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[That this House notes that the House of Commons guidance note Freedom of Information and Members' Correspondence with Public Authorities published in December 2005 makes it clear that a public authority may be required to release a copy of hon. Members'
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correspondence if it receives a relevant request even though constituents may not be aware of the risk of material being disclosed; believes that it is absolutely essential that constituents are able to contact their hon. Member on a confidential basis; supports measures to protect from disclosure correspondence from constituents and their representatives to hon. Members and from hon. Members on behalf of constituents and their representatives to public authorities but believes that all other matters relating to the administration of the House, including hon. Members' allowances, budgets, use of contractors, purchasing policy and other matters, should be subject to public disclosure on an annual basis; and calls upon the Leader of the House to table a motion to this end to be voted upon by hon. and right hon. Members.]

It supports the protection of constituents’ correspondence with their MP from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, but also calls for the annual publication of all matters relating to the administration of this House, including MPs’ allowances. Will he table a motion at the earliest opportunity, enabling hon. Members to vote on this matter?

Mr. Straw: I certainly recognise my hon. Friend’s wish, which is shared by the whole House, to ensure that whatever happens in respect of the protection of MPs’ correspondence, the publication scheme in respect of Members’ allowances and expenses continues. I shall give serious consideration to his suggestion and consult the Opposition parties about the matter.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Is not the reason why 55 per cent. of the country wants the Prime Minister to stay that they do not want the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take over? Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), the Chancellor has said that when he is transubstantiated into Prime Minister, he wants to strengthen Parliament, which I welcome. May we have an assurance from the Leader of the House, who is also the Chancellor’s campaign manager, that there will be no unilateral changes? Will he also assure us that any plans for strengthening Parliament will be fully debated and that the next Prime Minister will not do what the last one did and introduce unilateral changes that had the effect of weakening Parliament?

Mr. Straw: I do not think that the changes that have been made have weakened Parliament, but we can debate this matter. Meanwhile I will send to the right hon. Gentleman transcripts of a series of lectures that I have given on the subject, in an attempt to introduce some balance. [Interruption.] They are entertaining reading on balmy summer nights with a drink.

Being consistent with my policy of quoting opinion polls only when they are in our favour, may I draw to the right hon. Gentleman’s attention a survey which showed not only that 55 per cent. of the public wish the Prime Minister to stay on until 27 June but increasing support for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s takeover of that post—which will be not a transubstantiation, but a translation?

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Regarding the possible future progress of the private Member’s Bill debated last Friday, did my right hon.
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Friend hear the Information Commissioner say on the radio today that his office has not received a single complaint from Members of Parliament about correspondence? Bearing in mind the fact that the amendment that has since been tabled to the Bill will not satisfy opponents of it such as me, may I suggest that the best possible way forward is for the Bill which, unfortunately, was agreed to last Friday should not be further debated but be buried? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that the decision taken last Friday was a collective blow to the reputation of this House?

Mr. Straw: I know that my hon. Friend feels very strongly about this matter, as do some Opposition Members. I have read the record of the debate. The issue of MPs’ expenses, which has attracted a lot of attention in the newspapers, has been the subject of further consideration by the Bill’s promoters and supporters. The Bill has now passed to another place, and what it does about it is entirely a matter for it. I note the Information Commissioner’s remarks, but all I can say is that, as people who follow business questions will be aware, last October or November the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and one of his Kent colleagues drew the House’s attention to the matter of the possible publication of confidential correspondence issued on behalf of constituents.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I see that the Secretary of State for Health is present, and I am glad about that as I wish to ask for a debate on the postcode lottery. The Leader of the House knows that I have used business questions as an opportunity to raise the issue that some of my constituents have not been able to access certain cancer drugs although they are made available in other health trusts. Today, The Sun reports the story of Corporal Nick Lock who, sadly, has stomach and liver cancer. His health trust says that he cannot have access to the cancer drugs that he needs in order to give him at least a chance of survival, yet the same drug is made available in Scotland. Why are drugs being made available in one part of the United Kingdom yet being denied to people in other parts of the UK?

Mr. Straw: All of us have personal contact with people suffering from cancer so all of us understand how distressing the issue of the availability of such drugs is. However, I have two points to make. First, the differences between Scotland and England and Wales are not to do with a postcode lottery. It is a consequence of devolving power over health matters to Scotland, which is bound to do some things differently; otherwise, there would have been no point to devolution. We do other things that are then quoted against Scottish politicians. That is part of the nature of devolution.

Secondly, I cannot comment on the case the hon. Gentleman raises except to offer the greatest sympathy to the patient, but I can say that, overall, the effectiveness of cancer treatments and the likelihood of survival have greatly increased in England and Wales because of investment and improvements in medical science here.

