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Easington is one of the most deprived areas in the United Kingdom. Health inequalities still play a large role in Easington; there is shorter life expectancy and poorer quality of life. Life expectancy in Easington is a full two years lower than the national average. The proposed new hospital was part of a clinically led strategic reorganisation of health provision for one of the poorest areas in Britain, which would have gone some way to tackling some of the worst health outcomes in the country.
The latest figures that I have been able to access are the 2007 statistics on standardised mortality rates per 100,000 population. They show clearly that death from illness that is amenable to health care-that is, deaths that would have been preventable with health interventions-accounted for 256 deaths per 100,000 of the population in the Easington local authority area, compared to an average of only 195 across the rest of England and Wales. For all causes, the figure for Easington is 713, compared to 582 for England and Wales. For coronary heart disease, the figure is 112 per 100,000 in Easington compared to 90 per 100,000 across the rest of England and Wales. For cancer, the figure for Easington is 219 per 100,000 compared to 175 nationally.
Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the success stories in his constituency has been the local primary care trust's anti-smoking policy-the area has seen some of the largest drops in smoking anywhere in the country? Does he also agree that the fact that that policy will be abolished too will add to the health inequalities in his constituency?
Grahame M. Morris: That is a very good point and the development of community health infrastructure has been integral to the proposal for the new hospital. It is key to improving health and tackling health inequalities.
I have some sympathy with the Minister, as it seems that the proposed hospital suffered at the hands of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury as he searched to save around £2 billion in June. However, regardless of the changing economic circumstances that saw Britain's budget deficit improve by £10.4 billion from the original pre-election forecasts, I do not believe that it is too late for the Minister to give the proposed new hospital a second chance, following a reconsideration of the evidence.
Grahame M. Morris: If you do not mind, Mr Sheridan, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I know that time is short, but I am almost finished and I think that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity later to speak. I have almost completed my contribution.
As it stands, the future of health provision in North Tees and Hartlepool is being put at serious risk. The cancellation of the hospital at Wynyard can only ever be viewed as a delay-the need for it still exists. Whether it is a delay of five years, 10 years or longer, the people of Stockton North, Stockton South, Hartlepool, Easington and Sedgefield need a new hospital. I invite the Minister to think in the long term and not to abandon a well
thought-out project that would improve health care for people who have suffered a legacy of some of the worst health outcomes in Britain.
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak in the debate, Mr Sheridan. I want to make a business case for the Wynyard hospital based on its effect on the local economy, because the Government's decision is short-sighted. The new hospital was to be sited at Wynyard park-a 700-acre business park owned by Wynyard Park Ltd that has created more than 1,000 jobs in the past five years. Fifty-five companies have moved on to the site, and the hospital would have been a catalyst for further private sector investment and jobs. The Government go on all the time about the need to rebalance the north-east's economy, and the Opposition agree with them. One way to do that and to help generate private sector investment would be to invest in infrastructure and public sector hospitals, such as the one that the Government have cancelled.
The cancellation of the hospital came on the back of the announcement about housing benefit. The former Chancellor said that we would take £250 million out of housing benefit through reforms, but the present Government want to take out £1.8 billion, which would greatly affect areas of County Durham. In addition, just under 100 schemes have been cancelled under Building Schools for the Future, which is a problem not just for education, but for construction jobs in the region. On top of that, the regional development agency is to be abolished. It has played a part in work on the Wynyard site and the foundation hospital, and it has tried to attract investment into the area.
James Wharton: I understand the hon. Gentleman's terminology when he says that the RDA will be abolished, but is it not rather the case that it will be replaced by more localised local enterprise partnerships, which will deliver better for local people in communities across the north-east?
I want to make two points about the RDA. First, it invested £2 million last year in attracting inward investment. On the basis of that money, it attracted £720 million of inward investment into the north-east-82% of inward investment into the region comes through the RDA, so if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Secondly, in preparation for the hospital development, the RDA organised meetings between the foundation hospital and overseas firms to see whether those firms would come on to the site.
Mr Kevan Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that the person who had the vision for the Wynyard site was John Hall? He saw the benefits of working with the RDA and others to develop it, and the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) was a big supporter of his during the election.
Mr Iain Wright:
My hon. Friend is making a convincing economic case for the hospital. Does he agree that the £464 million in investment that was to be provided
could also provide about 550 apprenticeship opportunities in the construction industry and elsewhere? The Government say that they want private sector-led growth and recovery, and I agree with that approach, but scrapping the hospital and cancelling Building Schools for the Future will mean that private sector construction industry jobs are not maintained. Is that not a devastating blow for the north-east?
Phil Wilson: That is absolutely right. Over the past 13 years, the number of apprenticeships in the region has gone up astronomically. In 1997, in my constituency, there were fewer than 30 apprenticeships, but there are more than 700 today. Obviously, anything that curtails the growth of apprenticeships in the future should be frowned on.
As far as other jobs are concerned, the hospital would be a catalyst for inward investment and private sector investment. Wynyard Park Ltd worked closely with the hospital, local universities and further education colleges because it realised that high-value medical and other research jobs would come to the area. The company estimated that 12,500 jobs would be created on top of the 3,000 jobs that the hospital would create. There would be 12,500 private sector jobs in the area on the back of the hospital development-just think of the Government's income tax and national insurance take and all the other benefits that they would pick up on the basis of that growth in the local economy. Public sector investment would kick-start growth in the private sector.
The hospital would also have become an anchor tenant-a tenant that attracted a lot of other investment to Wynyard. In addition, it would have brought greater investment in infrastructure: the roads and transport networks would have improved, which would have brought more businesses to the park. This is not just about the hospital, as great as that would be. My family and I have used the North Tees and Hartlepool hospitals, and they are great hospitals, but it is time to replace them and to have a new hospital. The credible case put by the new hospital's designers was that the development would be not only a hospital, but a catalyst for growth in the private sector economy in the south Durham and Tees valley area. That case has been completely ignored.
I really get annoyed when people try to say that the project was worked out on the back of a fag packet a few weeks before the general election. I have been attending meetings on the issue since I was elected in 2007, and meetings were going on before then. We need the development to happen.
The Government's proposals prove what the Prime Minister said during the election campaign when he pointed out that the north-east would feel the brunt of the cuts. He was right to say that we rely too much on public sector jobs, so the Government should give us the opportunity to change that, but that opportunity was taken away from us when the hospital programme was cancelled.
Guy Opperman: The hon. Gentleman asserts that the area should be given the opportunity to address the lack of private sector jobs, but that that would not be done by spending more public sector money. We cannot address the deficit on every single occasion by creating private sector jobs through public sector spending, which is surely the basis of the hon. Gentleman's hospital argument.
Phil Wilson: We are not saying that we should do that at every opportunity, but when we spend public money, we should take the opportunity to ensure that it pump-primes the local economy. That is what the Wynyard scheme was bound to do. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not think that the public sector is of any value, but Opposition Members do.
Figures have been bandied about, such as the £5 billion and the £11,000 difference, which was actually £11 million-the Minister corrected that error, and I noticed it, too, and went up to correct it. That £11 million, over 35 years, means the difference between a new hospital and a hospital that is falling down. Surely we could have found that money somewhere to help to maintain the hospital.
I want to end with a question to the Minister. Three or four weeks ago, we brought down the foundation trust's chief executive and the chair for a meeting, and I was pleased that the Minister could meet us. I took away from that meeting the view that the Department would look again at the development if the trust could come up with a credible scheme or initiative to get money from the private sector. If all the figures stacked up, would the Department underwrite such a proposal? We are talking about a foundation hospital. Are we saying that foundation hospitals will be around for ever? Things might change-Governments might change, policy might change-but the hospital must still be funded. Are the Government prepared to underwrite any financial arrangements with the banks and the private sector?
On that point, I will sit down and listen to what other Members have to say. The proposed hospital is a missed opportunity for growth in not only the public sector but the private sector in the region.
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): I am grateful to have another opportunity to discuss the need for a 21st century hospital to meet the needs of my constituents and those throughout the north-east; however, I shall be briefer than I was the last time I spoke on the matter.
It was good to hear my hon. Friends talk about specific issues affecting the health of people in their constituencies, and to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) outline the benefits that the hospital could bring over and above health. I want to start with an outline of the health picture in the borough of Stockton-on-Tees. Things have improved in recent years, but much still needs to be done. According to the NHS health profile for 2010, which has just dropped through my letter box, in Stockton-on-Tees life expectancy for men living in the most deprived areas is still nearly 12 years less than for men living in the least deprived areas. In relation to early deaths from heart disease and stroke, survival rates have steadily improved over the years: from 160 deaths per 100,000 people in 1998 to about 80 per 100,000 people in 2007. That is half the number of deaths and there is much credit due to our hospitals' care and to the local PCTs and health
programmes. However, we are still well behind the England average in our progress in relation to early deaths from heart disease, stroke and cancer.
