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3 Dec 2009 : Column 803

Baroness Thornton: The figure on how many specialist nurses work in the field of epilepsy is not available to me. I shall go back to ask if the information is available, but I already have asked and was told that it was not collected. However, I am aware that neurological voluntary organisations are expressing concern about this matter, as are we. Over the next year, we will look at this issue and use those regional champions to drill down to the PCTs to ensure that recruitment is taking place.

Viscount Simon: Further to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, will the Care Quality Commission look into standards of care for epilepsy?

Baroness Thornton: The Care Quality Commission published in June its forthcoming programme for special reviews, which did not include epilepsy. However, the commission has informed us that it is considering which topics should be undertaken as specialist reviews in 2010-11. That consultation is taking place at the moment, so the time is now ripe for those concerned with epilepsy and its conditions to be making the point to the CQC that it might consider including epilepsy in the forthcoming reviews.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I must declare an interest as a member of my family suffers from epilepsy. Further to the question of my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, are there any geographical gaps in the provision of these specialist nurses?

Baroness Thornton: I cannot tell the noble Lord exactly where they are, but I am sure, given that we know the areas where recruitment has and has not taken place, that there almost certainly are geographical gaps.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the chairman of the Care Quality Commission has been reported as saying that she will ensure that GPs and other doctors obey the NICE guidelines by enforcing them. Does she have powers to do that?

Baroness Thornton: The clinical guidelines provide an important means of improving patient care, but they are not mandatory in the way that the NICE technological appraisal guidance should be. Clinical guidelines support clinical decision-making and can assist PCTs in developing and redesigning services. However, health professionals are free to use their clinical judgment, in consultation with patients, and decide on the most appropriate treatment options on an individual basis. While the NICE guidelines on diagnosis and management of epilepsy have established standards of care, access to that care remains variable across the country, as we have already recognised. That is why I certainly would be interested in using the CQC as one of the levers to pinpoint where we have gaps and where they might be improved.

Baroness Barker: The noble Baroness mentioned regional clinical champions. Will they all be in acute care, or will some be in the primary care sector? Do neonatal and obstetric units have access to epilepsy specialist nurses?

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Baroness Thornton: The answer to the second question is yes they do, because the nursing facility and the specialism is for the whole of the PCT. I mentioned the nurses in my opening Answer; they provide a service across the piece within the area in which they operate.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: Is there a shortage of these specialist nurses? There is a shortage of specialist nurses in some other fields.

Baroness Thornton: I am not sure exactly that there is a shortage. The noble Lord makes a good point, because a decision needs to be taken to employ specialist nurses, and, when that decision is taken, training is available and places are certainly there for them to fill.

Lord McColl of Dulwich: Is the Minister aware that the public will often call an ambulance when a patient has an epileptiform fit? The problem is that the last thing that these patients want is to be taken to hospital by ambulance. They want to slip away unnoticed.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. That is exactly right. It points to the work of the all-party group, which is about raising public awareness of what to do when someone has an epileptic seizure.

Railways: National Express


11.29 am

Asked By Baroness Hanham

The Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Adonis): My Lords, termination of the National Express east coast franchise, which I notified to the House on 5 November, is a default under the National Express East Anglia franchise. I notified National Express East Anglia on 25 November that its franchise will terminate early, on 31 March 2011. The process for letting the franchise to a new operator has begun and a new operator will begin in April 2011.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Secretary of State for his response and for the three Written Statements that this House has received on the matter. Will he tell us whether he intends to let the new franchises under the same or different terms compared with those operating at the moment? Will he let them to one company or to different companies? Also, will he take the advice of the Opposition and let longer franchises, which would give operators greater ability to invest and to weather financial changes?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, we will let the franchises separately. We will consult on the franchise specifications. I am keen to see that we improve on the specifications so that we get a better deal for the travelling public. I am, indeed, considering the potential for longer franchises, because I believe, as does the noble Baroness, that there could be benefits.

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Baroness Scott of Needham Market: As a poor benighted passenger of National Express East Anglia, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware of the steady deterioration in services with regard to cleanliness, refreshments, repairs to carriages et cetera, which is making the travelling experience pretty miserable? Can he assure passengers that in the new franchise more attention will be paid to ensuring that the new company operates a decent service?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am keen to see improvements to the service. In respect of the East Anglia service, punctuality levels have been improving; therefore, what matters most to passengers, which is that the trains turn up and arrive on time, has been improving. However, it is important that other elements of the service are also maintained in good order and we expect that of National Express.