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to early-day motion 690 on the regulation of private military security companies?

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[That this House welcomes the recent War on Want report entitled Corporate Mercenaries which examines the role of mercenaries and private military security companies (PMSCs) in conflict zones around the world; shares its concerns over the exponential growth of PMSCs since the invasion of Iraq; notes that PMSCs work alongside regular soldiers providing combat support in conflict situations, yet remain unregulated and unaccountable leaving open the potential for human rights violations; further notes that problems posed by proliferation of PMSCs were highlighted in a Green Paper in February 2002 that originated in a request from the Foreign Affairs Committee but that almost five years later there is still no United Kingdom legislation regulating PMSCs; believes that self-regulation by the industry is not appropriate in this instance; and urges the Government to move towards binding legislation to control the PMSC sector as an urgent priority.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in Iraq, for every British soldier there are six private soldiers? Is it not now time for there to be a Foreign Office statement—an update of the Green Paper of 2002—on whether we will ever regulate these people?

Mr. Straw: I agree with my hon. Friend and I will try to arrange an update.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): The Leader of the House will recall that I recently asked in business questions for a debate on young people and social mobility. I subsequently applied for a Westminster Hall or Adjournment debate on that topic, but I seek his advice—I was unable to secure it, because the topic of social mobility cuts across several Government Departments and therefore also cuts across ministerial remits. Additionally, no ministerial remit has a specific responsibility for social mobility. Eventually, the best I could do was to have a debate entitled, “Young People and Social Exclusion”, which was handled by the
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Cabinet Office. Can the Leader of the House give me any advice on how we can debate in this place this important topic which cuts across several Departments?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Lady raises an important point. I will arrange to meet her to talk about how we can have more effective so-called cross-cutting debates, and I will make an announcement to the House.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): May we have a debate on the Human Rights Act 1998, which after the latest Home Office debacle seems to be nothing more than a charter for criminals, terrorists and lawyers of sybaritic tastes, many of whom appear to be well connected with members of the establishment?

Mr. Straw: I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate on the Human Rights Act, but I would like to arrange a debate in order to explain a few things to him. First, that Act was welcomed by the Opposition on Third Reading after I, as Home Secretary at that time, had secured a number of amendments to it. Secondly, the problems that have now arisen, which are often labelled Human Rights Act problems, relate to our being signatories to the European convention on human rights, and nobody proposes that we should abrogate our signature to that. To disabuse the hon. Gentleman still further, let me tell him that it was drafted by a Conservative lawyer, David Maxwell-Fyffe, who later became Lord Kilmuir, a distinguished Conservative Lord Chancellor. It was Britain under a Conservative Government which, quite correctly, led the way in getting every country of the Council of Europe signed up to that.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. We have two statements this afternoon and other business, so we must now move on.

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Modernising Medical Careers

12.47 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): I wish to make a statement about modernising medical careers. In my written statement to the House on 15 May 2007, I announced the plans for making offers in the first round and the principle behind the further round of the modernising medical careers specialist recruitment. I welcome yesterday’s decision by the High Court in the judicial review brought by Remedy UK while, of course, acknowledging the criticisms that the judgment contains. I also welcome the decision of Remedy UK not to appeal against the judgment. I will consider the comments of Mr. Justice Goldring on costs.

I well understand the uncertainty that problems with the medical training application system have caused junior doctors and their families. We need to ensure that we learn the lessons from what has happened, which is why I asked Sir John Tooke to establish an independent review. The membership of that review has now been agreed, and I have placed a copy of Sir John’s announcement in the Library.

Following the court’s decision, I am pleased to say that offers for the extended first round of specialist recruitment will start today. Interviews for the current round should be completed by the end of this month and all initial offers for hospital specialties will be made locally by the postgraduate deaneries between now and 7 June.

Successful candidates might receive more than one offer. They will be able to wait until all their offers are received, allowing them to consider their options before making a decision on which to accept. Initial offers must be accepted or declined before midnight on 10 June. Following that deadline, training places that have been declined will be re-offered to the next highest-ranked appointable candidates. Those additional offers will be made from Monday 11 June until Wednesday 20 June.

At its meeting on 9 May, the review group agreed a set of principles upon which the continued recruitment of specialist medical trainees this year would be based. These principles are fully supported by the deaneries, NHS employers—and, of course, the Department of Health—and are set out in a letter of 22 May that was sent to all applicants, a copy of which I have also placed in the Library. That further recruitment round will be locally planned and managed.

