My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) a former distinguished leader of Manchester council, gave the Government a timely reality check on the issue of hunt the subsidy. That is the answer to Members on the Government Benches: they should start believing in the principles of competition instead of supporting and succouring people who run the present system on subsidy. That is the issue before the House today. I brought this matter up in a debate in Westminster Hall less than a month ago, and my hon.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 928

Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) provided us with an example. The deregulation system often promotes crude, crazy cartels or de facto monopolies with inefficient bunching on the most used routes and little is done to expand usage on new routes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside said, 45% of that is dependent on subsidy. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) echoed that point in a series of excellent interventions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) outlined the case of a local woman studying for a degree in hospitality who is unable to take a job in the city’s hotels because the bus services finish so early that she would not be able to get back home. That built on what my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) said in his excellent debate in Westminster Hall in June when he quoted a constituent whose local buses stop at 7 o’clock:

“you can’t go to the theatre, adult education, swimming…visit friends, support elderly relatives…anything!”

The constituent added that even though there are medical centres open late in town,

“you can’t have a late appointment if there isn’t a bus running that late. It’s like living under curfew”.—[Official Report, 17 June 2014; Vol. 582, c. 34WH.]

I heard a similar story when I visited Staffordshire this year and heard from our local campaigners about the people who are losing out the most.

Often it is not just individuals but whole communities who are left isolated by inadequate bus services. I have heard from our candidate in Redcar, Anna Turley, about the village of Lazenby. The village used to be one stop on a profitable route, though it required a detour from the main road to reach it. The bus operator has decided to cut out this inefficiency, and with it, the village. Local people on the minimum wage who are having to hire taxis are now paying the price. Those are just the kinds of short-sighted, damaging decisions that communities in charge of their local transport will be able to overturn. Profits will be pooled and reinvested so that, in the interests of all local people, we can unlock the economic growth that comes through access to skills and jobs.

Luciana Berger: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Marsden: I do not have time, I am afraid.

Access to affordable transport shows up time and again as a major concern for young people, whether in National Union of Students surveys or in what they have told me in Blackpool in schools and colleges, and at listening events.

Our policies will promote opportunities for people to shift from using cars for short journeys to public transport—that can be a key element in our climate change commitments. They will help in rural areas, where the elderly often experience services being cut and, as a result, have to pay for a taxi to the theatre, which costs 10% of their weekly pension. They will help to bring local authorities and local enterprise partnerships together and engender a real localism, alongside our bold pledge to deliver £30 billion of devolved funding to local authorities in the next Parliament. By engaging with business at every stage, we will make sure that transport, and buses in particular, help to create this

5 Nov 2014 : Column 929

virtuous circle, working with LEPs, chambers of commerce and others in a common endeavour. Greater local controls over services such as transport are part of our fundamental response to the English question. Unlike this Government, we do not believe in just one or two initiatives to cover up the reality that their Departments continue, too often, to work in centralised silos.

Labour’s proposals also offer opportunities to communities and local authorities whereby outside visitors—be it to seaside and coastal or rural and inland attractions—are key ingredients of their economic prosperity. These changes will boost people’s confidence in inputting their views. Thanks to the previous Labour Government, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South, we are seeing the benefit of this—in Blackpool, for example—and we will see it even more under the new system.

Luciana Berger: I am sorry that I did not get to make this point in the debate. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that young people in particular are incredibly affected because this Government took away the education maintenance allowance? The cost of buses in Liverpool is so prohibitive that young people are unable to make choices about their education as they cannot choose colleges that are, in effect, too far away because too many bus routes are involved.

Mr Marsden: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She makes a point that she and other Labour Members have been fighting for.

Let me linger for a moment on the word “bus”, which derives from “omnibus”, the great innovation of the Victorian city. “Omnibus” means “for everyone”, but apparently the bus is not omnipresent in the hearts or minds of this Government. Their DFT business plan does not even mention buses by name, and the Transport Secretary’s recent speech to the Tory conference had just a two-word reference to the bus. That is the difference between them and us, and the difference between their policies and the biggest initiative to devolve power and opportunities to communities across England in 100 years. We get it; they do not. They do not see the transformational power that could come with integrated local transport systems. They have not seen the bus as a key agent of change to revitalise our public spaces. Our devolved vision is not only more integrated, but comes with more money—three times as much.

