend the scope or application of competition law at all.

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Mr David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Does he agree that reduced bureaucracy and better local scrutiny and accountability will ensure a better NHS for all?

Mr Lansley: Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Locally, he can see how that is happening as GP leaders—including Dr Howard Stoate, whom Members will fondly remember, as the chair of the clinical cabinet in Bexley—are coming together to look at issues that the previous Government never dealt with, including those relating to the South London Healthcare NHS Trust and to Queen Mary’s hospital in Sidcup. They are coming forward with proposals to improve services for local people, and I applaud that kind of clinical leadership.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Before the general election, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) promised an extra 3,000 midwives. Has the Secretary of State noted the alarming rise in preventable maternal mortality? Would the Secretary of State not do better to deliver on his Prime Minister’s promises and abandon his reckless reorganisation?

Mr Lansley: The right hon. Lady must know that we continue to have a record number of midwives in training, and that the number of midwives in the health service has continued to increase since the election. In the financial year that is just starting, the number of commissions for training will continue to be at a record level.

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): The Secretary of State is aware that under the Labour Government, accident and emergency and children’s services were transferred from Burnley to Blackburn. The transfer was opposed by the majority of GPs and 95% of the local community. It was supported only by the bureaucrats in the PCT and the SHA and by prima donna consultants. Will the Secretary of State confirm that under his new proposals that will never happen again and that such decisions will be taken only following full consultation and agreement with GPs and local communities, rather than being driven through as they were by the previous Government?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In Burnley and other places—I think not least of Maidstone—decisions were made in the past, under a Labour Government, that clearly did not meet the tests that we now apply, which are about public engagement, the support of the local authority, engagement with general practices leading commissioning, the clinical case and the responsiveness to patient choice. Those tests will be met in future. As we go through the painful process of examining how they are applied to the situations that we have inherited, on occasion we can say things to help colleagues, but sometimes we cannot.

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): It is not only the Health Secretary who cares about the NHS. Most people in the House support the NHS in their constituencies and the work that it carries out, but the mistakes that the Secretary of State has made—I hope he will admit that he has made mistakes by not listening—mean that there will already be costs to the health

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service because of the Bill. Will he publish an impact assessment of the costs to the health service so far of his failed policies?

Mr Lansley: I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is wrong on a number of counts. First, we have listened and we will continue to listen. Secondly, of course there are costs in reducing the number of managers in the NHS, but it is absolutely essential that we reverse the decade of declining productivity in the NHS that took place as the number of managers went up by 78%. How can that be the right way forward? Under Labour, we had more managers and less productivity.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): The Secretary of State will be keen to know that many of the GPs I have met in my constituency are keen on the idea of GP commissioning, but there is undoubtedly concern about the exact role of the private sector in the NHS. May I urge the Secretary of State to use these next few weeks or months to ensure that in the country and if necessary in the Bill we make it perfectly clear that the private sector will not be allowed to undercut or undermine our local hospitals?

Mr Lansley: Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Our manifesto was clear that patients should be able to have access to a provider who gives them the best quality, be it the NHS, a private sector provider or a voluntary provider. That was in the Liberal Democrat manifesto and in the Labour manifesto. It is always about ensuring that that provider is properly qualified and that the basis of that choice is quality, not price. There cannot be a race to the bottom on price. We make it very clear in the legislation—it is important to set this out—that the commissioners of local services will also, through designating services, be able to ensure that where patients need services to be maintained and need continuity of services they can set that out themselves.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Why does the Secretary of State not admit that the policy is unravelling before the eyes of the British public? The thousands that have been writing to MPs in every constituency now know that the truth is out. Instead of waiting for the natural break, and then a reshuffle, and then a resignation, he should do the honourable thing now and resign today.

Mr Lansley: I will tell the hon. Gentleman one thing: I and my colleagues on the Government Benches talk to people in the constituencies who are getting on with this. That is what is so impressive. People across the NHS are seeing the opportunity to bring more clinical leadership and more democratic local accountability to fashioning an improving health service. That is what I am determined to achieve.

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): Excessive bureaucracy and a record level of managers have dominated health care provision in mid-Essex. Will my right hon. Friend assure my constituents that, under his reforms, the funding for that excess will go to front-line patient care in the constituency of Witham?

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Mr Lansley: Yes, I can. Under the coalition Government, in mid-Essex there has been a 3.2% increase in cash for the NHS this year compared with last year. Not only that, but more of that money will, as a consequence of our changes, get to the front line to deliver improving services for patients.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): “No decisions about us without us” could apply to every single person who works in the NHS who has been telling the Secretary of State that these are reckless changes. Throughout the country changes are taking place. Now he says that he is going to be listening. If so, we can anticipate some more changes. Will he therefore instruct everyone in the NHS who is currently restructuring on the basis of the Bill to stop that restructuring until we know exactly what the Government intend to do?

Mr Lansley: No, I will not, because we are very clear about the strategy and the principles of the Bill. We are equally clear that now we have the opportunity to work with the developing GP pathfinder consortia, the health and well-being boards in local authorities and the wider community to ensure that the implementation of the Bill and its structure support those developing organisations.

Mr Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his helpful and useful update this afternoon, and welcome his assurances that the coalition wants to reform and modernise our NHS, right in line with its founding principles. He knows that I will continue to argue for greater transparency for the new GP consortia, and I hope we can still find a way to do that, but I warmly welcome his listening exercise, the measures contained in the Bill and the way he has made himself freely available to colleagues since taking up his post last year. May I urge him to continue doing that both in the House and, of course, outside it?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We will do that, not only formally across the country but in the informal manner that we do in the House. His point of view exactly illustrates the purpose of my statement. He served on the Committee that debated the Bill. Notwithstanding the good progress that the Bill has made and that we are making around the country, people have legitimate concerns and questions. They want to raise those and to know that we will listen and act on them.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): Can the Secretary of State say more about the future of care trusts? Integration of health and social care is vital to all our constituents. With all the uncertainty, staff are being lost and more could be lost. During this natural break, what can the Secretary of State say to preserve the continuity of those people doing that vital work and the continuing support for care trusts?

Mr Lansley: I reiterate the point that I made a moment ago. There is nothing in what I have said today that should do other than give people on the ground confidence that they are building the improvement of services that they need for the future. At the heart of that is the integration of health and social care. We as a Government have made available in this new financial year £648 million through the NHS specifically to build that kind of

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integration between health and social care. It has been insufficient in the past; we are building it now. As the hon. Lady knows, the Bill allows care trusts to continue in formation, but it is also possible for care trusts to redesign around commissioning consortia on the one hand and health and well-being boards on the other.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): The Leader of the Opposition stated his willingness to work with the Government on the NHS reforms. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a good place for him to start would be with a re-reading of his party’s manifesto at the last election, which supported virtually every principle in our NHS Bill, with one important difference—it was without the additional funding to match?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I am not sure which Labour party we would be expected to engage with—the one whose manifesto agreed with us, the one for which the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne spoke at a King’s Fund meeting in January when he agreed with us, or the one that we saw in Committee, which opposed everything, tried to wreck the Bill and clearly has gone back to the Holborn and St Pancras view of the NHS.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): It is obvious that the public are extremely concerned about the Bill. Why does the Secretary of State not suspend the Bill and bring forward new proposals that we can all support?

Mr Lansley: I am afraid the hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand that the public support the principles of the Bill. The public want patient choice. When they are exercising their choice over treatment, they want to be able to go to whoever is the best provider. Patients believe that general practitioners are the best people to design services and care on their behalf. Patients, the public and professionals support the principles of “no decision about me without me”, focusing on outcomes and delivering an outcomes framework, and the devolution of responsibility. What we are talking about now is ensuring that other important principles, such as governance, accountability, transparency and multi-professional working, are genuinely supported by the structure of the Bill.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): My constituents in Suffolk were very concerned at the last election about the fact that only two doctors covered them for out-of-hours care, and that was for 600,000 patients. They welcome the reforms in the Bill. Indeed, Waveney and Great Yarmouth have come together as one pathfinder consortium and resumed out-of-hours care. Will the Secretary of State assure me that such important changes will continue to be important for patient delivery in the new Bill?

