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House of Lords

Tuesday, 16 December 2008.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Olympic Games 2012: Languages


Asked By Baroness Coussins

Baroness Coussins: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as part of its developing workforce strategy, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games is identifying which languages the paid and voluntary staff may need to meet the Games-time needs of athletes, spectators and the media. The mayor is co-ordinating the city visitor experience, working closely with a number of partners, including Visit London, London Councils and the boroughs. The two training and education departments, DIUS and DCSF, are working to ensure that the Games leave a lasting legacy of language development.

Baroness Coussins: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Will he give a commitment that the 2012 Games will not only meet the requirement in the Olympic Charter that the Games be staged in French and English, but go further and provide a full range of high-standard, multilingual services by ensuring that language skills are embedded now in the business planning not just for professional interpreters and translators, but so that the police, health workers, transport staff, caterers, ticket sales staff and others have relevant skills? Will he also undertake to discuss with the DCSF how best to target children currently at key stage 3 so that we can have a team of young language ambassadors who might begin to turn around the miserable reputation of the UK for speaking modern foreign languages?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Olympic Games provide a unique opportunity for London to show itself as the most hospitable city in the world. To do that, we will need to draw on the vast range of communities that can offer language skills to the wide variety of visitors whom we will receive. However, I agree with the noble Baroness that we also need a longer-term strategy for language teaching in schools. Recently, the Government commissioned a report under the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, to examine the matter. We seek to make progress in improving language provision in schools and colleges.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend not find it depressing that, unlike in other capital cities, if one travels on public transport in London no announcements are made in any language other than English? In preparation for the Olympics, would it not be desirable for my noble friend to talk to the Mayor of London to see whether we can at least have a number of bilingual announcements on Underground trains and buses?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that constructive suggestion. I have not the slightest doubt that during the Olympic Games there will be an attempt to extend the number of languages used in London. However, thanks to the straightforward nature and accuracy of the Underground map, most foreign visitors get around London rather more easily than they can in comparable cities in the rest of the world.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, are schools and colleges in the area around the Olympic Games site being targeted particularly for language tuition?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is an extremely good point. The responsibility to develop and draw on local expertise rests with the Mayor of London. The department wants to ensure that the Olympic Games provide an opportunity to show young people in the area the advantage of developing language skills. That is what we are seeking to achieve.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I declare an interest as the writer of a report for the Government. Following the point made by my noble friend Lady Coussins, does the Minister agree that there are times when advertising and promotion can be fruitful? Does he further agree that the Olympic Games would be a very fruitful time for the Government to finance extra advertising to promote languages to children and that the Government should make a budget available for that?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a most useful suggestion and we are grateful for the work that he has done in the area of language education. We are still some distance away from the Games and the necessary preparations at the present time are all to do with structure. However, in due course they will be about the way in which London welcomes the peoples of the world to the Games. It will be enormously important that language and language skills play their part in that.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, is it not true that the perhaps more complicated languages, such as Chinese and Arabic, which are not normally taught in our schools, will be of extreme importance not only to the Olympic Games but to the future tourism industry of this country? When will steps be taken to ensure that there is a wider approach to the teaching of these languages?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness has, with great accuracy, identified two areas which need to be addressed and which the Government are addressing. She will know that, in language provision

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in schools and colleges, we are putting particular emphasis on the development of Arabic languages and the various languages of China.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, is it the Government’s view that some of the Olympic functionaries will be unable to read road signs whether written in English or any other language? Is that why it is planned that a traffic lane should be dedicated to their exclusive convenience? Is my noble friend aware that there is a widespread view in this country that such privilege is not very British and not very sporting?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have heard the lanes referred to as the “Zil lanes”, and we all know the connotations of that. I think that we all appreciate that access to the Games during the short period when they are on is of surpassing importance and that it is important that we make specific transport arrangements to enable people to get to them. That is nothing to do with language; it is to do with convenience.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, further to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, is not this a suitable moment for the immigrant population speakers of Arabic, Pushto, Turkish and so on to realise that they are appreciated and that their language is needed? One of the problems that we have in this country is that only west European languages are appreciated.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I could not agree more. This is a unique opportunity to develop the contributions that communities can make in these terms. I am quite sure that people will rise to the occasion.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, how many languages does the mayor speak so far?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have heard him speak at the British Museum in Latin—dog Latin, I thought at the time—and I gather that he also speaks English.