This Government are bequeathing the people of England a fractured landscape in the NHS, in skills and in transport, but we are embarking on a journey to empower people and places across England to work together, and we are placing the bus at the centre of that, as has been done so well in London. Ours is a promise and an opportunity for all—for coast and countryside, for small towns as well as large cities, for north and south, for rural areas and suburbia—and the Labour party will deliver it.

6.50 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes): As I survey the Labour Members, particularly those on the Opposition Front Bench, I do not do so in anger or even in sorrow; I do so in pity. I know that many Government Members will think that I am being too generous—they would like me to be more critical—but

5 Nov 2014 : Column 930

I would say that surely all but the hardest of hearts can see the Opposition’s pitiful past record, their pitiful performance and their pitiful prospects.

That brings me to the motion, which was moved and given life—I would not say that it was given light, but it was given life—by the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh). I have always liked her since she was a Back Bencher. I remember that in those days she still had promise.

The motion might have referred to the £930 million provided by this Government for concessionary travel entitlement every year. It could have referenced the Government’s £600 million local sustainable transport fund. It should have mentioned that bus fares in England have had an average annual increase of 1.51% under this Government compared with 2.25% each year under the previous Labour Government. It might even have mentioned that the Government funded more than 900 new low-carbon buses during our first two years compared with just 350 in the 13 years that Labour was in power.

Mr Spencer: Is the Minister aware that Labour-controlled Nottinghamshire county council is about to cut £720,000 from its bus budget? What impact will that have on people in north Nottinghamshire and the coalfields who are trying to get access to employment?

Mr Hayes: My hon. Friend will know that Nottinghamshire is dear to my heart; indeed, some would say that it is etched on my heart. He will know that the Trent Barton 141 bus, which runs between Sutton, Mansfield and Nottingham and stops at Blidworth, has been reduced, and that the N28 bus from Blidworth has a revised timetable and, outrageously, no longer stops at Newark hospital. Nottinghamshire county council—now under Labour control—has brought about that eventuality. Oh my goodness, how we look back with awe and regret at the passing of the benevolent county council controlled by the Conservatives under Mrs Kay Cutts, my former colleague on that council.

Benjamin Disraeli may have been prescient when he lamented

“how much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.”

In trying to be correct, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) did us a service. He made it absolutely clear that, directly contrary to what the motion indicates, bus occupancy has risen and passenger miles on local bus services are up, yet the motion is predicated on the very opposite assumption.

We fully understand that buses are essential to many of our fellow citizens. We are of course conscious of the difference they make to access to opportunity. The shadow Secretary of State was absolutely right about that. When I heard the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) say that she lived in one world and I lived in another and that mine was the world of London, I thought she should come to South Holland in Lincolnshire because it could not be less like London. My rural constituents depend on buses to get to work, school or other facilities for their very well-being. The kind of people who depend on buses are those like my mother-in-law in Nottingham. She has never been able to drive and has used a bus all her life. Do not tell us

5 Nov 2014 : Column 931

that we do not know or understand. Not only do we represent people who rely on buses, but our families and friends rely on buses too.

Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Opposition care so passionately about buses, they will encourage their colleagues on Labour-controlled Nottinghamshire county council, whom I am meeting next week, to reverse some of their striking cuts to rural bus services throughout my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer)? Those cuts are isolating people in rural areas, and they are finding it difficult to get to school and work—exactly the problems that Labour is trying to address.

Mr Hayes: I know that that Labour county council has cruelly cut the bus services to places such as Dunham-on-Trent, Egmanton and East Bridgford—villages that I know well and that are ably represented by my hon. Friend, who has made such a stunning impression since he was elected to this House. Buses are critical for people without access to a car. Some 49% of bus trips outside London are made by people with no access to a car—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and the Secretary of State, who spoke so ably at the beginning of the debate. A well-run bus service is crucial for older and disabled people, and I take on board comments from across the House about disability, and particularly about talking buses. I make a commitment to the shadow Minister that I will look again at that matter and do all I can to put right what is wrong, if further steps can be made.

The Government’s expenditure on buses reflects our commitment to them. In the 2013 spending review we protected bus spending until the end of the 2015-16 year, despite the pressure on public finances and tough economic times. Almost £1 billion has been spent this year on funding concessionary travel entitlement. Four rounds of the Green Bus fund have provided £89 million to support the purchase of 1,240 new low-carbon buses, and some £300 million in funding for major bus projects has been allocated in the past year.

