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Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, is there a parallel scheme to cover medical technicians and nurses and, if not, will my noble friend consider expanding
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Lord Tunnicliffe: As far as I know there is no technician scheme. The Government will read this Question with care and consider whether the scheme should be grown in that area. As I understand it, we do not have any power to make sure that people go back to their own country. We have the power to make sure that everybody is absolutely clear that the visa to undertake this training is a tier-5 visa, which is finite in length, and that at the end of the training they must and will leave the country. I am sure that the good intentions of these individuals mean that they will go back to their own countries, taking their knowledge to help those nations.
Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that one of the best ways to ensure that such trainees stay in their own countries is encouraging British surgeons to train Africans in their own countries to do the various operations which are relevant to their people? For instance, Mercy Ships trains a lot of surgeons on-site in the relevant techniques that are so important for these countries.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I entirely agree. What the NGOs do, and what the noble Lord himself does, in this area is extremely commendable and valid. This scheme is about bringing people to experience the British health system, the British health processes, ethics and so on. I have read some of the case studies. They get a valuable insight not exactly into a different method but into some different attitudes, processes and so on, which they take back. We should think of them as going in at the high end of their own health systems, enlivening them and helping them grow.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, some years ago a number of partnership agreements were entered into by UK medical schools with medical educational establishments in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these agreements, which resulted in young doctors coming from Africa to train in the UK, fell by the wayside because of the political instability in some of the African countries involved. Is it not appropriate for the Government to now have discussions with the Council of Heads of Medical Schools to see whether some of these partnership agreements for the training of doctors from sub-Saharan Africa might be revived?
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, that seems a perfectly sensible suggestion and I will make sure that the Department of Health considers it. We have got the technical sides of the scheme right, particularly the immigration things. We now want to build the scheme up-as I say, from about 200 to 750 a year-and that may well be an important way forward.
Lord Acton: My Lords, in reply to my noble friend Lord Hughes, my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe said that we did not have the power to make the African
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The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My Lords, the Government recognise the concerns surrounding the use of pre-pack administrations and foreign companies relocating to the United Kingdom. It is important that we rigorously monitor the system and root out any abuse.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thank the noble Lord. On 23 June last year, the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, answered my Question on this point by saying that the Government would look for any evidence of abuse or misuse. Given that Wind Hellas recently wriggled out of debts of £1.3 billion, can the Government give us any assurance that pre-packs will be allowed to be used only where a company is registered and trading in the UK and will continue to trade and be of benefit to British people in terms of work after the pre-pack has come into force?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, we are aware of the concerns that were raised by the Wind Hellas case. It is important to note that that case went before the High Court, which determined that what had happened was properly carried out and in the interests of creditors. However, our monitoring of pre-packs is thorough. Since 1 January 2009, we have been monitoring all pre-pack administrations, whether coming from a foreign firm or otherwise. We will be announcing the results of those data shortly. If we find that we are not seeing appropriate compliance with SIP 16, we are minded to take strong action.
Lord Newby: Would not the simple way of dealing with this pre-pack tourism be to introduce a requirement under which no company could go for a pre-pack unless it had been registered in the UK for a minimum period, say a year or 18 months?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, we have to recognise that the legislation relating to this matter is governed by European law. Our policy as a Government is to be as open as possible, to encourage businesses to relocate to the United Kingdom and not to put up any unnecessary barriers to that investment. However, it is also vital that our Insolvency Service is rigorous. Independent studies by the World Bank have shown that the United Kingdom's insolvency framework is highly regarded-above that of the United States,
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Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a pre-pack can be enormously helpful, even where a foreign company owns the British company and the assets, by effectively sanctioning an unbundling of a company that includes many solvent and useful trading entities, which can then continue to the benefit of the UK economy? Will the Government please not do anything to damage the concept of a sensible, workable pre-pack, which benefits the economy, for the sake of correcting this one error?
