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House of Lords

Wednesday, 21st June 2000.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.


The Lord Bishop of Durham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they intend to support Plan Colombia at its meeting with donor governments in Madrid on 6th and 7th July.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we are keen to support the Colombian Government's efforts to bring peace to Colombia. In preparation for the Madrid conference in July, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office hosted a meeting of senior officials on Monday 19th June to examine ways in which the international community can help. Neither we nor our EU partners has made any decision about what aid we could give to Colombia. We are determined, however, that any aid will support human rights, long-term economic and social development and an end to violence in Colombia.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's Answer. Can the noble Baroness elaborate on the kinds of conditions that might be attached to any aid, especially with regard to military activity in Colombia and consultation with human rights organisations?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I reassure the right reverend Prelate that, as I said in my original Answer, the aid to be given by Her Majesty's Government will be directed towards the maintenance and support of human rights and long-term economic and social development. We are at the discussion stage in this matter and a good deal of consultation will be needed. We are pleased that on 19th June the NGOs participated and were able to make a special presentation. We very much value their contribution.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the plan contains a 600 million dollar military component, including massive armaments such as Black Hawk helicopters, and that serious reservations have been voiced about it by some of our partners in Europe, including the Belgians, the Dutch, the French and the Germans? How will the Government and EU ensure that the views of non-governmental organisations are fed into the July consultation? In particular, has the noble Baroness noted the opposition to the plan by the Regional Association for

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the Defence of Human Rights and the National Organisation of Indigenous of Colombia? How will the Minister ensure that their voices are heard?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, there are no set figures relating to the aid that the Government intend to give. I hear what the noble Lord says about the military component of any such aid. Since we have not yet fashioned precisely how the aid is to be given, and its quantum, I am unable to confirm anything that the noble Lord says. However, as we have already demonstrated, I reassure the noble Lord that we shall continue to listen to, and seek to engage, non-governmental organisations as appropriate.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I hope that the Minister will acknowledge the very important role that the Royal Navy West Indies guard ship has played in countering drug operations from Latin America and the Caribbean. Therefore, do Her Majesty's Government now regret their decision to cut the amount of time that the guard ship spends in the region, and why was that done?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am unable to answer the precise question put by the noble Baroness. However, with respect, that has precious little to do with this Question.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister accept that in the past the American attitude to problems of social unrest, economic under-development and the attendant drugs problems in Latin America has been very much a military and policing response and not sufficiently a political and economic response? As a general part of this question, will Her Majesty's Government ensure that a broader response than merely a military one is an important part of Plan Colombia?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, in this situation EU and American aid needs to be co-ordinated in such a way that it responds appropriately to the perceived difficulties that Colombia faces. We hope that in the work that we do together we shall be able to fashion a holistic approach that better addresses the needs of Colombia.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness wants to review her response to my noble friend Lady Rawlings. The Plan Colombia with which the Question is concerned is about trafficking in narcotics, is it not? Is not one of the roles of the guard ship in the West Indies to try to stop drug trafficking? Surely, my noble friend deserved a better answer than the Minister gave.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I assure the House that the patrols of the West Indies guard ship to control drug trafficking continue, and we are satisfied that it is able to do its job.

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Artificial Limbs: Audit Commission Report

2.41 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking as a result of the Audit Commission's report, published in March, on the quality of artificial limbs, surgical appliances and disability equipment services in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, we welcome the report and are already taking action to improve standards. We are also considering currently all of the recommendations and hope to make further announcements soon.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. Does it mean that he agrees with the report that urgent reorganisation is required in the supply of orthotic equipment such as callipers and surgical appliances because the quality of what has been described as fragmented services is, in many places, unacceptable?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, alongside many of the other recommendations, the Government are considering with careful interest the suggestion to which the noble Lord refers, in particular that units should be large enough and throughput sufficient enough to make for quality and cost effectiveness. Part of the process of improving the quality of services at local level is to remind health authorities and local authorities of their responsibilities in that area. Where changes need to be made to improve the organisation, I am sure that that will occur.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is the Minister aware that his constructive response to a recent debate on the subject was warmly appreciated? The urgent requirement now is a clear timetable. In the debate, the Minister was not enthusiastic about that need. However, without specific targets, dates and outputs we shall get nowhere. Will my noble friend think again?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am not in a position today to give an explicit timetable. I assure my noble friend that my honourable friend Mr John Hutton is considering urgently the recommendations in the Audit Commission's report and what the Government's response should be. The Government have taken action. They are promoting the value of integrated community services providing a single point of access for service users. The sum of £14 million is being provided recurrently for wheelchair developments. As my noble friend well knows, £4 million is being invested this year to modernise the NHS

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hearing aid service. We agree that the deficiencies identified by the Audit Commission need to be addressed.

Lord Addington: My Lords, notwithstanding his previous answer, does the Minister agree that the report raises some points which could be dealt with easily? Recommendation 15 states:

    "Service managers should review and eliminate the potential conflicts of interest that arise when commercial suppliers discharge the services of both clinician and salesman".

That relates to the supply of orthotics and wheelchairs. Will the Minister draw his department's attention to this matter? Such a straightforward conflict of interest can surely be quickly dealt with.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord raises the issue of whether the role of the orthotist as both clinician and salesman creates a conflict of interest. I understand that the matter has been addressed in Department of Health guidelines on orthotic services. Ultimately it is a matter for local management. We must ensure that the lessons of the Audit Commission report are fully considered at local level by health authorities and, where appropriate, local authorities. In order to have effective performance management of health authorities and performance assessment of local authorities the Government must ensure that account is taken of current guidelines and any future guidelines.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that some materials used are heavy and old fashioned whereas others are light and more attractive? Will he consider how important it is for a young girl, for example, who has lost limbs through meningitis to have equipment which is usable and attractive?

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