What do the decisions made by the coalition Government mean for the north-east and people's health? A new hospital has been scrapped. That is a huge blow, and it is still not clear why our hospital was chosen, while others have been given the go-ahead. We have had years of planning, as other hon. Members described, and that was discussed in detail in my Adjournment debate on 5 July. I accept that the decision has now been made, but it is not clear what will happen. There is also uncertainty for patients in the scrapping of Labour's promises. The coalition has scrapped the 18-week waiting list target and the 48-hour GP access target and downgraded the four-hour accident and emergency waiting time target.
There is also great uncertainty for people who work in the NHS locally, who will commission services in the future. I met Dr John Canning, a member of the Cleveland local medical committee, and discussed, among other things, the re-organisation of the NHS and in particular GP commissioning. We await detailed plans, but I am dismayed that the Government, who in opposition promised "no more pointless reorganisations" are presiding over the biggest structural overhaul of the NHS in 60 years. The NHS needs stability; it does not need to be forced to deal with a huge and unnecessary politically motivated structural upheaval at a time of significant financial pressure on public services.
The new GP commissioners will be responsible for ensuring that their patients get the best possible health care in the best possible facilities. I just wonder how they will make those decisions. Perhaps they will send patients many miles to a new hospital with all the services required by the patient close together and under one roof. Alternatively, will they utilise the services at their local hospital, where the care might be very good but the facilities could be less than first class? Some patients make a positive choice to travel to neighbouring hospitals, which have the most modern and up-to-date facilities, and could be expected increasingly to shun local services because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that in that way they will get better treatment.
The strategy outlined by the foundation trust remains the right one. When Stockton-on-Tees borough council met, every member in the chamber voted to ask the Minister to review the decision; that included the Conservative council leader. So can we look forward to a new hospital? The answer could still be yes if it is the true and honest will of the Government. Detailed work on developing a private finance initiative to meet the costs of the new hospital is well under way, but there remains great uncertainty about whether there will be Government support. If the foundation trust completes the work and satisfies Monitor, its financial regulator, that it has a robust project that will work, will the Department of Health approve it and ensure that the people of my constituency and the surrounding ones get the hospital they need and deserve?
Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab):
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) on securing the debate this afternoon. He
is a worthy champion of his constituency and the region, with respect to a range of matters including health, education and economic regeneration. He spoke passionately about the need to deal with the health inequalities that blight this country, and the problems in his constituency in particular, as well as the need for excellence in health care in the north-east, including the new hospital that is at the heart of the debate.
Like all hon. Members who have spoken, I pay tribute to the staff of the NHS, whose work for and commitment to the people of the north-east and the rest of the country is excellent. It was striking to hear the personal experience that my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool had in his local hospital, and what excellent care he and his family received. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who are present today, including my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson), for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon), and for North Durham (Mr Jones). I know that they all feel strongly and passionately about the issue.
I want to comment on the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Easington. He put patient care and safety, which is what the debate is really about, at the centre of his remarks. He set out his concerns about what will happen to patients who are left with the two hospitals, where they will now be treated. Will the abolition of targets affect care and safety? That is an important issue, which I hope the Minister will deal with. My hon. Friend also raised the important issue of finances and how they stack up. I would like to know in particular whether the difference in cost between building a new hospital and repairing and maintaining the two is £11,000 or £11 million. I am sure that the Minister will clarify that.
Mr Burns: If it will help the shadow Minister I shall clarify the point yet again. The reason the question ever came into the public domain was that on the morning of the previous debate the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) incorrectly put out a press statement saying that the building of a new hospital would be cheaper than the maintenance and upkeep of the two existing hospitals, over a 35-year period. The figures, which Hansard originally printed wrongly-hence the correction-showed a difference of £11 million. It was cheaper by £11 million to keep the two existing hospitals. The point was merely to show that the right hon. Gentleman was factually incorrect.
Diana R. Johnson: I am grateful to the Minister for correcting what he said earlier, when he talked about the figure of £11,000. We understand that the figure is £11 million. I suggest that in the great scheme of things, if the difference in cost between maintaining and repairing two hospitals and building a state-of-the-art new one is £11 million, Labour Members might think that it is £11 million that should be spent.
Mr Iain Wright:
I just want to make two points. First, I am sure that it was an oversight, but I point out that my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) is here. In his short time in the House he has been a fantastic representative of that fair area. On the point about net present values and appraisals of the hospital, my hon. Friend may know more than I do about it,
but-whatever the talk of £11,000 or £11 million-are the wider savings to the taxpayer from better health outcomes and from ensuring that people do not rely on hospitals for protracted periods also part of the appraisal system? Are they taken into account, or is it a matter of the narrow costs of maintaining existing or new sites?
I hope that the Minister will explain the rationale for the decision that was made about the hospital, and whether the cost-benefit analysis included the savings that would come about from a healthier population with better access to health services. I am sure that he will explain it. My hon. Friend the Member for Easington also mentioned health inequalities. It is important to ensure that patients and communities have access to high-quality in-patient facilities when they need them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield argued compellingly on business grounds that the hospital could help lead the regeneration of the area. He described the hospital as an anchor tenant that could attract up to 12,500 private sector jobs, a telling point for an area of the country that wants to attract private sector business and stand on its own two feet. He made a compelling case. My hon. Friend also said how good the care that he and his family had received from the local NHS was.
Ian Mearns: It is important that the Minister has now clarified that the figure is not £11,000, as he stated earlier, but £11 million. I am sorry, but the difference between the figures that he gave was in fact £11,000, and I hope that the record will show that. That said, we now know that the figure is £11 million over 35 years, or £314,000 a year, the lack of which will deprive the people in those five constituencies of a brand spanking new hospital facility that could add significant value over that period to detract from the additional cost.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North, who I understand is a former non-executive director of the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, spoke clearly about the need for a new hospital. I know that he also tabled early-day motion 273, which attracted a great deal of support, to request a review of the coalition decision about the hospital. He, too, made an important case about health inequalities and why the hospital is needed. He also pointed out that structural upheaval in the NHS at a time when we are facing such financial problems is a recipe for chaos. What is the future for the people represented by him and our hon. Friends? Again, I look to the Minister to explain the coalition Government's thinking about what will happen to the needs of communities in the north-east.
I do not wish to rehearse the history of this £464 million hospital project-my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State made it clear that it was a top priority for the NHS, and agreed in March this year that it should go ahead-but it had been in planning for a long time. It was not just signed off close to a general election. As we have heard, the coalition Government decided to cancel the hospital project within the first few weeks of taking
up their position in Government. It is clear that the Treasury and other Departments reviewed every significant spending decision made between 1 January and the general election on 6 May. The proposal for the new hospital scheme, which received Government approval only in March, was considered properly during that review, but there are questions about why that particular hospital project was cancelled and others were allowed to proceed when my right hon. Friend had made it clear that the hospital was a top priority for the NHS.
Mr Burns: As I said to the hon. Member for Hartlepool, if the hon. Lady studies carefully our debate of 5 July, as I am sure she has-I do not usually recommend that people read my speeches-she will see that column 150 gives in detail the answer to that question.
Diana R. Johnson: The Minister will be pleased to know that I took great pleasure in reading his response to that debate, but I am still not satisfied with the explanation given. There is room for further explanation why that particular hospital was chosen.
Diana R. Johnson: I am particularly concerned-I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool mentioned this-about the clear view of all the clinical professionals-[Interruption.] I do not have the speech in front of me, but considering that the Secretary of State for Health talks continually about the need for doctors and clinicians to be in the driving seat when decisions are made in the NHS, and considering that, as my hon. Friend said, it is clear that the clinicians and health professionals involved were very centred on having that one hospital, why have those views been suddenly pushed to one side? Will the Minister explain that, given the coalition Government's new approach of saying that clinicians are at the centre of decision making? If so, I will be pleased.
Also, on the cost of cancelling the project, how much money was spent getting to the point of preparing to proceed? What yearly maintenance and repair bill does the Minister think will now have to be paid for the two hospitals? What is the coalition Government's plan for in-patient health facilities for that community? What does he see as the future for either a new hospital or a different style of health service provision in the area? What is his thinking? It is certainly not clear.
