UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT

HOUSE OF COMMONS

REPRESENTATIONS

MADE BEFORE THE

BACKBENCH BUSINESS COMMITTEE

BACKBENCH DEBATES

TUESDAY 10 JULY 2012

STUART ANDREW, FABIAN HAMILTON, GREG MULHOLLAND and DAVID TREDINNICK

DR SARAH WOLLASTON, RICHARD DRAX, DAVID TREDINNICK, RORY STEWART, DR JULIAN LEWIS and JAMES MORRIS

THOMAS DOCHERTY and NEIL PARISH

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 34

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.    

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2.

Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

3.

Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.

4.

Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.

Representations

Made before the Backbench Business

on Tuesday 10 July 2012

Members present:

Natascha Engel (Chair)

Mr David Amess

Mr David Anderson

Bob Blackman

Jane Ellison

John Hemming

Mr Marcus Jones

Ian Mearns

Stuart Andrew, Fabian Hamilton, Greg Mulholland and David Tredinnick made representations.

Q1 Chair: You are very welcome to the Backbench Business Committee.

Before we start, I should say that we do not have any time to allocate between now and recess. The only time that we have left is tomorrow-the sitting hours and air ambulances debates-and the pre-recess Adjournment debate, preceded by another one-hour debate. That is all we have, but we have spoken among ourselves and feel that there may be an option to do something with the pre-recess Adjournment debate, so could we hear what you need from us?

Stuart Andrew: Yes, indeed. You will be aware of the Safe and Sustainable review of children’s heart surgery in England. They have decided to close the unit at Leeds, Leicester and Royal Brompton. We have real concerns about the processes for making that decision, including the scoring. We are very concerned that the decision ignores patient choice and that they said that they would manage patients into going to the units of their decision.

We are also concerned that the move is contrary to the Secretary of State’s decision that any reconfiguration should meet four separate criteria, which have been ignored. There is also cross-party concern, as you will have seen at business questions on Thursday, where time and again Members of Parliament from across the Yorkshire region, and from the areas covered by Leicester and Royal Brompton, raised concerns about this issue. There has been no opportunity for us to raise this in Parliament-there has been no ministerial statement and there has been no opportunity to raise the questions and concerns that we have.

Fabian Hamilton: Some 600,000 people in Yorkshire have signed the petition on this. To echo what Stuart has said, the effect on families will be absolutely appalling. I have a family called the Cook family. Steph Cook has a child called Lyall, who is one year old. He has Down’s syndrome. He has a hole in his heart. For him to get with his mum and his family to Newcastle may mean the difference between life and death if he could go to Leeds instead.

The surgery offered by Leeds is outstanding and he is within a short distance, but others will be further away. I think that we have shown, through the number of questions that were asked last Thursday and the extraordinary effect that this will have on families and individual children within the catchment area of Leeds general infirmary, that they really do need it to remain open.

That is just the Leeds one; we are talking about Leicester and the Royal Brompton as well. The choice issue is very important, but the effect on families and the way that they will be broken up by this, because they will have to go and live in Newcastle, will be profound and appalling.

Greg Mulholland: We happen to be from Leeds and have expressed our concerns, but this is a major national configuration of a very important part of the health service. The key thing from the point of view of coming to see the Committee today is that during the course of the review Ministers correctly said that they could not comment or intervene because it would be seen as political interference. They were correct in doing so, but the understanding always, when we had these discussions with them on the Floor of the House or privately, was that once the review had reported, Ministers would be able to look into it-and, indeed, that we would be able to bring up those concerns.

It is very disappointing that we have not had a peep out of the Department of Health despite asking on the Floor of the House for a statement. With the very real concerns about the flaws in the decision-making process, we must have a debate and we must have it urgently, because there is no official right of appeal in this process. The process is a referral to the Secretary of State. I know that Leeds city council-one council-has made an immediate referral to the Secretary of State and there has still been no reply.

