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Centre for Defence Medicine

2.45 p.m.

Lord Bramall asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the Ministry of Defence's new Centre for Defence Medicine is due to open on 1st April 2001. We are developing the new centre in association with the University Hospital Birmingham NHS Trust and its academic and clinical partners. The project is going well and we are very pleased with the enthusiasm and commitment of our partners in Birmingham.

Lord Bramall: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that hopeful reply, but is she aware that with the present parlous state of manning in the Defence Medical Services, the establishment of a really credible, high quality Centre for Defence Medicine is of the utmost urgency for their morale and essential recovery? Any slippage from that promised up-and-running date would be disastrous. Since as yet not a sod has been turned at Birmingham to prepare physically for such a centre of excellence, can the Minister tell us how many clinical, academic and research military staff will be assembled there by the due date and what sort of service they will then be able to provide?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with the noble and gallant Lord that there has

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been a crisis of morale in the Defence Medical Services following on Options for Change. I am pleased to say that the recruitment figures have now been turned around. The net recruitment figures for the previous year after outflow is taken into account show a plus figure of 199 personnel. So far this year we have a plus figure of 83 personnel, plus another 80 accepted. That shows a very different position from that which pertained in previous years. It is planned to open the hospital with between 70 and 100 personnel, including administrative support. The centre will then build up progressively over the next five to 10 years or so. I should point out to the noble and gallant Lord that there is no requirement for additional buildings; some existing buildings will require refurbishment. That refurbishment is in hand already. We are on course for the opening on 1st April 2001.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one of the major problems relating to the falling recruitment by the Defence Medical Services over the past few years has been the inability of the Defence Medical Services, with the progressive closure of hospitals, to offer the training, research and academic opportunities which are so vital to the future of that service? Can she be satisfied that the appropriate training facilities will be available in order that progress to consultant status, for example, can be based on a programme that will acceptable to the Royal Colleges which monitor such training, not only in the NHS but also in the Defence Medical Services?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that I can. That is the point of having the centre of excellence in Birmingham. My honourable friend Dr Moonie, the Under-Secretary of State, who has a certain expertise in this area on the medical side, is looking at ways to ensure that recruitment is enhanced. I have been able to tell the House that recruitment figures are moving in the right direction. It is important to remember that the centre of excellence will be not only a centre of excellence for defence medical studies but also a dual focus for a centre of excellence over the particular medical specialities of the individuals concerned. With that dual focus--with the clinical expertise and the teaching expertise--we hope that we shall turn around the problem that we all recognise is inherent in the morale of the Defence Medical Services at present.

Lord Carver: My Lords, who will run the Centre for Defence Medicine? Will it be the Ministry of Defence or the University Hospital Birmingham NHS Trust?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it will be done through a partnership agreement. Agreements covering the operation of the centre are being negotiated at the moment. They are expected to be signed later this year. But we expect it to be done on a co-operative basis with the NHS trust and the university.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister recall that part of the concern about the small size of the Defence Medical Services relates to closer integration into the National Health Service and, in particular, to the provision of reserves? How much progress has been made in negotiation with hospital trusts about the provision of civilian doctors as reserves for the Defence Medical Services? When the subject was last debated, we were told that there were considerable difficulties in that area.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Under-Secretary of State is looking at ways in which we can improve the recruitment figures. I have been able to tell your Lordships something about improvements in overall recruitment, but I agree with the noble Lord that it is important that we look to other sources of recruitment. I discussed this matter with the Under-Secretary of State today in preparation for answering this Question. I can assure the House that he is open to a number of different suggestions and is himself considering a number of options to improve recruitment.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, following the engaging monologue that we have just enjoyed from the Lord Privy Seal, can the noble Baroness give the House an assurance that money will be made available, and will continue to be made available, from the Ministry of Defence budget, which is so badly stretched, for the centre of excellence?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thought that my noble friend answered the questions put to her. She was hardly giving a monologue but answering very sensibly the questions put to her from around the House. I can tell the noble Lord that the Strategic Defence Review provided an additional £140 million for the Defence Medical Services. We shall not be closing six hospitals in this country, as the previous government did during the course of the 1990s, and we shall not be closing three in Germany. It is a little difficult for the noble Lord to argue from the record of his government about the record of the present Government, who are investing very considerably in the Defence Medical Services. If the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, wishes to make a point, I suggest that she rises to do so.

Lord Roper: My Lords, can the noble Baroness say when a decision will be made on the Royal Army Medical College site, which will become available with the move to Birmingham? Is the imaginative idea to use it for the future of the Chelsea College of Art & Design being given full consideration?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, this matter is being considered by the Under-Secretary of State. The site at Millbank has now been put on the open market. Several offers have been received for it and they are currently being evaluated.

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2.53 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are content with the state of relations with Zimbabwe.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, given the long, shared history between the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe, we are disappointed that our relations with that country are going through a difficult phase. Zimbabwe is facing a number of economic and social challenges which require an urgent common effort. In the event of real reform, which reflects the people of Zimbabwe's clear desire for change, Britain will be ready to build a new relationship with the new Zimbabwe government.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. I believe that noble Lords will agree with the sentiments she expressed. Is there not one person outside Zimbabwe who, more than anyone else, has the potential to influence events in Zimbabwe in a helpful manner? I refer to President Mbeki of South Africa. When the Prime Minister met Mr Mbeki in Japan last week, was that not a good opportunity for him to raise the question of Zimbabwe, bearing in mind that the situation in that country is still serious and could become catastrophic? Did the Prime Minister raise that matter with Mr Mbeki and what was the result?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly reassure the noble Lord that there has been ongoing contact with Zimbabwe, particularly in relation to President Mbeki's efforts. I cannot tell the noble Lord the exact nature of conversations that occurred in Japan, but I undertake to write to him in relation to that matter. It is right to say that our partners in Africa have played a helpful and significant role and we certainly expect them to continue to work closely with us.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, when will President Mugabe be required to recall the parliament of Zimbabwe, which was elected in the last week of May, rather than govern by using his presidential powers? Can the Government make any representations in this matter?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, there is a set timetable for recalling parliament. At the moment, the Zimbabwe government are working within that. I am not able to give the noble Duke a specific date for when the parliament will be recalled. However, if it goes beyond that date, those matters will be raised.

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