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Dr. Harris: Would it not be a career-enhancing move, and would it not enhance the Government's reputation, if the Minister took this opportunity to apologise to the nurses and midwives in the health service for the staging of last year's pay award? He could do that without any commitment to the financial compensation that I mentioned earlier. Now is his opportunity.

Mr. Denham: In response to the hon. Gentleman, I shall set out the approach that we have taken in our evidence to the pay review body. As my right hon. Friend said on Monday, we hope that the independent review body will propose a settlement which is fair to nurses and midwives and affordable for the national health service, and which the Government will be able to implement in full. As we said in our evidence, there is a case for an enhanced increase in starting pay for newly qualified nurses.

The Government are pledged to modernise the NHS, to make it modern and dependable for the 21st century. The programme of modernisation will be delivered only with the support of staff, which is why we must ensure that we can recruit and retain staff, get the numbers of staff right and ensure that they are paid fairly.

Pay matters, of course, but it is not the only issue and it must be seen in its proper context. Most surveys of nurses show that there are many important factors in attracting them to work in the NHS, to stay in their jobs or to return. It does not diminish the importance that nurses attach to pay to recognise that those surveys raise issues that are often of equal or greater importance than pay. Other important issues for nurses include better resources to do the job, help with child care, more opportunities to develop skills, a better career structure and measures to tackle violence against staff.

The Government are taking action across the range of issues of concern to nurses and to the NHS. We are providing the funding to employ more nurses, we are taking action to increase nurse training and to improve the conditions of work for nurses, we are encouraging qualified nurses back into the nursing profession, we are taking action to improve the career prospects for nurses and we want to take further action on pay reform.

The roots of the current shortage of nurses lie in the previous Government's cut in the number of training places. Our own surveys carried out shortly after we came into office confirm that trusts were having difficulty

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recruiting and retaining qualified nurses. We have put in place a raft of measures to put matters right, so that we can look forward to year-on-year increases in the number of qualified nurses, as a result of our commitment to nurse training.

An extra £60 million is being invested in nurse training next year and nursing students are being given favourable NHS funding support in comparison with other students. As part of the comprehensive spending review, we are investing an additional £18 billion in the NHS in England over the next three years, which will enable up to 15,000 more nurses to be taken on over the next three years, and an extra 6,000 additional nurse training places are planned to address the shortfall that we inherited.

Mr. Simon Hughes rose--

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman must forgive me--I have three minutes left.

I can refute the claim by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) that the Government cut back by 3 per cent. a planned increase in the number of places for 1997-98. The reality is that, in January 1997, the then right hon. Member for Loughborough promised that there would be additional 1,300 places for new nurse training. Far from cutting back on that, we achieved an additional 1,418 nurses in training in that year.

The numbers applying for nurse training are increasing--16,800 students applied for Project 2000 nursing and midwifery courses in 1996-97 and almost 2,000 more applied in 1997-98.

We are not just increasing the number of training places. Some £50 million was allocated last September to expand the number of part-time nursing courses, provide bursaries to enable 2,700 enrolled nurses to upgrade their qualifications and provide opportunities and financial support for other NHS staff, such as health care assistants, to become qualified nurses. More than 1,000 staff will benefit from that scheme over the next three years.

The aim of providing up to 15,000 more nurses, midwives and health visitors is a challenging one. Training is one part of the answer, but we must also promote nursing as a career, attracting back nurses who have left the profession for whatever reason. More than 100,000 nurses are on the register but are not practising. Some of those nurses could return to nursing tomorrow, whereas others would need support in refreshing their professional skills. That is why, at the Royal College of Nursing congress last April, we announced a further £4 million for local investment in "return to practice" initiatives, building on an allocation of £10.5 million in 1997 to support return to practice and continuing professional development.

As well as getting more people into nursing, the Government want to hold on to the nurses that we have. We expect employers to use family-friendly employment policies to respond to the demand for more flexible patterns of working, in order to secure and keep the staff that they need.

Those matters are important, but pay rates matter too. I said that we hope that the independent review body will propose a settlement that is fair to nurses and midwives and affordable for the NHS, and that the Government will be able to implement in full. We also recognise that we

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need a modern, fair and effective pay system that supports us in paying nurses, midwives, health visitors and other NHS staff fairly, in a way that enables them to give their best for patients in a new, modern and dependable national health service.

When we came to office, the Government said that we wanted to return to national pay for the NHS if it could be matched with meaningful local flexibility. I know that many nurses and others working in the NHS share my wish for better career progression and more modern conditions of service that are relevant to the way in which people now work--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We must now move on to the debate on reform of the Select Committee system.

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Select Committee Reform

11 am

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I am pleased to introduce this debate, especially when there is a growing view both inside this place and outside that by stealth the status and role of Parliament are being eroded. That is not any reflection upon any particular Administration, but it has been happening increasingly over recent decades.