Health: Medicines


2.44 pm

Asked By Lord Walton of Detchant

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, in asking this Question, I declare an interest. I am registered with a dispensing practice in Belford, Northumberland, where the senior partner is one of my former students.

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Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the Government have been listening carefully to all the representations that have been made on this issue, including the option mentioned by the noble Lord in his Question, one of several that have been under consideration. My honourable friend the Minister will be making an announcement on this specific matter before the Recess.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that the British Medical Association has conducted a major survey that has resulted in it coming out strongly in favour of the status quo, the first option in the White Paper? In the rural practice to which I have referred, a similar survey of the practice’s patients has again come out strongly in favour of the status quo, not least because the practice dispensary is open at times when the local pharmacist is closed, and if the dispensing facilities in the practice were closed, that would inevitably result in the practice having to withdraw vital services that are crucial to the local community.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we fully appreciate that dispensing doctors play a key role in ensuring continued access to pharmaceutical services and providing patient care to those who need it most, particularly in rural areas where GPs can and do play a vital role. We are also aware that dispensing doctors’ profits are an important issue in the continued investment in those rural practices.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, what is the Government’s timetable for reform of pharmacies, and will it address the real shortage of pharmacies in some areas? I am sure my noble friend will appreciate that accessibility to pharmacies is terribly important for an ageing population.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, my noble friend is right. The issue of dispensing doctors is only part of the White Paper on reform of pharmacies. We want pharmacies to complement and support GPs in promoting health, and we want them to expand their role in preventing sickness and providing a service for their local communities. Indeed, the consultation that ended on 20 November, to which we have had tens of thousands of responses, is going to focus on the extended role of pharmacies in the areas where they are needed.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, when the Government make up their mind about this matter, will they please bear in mind the inconvenience, particularly to pensioners who attend the doctor’s surgery regularly and are able to pick up their medicines simply and straight away, of having to go home and perhaps get a car out, thus ruining their footprint, as it were? The convenience and the health of the pensioner are very much tied up with this question. Does the Minister agree?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct, and I include my own mother in that. The dispensing doctor that she attends is very important for her, for all those reasons.

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The point about the pharmacy White Paper, which was welcomed by the pharmaceutical services in general, is to examine the controls for the entry system to look at issues of distance and ensure that those entry requirements are appropriate to the areas in which you want either to expand or look at the cover of pharmacies, including dispensing doctors.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I rise, trembling, to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Walton. Does the Minister agree that pharmacists frequently provide a check on the prescriptions that are made out by general practitioners? They certainly were in my day, and a valuable check at that. At a time when prescriptions and drug therapy are getting more and more complicated, and in any case GPs have usually got ample supplies of samples from the representatives of the drug companies, does she not think that this is a rather antiquated way of practising and that dispensing doctors should no longer have a place in the NHS?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we do not agree with that. There needs to be patient choice here, which is why we have no plans to stop GPs being able to dispense when that is appropriate. As I have said, the pharmacy White Paper is about making pharmaceutical services in general better, more available and part of preventing illness. Pharmacists can and should be involved, and we want them to be equipped to do that. This is not an either/or situation in our view.

Lord Patel: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that medication-related errors account for 40 per cent of patient safety errors reported. That being so, does she agree that those who dispense medicine should be fully trained, not only in prescribing but in dispensing medicine?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Indeed, one thing that the noble Baroness said that was right was that pharmacists are part of providing a check on the accuracy of dispensing medicine.

