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House of Lords

Wednesday, 19 March 2008.

The House met at three o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

World War II: Bomber Command

Lord Selkirk of Douglas My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw attention to my non-pecuniary interest shown in the Register of Members’ Interests.

The Question was as follows:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I can assure the House of the deep appreciation that this Government have for the courage and sacrifice of those who served in Bomber Command. However, it has been a long-standing policy of successive Governments that the cost of war memorials and associated projects is met from private donations or public subscriptions. I would also remark that in 2006, a memorial to Bomber Command was dedicated at Lincoln Cathedral, which served as a homecoming beacon for the bombers during the war.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, is the Minister aware that on 3 September 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill told the Cabinet:

making it very clear that the bomber offensive was determined at the highest level, and that the offensive was carried out by young men who went out night after night on extremely dangerous missions under the constant threat of being blasted from the skies? Almost half of them—some 55,000—did not survive the ordeal. Is it not time to commemorate, in a memorial comparable with and complementary to that for the Battle of Britain, not just the heroism of the few, but also the courage of the many?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I have great sympathy with much of what the noble Lord says. It is true that many of those who joined Bomber Command were killed—as he says, more than 55,000—and the average age of those who died was 22 years. We all owe them a great debt and need to recognise their contribution.

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The Ministry of Defence would welcome any appropriate efforts to celebrate their achievements and to recognise their sacrifice but, as I said, the money cannot be raised from public funds. We would be quite happy to provide guidance and help and, were there to be a memorial, we would try to help with any dedication.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords—

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, there is time for both noble Lords. I think the House is saying that it should be the Liberal Democrats first, but of course the noble and gallant Lord must come in immediately afterwards.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, the Minister’s reply is very disappointing. Indeed, the Government helped financially with the Fighter Command memorial. The achievements, let alone the sacrifice, of Bomber Command were and are appreciated by those who know. The destruction of the towns of Germany called for a large response from the German Air Force. This led to the Germans not manufacturing enough bombers and not training enough aircrew because they were all engaged in trying to control Bomber Command.

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Mackie of Benshie: It is coming, my Lords. Albert Speer, the Minister in charge of industrial production in Hitler’s Government, said that there was no question in his mind that the work of Bomber Command and the Eighth Air Force was a major factor in the defeat of Germany. I have talked too long about that, but it is worth saying. Will the Minister consider the matter again? Will she read a book called Bomber Boys by Patrick Bishop, which might enlighten her as to the achievements of these young men?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord speaks from direct experience, and I think that the House has listened to him with great care. As I said, no one in Government underestimates the contribution made by Bomber Command. I spoke, as did the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, of the very significant sacrifices that were made—ones that we should all be grateful for. May I correct what the noble Lord said about the Battle of Britain memorial? It was not taxpayers’ money; the lead was the Battle of Britain Historical Society, and Westminster Council gave the site. We are happy to recognise the great contribution of Bomber Command and, I repeat, we will be happy to help in any appropriate way, but we cannot help financially. Were there to be a memorial, we would certainly help to encourage the right people to attend any dedication.

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Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, the whole House will welcome the Government’s support, as I know will a now decreasing number of those who served in Bomber Command, their friends and relatives. The noble Baroness will recall that 55,573 aircrew, average age 22, lost their lives, 8,403 were badly wounded, and 9,838, having bailed out or crashed, were taken as prisoners of war. Following the evacuation of Dunkirk and until 1944, the only way that this country, which was fighting for survival, could bring the war to the enemy heartland was with strategic bombing. Does that not deserve remembrance by a memorial for a very long time into the future? Will the noble Baroness recall that it is important, not only to this Bomber Command generation but to today’s Armed Forces, that they are reassured that Governments will continue to remember, long after the time has passed, what they have done?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble and gallant Lord that we all have a responsibility to remember long after the event the sacrifices that were made. I simply repeat that we would welcome any appropriate efforts to celebrate the achievements of Bomber Command. I remind the House that we are approaching the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Air Force. There will be many opportunities during the celebrations to recognise the tremendous effort that many people have made over many years to safeguard the future of this country.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords—

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we are on to the ninth minute. We have to move on.

Energy: Nuclear Industry

3.15 pm

Lord Jenkin of Roding asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Baroness Vadera): My Lords, Government and industry recognise the challenge of ensuring that the UK has enough skilled workers to maintain and decommission existing nuclear power stations and build new ones. We are therefore improving science provision in schools, have charged the sector skills council with taking forward a training strategy and have helped set up a national skills academy for nuclear to improve the supply of specialist skills at all levels.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, that is all very well, but is the Minister aware that many of the major players on this stage, including the universities, see an

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urgent need for the Government to make decisions that will enable them to take their matters forward? In particular—I have given the Minister’s office notice of this question—is she aware that it is now 18 months since a former Secretary of State at the DTI, Alistair Darling, foreshadowed the creation of a national nuclear laboratory and what was then called a BNFL technology centre, now known as a British technology centre, both of which will have a vital role in nurturing the skills needed for the future of a British nuclear capacity? When are Ministers going to make these decisions and announce them?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, the national nuclear laboratory was set up to protect the skills of Nexia Solutions, in particular with respect to decommissioning skills. Its major clients are the NDA as well as the site licence company at Sellafield. We will finalise the business case for the national nuclear laboratory when we are clear about the revenue stream from the site licence company. The process for contracting is going on as we speak. In the mean time, Nexia Solutions has been able to carry on providing its vital services to industry and NDA without interruption. We have not seen an interruption in skills, and we anticipate the set-up of a national nuclear laboratory soon.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that time is now of the essence? There is common agreement that we need a new generation of nuclear power stations if we are to meet our Kyoto obligations. Time is not on our side. We waited a long time while the public consultation took place; we have had the White Paper for some time; the Government have agreed their policy; but one thing is certain: we will not get that new generation of nuclear-generating capacity unless we have a skilled workforce in place at the time we need it. That time is now.