Lord Drayson: The noble Lord makes a very good point, with which I agree. The important advantage of a pre-pack, particularly in people-type businesses such as an advertising agency or a football club, is that in a difficult insolvency situation it enables the value of the business and, most particularly, the jobs to be retained. Up to 91 per cent of pre-packs lead to a situation where all the jobs in that business are preserved. We need to make sure that pre-packs are properly enforced through the regulations, but they are not the problem; the problem is the insolvency.
Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, bearing in mind that the debts held by football clubs in the English leagues are greater than the debts of all the other European football clubs put together and that an increasing number of English clubs are owned by foreign investors-in some cases, we do not even know whose companies these are-is the Minister confident that the football authorities are aware of the pre-pack difficulties and advantages? Will he initiate discussions with the football authorities to ensure that they are familiar with this way forward?
Lord Drayson: I thank my noble friend for raising that point. Sound business practices apply to football clubs as they apply to all businesses and I will ensure that they are made fully aware of the potential of the pre-pack approach.
Lord De Mauley: To what extent have foreign-owned companies availed themselves of the Government's various financial and liquidity assistance schemes? What solvency problems does the Minister anticipate as these schemes unwind?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, we monitor this very closely. We have noticed the very high profile in a small number of cases, but we are not seeing any significant trend relating to foreign firms. However, we monitor all pre-pack administrations and we are not complacent. One important fact is that, in this recession, we are seeing a marked reduction in the overall level of insolvencies in the corporate world compared to what happened in the last recession; although we are not complacent, at this stage in the economic downturn we are seeing about one-third of the number of businesses going into insolvency compared to the third quarter of 1992. That is a reflection of the measures that we have taken to dampen the significant impact of this recession.
Lord Elton: My Lords, the Question is about corporate debt, but will the Minister tell us whether the Government are as careful of private insolvency? I ask that because, in common with, I suspect, a great many other people, I received two recorded telephone messages assuring me that they were not advertisements but that I needed to know that Her Majesty's Government were prepared to take away all my debt. That astonished me the first time; I thought that it was a joke. I now wonder whether it was a harbinger of the general election.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, given that the first debate on the Order Paper today is a debate on a Select Committee report, it has been agreed that we will not time-limit the debates today. My noble friend the Leader of the House will not therefore move her own time-limiting Motion. However, we hope that Back-Bench speakers in the debate in the name of my noble friend Lord Richard will be able to keep their remarks to 10 minutes so that the House can get through all the business before it today. If necessary, we will issue an informal advisory time limit for the debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth. Today's speakers list has been reissued without any time limits.
Travel and trade between Britain's major population and economic centres are the lifeblood of our economy and our society. They require transport networks which are high-capacity, efficient and sustainable. As we grow wealthier as a nation, so we travel more and move more freight. Nineteenth-century Britain led the world in the development of railways. Serious planning for a national motorway network was begun by the War Cabinet in 1943. The major motorways were all opened over a 32-year period between 1959 and the completion of the M40 in 1991.
Since the 1990s, increases in demand have been largely accommodated by improving existing roads and rail networks, including motorway widening and the £9 billion upgrade of the west coast main line. The £6 billion roads programme includes investment for the five years to 2014 on widening a large part of the M25 and the extension of hard-shoulder running across the most heavily used stretches of motorway. We are also progressing with plans to electrify the Great Western main line from London to Bristol and south Wales, and a £250 million investment in the strategic freight network.
Our preliminary assessment, published last January, was that substantial additional transport capacity would be needed from the 2020s between our major cities, starting with London to the West Midlands, Britain's two largest conurbations. By then, the west coast main
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The Government's view is that high-speed rail could be the most efficient and sustainable way to provide more capacity between these conurbations. So, last January, we set up a company, High Speed 2 Ltd, to analyse the business case for a high-speed line, initially between London and the West Midlands; to make detailed route proposals for this first stretch of line, should the Government decide to proceed; and to outline options for extension to cities further north and to Scotland. HS2 Ltd reported to me in December. I am grateful for the immense amount of expert work done by its staff. HS2 Ltd has shared much of its work and analysis with the local authorities potentially affected, and with Transport for London, the Scottish Executive and statutory environmental bodies. I am grateful to them all for their constructive engagement.
