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House of Lords

Tuesday, 4th July 2000.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

CPA Conference: Government Representation

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What part the Government and the Prime Minister will play in the meetings of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to be held in London and Edinburgh in September.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, as is customary, a Minister will lead the UK delegation at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's annual conference in September. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development, Mr Foulkes, will take on this role. In addition, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the opening ceremony and give a speech at the opening plenary session.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I am pleased to hear that so many government Ministers will be represented at the conference. What are my noble friend's hopes for the high level group of Ministers which will meet at the conference? What aspirations does she have for this series of meetings?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we very much welcome the important CPA meeting which is an opportunity for parliamentarians from the Commonwealth to come together to discuss issues of real importance. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Durban Ministers agreed to establish a high level group to review the role of the Commonwealth and advise how best it could respond to the challenges of the new century. The group has not yet met but the first official level meeting is planned for late July in Pretoria, South Africa. The Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Sir John Kerr, will represent the UK at that meeting. It is hoped that the Heads of Government will meet in September in New York.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the Commonwealth today should increasingly be regarded as a valuable resource and a network to serve both global and British interests? Does she accept--this is not a party point--that when the Foreign Secretary came to office his mission statement, which gave high priority to the

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Commonwealth, raised a number of expectations? Does she think that those expectations have been fulfilled? Can she say precisely whether more or fewer people are now employed in the Commonwealth section of the Foreign Office than was the case three years ago?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to highlight the mission statement made in 1997 by my right honourable friend. He gave a commitment to strengthen the Commonwealth and to improve the prosperity of its members and co-operation between them. Her Majesty's Government have delivered on that promise and have done much to strengthen it. I cannot give the precise numbers of people working in the various sections of the Foreign Office. However, since 1997 our ability to work with our Commonwealth partners has been strengthened and we have gained much from that. It is an initiative that we intend to continue to pursue with increasing vigour.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, given that the Commonwealth is a unique association of both developed and developing countries, will the Minister consider suggesting to the Commonwealth Secretariat that it might be useful to provide some of the legal and expert assistance that developing countries desperately need in their negotiations with the World Trade Organisation? Will she consider suggesting that that might be one of the most useful roles that the Commonwealth could fulfil in the first decade of the new century?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I certainly join with the noble Baroness in highlighting the need for legal and expert assistance. At the Heads of Government meeting it is hoped that there will be a review of the role that should properly be played by the Commonwealth in the next century. We hope that officials will take that matter forward in South Africa and that it will be pursued in September. I assure the noble Baroness that our endeavours will be focused on ensuring that the best opportunities are reaped from the association with the Commonwealth.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will attend the Commonwealth parliamentary meeting. Can we be assured that diaries will have room to enable meetings to take place with representatives of other governments and to make necessary ministerial visits? The noble Baroness will be well aware that the Foreign Minister had to cancel his visit to Warsaw the other weekend, as I believe that she went instead. The Prime Minister has cancelled two visits to Warsaw in the past year. I understand that there is a queue of Prime Ministers from applicant countries of eastern Europe who await an opportunity to visit London to talk to our Prime Minister. There is a general sense, particularly in the east European countries, that British Ministers do not have time in

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their diaries to allocate to this important aspect of British foreign policy. Will the Minister give us encouragement on that matter?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have taken every opportunity to see Heads of Government. The noble Lord will know that a huge amount of work has been carried out recently in the international sphere because of the security issues that have been uppermost in people's minds. I assure the noble Lord that the Government will continue to make every effort to meet Heads of Government as we understand that it is a priority.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will there be any discussion at the CPA meeting or in the margins on compliance with the Harare Declaration? Have the Government any new proposals on mechanisms to ensure that Commonwealth countries will observe its terms once they have signed up to it?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hope that the whole House will understand the nature of a CPA conference. It provides an opportunity for parliamentarians throughout the Commonwealth to come together to discuss matters which are of importance to them in relation to their regions and for the regions to come together to discuss those issues. We hope that good, positive lines that can be followed thereafter will come out of the conference. But its most important role is as a vehicle which enables Commonwealth parliamentarians to come together to discuss and consider how best to help one another.


2.42 p.m.

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they propose to alleviate the shortage of pathologists in the National Health Service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, we are taking action to alleviate the shortage of pathologists across the workforce. We are continuing to invest in more higher specialist trainees. In addition, the medical workforce planning review, launched in April this year, will look at the staffing needs of different care groups to meet the needs of patients.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. However, can he tell us the shortfall? As it takes a qualified doctor another five years to become a pathologist, is not this shortfall of great concern?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there is no doubt that pathologists have an extremely valuable role to play in the National Health Service. There have been concerns in relation to shortages, especially in

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relation to histopathologists. We are dealing with this as rapidly as we can. We shall increase the number of specialist registrar training places from 888 at the moment to 1,300 by 2006; that includes 40 extra specialist registrar training posts this year. That will go a long way towards dealing with the shortages. We shall keep the matter under annual review.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that we are dealing in a very competitive area, in which salaries in the private sector are far higher than those in the National Health Service? With all the good will in the world, unless an adjustment is made to that particular salary scale it will be extremely difficult to fill many of the vacancies.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend raises a number of issues. Clearly consultant pathologists receive the same salary as other consultants in the health service; they are also eligible for discretionary points. So far as concerns the pay levels of staff generally, I believe that, through the pay body recommendations and other awards that have been given to staff, we have fully recognised their value. For example, we have taken into account the recommendations of the pay review bodies, and have thus ensured that the amounts recommended have been paid in full. That is in contrast to the staging system with which the previous government so disenchanted members of staff. We have to do much better in terms of the support that we give to staff, including professional development and other support measures.

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