Mr Lansley: Yes, my hon. Friend makes an important point. When people talk about primary care trust commissioning, they might care to look at the report produced by the Care Quality Commission on how primary care trusts went about commissioning out-of-hours care. The answer is that they pretty much did it on the basis of cost and volume, rather than quality, and once they had a contract they did not monitor it, follow it up

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or ensure that the right quality was there, including the right calibre of doctors. It is clear that general practice-led commissioning consortia will take a wholly different and preferable approach to that kind of commissioning.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): The Prime Minister’s commission on the future of nursing and midwifery reported a year ago in March 2010. Of the 20 recommendations, all related to improving the quality of care in the NHS, which is my constituents’ priority, not top-down reorganisation. During the pause that the Secretary of State has announced today, will the Government finally find time to respond to that important report?

Mr Lansley: Yes.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): Can the Secretary of State reassure me that any further listening will mean that retaining local community hospitals, which are much loved across the country and particularly in South Dorset, remains top of the agenda?

Mr Lansley: I can assure my hon. Friend that one of the central beauties of the Bill is that in future it will matter less what my priorities are and much more what the priorities are of his local communities and general practitioners and others who are responsible for commissioning in his area. On that basis, I have no doubt about the importance and priority that they will attach to community hospitals.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I share and welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to reduce bureaucracy, so I am concerned to know why Monitor’s budget is increasing by 600% over four years to police the marketisation of the NHS. Is that not poor value for money?

Mr Lansley: The Government are introducing for the very first time a clear limitation and reduction on the running costs of the NHS. That will include the Department of Health, the arm’s length bodies, the strategic health authorities and the primary care trusts—the whole shooting match. We will reduce those costs by more than a third in real terms. Monitor forms part of that. We have made it clear that its estimated total running costs will be between £50 million and £70 million. That is more than at present because its responsibilities will be considerably larger than they are at present.

Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (LD): As the Secretary of State will be aware, I chaired the majority of the Public Bill Committee’s sittings. It was the longest Bill Committee for 12 years. During that time, more than 100 amendments were voted on in formal Divisions, and many hundreds of others were agreed to. If we are taking several months to look at this again, how on earth will the time be found to ensure that this House has enough time to scrutinise properly any changes, bearing in mind how much time has been spent on the Bill as it stands? I want an assurance, as I hope the whole House does, that we will be given sufficient time and that the Bill will not be steamrollered or bulldozed through the House.

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Mr Lansley: I know that the whole Committee will have been grateful to my hon. Friend for his chairmanship, because what was achieved in Committee, as was acknowledged by the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), was that every inch of the Bill was scrutinised. It is our intention to secure proper scrutiny for any changes that result from our engagement.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Public Bill Committee was one of the busiest since 2002, according to the Clerk, with 26 sittings and more than 100 Divisions. Does the Secretary of State not agree that that reflects the level of concern that the general public have, but that they will exercise theirs at the next general election?

Mr Lansley: No, I am afraid I do not accept that. All that 100 Divisions demonstrate is that time and again the Labour party was simply trying to divide the Committee in order to delay or, indeed, to wreck the Bill.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): GPs in Oxfordshire want to be catalysts for change. Collectively and collegiately, they want to be able to design NHS services for the best and optimal benefit of the people of Oxfordshire. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that this statement means that they can continue to design those services and continue to plan to have an Oxfordshire-wide GP consortium, knowing that they will be able to go forward in the future to plan the best health services for the people of Oxfordshire?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I can indeed confirm that. Having joined my hon. Friend in Banbury in the past and met GPs there, I know and can say that, if they had been more fully engaged, as our plans would have meant, in the design of clinical services in Banbury or in the future of the Horton general hospital, for example, we would have had better and earlier outcomes than was in fact the case.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Secretary of State, in his letter to me of 23 March, dismissed my request that he discuss with the Comptroller and Auditor General concerns about the conflicts of interest which might arise from GP commissioning. The Secretary of State, in his statement today, refers to the concerns about those specific conflicts of interest. Will he now engage in a discussion with the Comptroller and Auditor General to receive best advice on methods of Government procurement?

Mr Lansley: I do not think I dismiss anybody; I might not agree with people, but I do not dismiss them. If I recall correctly, I did not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion because he misunderstood the fact that the consortia are separate statutory bodies, not private bodies, and separate from GP practices, which are individual contractors to the NHS. The confusion between those two things meant that his point was not valid.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): My constituents, who have watched primary care trusts halve the number of community hospital medical beds in Wiltshire, know that NHS reform is needed to make decision makers accountable, so how does the Secretary of State propose to strengthen the public and patient voices on the boards of the GP consortia that will replace them?

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Mr Lansley: Clearly, this is an area that we will engage in over the coming weeks, but the Bill is already clear that the consortia must engage the public and patients directly. We can look at how we can strengthen that, but we must never lose sight of the fact that, through local health and wellbeing boards, we are creating for the first time a very much stronger public representative voice in relation to all such decisions, including commissioning and planning, and that, through HealthWatch, we are creating for patients an altogether stronger, more comprehensive patient voice, which will have a statutory right to be consulted and to express a view on all those commissioning issues.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Exactly how long will the natural break be, and how will we know whether the Secretary of State has listened?

Mr Lansley: I think the hon. Lady must accept that, because I have come to the House and made it very clear that we are going to do this thing. We are going to set it out, I have done so before the recess, and it will take place during the recess and beyond. But, from my point of view, I think that in the formation of the policy and its introduction there has been a genuine process of listening. It is now a genuine process of listening and engaging to ensure that we get the implementation right.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): This has been a very good day for the coalition Government, a great day for the Secretary of State and a superb day for Parliament. What Opposition Members do not seem to understand is that this is about Parliament scrutinising a Bill and improving it. Does the Secretary of State agree that he should listen not to those dinosaurs but to Parliament?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. My objective is to ensure that the statutory structure for the NHS moves on from one that had virtually no serious accountability. As Secretary of State, I could have done most of this without the legislation: I could have just abolished most of the primary care trusts and strategic health authorities. Previous Secretaries of State behaved in that cavalier fashion, but we are not doing that; we are giving Parliament the opportunity—a once-in-a-generation opportunity—to give the NHS greater autonomy and, in the process, to be transparent about the structure of accountability.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Is the Secretary of State aware of the instability that we are experiencing in the management of NHS services in Trafford, with provider services off at Ashton-under-Lyne, Wigan and Leigh on a temporary basis, with Trafford Healthcare NHS Trust forced to find a new partner for its management, and the primary care trust forced, first, to combine with other Greater Manchester care trusts for one year, before splitting into GP consortia next year? In view of all that instability and the uncertainty that it is causing to staff in the NHS and at Trafford, will the Secretary of State ensure that he has the adequate support in terms of project and change management that appears to be so lacking at present?

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Mr Lansley: Let me make it clear to the hon. Lady that many of the things she is describing in Trafford are the result of things that the last Labour Government failed to do. For example, the last Labour Government said that all NHS trusts should meet the criteria to become foundation trusts by December 2008, but they did not do it. We are now having to help NHS trusts to meet the kind of quality and viability standards that they did not meet in the past, which is at the heart of many of the problems she describes. Do we have management resources? Yes, we do. That is one of the reasons I invited Sir David Nicholson, as chief executive of the NHS, to be the chief executive of the new NHS commissioning board so that the design of commissioning for the future will be completely consistent with the transition and the management of the change in the NHS today.

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for standing firm in his desire to improve the NHS. Will he join me in commending the work of the Great West commissioning consortium in London and others, who have approached these reforms with professional leadership and commitment to make the NHS more efficient and improve public health, ensuring better care for all patients?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I do join my hon. Friend in applauding the Great West commissioning consortium, because it and others across London are demonstrating that instead of having the top-down diktat of how services should be changed in London, they are in the process of designing, from the point of view of the populations they serve, what the requirement is for them and their services in their area. That is a better and more sustainable basis on which to design community-led and primary care-led services for the future.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): This debate was confused before today. Can the Secretary of State put in writing exactly what things will be put on hold and what things will carry on? For example, he said that he is taking a natural break but GP commissioning groups can still continue to be set up. If the natural break is a good idea, surely that is a pointless exercise.

