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Lord Avebury: My Lords, what penalty arrangements apply to the late supply of IT equipment? If the question is too complicated to answer off the cuff, can the Minister put a paper in the Library of the House?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, that situation is not applicable in terms of penalties because it relates to the interfaces between the system which is designed and the system with which it will interconnect. In those terms, it is not suitable to talk about blame lying with one of the parties.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, the Minister failed to comment on the point I raised about the supplier of last resort. Is it not important that under the new trading arrangements ordinary users of electricity should know that if their supplier goes out of business they will automatically continue to be supplied?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the basis of the system is that it is about balancing the supply and demand when there are equally a large number of people demanding and a large number of suppliers. The system is designed to deal with exactly the situation in which one supplier is not able to supply.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, Ministers are establishing what can be learnt from the events leading to the decision to withdraw the oral polio vaccine and the adequacy of the MCA's procedures to gather and validate information from vaccine manufacturers and its advice to Ministers on this issue.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I hope he will accept that it was regrettable that no ministerial Statement was made last week, particularly as it took two months after discovery for the department to announce the problems with the polio vaccine. Is the Minister satisfied that the MCA will not be misled about the contents of vaccines and that their manufacture in the factories is of a sufficiently high standard, particularly at the Medeva factory in Speke?
I can assure the noble Lord that the MCA has inspected the Speke site vigorously and frequently. Indeed, I understand that it inspected the site four times this year in order to ensure that problems are not giving rise to public health hazards, that they are being resolved satisfactorily and that appropriate standards are being met.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the flu vaccine, which is in such short supply, manufactured by the same company? Why is it that so many people over 65 who responded to the superb advertisements for flu injections cannot get them?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, Medeva is one of the companies which produces the flu vaccine. Of the five manufacturers supplying the UK market, all except one are on target to produce the supplies when required. That one company is called Solva and it supplies about 15 per cent of the total market. It has estimated that it will be able to resolve the problems and deliver the additional doses required during the week 20th to 24th November.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, as one of those who has received a polio vaccine manufactured by Medeva within the past month, I want to ask whether the company breached the European guidelines. If it did, will there be a penalty? I want to be a Member of this House for some years yet.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I understand that it is considered that it did breach the 1999 guidelines and consideration will be given to action being taken against the company in relation to that. However, the guidelines will have the full force of law for existing products from spring next year. As regards their legal status, the guidelines at present relate to new products. However, in order to ensure public confidence in the vaccine programme, the Government took the decision that, because this product breached 1999 guidelines, it was right to withdraw that vaccine.
Perhaps I may reassure the noble Lord that the Committee on the Safety of Medicines established a working party yesterday and, on the basis of additional information available to it, it confirmed its conclusions that no TSE safety issues arose from the use of UK source bovine materials in the manufacture of vaccines currently marketed in the UK.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree that enhancing and ensuring public confidence in the vaccine programme in this country is essential. It is worth reminding the House that the success of our immunisation programme has resulted in the incidence of childhood diseases falling to their lowest ever levels. It is very important to ensure that the public are aware of the importance of immunisation.
It is important that there is openness in the performance of the regulatory agencies. I believe that this Government have proved themselves to be as open as possible as regards these issues. When the matter was reported to Ministers last week, we took action effectively and speedily.
Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the views of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on the need to maintain public confidence are widely shared? Would he further agree that, as secrecy reaches epidemic proportions within both Whitehall and business, that objective might be more easily achieved in the light of a more tightly drafted Freedom of Information Bill?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I would say only that the Department of Health wants to ensure public confidence in the vaccine programme. We accept that openness and vigour in the process of licensing and regulation is an important component of that. We are as committed as anyone can be to ensuring that that is done satisfactorily.
Lord Carter: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I make a brief statement on the date of State Opening. I hope that your Lordships will be pleased to hear that State Opening will be on Wednesday 6th December.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I thank the Government Chief Whip for finally coming to the House to give the date of State Opening. Will the noble Lord confirm that this is the first time since the Second World War, perhaps since even the First World War or even earlier, that State Opening has been as late as December? Will the noble Lord also confirm that there has been full co-operation and absolutely no filibustering by this side in dealing with the vast amount of legislation before the House? I give the example of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. It was intended originally that that Bill would occupy about 10 days in Committee, but we managed to finish it in some six days.
Will the noble Lord also confirm that it is not only the number of Bills before the House which has resulted in this unprecedented late State Opening but the fact that many of them have had to be rewritten as they have proceeded through the House, not by this side but, as often as not, by the Government? One has only to consider the saga of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill. The noble Lord will recall that the first day in Committee on that Bill, which emanated from the Home Office, was back in May. On the second day in Committee noble Lords had to consider some 100 pages of government amendments to a Bill which itself was scarcely longer than that.
Can the noble Lord also confirm that much the same was true of the Financial Services and Markets Bill? Will he remind noble Lords of just how many government amendments to that Bill were tabled and the fact that, just one month after Royal Assent, it had to be amended because of the passage through this House of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill? I could also mention the Freedom of Information and Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bills, and the time that the Government wasted on Clause 28.
In passing, I remind the Government Chief Whip that many of those Bills emanate from the Home Office. It may be that the noble Lord will want to have a word with some of his colleagues in that department. Perhaps the noble Lord and the Leader of the House can take a slightly stronger line with that department when they consider legislation that is to be brought before the House next year.
I end by asking for an assurance from the noble Lord that we shall have a considerably lighter burden next year. This year we have already sat on 155 days--that surpasses the figure last year when we sat for longer than the Commons--and there are 18 or more days to go. That is asking a lot of this House which has sat to midnight and beyond virtually every day since we returned from the Summer Recess. I hope that the noble Lord will offer us a lighter passage next year.
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