Chair: We all fully appreciate the urgency and the importance of the debate. What I do not want to do is rehearse the debate here, but I fully understand the importance of it.

David Tredinnick: I am speaking both as a Leicestershire Member-an east midlands Member-and as a member of the Health Committee. I support everything that has been said. I am concerned about the process, and I am certainly concerned about the impact on my constituents and others in the area. I think a debate to air these issues would be an excellent idea. It is controversial. There will be great problems for Fabian’s constituents and mine, so I would very much like to add my weight to the voices on my right.

Q2 Jane Ellison: The critical thing that we are trying to understand is your timing. Obviously, there was a half-day debate on the Safe and Sustainable review that this Committee awarded last year, in which many other Members had a chance to speak, but now this is responding to the review’s decisions. The Chairman has already said that we have hardly any flexibility this side of the summer recess. What are you looking for in terms of the timing? That would help us to see what we might be able to do this side, if anything, or whether September is acceptable.

Stuart Andrew: Let me say right at the outset that there is a real urgency about this. We really do need something before recess, because there are some very serious questions about the whole process that need raising and answering. I recognise that you have a struggle with timing, but if this is left until we get back in September, I fear that the wheels will be in motion to change the services.

Q3 Jane Ellison: We had a brief chat in our private session. At the moment, the only thing that it looks like we could do is to carve out space for a mini-debate within the pre-recess Adjournment. As you know, over the last year or so, we have actually restructured the pre-recess Adjournment debate into four or five clusters of questions to which a Minister responds, followed by the more traditional miscellany at the end.

At the moment, I think that is probably all that we have, because our business has already been chopped up several times-air ambulances and other things. There might be one other possibility, but we are awaiting an outcome on that. At the moment, that would be all that we could do this side of the summer.

Greg Mulholland: What length of time would the mini-debate be?

Q4 Jane Ellison: I don’t think this Committee could protect a particular amount of time. We could timetable that cluster of speeches, but the timing would depend on how many Members put in to debate and, obviously, on whether Mr Speaker decides to allow people to come in late. We have set up a cut-off point as a Committee whereby we have suggested that people put in for the pre-recess Adjournment debate.

Sometimes in the past, Speakers have been generous and allowed people who had put in at the last minute. In the event, given that the Speaker would have noted the concern last Thursday, I strongly suspect that they would be looking to protect those Members who wished to speak on this topic, if it is put in at this stage.

Q5 Chair: I think the answer is that we do not know. We also cannot have one topic dominating the pre-recess Adjournment debate, but it looks as though that is pretty much the only thing we have available to us at the moment. We will look at that option, since it is the only thing we can really do.

Fabian Hamilton: Will a Health Minister be present?

Q6 Chair: Yes, that being the point of it.

Greg Mulholland: That silence from the Department of Health since this came out is not acceptable.

Chair: We understand that. When we go into our private session, we will look at the options and get back to you, but just to say, we appreciate the urgency of it.

Q7 Ian Mearns: I must admit that, speaking as north-east MP, I have a bit of concern that, to a certain extent, the debate seems to panning out as one community being played off against another, and MPs would be sitting there if the decision had been made to retain Leeds and close Newcastle. From my perspective, I would want to see the debate look at excellence of clinical outcomes, no matter what the locations of the hospitals to be retained were.

In austere times, we have to think about how much money will be diverted into doing that. I am all in favour of having a debate about this matter, but it is a much broader debate than only about saving Leeds or Leicester. It is about ensuring that we get the best clinical outcomes for children.

Fabian Hamilton: If Newcastle had been closing and Leeds had been remaining open, I would be fighting with you to retain Newcastle. For me, this is about the families, the choice those families have, and where they actually live. It is not about Leeds versus Newcastle. We have always said that we wanted Newcastle to remain open as well as Leeds, Leicester and the Royal Brompton. I understand why the Safe and Sustainable review took place. It is not about money; it is about outcomes. We all want the best outcomes, but we feel very strongly, certainly in our case, that not all the criteria were taken into account.