Mr Lansley: No, the hon. Gentleman misunderstands. I was very clear in my statement and in subsequent responses to questions. Right across the country, there are thousands of people who are developing the pathfinder consortia, taking NHS trusts through to foundation trust status, and building the health and well-being boards and new public health structures in local government. They should be confident in doing that, because the Government continue to be committed to achieving those changes. In the process of doing so, we will engage with them to ensure that the legislation specifically gives them the support that they need.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on engaging and listening. We have all received the 50 or so e-mail circulars from constituents who are concerned, but that does not reflect the evidence on the ground. GPs in Shipston in my constituency are absolutely passionate about the reforms and want to engage fully with them, as do 220 other groups—87% of the country. May I

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make a suggestion to the Secretary of State? Perhaps we should bring all those people who are passionate about this reform and want to take party politics out of it together with Labour Members on a platform so that we can take this forward without petty politics derailing a brilliant piece of legislation.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Labour Members sit and laugh about this, but they ought to realise that 1 million patients a day visit their local general practice surgery. GPs across the country who have come together to form pathfinder consortia—87% of the country—are doing it on the basis that they can improve services for patients. I suspect that they understand the needs of their local community and patients better than many Labour Members, who are not listening to their GPs locally.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I would like to thank the Secretary of State for single-handedly destroying the Government’s reputation on the NHS through this Bill. No amount of minor changes or slowing down of the pace will address the Bill’s fundamental failure to protect the public from privatisation by stealth. If he refuses to resign, is he worthy of his nickname, Broken Arrow—he doesn’t work and he can’t be fired?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman might like to talk to Dr Stewart Findlay, who is among those leading the pathfinder consortium in County Durham. He might like to talk to people locally who are piloting the new 111 telephone system, which will give better access and better urgent care to patients. Instead of sitting there making rather absurd political points, why does he not go and talk to people who are delivering services to patients? That is what the NHS is really about.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): In east Cheshire, there is no lament for the passing of the PCTs. In fact, there is a positive response to GPs having a greater say in how health care is delivered locally. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how GPs will be updated on progress over the coming weeks?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are not only developing communication with GPs in pathfinder consortia, but, more importantly, creating a learning network among GPs in pathfinder consortia, so that these groups across the country will not only learn from each other, but, we hope, arrive at a set of views that help us to design a service that supports them.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): The Secretary of State, who tells us how much he studies the NHS, must know that the King’s Fund tells us that under the Labour Government, Britain’s NHS was the most efficient in the entire world. On that basis, a broad coalition of people, including health experts and the Liberal Democrats, is telling him that this policy is wrong. He apparently came here today to tell us why he is right and all those people are wrong. Is this a genuine consultation, or is it just a pause to get through the local elections before he does what he wants to do anyway?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman is wrong on almost every count. We have seen a decade of declining productivity in the NHS. The Office for National Statistics and the

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National Audit Office set that out recently. We have seen an NHS that, despite record increases in funding, which are welcome, is still not meeting the best European cancer survival rates, as was made clear by the NAO. We need to improve the NHS. The Government are not discounting anybody’s views on how we can best achieve that. In the spirit of continuous improvement in the NHS, there is a spirit of continuously listening about how to make that happen.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State share my amazement that in recent months the Labour party seems to have U-turned on patient choice and on any willing provider, and does not appear to support putting clinicians in charge of commissioning health care? Its only policies seem to be “Save the PCTs”, “Save the SHAs” and “Save NHS bureaucracy”.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Perhaps having increased the number of managers in the NHS by 70%, the Labour party thought that it would be swept to victory on the votes of NHS administrators. That did not happen. People in the NHS knew that waste, inefficiency and excess bureaucracy were not the way to deliver the best care for patients. That was Labour’s way; it will not be our way.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Given that the Secretary of State will not instruct NHS managers to take a natural break in implementing his so-called reforms, does he understand why his intention to make changes after the natural break might be questioned? As colleagues have suggested, is the natural break just like every other Tory consultation—a sham?

Mr Lansley: There is nothing sham about this. This is serious business, not a political game, as it appears to be for Opposition Members. Tens of thousands of people across the NHS are engaged in managing and developing new services, which will deliver improving outcomes and be more responsive to patients, through devolved decision making in the NHS. I think that we should simply help and support them, not least by listening to them.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): The Secretary of State told my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) that the budget for Monitor will be between £50 million and £70 million, but the Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee, on which I sat, heard that it would be between £40 million and £130 million. Does that not show that not only are the Government not listening to this side of the country but are not even listening to their own facts?

Mr Lansley: I answered that question earlier.

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Murder of PC Ronan Kerr

5.44 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the murder of Police Constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh on Saturday afternoon. Shortly before 4 pm, a device exploded, destroying his car in Highfield close, a quiet residential neighbourhood in the town: 25-year-old Constable Kerr died as a result of his injuries. I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of this brave young officer. He was a local man who, having gained a university degree, decided upon a career in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. He dedicated his life to the service of the whole community; the terrorists who murdered him want to destroy that community. The contrast could not be clearer.

These terrorists continue to target police officers and endanger the lives of the public. We all pay tribute to the PSNI and the Garda for their remarkable commitment and for their success in thwarting a number of recent attacks. Working seamlessly together, last year they charged 80 people with terrorist offences, compared with 17 in 2009. However, regrettably, on Saturday a device exploded, killing Constable Kerr. His murder was a revolting and cowardly act perpetrated by individuals intent on defying the wishes of the people.

Following Saturday’s attack, the PSNI immediately began a painstaking murder inquiry. The House will understand that that meticulous work is still in the early stages. I saw the Chief Constable yesterday and I know that the PSNI, working closely with the Garda Siochana, will not rest until these evil people are brought to justice. I reiterate in the strongest terms the Chief Constable’s appeal for anyone with any information to bring it to the police.

The PSNI has support from right across the community and is responsible to locally elected politicians. Just over a year ago, we strongly supported the previous Government’s determination to devolve policing and justice, and we backed the very significant financial package that accompanied that devolution. After the election we endorsed proposals for a further £50 million for the PSNI, specifically to confront the terrorist threat. In the national security strategy, published last October, we made countering terrorist groups a tier 1 priority. We have agreed an exceptional £200 million of additional funding over four years, as requested by the Chief Constable, so that he can plan ahead with certainty.

As the Prime Minister said on Saturday,

“the British Government stands fully behind the Chief Constable and his officers as they work to protect Northern Ireland from terrorism”.

That cannot be done by a security response alone, crucial though that is. It can be resolved in the long term only by the community itself, together with strong leadership by local politicians. That leadership was evident again this morning when the First and Deputy First Ministers and the Justice Minister stood as one with the Chief Constable to reiterate their determination that these terrorists will never succeed. They all called for the active support of the PSNI. They spoke for the

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people of Northern Ireland, and their condemnation of this grotesque murder has been echoed in London, Dublin and Washington.

Our clear and united message to these terrorists is that they will not destabilise the power-sharing institutions at Stormont, they will not deter young Catholic men and women from joining the police service, and they will not drag Northern Ireland back to the past.

Thirteen years ago, the agreement was endorsed by overwhelming majorities in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That was the true democratic voice of the people of Ireland, north and south. They, above all, will ensure that the terrorists fail. The visit of Her Majesty the Queen will shortly reinforce the fact that relations within these islands have never been stronger.

Today, politics in Northern Ireland is stable. The democratic process is established. An Assembly has completed its first full term in decades. At the elections in May, voters will choose their politicians to serve in the new Assembly based on everyday bread-and-butter issues. That is democracy in action.

Those who murdered police Constable Ronan Kerr fear democracy. The Omagh bomb in 1998 did not destroy the peace process. The terrorists failed then and they will fail now. They will not deflect us from our shared determination to build a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland for everyone.

