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Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Baroness asked whether I was in despair as to how the decision came to be taken. It is not a matter for me to judge. But the review will look at the circumstances that gave rise to it. We will have more answers when it reports. The NHS made clear in its plan that we were concerned that patients should have more privacy and space in new build hospitals. I know that all noble Lords support that. There is good motivation for it.

On funding, there is no reason why the services should not continue to operate and to flourish. But the missing millions of pounds that will result if the hospital is not sold will be a matter for the trusts and the project managers.

Lord Elton: My Lords, if the new building will not be big enough to house the whole present hospital, how will it be possible to continue without fragmentation of the service that it provides, as my noble friend asked?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, it will be for the review to examine that matter. Among the options will be to find another location. As I said, we shall have to wait and see what emerges from the review.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, will the Minister comment on the effect of the loss of the sale proceeds of the Western Eye Hospital on the value for money of

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the PFI scheme at Paddington? Will not the loss of those proceeds mean that the PFI scheme will probably not deliver value for money, and, therefore, should not go ahead?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the decision was taken in terms of the planning of services. PFI has not yet kicked in. At present, the project is looking for partners. I am not sure that the noble Baroness's question is strictly relevant or one that I could answer. As I said, it is a matter for the trust itself and the able hands of those who will run it.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is it correct that there are only two such eye hospitals in London, the other being Moorfields? Can the Minister assure us that, whatever happens or wherever the hospital is relocated, it will continue to cover that half of London?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. The hospital takes patients from all over London. I am sure that it will want to continue the service to the patients who depend on it at present. A diagnosis and treatment centre might be set up, for example, to make cataract services more swift and efficient. I am sure that it would want to serve exactly the same people as it does at present.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, does the Minister remember the debates that we had during the previous health Bill in which concern was expressed that specialised medicine might be lost under the new reorganisation? This strikes me as a case in point. Here is a national specialist centre, providing a service for not only London, which is in danger of being spread all over the site because nobody looked out for it.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, that is exactly why I said that the intention is to keep the specialist teaching and research intact, and why part of the genius of the idea is that Imperial College London research is on site also. I think that that will be successful. We want to preserve that at all costs.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am sure that the House is aware that I am chairman of St Mary's Hospital, so I listen to the debate with considerable interest. Does the Minister accept my assurance that the intention is to maintain the service at all costs? It is a valuable, well-run specialist service, with university teaching and research attached to it. There is no intention of disseminating the service beyond the borders of north-west London. It is a valuable part of the medical services within this part of London. Will the Minister accept those assurances?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am absolutely delighted to do so.

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3.16 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What consideration they have given to the possibility that the proposal to outlaw begging might be found to be contrary to Article 2 or Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, Section 3 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 as amended already makes begging in a public place an offence. On conviction, the offender may be sentenced to a maximum fine of £1,000. We have no plans to change the formulation of the offence or to increase the penalties. No one in this country should beg. We need to protect more vulnerable people from being drawn into street activity and to guard against the sustaining of harmful drug addictions.

The White Paper on anti-social behaviour published today looks at making the offence of begging recordable. Making the offence of begging recordable would enable the police and the courts to take into account the full range of begging offences and other criminal offences. In addition, after three fines, courts would have the option of imposing a community penalty, which could involve drug treatment. We do not consider that the measures would contravene Articles 2 or 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for explaining the Government's intentions better than whoever recently informed the press did. I hope that the Minister received notice of my request to know also how many people are at present subject either to total or partial benefit sanctions. Does he agree that if people are deprived of income, and if thereafter an attempt is made to prevent them achieving an income by begging, there is a risk that that double whammy might be held to cross the threshold of destitution used to establish inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I received several conflicting accounts of what the noble Earl's supplementary question would be. But one of them was that that he would ask that question.

Benefit sanctions fall into two categories. The first is where the conditions of the benefit are such that, if you do not comply with them, you lose all or part of the benefit. The best example is jobseeker's allowance. In 2001–02, 193,001 were so sanctioned. The noble Earl will know that research on the effect of that sanction was carried out and published. Loss of benefit had a significant impact on the respondents. Some had fears of falling into debt and some were able to claim hardship payments. Respondents differed in how the disallowance or sanction had influenced their behaviour. Very many of them ceased the conduct that led to the sanction, for example, refusing to carry out directions in seeking jobs.

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There is a second, separate category; namely, where benefit sanctions are imposed as a result, for example, of non-compliance with a community sentence. The number of people so sanctioned between 15th October 2001 and 3rd January 2003 was 612.

Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, does not the proposal further to penalise beggars run contrary to something of even higher authority than the European Convention on Human Rights, namely the beatitudes? They declare unequivocally and unreservedly, "Blessed are the poor". Why should such people be penalised further, when they are in desperation?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as I made clear to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the proposal is not designed to penalise such people further or to increase the amount of the fine. The purpose is to record the fact that someone has been fined. If he or she has been fined on three occasions, it will be possible for the courts to impose a community sentence that might help them to get out of the circumstances that led to begging. Many of them are dependent on drugs. A community sentence could help them to deal with that.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that many of the beggars on the Underground are foreigners and very possibly, I imagine, illegal immigrants? What can we do about them?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, one sees that people of a range of nationalities are involved. The right thing to do is to make sure that we have a record of the occasions on which such people have come up against the authorities so that we do not just go on and on imposing a fine but do more intrusive things to help them.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that many asylum seekers, genuine or not, have no idea that they must make an immediate claim for benefit on their arrival in this country? Recent research by some of the detainee visitors' boards shows that, in several airports, there is no clear indication in different languages that that is a requirement for receiving benefit. Some of the people begging are simply unaware that they could have made a claim and have no means of support.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, there should be notices at all embarkation or arrival ports for aircraft, or whatever, indicating the position. I agree that proper notice should be given. The Question was about begging and about what happens when someone comes up against the law. The proposal that has been made is that the courts should not simply go on fining such people but should make sure that they can intervene in other ways. Members in all parts of the House will applaud that.

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