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Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, the noble Baroness refers to the dignity and respect of patients, and I could not agree with her more. I reiterate that we are talking about single-sex accommodation, and if anyone is infringing that guidance I will be more than happy to look into it. She referred to the initial target in 1997. It was based on eliminating mixed-sex accommodation,

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which we have done. The current guidance looks at three different principles: the annual healthcare check, which looks at a number of different standards; the patient environment action teams, which is the PEAT score; and, more recently, the Healthcare Commission, which looks at the in-patient surveys.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, having been in a mixed ward, I wonder whether the Minister considers that curtains between beds are sufficient.

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, curtains to separate the sexes in the same bay are not sufficient. However, we are talking about separate bays within wards. This is an interesting question that has been debated in this House for many years. The only way that we can have single-sex wards in the NHS is to build the whole of it in single rooms. Transforming a ward into a single-sex ward is not achievable. That aspiration cannot be met. We are talking about single-sex accommodation within wards—in other words, different bays for different sexes.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I entirely agree with what the noble Lord said: it would be desirable to treat people in single rooms with their own facilities. Since that can be done in other countries, why can we not meet that aspiration in this country? Is the Minister aware that in 1995 this House passed a Bill outlawing the practice of treating people in mixed-sex wards? Since then, many promises to phase them out have been made, but they are still there and we are still getting many complaints. On 22 January, the Minister answered a Written Question from me:

How can the Government possibly say whether they have been phased out if they do not have that information?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, I come back to definitions: we are referring to mixed-sex accommodation, not mixed-sex wards. We have guidance that we need to increase the number of single rooms by at least 50 per cent of any new build. We have made slow but steady progress since 1997. The number of single rooms has increased from 22 per cent to 27 per cent across the National Health Service. We measure single-sex accommodation through the trio that I referred to earlier: the annual healthcare check, the patient environment, and the Healthcare Commission’s in-patient survey.

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I feel a bit confused, but confused at a very high level. At midnight tonight, how many men and women will have to sleep in the same room in a hospital?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, with the exception of those in critical care units or intensive care units and other seriously ill patients, the answer should be none.

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Railways: Virgin Trains

2.59 pm

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Department for Transport received an unsolicited proposal in 2007 from Virgin Trains to extend its franchise for two years, from 2012 to 2014, which included a plan to lengthen Pendolino trains by adding two carriages. The DfT concluded that this proposal provided significantly less value for money compared with the likely outcome of the refranchising exercise scheduled for completion in 2012. The department is currently preparing proposals to increase capacity on the west coast main line.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. In fact, trains on the west coast main line will be very full before 2012—a fact on which some noble Lords may bear me out. It is important that negotiations between the Government and Virgin Trains reach a successful conclusion. Will the Minister ask his honourable friend in another place, the Minister with responsibility for railways, to take personal charge of the negotiations? I think that officials are stalling those because they rather like to interfere continuously in franchises.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, discussions with Virgin Rail Group continue at all times. I am happy to pass on the noble Lord’s wishes for my honourable friend to take a more direct interest but my honourable friend already takes a very direct interest in all these matters. We have to continue to improve services and to ensure that we deal with capacity issues, not just in 2012 but as we speak. The growth in passenger numbers on the west coast line has clearly exceeded expectations; it is a very successful rail line indeed.

Lord Berkeley:My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it’s a bit ironic that the Government want to provide extra capacity on the west coast main line with these extra coaches while also wanting to put in a third runway at Heathrow to allow more planes to go to Manchester and Glasgow? It seems a bit odd, doesn’t it?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord likes wicked ironies but the fact is that the west coast main line is becoming increasingly popular. However, there will be a 29 per cent increase in capacity with the adoption of the new timetable from December, and the railway network from Liverpool, Manchester and so on is competing on good terms with air travel between Manchester, certainly, and the London airports.

