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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness and I pay tribute to the work undertaken by radiotherapy departments. Staffing levels of therapy radiographers have increased by more than 9 per cent since 1997. We wish to continue to make progress in that area.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, while yesterday's announcements were enormously welcome in terms of both funding and accountability for the health service, my noble friend will be aware that there have been grave concerns about the ineffective ring-fencing of moneys under the cancer plan for last year. I declare an interest, of which the House is aware, as chairman of Cancer Research UK. Can my noble friend give some reassurance on both the monitoring of spending this year in order that this year's allocation will not be subject to such widespread doubt, and, equally, on the publication of the figures for last year's spending? If, as is feared, there has been a grave shortfall, will he give an undertaking that that will be made good?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I doubt very much whether any hard evidence is available at the moment to suggest a grave shortfall. We shall monitor the end-of-year figures. I have already given an undertaking to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, to discuss those with strategic health authorities because clearly the matter will need to be taken forward in discussions about future allocations. I reiterate that considerable progress is being made in the area of cancer services through an increase in staff numbers and equipment, and in delivery on the two-week wait target. I am satisfied that the NHS is doing a great deal to ensure that we deliver on the cancer plan targets.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I recently visited a patient in the intensive care unit of one of the best London teaching hospitals, for which I have nothing but praise. That hospital had no working morphine pump. Does the Minister agree that when money becomes available it must be used for purposes such as that—paying debts and mending holes in the roof—before it improves the services? The job is similar to feeding a famine victim—it cannot be done rapidly. Will he try to ensure that the press remembers that?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree that we cannot turn around overnight a service such as the NHS. That is why we need the step change approach taken by the Government and the levels of investment that we have announced. As to equipment, I shall certainly look into the specific matter raised by the noble Earl. I agree that it is vital to get more equipment into cancer services. We are doing so. We also need to ensure that the fabric of the buildings in which the equipment is provided is put right.

Lord Wade of Chorlton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that at the Christie Hospital in Manchester we

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now have the leading radiotherapy research centre in the world? We have recently installed the latest equipment available anywhere in the world. We paid for it entirely through funds raised locally, without any government resources—and no one was taxed a penny.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am very glad to hear that.

Smallpox Vaccine Contract

3.23 p.m.

Baroness Noakes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the contract awarded to PowderJect Pharmaceuticals to supply smallpox vaccine was subject to full competitive tendering.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the contract awarded to PowderJect Pharmaceuticals was not subject to full competitive tendering. As this procurement concerns national security, it falls outside the usual rules governing competitive tendering.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he agree with his noble friend Lord Haskins, who is in his place, that there was no reason for not having a fully open and transparent bidding process? Will he comment on the Prime Minister's statement in another place yesterday that,

    "many companies were asked to tender".—[Official Report, Commons, 17/4/02; col. 567.]?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I very often agree with my noble friend and pay tribute to the work that he has undertaken in the area of better regulation, but I do not agree with the remarks reported to have been made in the media. The situation is this. As smallpox has been eradicated since the 1970s, its reintroduction is likely to occur only as a result of terrorist activity. This raises issues of national security and our preparedness to deal with such an attack is not a matter to be put in the public domain. In seeking to establish which vaccine manufacturing companies might be able to provide new vaccine to meet our requirements, we therefore took the decision that purchase of the new vaccine would fall outside the usual open competitive tendering process. A number of companies were approached and the decision was eventually made to give the contract to the company that best met the specifications.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, has the Minister read today's Guardian?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords. I prefer to avoid reading the Guardian if I can.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, what were the national security considerations that made possible a full competitive tendering process in the United States but not in this country?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, what the US Government decide to do is a matter for themselves.

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This Government decided that these were important issues of national security. That is why we took the decision that we did. The procedure undertaken was checked and cleared by the Permanent Secretary to the Department of Health. I am wholly satisfied that everything was in order.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords—

Lord Marlesford: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, noble Lords cannot ask more than one question.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister remember signing a Written Answer to me on 11th March? I asked what plans the Government had to increase the quantity of anti-smallpox vaccine held in the United Kingdom. His answer was that,

    "the United Kingdom policy on future smallpox vaccine manufacturing is currently under review".—[Official Report, 11/3/02; col. WA 56.]

When he signed that Answer, was he personally aware that a contract had been, or was about to be, placed? If so, does he regard that Answer as being frank with Parliament?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Yes, my Lords. My understanding is that work was undertaken by the department over a considerable period of time to enable a decision to be made. A decision was made and signed off on 11th March. It is our intention and policy to ensure that we are as open as possible within the constraints of national security.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, one of the Government's arguments was that they needed to operate with speed and conclude the matter now. Does the Minister accept that the US was able to put the contract out to competitive tender and to conclude it within six weeks? Does he further accept the point made by Professor Oxford of Bart's and the Royal London that there is no medical reason to opt for the vaccine strain chosen by the UK Government rather than the one more readily available and chosen by the US Government? Following Ecclestone et al, does not the Minister wish that his department had put the matter out to competitive tender so that the Government could have avoided the claims of cronyism which have surrounded this controversy?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords. The Government have acted quite properly throughout this process. As to the question of which strain should be used, the decision was taken to go for a particular strain in this country for two reasons. A two-pronged approach was thought advisable. With the US using a different strain, if difficulties arose with the production of either strain the other could act as a joint fall-back mechanism. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation endorsed the view that there was no reason to opt for the strain chosen by the US as opposed to the strain chosen by the UK

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Government. There is also strong epidemiological evidence of efficacy in that smallpox has been challenged in the field more often with the strain chosen by the UK Government, and there is more documentation to support its use.

Earl Howe: My Lords, will the Minister answer the Question posed by my noble friend Lady Noakes? Was the Prime Minister correct to say yesterday in another place that,

    "many companies were asked to tender"—[Official Report, Commons, 17/4/02; col. 567.]?

Was the Prime Minister's official spokesman correct to state to journalists on 17th April that there was a tendering process?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the department consulted widely with industry about its capacity and ability to deliver supplies quickly in a way that met our requirements to increase national supplies of vaccine. My understanding is that five companies were approached to see whether they could meet the specifications. It is very clear indeed that a number of companies were given the opportunity to put forward their case for being chosen. I have stated that the Permanent Secretary in the Department of Health was asked to give advice as to whether the proper procedure had been adopted. His advice was that it had.

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