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3 Dec 2002 : Column 752—continued

Agency/Bank Nurses

12. Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): If he will make a statement on the amount spent on agency and bank nurses over the Christmas period 2001. [82628]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): Data on the amount spent on agency nurses are collected annually. In 2000–01, £435 million was spent on non-NHS nursing, midwifery and health visiting temporary staff. Information on the amount spent on bank nurses is not held centrally.

Norman Lamb : I thank the Minister for that reply. May I draw his attention to the fact that the Norfolk and Norwich hospital spent £1.1 million on agency nurses last year—nearly double the amount spent in the previous year and five times the amount spent in 1996-97? The cost of agency nurses appears to be spiralling out of control in Norwich and nationally and NHS Professionals appears not to be working as intended. Does that not demonstrate a failure of work force planning in the past five years? What steps are the Government taking to address that massive cost to the NHS to ensure that the extra money going into the NHS is spent in the most effective way?

Mr. Hutton: I agree that spending on commercial agency nurses is far too high, and we need to take action to reduce it. We shall do so, first, by establishing NHS Professionals, on which we are making progress. For example, nearly 2,000 additional staff have been recruited to NHS Professionals in London in recent months. It is making progress, but we need to do more. Equally important, one of the principal ways that we will reduce costs, if that is the hon. Gentleman's concern—it is mine—is by extending nationally the terms of the London agency project, which is working well in London, to reduce the number of commercial agencies that we use and the amount that we pay them for those services. We will be able to extend the London agency project nationwide in the spring of next year, which will help significantly in reducing the costs.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): One of the reasons why many nurses choose to work through agencies is that they can thereby obtain more flexible work patterns that reflect modern lifestyles and family demands. What is the Minister doing to encourage

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hospitals to offer that to directly employed nurses, so that the cost of agency nurses does not spiral even further out of control?

Mr. Hutton: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I draw his attention to the fact that we are investing significant amounts of additional money in improving precisely the conditions of service that he mentions, especially child care and flexible working. The new agenda for change proposals will make a significant difference to the flexibility of employment in the NHS and, I hope, help to provide, at least in part, the solution that he and I are looking for.

General Practitioner Vacancies

13. Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle): Whether general practitioner vacancies have gone up since 2001; and if he will make a statement. [82629]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): The NHS recruitment, retention and vacancy survey shows that there has been an increase in the estimated three-month vacancy rate for GPs from 1.7 per cent. on 31 March 2001 to 2.7 per cent. on 28 February 2002. The higher number of all GPs working in the NHS, excluding GP trainers, has increased by 1,469, or 5 per cent., since 1997.

Mrs. Calton : Will the Minister explain why the Secretary of State announced the golden hello scheme twice in March 2001, yet failed to provide any guidelines, including the start date—1 April 2001—until November 2001?

Mr. Hutton: We announced that we had reached agreement on the scheme and, in November, we

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announced and confirmed its details, but the payments were backdated to April, so no GP lost out. I am sure that the hon. Lady will be pleased to note that, last week, I confirmed that the golden hello payment has been increased to £12,000.

Cancer Care

14. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): If he will make a statement on progress towards meeting his targets on cancer care. [82630]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears): Thanks to the hard work of those working in the NHS, we are already making real progress in implementing the NHS cancer plan. Patients are benefiting from improvements across all aspects of cancer care, and cancer mortality rates are falling.

Mr. Chapman : Does my hon. Friend agree that specialist oncology trusts have a key part to play in maintaining standards in cancer care? Does she also agree that any review of trusts needs to be driven by patient interests rather than by pre-judgment on an organisational or numerical basis?

Ms Blears: Specialist trusts remain an essential part of the cancer care system. I am delighted to confirm that at the Clatterbridge centre for oncology in my hon. Friend's area, a new CT scanner, three linear accelerators, a radiotherapy treatment planning system and an MRI scanner have already been delivered. I am also delighted to confirm that the patient's interest will be uppermost in our minds in relation to the whole of the cancer care system and the design of any new cancer care services for my hon. Friend's community.

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Hunting with Dogs

3.30 pm

The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): It is an honour and a privilege to outline to the House my proposals for legislation to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the issue of hunting with dogs. Few people would regard that as the most important issue for Parliament and Government to resolve, but it is a serious issue on which many Members of this House and members of the public have very strong and polarised views. That is why we must return to the matter again.

The last time that Parliament considered a Bill on hunting with dogs, no agreement was reached between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. That is why our manifesto promised to

That is why the Prime Minister gave me the job of fulfilling our manifesto commitment by designing legislation to command the support of Parliament and to make good law—legislation that will stand the test of time.

At the request of the Campaign for the Protection of the Hunted Animal and the Countryside Alliance, I took the conclusions of the Burns inquiry as my starting point. The terms of reference required Lord Burns to look at all aspects of hunting with dogs, and the authority of his report is acknowledged on all sides. The key issues emerging from the Burns report were cruelty and utility. Those two principles have run like a golden thread through the consultation process. Everything has been tested against them. Are we preventing cruelty? Are we recognising what farmers and others need to do to eradicate vermin or to protect livestock, crops or the biodiversity of an area? My Bill is based on the answers to those two questions.

After my statement in March, I started a wide-ranging consultation process involving all interested parties, Members of Parliament and the public. Initially, the response generated more heat than light: some 7,000 people wrote asking me to leave everything unchanged. That matched some 7,000 who asked me to Xjust ban everything". Others wrote detailed contributions, however, which were based on evidence and on their personal experience. In May, I asked for detailed evidence to be submitted against a set of questions and criteria, which were based on looking at the issues of cruelty and utility and other questions raised by the evidence that I had received by that time. The amount of serious engagement increased greatly.