I am today publishing HS2 Ltd's report, together with the Government's proposed high-speed rail strategy, which is based on HS2 Ltd's analysis. In summary, this strategy is for the development of an initial core high-speed network which would link London to Birmingham, Manchester, the east Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds, with high-speed trains running from the outset through to Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. This Y-shaped network of about 335 miles in total, with branches north of Birmingham running either side of the Pennines, would be capable of carrying trains at up to 250 miles per hour and could be extended to other cities and to Scotland.
There are six principal reasons why the Government are proposing this strategy. The first is transport capacity. The extra capacity provided by a high-speed line would more than treble existing rail capacity on the west coast main line corridor. This is not only because of the new track, but also because of the far greater length of train which high-speed lines and stations make possible, and the segregation of high-speed trains from other passenger and freight services.
By contrast, the most ambitious conceivable upgrade of existing rail lines to Birmingham would yield less than half this extra capacity, at greater cost in terms of both money and disruption than a high-speed line, and without most of the journey time savings. This analysis is critical to the argument as to whether investment in high-speed rail unjustifiably diverts investment from the existing railway. The most likely alternative over time is to spend more achieving less. This accords with the experience of the recent £9 billion upgrade of the west coast main line, whose benefits, though considerable, were essentially incremental and came after years of chronic disruption to passengers and businesses. Furthermore, by transferring long-distance services to the high-speed line, large amounts of capacity would also be released on the existing west coast main line for commuter and freight services, including services to key areas of housing growth around Milton Keynes and Northampton.
Secondly, the journey time savings from such a line would be significant. The journey time from London
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Thirdly, however, the connectivity gains of high-speed rail come not only from the faster trains but also from the new route alignments which comprise the proposed "Y" network of lines from London to Birmingham, and then north to Manchester, and north-east to the east Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds. This new network would provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to overcome the acute connectivity limitations of the Victorian rail network, with its three separate and poorly integrated main lines from London to the north, each with its own separate London terminus.
By contrast, the high-speed line, routed via the West Midlands, would not only slash the journey time to London from Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield; it also nearly halves journey times from these cities to Birmingham. So the east Midlands, the north-west and the north-east gain dramatically improved connections within the Midlands and the north, as well as to London. These connections would be further enhanced by the northern hub proposals to upgrade the trans-Pennine route from Manchester to Leeds.
Fourthly, this high-speed network would enable key local, national and international networks to be better integrated. In particular, by including on the approach of the high-speed line to central London an interchange station with the new Crossrail line just west of Paddington, the benefits of both Crossrail and the high-speed line are greatly enhanced. Such a Crossrail interchange station would deliver a fast and frequent service to London's West End, the City and Docklands, giving a total journey time, for example, from central Birmingham to Canary Wharf of just 70 minutes, and from Leeds to Canary Wharf of just one hour 40 minutes. This Crossrail interchange station would also provide a fast, one-stop Heathrow express service to Heathrow in place of the long and tortuous journey to the airport currently experienced by passengers arriving at Euston, Kings Cross and St Pancras. Similarly, an interchange station close to Birmingham Airport would provide an efficient link to the M6 and the M42, the west coast main line, the wider West Midlands and the airport itself.
Fifthly, high-speed rail would be a sustainable way forward. High-speed trains emit far less carbon than cars or planes per passenger mile, and the local impact of high-speed lines is far less than that of entirely new motorway alignments in terms of land-take and air quality. For these reasons the Government take the view that high-speed rail is preferable both to new intercity motorways and to major expansion of domestic aviation, even if these were able to deliver equivalent intercity capacity and connectivity benefits.
Finally, HS2 Ltd assesses that all these benefits far outweigh the estimated costs. With the project yielding more than £2 of benefit for every £1 of cost, HS2 Ltd estimates the capital cost of the first 120 miles of the line from London to the West Midlands at between
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