In the powerful and moving words of Constable Kerr’s mother yesterday:

“We were so proud of Ronan and all that he stood for. Don’t let his death be in vain.”

Mr Shaun Woodward (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The House can only echo and underline the sincerity and unity with which the leaders of all Northern Ireland’s political parties—nationalist, republican and Unionist—have spoken. The Opposition are part of that single voice, which reverberated around the world this weekend.

We remember Constable Ronan Kerr with profound respect. Our hearts go out to his mother and family, and to the people of Omagh, for whom the brutal assassination reopens a deep wound. We think, too, of the police family of Northern Ireland, who today deeply mourn their colleague, but will be at work, the gravest risks to each no less, serving the community selflessly.

The men and women of the PSNI do not see themselves as extraordinary, but in what we ask of them, in the gravest risks that they daily face, we know them as extraordinary. In his courage and service, Ronan Kerr exemplified that spirit. His commitment to working for one community—Protestant and Catholic—stands in absolute juxtaposition to the deluded and demonic deeds of those who targeted him.

However futile their actions, those behind the psychotic acts of violence seek to bring fear and terror back to the streets of Northern Ireland. Constable Kerr was not an isolated target, nor was the attack random. His death is profoundly shocking, but an attack on a police officer is not a surprise.

When the Belfast agreement was signed, as the head of MI5 acknowledged last year, we all hoped that the residual threat from terrorism in Northern Ireland would remain low and gradually decline. Regrettably, optimism must give way to realism. The threat is not low: today it

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is severe. It is more serious today than in nearly 15 years and it is ongoing. A serious terrorist incident was attempted almost every week last year—a dramatic and regrettable escalation on previous years. Those people have improved capacity, increasingly sophisticated technical and engineering capability, and they aspire to extend their reach.

Today’s terrorists may have little or no community support, but we make a grave mistake if we do not recognise that, in addition to those who refused to accept the peace agenda, a new generation is growing up, delusionally embracing a new wave of criminal and deadly violence. Their numbers grow significantly. Bordering on psychotic, their ambition is to instil fear through attempted bombings and murders. Their aspirations extend beyond Northern Ireland to Britain.

Excepting national security, responsibility today for policing and justice is devolved to Stormont. However, devolution does not absolve us at Westminster of our broader responsibilities to the people of Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State recently succeeded in persuading the Treasury to provide additional resources from the reserve. He is to be congratulated on that. That, of course, was before this attack.

If the Chief Constable should require—to fulfil the ongoing demands of community policing for the public and, of course, for the safety of his officers—further additional resources for overtime, forensics, vehicles and other items to meet the threat, will the Secretary of State reassure the House that they will be agreed and made available without delay?

To tackle today’s threat, we must ensure that we not only contain the existing terrorists, but do all we can to stop alienated young people being drawn into that pattern of crime. The Secretary of State will know of the work of Co-operation Ireland, which is urgently seeking additional financial support for its critical work from, among others, the British Government. He knows the former deputy Chief Constable, Peter Sheridan, who leads that work. The organisation has made cutting-edge proposals, tackling the sectarian legacy but also dealing with real problems in the present. Will the Secretary of State consider the proposals sympathetically and renew his support for additional funding with the Chancellor?

The Home Secretary raised the threat level in Great Britain last September. To ensure that we are guided not by optimism, but by realism, will the Secretary of State reassure the House that the Government will learn from not only the mistakes that we made in the past, but the security measures that we got right?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is satisfied from discussions with the Home Secretary that here in Britain police forces have and will continue to have the resources they need to address the threat appropriately? Will he also confirm that, at all levels of Government, there is no complacency? Prevention should be our guide.

On national security, and if we are to learn, as the head of MI5 said, from “the pattern of history”, will the Secretary of State tell the House that he is fully satisfied with the co-operation between the PSNI and forces here in Britain, including on timely and comprehensive sharing of information?

Without capability, the threat from terrorists will be significantly contained. Those who supply the criminals must also be brought to justice. Will the Secretary of

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State confirm that anyone involved today or in the past in the supply of weapons or explosives will not be given immunity from prosecution? Will he confirm that, should the PSNI wish to conduct interviews with any foreign nationals currently in Britain, the Government would immediately help facilitate that?

Hon. Members will have seen the statement that Constable Kerr’s mother made on television last night. Yesterday was mothering Sunday. When so many sons and daughters remembered what their mothers had given for them, Constable Kerr’s mother, in her darkest hours of grief, shared with our country what her precious son meant to her and her family. We all have a duty to ensure that Ronan’s death will not be in vain. Let us be judged on what we now do.

Mr Paterson: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and support, which send a strong signal across the world that the House is united on the issue.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned contingency. We have made it clear that, as under the arrangements that he fixed with the Executive at the time, should the threat increase, we are prepared to consider the reserve, but let us look at what we have done. We confirmed £50 million last year and got an exceptional £200-million programme agreed this year for the next four years. Today, the Chief Constable said:

“We have the resources, we have the resilience and we have the commitment.”

As I said in the statement, we are supportive of work with community groups, and I spoke to the chairman of Co-operation Ireland this morning. We will consider a range of alternatives because, as I made clear, there is not just a security solution.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made counter-terrorism a priority, and budgets are protected. I am absolutely confident that there is increasing and improved co-ordination between the PSNI and GB-based forces. She came to Belfast to discuss that with the Chief Constable a few months ago.

Finally, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that no immunity has been given to anyone. If he were present for the statement from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, he would have heard him say quite clearly that Musa Kusa is not being offered any immunity from British or international justice. He also said during his statement that we believe in the rule of law.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. This is a matter of the utmost gravity, which is being treated as such by the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State. However, I hope the House will understand when I remind Members of the very heavy pressures upon time, the further Government statement to follow and an Opposition day debate. Therefore, brevity from Back Bench and Front alike from now on is vital, and it will be enforced if necessary from the Chair. It is no good Members saying, “Ah, but the point I had to make was important.” They are all important, but we must make progress, and I cannot guarantee accommodating everybody.

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Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): May I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement, and on behalf of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee join him in condemning this evil and cowardly murder? I do not believe that those people have any legitimate political aims, but, if they do, is it not worth drawing a parallel and reminding them that a murderous campaign by the IRA made any change in the jurisdiction and constitutional position of Northern Ireland less, rather than more, likely?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for his comments and for the Committee’s support on this issue. We are quite clear that there are now mechanisms for everyone in Northern Ireland to pursue their legitimate political ambitions by peaceful, democratic means. There is absolutely no excuse, and no place for violence that is in theory for a political cause.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Our sympathies and prayers are with the Kerr family at this terrible time. I spoke to Mrs Kerr yesterday in her family home. Her courage and bravery, and that of her son Ronan, stand in stark contrast to the cowardly callousness of those who murdered him. At this time, does the Secretary of State agree that the best answer, as I said at Prime Minister’s questions only last Wednesday, is for the people of Northern Ireland to stand together, as they are standing together, as one community, to reject these men of violence, and to keep Northern Ireland moving forward? That is the clear, united voice coming from Northern Ireland and this House today, and Ronan’s death will not be in vain.

Mr Paterson: I wholeheartedly concur with the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. For Mrs Kerr, yesterday afternoon, under those circumstances, on mother’s day, to welcome politicians to her house and to come out after that to make the statement that she made, was a quite remarkable moment. We all owe it to her to do exactly as the right hon. Gentleman says—to rally round together. I encourage everyone to participate, campaign and vote in the coming elections in Northern Ireland, to show that that is the way for Northern Ireland to progress.

Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): May I offer my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Constable Ronan Kerr? Will the Secretary of State join me in continuing to support, honour and celebrate the brave men and women of the PSNI, which can today proudly and rightly say that it is drawn from all communities in Northern Ireland?