The Office for Budget Responsibility's projections, to which one of my hon. Friends referred, show that the actual deficit was lower than was projected before the general election. We have also seen higher-than-expected growth figures this week, which hon. Members might find surprising. I ask the Minister to reconsider the economic impact of refusing to follow through on the decision to build the hospital, taking into account what my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield said about the potential for the hospital to be an anchor tenant to attract important private sector businesses and jobs. I know that the coalition Government are committed to helping the private sector grow us out of our present financial situation, so will the Minister reconsider? The range of Members present in the Chamber shows a
clear commitment to ensuring that the people of the north-east get their fair share of resources and the kind of hospital service that they so richly deserve.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) on securing this debate. As he and his hon. Friends will know-as the shadow Minister rightly said, they are here in force-we have had a briefer debate on this subject, and I have had the pleasure of welcoming most of the Opposition Members present to a meeting at my Department, where we had a useful exchange of views.
Before I address the main thrust of most of the contributions, which is North Tees and Hartlepool, I will give a brief overview of the health situation in the north-east and will refer to some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman).
Earlier this month, as hon. Members know, we published our vision for the national health service in the White Paper "Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS", which signals the beginning of the most profound reform in the NHS's 62-year history. By taking power away from Ministers and civil servants in Whitehall and handing it to patients and clinicians, we shall transform the health service from the ground up.
Diana R. Johnson: I am intrigued. I read carefully the coalition agreement, which said that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS and mentioned having elected representation on primary care trust boards, which I understand are now to be scrapped. Will he explain why, in a few weeks, the Government have completely ditched that proposal, which was in the coalition agreement?
Mr Burns: I will certainly explain that when I get on to the specific point about Hartlepool because, unfortunately, as will be unveiled to the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Hartlepool, their comments today are based on a false premise and show that they do not fully understand the previous speeches on the issue, or the meeting we had at the Department of Health. All will be unveiled shortly, and I hope that the shadow Minister will understand the reasoning behind the decision taken.
As I was saying, as part of the vision, and the moving forward on the White Paper, we want every hospital trust in the country to become a foundation trust. We want to direct every aspect of the national health service at delivering clinical outcomes that are as good as, or better than, any in the world. The north-east is already ahead of the game in many respects. In November 2009, it became the first and only region in England to have all of its NHS hospital and mental health trusts awarded foundation trust status. When the Care Quality Commission reviewed hospital services in the region last year, every single hospital trust and every ambulance service was
rated either good or excellent for the quality of their services. That gave the north-east the highest score in England for the third year running.
Among those hospital trusts, Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust all received double excellent scores for both quality of services and the use of resources. The high quality of services across the north-east is down to the skill, dedication, creativity and sheer hard work of the thousands of NHS staff across the region. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to them and wish them well in their continued success in providing first-class care and services to the people of the north-east.
Mr Burns: I admire the hon. Gentleman for his persistence. If he could have a little patience, I shall talk about the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, and will then come on to the hospital that has so dominated the debate.
My hon. Friend mentioned Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and its proposal to build a £75-million emergency care hospital in Cramlington. I am advised that planning permission is currently being sought for the proposed site and that further development work is under way. I hope that that goes some way to answering the point that he raised. I will make sure that I write to him during the next week or so on the other points that he mentioned to explain all the outstanding issues.
I shall now turn to the review of the hospital in North Tees and Hartlepool. The hon. Member for Hartlepool specifically raised the Government's decision to cancel North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust's proposal for a new hospital building. As I stated in the House in our last debate on this matter on 5 July, the original proposal for a publicly funded capital scheme received Treasury approval in March this year, in the run-up to the general election. In view of the shocking state of the public finances and the desperate need to reduce the £155 billion deficit, which I need not remind Labour Members was left to us by their Government, the Treasury and other Departments reviewed every significant spending decision made under the previous Government between 1 January 2010 and the general election on 6 May.
Mr Iain Wright: I appreciate the Minister's explanation and analysis, but if the Conservative-Liberal coalition Government are concerned about the state of the public finances and want to help drive down the debt quicker, why was there not a moratorium on all capital spend in the NHS, similar to that which the Secretary of State for Education put in place with regard to Building Schools for the Future?
Because, as I will again explain-this is similar to what I said on 5 July-there were a range of criteria determined and, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, we took the decision on the hospital on the grounds of affordability and the foundation trust status of the
hospital. If he will bear with me, I will explain that again, so that even if he does not accept the decision, he will, I hope, come to understand the reasoning behind it.
On 17 June, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander), announced to the House the decisions made following the Government's review of spending commitments. The review cancelled 12 projects, including the proposed new hospital at North Tees and Hartlepool.
The aim of granting foundation trust status is to give bodies, such as the trust in the area represented by the hon. Member for Hartlepool, greater financial independence. As well as being able to keep any internally generated resources, foundation trusts also have greater freedom to borrow from either the public or the private sector. As the proposals required an allocation of public dividend capital from the Department of Health of more than £400 million, they were not consistent with that financial independence. Treasury and Department of Health Ministers, including me, decided that, overall, those factors-affordability within the changed economic climate and the hospital's foundation trust status-weighed against the £458-million scheme for North Tees and Hartlepool more than they did against the other three schemes at Liverpool, Epsom and St Helier, and the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital. For those reasons, the Government withdrew support for the scheme.
Following our previous debate, I was pleased to meet, on 8 July, Paul Garvin-the chair and non-executive director of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust-together with the hon. Member for Hartlepool and many of his hon. Friends now present. At that meeting, we discussed the possibility of the trust putting forward a new proposal under the private finance initiative. As I have said repeatedly, I cannot in any way give any guarantees that such a scheme would, or would not, be approved. Like any proposal, it would have to be considered on its merits and in the light of the economic climate at the time it was put forward for consideration and possible approval.
However, the advice I would offer the foundation trust is the same advice I would offer any organisation putting forward such a proposal. Any scheme must reflect the changed realities of the national health service, as set out in the White Paper. It would clearly have to demonstrate that it passed the four tests for reconfigurations set out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That is, it has to have the support of GP commissioners; arrangements for public and patient engagement, including with local authorities, must be strengthened; there must be clear clinical evidence underpinning any proposal; and it must develop and support patient choice.
The economic and policy circumstances have changed since the original proposals were put forward. It would be advisable for the foundation trust to make sure that any revised proposals reflect those changes, and can demonstrate that they have the full support of GPs, the public and the local authority. Any new proposal must be realistic, affordable and provide value for money.
Grahame M. Morris:
On the point about providing value for money, and the elephant in the room, which is the implied advice that the appropriate route for a
foundation trust is a PFI initiative, does the Minister accept that the evidence suggests that over the 35-year write-off time, or life of a hospital, there would be an estimated additional cost to the pubic purse of £5 million a year as a result of going down the PFI route? That would cost the public purse an additional £175 million over the lifetime of the hospital-money that would otherwise go into patient care.
Mr Burns: I have to say, in the kindest, gentlest way possible, that I fear we are beginning to go around in circles. I have given the corrected figures; confusion was caused by what Hansard originally printed in the last debate on the subject, when I talked about the comparable costs of maintaining the two hospitals that exist and building a new one. There was a marginal £11 million difference.
Mr Burns: The hon. Gentleman must wait a minute, because I have only 10 minutes in which to answer the questions that the hon. Member for Hartlepool asked. The fact is that the decision was taken on affordability and on the fact that the trust was a foundation trust and so was free to seek other means by which to finance the project, rather than going to the Department for capital funding. Those decisions were taken because of the tough economic situation we inherited after 6 May and the massive deficit the country was left with. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer rightly believes that the No. 1 priority for sorting out the economy is to get rid of the deficit as quickly as possible. Regrettably, tough decisions have to be taken in the light of the dire economic situation.
I must tell the hon. Members for Hartlepool and for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana R. Johnson) in the nicest terms possible, that it was their party's mismanagement of the economy and deficit that put us in the current situation. We will have to take tough decisions if we are to have a buoyant, vibrant economy again. [Interruption.] If I might continue-[Interruption.]
Mr Burns: I will now answer some of the Opposition Members' questions. The hon. Member for Hartlepool asked whether there was an optimal population size for a hospital. I have consulted my officials, who tell me that they are unaware of whether there is an official optimal population size for hospitals, so I will look into the matter and write to him with a satisfactory answer as soon as possible, giving him any information we have.
I have already explained, including on 5 and 8 July, the decision that governed the withdrawal of approval for the hospital. On the hon. Gentleman's question about the future of Hartlepool hospital, there are currently no plans to close it, and that will remain the case unless the strategic health authority and the PCT propose closure. There are no such proposals at present, as far as I am aware.
