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Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord is certainly right in one thing: that is certainly wide of the Question that I was asked. I think he knows that I cannot answer those questions today, even if they were absolutely on the ball, which, for once, they are not.

As far as CVF is concerned, the noble Lord knows that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced on 30 January that we believe that the best means of delivery in the carrier programme is by an alliance approach involving BAe Systems, Thales UK and the Ministry of Defence. As regards shipyards, at this stage that is a matter for the private companies involved.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the reasoning that he has given for the action that has been taken does not appear—certainly to me—to be wholly satisfactory? The preferred contractor is a safeguard for our Armed Forces and the security of the type of equipment that is put forward.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the whole CVF concept—that is, the new aircraft carriers—is an extremely complex and demanding programme in respect of time and cost. The alliance approach, in which we hope that BAe Systems will play a major part along with other companies, will allow us to draw on the strengths, resources and expertise of all parties involved and provide the most effective way of managing both risk and reward. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not yet persuaded, but I shall work on him.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, does the concern of the Government, in not accepting BAe Systems as a preferred contractor, have anything to do with the possibility that that company might amalgamate with an American one?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I have to tell the noble and gallant Lord that negotiations on all of those issues, including the preferred contractor issue, are continuing
 
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with the companies involved in order to determine the most effective contracting strategy for the aircraft carriers. It is not our intention to force out any company or supplier. It has nothing to do with what on the whole are fairly unfounded stories in the press this weekend about the short take-off vertical launch (Stovl) version of JSF.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that Her Majesty's governments—in plural—over a number of years have had a sorry record in safeguarding taxpayers' money as regards MoD contracts with various suppliers? What are the Government doing to ensure that contractors meet times and costs as originally contracted?

Lord Bach: My Lords, when going back over years in general terms, I do not think that there is a bad record as far as the taxpayer is concerned and certainly not as far as concerns the Armed Forces. They enjoy—they are the first to say so—some of the best equipment in the world, which is the envy of many other countries. So I do not agree with the proposition.

Of course, we can improve our procurement policy. I do not know how long the House has got: not very long, I suspect. We have brought in the principles of Smart Acquisition, which means in short that we work closer with industry. We ensure that we spend enough money and enough time at the assessment phase of each project, so that when we meet the manufacturing phase we do not find those delays and, thus, those cost increases that lead taxpayers and newspapers sometimes to complain.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that in the recent innovation White Paper there was an item that said that the Government would try to be a purchaser who encourages innovation. Can my noble friend confirm that the MoD is encouraging innovation by its purchasing policy?

Lord Bach: My Lords, that is certainly what we intend to do. As I said, this is an extremely complex field. A great deal of taxpayers' money is involved here. It is very important that what we do is responsible, but there are new flexible ways of procuring equipment. We have got to find the right way in each case.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, as the Minister seems to be prepared to go slightly wide of the original Question, will he tell the House whether Her Majesty's Government have paid damages to ETC, the American company that failed utterly to fulfil its contract for building the Royal Air Force centrifuge, which has now fallen into complete abeyance?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I knew I had made a mistake in answering the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I might have known that it would be the noble Lord who would take me up on it. I am about to reply to the noble Lord's Written Question. It is not the first Written Question on this legitimate subject. I am afraid that I do not have the answer in my head.
 
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Dental Services

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the Answer is no. That is why the Government are undertaking the most radical overhaul of NHS dentistry since 1948 through legislation in the Health and Social Care Act 2003, which transfers responsibility for commissioning NHS dental services to primary care trusts. In addition, we have targeted £59 million to improve access to NHS dentistry across England: £50 million to primary care trusts for specific local initiatives, and an additional £9 million specifically targeted to the 16 most challenged areas for dental access, supported by the NHS dentistry support teams.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that the British Dental Association has carried out extensive consultations on the Government's proposals for the future and has come up with very unfortunate results? The profession as a whole believes that there is a failure to address chronic underfunding in the NHS and it has many other objections. However, all the results add up to serious misgivings and an overwhelmingly negative view of the Government's proposals. The consultation reveals that 57 per cent of dentists oppose the proposals and that only 15 per cent support them. Nine out of 10 dentists think that they will increase their private work and 60 per cent of them personally intend to reduce their provision of NHS services or to opt out of the NHS altogether. Is that not a very discouraging result of the consultation? What further consultations and changes do the Government propose to address these issues to reassure members of the dental profession?

Lord Warner: My Lords, it is worth reflecting on the fact that pretty extensive consultation took place with the professionals' negotiators before the legislation was put before the House in the Health and Social Care Bill. There has been extensive consultation on the new base contract and the other transitional arrangements, all of which add up to strong protection for three years so that dentists lose no income. The Government are considering the results of that consultation. My honourable friend Rosie Winterton will be responding to it in the not-too-distant future.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, with only three-fifths of adults and two-fifths of children in this country registered with an NHS dentist, there is clearly a crisis of confidence among the dental profession. That is why it is so difficult for adults and children to register with an NHS dentist. What the Minister has said does not really address that crisis of confidence,
 
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when the BDA survey shows a huge lack of confidence in the future in terms of contractual obligations. Dentists fear that a treadmill is being created and they have doubts about the PCTs' capacity to cope in those circumstances. What are the Government going to about it?

Lord Warner: My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned treadmills but the treadmill problems of dentistry go back to the debacle of the 1990s contract and the shambles after that, which led to a fee cut and the flight of dentists from the NHS. That was not under this Government. We have been putting more money into dentistry. The fees paid to dentists are up. The numbers of NHS dentists are up by 4,000 since 1997. We have invested £90 million in dentistry during the past year. Oral health in children is improving and the number of people who need an intervention after initial assessment is also up since 1997. We accept that there are problems, but it is not all doom and gloom.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, why is Scarborough in North Yorkshire having such a problem in recruiting dentists when it is such a pleasant place to live?


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