Stuart Andrew: This goes to the nub of the issue, which is that they had been saying that they want these units to perform 400 operations a year to build up clinical excellence, and that they would need four surgeons in each unit to do that. Leeds currently has three surgeons performing over 350, so by the very nature of the amount of surgeries that they are performing, they are getting that expertise, and the review found that all the units in the country were safe. Those are the issues that we really need to address in the debate, and we want to know why that has not been taken into account.

Ian Mearns: At the same time, in Newcastle, for instance, patients are coming in from places such as Birmingham, Glasgow and Belfast, because the units near them cannot perform the procedures that are much more complex.

Q8 Bob Blackman: I was at the Leeds general infirmary question time last week and I was frustrated that my constituency issues were not raised. Can we clarify what you want out of the debate? Is it just an answer from the Minister or the relevant person, or are you looking for a votable motion? That is rather important in the process.

Stuart Andrew: It is quite difficult to agree on a votable motion, because what we want is a commitment that this review will be looked at. At the moment, we have had nothing. We do not know what they are thinking. Are they just going to rubber-stamp it, or will they at least look at our concerns and commit to doing that? I do not think it is a votable motion; we want a commitment off them to go away, have a look at it and get back to us.

Q9 Bob Blackman: The other issue is timing. From what I can ascertain, virtually no one will be speaking against retaining these children’s hospitals and services. However, as Ian has said, the issue might come to, "Well, if we don’t close this one, we’re going to close that one", and then you get the trade-off effect. I understand that you do not want to achieve that or see it happen, but the risk in this sort of debate is that it is only those who are opposing the closure of particular units that get to speak, and they are not speaking on behalf of others.

Can we press you slightly on how many speakers would want to put forward their perspective? My concern is that if it is every Member for Yorkshire, Leicestershire, and around the Royal Brompton, that lengthens the debate considerably, and we will probably not have time to allocate.

Greg Mulholland: This is very much a debate we are asking for about the whole Safe and Sustainable review, not just about these: that is clearly our interest, and it is for all MPs, from all areas concerned-which is, frankly, everywhere in England and Wales-who wish to participate. Clearly, there are people with more concerns than others. Also, addressing Ian’s point, there needs to be the opportunity now for Members to question the whole basis of the review. Is it necessary? Was it the right thing to do? Do we really need to be closing any of these units-

Q10 Bob Blackman: Are you not, then, better off pressing for a statement from a Minister?

Greg Mulholland: We tried.

Stuart Andrew: We asked for urgent questions.

Greg Mulholland: I raised it as a point of order on Thursday-why we had not had a statement-and got no response.

Q11 John Hemming: On the substantive issue, the question is whether you are challenging the assumptions behind the review or just arguing over which places to close; but actually, today, if you are going to have something before the recess, the only practical way is to have a number of people slotted into the pre-recess Adjournment, and to have a response from the Minister on that.

There are 22 people who have already submitted requests to us. Obviously, they have to be treated fairly and cannot be displaced. If we could say "These are our five slots for this issue, or ten slots,"-what sort of number would you go for? In practice, there is a timing issue. Obviously, the other way is talking about September or October. Is that too late?

Q12 Jane Ellison: On timing, obviously you say it is urgent and you want to get it ASAP, but in reality are there, for example, legal challenges or processes that will be followed now, in the coming months, that will mean that nothing practical will happen before September? What is your understanding of that?

Stuart Andrew: It is impossible to say at the moment. As we understand it, the only people that can request that this is called in by the Secretary of State are the overview and scrutiny committees of the councils. One of them has already asked for it. Whether that is granted or not we do not know, and that is why it is so urgent, because we just do not know what is going to happen or what the Minister is thinking.

Fabian Hamilton: There have been legal challenges, but we do not know if there will be any further legal challenges-

Q13 John Hemming: As to that question of trying to slot people in, is there a number of people you think you would need to try and slot in?