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Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, would not one explanation for the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, be that it is cheaper to fly to Manchester than it is to go by train?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: That is not the case, my Lords. It certainly is expensive to travel first class with a walk-on ticket, but even first-class walk-on tickets are increasingly popular and that service is operating at higher levels, near to capacity.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, as someone who has pretty much lived on the Manchester-London train for the past 40 years I compliment Virgin on the investment it has made in the service and on producing an excellent service which is appreciated. Nevertheless, whereas people such as the noble Lords, Lord Barnett and Lord Sheldon, and I have the luxury of travelling first class, it is very crowded in standard class. I urge the Minister to take on board my noble friend’s pleadings to get that extra rolling stock in as soon as possible.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as I am sure noble Lords will know, we have already begun to bring into play another 1,300 carriages as part of the HLOS specification. From the end of this year, as I said, there will be a 29 per cent increase in overall timetabled mileage. I am sure that that will be welcomed very much by standard-class travellers.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, it is not possible to work out whether that 29 per cent increase will affect some of the west coast main line trains going to Cumbria and further north. I am a frequent user of those services. Sometimes, in standard class, people are sitting on floors because the trains are so crowded. Can my noble friend give out any hope that the improvements he is talking about will happen on that particular stretch of line before 2012?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as I explained, this increase in timetabled mileage will kick in with the new timetable in December. Not all the increase will be experienced during peak times but it will be a measurable improvement to the service. It is part of the continuing modernisation programme, which has been extraordinarily successful. The resulting expectations have generated a great deal of extra take-up of the service by passengers.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, perhaps I may take the Minister back to the original Question. Why, if Virgin railways wants to add two coaches to a train, does it have to ask for permission from a Minister?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as I am sure the noble Earl will know from his time in government, franchising is a very specific process: there is flexibility within the process, but there are also many knock-on consequences. If you add on two extra carriages, you have to ensure that all the platforms are sufficiently long to take them into account. It has to be subject to detailed negotiation.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the problem of the west coast main line is one of success, and that the service’s popularity is such that all the trains now envisaged will be full by 2011—not by 2014, which was in the original strategy? As a result, is it not the case that the order for new coaches needs to be brought forward, because it takes two or three years for those to come into service? Otherwise, there will be terrible overcrowding from 2011 onwards?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord is right about the need for urgency in ensuring that the orders are placed so that the extra capacity is available, and that is exactly what the Department for Transport is now engaged in. Quite frankly, the department felt that the benefits to be gained in extra capacity would not be sufficiently great to justify giving Virgin Trains an extension in its franchise. However, Virgin is doing a remarkable job. It is an extremely successful service. We are delighted to see so many new passengers using trains in the new age of rail. It continues to be a major success story.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, does the Minister agree that job satisfaction and job security in the rail industry are in proportion to the franchise lengths? Is it possible that the opposite applies to officials and consultants in his department?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I had rather hoped for a more edifying question from the noble Earl; I think he does the department a disservice. Last Thursday, he himself said that,

He went on to say that,

That is absolutely the case, and it is because of the hard work of our officials.

Deputy Chairmen of Committees

3.07 pm

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Baroness Royall of Blaisdon be appointed a member of the panel of Deputy Chairmen of Committees, in place of Lord Grocott.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, Thursday’s announcement that my noble friend Lord Grocott was retiring must have come as a great surprise to all noble Lords, but I assure your Lordships that the greatest surprise was mine. My noble friend Lord Grocott has been an extraordinary Chief Whip. He is supremely efficient and effective, and always cool, calm and collected. He has a fine quality, which I think Chief Whips are not supposed to have: he is universally popular.

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My noble friend is a very difficult act to follow. He is a fine teacher. I have learnt all that I know about whipping from him. However, any gaps in my knowledge that become apparent in the coming weeks are my responsibility, not his. I know that I can continue to count on his support, his advice and, of course, his vote. From these Benches we wish him well in his retirement. We know that he will have more time now to spend with his beloved Sally, his grandchildren and his football—although, when it comes to Stoke, I am not sure whether I have got that order correct. However, with the upcoming business—I have been looking at the forthcoming schedules—I am confident that from now until the summer we will see an awful lot of my noble friend. We wish him well.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on her appointment as Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms and government Chief Whip. I look forward to working with her in the busy times ahead.