Although there will not be a national allocation and matching system for appointments, MTAS will continue to be used by deaneries for administration and monitoring. As in the extended round 1, applicants will be provided with information on the competition ratios for each post to assist them in deciding where to apply. The number of posts available in the further recruitment round will, of course, depend upon the outcome of round 1, but will be substantial.

In particular, the Douglas review group has stressed that there are fewer ST3 posts available at the moment than should be expected for the number of doctors well advanced in their specialist training. Following the review group’s recommendations and with its full
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agreement, we will be creating 200 additional run-through training programmes for those doctors who have already invested several years in training for their chosen specialty. For example, it is proposed that 20 new posts will be added to the 100 already available this year in cardiology, 19 new posts will be added to the 30 already available in neurology, and so on. We are in discussion with the review group and the appropriate royal colleges to finalise the details, which will take into account the needs of the NHS, as well as junior doctors.

I have already told the House that we will support junior doctors during this further appointment process, including especially those whose current contracts come to an end within it. We are working with strategic health authorities to ensure that all applicants currently in NHS employment will continue to have employment while they progress through the next round. In addition to the extra run-through programmes that I have announced, we have also accepted the recommendation of the review group to create further additional training opportunities for those junior doctors who are appointable to specialist training, but for whom training opportunities may not otherwise be available this year. For those who have successfully completed the MMC foundation training programme and who demonstrate their ability to progress, there will be new training programmes through one-year fixed term appointments. We are asking PMETB to expedite the approval of both the extra fixed-term and run-through programmes. There will also be a range of sponsored training programmes available to enable doctors either to get an additional year’s experience in their chosen specialty or to choose to gain experience in a different specialty, thus giving them all a better chance to apply and secure a training programme next year.

The strategic health authorities will manage the process and work with trusts, deaneries and royal colleges to determine the types of opportunities that they will make available. All those posts will be based on local service requirements and future work force planning needs. Funding to support those training opportunities will come from the Department and SHAs.

At the end of the further recruitment process, there will remain a number of applicants who have been unable to demonstrate this year that they are suitable for the specialist training programmes. Many will remain in their current service posts while others will be able to apply for the non-training service posts vacated by those moving into training posts. SHAs and trusts will work together to match doctors to posts across each region.

I believe we now have the right way forward both to give junior doctors the support and opportunities they need, and to ensure that the NHS has the right doctors in place to continue providing excellent care to patients. The result is that there will be more junior doctors in specialty and GP training than ever before. I am extremely grateful to Professor Douglas, the medical royal colleges, the BMA and other members of the review group for their help and support in resolving this difficult situation.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement and for coming to make a further
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statement on those matters. The Secretary of State said that she welcomed the High Court judgment and acknowledged the criticisms made by Mr. Justice Goldring. At the very least, she might have had the good grace to accept them. He said, for example, that

Legal Remedy UK—

They certainly do. He continued:

He also says that

Not least as a result of the judgment, the Secretary of State has had to accept many of the criticisms that the Opposition have made over the past two months. She will also have to accept—not least because Professor Douglas and his review group have recommended them—some of the remedies that we called for. For example, in the statement she essentially said that additional training posts would be available. She will recall that that is precisely what I called for from the Dispatch Box on 19 March. The Secretary of State and her colleagues disparaged that call. Time has been lost and that is a lamentable further failing after the original failings of the MTAS scheme.

I wish to ask the Secretary of State some further important questions. Can she confirm that it is not her intention to seek costs from Legal Remedy UK? That would be a deplorable act after all that it has gone through. Secondly, she has announced how many additional run-through training posts are to be made, but she will know that what is even more significant is how many temporary training posts are able to be added. How many posts will be in round 2? She says that the number will be substantial. The word “substantial” is often used and Mr. Justice Goldring was right yesterday when he said that—as the Secretary of State said on 13 March—it is very important that a “significant” number of posts are available in round 2. In the Department’s evidence to the High Court it was said that there would be unfilled posts from round 1, posts that were held back from round 1, and new posts. Can the Secretary of State tell us how many new posts there will be in round 2 and how many posts have been held back from round 1? I know that she will not be able to tell us how many unfilled posts there will be from round 1, but can she explain why, both in her evidence to the High Court and in the letter to applicants sent out yesterday, it continues to be the Department’s view that the offer and re-offer process will enable the units of application—the deaneries—to fill as many training posts as possible? Surely the objective of round 1 is not to fill as many training posts as possible, but—as she said on 13 March—to fill training posts wherever the interviewers are satisfied that they have an eminently qualified candidate; otherwise, round 2 will not have as many posts as it should.

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