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Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the target is certainly 10 per cent, but I understand that most channels are programming for a higher figure. I take the point very seriously. In addition, Digital UK is distributing the Good Neighbours Guide to charities and community groups, which can then inform their clients about what help is available to users with particular needs when they switch over to digital TV. The Digital Switchover Help Scheme will also assist people with disabilities. I hope that they will be able to access that.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of Age Concern Surrey, which runs a computer drop-in centre. Is the Minister aware that increasingly such things as booking tickets have to be done online? Does she think that the library service in this country provides enough help to those who do not know how to access online information and make such bookings?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. It is interesting that 35 per cent of people over 65 use the internet—they are among the most intensive users. I suspect that many in your Lordships’ House qualify as silver surfers; in fact, seeing the e-mail traffic, I am sure of that. As everything is online these days, it is precisely people with leisure time who could get most benefit from internet access. It helps to reduce the isolation of older people and, critically, connects them via e-mail with their friends and services such as doctors. We have a big job to do.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, in view of the speed with which things have moved on since the Communications Act 2003, does the Minister think that Ofcom has enough responsibilities, interests and power in this area?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, as far as I am aware, it has. Given, for example, the risks that children are exposed to through access to the internet, we need to challenge the industry to do more. One outcome of the Byron report on child safety on the internet was the setting up of a UK council, including people from the industry, to address these issues.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the Government are to be praised for increasing computer involvement among the community. However, the fact remains that they have a very unfortunate record on computer security. Computer communication is a two-way system. Can the Minister assure the House that nobody who communicates with the Government increases the risk of their computer identity being moved elsewhere and possibly abused as a result of that contact?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, there are strict protocols for handling government data and security. I refer the noble Lord to the Statement made in December last year by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, announcing the data handling review, about which we will inform the House when we can.

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The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, what is being done to ensure that every young person receives training in digital literacy? Is the Minister aware of the CBI survey which found that 50 per cent of employers interviewed thought that their young employees’ digital literacy was very poor?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we tend to think that all young people are computer literate, but they are not. The UK online centres and the myguide introduction to computer literacy are extremely helpful and targeted at young people as well. The noble Earl will also be interested to know that, between 2006 and 2008, Computers for Pupils put computers into the homes of 100,000 of the poorest families, so that children who did not have a computer could access one. That is the answer to the question. It is also important to share skills. We have lots of marvellous examples, particularly in the third sector, where young people have helped older people to understand and use their mobile phones and computers. It can work the other way round as well.

Health: Diabetes

3 pm

Viscount Falkland asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, as the noble Viscount may now be aware, the National Health Service has not made an announcement advising people with type 2 diabetes to stop self-monitoring their blood glucose, although media reports were ambiguous. In May 2008, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence—NICE—issued guidance on the management of type 2 diabetes, which includes advice on the self-monitoring of blood glucose. NICE guidelines continue to advise that, as part of an integrated package that includes patient education, the self-monitoring of blood glucose can have benefits for some patients.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Diabetics such as me will be reassured that NICE has come out with the decision that she has announced. NICE is not known for making hasty decisions. The decision is certainly in conflict with what was reported in the press. I am sure she is aware that diabetics have a difficult job combining exercise, diet, medication and monitoring, which is absolutely essential, to see that what they are doing is correct. Are we not seeing here a cost-benefit exercise, where the costs are too well known and the benefits not truly understood?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, as I said in my Answer, we have not advised people with type 2 diabetes to stop self-monitoring. However, the recent publication of two blood-glucose monitoring trials in the British Medical Journal has given rise to a debate about the

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benefits of self-monitoring. This is a useful addition to the debate, but the key point about self-monitoring is that it should be suggested on a patient-by-patient basis. It should include structured patient education so that the patient understands what to do with the information that they are collecting. I think the noble Viscount will agree that that is absolutely the key point. However, prescribing decisions about blood-testing strips are for local determination. Primary care trusts should not impose a blanket policy on testing strips for people with type 2 diabetes. Healthcare professionals should work with people with diabetes to make joint decisions about the value of self-monitoring blood glucose and prescribe accordingly.

Lord Acton: My Lords, like the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, I declare an interest in that I have type 2 diabetes, as no doubt do many other noble Lords. Is my noble friend aware that I am terrified of blood and machines? However, when I started testing, I persevered, and like the noble Viscount I now find blood testing an invaluable guide. This morning, my test was high. I realised that I had eaten too many boiled potatoes last night and will not do so again. Will my noble friend do all she can to publicise—I do not think that she stressed this point—the potential benefits of blood testing to type 2 diabetes sufferers?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I am very sorry to hear that my noble friend ate too many potatoes.

Lord Acton: Boiled, my Lords.

Baroness Thornton: Boiled or whatever, my Lords, I am glad to hear that my noble friend is aware of that. He makes the point about the programme that he is part of. It was set up by the Department of Health and is called DESMOND—Diabetes Education and Self-Management for Ongoing and Newly Diagnosed—and it is vital for supporting people to manage their condition. It is about people with type 2 diabetes getting the right kind of education to ensure that they can self-monitor in the way that my noble friend referred to. The department recently issued further guidance to PCTs to the effect that they should use this as part of their ongoing programmes to support diabetes sufferers.