Mr Paterson: I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that we now have a police service that is well manned with personnel from right across the community, with strong local support, and one that is endorsed by all the main political parties. That is a major force for good.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. As the only leader of a Northern Ireland party who is a Member of this House, I wish to add the voice of the Social Democratic and Labour party to those who have

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condemned this murder, and who are determined that its perpetrators are brought to justice. I was happy yesterday to speak to Mrs Nuala Kerr, and to her two sons and daughter, to convey those sympathies on behalf of the wider community and my party.

Such killing was always wrong. It was wrong even when there was some political support for such violence. While we grieve for Constable Kerr and remember Constable Carroll, let us include in our prayers all those who have died throughout Northern Ireland.

Given the level of infiltration of the dissident groups by the security services, will the Secretary of State give a firm assurance that the PSNI will receive every scrap of information and intelligence that is held by the security services that could be relevant to its investigation of this appalling murder of Constable Ronan Kerr? May I join other hon. Members in urging all members of the wider community in Northern Ireland who have information to pass it on to the PSNI in order to assist with the inquiry?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We must have much shorter questions, although I understand their importance.

Mr Paterson: I wholeheartedly concur with the hon. Lady’s comments. Her party has a proud record of pursuing its political ambitions by democratic means through the most difficult times. She asked about the security services. I shall repeat the comments of Lord Carlile, who is an independent assessor of these matters:

“MI5 and the PSNI are working very closely together and one really could not have more work being done and more energetically to try and deal with what is a very difficult threat”.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Will the Secretary of State join me in commending Nuala Kerr for the conspicuous and formidable moral leadership she has shown since the callous and senseless murder of her son, and in urging all politicians to demonstrate the same conspicuous and formidable moral leadership in dealing with the terrorists who murdered her son?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that strong comment. I entirely concur with what he said about Mrs Kerr, and I remind everyone of what she said yesterday.

“We all need to stand up and be counted and to strive for equality…We don’t want to go back into the dark days again of fear and terror.”

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): May I add my sincere sympathies to those expressed by the Secretary of State to the family, colleagues and friends of Constable Ronan Kerr. I also add to the Secretary of State’s call to those who have information that could lead to those who perpetrated the attack being brought to justice. Their destructive and murderous attack is in stark contrast to the constructive role that the PSNI plays in our community in trying to build for the future.

Does the Secretary of State agree that this was an attempt to drive young Catholics out of the PSNI, and to drive a wedge between it and the community? Does he agree that the best way to avoid that is for us to stand shoulder to shoulder with those police officers and give them our full support?

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Mr Paterson: I am very grateful for the hon. Lady’s supportive comments. She rightly paid tribute to the Kerr family. I again quote Mrs Kerr, who yesterday said:

“I urge all Catholic members not to be deterred”.

I do not believe that they will be.

Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con): The thing that sets the Provisional IRA apart from the dissident republicans is that in the early 1990s the Provisional IRA recognised that above what it wanted was what the public and community wanted, and that the community did not want violence as a way of solving the troubles. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to tell us whether the whole Catholic community is fully behind the family of Constable Kerr, and will he consider redoubling his efforts to ensure that more Catholics join the PSNI?

Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend gives me an excellent opportunity to confirm that to my knowledge there is overwhelming support for the legitimate institutions and for the legitimate, peaceful parties—I cite as an example the minute’s silence at the Gaelic Athletics Association game yesterday in Tyrone, which is a very strong republican area. There is absolutely no place for political violence in Northern Ireland.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): May I also join the Secretary of State in extending my deepest sympathy to Mrs Kerr and her family? Does he share my concern that, more than two years on, those who were charged with the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll are still to come to trial? Will he take this opportunity to voice his strong support for Minister Ford’s efforts to speed up the justice system in Northern Ireland, so that those who go out to murder police officers will be reminded not only that they will be caught, but that if they are convicted they will spend most if not the whole of the rest of their lives in prison?

Mr Paterson: The right hon. Gentleman will have direct experience of these matters and I know that there has been frustration in the past about the slowness of the system, so I congratulate Justice Minister Ford on having introduced measures to speed things up. I also point out that there were 17 charges in 2009, that the number jumped to 80 in 2010 and that there have already been 16 charges this year, so we are definitely bringing in measures to speed things up.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): The death of Constable Kerr is obviously an extremely sad event, but will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the policemen and soldiers who cleared a 40 lb anti-personnel device this time last week in the centre of Londonderry, and will he explain whether he believes that the two incidents are linked?

Mr Paterson: I thank my hon. Friend for that question and I am happy to put on the record my wholehearted congratulations—I touched on this in my statement—of the work not just of the PSNI but of the Garda Siochana, who are working extremely closely. I think we should pay tribute to the co-operation we are getting from the Dublin Government, from both parties. I have talked to

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Eamon Gilmore—the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Tanaiste—and to Alan Shatter, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence. Today, I also talked to Martin Callinan, the Commissioner, and I confirm that we are working extremely closely. My hon. Friend is right that there has been a succession of events, week after week; I would not want to comment today on whether they are linked to this one, but we are determined to work together and bear down on these dangerous people.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the Secretary of State on his leadership at this time, which is much appreciated by MPs from Northern Ireland. We do not want to be dragged back to the past and the dark history that we had for many years. I am aware that there has been a large reduction in the number of police officers, which might have fallen to approximately 7,000. What steps will the Secretary of State be taking in relation to resources and training to ensure that the stipulated 7,500 figure is reached through the urgent and immediate training of officers to ensure that we have significant and adequate police coverage on the ground?

Mr Paterson: On police numbers, we have contributed major extra funds this year, as requested by the Chief Constable. I repeat what he said today:

“We have the resources, we have the resilience and we have the commitment.”

How he divides up the funds that have been provided to him and the Justice Minister is a matter for him. Those are operational matters and not for me to answer from here.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I thank the Secretary of State for the statement that he has unfortunately had to make today. Our thoughts are with the Kerr family, the policing family and all those for whom the awful events of the weekend have been a dreadful reminder of their own trauma. The Secretary of State rightly commended the strength of political unity. Does he agree that it is hugely important, in the context of the election campaign, that all parties make it clear that there is no political difficulty or difference that these terrorists can exploit for their warped agenda? Does he agree that Constable Kerr was a patriot and that those who killed him were not? He was a patriot who was honouring his country in the service of all in his community.

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Mr Paterson: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I entirely endorse his comments about Constable Kerr, who could have pursued another career. He had a university degree in a totally separate subject but he decided to work in his community for the benefit of the community. I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the behaviour of local politicians and local parties. The election campaign of the next few weeks is a glorious opportunity to rebut everything that these violent terrorists stand for. The election should be entirely about day-to-day issues. As I have said, I encourage every voter to participate and turn out. I encourage them to put these people in their place and show them that they have absolutely no representation or support anywhere in the community in Northern Ireland.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): If the Provisional IRA could not achieve its aims over 30 years, despite all the crimes and atrocities it committed, why should the dissident republicans believe they can succeed?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. To put it bluntly, they will not succeed, but one has to ask what on earth they think they achieved by ending this bright young man’s career just as it began.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State welcome the strong support from Secretary of State Clinton in her condemnation of this brutal murder? Will he assure the people of America that there is no support in the United Kingdom, in Northern Ireland, in the Republic or in the American Government for these brutal murderers who should be brought to justice as a matter of urgency?

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. We have had unstinting support from both parties in Washington and I was touched that Hillary Clinton, given everything else that is going on in the world, put out a very strong statement condemning this “cowardly act”, which she said represented the “failures of the past”. She said that the perpetrators’ actions

“run counter to the achievements, aspirations and collective will of the people of Northern Ireland”.

I spoke to Congressman King last night, who is the chairman of the Friends of Ireland group. He, too, has put out an extremely strong statement, which we all welcome.

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State Pension Reform

6.15 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a short statement about state pensions. The coalition has already taken steps to support current pensioners by reintroducing the earnings link for the basic state pension. Indeed, we went one step further with our triple guarantee, which will mean that a pensioner retiring today can expect to receive about £15,000 more in basic pension over the life of their retirement. However, the pensioners of tomorrow face a new landscape. With longevity continuing to increase, future pensioners can expect to work for longer and they may not have the same levels of housing equity. They are less likely to have the certainty of a final salary pension and from 2012 we will introduce a new system of automatic enrolment into workplace pensions.