Mr Burns: It is perfectly reasonable for the hon. Gentleman to express concern about and an interest in finding out what would happen. The answer is that that will depend on a combination of factors, including the national commissioning board that will be created, the GP commissioners and the decision of the local health community. If a local health community put forward any proposals to reconfigure health patterns in its area, it would have to go through all the procedures that are currently in place, and there will also be the changes that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will put in place to strengthen the community's input into any proposed reconfiguration. The views and support of clinicians and GPs will be sought, and the focus will be on improving outcomes and affordability, and including the views of local populations.
The hon. Gentleman will know from reading the White Paper and the five related documents that have so far been published, which flesh out the details, that local authorities will have a greatly enhanced role in the provision of health services and the maintenance of health care standards in the local community, and will not be restricted solely to their current role in public health.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government will implement the recommendations of the Darzi review on acute health services north of the River Tees. The recommendations of that review were superseded by advice provided by the independent reconfiguration panel to the then Secretary of State for Health in December 2006. That advice formed the basis of the "Momentum: Pathways to Healthcare" programme, which was developed by the local national health service to provide a new health care system for the people of Stockton, Hartlepool, Easington and Sedgefield. We understand that NHS Hartlepool and NHS Stockton-on-Tees will continue to work closely with North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust on delivering the wider Momentum programme, and will be discussing the options available with the trust. I hope that that goes some way towards satisfying the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North mentioned the generality of the provision of health care, and new health care facilities, in the region, and I can reassure her by mentioning a number of initiatives that have taken place in the Stockton-on-Tees area in recent years.
Yes, in recent years-there is no point in the hon. Lady sitting there and saying that because, to be frank, anyone who takes a sensible approach to such matters will not try to score cheap party political points. I recognise that for the past 13 years we have had not a Conservative but a Labour Government, and I am mature enough and comfortable enough within myself to recognise that during those years advances in health care were made. I am not one of those narrow politicians who say that, because there was not a Tory Government,
everything was awful, or that everything done by a Tory Government is wonderful; it is a mixture of the two. One has to be mature enough to recognise that, as I do. The initiatives I will refer to took place in the past few years, so they were under a Labour Government.
As the hon. Lady will know, 26 of the 46 Momentum business service change projects are under way as part of the "Momentum: Pathway to Healthcare" programme. They consist of detailed service reviews, a revised pathway based on a map of medicine, a value impact assessment and a service implementation plan. Examples of pathways reviewed to date include those on diabetes, respirology, cardiology and haematology. There are also cross-cutting business service change projects under way in the areas of work force and education, IT, and communications and engagement. There is also an integrated care centre at Hartlepool, with which the hon. Member for Hartlepool will be familiar, and an integrated care centre at Billingham, which I expect the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) will know.
Diana R. Johnson: I am pleased that the Minister has read out a list of initiatives introduced under a Labour Government, but I am interested in the coalition Government's thinking on health service provision in the north-east. What initiatives do they have planned for dealing with the health inequalities that have been mentioned by Members today?
Mr Burns: I thank the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity once again to tell her that those are all contained in the vision outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the White Paper that was published last week. It is a vision that puts patients at the heart of health care, so that they can have the best health care of the highest quality. It is based on the premise that there should be a local, bottom-up system, rather than one in which politicians and bureaucrats in Whitehall issue diktats and tell local communities with which they are unfamiliar what they should and should not do. That is the way forward for enhancing health care.
Our vision is based not on processes that are distorted for party political purposes, but on the need to improve outcomes so that people get better health care. The patient experience, whether in a hospital setting or when a patient visits their GP, should be tailored to their needs, rather than to what the state tells them that they should have. That move will be spearheaded by GPs, through GP consortiums, as it is they who are closest to patients, know the health care that they need, and know how patients can best access it. That will all be determined by improving outcomes and the patient experience in order to give the finest quality care that the country can provide-the highest in the world. That is the answer to the hon. Lady's question.
The regulations on the ship-to-ship transfer of oil as cargo excite passions right along the Forth and elsewhere, in a way that the dry title of the debate might not credit. Many of my constituents and those of my parliamentary colleagues feel strongly about the need for the regulations, as do all the local authorities in the east of Scotland and a range of environmental organisations, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds-I should declare that I am a member of the RSPB, as I am sure many colleagues are.
I place on record that I accept the assurance offered by the Minister that he did not intend to give the impression that the Government were sneaking out the U-turn on the regulations. Labour Members accept that he was merely badly advised by his civil servants, who either did not realise or did not inform him of the hostility and anger that the Government's announcement would cause in Scotland.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): I was going to let the hon. Gentleman have a free run, but the decision about when to lay the statutory instrument was not the result of ill advice by civil servants-it was my decision. Thursdays are full sitting days in the House. Every single MP who had shown an interest was e-mailed a letter and a copy of the statutory instrument. The measure was laid on a full sitting day-Thursday-and was not sneaked out. I resent how that has just been portrayed.
Thomas Docherty: I reiterate, I do not believe that the Minister was trying to sneak the statutory instrument out by using the form of a written statement. I hope he understands that many Scottish Members of Parliament would have been grateful for the opportunity to have a debate on the subject, perhaps after an oral statement, so I very much welcome today's opportunity.
Giving a background to the subject might be helpful. The regulations followed a commitment by the previous Government after my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) withdrew his private Member's Bill, the Environmental Protection (Transfers at Sea) Bill. The Bill was itself the result of an outcry in Scotland against proposals by Forth Ports to start carrying out ship-to-ship transfers in the firth of Forth. The Bill followed the introduction of new Scottish regulations, brought in by the Scottish Government in 2007, which dealt with those aspects of environmental regulations devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Significantly, those regulations were supported by all parties in the Scottish Parliament, including the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.
Let me clear up one myth that opponents of the regulations-the shipping lobby in particular-have been perpetuating, namely, that the regulations have been rushed in some way. The 2010 regulations took the Department for Transport two years and two consultations to produce. They were eventually laid before Parliament in the so-called wash-up in April, to get through which
we assume they must have had all-party support. Therefore, further delay and a third consultation are frustrating. It is unclear to us what new, previously unavailable information might be obtained by the third consultation that was not available from the first two processes. I hope that the Minister's reply will clarify that point.
May I also make it clear that Labour Members do not oppose ship-to-ship transfers in principle? The Scottish Government and environmental bodies such as the RSPB do not do so either. Furthermore, the Scottish Government cannot be accused of nimbyism when they are championing the use of other Scottish waters. However, because oil spills into the sea are an environmental and tourism disaster, we believe that ship-to-ship transfers must be regulated. We only need to look at what happened in the gulf of Mexico, or closer to home in the Shetland islands with the Braer oil tanker a few years ago, to see what can happen to our environment when things go horribly wrong.
Regulations should ensure two things-that ship-to-ship transfers are carried out in the right and safest place; and, secondly, that they meet the current environmental regulations. Therefore, long-standing good practice should be permitted to continue, as in Scapa Flow, which is sheltered, overseen by the harbour authority and in close proximity to pollution control equipment and expert staff. However, the use of potentially hazardous places such as the firth of Forth, which is open sea, uncontrolled and with little if any nearby pollution control, should be prohibited.
The 2010 regulations, in our opinion and that of the shadow team before the general election, provided just such an approach. They also provided a means to ensure that the operations comply with current EU regulations, otherwise the Government would be at risk of committing an infraction, as I am sure the Minister will confirm.
I do not believe-I suspect that colleagues would not disagree-that the shipping industry should be allowed to pursue the policy of self-regulation for which it is lobbying. Before entering Parliament, I worked at a nuclear power station and on the railways. No one in their right mind would argue for allowing either the nuclear or the railway industries to self-regulate. Given that we require independent, statutory regulation of those two industries, and given the risks involved in the activity that we are discussing, why should the shipping industry believe that it should be allowed to self-regulate? I hope that the Minister will rule out that option today when he replies or, failing that, will expand on his thinking on self-regulation.
The shipping lobbyists and their supporters will complain about the cost to them of following the regulations. However, I understand that the cost is only about £9 million a year, and the proposals would add only an extra half-day's sailing to reach Scapa Flow rather than the Forth. I do not believe that £9 million is too high a price for the protection of our environment.
As I have made clear, the subject concerns a great number of my constituents. It is rare indeed when the SNP Scottish Government, the Lib Dem and SNP-run Fife and Edinburgh councils, Labour MPs, and Labour, SNP, Lib Dem and Conservative Members of the Scottish Parliament all speak with one voice. That, I hope, demonstrates to the Minister the level of anger felt by many people in Scotland.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): The RSPB is one of the big campaigners on the issue. My area certainly experienced such campaigns when I was on the council, which was before 2007-that is how long we have been talking about the matter. The RSPB stated that it could not understand why the regulations could not go ahead. Was my hon. Friend aware of that?