I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on a remarkable six years as government Chief Whip in this House. It was my privilege and honour to work with him, albeit as a very new Chief Whip, on these Benches for only four months of those six years. I saw his calibre at first hand when perhaps I was more than a nuisance than I should have been as Conservative home affairs spokesperson, when I called quite a few Divisions that he had to bear.

I quickly realised that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, like all those who make a highly successful transition from another place to this House, has a real and abiding grasp of the day-to-day political realities of this House, which are so different from those of another place. He knows how this House works. He knows what makes it special and different from another place. He is approachable and reasonable; he is a man of his word and he makes it clear to all of us that he enjoys the company of his colleagues and of those on other Benches. No wonder that he is and has always been held in such high regard in this House. We on these Benches wish him well for the future.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, the departure of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, came as a surprising knock-on effect of Peter Hain’s departure. Perhaps it was intended all along; we do not know. The noble Lord has been unflappable and straight in his dealing, which I think is important for a Chief Whip. It has been a pleasure to deal with him as a Chief Whip; I am told that I am now the most senior and the only man in this job. After six years, we will find out more now of the real Lord Grocott, once the zip has come from his mouth and he is able to involve himself in other activities of this House. I only hope that his good and trusty friend the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, has found him new quarters. We thank him very much for his service. I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, to her new role and I look forward to working with her.

Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, I add my warm thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on behalf of the independent Cross-Bench Peers. I have not worked

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for long with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, but what time I have had has been extremely pleasant and useful. I cannot help but be impressed with his ability to appear calm and unhurried—and even unworried—at all times. It is perhaps a rare combination to be a Chief Whip and, as has been said, to be so universally liked. The added bonus for me is that now I will be able to hear for the first time the views of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on issues dealt with in this House, as he will no longer be bound by the convention of neutrality and silence. I trust that he will also now have more opportunity for his other passions, which I gather include India, football and, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton, the good people of Telford.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, will be a very hard act to follow. However, it will be entirely within her competence. She has had a short but enormously exacting apprenticeship during which it seems that she has covered almost everything from health to foreign affairs via prisons and carers. I congratulate her warmly and look forward very much to working with her.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I add our thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, for his fairness and care and his courtesy and wisdom whenever we have had to approach him about the sometimes opaque processes of this House. I am also grateful for that other innovation, which ensures that we normally finish business by 10 o’clock. This gives us a lot more time to write our sermons. I thank him for that.

I add my congratulations from these Benches to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, as she begins to undertake her new and demanding role. At a personal level, as the only person in this House besides the noble Baroness to have been born and grown up in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, I offer her those personal best wishes from a fellow forester. If any Members would like training in the unique dialect and the linguistic richness of the Forest of Dean in order to approach the new Chief Whip more effectively, I would be very happy to provide it.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, the tributes have genuinely been completely unexpected and overwhelming, particularly from the opposition Benches. Had I still been in the other place, those tributes would have destroyed my political career. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, that it is a pleasure to be in a position to speak one’s mind. I feel free to do that and am prepared to start now by saying for the record that the Government are doing a tremendous job. It goes without saying that I give my unqualified and wholehearted support to my old friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, whom I have known for many, many years. It has been an enormous privilege to have been Chief Whip for six years in this House. I can say only that my sense of the sunlit uplands of free evenings means that the thought of not being Chief Whip is an even greater privilege at the moment. I look forward to being an active Member of this House for, I hope, a long time to come.

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If I am allowed briefly to be partisan, I must say that the greatest personal privilege is to have worked with a Labour group that, of all the Labour groups that I have worked with—including in local government, the other place and here—has given the most good humour, support, warmth and friendship, and has managed to achieve the miracle of getting 100 per cent of the legislative programme through with 30 per cent of the votes, in defiance of normal arithmetic. I give my thanks to the whole House for the privilege that I have been given.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I associate myself with the words of tribute paid to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. I must say what a pleasure it was to work with him on various committees, particularly those mentioned in the second Motion if not so much those mentioned in the first Motion. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on her appointment as Chief Whip.

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