Today, the Government are publishing a consultation document, which looks at whether the existing pensions system is suitable for meeting the challenges of the future. This Green Paper marks the next step in the coalition’s plan to create a system that is fair and simple for pensioners and that rewards those people who do the right thing and take responsibility for their future. It is right that we ask people to take responsibility for their retirement by saving over the course of their working lives, but it is also right that the Government should play their part by ensuring that we support those who make the right choices for their future and those of their families.

If we want to encourage pension saving, the key is getting the state pension system right. The current system has been in a sort of permanent evolution for decades, which means that planning for retirement is fiendishly complex. The Green Paper sets out two options for reform, neither of which involves spending more money on future pensioners than has already been forecast through the existing system. The key is to spend the money we have better. The objective is clear: to move to a simple, contributory state pension system that provides flat-rate support above the level of the means-tested guarantee credit, which would be easy to understand, efficient to deliver and provide a firm foundation for further saving.

The first option involves bringing forward existing reforms so that the state pension would evolve into a two-tier, flat rate system more quickly. The second, more radical, option is to move to a single-tier state pension. Both options are for future pensioners; pensioners who have already reached state pension age by the date of reform would not be affected, so no existing recipient of state pension would see their income reduced. For future pensioners, we would also continue to honour the contributions that people have built up to the date of reform. The option of a single-tier state pension would be a marked improvement on the current system, which is dogged by complexity and confusion. During the transition, many would receive their single-tier pension from a combination of their state and contracted-out scheme, as happens now, which means that they would receive less than the currently estimated £140 directly from their state pension.

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Let me give hon. Members an idea of just how confusing the present UK pension system is for the average person. The Pensions Commission has described it as one of the most complex in the world and a departmental survey on attitudes to pensions found that barely one in four people agreed that

“they knew enough about pensions to decide with confidence about how to save for retirement.”

Worse still, few people have a clear idea of what their state pension will be worth when they retire. Critically, the current system actually discourages some people from putting anything aside; the mass reliance on means-tested benefits leaves people unsure whether they will benefit from the savings they make. Automatic enrolment into workplace pensions with employer contributions are due to start from next year, so we need to give people more clarity and certainty about what they will get from the state, thereby giving them a firm foundation for decisions about saving to fund their retirement.

For women, the low-paid and the self-employed, the state pension system can produce unfair outcomes. As a result, people in those broad groups are far more likely to have poorer state pensions, which we will address. Under a single-tier state pension, for example, the self-employed would be able to build up as good a state pension as anyone else. They stand to gain around £1.40 a week of state pension for every year of national insurance contributions that they make, up to a maximum of 30 years. That could provide them with a state pension of around £140 a week, instead of the current rate of £97. Currently, less than 50% of women in their late 40s or early 50s are expected to get £140 a week from state pension income in retirement. Our proposals would address that. We are clear that reform on this scale could take many years to deliver, but the prize—providing clarity to savers and all those planning for their retirement —is a real one.

There are two other, related issues. The Government recognise that means-tested benefits play an important role in targeting support where it is needed most and provide an essential safety net for the most vulnerable. However, means-tested benefits add to complexity and can be a real disincentive to saving for many people. Therefore, in addition to consulting on the two state pension options that I have briefly mentioned, the Green Paper seeks views on whether the current system of means-tested support would best meet the needs of future pensioners. On the state pension age, as life expectancy projections continue to be revised upwards, we also have a responsibility to ensure that the pensions system is sustainable and that the costs of increasing longevity are shared fairly between the generations. Therefore, as well as reforms to the state pension, we are consulting on the most appropriate mechanism for determining future changes to the state pension age.

As the coalition addresses those issues, I shall be seeking as many views and contributions to the debate as possible. We shall be asking all interested parties—hon. Members, employers, pension providers, members of the public and specialists—to work with us to ensure that we deliver the state pension system that the people of this country deserve. If we want future generations to take responsibility for their retirement, we need to deliver a simpler and fairer state pension system that acts as a foundation for people to build up to a decent income in retirement. Fairer, simpler systems that reward

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people who do the right thing and take personal responsibility for themselves and their families—these are precisely the same themes that run through the welfare reforms being implemented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, from the universal credit to the Work programme.

With the Welfare Reform Bill we have set out how the coalition will transform working-age benefits to make work pay and tackle the root causes of poverty and welfare dependency, but we also need people to save for their retirement. We need automatic enrolment and employer contributions to work. With today’s Green Paper we are setting out how we plan to transform the pensions system and create a simple, decent state pension that is easy to understand and efficient to administer. We need to ensure that saving for the future pays. I am proud to be part of this bold, reforming agenda. Today’s Green Paper is a step on the road to a radical reform of the state pension system, and I commend this paper to the House.

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement—half an hour before he got to his feet. Given that the pensions Minister and the Secretary of State chose to announce the most positive elements of the Green Paper to the media over the weekend, I cannot help feeling that I am the only person who still has not seen it. Today we have heard proposals that include a universal flat-rate pension and further increases in the state pension age. Although in principle the move to a more simplified system is welcome, it raises a number of important questions.

The Labour Government recognised the importance of pension reform. Labour made great inroads, particularly in lifting more than 1 million pensioners out of poverty and in recognising the vital role that people—mainly women—play as carers. The Labour Government reduced the number of years needed to qualify for a basic state pension to 30, helping women, while more generous credits for carers have ensured that more people are now entitled to a higher level of the state second pension. Labour also introduced automatic enrolment, helping the up to 8 million people who previously did not put money aside for their pensions to save. Although we welcome the fact that the Government are continuing with automatic enrolment, we disagree with the watering down of some of those proposals.

Previous changes to the state pension mean that, based on new accrual rates and assuming 30 years of national insurance contributions or caring credits, a low-paid woman or someone in a caring role would be entitled to a basic state pension of £102.15 a week, plus £43.50 in the state second pension, totalling £145.65 a week, or more if she had 40 years of contributions. The figure of £140 a week that the Minister set out must be seen in that context. Pensioners and families must assess the proposals carefully to ensure that they are not worse off than they would have been under Labour’s plans. Can the Minister give some reassurances about the other benefits that pensioners receive, including free TV licences, prescriptions, eye tests, support with council tax, bus passes, the winter fuel allowance and cold weather payments? In the Budget we saw a cut in the winter fuel allowance, despite rising energy prices and two successive cold winters. Will the Minister explain how

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he will account for those benefits in the new system, or say whether we will see further cuts, by stealth or otherwise?

I have a few brief questions about affordability and fairness. The Chancellor announced in his Budget that the reforms would cost no more than the current system, yet the Pensions Policy Institute estimates that a flat-rate pension at a guaranteed credit level will cost almost 1% of GDP after 13 years. That must imply that although some will be better off under the Government’s plans, some will also be worse off. The Minister has spoken eloquently about the potential winners, but the distributional impacts are critical, so will he confirm who will be worse off under the new proposed system?

On fairness, the Minister has said that accrued rights will be protected. Forgive me for being a bit sceptical, but he said the same about the switch in uprating from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index. However, in this instance I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Can he guarantee that someone in their 50s who has worked all their life on average earnings and has never contracted out of the state second pension will still be entitled to a more generous state pension than someone who has not paid in? If not, does he think it fair that those contracting out and getting defined benefit pensions in retirement could receive the same state pension as their counterparts who have paid full national insurance contributions throughout their careers? If those who have paid in get more than £140, will the change really be cost-neutral? If some will get less than £140 based on lower contributions, will the Minister ensure that no one falls below the guaranteed credit level? In what way can that be called a flat-rate pension?