Fabian Hamilton: It is so hard to say.

Stuart Andrew: We recognise you have got a difficult decision, and whatever you can give us, we want to work with you to make it work.

Greg Mulholland: Is there a possibility that this is not an either/or? Taking into account the very reasonable views of Ian and John, we do want to have a full debate about the Safe and Sustainable review, covering the whole country, which we have not got time for. Can we do that in September, but at least have the opportunity to do this now?

Chair: That is definitely something that we will consider.

David Tredinnick: I think if the Committee could provide a tiny slot that would get a Minister to respond, that would be very valuable.

Chair: Thank you very much for coming.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, Richard Drax, David Tredinnick, Rory Stewart, Dr Julian Lewis and James Morris made representations.

Chair: Thank you very much for coming in. This is obviously not anything to do with the previous bid.

Dr Wollaston: No, but a continuation.

Chair: But you have heard, also, that we have nothing to allocate. We have not even been given provisional time in September, though we assume there will be some, so with that in mind-

Dr Wollaston: That’s lovely. Just to clarify, we are actually seeking a debate on the Floor of the House in September. We now have a list of 39 Members across the parties supporting this, so we would really like to have a debate with a votable motion on the Floor of the House when we come back.

Q14 Chair: Could you just take us through, briefly, just for the record, what the debate is that you are applying for, how many hours, and that kind of thing?

Dr Wollaston: Essentially, there is a real issue with community hospitals. It is essentially an issue that affects very many constituencies across the country-not just deeply rural constituencies but urban and semi-urban constituencies. The reason why this is particularly important is that, as we move into a new framework with clinically-led commissioning, and as we look at the ownership models of such hospitals, there is a real shortage of information. There are around 400 community hospitals in the country, but nobody is absolutely sure. Even the Community Hospitals Association finds it difficult to identify them all, let alone identify what the ownership models are and exactly what they contribute to their communities. In the past, there used to be funding for the Community Hospitals Association to maintain that database, which has now been phased out. So one of the things that we are calling for is to know exactly where we stand. It is crucial if we are then to develop the role of community hospitals as we move into the new commissioning era.

There are also real concerns expressed to me by the leagues of friends at community hospitals, with some leagues of friends holding back on investing. There is a hesitancy about what would happen to the assets of community hospitals. While the Secretary of State has sought to reassure them by saying that they have to stay within NHS ownership, the only two models that are open to them at the moment, as we heard at an event organised last week, is to have it either run by a propco or to be bought out by one of the trusts in the area. It is very inflexible and means it is difficult to take out loans. In some parts of the country there are already ownership models where the community can own the assets, but what people really want is the reassurance that they will not be asset stripped if they stay within the local community. So there are a lot of meaty issues that we can get to grips with.

Q15 Chair: That is very detailed. We are more interested in the general issues.

Dr Wollaston: The general issues are around ownership models-

Q16 Chair: So you want a general debate on community hospitals?

Dr Wollaston: A general debate on community hospitals, but also I have put in a votable motion calling on the Secretary of State to demonstrate where they are and what they are doing. I shall now hand over to Richard Drax to explain what is happening in some parts of the country.

Richard Drax: Swanage hospital is a classic case in point, where they are moving to close it. If the Government’s intention is to put care back into the community near the community, here we have a case where Swanage has been going for years, has £1.4 million in the bank and is an example of a brilliant, outstanding hospital that should stay to provide that care.

Q17 Chair: Richard, before you go on, this will be important to raise in the debate itself-

Richard Drax: Sorry. The wider issue is that we need a debate before they close it-as the expectancy is-to discuss what the overall view is and how we look after these golden nuggets before we close them. That is the crucial issue.

Chair: Thank you. That is exactly what I was after.

Q18 Mr Jones: A point of clarification. I do not know whether it is anywhere here or if I missed it in your opening remarks, Sarah. Are you looking for a three-hour half-day debate or a full day debate?