Lord Colwyn: My Lords, will the statement that the Minister promised cover the control of entry regulations for dispensing doctors?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, my understanding is that the announcement that will be made will be specifically and only about dispensing doctors. The statement about the generality of pharmacists will come in the new year, when we have dealt with the tens of thousands of other parts of the consultation which are to do with the whole of dispensing.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that many severely disabled people living in rural areas have extreme difficulties in getting to surgeries or even pharmacies? I agree with her that choice is the best thing.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely correct. As noble Lords know, both pharmacists and dispensing doctors do home deliveries.

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2.51 pm

Asked By Lord Tyler

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the protection of the health of those who live, work or visit the countryside remains our highest priority. In the Downs v Secretary of State case, the Secretary of State has been given leave to appeal.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am not sure how grateful I am to the Minister for that Answer. Can I press him a step further? Would he agree that everybody wants to find a rapid solution to this problem? Indeed, there has been much co-operation already. Georgina Downs has worked with the NFU to try to find a solution, for example. Would he accept that indecision, uncertainty and lack of clarity is what everybody needs to avoid? Would he also accept that it is very important for his department to avoid the infamous reputation for dragging its feet that the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had in the case of organophosphate pesticides?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not recognise any dragging of feet in Defra. Of course I agree with the noble Lord on the question of certainty, but we need clarity. The Secretary of State has appealed and it is not appropriate for me to go into the details of that appeal. However, at the end of the day, we all want to see good practice and proportionate regulation.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, if the Government think that the decision is wrong, is there any reason why the Minister should not give the House some indication of what the grounds of appeal actually are?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, coming from the noble and learned Lord, that is a very tempting invitation, but I think I will resist.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, do the Government envisage any new, approved criteria for pesticides? Would the Minister agree that, if they accept the criteria of hazard presently being considered by the EU, they will probably need to rule out painkillers such as paracetamol?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Duke refers to the current negotiations within Europe about a new approach to pesticide control and the directives involved. He is absolutely right to draw

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attention to a matter of great concern for this Government. We are very active within Europe in making those concerns known.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, has any research been carried out into the incidence of cancer among people who have lived at some stage in the vicinity of fields subject to crop-spraying with pesticides?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as far as I am aware there is no hard evidence of the long-term effects referred to by my noble friend. My department and, indeed, the Department of Health would always be alert to such evidence. We are not complacent, but, as I have said, I have no hard evidence to suggest that my noble friend is right that that might be the case.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, does the Minister accept that if we are to produce enough food, the use of pesticides is essential? The balance surely must be between that and farmers spraying in a sensible way—and obviously they have to be qualified for that. Anybody outside the Chamber listening to the debate might be slightly horrified by the suggested way that pesticides are used. If one wants to have enough food, they have to be used, but safely. That is really what the voluntary agreement is about, and there is very tight regulation within it.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot disagree with one word that the noble Baroness has said. Pesticides are a very important aid to farming and food production. Clearly, they must be used as safely as possible. We believe that we have a very tight regulatory regime. I echo her remarks that the voluntary initiative, the work of the stakeholders and the NFU in ensuring that pesticides are used as safely as possible should be commended and supported.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I have the utmost sympathy with the Minister in answering this Question, as it is so difficult to express a belief one way or the other. Are there regulations about warning people when pesticide spraying is to go ahead, so that those who do not wish to be outside when an aeroplane is flying low over their land are made aware of it before it happens?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am ever grateful for the sympathy of the noble Baroness in the plight I am in. There are a number of scenarios set out in the pesticides code of practice as to when people, authorities and organisations need to be contacted before a chosen pesticide is used. As she suggested, they can include aerial application of pesticides and a number of other scenarios. There are some practical problems with prior notification. Often there may be a tight window of opportunity, such as suitable weather or very short timescales for the application of pesticides. We have to recognise some of the practical issues, but I have to say that, alongside the code of practice, our best approach is the encouragement of good practice, with which the voluntary initiative is very much concerned

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