In September, I chaired a series of public hearings in Portcullis House. The three main campaigning groups participated fully. Together, we heard expert witnesses from all sides of the argument who debated the merit of applying the principles of cruelty and utility to the activity of hunting mammals with dogs. I want to pay tribute to the leaders of those groups—the Countryside Alliance, the Campaign for the Protection of the Hunted Animal and the middle way group—who fully engaged in a mature and intelligent manner on an issue on which each of them feels passionately and deeply.

During the consultation, both sides welcomed and praised a process that has been fair, open and transparent. The two principles of cruelty and utility

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provide the golden thread that runs from the start to the finish of the process and through the drafting of the Bill. That golden thread is strengthened by the integrity of the process, the basis of principle and the strong focus on evidence that has led me to conclusions that I hope will command the support of this House.

I will publish a Bill this afternoon but, in advance of that, let me take this opportunity to outline my reasoning behind those conclusions. There has been support from all the organisations involved for the idea of drafting legislation on the basis of evidence and the two principles of cruelty and utility. That in itself is very significant and should be noted by Opposition Members.

On a number of occasions, John Jackson, chairman of the Countryside Alliance, said, XIf something is cruel, we shouldn't be doing it", and animal welfare organisations have acknowledged Xutility"—the things that need to be done for such purposes as eradicating vermin or to protect livestock. Indeed, they included a list of exemptions in the deadline 2000 option that we debated in the last Parliament. The middle way group has also acknowledged the validity of these two principles.

The Bill is designed to recognise utility and prevent cruelty. Let me briefly spell out what that means. The utility test involves asking what is necessary to prevent serious damage to livestock, crops and other property or biological diversity. The cruelty test involves asking which effective methods of achieving that purpose cause the least suffering. All activities will be judged on the evidence available about whether they meet both the tests. Where an activity has no utility and involves cruelty, it will not be allowed to continue. Incontrovertible evidence shows that the activities of hare coursing and deer hunting cannot meet the two tests, so these activities will be banned. Where an activity with dogs has general utility and there is no generally less cruel method, it will be allowed. Again, incontrovertible evidence has shown that such activities as ratting and rabbiting should be allowed to continue, and they will be dealt with in the Bill.

For some activities, the evidence is less clear-cut, so I propose to set up an independent process to consider on a case-by-case basis whether particular activities involving dogs meet the two tests. That is consistent with the Burns findings. The procedure will require an application to an independent registrar showing why there is a need to undertake the proposed activity and to show that the cruelty test is satisfied. The procedure will then allow a prescribed animal welfare organisation to provide evidence as well. If the registrar is satisfied that both tests are met, he will grant registration; if not, he will refuse. In considering applications, the registrar will also have to consider whether the applicant will be able to comply with standard conditions, such as requiring hunted animals to be killed quickly and humanely when caught. Applicants may also specify conditions to which their hunting will be subject.

If either side wishes to appeal against the decision, it can do so to an independent tribunal. The tribunal will be a national body with a president at its head appointed by the Lord Chancellor. A panel will have a legally qualified chair, normally sitting with two other members—one with land management experience and the other with animal welfare experience. This is similar

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to the fair and effective way in which housing law and employment law have been dealt with to a high standard over many years. Let me stress that we will not be establishing local tribunals.

At every stage, there will be balance, fairness, clear principles, transparency and an emphasis on evidence within a process that is based on clear tests and that enables hunters and those concerned with animal welfare to present their evidence. The onus is now on the people who want to undertake any activity to show that they can meet the tests of utility and cruelty. They might find ways of changing their activity to meet the two tests. That will be a matter for them, and I am not going to prejudge the independent registrar. What is clear is that if they cannot meet the tests, the activity cannot continue. It is simple. If the activity cannot meet the tests, the activity will not happen; if it can, it will.

A number of commentators have tried to suggest that there is an intention to go beyond the issue of hunting to other country sports. I want to make it clear that there is no such intention. It is spelled out in our manifesto commitment:

I am also convinced by the evidence that there is no need to control falconry within the provisions of the Bill. In falconry, dogs are used to flush out quarry, so for the avoidance of doubt the Bill will specify such activities as exempted activities.

It may be argued that the two principles of utility and cruelty, on which I am basing my proposals, do not go wide enough. The social and economic contribution of hunting will be mentioned, or the argument that ancient freedoms should not be interfered with will be made. Those are serious points and I do not take them lightly, but the key point is that no one has a right, nor should have a right, to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals. Of course we want to keep to a minimum the constraints on people's behaviour and activity, but to ask for the liberty to be cruel would be absurd. Parliament has the right to set limits and has done so in the past. That is what the Bill does. It seeks to prevent cruelty associated with hunting with dogs. Even if someone is registered, that does not allow that individual to undertake activities in such a way as to cause avoidable or unnecessary suffering. People will be registered to hunt certain species with dogs in a specific area; they will not have licence to be cruel.

Let us not forget that we have to address the issue and bring it to a sensible resolution in a way that will stand the test of time rather than being a quick fix or a temporary solution that cannot be implemented. My conclusions are based on evidence and principle, not prejudice on either side of the argument. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will see the merit of the proposals because they are fair and reasonable. They balance principle and evidence and can be enforced.

Most people want to see cruelty prevented. They also want farmers, gamekeepers and others who have to manage the land to be able to do so. There is no magic wand. There is no quick win. The basis of principle and evidence provides a golden thread that runs through the

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whole process and provides authority for the proposals themselves. I believe that my proposals will stand the test of time and are right. I commend them to the House.

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