Dr Wollaston: I think a three-hour debate would be very acceptable. It would be really nice for us. We have some uncertainty about what dates were available, and even whether we would be successful in our pitch, but if you were able to know in advance which week it was, we would like to co-ordinate that with an awareness week for community hospitals nationally.

David Tredinnick: With the new Health and Social Care Act, as has been said already, we need to establish the strategic value of these community hospitals. As we look at moves to greater choice and personal care budgets, we have to have a debate to assess how these hospitals will or will not fit in. Personally, I am not sure it needs to be a votable motion, but I certainly think a three-hour debate is desirable.

Jane Ellison: Obviously, there is a terrifically long list of Members supporting this. Out of interest, do you think there will be much debate in terms of different points of view expressed and future scenarios? Obviously we are looking to schedule things that will make a good debate, so I am happy that they did not want to just talk about that.

Rory Stewart: There is a genuine debate in the NHS. For example, in Cumbria the acute trusts are very worried by the increasing domination of community hospitals. They feel that they are taking money away from the acute trusts and there is a huge debate between, often PCTs, which believe in a "closer to home" model and traditional acute trusts and district hospitals that have traditionally been very sceptical about these. If you go back only four years most of these community hospitals were on the verge of being abolished.

Q19 Jane Ellison: So you think that, within the time allocated, a good range of opinions would be expressed? It is obviously helpful to know that there would be an actual debate, as it were.

Dr Julian Lewis: Yes, and just to illustrate the diversity, we are a mirror image of what has just been described by Rory. In the New Forest, there was a tendency to try to squeeze out our network of five community hospitals in Romsey, and New Forest East and West, and that led to demonstrations-can you believe it? There were mass demonstrations in the New Forest about 10 years ago. It was almost a bare-knuckle fight, and finally we came towards a consensus. A consensus on the place of the community hospital network was reached, and agreed with the NHS authority. But that took a long time.

Q20 John Hemming: If you are looking for a three-hour debate, we tend to need greater notice for Westminster Hall, but there you cannot have a substantive motion. To some extent, perhaps the substantive motion may not be that important. Would you be happy with Westminster Hall, or, obviously preferring a substantive motion in the Chamber, would you turn it down?

Dr Wollaston: We would significantly prefer the substantive motion.

Q21 John Hemming: So would you turn it down?

Dr Wollaston: No, of course we would not turn it down, but considering that there has not been a debate on community hospitals, and considering the importance across the House, there is sufficient importance as we move into the commissioning framework.

Q22 Chair: Given the constraints on our time, and that the September sitting is only two weeks, our maximum would be an allocation of two days. Is there a reason why October or November would be too far away, or would you wait for that?

Dr Wollaston: Obviously, we would have to wait if that was necessary, but we think that it is important because some of the things, for example those in East Dorset, are happening as we speak. There is a degree of urgency about this.

Q23 Chair: You are all Government Members, and though you have Labour Members on your list of supporters, it is easier to get people to sign up to a good idea than to get them to make speeches in the Chamber. How confident are you that this would not be an unbalanced debate?

Rory Stewart: May I just speak on behalf of Tony Cunningham, the Member of Parliament for Workington, who is strongly in support of this and will speak on behalf of Cockermouth community hospital, Keswick community hospital and Workington community hospital?

Chair: Thank you very much, and thank you for taking the time to come along today.

Thomas Docherty and Neil Parish made representations.

Q24 Chair: Because we have such a high volume of people applying to us, we have set a deadline for the Friday before the Committee meets on the Tuesday, which we have advertised by e-mail, and will do so again. This application came in late, but we appreciate that this is all new. We are more than happy to hear your application, but again, please bear in mind that we have very little, if any, time to allocate.

Thomas Docherty: I will. Thank you very much for seeing us. I am particularly conscious of the time limits that are placed on you. It would be easier perhaps if Sir George simply handed over business questions to you, given the number of requests that Sir George is keen to say are Backbench business.

