4 Mar 2003 : Column 697

House of Lords

Tuesday, 4th March 2003.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

The Lord Bishop of Sheffield

John, Lord Bishop of Sheffield—Was (in the usual manner) introduced between the Lord Bishop of Oxford and the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

2.40 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before the commencement of business, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I will be undertaking a ministerial visit to Kingston upon Hull on Friday 14th March when the House will sit. Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence.


Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What role Gibraltar is playing in the build-up of military forces in the Gulf.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, Gibraltar's role as a key staging post, strategically located at the gateway to the Mediterranean, makes it a logical transit point for naval and other forces en route to the Mediterranean or the Middle East.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that, as in the past, the people of Gibraltar are once again showing loyalty to this country? Does he not further agree that loyalty is a two-way traffic?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. The Government fully and completely appreciate the support, including to our military forces, of the people of Gibraltar for many years. Our primary aim is to secure a more stable and prosperous future for the people of Gibraltar. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in another place on 18th November last:

    "no deal will be imposed on the people of Gibraltar against their will".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/02; col. W17.]

Lord Vivian: My Lords, the Minister agrees that Gibraltar is of vital strategic importance to this country as a forward-operating base. Does he further agree that any military operation in the Mediterranean

4 Mar 2003 : Column 698

or Gulf area would be greatly hindered if the United Kingdom did not have sole control over this forward-operating base in the future?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord's comments. We have made our views clear. We intend to retain current arrangements for UK military facilities on Gibraltar.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, will my noble friend assure the House that in the circumstances he set out negotiations with Spain for sharing sovereignty of the Rock have been suspended?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not agree that they have been suspended. Under the Brussels process, the UK and Spain reached a broad measure of agreement on the principles that should underpin a lasting settlement, although a number of issues remain unresolved. It was equally clear that, for Her Majesty's Government, no deal was better than a bad deal. I repeat that any agreement reached would have to be acceptable to the people of Gibraltar.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, if there is no other way of getting RAF planes to the Gulf, will the Government transport them by ship, using Gibraltar as a staging post on that journey?

Lord Bach: My Lords, there are other ways of getting aircraft to the Gulf; namely, by flying them.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, as it is clear that the people of Gibraltar are not in favour of sharing sovereignty with Spain, why do the Government persist in negotiations towards that end?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we do not ignore the wishes of the people of Gibraltar. We recognise that the referendum result highlighted how the people of Gibraltar feel. What we still believe—I think that the government of whom the noble Lord was a distinguished member also believed this at one time—is that we need to look at how to move forward and tackle the real problems that still exist for the people of Gibraltar. The referendum did not answer the basic question of how to secure a more stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar. That is what we need to do. Nor did it address the underlying reality of the dispute with Spain, which can be resolved only through dialogue.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, in the circumstances with which the Question deals—the military build-up in the Gulf—does my noble friend acknowledge that the British Government, the British people, the Spanish Government, the Spanish people and the people of Gibraltar are all fighting on the same side?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. That is absolutely right. Although Gibraltarians, as always, are staunch and solid allies of

4 Mar 2003 : Column 699

the United Kingdom, it should be noted—and has been noted by my noble friend—that Spain, too, is on our side in this important matter.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that not all of us seem to think that we are all on the same side? If the Government will not suspend these negotiations, will they consider that in current circumstances, which may well involve important military action, they should be put on ice?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we shall certainly consider what the noble Lord says but we still feel that we need to find a way through this matter. That means dialogue with Spain and Gibraltar. I am sorry if the noble Lord and I are not on the same side. I try to be on the same side as he.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the Spanish Government have their own reasons for not wishing to enter into a shared sovereignty agreement with the United Kingdom Government?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot comment on the motives or reasons that the Spanish Government may have. All I can say is that on the issue that is of the greatest importance to this country at the present time, Spain is a loyal ally.

Doctors: European Working Time Directive

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of the shortage in the United Kingdom of junior doctors, consultants and other trained medical staff, whether they will delay the implementation of the European working time directive for United Kingdom doctors in training.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the United Kingdom successfully negotiated transitional arrangements which permit phasing in the introduction of the 48-hour average weekly working time limit by a staged reduction of hours, from 58 in 2004 to 48 in 2009. If difficulties still remain, the UK may defer full implementation of the 48-hour working week for up to a further three years, at 52 hours, until 2012.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, which is better than I had hoped. I thought that we might not be able to do anything. Nevertheless, the Government's NHS Plan, which was intended to bring us many more doctors, either home produced or from overseas, is falling way behind. Both the Royal College of Physicians and the

4 Mar 2003 : Column 700

BMA are concerned that with the introduction of even parts of the scheme in 2004, we shall end up with not enough doctors to deal with patients in hospital. They think that that is an acute problem. What are the Government doing to produce more doctors?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I recognise the pressures on the National Health Service to implement the working time directive. We are working hard with the NHS, the royal colleges and the BMA to ensure that the NHS gets as much help and support as is necessary. We also have pilot schemes which are looking at new forms of rosters and shift systems in order to tackle some of the issues that are involved. As regards medical workforce planning and numbers, we have seen increases in the number of consultants and other doctors employed in the NHS over the past five years. Of particular significance is the expansion in medical school intakes. In 1997–98, the figure stood at 3,749, but by 2002–03, the provisional figure shows an intake of 5,292. That is a significant increase.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the working time directive will have a major impact on hospital trusts, yet the Government appear to be giving no guidance on compensatory rest for junior doctors. Why are they leaving it up to individual hospital trusts and not issuing national guidance?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Because, my Lords, the noble Lord has been telling me for the past three years that the Government try to micromanage the health service. It is much better that we give advice and encourage working relationships between NHS trusts and employees, but at the end of the day, it is up to them to come up with their own solutions.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, the Minister is no doubt aware that because of concerns on the part of the medical profession, I tabled a Question on this very topic one day after the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, tabled hers, and therefore withdrew it. Is it not the case that the problem arises as a result of the horizontal amending directive, passed by the European Union, which would modify the implementation of the European working time directive as from 2004? This would be a serious problem in reducing certain working hours which at the moment the Royal College of Physicians feels could not be carried out because of shortage of doctors, as the noble Baroness has indicated, and would therefore have a serious and detrimental effect upon clinical care.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page