I am almost embarrassed, Mr Deputy Speaker, to go on dismantling, deconstructing and demolishing the Opposition’s arguments. [Interruption.] Well, I did say “almost”. This year has seen the devolution of £40 million in bus service operators grant funding, which is now paid directly to local authorities rather than bus operators. Again, I hoped the Opposition would have welcomed that because it gives communities more control. As the Chancellor announced this week, in a move welcomed by some Manchester MPs, an elected mayor will be created in Manchester with strong powers in the city region, and they will—one hopes—be able to effect the sort of positive change that the Mayor of London has done for this great city. That is proper devolution, not mere rhetoric, and the Secretary of State described it as a massive and positive step to allow for a more integrated, co-ordinated transport strategy in the region.

I take the point made by the Chair of the Transport Committee that we need to look more closely at the integration of services—as various reports by that

5 Nov 2014 : Column 932

Committee have argued—and we hope that Manchester will be just the first of the major cities to take advantage of a greater devolution of powers.

Investment in technology, improved ticketing, new infrastructure, and concessionary travel—giving passengers more of what they want.

Let me conclude this debate in the spirit of Christian pity with which I began—I signal my conclusion so that the excitement can build as I move to my exciting peroration. I know that opposition can be a testing business and that there is a temptation to exaggerate. I appreciate that Opposition parties facing failure are likely to become less reasonable, but I cannot believe that Labour could not do better than the meandering hyperbole of this motion. It is a kitchen sink motion that has cracked and needs plunging. As the Minister responsible for maritime skills week, allow me to throw the Opposition a lifeline: don’t go down with the ill-fated captain on a sinking ship.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

The House divided:

Ayes 208, Noes 278.

Division No. 74]

[

7 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brown, Lyn

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

De Piero, Gloria

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey .

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McInnes, Liz

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Murphy, rh Paul

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Phil Wilson

and

Nic Dakin

NOES

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, rh Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, rh Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Clappison, Mr James

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.

(Monmouth)

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Farron, Tim

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Sir Peter

Macleod, Mary

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, rh Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, rh John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, rh Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, rh Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Dr Thérèse Coffey

and

Tom Brake

Question accordingly negatived.

5 Nov 2014 : Column 933

5 Nov 2014 : Column 934

5 Nov 2014 : Column 935

5 Nov 2014 : Column 936

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I have received a report from the Tellers in the Aye Lobby from the earlier Division at 4.11 pm. They inform me that the number of those voting Aye was erroneously reported as 248 instead of 238. The Ayes were 238; the Noes were 287.

Petition

Dover Medical Practice

7.13 pm

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I rise to present a petition organised by my constituent, Susan Fox, and supported by 800 residents of Dover to protest about the closure of the Dover medical practice. They demand that NHS England put patients first and that primary health services are secured for the patients. The patient list should be kept together as a whole. For a large number of people, English is a second language, so translation services are important to them. Many patients have particular health needs related to their background, for which specialism is required. For this reason, the petitioners demand that if a practice is to close, there must be an orderly transition of the patient list to a practice set up to cope with the health and support needs of this group of people—my constituents.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that Dover Medical Practice, situated in Dover Health Centre on Maison Dieu Road, should remain open; further that the Petitioners believe that it is the duty of NHS England to make sure all existing services continue to be available to its patients and to ensure that there are adequate staff for this to happen; and further that a local Petition on this matter in the Dover constituency received 803 signatures.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible steps to ensure that Dover Medical Practice will not close; and further that the House of Commons urges the Department of Health to guarantee that NHS England continues to provide the present staff and services at the Dover Medical Practice for the benefit of the local community.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.

[P001396]

5 Nov 2014 : Column 937

Ebola

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mark Lancaster.)

7.15 pm

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): On 18 June, before the House rose for the summer recess—and in part prompted by the better half of team Phillips then working in the Ministry of Finance in Sierra Leone—I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development about the then little known issue of an outbreak of Ebola haemorrhagic virus in west Africa. It is a topic I had already mentioned to her informally, as she acknowledged in her response. I wanted to know what the Government were doing to deal with what I described, with a prescience in which I take no pleasure, as a very serious issue for the affected countries and, given the risks to us here, for the citizens of the United Kingdom. So it was that, in June this year, the House received assurances from my right hon. Friend that a great deal was being done, specifically in properly funding the World Health Organisation and in the provision of other support to raise awareness, and to ensure the containment, of the Ebola outbreak.

