Easter Adjournment

Part of Deferred Division No. 85 – in the House of Commons at 1:08 pm on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Opposition Chief Whip (Commons) 1:08 pm, 29th March 2007

Assurances were given in the past. Particularly in the summer months, the noise from those roads means that people cannot go out in their gardens or enjoy the countryside in which they have purchased houses.

I first raised the issue of quarrying in the Peak district some 10 years ago, when I was very concerned about Longstone Edge and Backdale quarry. After 10 years, a public inquiry has just taken place. I do not expect the Deputy Leader of the House to comment on that public inquiry. I once asked the Library for a briefing on the subject, and it sent back a note stating that it is "a rather complicated matter"—one can ask the Library for a brief on nuclear weapons or treaties, but if one asks for a brief on Backdale quarry, it states that it is "a rather complicated matter". That is an underestimation, and I will not go into all the issues around the quarry application, but I will say that the issue has been ongoing for more than 10 years.

I hope that when the planning inspector reports, whatever he says, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to whom I have written about this, will call in and investigate the whole process. The amount of money that it has cost the Peak park planning board and the quarry operators in legal fees, and the amount of officers' time that has been spent, must be incalculable, and it has not been the most effective way of dealing with the matter.

If the planning inspector's decision goes the right way, I should like to think that that might be the end of the line, but I fear that we are still going to have to spend a lot of time on this application, which has been incredibly controversial. After all, we are talking about a national park that is visited each year by millions of people who come to see it and enjoy the activities there. I am joined in that view by the former deputy leader of the Labour party, Lord Hattersley, who lives fairly near to the site.

Another issue that is causing a great deal of anxiety to my constituents is the proposed closure of Stoney Middleton school. We now have a new process for school closures whereby they ultimately go to a school adjudicator. It used to be possible for us, as Members of Parliament, to make representations directly to the Secretary of State before a school was closed, but no longer. Stoney Middleton is a fairly small village but it is on a very busy road on which schoolchildren will have to travel if the school closes. That alone should be a reason to think again. In its motion, the county council considered proposals to "discontinue" the school. I suppose that that is a new kind of language and that it really means "close". Closing the school would take the heart out of the village. I hope that whenever the school adjudicator comes to a final decision, he or she will say that the county council's case has not been made. The school is providing an excellent educational service for its pupils, and it should be allowed to continue to do so.

When I spoke in the Christmas Adjournment debate, I said that I feared that Darley maternity unit would be proposed for closure by the local trust. I am afraid that those fears have come to fruition, so today I shall turn most of my attention to Darley. It is a small unit run by midwives with a wealth of experience. Indeed, my wife was given first-class service when she was there, almost 17 years ago, on the occasion of the birth of our second child, Clare. Having provided that service for people in the north Derbyshire area for a very long time, it is now threatened with closure. That is completely unacceptable.

The way in which the trust has gone about this, in not being open and honest about the figures, is nothing less than an absolute disgrace. In its consultation document, it says:

"The community maternity service review has shown the unit would need substantial extra investment to meet the required standard of clinical practice and bring it up to safe staffing levels. This extra equates to more than £300,000 a year."

When I met officials from the trust, together with Paul Holmes, I challenged them on that figure. To say that their response was dismal would be kind. To say that they could not justify it in any way, shape or form would be to underestimate their inability to reply. It was a disgraceful episode. In the 20 years that I have been in the House of Commons, I have never had a meeting with officials that I would class as being so bad. I am still unable to get from them a proper figure for their costs as regards the unit, because every time they are asked a question they come up with a different figure. At the meeting, they started by saying that the unit needed an extra two nurses. I said, "Two nurses don't cost £150,000 each, so what is the rest of the money for?" After a slight pause, they said that it needed an extra five nurses. That is typical of how it went on—it was unbelievable. If trusts are going to make such proposals, they must be told that they need to be honest and open with the people they are dealing with.

I have had many representations from my constituents about the wonderful service that the unit provides. Mrs. Smith from Wirksworth says:

"At Chesterfield for my first baby, I had an appalling birth; no consistency of care, the consultant in and out of the room giving instructions to various midwives without consulting me. I felt totally disempowered I was stitched afterwards by a junior doctor who did not even introduce himself. I had to wait on a trolley for an hour after the birth, unable to move or control my bladder because of my epidural. An auxiliary mopped up my urine without speaking to me. It was like Victorian times. The next day, I was transferred to Darley. I received empathy, support, and debriefing, explaining why my delivery had been so difficult. When I became pregnant again, I booked in to Darley. I can not fault the care I received during labour. I felt supported throughout. Unfortunately, in the final stages, the baby was stuck and I was transferred to Chesterfield in an ambulance. However, the midwife from Darley came with me, held my hand, reassured me. I still felt in control, because I was part of the decision to transfer me. I can never thank the midwives at Darley enough—they saved my sanity. Surely this unit should be a flag ship."

I could read from many others, but I will not because time is limited and other Members want to speak.

The late Professor Brian Williams was tragically killed just 10 days ago in an awful accident where he was again, as so often, helping the community. He was a professional social researcher and a lecturer at De Montfort university. At an earlier stage, when the trust first came out with its consultation document, he explained that the trust questionnaires broke all the rules that he set down for his students on preparing such documents, because asking such closed questions produces biased results. He said of the questionnaire in the back of the document that is being circulated by the trust:

"The only way for people who do not agree with the perspective presented in the report to express their views is to ignore or delete the closed questions and write answers in one of the boxes—but people tend not to do that, they tend to get irritated and discard the questionnaire. This, of course, would further bias the responses received."

Just to help the issue along, and before we have the new communications allowance, I produced my own document, which I circulated to my constituents urging them to ensure that they have their say before the final decision is taken on 20 April. I very much hope, even at this late stage, that we get a change of heart from the trust and that the Department of Health investigates the way in which the whole exercise has been gone about.

When people see and hear the Prime Minister telling us how much extra money and resources have gone into making the health service better, as we do every week at the Dispatch Box, they wonder why we are losing the services that we have enjoyed over many years. It does not look that way, even if we want to take the Prime Minister at his word. I find that difficult to do when I consider what is happening to the Darley maternity unit. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can respond to that.

Given that the Deputy Leader of the House attended a meeting with me a few weeks ago at Ripley, where we met David Coleman, the chief constable of Derbyshire police, I want to consider police funding and the new formula that the Government have introduced. I am not asking for extra money but for the formula to be distributed in the way in which the Government originally intended. The hon. Gentleman, along with me and other east midlands Members, heard a first-class, impressive presentation. Thankfully, we got rid of the disastrous plan to merge all the police forces in the east midlands, but the presentation described the way in which the forces work together effectively on serious and organised crime. We were taken through the financing and I do not want that element of the police's work throughout the east midlands to be put in danger. I know that the Deputy Leader of the House does not want that and I hope that he can examine that matter, too.

Today's debate is an important opportunity for colleagues to put on record some of the things that are going wrong in their constituencies or matters about which constituents are concerned. I have not picked all the issues from my constituency but I have chosen some of the most important. They are causing anxiety and I hope that the Government will tackle them.