The Government’s proposals could have serious implications for the future of defined benefit schemes, because they will end the rebate for those on DB schemes. Given the importance of occupational savings for retirement income, as the Minister said, what are his estimates of the generosity of DB schemes—and, indeed, their overall survival—given the changes? The changes in contracting-out touch on a wider point. The post-world war welfare state is based on the contributory principle. We welcome the news that any new flat-rate system will keep contributions at their core, and that anyone with 30 years’ national insurance contributions will be entitled to the newly formulated pension. However, given the Chancellor’s announcement that the Government intend to merge tax and national insurance, will the Minister explain how the contributory principle will work in practice if that merger takes place? Will he also give a reassurance that taxes will not go up for pensioners, who of course do not pay national insurance?

The other, less briefed elements of today’s Green Paper include the automatic mechanism for increasing the state pension age to make future increases fair and smooth, with time for people to plan. The move comes too late for the 500,000 women who will have to wait a year longer before they receive their state pension and the 33,000 women who will have to wait exactly two years before receiving their state pension. Does the Minister now recognise that the accelerated timetable for the state pension age for women in their 50s does not spread the cost fairly or, with just five years’ notice, leave enough time to prepare?

To conclude, the Green Paper does nothing for today’s pensioners, because a flat-rate pension will be for only new pensioners. Today’s pensioners are suffering at the

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hands of this Government, with an increase in VAT to 20%, which sees pensioners worse off by £200 a year, low savings rates and a £100 cut in the winter fuel allowance. Although a flat-rate pension of £140 sounds good in theory, the Chancellor says that there is no new money, so who will lose out? It is quite likely to be families on average earnings, or just a bit more, who have worked hard and brought up a family, paying their full national insurance contributions. Some people will be worse off under the reforms, yet the Government want to talk about only the winners. In the final chapter of the review, the Government suggested that a crude formula could be used for uprating the state pension age. They have already hit women in their late 50s with a two-year increase in their state pension age; now they want to use a formula that pays no attention to health in later life, so we will all be waiting longer and longer to get our pensions.

We welcome the intent behind today’s Green Paper. We want a more progressive and less complicated system, but I am yet to be convinced that today’s Green Paper will achieve that.

Steve Webb: I did write the hon. Lady’s words down—in principle, she welcomed the Green Paper, so I am grateful for her warm comments about our proposals. She asked a number of specific questions, and I shall try to respond to them.

The hon. Lady seemed to imply that women would get £145 anyway, so wondered why we needed to do anything. That, however, is decades away. Equality between men and women in the state pension system is decades away, and we think that is too slow. Many women who did their child rearing in the ’80s and ’90s got no state second pension protection because it did not exist at that time. They will be retiring over the coming years and we are now bringing forward that protection for them. We do not want to wait 20 years for equality.

The hon. Lady asked an important question about passported benefits and we will need to consider the implications of these changes for those benefits. She had the cheek to suggest that the winter fuel payment had been cut in comparison with what she would have provided if she were in office. She will be well aware that we are sticking precisely to the budgets that her right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, wrote. He will know perfectly well how much he put aside for the winter fuel payments, and we are doing exactly what he planned.

The hon. Lady asked about the Pensions Policy Institute and its estimate that a £140 flat-rate pension would cost 1% of gross domestic product. What she may have misunderstood from the report is that the question it asked was what it would cost if that amount were paid to everybody. That is where its figure came from. We are saying that we will create this for new pensioners, because new pensioners face a new world in which they will work longer, retire later and have fewer final salary pension schemes, so we need a system that is fit for them.

The hon. Lady sought reassurance on two points and the answer is yes to both of them. We will honour past service and we will make an adjustment, as I said in my statement, for contracted-out periods.

The hon. Lady asked about the future of final salary pension schemes after 13 years of decline under Labour. She will be pleased to know that the National Association

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of Pension Funds—the trade body for company pensions —welcomes these reforms and supports them, but we are in dialogue with those operating large final salary pension schemes to discuss how these changes will impact on them and how we can work with them to move towards the sort of simpler scheme that they and we want to see.

The hon. Lady asked about merging what the Chancellor referred to as the operation of the tax and national insurance system, which is certainly at an exploratory stage, but he has made it clear that pensions will be protected under these changes and that the contributory principle will remain.

Finally, the hon. Lady asked about the mechanism for raising the state pension age. She referred to a crude formula, but there are options in the Green Paper. One is to have an automatic mechanism for raising the pension age as longevity increases; the other is to adopt a more nuanced approach to take account of a range of factors. We would welcome feedback on that.

Overall, I think the hon. Lady welcomed our proposals, particularly the fact that they will benefit women and self-employed people and will lead to a fairer system. She said that she wanted to see a fairer system; in office, the Labour Government never delivered one, but through this Green Paper, we will.

Mr Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): In welcoming the statement and the Green Paper, I congratulate the Minister on achieving a long-held ambition in the pensions world of creating much more certainty and transparency about the state pension system so as to encourage saving in the longer term, as well as on helping the more vulnerable groups he mentioned, such as women, who will get help that much earlier. Will he say more about the time scale? He talked about the long distance we still have to go before achieving justice for women, so what improvement will these changes bring and what is the Minister’s time scale?

Steve Webb: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who brings his great knowledge of these issues to the House and to the Select Committee of which he is a member. As he says, we need a simpler system. He will appreciate that these things take time; we will need to consult and then respond. In due course, we hope to legislate to re-programme the computers and so forth. As the Chancellor said, we are talking about some years to implement the reforms, but we are clearly keen to move forward as fast as we possibly can.

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): I was listening hard to the Minister’s reply to the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), and I noticed that he provided no examples, in response to her request, of those who would be worse off as a result of these changes. There must be some losers. Presumably, they will include the group who enjoy pension credit now, but have not paid enough contributions to justify the new flat-rate pension. What will happen to that group? As for women, surely if they have not made the contributions, they will not be any better off than they are now.

Steve Webb: I am grateful to the Select Committee Chair for her questions. To be clear on the role of pension credit, we envisage that there will have to be a

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safety net under any system, and the Green Paper provides for consultation about what exactly that might look like. There will still be a guaranteed credit type system—a floor below which people cannot fall. In a single-tier pension world, the savings credit would no longer be necessary for new pensioners. In other words, the savings credit was invented by the previous Government to deal with the fact that 100% marginal tax rates were paid on any saving. Because we are not doing that any more, we will not need the savings credit for new pensioners, which helps to pay for the reform. It is less means-testing, more universal pension.

The hon. Lady rightly mentions the position of women and my point is that women under the current system, who often did their child rearing before the state second pension was introduced, have no protection at all, whereas they have basic pension protection. Under a single-tier world, they get protection at the full rate, so they will benefit from the reforms we are introducing.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): My hon. Friend the Pensions Minister has not only this very month introduced the link between pensions and earnings, for which pensioners have been calling for years, but now makes a clear bid to be the most popular Pensions Minister for decades, in announcing the option of the citizens pension for which he and I have campaigned for ever. It is clearly fairer, simpler and particularly helpful to women and the self-employed. I urge my hon. Friend to be as bold and reforming as he suggests option 2 would allow. I urge him to go fully through the consultation process, but when midsummer’s day arrives—the last day of the consultation—I urge him to go for the single tier state pension so that this Government’s legacy for pensioners will be as radical in this century as the legacy of Lloyd George and Beveridge was for pensioners in the last.

Steve Webb: My right hon. Friend puts me on the spot, but I am glad to respond positively. I have noted his comments down as being the first response to my consultation, making it 1-0 for the single-tier option—I will keep score as we go. He is right that the restoration of the earnings link after 30 years of breaking it is an historic event, although it has been rather overshadowed by other events in the world. We think someone retiring this year will, over the years, get an extra £15,000 in basic state pension through the restoration of the link. That is a real firm foundation for today’s pensioners as well as reform for tomorrow’s. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend in respect of the liberal heritage and to my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Chancellor for their encouragement for the proposal to move forward.

Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North) (Lab): It is humbling to follow a question from a “for ever” Member of Parliament.

May I ask about the mechanism for determining future changes to state pension age? Could this mechanism please allow for occupational and social class differences in terms of life expectancy? If we look at men who work in what are called routine occupations, such as van drivers, cleaners and labourers, we see that almost a fifth of them—19%, I believe—die before they receive

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the state pension at 65. If we keep raising the state pension age without allowing for those people who have been working since they were 15 or 16, we will certainly bring insensitivity into the system.