Thomas Docherty: My hon. Friend has been a champion on the issue in Edinburgh for quite a while. She is right that the RSPB is unhappy. I think it is fair to say that it feels that its voice has not yet been heard in the debate. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a guarantee today that, as part of his consultation over the next six months, he will find an opportunity to meet with the RSPB and me, as well as with my right hon. and hon. Friends, if he can find time in his diary, perhaps in September or October. The RSPB could then have an opportunity, in person, to make its case.
Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): I appreciate that there was some confusion about who would raise this matter, there being two new Members from Scottish constituencies with the same first name. I understand that that caused a little confusion.
I have been aware of the issue for some time, having worked in the Scotland Office. I wonder whether my hon. Friend is aware that, at the time of the build-up to the regulations being laid, there was a considerable period in which there was significant resistance to them from the Department for Transport, although the Scotland Office and other bits of the Government were pushing for them. Could the Minister respond to that point, which is of concern to some of us on this side of the Chamber?
Thomas Docherty: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. He obviously has particular expertise and knowledge of the mechanics of government from his former life. I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to that point. It might also be worth his clarifying what representations, if any, he has had from either the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary of State for the Scotland Office. We understand that they are supposed to be Scotland's champions in the Government, and, given that the Scottish Government and the local authorities have raised the matter with his ministerial colleagues, it would be helpful to get an understanding of whether the Scotland Office has been asked for, or has proactively provided, any input to the review.
I am conscious that I am beginning to approach the Minister's time, so let me make one final observation. Of course, we would never seek to use early-day motions as a method of gauging the overall strength of feeling in the House. I suspect that the Minister and I would be at one in suggesting that they are not necessarily the best way to make policy. However, it may be worth looking at the two early-day motions that were tabled on this subject.
"That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty",
The counter to that early-day motion was early-day motion 308, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith and which attracted 28 signatures. Basically, it said that the House welcomed the regulations, and asked for them to be enforced. Curiously enough, however, the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mr Hancock) seems to have signed both motions. Far be it from me to try to establish why a Liberal Democrat might think that he can be both in favour of and against something simultaneously-I suspect that the Minister might have more experience of that than I do.
In conclusion, I welcome the opportunity to have this debate. So that we are all clear, I accept the Minister's assurance that he was not seeking or intending to sneak out the announcement. I hope that he can give us some reassurance on the points that we have raised on regulations and other subjects, and I very much hope that he will be able to shed some light on who has made representations to him so far, and on his plans to take further representations from Members on both sides of the House.
On the early-day motion, Members probably know that one is forced to table an early-day motion to pray against a set of regulations, so my motion was a technical intervention to register my concern about the regulations and to pray against them, in the hope that the Minister might consider my arguments for reconsidering them.
To reassure Opposition colleagues, I, too, represent an area that might be viewed as the other part of the Celtic fringe. Some hon. Members who represent constituencies at the other end of the British isles certainly refer to it in that way. I represent an equally beautiful part of the country that prides itself on its natural environment, and it is of the utmost importance to me and all Members from Cornwall to protect that environment.
I also represent the port of Falmouth, which is the third-largest natural harbour in the world. It is a special area of conservation, and we very much prize its environment. It has the last oyster-fishing fleet still under sail in Europe. We manage to consider the environment, while having a vibrant commercial port that not only has contracts with the RAF for servicing its ships, but has ship-repairing, yacht-building and oil-bunkering businesses.
I received representations from constituents who were concerned about the operation of the regulations as laid before the House. We all absolutely understand the importance of protecting our natural environment. I grew up in Cornwall at the time of the appalling Torrey Canyon oil spill, which blighted all the beaches of Cornwall and caused devastation to wildlife. I have
lived through such a situation, and the last thing that I would want is to be associated with anything that would jeopardise the environment or cause such degradation.
I felt that it was important to make representations to the Minister, and I am absolutely delighted with the course of action that he has taken to ensure that any regulations passed by the House are enforceable. My concerns were about the enforceability of the regulations and ensuring that they did, in fact, deliver what we all want, which is a balance between environmental protection and a vibrant shipping industry, which makes a great contribution not only to my constituency but to the British isles as a whole.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sheridan, for the first time speaking from the Government Benches. I have been chaired by you before, but only when I was in the Opposition.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) on securing this debate-his timing is perfect, just as we go into recess. If he looks around, he will find that many colleagues have disappeared north and south, even though this is a full sitting day. I know about the difficulties of travelling to different parts of the country when the House adjourns. For some time, Thursdays have not been one of the longest sitting days-not very much business was whipped on Thursdays. However-I am afraid that we may all have to get used to this-they are very much a full day, and we could have Friday sittings as well. Written ministerial statements will be tabled on Thursdays.
There was a debate when I first took on this job and looked at the regulations, when I asked about the correct method for informing the House and the country that I had some concerns about how they had been laid. In May, when I became the Shipping Minister, there was a huge pile of paperwork to go through-that is natural enough, for a brand-new Minister. One of the things that struck me, before I received any representations from anyone, was the legislation that had been put through in the wash-up period.
I was here for only five years before the hon. Gentleman was elected, and I do not know all the processes. However, I know that not everything that goes through in the wash-up period has received general agreement, especially when it comes to statutory instruments. It does not work that way, so it is wrong to say that everything was agreed and was fine-it was not. Putting in a statutory instrument three days before the House rises for an election is perhaps not the way to have open government or to discuss things, be able to pray against them and move forward.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's concerns that the statement was made on a Thursday and that Scottish MPs were on their way back to Scotland, but the House was sitting. The written ministerial statement was tabled by 9.30, and by 9.36, every MP who had shown an interest, including every Scottish Member who had done so, as well as Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, was e-mailed with the written ministerial statement and a letter from me explaining why I was going through the process.
Thomas Docherty: On the point about the wash-up, can the Minister clarify what representations either the Conservative or the Liberal Democrat transport teams made against the regulations being introduced in April? That might clarify matters for us.
Mike Penning: I understand where the hon. Gentleman is trying to go. Let me be honest and say that I do not know. In the way that I am looking at the matter now, I do not think that that matters, because it is about whether Parliament was fully informed and had an opportunity to go through the process that was required for such important regulations.
I set out in my letter quite firmly that, although this important issue seems techie, it is not. The environment comprising this country's shores is important. This is not a devolved matter. I listened intently to hon. Members' comments. Although we have to take into consideration the views of other Parliaments in the United Kingdom and those of other Members of Parliament, this decision is being made by one of the few ministerial roles that still deals fully with the United Kingdom. I am proud of that.
I considered carefully, and understand exactly, what the regulations were trying to do: protect the environment and bring some ports inside regulation-the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife mentioned Scapa Flow earlier-that are outside both it and the European habitats directive, which is not acceptable.
I accept that regulation is required-there is no argument about that-but we are looking for suitable regulation for the process, which is why we have gone into consultation. We need to consider whether the regulations are a sledgehammer to crack a nut, in certain respects, and whether they are enforceable. That is why I asked for the consultation and suspended the implementation of the regulations, scheduled for October. I did not revoke the SI, which was another option that could have gone ahead. Instead, I delayed its implementation for six months so that we could consult fully-Parliament should do that-and find out about any other concerns that the public, those involved in shipping, the RSPB and others may have about how the regulations will work in practice. I do not know what those concerns are, because the consultation is not over. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) has already mentioned the concerns in Falmouth about how the regulations will work.
Sheila Gilmore: After such a long gestation period for the regulations, does the Minister understand the scepticism and anger in the communities that have campaigned about this matter and want to see it happen? I came off Edinburgh city council in 2007. We were discussing regulations then and there was a bit of confusion about the degree to which the Scottish Parliament could take part. After such a long time, does the Minister understand how people feel, and is he prepared to give clear reassurance to those who want clear regulation in this regard?
I understand the public's concern, throughout the country, about what would happen if there was an oil spill and about the dangers to the environment. I also understand that the consultation was lengthy. But the regulations are sitting there and there is genuine concern on both sides of the argument
about whether they go far enough. As the Minister responsible, it is crucial that I ensure that the legislation that is put before the House is fit for purpose.
Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I was heavily lobbied on this issue immediately after I was elected and I listened to a lot of businesses that are concerned about the job prospects in the Lowestoft area as a result of the ban. I should like to mention in particular the Regulatory Policy Committee's report, dated 13 April, the summary opinion of which is:
"The case for the prohibition of ship-to-ship oil transfers in UK territorial waters outside of harbour areas has not been made. There appears to have been little assessment of risk in drawing up this proposal, and it is not clear that the environmental benefits will be achieved. Furthermore, there is no adequate explanation for the enhanced environmental benefits of the preferred Option 3, over Option 2."
One of my biggest concerns is whether all the regulations are likely to work. That is a point of law. If they are not going to work in law, what is the point of having them? The measures in respect of Scapa Flow, the habitats directive and the environmental consequences will have to happen: that is part of the regulations. I understand that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife vehemently does not want ship-to-ship transfer in the Forth, but we have to consider whether there is a legal way of ensuring that that does not happen. Although the hon. Gentleman does not want ship-to-ship transfers, ships could move 12.1 miles off the coast and do the transfers legitimately there. Under the regulations, we cannot do anything if they move outside the 12-mile limit. That worries me an awful lot.
Ship-to-ship transfers also take place off the Suffolk coast. My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), who is not in this Chamber today, is concerned about whether ships will move outside the controlled environment, where transfers happen at the moment, and go beyond the 12-mile limit. My hon. Friends the Members for Truro and Falmouth and for Waveney (Peter Aldous) have mentioned concerns about jobs being jeopardised.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife asked whether I would rule out self-regulation. There will be regulation: there is no argument about that. This
is about how far regulation goes and whether it is enforceable: that is the crucial thing with any regulation made in the House.
My scepticism is not based on my lack of willingness to protect the environment. Anyone looking at my track record will know my views on the environment. I am a fisherman and have fished in many of the coastal areas that the hon. Gentleman represents. We have to consider the risk. The hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier what has happened in respect of BP in the gulf of Mexico. Sadly, that might happen-God forbid that it does-on any of the rigs sitting out there today. There has not been a spillage from ship-to-ship transfer. The regulations are preventive and will put a burden on the shipping business: there is no argument about that, because that will happen. If we put such a burden on shipping, will ships sail up to Scapa and go in and pay their dues, or will they move a few miles out? I am not a shipping person, but I understand that the margins are not huge. That may happen.
A lot of ships doing the transfers are Russian. As hon. Members know, the Russians have a large fleet, some of which is not the best quality. I hope that the Russians do not get upset about that, but it is a fact. If we can at least see the ships and control them to some degree within our territorial waters, we stand a chance. If they sit offshore, we will not be able to protect them at all.
It is crucial that Parliament sets laws that are enforceable and fit for purpose. I will return to this point. I suspended the regulations because I am concerned that they may not be enforceable and are possibly not fit for purpose. However, I stress that that does not take away the requirement for regulation. I am disappointed that, as revealed in earlier comments, there seems to have been a lack of communication or co-operation between the Scotland Office in the previous Government and the Department for Transport. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that does not exist now and that there is now real co-operation between all the relevant Departments.
I will meet as many different people and representative bodies as possible, including the RSPB. I am conscious that I have not had the sort of representation from the RSPB that I should like to have seen, but I expect to receive it during the consultation.
Of course, the shipping industry is concerned, but it is not just about the shipping industry, as we have heard from hon. Members from around the country, who are concerned about whether these are the right regulations to protect the environment and jobs and whether they are a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I will consider that matter carefully during the consultation period.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I am delighted to have secured this crucial debate, especially as it is the last Westminster Hall debate before the long recess. I apologise, Mr Sheridan, for detaining you and the Minister from the break. Transport affects all my constituents daily, in one way or another, and it is a major concern that is raised constantly by residents and employers. Having spent almost my whole life in Cambridge, and having chaired the Cambridge traffic management committee for many years, I know the problems all too well. However, I am enthusiastic about the opportunities to make transport in Cambridge better for all-for businesses using important freight routes, for commuters who make the daily journey to work, and for tourists who come to enjoy the region's historical and cultural attractions.
If we are to have a transport system that is better for all, we must get our priorities right. That means seriously considering whether we should continue our dependence on cars and lorries. I am sure that I need not rehearse for the Minister road vehicles' impact on the environment. I have long believed that there are good arguments based on nothing more than simple self-interest. Congestion is increasingly problematic everywhere, and particularly around Cambridge. Everyone knows that, and no one enjoys it, but the evidence shows that, if more roads are built, more congestion fills those roads.
The best argument for doing things differently is simply the A14, which is vital to the region and the country, but is notoriously congested and unsafe. The traffic loads are far above those recommended by the Highways Agency, and almost a quarter of vehicles on the road are HGVs travelling to or from Felixstowe port. HGVs are responsible for more than one third of the accidents on the A14. Anyone who has travelled along the road a few times will know how often there are hold-ups. Even a trip to the supermarket may quickly become an expedition worthy of Captain Scott. Sadly, the Highways Agency's way of dealing with the problem belongs in the history books. The agency and the county council are trying to ram through a scheme that would see the road widened to a 10-lane superhighway at the exorbitant cost of around £1.4 billion. That is a huge, unaffordable sum, especially at this time of financial constraint.
My concerns are not just financial. The proposed scheme, which the Government have put on hold, would also wreak havoc on Cambridge. The calculations show that several key roads in Cambridge would have a huge increase in traffic. For example, Huntingdon road, which is the main entry into the city from the north-west, could have 60% more traffic, while Horningsea road, to the east, could have traffic levels more than doubled. The effects of that extra traffic on other roads in Cambridge-for example, the ring road system-have simply not been calculated.
That is not to say that nothing should be done. In 2002, when I was a young, new county councillor, I argued that we should make safety improvements as soon as possible, develop a smaller scheme that would also deal with associated problems, such as the Huntingdon viaduct's end of life, and prevent Godmanchester from being a slip road for the A14. I made my suggestions at
a council meeting, but they were dismissed by the ruling Conservatives, who said that a big scheme would be along soon. My proposals would have saved time and money, and they would also have saved lives. It is disgraceful that, eight years on, no safety improvements have been implemented, and a coherent, affordable plan has not been developed to deal with the A14 problem.
I pay tribute, in passing, to Cambridgeshire police, who have taken special measures to reduce the number of accidents, although they can only do so much. The introduction of average speed cameras has been impressively effective in reducing accidents. Will the Minister examine the affordability and cost-benefit analysis of a much smaller-scale improvement that would deal with the main safety concerns, could be delivered soon, would benefit so many residents and start to save lives now?
Sadly, the A14 is not the only problem area for travel around Cambridge. The fiasco of the Cambridge guided bus is another example of poor strategic thinking. As Liberal Democrat leader on the county council, I led the campaign against that ill-conceived project. The money and the space, even as designed at the outset, could have been far better used for other schemes. One problem is that the bus is not guided through Cambridge, which is precisely where a guideway would have been most useful. It is notable that the inventor of the guided bus concept lives in Cambridge, and was an active campaigner against the guided bus.
The county council, egged on by the previous Government, became so fixated on the guided bus that other facilities lost out on resources as a result. That error was compounded by the failure to ensure that Cambridge residents would be able to use the system. There are continuing limits on where it will stop to pick up passengers. In the meantime, other bus routes have been altered, and stops removed from service to allow the guided bus to speed through when, if ever, it starts running. As I speak, the whole project is some £50 million over the allotted budget of £106 million, and is more than a year overdue, with no immediate prospect of running any time soon. Indeed, some of the buses bought by Stagecoach to run on the guideway used to say, "I'll be on the busway soon", but were repainted to say, "Will I be on the busway soon?" That shows the level of its concern.
The latest public papers suggest that legal arguments between the county council and the contractors, BAM Nuttall, are likely to run until 2014-15, greatly benefiting the lawyers on each side, I suspect, whatever the outcome. That is not ideal for people in Cambridge who would like to be able to get around. I hope that, when the scheme is finally up and running, it will be effective, and that people will use it. A white elephant with some usage is far better than a white elephant with no usage. But given the broken promises by the Conservatives at Shire hall that it would be built "on cost, on budget" and at
"no cost to the Council taxpayer"',
I am not holding my breath. The Minister agreed in response to my parliamentary questions to hold a review of guided bus policy, and argued that the county council should perform its own inquiry into the system. I thank him for that.