Baroness Tonge: Nevertheless, my Lords, there is some confusion here. NICE has said that self-monitoring blood glucose should be available to all on the basis of individual need and not on the ability to pay. Yet PCTs in some areas, as we have just heard, are restricting or denying access to that test for type 2 diabetics. Will the Minister therefore tell us whether the next stage will be to deny NHS treatment for diabetes to people using private means to monitor their own blood glucose?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Baroness is stretching the points of various debates but the point is well made about local decision-making, which indeed is the point. Blood-testing strips are costly and make up a significant proportion of the total number of diabetes items prescribed. However, notwithstanding my noble friend’s squeamishness, for some people with

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type 2 diabetes the use of blood-testing strips for self-monitoring will help them to understand how diet, exercise and medication can impact on their glucose levels. Primary care trusts should ensure that where people with type 2 diabetes are self-monitoring they fully understand those results. They do form a part of the free overall care package which includes structured education in this matter.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that high blood sugar can be exceedingly dangerous and trigger a stroke? Can she say why these testing strips are so expensive? My late husband had diabetes, so I know a lot about it. The condition is extremely complicated.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I cannot say why they are so expensive, but I will endeavour to find out. They are very important. They are not only about identifying glucose levels but about the whole health of the person with diabetes and all the related ailments that might go with it. The noble Baroness is perfectly right.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, I declare an interest as having just recently completed my first 40 years as a type 1 diabetic. Does my noble friend take with alarm the report in today’s Timesabout the high incidence of diabetes in children? Does she further recognise the important role of specialist diabetic nurses who advise on the regime that we diabetics observe and who can give advice on monitoring systems? Given the news that diabetic specialist nurses have on average some 300 patients when the ideal number is 70, is she not worried about advice for diabetics on maintaining good, healthy regimes?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, given my noble friend’s youth, he will know that managing diabetes in children is much more complex than it is for adults. The role of specialist nurses is important. We have urged PCTs to recognise the importance of specialist diabetes teams, including specialist nurses, and the role that they play in reducing hospitalisation and improving outcomes and the support that they can give to young people and their families and carers in enabling them to handle the complex juggling act that is required to manage their condition.


3.08 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, with the leave of the House, we will have two Statements repeated this afternoon. The first is entitled “European Council” and will be repeated by my noble friend the Lord President at a convenient point after 3.30 pm. The second is entitled “Zimbabwe: Elections” and will be repeated, immediately after the first Statement, by my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown.

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Economic Affairs Committee

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

Moved, That Baroness Hamwee be appointed a member of the Select Committee in place of Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, resigned.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Interoperable Rail System) Regulations 2008

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 21 May be approved. 21st report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Considered in Grand Committee on 17 June.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Disclosure of Information) Order 2008

Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Disclosure of Information by SOCA) Order 2008

Immigration and Nationality (Fees) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2008

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move the three Motions standing in the name of my noble friend on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft orders laid before the House on 12 and 14 May be approved. 20th and 21st reports from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Considered in Grand Committee on 17 June.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006 (Sources of Energy and Technologies) Order 2008

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15 May be approved. 21st report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Considered in Grand Committee on 17 June.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Ministerial and other Salaries Order 2008

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 2 June be approved. 21st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Considered in Grand Committee on 17 June.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Pensions Bill

3.09 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]

Clause 13 [Review of qualifying earnings band]:

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay moved Amendment No. 43A:

The noble Lord said: This is a paving amendment, and quite deliberately so. Restoring the broken link between national average earnings and the basic state pension is at the heart of the Bill and must be the bedrock of any national consensus on pensions after the Turner report. It is so easy to get lost in the trees of detail on the Bill, but the basic state pension really is the wood.

Amendment No. 43A is a paving amendment for the substantive one, Amendment No. 136, which ensures that the earnings-link section from last year’s Pensions Act comes into force no later than 1 April 2012. That section requires the Secretary of State to review the basic state pension, the standard minimum guarantee in state pension credit, and widow’s pension and widower’s pension in industrial death benefit to determine whether they have kept their value in relation to the general level of earnings; and, when he considers that the level of earnings has increased during the review period, to lay a draft of an uprating order before Parliament increasing the amounts by a percentage that is not less than the relevant increase in earnings over the review period.

The basic state pension has fallen in value so far over the past 30 years that pensioners have been forced into a means-test maze that destroys incentives to save for old age. We all agree that we must stop that rot. The Government want to bring in personal accounts and automatic enrolment for millions of pension savers in April 2012, but refuse to make a commitment to keep their side of the pension bargain. They say that the earnings link will be restored between April 2012 and April 2015,

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If you are one of the 1.25 million pensioners in the UK living officially in severe poverty, the 2.25 million pensioners in poverty or the 1.5 million pensioners in fuel poverty, you cannot say that you will pay your gas bill or buy your next half a dozen eggs or pint of milk,

You need the money to survive now. The Government must stop hiding behind weasel words to wriggle out of making a firm commitment even to bring back the link in four years’ time.

Of course, that is in the far from certain event that this Government will then be in power, so the attitude of the Conservatives to the amendment is of more than academic interest. In the Commons, and again in this place, they have tabled an amendment asking the Government effectively to say where they stand. That is fine so far as it goes and we will support it, but is it not the height of hypocrisy for a party that seeks to be taken seriously as the next Government to challenge this Government on when they will restore the earnings link without answering the same question themselves? Even if their Front Bench feels unable to support our simple amendment, I hope that Conservative Back-Bench Peers—I do not see many of them at the moment—and Peers from all round the Committee will feel able to join us, as they did last year on the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, to give pensions justice to women.

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