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Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the whole franchising process is flawed? Does he not agree that it needs to be revisited? The first lot nearly all resulted in bidders grossly exaggerating what they would deliver if they were awarded the franchises. Most of them failed and some went bankrupt. If we are driven into a situation where the lowest price wins, what is to stop bidders again exaggerating what they will deliver and thus letting down not only the Government and Members of this House, but also every customer and passenger in the railway system?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord's criticism of the first round of franchise awards has some merit. We all know the unfortunate consequences of failures in certain areas. However, we have learnt a lot
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from that experience. We now have in place rigorous criteria, ones that will have the benefit of scrutinising the past performance of train operating companies.
The suggestion made by the noble Lord builds on the concept introduced by my noble friend Lord Faulkner; that is, that the cheap and cheerful might succeed. However, it is not the case that the cheapest bid will necessarily succeed. In each case the successful bid will be that which provides and guarantees the highest quality of service and the best value for money. They may not necessarily be the cheapest bids, but they will represent good value for money for consumers, which is the most important feature.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the Department of Health has worked with suppliers to ensure that there is sufficient stock of influenza vaccine to meet the needs of the "at risk" population. Contingency stock, purchased by the department, has been made available to GP surgeries to meet any immediate shortfall.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. It is all very well, but what happened to the risk strategy and the business continuity plan? Supplies are not available at all GP surgeries at the moment. Is it not a sad fact that unless the "at risk" population receive their jabs before 1 November, patients will undoubtedly suffer as a result, some of whom may sadly die? Is it not a shabby response from the Government that there was not a risk strategy for the problems that we currently face?
Lord Warner: My Lords, if I may say so in the vernacular, that is absolute nonsense. The Government made sure that there were around 14 million doses of flu vaccine available for this yeardespite the problems in the Speke factory, which are well knowncompared with 12 million administered last year. As of last week, just under 13 million doses have been distributed. The Government recommend that the flu vaccine is given from September to November before flu starts to circulate. We believe that all GP practices will have delivery of flu vaccines by the week commencing 8 November. This gives time to ensure that clinics can be set up to immunise individuals before the end of the month.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is not this an occasion when the Department of Health should be
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congratulated on keeping its eggs in many baskets rather than in only two as the United States Government have done?
Lord Warner: My Lords, I do not know the diagnosis of the noble Earl but the Government have identified the "at risk" groups for some time. The "at risk" groups entitled to receive free flu jabs are those aged 65 or over; those who have a serious illness, including chronic heart conditions, chronic respiratory conditions, including asthma, chronic kidney disease, diabetes or lowered immunity; and those receiving long-stay residential home care of one kind or another.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the World Health Organisation has stated that a very dangerous type of chicken flu may appear at any moment? Are we prepared for this, especially in regard to those at risk?
Lord Warner: My Lords, the Government take account of the information provided each year by the World Health Organisation about particular flu strains that may be in circulation, as do other countries. We tend to get our flu following the southern hemisphere winter. This year we have ensured that the flu vaccine available takes account of last year's strain, Fujiian flu, and we hope that this will be appropriate for this year's flu when it comes.
Baroness Barker: My Lords, what guidance has the Department of Health given to GPs who have had to cancel flu clinics because of a lack of vaccine stocks? Has it informed them about alternative sources of flu vaccine stocks? Will the pilot programme to inoculate carers of vulnerable people still go ahead even though there is a shortage of vaccine?
Lord Warner: My Lords, I hoped I had made it clear from the figures that I gave earlier that there is not a shortage of vaccine. There has been a small delaywhich I acknowledgedbecause of events in the Speke factory. We are well on target for making this information available. I shall look into the pilot study to which the noble Baroness referred and write to her. The department wrote to all flu immunisation co-ordinators in England on 28 September, 5 October and 21 October asking them to ensure that all GP surgeries in their areas were aware of the issue and giving details of how and where additional stocks of vaccine could be sourced.
