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House of Lords

Tuesday, 2nd February 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell.

Melksham Hospital

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to take any action following the employment tribunal case relating to Melksham Hospital in Wiltshire, won by Christine Clunie and Alison Hale.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the Government are taking a range of measures to ensure that the NHS offers its staff more family-friendly working arrangements. This case related specifically to the particular circumstances of the NHS trust involved. Individual employers have a responsibility to ensure their decisions are in accordance with employment law.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, does the Minister accept that after yesterday's very disappointing award for senior nursing grades, the retention of experienced nurses remains a key issue for the National Health Service and that the encouragement of family-friendly employment practices will continue to be essential? Does she also accept that it is vital that the pay award is covered in full by the department, failing which other cases such as that of Melksham Hospital will occur, where hospital trusts will attempt to cut their costs and reduce the flexible working arrangements now in place?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, first, the case of Melksham Hospital was a specific one about the introduction of internal rostering to nursing shifts and the effect that that had on women with family responsibilities.

I am rather surprised to hear the noble Lord describe yesterday's settlement as "disappointing". It is the biggest real terms pay increase for 10 years for all nurses and members of professions allied to medicine; and for the first time in five years the award is to be paid nationally, in full, with no staging. Besides the very generous increases for people at the beginning of their nursing careers we are also ensuring that those within the profession are given financial incentives to stay in terms of additional discretionary points. We are also committed to modernising the pay and grading system so that experienced nurses are fairly rewarded for skills and responsibilities.

On the funding, £100 million from the modernisation fund has already been earmarked centrally for staff. Sufficient money is included in the £21 billion

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settlement for the next three years to meet staffing requirements and to make the additional investment that we want to see.

Lord Winston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, with regard to nursing recruitment, a great deal of evidence shows that it is not merely salary that counts in terms of the attractiveness of the nursing profession?

Baroness Hayman: Yes, my Lords, I agree with that. That is why in my initial response I said that we were taking a range of measures to ensure that we invest in staff development, that we give people who have left the service the opportunity to retrain and return, and that we provide flexible conditions--conditions that recognise family responsibilities--so that many more of those thousands of nurses currently not employed by the NHS will be attracted to return to medicine.

British-Russian Relations

2.41 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there have been improvements in British-Russian relations since May 1997, and what plans they have for such relations in the medium term, including joint initiatives with other European countries.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we co-operate on a wide range of issues bilaterally. Our G8 presidency in 1988 saw the first full inclusion of Russia in a G8 summit. Our EU presidency last year improved Russia's relations with the union. We have encouraged the development of NATO's relationship with Russia, including through the Permanent Joint Council. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have close working relations with their counterparts. In the medium term, we hope to agree a common strategy on Russia setting out EU policy, comprehensively, at the Cologne European Council in June.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Can she confirm that the following will be firmly on the diplomatic agenda for the next few years: Russian membership of NATO, nuclear safety in the Arctic Ocean, faster decommissioning of weapons of mass destruction and the reduction of Russia's external debts?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has covered the agenda pretty comprehensively. I assure him that all the issues that he has raised come up from time to time.

Perhaps I can say something briefly about debt. Any re-scheduling must, of course, depend on Russia reaching an agreed programme with the IMF. The key is Russia implementing rapid fiscal and economic

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reform. Her Majesty's Government are doing what they can through technical assistance, both bilaterally through the know-how fund and through TACIS.

On nuclear safety, concern about the disposal of nuclear weapons is very much on our agenda. There has been an exchange of experts from the UK to Russia and from Russia to the UK. There is also the question of nuclear waste in the polar peninsula and in north-west Russia. I give the noble Lord the assurance that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has taken steps to ensure that that does appear on the summit agenda for the EU/Russia summit this month. The Government's position overall on the decommissioning of nuclear weapons is a matter that I hope I do not have to remind your Lordships is very much on our agenda and was clearly stated in our election manifesto.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, will the Minister include on the agenda the strongest possible representations to the authorities about the recent anti-Semitic remarks, in particular on 1st November, when a Member of the Russian Parliament, Albert Makashov, called for the extermination of the country's Jews and for the introduction of quotas on the immigration of members of the Jewish population? As that followed an attack on a Jewish cemetery, a bomb attack on a synagogue, and the failure of the Russian Parliament to condemn one of its Members for those remarks inciting racial hatred, will the Minister ensure that the view of many of us that those remarks are completely unacceptable is made clear to the authorities?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords, I can give the noble Lord that assurance. We are very concerned about the anti-Semitism in Russia, and particularly about the comments made in the Duma not only by Mr. Makashov, but also by Mr. Ilyukhin. We are monitoring the situation closely. We welcome President Yeltsin's clear statement which condemned racial intolerance, and the consideration of charges against Makashov by the Interior Minister, Mr. Stepashin. Moreover, the British Ambassador in Moscow has also made representations to the chief of the presidential administration and to the leader of the Communist Party about the comments made by the Duma Members in question.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that one joint practical means of co-operation between the European nations and the Russian Federation would be to build a third bridge over the River Narva, thereby linking the Baltic states and Russia? That would also show to the world that Western Europe and, indeed, the Russian Federation are committed to peace and security within the Baltic states. Does the Minister realise that the Baltic states are currently unable to fund that valuable project alone?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, your Lordships have discussed the relationship between the Baltic states and the Russian Federation on a number

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of occasions. We expect Estonia and Latvia to implement the recommendation made by the OSCE High Commissioner, Max Van Der Stoel, on the rights of, for example, the Russian minorities. I am not entirely sure that pressing for a third bridge at the moment is necessarily one of the priorities that we would pinpoint, given that there are other matters with which we hope the Russian Federation will deal; notably, on the economic front and with regard to fiscal reorganisation. We believe that they are the real priorities at the moment.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, in view of the Minister's reference to better relations with the Russian Federation, are Her Majesty's Government satisfied that no further help is going from Russia to Iran in relation to Iran's nuclear ambitions?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have raised the question of the help that has allegedly been given by Russia to Iran. We are monitoring the position closely. We are very concerned about the movements of conventional weapons. Again, that is a matter that Ministers raise with their Russian counterparts from time to time.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there have been extremely disturbing reports of nuclear safety workers not being paid in Russia for up to six months? As we are trying to help financially, can the Minister say whether we are doing anything about that specific and extreme danger?

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