Five months have passed. When I raised the issue, fewer than a hundred cases a week were being reported to the WHO in the principally affected countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In the last week of October, more than 3,000 new cases were reported. Not only are there more infections but the rate of infection in most regions of the principally affected countries is accelerating.

These are not mere assertions. They are the data and, if things continue as they are, they tell us the horrifying story of what is going to happen. On 14 October, the WHO assistant director-general, Dr Bruce Aylward, warned the international community that, by December, infection rates may well be running at 10,000 cases a week. The outbreak is, in the words of the WHO,

“the most severe acute public health emergency seen in modern times.”

The WHO is in part responsible for this. The outbreak has laid bare the incompetence of too many of its senior staff appointed because of political influence in Africa, an issue that we will need to tackle when we have dealt with the outbreak.

Initial WHO estimates that the total number of cases could be contained at around 20,000 have therefore proven to be woefully wrong, as just about every epidemiologist said they would when they were first made. If the international community acts now, as it has begun to do, it will be at best months before the outbreak is under control, but there will have been, I venture to suggest, many more than 20,000 cases. Indeed, many tens of thousands of people may be dead.

Clearly, therefore, despite our best efforts, the action that has been taken by us and by our international partners so far has proven ineffectual. So that we are clear, that threatens not only those living in the three principally affected countries and their neighbours—some of the very poorest people in the world—but us here, too.

Although the UK is now playing its part in ensuring that we try to contain the outbreak, the first thing I want to hear from the Minister tonight is what, precisely,

5 Nov 2014 : Column 938

he and his colleagues in the Foreign Office are doing to ensure that our international partners are playing their part. In so far as I was not clear in June, I want to be clear now: the issue threatens not just west Africa; it threatens us all. This is only the third time the WHO has declared a disease outbreak as a public emergency of international concern, and if that does not give hon. Members pause for thought, I do not know what will.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for bringing this matter to the House and I did ask beforehand whether I could intervene. Last weekend, I had an opportunity to meet some of the Territorial Army soldiers involved in the medical corps who are going to Sierra Leone. Their job is to show people how to avoid catching the Ebola virus. Due to the lack of vaccination, soldiers have been told to use their “common sense and training” to prevent themselves from becoming sick. Unsurprisingly, their families are deeply concerned, as indeed are the soldiers. I share that concern, and I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman does, too.

Stephen Phillips: Of course I share that concern. I think that if soldiers, whether they are reservists or regulars, are being sent to Sierra Leone or, indeed, to any of the affected countries, they must be given proper training so that they do not expose themselves in any way to the possibility of infection.

Although a large section of the media has begun to shift the spotlight to other issues in recent days, I fear, as many do, that things will get worse before they get better. However, there is some good news. Following the Prime Minister’s Cobra meeting to discuss Ebola a month ago, the UK is now helping to lead the international response. That could, of course, have come sooner, but come it has. I understand that we are now one of the largest donors, that we have committed £125 million to the effort, and that we have, in Freetown, not only the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Argus with its hospital facilities, but several hundred military personnel. We have a good reputation in the region, and those heroes—which is what the personnel who have gone to Sierra Leone are—along with everyone else who travels to west Africa to help its people in this dreadful time, deserve our thoughts, our prayers and our support.

No doubt the Minister will tell me whether I am correct, but I assume that France, which I understand is taking the lead in Guinea, and the United States, which I understand is fulfilling a similar role in Liberia, are playing similar roles in the countries where they are leading the efforts. But is that enough? For our part, here in the United Kingdom, it may be, but when we hear of the efforts being made by other countries, it would seem not. The position may well have changed, and I should be glad to hear from the Minister that it has, but to learn that Canada, for instance, has pledged the equivalent of only £18.6 million is profoundly depressing, although it is doubtless a matter for Canadians. We learned this morning that Australia, which had originally given the equivalent of £6.2 million, is now doing rather better, having agreed to commit funds for the construction of a 100-bed treatment centre that the UK is building, but does that mean extra funds, or funds that the UK would have been providing in any event? Perhaps the Minister will tell us.