What are the solutions in the A14 corridor? The Liberal Democrats have long argued that the best way
to lighten congestion on the A14 is to get freight off the road and on to rail. Our manifesto pledge, as I am sure the Minister knows, was to take money from the major roads budget and to use it to reopen closed rail lines. One such line is the east-west link, which comes in two forms, depending on who one talks to, but both would be beneficial. One version is the Cambridge-Oxford line, and opening up a direct route across the country from Ipswich to Oxford; the other is more northerly, via Nuneaton, and would allow freight to travel from Felixstowe docks without having to use roads until much nearer its destination. Work has already commenced on the Nuneaton section, and I hope that the Minister will give a commitment to see that essential work through to completion, so that we have a functioning freight route.
Those schemes would massively reduce traffic on the A14, making it safer, faster and more reliable. They are remarkably cost-effective, and would use existing infrastructure for much of the route. For the wider region, that would provide far greater freedom of movement for workers and tourists, along with better and safer options for businesses-truly a transport system better for all.
As well as investment in rail infrastructure, which would enable a switch of freight mode, further incentives are needed. A scheme in Switzerland, the Leistungsabhängige Schwerverkehrsabgabe, or LSVA-I apologise to the Hansard reporters and anyone who knows how it is pronounced-is a nationwide scheme that charges HGVs to use the roads. The fee is based on all distance travelled; it is charged per kilometre as well as per tonne. It also includes an element depending on vehicle emissions, and applies to all HGVs weighing more than 3.5 tonnes. Will the Minister investigate such schemes to encourage freight off the road and on to rail, hopefully with the rail scheme that he will help us to deliver?
Another vital step for Cambridge is the introduction of Chesterton railway station. It has been needed for many years and, at a stroke, would reduce congestion in the centre of the city. Surveys show that around 70% of the vehicles parking at Cambridge station come from north of the city, so a station at Chesterton, which is in the north, would see the majority of those vehicles diverted there, bringing welcome relief to residential streets and the historic city centre. That project would be relatively cheap, and would be an excellent fit with Government policy. It would meet criteria for improving access to key centres and reducing carbon emissions. It would also be beneficial for the many high-tech companies around the Cambridge science park, as they would benefit from more convenient travel for their employees, and from better connections to London. On a technical note, such a project would ease the existing congestion at Cambridge station. Cost-benefit calculations are extremely positive, and that proposal was the top regional priority under the former grading scheme.
I understand from the Minister that the Department for Transport is working with the county council to assess the scheme for Chesterton, and that the council is considering funding options. I urge the Department and the council to reconsider the expensive and bloated expansion of the A14, and to redirect funds where they are most needed. Cambridge can grow in a sustainable way only if investment is put into public transport facilities now.
Such investment should include transport interchanges, and one specific issue is that of access to cycle parking at Cambridge station. There is huge demand for cycle parking at that station, as anyone who has used it will know, but there is gross underprovision of spaces. I have raised the issue with Network Rail, First Capital Connect and National Express East Anglia, and those companies have agreed to work on the problem. In particular, Network Rail has committed to looking at providing new double-decker cycle racks at the station, until the large CB1 scheme is complete, and I thank it for that commitment. Will the Minister ensure that such small proposals, which would nevertheless make a huge difference to people's daily lives, are supported, mandated and funded?
We must encourage people to use forms of transport other than the private car. As a driver, cyclist and pedestrian, I am keenly aware of the conflicting needs of different travellers, but it is a constant balancing act. I have no wish to deny drivers essential access, but I also want to ensure that we promote environmentally sustainable forms of transport around Cambridge. Cycling and walking are the ideal forms of travel, and they help people to stay healthy. Too often, however, local authorities are slow to provide good-quality routes for people to use on which they feel safe and which do not deviate from their direction of travel. Such routes tend not to get the appropriate levels of maintenance when potholes appear and-at least in Cambridge-they are not gritted sufficiently during the winter months.
In Cambridge, we had to reinstate legal cycling along a national cycling route through the city centre after it was banned by the Conservatives. Other measures would also help. A speed limit of 20 miles per hour should be easier to implement on a city-wide basis, so that although the speed limit on major roads would continue to be 30 miles per hour, side streets would have a limit of 20 miles per hour. That would have a limited impact on drivers, but would significantly increase the safety of cyclists and pedestrians.
We need less bureaucracy. In Cambridge, we spent many years seeking permission from the Department for Transport for road signs that indicated no entry to all except cyclists. We campaigned on that for years, and we have finally been allowed a pilot of a sign that should be easy to demonstrate and use. Such signs are more easily understood by road users than the low-flying motorbikes that are the alternative sign.
We must also promote bus services. Buses provide essential access, but too often they are run by monopoly providers, whose main interests are their own financial returns rather than the provision of a proper transport service to the population. Such providers use their clout to extract huge sums of money from councils to provide essential services. Will the Minister defend funding for cycling and walking schemes in Cambridge and elsewhere, and will he support more local powers to improve the bus services? Will he help with the trains so that there is more space to find a seat and tickets are better and more clearly priced? As a parochial interest, could there be a sign in King's Cross underground station to state which platform the Cambridge train will depart from?
Two years ago, this House made the courageous decision to pass an Act to stop climate change. However, it is no good setting targets if positive action is not taken to achieve them. If we persist in ignoring the fact
that it is impossible to build our way out of congestion, we will not only make life more miserable for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike, but throw in the towel in the battle against catastrophic environmental damage.
Making transport better for all in the short term is one thing, and I am delighted to have had the chance to set out my proposed strategy for Cambridge in the coming years, but we should never lose sight of the fact that, by increasing access to public transport and creating sustainable communities, we are not only making transport better for all-we are also building a fairer society.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on securing this debate; this is the first time that I have had the chance to welcome him formally to this place, and I also congratulate him on taking over from David Howarth in representing the people of Cambridge. He has asked a number of questions about transport in Cambridge and has raised some important issues. I am pleased to respond to his first Adjournment debate on a subject that I know is of great importance to him and his constituents. He will recognise that he has given me a huge wish list, and I cannot promise to satisfy him on every point in my response.
As a preamble, I shall say something about the priorities of the coalition Government. The coalition agreement makes clear our commitment to a modern low-carbon transport infrastructure as an essential element of a dynamic and entrepreneurial economy. However, I must also make clear at the outset that the overriding need identified by the coalition Government is that of tackling the national deficit. That means that the decisions we take and the speed with which we are able to implement transport improvements will need to be determined in the context of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.
The Department for Transport is playing a full part in the spending review that will report in the autumn; there will be a statement from the Chancellor on 20 October and we have already announced a range of measures aimed at delivering reductions in spending. On 24 May, the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury gave details of £6.2 billion of savings in Government spending in 2010-11. The Department for Transport is contributing to those savings by finding £683 million this year, and that has meant taking difficult decisions on funding. On 10 June, the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government published further details of local government savings, including £309 million of savings from local transport funding.
I understand that those reductions and the deferring of decisions on some transport schemes until after the outcome of the spending review will be difficult for many places. Through reductions in ring-fencing we have maximised the flexibility for local authorities to reshape their budgets according to local priorities and identify where efficiencies can be found. There is also an opportunity to rethink transport plans and priorities and ensure that proposals are environmentally, as well as financially, sustainable. Given current financial constraints, it is essential to ensure that any new infrastructure is affordable and offers value for money.
My hon. Friend knows better than I do that Cambridge has always been an important and distinguished city whose origins go back to Roman times and the location of the first bridged crossing of the River Cam inland from the sea. Transport clearly had a crucial role in society then, as it does now. Cambridge is a world-renowned university town with three universities. It is city of science that has hosted such eminent scholars as Newton, Darwin and Watson and Crick. Lately it has built a world-wide reputation as a leader in bio-engineering technology, and the growth of that sector is a powerful economic driver, both locally and nationally.
The growth of Cambridge and the demand for travel has led to increases in traffic congestion. With many more new homes planned for the sub-region over the next 10 years, even more people will be travelling around. Since the 1970s, successive Governments have attempted to solve the congestion problem by building more roads. First came the M11 from London to the south of Cambridge in the mid-1970s. That was later extended to provide a western bypass of Cambridge in 1979 and the Cambridge northern bypass followed soon after as the A45. The old A604 road to Huntingdon was dualled and widened, but it was not until the mid-1990s and the completion of the M1 to A1 east-west link in Northamptonshire, that the whole route was renumbered as the A14. That route became the first major east-west trunk route linking the east coast ports to the manufacturing centres in the midlands and the north-west but, as my hon. Friend will know, the road is now a congested artery.
In widening the old A604 to a dual two-lane carriageway, the Government of the day did not foresee the demand that would be placed on that road once it became part of the A14. As long ago as 1994, the standing advisory committee for trunk road assessment-SACTRA-made clear in its report that new roads tend to generate additional traffic, which must be taken into account in forward planning.
