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Mr. Hayes: I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's flow, as he is making an extremely considered case. He referred to training for redundant or outdated skills. Does he agree that we need to build into the system training for adaptability--the ability to anticipate and accept change and then deal with it? That is certainly what employers say to me, and it is what I have found from my business experience. We need young people to be flexible and adaptable, and the sort of training that the hon. Gentleman wants can be built into the system.

Mr. Jones: I would not disagree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. However, it is not only employers who believe that that is necessary--although I accept that they do--but many trade unionists. Indeed, many young people believe that that is necessary, as do many of those currently involved in the delivery of inflexible training.

My final point is that training should be reintegrated into mainstream education, while allowing scope for specialist training, especially in niche markets or cutting-edge technology. There will be a need for specialist training provision. In what is becoming a very competitive area, it is necessary to integrate education and training rather better than we do at present. It is essential that we develop proposals and have a continuing programme of upskilling as part of the lifelong learning project.

Another area where the Assembly would need greater flexibility--although it is not the subject of tonight's debate--is health, which I wish to mention briefly. I declare an interest, as I am a member of the Royal College of Nursing parliamentary panel. The Assembly should be given the opportunity to be much more flexible in the way that it approaches health provision. I served on the Standing Committee of the Bill that set up NHS trusts in 1989. I have always believed that they were unnecessary, and a wasteful way of using national health resources, and that they created unnecessary bureaucracy and duplication of management.

The Bill that will result from the Queen's Speech needs--on the premise that it will begin to dismantle the internal market in health--to go substantially further. I want the Assembly to be given the power, if it so wishes, to dismantle and abolish NHS trusts. All that is proposed for the Assembly is the power, if it so wishes, to reconfigure trusts. Frankly, that is simply tinkering with the problem, and we need to go substantially further. The Assembly should have the flexibility to look at the whole of the health area, rather than being restricted by legislative difficulties.

When we examine the proposal to dismantle general practitioner fundholding and put local health groups in its place, we must ensure that that does not simply compound the problem through duplication of management. We should ensure that the reform does not create another tier of bureaucracy, one which does not enable us to deliver better health care in the long term. I am not saying that I am opposed to the idea, but I want to see how it is to be put into practice before giving it our firm backing.

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Finally, I have two more brief points relating to health. First, I want more development of community hospitals, so that we have better integration between community hospitals, GP practices and community services. I believe that we can enhance the provision of health care in rural areas in particular, many of which are far away from district general hospitals. The provision of a more comprehensive community hospital service could bring immediate and substantial benefits.

My second and final point on health is that we are facing a massive problem with the recruitment of nurses and doctors. Time after time, under the previous Administration, we heard about an explosion in the number of managers in the health services and a reduction in the number of front-line nurses and doctors. The Royal College of Nursing has carried out an important survey, which shows that many of our hospitals are suffering recruitment problems. For example, Wales urgently needs at least 500 more nurses and 200 more midwives. Acute hospital trusts have vacancies that they cannot fill, not because they lack the resources, but because of insufficient nurses to fill the posts.

I ask the Government to give the National Assembly for Wales the flexibility to address the important matters of training and health. In so doing, they would give the Assembly a head start and ensure that, when it is established, it can do a proper job of work.

7.12 pm

Ann Keen (Brentford and Isleworth): I welcome all the Queen's Speech, but I shall focus my remarks on the fairness at work White Paper and legislation. I am vice-chair of the parliamentary trade union group and secretary to my own union group here--the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union, or GMB. The House would therefore expect me to take an interest in trade union and employment issues.

In recent discussions with Paul Kenny, London regional secretary to the GMB, we talked about whether any changes had occurred since the White Paper was issued in July. He replied that it was obvious that companies now wanted to talk, having realised that legislation was coming through. They were asking the GMB what benefits it could bring to their company, and what sort of relationship they could expect with the unions if talks started. That marks a different approach by the trade unions than the one described by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), who is no longer in the Chamber. It is about co-operation, partnership and talking; it has already started and it is accelerating.

If that relationship is absent, and if open discussion does not occur, the result is the situation that we are on the eve of changing. An example can be seen in a company that I have mentioned in previous debates--Noons, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra), in which constituents of mine are employed.

For a year up to the publication of the White Paper, the company had been engaged in a bitter battle with its work force. More than 500 people work in the company, which prepares Asian food for large supermarkets. The bitterness was entrenched and there was no talking--an old-style approach. The company had challenged the union representatives, there was intimidation and an extremely stressful environment. Now--tomorrow, I believe--an

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agreement is to be signed. The parties are talking, and a positive future beckons for that company. Congratulations should go to both sides, because it is only when both sides agree to talks that good results can be achieved.

However, some of my other constituents, whom I met recently, are not so lucky. They work in the London casinos, which are not usually perceived as a bedrock of trade unionism. The casinos wage a war of words, and there are constant legal challenges, conflicts and recourse to industrial tribunals. The whole approach emphasises the differences. I want my Government to include in their fairness at work legislation a small and simple procedure to ensure that bad bosses have no room for manoeuvre--no room to use expensive delaying tactics and legal challenges when a ballot has taken place and democratic procedures followed. I hope that the Government will address that problem in the Bill.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Billericay is not here to hear my comments on family-friendly policies, because such policies are crucial to the future stability of the work force. If employers do not take care of the work force, how can they expect the loyalty and commitment from their employees on which many small businesses rely?

Like the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones), I want to talk about the health service from an employment perspective. I am a member of the Select Committee on Health, which is examining recruitment and retention of staff. We know that part of the problem with retention of staff relates to employment practices in the national health service.

The NHS is the largest employer in Europe. I hope that we now have a Government who will look at employment practices within the NHS, and that all staff, across the spectrum, will be entitled to family-friendly policies. That is not only a slogan. My profession is nursing, and I know of many occasions when part-time work has been asked for, but not given. The attitude encountered is that of the old school: "I work full time, I started my shift at 7.30 am, I did not have child care, so you can do it too." The problem is that staff are not doing it, and they are not staying. At last we have a Government who are working in partnership with the health service and saying that, if staff are to stay in a difficult job, they must be cared for.

When the chief executive of my local hospital, John de Braux of the West Middlesex University Hospital NHS trust, was asked recently about problems with the millennium bug, he said that, until the Labour Government were elected in 1997, there had been no investment in his hospital for more than 25 years, so he was happy with the equipment being up to date and able to cope with the millennium bug; however, he remained extremely concerned about staffing levels. The staff who were on duty that night or that week were not his sole concern; he also had to take into account their domestic circumstances.

Many nurses are married to ambulance workers, and ambulance workers sometimes marry fire officers. That can lead to complex problems of the type facing Mr. de Braux--who is to look after the children and so enable his staff to come on duty? I had not previously considered such problems, and I am telling as many of my colleagues as possible that it is something that they should examine in the context of their local area. Family-friendly policies are crucial.

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Trade unions are now encouraged to work in partnership. The Government are right to promote such an approach, and they should be congratulated on doing so. However, we need to consider how to protect vulnerable people at work--people working in small units, subject to bad bosses who still look for loopholes that will enable them to avoid trade union recognition, and having to ensure that working conditions are adequate. So I urge the Government to look at the Bill to see whether procedures can operate in that way. It is the only way in which everyone can work together. Working together with the trade union movement is a positive approach to the next century.

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