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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, one of the key recommendations in the new guidelines involves the provision of specialist neurological services to multiple sclerosis sufferers. It is quite clear that without specific contracts and good practices in the commissioning of specialist services for MS patients, those who suffer from the disease will lack needed access to care. Have not the Government made their task that much more difficult by transferring responsibility for commissioning specialist services from regional commissioning bodies to PCTs?

Lord Warner: No, my Lords. There is a slightly weary note in my voice here—as the noble Lord knows, we have been over the subject of specialist commissioning quite often in different guises. The Government are committed to devolving responsibility to PCTs, which have been given the resources to commission services and come together in confederations for specialist services.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, my noble friend's statement about the additional resources for specialist nursing is most welcome. Will he confirm that when these are

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in place, in two or three years' time, there will be sufficient facilities so that those patients who are prescribed beta interferon by their doctors will be able to have the necessary nursing support and back-up to give effect to their overall treatment?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I think I can give that confirmation. The scheme that was started in May 2002 and which is backed by statutory directions tries to ensure that there is no postcode prescribing of these specialist treatments and that we have, uniquely, joined together with other interests to make sure that beta interferon is available to those patients who need it.

Builders: Compulsory Registration Scheme

2.48 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I offer my apologies to the House—I have already done so to the Minister—for not having been in my place when this Question arose previously.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they propose to introduce a compulsory registration scheme for builders.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, there are no plans to introduce a compulsory registration scheme for builders. A statutory scheme would present considerable enforcement difficulties; it would also be costly and bureaucratic, given the size of the industry. We are currently working with representative trade bodies and others to implement the Quality Mark scheme for the domestic repair, maintenance and improvement sector on a voluntary basis. We plan to launch nationally to consumers later in the year.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that whereas the voluntary quality scheme helps educated middle-class customers, it does nothing to protect the more vulnerable customers who need a compulsory scheme to make cowboy builders illegal?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Obviously, my Lords, people who can make use of a Quality Mark system have an advantage. However, there are serious reasons why we believe that a registration system is not the right step to take, as I hope to indicate. It would be very costly; above all, it would be difficult to enforce, as this is an industry in which it is difficult to enforce things; and it would also lead to a lower baseline standard to ensure effective introduction.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that there is a serious problem of aggressive door-step cold-calling of vulnerable people—

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particularly elderly people—by those who claim to be, but probably are not, competent builders? Will the Minister indicate Her Majesty's Government's attitude to the Private Member's Bill that has been introduced in another place, which intends to ban cold-calling of property repairs, maintenance and improvements?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the remarks of the noble Lord have their origin in a report published by the Trading Standards Institute last year, under the title Door to Door Cold Calling of Property Repairs, Maintenance & Improvements—Long Overdue for Statutory Control. The Office of Fair Trading is due shortly to publish its conclusions and recommendations on the whole area of door-step selling. This is the moment to wait for its conclusions.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, in welcoming the Government's Quality Mark scheme, does the Minister agree that part of the scheme assesses the workmanship skills of the building firms that are trying to join it, and that one problem is that many builders do not have any formal qualifications—apart, perhaps, from the plumbers and electricians? The Minister or I could set up a building firm, if we desired to do so, without any formal qualification. Does the Minister have figures for how many in the building trade have formal qualifications, and what the Goverment propose to do about the problem?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I cannot give a figure, but I believe that it is not a good one as far as training is concerned. I shall write to the noble Baroness and give her the figures that we have. It is an essential part of the Quality Mark scheme that it has both inspections and a complaints system attached to it. One idea is to drive up standards, which means having to drive up the standards of the firms doing the work. The sector skills councils, which we are setting up, are one way to get the industry to put its house in order.

Lord Elton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that one principal factor that enables cowboy builders to flourish at the expense of reputable builders is that reputable builders pay the insurance premiums, which are now pretty exorbitant, for their staff and customers, while cowboy builders do not, thus exposing their staff and customers to unacceptable risk? A scheme such as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, suggested would stop that happening.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the issue is the great difficulty, which the noble Lord's question reflects, of getting anything enforced in the industry, particularly VAT and all the other issues. It is that very consideration that makes us reluctant to embark on a registration scheme for the whole industry. There are some very basic things that we need to enforce first of all.

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Middle East: US Initiative

2.53 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their view of the United States Administration's draft greater Middle East initiative.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we are at the beginning of a process that is intended to respond to the needs that the governments of the region have themselves expressed. The United Kingdom Government and the United States Government are already engaged in wide-ranging discussions with the governments of the region on developments that will enable those countries to realise their full potential.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. Does she accept that the draft greater Middle East initiative looks likely to be the most important dimension of American foreign policy towards its European allies in the next two to three months, for the G8 summit, the NATO summit and the EU-US summit? Does she also accept that the Foreign Secretary's speech to the Foreign Policy Centre last Monday, which I thought was rather thoughtful, offered a very different emphasis on western policy towards the Middle East than that contained in the draft Middle East initiative? Can she assure us that we shall do our best to make sure that this American drafted initiative works with British and EU initiatives towards the Arab and Muslim regions, particularly towards the Mediterranean or Barcelona process, rather than working across them?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I emphasise that these questions of how Arab countries develop over the next two years have been matters of discussion for quite some time. I agree with the noble Lord that there are different nuances in the United States' presentation from that which my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary presented in his speech last week, which I thought was excellent.

The noble Lord is quite right: we are working towards the G8, NATO and EU-US summits. However, he must remember that the United States' paper has not as yet been published in its final form; he knows that it was leaked. Unfortunately, the way in which it was leaked was not particularly helpful to the sort of dialogue that we want to develop on both sides of the Atlantic. By "both sides of the Atlantic", I mean that our European partners and we in this country want to develop a dialogue with the Arab countries. British officials are today in Brussels discussing the matter, and last week I asked all the Arab League ambassadors in London to come in to discuss it. I hope that those discussions will be positive and will have an agenda that we can take forward together.

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