Lord Warner: My Lords, immunisation of front-line health and social care staff has been recommended in
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the UK since 200001. Uptake in acute trusts last year was 14 per cent overall, up from earlier years. We are continuing to work with a number of trusts to ensure that immunisation levels among NHS staff are higher than they have been in the past.
Lord Warner: My Lords, the "at risk" groups are the result of a good deal of research, cost/benefit analysis and extensive consultation with experts in this area. I shall certainly look into the point raised by my noble friend and write to him.
Lord Warner: No, my Lords. We know as a fact that last year about 12 million flu jabs were administered. We have organised ourselves to have available 14 million doses for this year, a buffer of 2 million doses. We know that we have distributed about 13 million doses. This provides for some improved take-up, either by NHS staff or the "at risk" groups.
The amendment, which, as is clear from the signatories, has cross-party support, seeks to reintroduce the concept of registration and licensing for hunting, as
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was in the Government's original Bill in December 2002. That Bill followed long consultation. First, there was the Burns report which, in 2001, concluded that hunting could not be proven to be cruel, and the noble Lord, Lord Burns, confirmed that in this House this very month. Without objective evidence that hunting is crueland that does not existthere is no case for a ban; there is just prejudice.
I remind the Committee that in 2002, the Minister, Alun Michael, conducted six months of consultation with all interested and expert parties. The aim, he said, was to have legislation based on evidence and principlesprinciples such as cruelty and utility. The present banning Bill ignores all that.
When introducing the licensing Bill in December 2002, Mr Michael said that it was based on "a golden thread" of principles and evidence. The proposed ban is not; we are proposing to revert to the Bill to which Mr Michael was referring.
In July last year, the Prime Minister told the Commons that he supported his Minister's compromise proposals in the registration Bill to which we wish to revert. All major countryside organisations support this compromise approach.
These are the proposalsthe principles based on evidence which this amendment and its consequential amendments propose to reinstate in the Bill. The amendment would remove the crude ban before us. I may disappoint some, but I do not propose to detain the House by repeating all the defects of the ban, which have been stated in this House again and again. Above allI say that because it is my prime priority, as someone who does not hunt and never hasthe amendment would remove the attack on the civil liberties of countryside people.
Anyway, I have no need to go through the flaws in the banning Bill before us, because they have all been admitted by the Government. Mr Michael wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister last year saying that a complete ban would destroy the architecture of the original Bill. It would undermine its,
In moving this and subsequent amendments, we are acting in what I believe is a true parliamentary and democratic spirit. What are we doing? For a start, we offer compromise. I need hardly point out that many supporters on our side have compromised and have
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moved significantly from their early inclinations towards laissez-faire to embracing registration. They have compromised; we have compromised. The Prime Minister and Mr Michael have stated in public that they want compromise. The Prime Minister has repeated that today. Well, they can achieve thatthey can have that. So why, if they want compromise, do they support a non-compromising ban? That side has not yielded one inch, despite massive evidence that a ban would increase suffering. I say to the Prime Minister and to the Minister, if they want compromise, why not accept the compromise we offer?
We also offer considerable consensus. We have the support of many, in all parties in Parliament. We have the support of the main countryside organisations. The polls tell us that only 1 per cent of Labour voters say that such a ban should be a priority for the Government. Two-thirds of the public say that the Government should listen to the House of Lords.
In addition to offering compromise and consensus, we offer a rational approach to cruelty, based on tests, evidence and the principles that the Minister set out. We do not offer the irrational prejudice that is in the ban. We do not offer the greater degree of animal suffering that will follow the imposition of such a ban.
Above all, we offer the Government their original Bill, based on consultation, principles and evidence. If they do not accept this rational compromise and use the draconian Parliament Act against their own original proposals, then my Government, of whom I am normally a most loyal supporter, will, in my view, be shamed and humiliated by their actions.
I was once an adviser to the "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" programmes. We would have been happy to adopt this scenario as a satirical script in that programme, with the Government using the Parliament Act to resist their own proposals. But the two authors would have certainly said to me, "We won't get away with that because it is not credible". If it were not so tragic, it would be funny. I beg to move.
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