There have been various schemes to widen the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon. The most recent is the present A14 Ellington to Fen Ditton scheme, which emerged as a recommendation of CHUMMS-the Cambridge to Huntingdon multimodal study. My hon. Friend will be aware that a preferred route was announced for that scheme a few years ago, and that a public inquiry was scheduled to start last month. That inquiry was suspended pending the outcome of the spending review, as has happened with other such schemes across the country. It was simply not tenable or sensible to continue with the statutory process of the scheme, given the uncertainty in relation to the spending review. I should record at this stage that there is significant support for the scheme, but there are also many people who have serious reservations about it, on both environmental and financial grounds.
The scheme cost is now in excess of £1 billion, which would be a huge investment for a single road. The spending review means that we must reconsider the affordability of that scheme and all others. We shall need to consider whether we really have the best and most sustainable solution to the problem. We have to ask that question about all schemes.
I take my hon. Friend's point about safety improvements. It is certainly important that we do not have an absence of safety improvements to a road because we are holding
out for something bigger. I had a similar situation in my constituency with the A27. Clearly, people who have concerns about safety have a right to have those addressed. That will need to be factored into any consideration that we undertake in relation to the road that we are discussing today after the spending review is complete. I stress that no decision has been taken about the road as yet.
The previous Administration recognised that there was a separate need to cater for people who live in the villages around Cambridge and who work in the city or at the science park. The solution to that was seen as the guided busway. That scheme was approved by the previous Administration way back in 2001 and construction commenced in 2007, yet it is still not open. It has become a very expensive project, with costs rising from £116 million in 2006 to an estimated £160 million now. That is more than three times the original estimate.
Delivery issues remain to be resolved between Cambridgeshire county council and the contractor, as my hon. Friend said. I know that he has concerns about the project; he expressed those in a parliamentary question, which I answered last month. There are clearly lessons to be learned from both the Cambridge and the Luton to Dunstable guided bus projects. That is why I have asked my officials to consider the history and cost structure of those projects. I have asked for a report by the end of September on that matter and associated matters relating to light rail. Many of those schemes have also come in significantly above budget or were cancelled by the previous Administration. We need to learn the lessons to ensure that that does not happen again.
Let me deal with the issue of tackling congestion in the city centre. First, I want to make it clear that building big expensive infrastructure is not the only answer to tackling congestion. I know that my hon. Friend shares my view that much more can be done to support sustainable travel. We can achieve a great deal by concentrating much more on local interventions that respond to local needs. That will mainly be achieved through the local transport plan process. As I highlighted in a recent speech at the Transport Times conference in Manchester, local transport plans remain the best way for authorities to plan and deliver their strategy for integrated, safe, sustainable and efficient transport in their areas.
However, in line with the coalition agreement to promote decentralisation and devolution of power to local government, my Department will no longer seek to intervene in how local authorities review their progress against local transport plans. That will be a matter entirely for them. After the spring 2011 deadline for renewal of the plans, reports or reviews will no longer be required for central Government to consider.
Local authorities are working hard to have their new plans in place by next April, and I encourage them to be creative and innovative in doing so. Cambridgeshire county council and the city council have done excellent work on sustainable travel in recent years, and I trust that their commitment to that cause and their working in partnership will continue. They have had considerable success in raising bus patronage locally through the development of park-and-ride sites. The traffic management
scheme in the city centre, which my hon. Friend oversaw in a previous capacity, has been very successful in promoting safe cycling and walking and containing traffic growth.
If cycling is to succeed anywhere in the UK, it must succeed in Cambridge. Unlike my constituency, Cambridge is, after all, relatively flat and situated in the driest part of the country. Cycling is also the mode of choice for the large student population. With 18% of all journeys made by bike, Cambridge already has the highest level of cycling anywhere in the country. The aim is to increase that further. As a cycling demonstration town project participant, it is receiving some £3.6 million of extra funding for that from my Department. I would like to see the experiences of Cambridge applied to other places at the end of the project.
Enabling people to interchange easily from one public transport mode to another is fundamental in getting people out of their cars. Again, I am aware that Cambridge is at the forefront of that through the development of the station gateway project. That project will deliver a bus interchange facility right outside the main rail station. We are keen for such projects to expand and to be replicated throughout the country.
That leads me on to the issue of rail. Let me assure my hon. Friend that the present Government are committed to making the best use of our rail network, as part of our commitment to creating a low-carbon economy and to improving the travelling experience for passengers. I am pleased to note that Network Rail is expected to commence work shortly at Cambridge station to construct the new island platform. However, the estimated cost of £15 million is obviously high. I shall add in passing that the ministerial team in the Department are quite keen to get better value from Network Rail for some of these projects. That cost does seem to me rather expensive for a platform.
In any case, the new platform will provide much-needed extra station capacity to enable First Capital Connect and National Express East Anglia to operate in a much more efficient and organised manner. The new platform is expected to be in operation by the end of next year. In addition, the completion of the Thameslink programme will give Cambridge faster journey times to London, access to St Pancras and many more direct connections to places south of the Thames.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the issue of new rolling stock for London to Cambridge services is under review by my Department. It is important that in ordering new trains, we get the very best value for money and that the specification is exactly right for the job that we want them to do. My hon. Friend will also be aware that stabling for the new trains was one of the factors taken into consideration in relation to the development of a new station at Chesterton, to which he referred. I know that he is very keen on that project. I appreciate that Chesterton station is regarded as important for the people of north Cambridge wishing to avoid the need to travel through the city centre and for people working at the science park. While the spending review is under way, I can give no assurances about the funding of that project, but I know that Cambridgeshire county council is working hard with Network Rail to develop various technical and funding options, and I welcome that.
Network Rail is also working hard to deliver another scheme that my hon. Friend supports-the gauge upgrading
of the Felixstowe to Nuneaton rail line to take continental-size containers and hence get more freight off our roads and on to rail. He mentioned the opportunity for modal shift for freight from road to rail. Phase 1 of that complex scheme, which is being part-funded by the Government, Hutchison Ports UK and the European Commission, is nearing completion. When it is finished next year, the number of freight trains will increase to eight per day per direction, and when phase 2 is complete in 2014, up to 24 freight trains per day will be able to travel to Peterborough and hence the north. Further work is needed in control period 5, and Network Rail is working on that, but at this stage I can provide no certainty about funding. However, 24 freight trains a day in either direction means a lot of lorries off the roads.
The coalition agreement includes a commitment to make the transport sector greener and more sustainable, which includes reforming how decisions are made on which transport projects to prioritise, so that the benefits of low-carbon proposals are fully recognised. Work is going on in the Department and we hope to have something in place to enable us to reassess projects when the spending review is complete, so those two elements of work can come together.
Getting more freight off the roads and on to the railways is one way of doing what I have described. Investing in low-carbon buses is another. That is why, building on that policy framework and on the success of the first round of the green bus fund, I was pleased recently to announce a second round of the fund, worth £15 million, which will support the procurement of an additional 150 low-carbon buses in England. All transport authorities, including Cambridgeshire county council, are encouraged to submit a bid, and I hope that my hon. Friend will take that back to his county council.
The county council should, in identifying its needs and priorities, consider the full range of options available and the potential for attracting funding from sources other than public sector ones. Given the current financial climate, I cannot offer any assurance at this time about the future time scale for taking forward schemes identified, but reviewing the feasibility of options should mean
that Cambridge is well placed to benefit from available investment when the financial position eases.
My hon. Friend asked about lorry road user charging. He will know that there is a commitment in the coalition agreement to take forward lorry road user charging. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who was in this Chamber a few minutes ago, is leading that work for the Department.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge also mentioned road signs. A road sign review is under way. I have asked officials to note his comments on that issue to feed them into the road sign review. The object of the review is to make it easier for local authorities to get signage up that is sensible for their areas and consistent with an application of national standards so that people understand the signs if they come from elsewhere in the country. We want to make it easier to get signs up that suit local needs.
My hon. Friend mentioned powers to improve bus services. We have no plans at present to change the regulatory arrangements regarding buses, although the Competition Commission inquiry considering the architecture of the bus network and the structure of the industry is under way. It would be imprudent to take a decision either to loosen controls or to tighten them in advance of that reporting. We expect to have a draft report from the Competition Commission probably by December this year.
It is clear that we face a challenging period. Tough decisions have already been necessary to tackle the UK's budget deficit. The Government have identified their most urgent priority as tackling the deficit, and transport must play its part in that process. Only when the Government's spending review has been concluded will we be in a position to see what investment can be made, but I assure my hon. Friend that we are committed to promoting low-carbon forms of transport. We are committed to sustainable transport-