Chair: We would support that.

Thomas Docherty: This is a motion that we threw together yesterday, to be totally candid, and the reason, as I say in the very short supporting note, was that Thursday’s DEFRA questions was hugely oversubscribed and the Speaker actually got confused about who he was calling at one point-he confused Ian Murray and Ian Mearns on this question. Many colleagues got up on both sides of the House. You will see from our very brief note that this is supported by all three parties and colleagues from Cornwall to the Clyde. It is a matter that is reserved; it is not devolved.

The Select Committee did a report on the dairy industry about six months ago and regrettably, due to pressures of time, it was not possible to find a slot. The current situation, quite simply, is that retail milk prices are at their lowest for seven years and in the past fortnight the three major processors have again dropped the prices they pay to farmers by a penny and a half, two pence and 1.7p. This has meant a cut of approximately £40,000 a year for farmers.

There is a major rally tomorrow in Westminster’s Central Methodist hall, organised by the NFU. One hundred and seventy milk producers have left the industry in the past year, 4% of the total. We are calling for the Government to knock some heads together and move farming to a sustainable future. We are very conscious of the time. Some colleagues don’t understand that Westminster Hall is supposed to be the equal of the Commons Floor-Mr Hemming and I discussed this in the Procedure Committee. We would very gratefully take Westminster Hall time, given the pressures on you. We are trying to be reasonable and understanding of your situation.

Neil Parish: To back Thomas up, this has all-party support. Dairy prices seem to defy everything. The international price of milk is much higher, yet the domestic price has been low now for many years and we have to keep the pressure on, so we are very happy to take a Westminster Hall debate, but we would really like to have a debate, because it is time that Ministers answered this seriously.

Chair: I have got David Amess, Jane Ellison, Bob Blackman, Marcus Jones and John Hemming, so if you can bang through it quickly, I would be very grateful.

Q25 Mr Amess: Chairman, I do not think I can put this question to Thomas, so I will put it to Neil. You are a farmer, will you indicate to the Committee what sort of dairy products members of the Committee can expect to receive over the coming year if we find time for this debate?

Neil Parish: Some very high-quality cheese. Seriously, we are also interested in the degree of collusion that we believe there is within the industry and which we really need to root out, I think, if that is not too strong a phrase.

Q26 Jane Ellison: You answered the Westminster Hall question. My other question is whether there is any element of co-ordination with the Select Committee on this. We had a scenario last year in which a group of members and the Select Committee essentially bid for the same topic, which got a bit difficult.

Thomas Docherty: We are both members of the Select Committee. The names on the list are Iain McKenzie and Dan Rogerson.

Jane Ellison: I had looked, I just didn’t realise immediately. That’s perfect; that answers my question.

Q27 Bob Blackman: You have outlined the issue about milk prices, but the other subject which is still burning is the concept of super dairy farms. Will that come into this debate as well, or is it just about existing producers? That would broaden it to an animal welfare issue as well and may bring other people into the debate.

Neil Parish: It may. It is not something that I am looking at, but if that is what you chose to do, so be it: I would not be agin it, but the issue of the price of milk is more serious, in a way, because we are driving farmers out of the industry. I would really like the debate focused on the price paid, what the industry is doing and how the market is not working. I would prefer it to stick to that, but I would not oppose it if you wanted to add to that.

Q28 Bob Blackman: It is not for me: I am ascertaining your intentions in bringing the motion.

Thomas Docherty: From my perspective, when we looked at the Select Committee report, we tried to stay away from the merits and demerits of super dairies, but we said that the Government need to give a clearer lead. If you talk to people such as Jim Begg from Dairy UK, they say that a natural consequence of the fall in the number of farmers is that we will move towards super dairies.