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In September, the Secretary-General of the United Nations indicated that $600 million would be required just to fund the WHO road map to bring the outbreak to an end. No doubt the Minister will wish to update the House on where current international commitments have taken us. However, he will be aware not only that many consider that sum to be an underestimate, but that it is feared that very little of what has been committed appears to have paid for very much in the affected region. It is not just a question of money, or of promises which, all too often, appear to be poorly translated in practice; it is a question of how money is spent.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): What concerns me about this issue now is that many thousands of people are going to die. We already see hundreds of children being left as orphans. Does my hon. and learned Friend think that some of the money that we are spending in Sierra Leone, and in other countries, should be spent on helping those orphans—who have survived the disease—to come to terms with their position, and to seek a better life for the future?

Stephen Phillips: Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. I shall be dealing with the question of diversion of resources shortly, but I can tell her now that one of one of the great concerns is that funds are now being directed towards Ebola that were formerly used to deal with other health problems in the affected countries.

Significant sums are undoubtedly being channelled through non-governmental organisations, as they have to be, for the simple reason that there is no infrastructure in the region that is sufficient to cope with the outbreak, or with the funds that are being channelled to deal with it. However, we need to know that our money is being well spent, and it is not always clear that that is the case. For example, the International Rescue Committee, an NGO that is laudably trying to help the fight in Sierra Leone, is apparently charging the King’s Sierra Leone Partnership, another NGO, $5,000 a month for the use of each of its vehicles. Why? How can that sum be justified? How can the administrative costs associated with the unnecessary transfer of those funds be justified? Where are the funds coming from in the first place? I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer any of those questions tonight, but they demonstrate that we need to get a grip on the ground, and to ensure that in Sierra Leone, where we are taking the lead, moneys are being properly directed.

Another example is the medical and laboratory facilities that we have constructed in Kerry Town, which opened this morning. I understand that all the out-of-country medical staff are staying at an hotel called The Place. It is one of the most expensive hotels in Sierra Leone, perhaps the most expensive. Save the Children told me today that it has have negotiated a special rate, that rooms are being shared, and that it is necessary for its staff to stay there for reasons of hygiene; but is that really the best use of funds, and what alternatives were considered? I do not know, and if the Minister is handing taxpayer money to Save the Children, he will no doubt want to find out.

Let me turn to the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response. It has, I am told, 65 staff in Freetown. What

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are they doing? I know not and, it seems, neither does anyone else in the country. Here is what someone on the ground said to me in an e-mail:

“Their role is unclear, so far they are just eating money and trying to raise more. Not helping fight Ebola.”

What is needed are health workers, an issue to which I shall shortly come, not administrators spending money on salaries, allowances, accommodation and drivers.

The health systems of all the principally affected countries have been overwhelmed. It is frankly amazing that so many health professionals from here and other countries are prepared to risk their lives to help. They are the real heroes, but there are problems in this area as well.

The first is the disincentive to volunteering that is caused by much of the media coverage surrounding the outbreak. For tabloids to question whether Ebola might become airborne when all the virologists tell us that is highly unlikely is hardly helpful. This is not a film with Dustin Hoffman; it is a real-life situation where responsible reporting is required, including reporting how difficult it is to become infected by the Ebola virus in the absence of contact with an individual displaying symptoms.

Politicians are scarcely blameless. What sort of message, for example, do the Governors of New York and New Jersey think they send out to those who might volunteer by imposing unjustified quarantine requirements on asymptomatic patients which have no basis in scientific fact? What sort of message do the Governments of Canada and Australia think they are sending when they impose travel restrictions on those coming from west Africa which again have absolutely no basis in scientific fact? Cheap scaremongering politics at the expense of lives is not only counter-productive; it is just plain wrong.

Politicians in this country are not immune in this regard. The Minister will know that after British Airways took the unilateral decision to pull its west African routes—another decision which had no basis in medical or scientific fact—the only airline still flying directly to the principally affected countries was Gambia Bird, yet I understand that in early October the Government either ordered or told Gambia Bird to stop its flights. The World Health Organisation has been clear that international air travel is a very low-risk vector for infection, so why did the Government give that direction? Perhaps the Minister can tell us, because a difficult journey involving a long layover in Casablanca or elsewhere en route to the region is scarcely a compelling incentive to dedicated medical staff to volunteer to assist.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I am very glad my hon. and learned Friend has mentioned the question of Gambia Bird, which I have raised in this House before, and I press the Minister to say in his reply when we are going to start to see flights resume from the UK to Sierra Leone. It is surely much better to have people coming into the same place, rather than coming around from various transit points back to this country or out to Sierra Leone?

