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Iraq (Human Rights)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Today I am publishing a report on human rights abuses in Iraq. It is based on intelligence material, first hand accounts of Iraqi victims of torture and oppression, and reports amassed by NGOs over the past decade. The report examines Iraq's record on torture, the treatment of women, prison conditions, arbitrary and summary killings, the persecution of the Kurds and Shia, the harassment of opposition figures outside Iraq and the occupation of Kuwait.

The Iraqi regime's contempt for international law and its attachment to weapons of mass destruction were documented in the government's dossier published on 24 September. Its dreadful human rights record is widely known. But I consider it important that Parliament and the public should have accurate information about the awful reality of Saddam Hussein's policy of regime terror, which sustains his rule inside Iraq.


Contingency Planning

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): Since the tragic events of September 11th, the Department of Health has strengthened its plans against any deliberate release of biological agents, including smallpox. We have no evidence of a specific threat of a smallpox attack on the UK. However, it is sensible and prudent to ensure that the NHS can deal effectively with any potential threat.

There are three components to the Department's preparation for response to a possible smallpox emergency: improved vaccine stocks, a plan of action and a cohort of immunised staff who could deal safely with any potential smallpox cases.

We have already taken action to substantially increase our stocks of smallpox vaccine and we have recently begun a second procurement to add to these stocks.

The Department of Health is today publishing an interim plan of action for discussion and comment over the coming month. Under this plan, it is intended to establish 12 Regional Smallpox Response Groups around the UK. They will consist of Infectious disease physicians and paediatricians, public health physicians, microbiologists/virologists, acute care and communicable disease control nurses and occupational health staff.

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This core group of NHS staff will need to be immune to smallpox and therefore able to react quickly and work safely with patients with actual or suspected smallpox. Preparations for the vaccination of these key workers is now underway. I expect these vaccinations to be completed by the end of next month. It is intended to vaccinate around 350 health care staff across the UK. This will be on an entirely voluntary basis with informed consent. The Ministry of Defence, with whom we are working closely, is planning to vaccinate a similar cohort of specialist military personnel.

The Plan also explains how smallpox cases would be handled in various scenarios. The Department of Health's primary strategy would be to contain and 'ring vaccinate' around any outbreak. The teams of vaccinated health care staff are central to delivering this strategy.

These plans are a practical precaution designed to ensure the UK is prepared for any possible smallpox emergency. They are in line with World Health Organisation advice and will be kept under active review.

Similar interim plans are being prepared for publication by the Devolved Administrations. This work has been taken forward under the cross-Governmental Civil Contingency machinery for which the Home Secretary has overall responsibility.

National Health Service Pay Modernisation

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): I am pleased to be able to announce that on 28 November negotiators representing the UK Health Departments, NHS employers and NHS trades unions successfully concluded negotiations on a new pay system for NHS staff (with the exception of those within the remit of the Doctors and Dentists Review Body and the most senior managers). It represents the most radical transformation of the NHS pay system since the foundation of the service in 1948. The proposed new system will now go out for consultation with organisations representing NHS staff.

Over the three year period from 2003–04 to 2005–06 the overall package will mean an average increase of 12.5 per cent in basic pay for NHS staff. It will give a 10 per cent pay increase over three years for all staff, plus an average 5.9 per cent in the longer run linked to modernisation.

The proposed new pay system will be based on a new system of job evaluation. This means that the basic pay that NHS staff receive will reflect the knowledge, responsibility, skills and effort required in their job, rather than their historic job title or occupational group. To progress fully in the new pay system, staff will need to demonstrate a level of applied skills and knowledge appropriate to their level of responsibility.

The new system will also introduce clearer rewards for staff who work flexibly outside traditional working hours. It will give extra flexibilities for local NHS employers to create new types of jobs and to make extra payments to reflect recruitment and retention pressures. Instead of almost 650 different staff grades and thousands of different allowances, there will be a simple

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set of core terms and conditions based on 8 pay bands, including simple, harmonised arrangements for working hours and annual leave.

The new system is designed to ensure fair pay for staff, based on the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, and a clearer system of career progression. It will also directly support modernisation of patient care. It will provide new opportunities for staff to take on new responsibilities, breaking down old-fashioned demarcations and enabling jobs to be re-designed around the needs of the patient. It will produce a more sensible division of labour, with nurses, therapists and health care assistants taking on new roles that improve NHS productivity and free up more of doctors' and other senior clinicians' time for direct patient care.

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Clearer rewards for flexible working will help make NHS services more widely available to patients in the evenings and weekends. Improvements in pay, career and training prospects will help recruit an estimated 10,000 more nurses and other health professionals and an estimated 27,000 health care assistants by 2006–07 in England, particularly in high cost areas such as London. A clearer link between pay and development of knowledge and skills will help deliver higher and more consistent standards of NHS patient care.

If the new system is approved following consultation, implementation will start in twelve NHS sites in Spring 2003 with full implementation starting in October 2004.

A summary of the proposed new pay system has been placed in the Library.