Going back to the question you asked the previous panel about different points of view, that is one of the two areas on which there are different points of view. Tim Farron and I have very different views about the role of supermarkets. I think supermarkets are a force for good on liquid milk. They are the premier league of payers, which surprises some people. Tim has a very different view, and I think the debate would be quite lively. Again, sometimes we obsess about dividable motions, and I think some of the best debates we have had did not force the House to divide but had a lively experience of different points of view.

Chair: That is a very good point. Also, you have all parts of the supply chain, so I think that would cover most of it.

Q29 Mr Jones: In relation to this issue, in this Session a Bill should be coming forward on the grocery adjudicator.

Thomas Docherty: It is in the Lords now.

Q30 Mr Jones: It is there now. Do you feel that that would be a better place for the issue to be discussed than in a stand-alone debate?

Thomas Docherty: The problem with the grocery code adjudicator-I do not want to open up a debate on the merits or demerits-is that it only covers those who supply directly to the supermarket. Most dairy farmers sell on to Arla, Robert Wiseman, Dairy Crest or the other producers as a third party. Also, as Mr Blackman said, the issue of super-dairies, and so on, is not covered. Although I am personally agnostic on super-dairies, I think it is important that the question of why we may have them is covered.

John Hemming: I refer the Committee to my declaration of interests because I own a farm.

Chair: Do you have dairy cattle?

John Hemming: Well, prices are affected.

My suggestion is that, if you are willing to accept Westminster Hall, given the urgency of time, it might be best to apply for a one and a half hour Adjournment debate, because you might get that a bit faster than time from us. We do not even have any time spare in September as yet, do we?

Q31 Chair: Apparently, we have one Westminster Hall slot in September.

Thomas Docherty: What is interesting, on the issue of time, is that, just using last Thursday as a snapshot, a very large number of colleagues on both sides of the House were trying to get in on Question 6. That was hugely oversubscribed, so we would have no problem filling a three-hour debate. We are relatively relaxed about the timing, because this is a problem that is not going to go away in five minutes.

Q32 John Hemming: So there is no rush?

Thomas Docherty: I would not go as far as that, Mr Hemming. I am conflicted. I am probably going to be on paternity leave in September. Mrs Docherty may kick off if I say I am coming down. Mr Parish says that if you do schedule it for September, he would lead the charge.

Neil Parish: We could do with a three-hour debate for the simple reason that I very much see this as about kicking around ideas from both sides of the House on what we are going to do. I really see it as a proper debate, not just "Let’s kick the Government. Let’s kick the supermarkets," or whatever. Let’s have some ideas on the table. That is why I would prefer it to be done like that.

Q33 Ian Mearns: Despite the fact that the Speaker mistakenly thought that I asked a supplementary question to DEFRA about dairy farming, that was not the case. In fact, Dave and I share the same borough. Dave’s got the agricultural part of the borough, and I’ve got the part where there is probably not a single resident cow. Would you not have an interest in broadening this out into the sustainability of the UK agriculture industry? Or do you just want it to be on dairy farming?

Thomas Docherty: That’s a great question, but the challenges facing pig farmers are very different from those facing dairy farmers or poultry farmers-don’t get me started on the European Commission. If we did widen the debate, we would need a lot longer than three hours. In fact, we would need a programme motion.

Ian Mearns: For the record, in Gateshead I can buy 2 litres of fresh milk for 87p.

Chair: We are all moving to Gateshead.

Thomas Docherty: The Minister of State this morning couldn’t tell the price of milk.

Q34 Jane Ellison: This is on timing. In a scenario where we were minded to allocate the one Westminster Hall slot that we know we have in September-I do not know whether we will do that, but we can talk about it in private session-could you give a guarantee that you will get lots of people there with a good bit of notice? On the occasional Thursday afternoon, we have run a bit short of MPs from further afield, and it is always Thursday afternoon that we are given in Westminster Hall.

Neil Parish: We’ll round them up.

Chair: Let me draw to a close one of the more bizarre sittings of the Backbench Business Committee. Thank you very much.

Prepared 12th July 2012