Those of us who are jealous of our parliamentary role of scrutinising the Executive and voting supply want to see an opportunity to restore these parliamentary rights and duties. That is in line with the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) when she was the Leader of the House and discussing the reform of Select Committees. She said

One of the exciting challenges for this Administration is to leave an enduring legacy of having given Parliament new opportunities to scrutinise the Executive.

As we look back relatively recently, one of the great legacies--one of the few legacies that I would refer to from the period when Margaret Thatcher was in office--was the St. John-Stevas reforms, which created the present Select Committee system, and thank goodness for it. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will leave an enduring legacy, having further developed the Select Committee system during this Parliament.

Of course, the Select Committees are ancient. They have been used many times and it is wrong to suggest that they are a new idea. They have come into their own more recently as, inexorably, government has demonstrated a rapacious appetite in putting through legislation, minimising debate and exercising its role as the Executive. That is in the nature of things, human nature being what it is. However, our duty is to monitor, control, scrutinise, cajole and often criticise the conduct of whatever party is in government.

I want to canvass what are basically cultural changes that reflect the attitudes of Members and of others who are interested and active in politics and journalism. We must change our attitudes to the role of Members of Parliament. All too often people come to this place--I am talking also of our friends and loved ones--and say, for example, "I hope it won't be long before you are a Minister," or "It won't be long before you are a Minister." There is the presumption that in politics in the United Kingdom promotion means becoming a Minister.

I hope that we can create a culture whereby there is an alternative. For example, a Member might aspire to become the chairperson of a Select Committee; in other words, to head up a Select Committee. I think that that will come about, but I would like to move on the process.

Part of moving it on is the question of resources. One of my good friends said, "For goodness sake, Mackinlay, don't suggest that we should have more money." I will not make that suggestion because I think that the disparity between Ministers' pay and that of Members is constitutionally wrong. Basically, there should be no disparity. I am not advancing the idea that Chairmen of

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Select Committees should have more pay, but I think that they need more resources and the facilities that go with office. I am talking not of trappings but facilities that will enable them to be better leaders of Select Committees.

I shall give one example. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, in the nature of his work--and that of his predecessors--has to visit many embassies and attend many functions. It is a waste of my hon. Friend's time and that of others, and wrong, that they must compete in the taxi queue when they need to be at the embassies of China or South Africa, for example. There should be the resource of a pool car, not as a matter of status but as common sense.

It is clear that Select Committee Chairmen need better office accommodation and personal back-up staff. Our friends in the Clerk's Department are clearly under- resourced. Many of us recognise, particularly as we put more and more demands upon them, that we are not voting additional resources to their Department to enable them to meet the new tasks and challenges that we present to them as we become more diligent and more enthusiastic proponents of the Select Committee system. I hope that during the life of this Parliament these matters will be considered, followed by action and additional resources.

There is a case also for Members who serve on Select Committees to be given some additional resources. We are faced with the marshalling of papers and preparation for Select Committee hearings. I find that this preparation presents an enormous task. I feel sometimes that I have not gone into the Committee Room as sufficiently briefed and prepared as I would like to be because of a lack of sufficient back-up facilities. I hope that that might be considered.

I should also like to float an idea on which I have not concluded my view. The best Select Committee report, of course, is one that has been reached by consensus. However, we must recognise that sometimes there might be occasions for minority reports, not necessarily on a partisan basis. In exceptional circumstances where demonstrably there is a strongly held, reasonable but minority view, it may well be that there should be resources available to facilitate the minority. I stress that I am talking about a minority of view, not a party minority. Indeed, the view could be held by a member of the majority party.

I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider another matter that they might discuss through the usual channels with leaders of other parties: the selection of members of Select Committees and their Chairmen. I accept that I am a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs by patronage. I could be removed from it by the same source. I think that within the parliamentary Labour party, and its equivalent in the other parties, a selection of Members to serve on Select Committees should be made by Back-Benchers, not by party managers. Alternatively, and as I would prefer, there could be a new Committee of Selection exclusively drawn up of those who are not in the Executive and not on the Opposition Front Bench, who would then select Members to serve on Select Committees and recommend who should be their Chairmen.

I have always been somewhat cussed and difficult.As you will remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was instrumental, along with some Conservative Members and

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my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)--my hon. Friend would have liked to be in the Chamber but she is detained on other parliamentary business--in putting the late Sir Robert Adley in the Chair of the Transport Select Committee in the last Parliament. Sir Robert was very well qualified. However, we were told whom we should have as Chairman. One baulks at that. I accept that the alternative candidates were extremely good as well. However, I am rather proud that I was instrumental in ensuring that Sir Robert became the Chairman.

After Sir Robert's untimely and tragic death, we had Paul Channon, who we said was parachuted in to be Chairman. Paul Channon was a perfectly charming person and he emerged as an extremely good Chairman of the Committee in the previous Parliament. I am not talking about personalities, but it seems to be wrong that these appointments should be handed down from on high.

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