Steve Webb: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who brings great knowledge of these issues to the House. He raises a vital point. Although it is true that life expectancy across the social classes has been improving, which is entirely to be welcomed, there are still very significant differences. One suggested option in the Green Paper is that the review mechanism should take account of a wide range of factors of the very sort that he mentioned. It is possible to have a too formulaic or automatic approach, but the right hon. Gentleman will have noted that the Chancellor referred in the Budget to a “more automatic” approach, taking systematic account of increases in life expectancy, but potentially of other factors such as those that he mentioned.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): In welcoming the Green Paper and particularly the emphasis it places on removing means-testing as a deterrent to saving, will the Minister confirm how he intends to treat caring responsibilities and their role in contributing towards the build-up of a pension?

Steve Webb: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I know of the expertise she brings to the Select Committee on these issues. We propose that bringing up the next generation or caring for an elderly relative will be valued by society just as much as a high-paid job. A year will be a year will be a year. If someone is contributing to society in that way or in paid work or in other ways, it will bring them one thirtieth of a single state pension. We think that is a big step in the right direction, which will be widely welcomed around the House.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): We welcome the Green Paper and the consultation that will ensue. We agree that moving away from means-testing and complexity towards a universal flat-rate pension is greatly to be welcomed. The Minister says that this will not entail spending any more money. Given that so many pensioners today do not claim all the means-tested benefits to which they are entitled—this is a big factor in these reforms and should again be welcomed—does it not mean that more money will need to be spent to make up for the fact that people do not claim? If so, will the Minister guarantee that that money will be provided?

Steve Webb: The right hon. Gentleman has made an important point, namely that under the current system many people are entitled to top-ups and do not claim them, whereas pretty much everyone claims the state pension. The new system will guarantee that a great many people will live clear of the poverty line for the first time. As the right hon. Gentleman says, a price tag is attached, and we have factored that into our costings. Although the prospective state pensions of the very highest earners will be lower than they would otherwise have been, many lower earners and people who would not otherwise have taken up their entitlement to pension credit will be in a better position, and we consider that to be a fairer system overall.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): What the Minister has announced will be enormously welcome in my constituency. I know from correspondence with my constituents that they will be particularly interested in the raising of the state pension age, because they want a degree of certainty about when they can expect to retire. I urge the Minister to provide that certainty as rapidly as possible.

Steve Webb: As my hon. Friend says, people want certainty about the future. We have said that we must move rapidly in respect of those reaching the age of 66. However, the new mechanism is designed not just to make changes more automatic, but to provide notice periods. Young people will not have that certainty, because life expectancy is always changing, but as people approach the state pension age, we want to be able to give them more certainty. That is part of our plans.

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): It is difficult to think of any statement that could be more important than one that commits a Government to paying a state pension above means-tested assistance level. The importance of this statement—which I welcome—stems from the fact that the income of many pensioners is below that level. Even if we take into account those who do not claim means-tested help, a large price tag will be attached to this reform. Will the Minister consider the contribution made by taxpayers through pension tax relief, which favours the wealthy over those who earn least, as one way of financing it?

Steve Webb: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the proposed system. It will be financed on a cost-neutral basis within the system: we will spend less money on means-testing and, for instance, savings credit, we will withdraw some of the very small payments that we currently make to people who do not even live in this country, and we will remove some of the highest accruals for the highest earners. We therefore do not need to involve tax relief. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have refined the previous Government’s plans, so tax relief will be less concentrated on the highest earners, but we have no further plans to change tax relief.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): It is always an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who invariably speaks a great deal of common sense on these issues.

I thank the Minister for publishing the Green Paper, which, along with the introduction of universal credit, constitutes a seminal reform. We in the Government parties are sending the message that it always pays to work and it always pays to save. We are taking radical steps in regard to the choices that we give pensioners on annuities; may I ask the Minister to continue that work? After all, we are talking about the individual savings of pensioners who have worked all their lives.

Steve Webb: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a clear link between the major reforms that the Department is introducing for people of working age and those that it is introducing for those who will reach pension age in the future. “It pays to work” and “it pays to save” must be the right combination.

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My hon. Friend asked about pensioners’ savings. In a world in which we will enrol people in workplace savings, we need them to be confident that they will be better off when they save, and that is one of the specific purposes of the reforms. If my hon. Friend wishes to raise any further points, I will certainly respond to them.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): Given that the introduction of a single-tier pension will be available only to new pensioners, will the safety nets to which the Minister referred in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) include all the existing passported benefits, and will claimants still have to go through a means-tested system in order to obtain them?

Steve Webb: We are not changing the system for current pensioners at all. It will continue as previously budgeted. As for new pensioners, we need to think what paying a pension above the guarantee credit implies for passported benefits, and what sort of system we need. I should be interested to hear people’s ideas, because the issue is important. Hitherto, we have simply assumed that pension credit means poverty and that we must therefore make all the extra payments. We may need a more sophisticated system now, but the role of passported benefits is important, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising it.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I thank the Minister for his statement and for providing us with the rationale behind it. As he will know, people will want to establish whether the single tier really does offer the platform for fairness and adequacy that he has described. They will want clarity and confidence.

The Minister mentioned the need for people to save money for their pensions. What consideration have he and Treasury Ministers given to their ability to afford that, given the hits that they are taking as a result of the withdrawal of some child benefit, the entry of more people into the 40% tax bracket, and the huge challenge posed by tuition fees?

Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point about people’s ability to afford to save. One of the key aspects of automatic enrolment is the fact that an employee’s contribution will trigger an employer contribution of nearly as much, plus tax relief. If an employee contributes 4% of his salary, the employer’s contribution will raise that to 8%, so this is a very affordable form of saving. Of course we want to ensure that people who make such sacrifices in order to save will be better off as a result, and our reforms will make that outcome far more likely than it is at present.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): Plaid Cymru has long campaigned for a living pension, and we welcome the Government’s single tier proposals. The current system does not ensure an adequate income for all pensioners. As Jackie Ashley wrote in today’s Guardian,

“On this issue of complexity Labour in power got it wrong, and should admit it.”

However, does the Minister accept that on the accelerated equalisation of state pension age, the Government are

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in some danger of getting it badly wrong for about half a million women in their late 50s? What assurances can he give about that?

Steve Webb: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for expressing support for the proposal of the single tier on behalf of the Welsh nationalists. As for the issue of state pension ages, the Green Paper involves moves beyond the pension age of 66. The issue raised by the hon. Gentleman will be dealt with in the Pensions Bill, which will be presented to this House shortly, but, beyond that, we are trying to establish a more automatic mechanism that takes account of changes in life expectancy and, perhaps, of other factors as well, such as notice periods—which is, I think, the issue that he has raised—in a more systematic way than we or other Governments have done so far.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): There is some good stuff in what the Minister has said, but every week my office—and, probably, the office of every other Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom—receives queries about small works pensions. Although they amount to a pittance, they remove people’s eligibility for benefits. Will the Minister assure us that such people will not be disadvantaged?

Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. A small occupational pension can make the difference between living in poverty and living with a bit of dignity. Hitherto, given the low state pension of £97 a week, the first £35 or so of company pension has tended to offset £35 of guarantee credit, so people have been no better off. Then the savings credit has come along and given them a bit back, and it is all fiendishly complicated. The beauty of the single tier is that people are above the guarantee credit level from pound one, so the works pension is theirs to keep on top. There is still a housing benefit system and so on, but in principle the works pension will be worth more than it is under the current system.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): May I give the Minister a final opportunity to tell us who the losers will be from his plans for flat-rate pensions?

Steve Webb: I will have another go. We have made it clear that we are not spending more money overall, that there are significant gainers among women, the low paid and the self-employed, and that therefore, inevitably, some people who would have received higher state pensions under the current system will receive flat-rate pensions. Because the current system is earnings-related, the highest earners will tend to receive lower state pensions under this system. The Labour party used to support that sort of thing.