Stephen Phillips: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The point I was making, too, is that it offers a massive disincentive to those who want to go and help in the region.

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Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I commend the hon. and learned Gentleman for having secured this debate. The most fragile states are those that have proved to be most at risk, which shows the Ebola crisis is about more than Ebola. Resources for other major health-care issues are now depleted because of the concentration on Ebola. What is his information on the battle against malaria and issues such as maternal health care, which are obviously being neglected in this crisis?

Stephen Phillips: I do not have any better information than that which the hon. Gentleman and I probably both read in The Guardian earlier this week. In terms of contraception, for example, we know that pharmaceutical contraception is hugely down at least in Sierra Leone and there is a great worry that there will be very large numbers of teenage pregnancies as a result, overwhelming the health care system in the months and years to come.

Many health-care professionals from this country are travelling to the region despite the difficulties, but where are they? It is said that 659 NHS staff and 130 Public Health England staff have offered to go to the region to help, but no one seems to know where they are, if, indeed, they have arrived in any significant numbers at all. The picture that emerges is therefore of a slightly chaotic and piecemeal response which has likely done nowhere near as much as it could have done to meet the challenges of the situation. It may be that the arrival of RFA Argus and significant numbers of military personnel will change that, but if not clearly somebody needs to get a grip.

The final point the Minister needs to think about is this: the focus which is being given to Ebola is essential, but the effect is that donor and Government funds in all the affected countries are being diverted from other health projects, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said. Malaria, dengue and lassa are rife across west Africa, and we should not lose sight of that. Overstretched health systems having to cope with Ebola necessarily cannot provide even basic health care in relation to other essential needs at the same time. As the press has reported, the diversion of Government money from economies already shrinking at an exponential rate because of the scaremongering associated with the outbreak will only make basic health care even more difficult.

We have reached a pivotal point. If the international community had acted sooner, we would not be where we are, and at least one epidemiologist, whom I sincerely hope is wrong, has voiced the view that we now are too late anyway. The United Kingdom has stepped up to the mark and we are playing our part, on which the Government must be congratulated. Perhaps the real message the Minister needs to take away with him tonight to share with his international development partners is that more needs to be done by them, and to be done urgently and sensibly, to address the worst outbreak of a viral haemorrhagic fever the world has ever seen.

If we do not act, potentially, hundreds of thousands of people will die. That would be a tragedy for one of the poorest parts of the world, but it would also threaten our security here. These are young and vibrant countries: they deserve and must receive the help of the whole world in dealing with a situation for which they were ill prepared.

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7.30 pm

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Desmond Swayne): I thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) for bringing this issue to the attention of the House this evening. He is right in his analysis that this is a very severe problem. I estimate that by the end of October, we will already have had some 14,000 cases and approximately 5,000 deaths. The current rate of infection 1.7: in other words, for every one patient presenting with the disease, 1.7 people are going to catch it. That will lead to a doubling of cases within four weeks. So we have had some very alarming suggestions. I believe that the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention predicted just short of 1.5 million cases in January.

This is absolutely unprecedented in the history of the disease of Ebola. In the past, Ebola has burnt itself out within a few weeks in isolated settlements. It is therefore essential that we isolate it, and for that we need large numbers of foreign medical teams in order to secure that isolation and treatment of the disease. That is why we are stepping up our efforts, and taking a leadership role in encouraging other countries to do the same, and we will not stop: we will carry on until we have beaten this disease.

On the United Kingdom’s response, we are working in partnership with the Government of Sierra Leone. It is a long partnership, one established when that country came out of conflict. We have sought to encourage it from that conflict, and with economic development; but now, we are in partnership with the Government of Sierra Leone in order to beat this disease.

So what is our response? My hon. and learned Friend said that we have committed £125 million; actually, it is £230 million so far, including the previously announced aid matching of the first £5 million of the appeal launched by the Disasters Emergency Committee. We are deploying some 800 military personnel, together with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Argus and its three Merlin helicopters.