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend. Just today, the first phase of the pre-licensing of the generic design assessment has taken place, and all four of the designs have been successfully passed. The new phase will be announced shortly. We are working with industry as well as with universities to ensure the provision of school leavers and university graduates to deal with the skills issues. It should be noted that the modal age of skills in the nuclear industry is in the 40s, so while the matter is pressing and urgent, we have a little bit of time yet.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will be aware that we on these Benches disagree with the remarks of her noble friend regarding the desirability of the nuclear programme. Will she not accept that if we are to continue the nuclear programme, it is common ground across your Lordships’ House that there is a danger that the Government will not do it properly?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, I can say only that I believe strongly that we will do it properly and that nuclear power is an essential part of the energy mix to ensure that we meet our climate change obligations and have security of supply.

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Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does Britain have the capability to design and construct a nuclear power station so that it can come on stream, as the Government’s target has it, in 2020? If it does not, history will judge the Government harshly for the 10 years of delay in making a major strategic decision. Have they not failed to cherish and largely dismantled the capability we need?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, we have made a full assessment of the issue and believe that we have the capacity to ensure that there is nuclear new build in this country. The design and production of reactors is international, as it was in the case of Sizewell B where the reactor was of American design, produced in France with Japanese components. We have the ability globally to do this and the capacity in the UK manufacturing sector. We expect to win 75 per cent of the capex on nuclear new build.

Lord Krebs: My Lords, the Minister has told us that the Government require a supply of skilled people trained in physics departments in the universities of this country. Would she agree that the recent cuts in funding to physics departments through the shortfall in the Science and Technology Facilities Council is a mistake and that those cuts should now be reversed?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, I emphasise that HEFCE has put aside £75 million over the next three years specifically for selected higher education institutions for stem skills related to engineering which are expensive to teach. The Research Council has also put aside funding specifically for nuclear skills.

Lord Desai: My Lords, will the Government make sure that the nuclear plants are not only delivered on time but also at the proper cost—not with the usual 300 per cent overruns —and that they produce power economically?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, I am pleased to say that that will be a risk carried by the private sector.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, what is the Minister doing to increase the supply of A-level maths students? What is she doing about the shortage of Royal Navy nuclear propulsion engineers?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, we have announced a £140 million strategy over the next three years to support stem skills in schools and have made a statutory entitlement to a course to study two science GCSEs. This involves recruiting and training teachers as well as funding stem awareness with 11,700 engineers acting as role models in schools. On the supply of engineers to the Royal Navy, that is also a part of the HEFCE scheme that I mentioned earlier.

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NHS: Private Medicine

3.22 pm

Lord Hamilton of Epsom asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, there is no question of withdrawing NHS care from anyone. However, no Government have ever allowed—indeed, none of the main political parties supports—an individual simultaneously being an NHS and a privately funded patient within the same episode of care.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, is the Minister not embarrassed that the National Health Service threatened to withdraw treatment from a woman who wanted to spend £15,000 of her own money on cancer treatment that might have saved her? The reason given by the Minister in another place was that this would create a two-tier health service. At the moment, the taxpayer spends £96 billion on the National Health Service. Private individuals spend £30 billion on help for the aged, dentistry, private treatment, private drugs and over-the-counter drugs. If that is not a two-tier health service, what is it?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I realise that this issue has been in the news recently and I understand why noble Lords would want to raise it, as these cases are highly emotive. Many arguments about top-up payments centre around cancer drugs that do not yet have NICE approval, have been rejected by NICE or have not yet been licensed. NHS bodies must provide drugs that have NICE approval, but it is for local decision whether they provide drugs that await approval, have been rejected or do not have a licence.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, is consideration being given to setting up a cross-party working party to look at top-ups or co-payments? This extends beyond cancer drugs to the new biologic drugs, which can be potent disease modifiers, and to aids and appliances—high-tech ones such as different types of cardiac defibrillator and low-tech ones such as different types of wheelchair wheels, which are not available on the NHS but which patients are not allowed to pay the top-up for.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, a founding principle of the NHS enshrined in every code of practice—most recently in the 2003 code of practice—is that someone is either a private patient or an NHS patient. Patients can be private patients and decide to resume their treatment as NHS patients but they cannot in one episode of treatment be treated on the NHS and then as part of the same episode be allowed to pay money for more drugs. I would be surprised if those on the opposition Front Benches felt differently from the Government about this matter because it is a fundamental principle. We need to think carefully about any suggestion of moving from that principle.

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