Our strategy can be summed up as: beds, burials and communities. The hospital in Kerry Town opened for business today. Our ambition is that it will treat some 8,800 patients within six months. We are making available 700 beds. We anticipate that within a few weeks, the Kerry Town facility will provide 80 beds for people in the country, with 20 beds reserved for health care workers. It is essential, if we are continue the flow of health care workers, that they be guaranteed British standards of care.

Some 83 burial teams have been established, with our support, and they are making a profound difference in Freetown. Only a few weeks ago, just 30% of victims were being buried within 24 hours, but we have now reached 100% and that experience is going to be rolled out throughout Sierra Leone. A constituent wrote to me to say that he believed that Ebola was being spread by zombies. I had to disabuse him of his belief in zombies, but the irony is that people are most infective when they are dead. One problem is that certain burial traditions involve intimate skin-to-skin contact and the washing of bodies that are highly infectious. We are therefore having to drive social change so that people can understand how they can honour their dead without being infected by them.

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We are driving that social change, which leads me to the subject of communities. It is essential to have community care centres where people with symptoms can present and be isolated until we can establish exactly what they have got. For every, say, eight people who present with symptoms, perhaps only one will need to go to an Ebola treatment centre, having been established as having the disease. The others will recover from a bout of malaria, or whatever it was, and go home. We are currently staffing five community centres, and learning the lessons. Within a few weeks we will have 10 of them up and running and, thereafter, it is our ambition to establish 200.

Jim Shannon: I made the point earlier that the Territorial Army soldiers and members of the medical corps who are going out to Sierra Leone from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to help to deal with the Ebola outbreak were concerned because they had not been given full training to ensure that they, too, did not catch the disease. Can the Minister reassure us that our TA soldiers are going to be safe?

Mr Swayne: We have 250 personnel who are going out on the Argus specifically to provide the training, so I am confident that the question of training has been addressed. They are going to deliver that training themselves, so I certainly believe that this has been done. If I have got that wrong, I will write to the hon. Gentleman and correct it. This operation is driving social change; it is also a huge logistical operation. It is motivating social change and bringing about the necessary logistical changes to drive the isolation of the disease.

Pauline Latham: One problem in those communities is that they do not have clean water. We often have water and sanitation programmes in those countries. Can the Minister assure me that he is continuing those programmes to help to keep people clean, because that is one of the key things they need to do?

Mr Swayne: My hon. Friend is right; water and sanitation are important, and that will indeed be part of our emphasis.

We are seeking to mobilise social change, but it is also vital—as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for

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Sleaford and North Hykeham rightly pointed out—that we motivate the rest of the world. The United States is taking responsibility for Liberia, and France is taking responsibility for Guinea and the surrounding francophone zone. We are working closely with the United Nations to help it to address the situation, and we have contributed some £20 million to its trust fund. We are also working with the African Union, not only to secure funds but to ensure a supply of health workers. We are working with other international institutions as well.

On 2 October, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State chaired a conference in London that secured a further £100 million of funding. The Prime Minister then went to the European Council and came back having motivated those there to double the EU contribution to some €1 billion. The High Representative has been dispatched to draw up a programme, return and report at the next Council meeting.

Last week, we signed a memorandum of understanding with New Zealand. It will be supplying some 200 technical and health staff to a base camp in Sierra Leone, and my hon. and learned Friend rightly pointed out that yesterday we heard from the Australians that they will supply 100. My understanding is that it is 100 personnel, but I will write to him to correct that if I have it wrong. It is essential that we proceed to isolate and treat the disease. We are clearly going in the right direction now, but there is much work to be done and a long road to go. It is vital that we continue to secure volunteers and international teams of medical staff to drive this disease down and provide us with the capability to isolate it, because isolation is the key.

My hon. and learned Friend raised a number of concerns about non-governmental organisations on the ground. I seriously do not believe that representatives of, and workers from Save the Children, are living it up in the place at Kerry Town. I understand that they are sharing rooms and that they have negotiated a special price of some £60 a night in order to secure that place proximate to the hospital in which they are working. I am confident that we are taking the right measures to secure the proper expenditure of British taxpayers’ money in order to wipe out this dreadful disease.

Question put and agreed to.

7.42 pm

House adjourned.