Lord Walpole: My Lords, like the last speaker, I use this service regularly. I could not agree more about the lack of service, which is getting worse and worse. The punctuality is not too bad, but the service suffers from Railtrack problems, such as level crossings that do not shut so that we have to wait for 10 minutes, which meant, I am afraid-addressing the right reverend Prelate-that I missed Prayers the other day.

Lord Adonis: I am very sorry to hear that the noble Lord was inconvenienced by a delay on the line. As I say, the punctuality record has been improving, but it has scope to improve significantly further.

Lord Grocott: Can my noble friend confirm that two characteristics of the privatised rail system are, first, that people still hold the Government responsible for failures in the system, even when the trains are operated by private companies, and, secondly, that it has more public money going into it than the system ever did under British Rail? Finally, as one of those who spent a lifetime believing in public ownership and the public sector, I simply express my gratitude to him for demonstrating by his action in respect of the east coast main line that this has a very important part in the economic thinking of the 21st century.

Lord Adonis: I am grateful to my noble friend for those remarks. It is not just that people hold the Government accountable for the service but that, as I now know from painful experience, they hold me personally accountable for the service. They call me the Thin Controller. However, the House can be assured that I take those responsibilities very seriously and now that I am personally in charge of the east coast main line I am sure that all its problems will vanish overnight.

Earl Attlee: Is the Secretary of State aware that many of us think that he is an excellent controller? Who is best placed to manage and to cost the positive and negative risks of economic change, the Treasury or the TOCs?

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Lord Adonis: I am grateful to the noble Earl for his opening remark. It is important that we get a viable system of risk-sharing and that we learn from experience. Clearly, the east coast franchise did not work out and we need to learn the lessons from that experience when we let the new franchise.

Lord McNally: My Lords, as the noble Lord is such a good controller, will he consider taking control of the Bedford to Brighton line? He rushed to the House to make a public statement when the dispute started. The dispute is still going on and the workers who use that line are facing a second-rate service daily. When will he intervene in that dispute?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, there have been very positive talks between the unions and the management in the very recent past, which I hope will lead to the resumption of the full service on that line. To repeat what I said when the concerted action started, it is totally unacceptable that passengers are being held to ransom in this way and I continue to expect that the two sides will reach a settlement that gets the trains running as soon as possible. There is no justification whatsoever for that concerted action on the part of the train drivers.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the Secretary of State jokingly referred to solving problems overnight, but he earlier referred to the fact that the new franchises would start on 1 April 2011. Why is it taking so long?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, that is the period that it takes to let a new franchise. Of course, we expect National Express to fulfil the terms of its franchise in the period until then. I should stress that, although National Express is withdrawing from the rail industry, the managers on those lines are experienced rail managers, who I know will do their duty by the public.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I think that the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was: when will the Government intervene? I did not hear the noble Lord answer it.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, as I said, there have been recent talks between the two sides, which I understand have been very positive. I hope, therefore, that there will be an early resumption of the full service on that line.

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes

Third Reading

11.36 am

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Health Professions (Hearing Aid Dispensers) Order 2009

Pharmacy Order 2010

Motions to Refer to Grand Committee

11.37 am

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motions agreed.

3 Dec 2009 : Column 807

Economy: Modern Languages


11.38 am

Moved By Baroness Coussins

Baroness Coussins: My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate this topic today and look forward to hearing from all noble Lords who will be speaking-and, of course, to the Minister's response. It is most fitting that we shall be hearing from possibly the only bilingual government Minister, although I was relieved to discover when I checked the Companion that he will be obliged to use his English rather than his Welsh.

I am proud to be a modern languages graduate myself and I declare an interest as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages. The group is supported by CILT, the National Centre for Languages. CILT and others have provided me with a great deal of information for which I am most grateful. I also pay tribute to the work done over many years by the late and much-missed Lord Dearing.

Professor Michael Worton's review of modern language provision in English universities was published last month. He came to the stark conclusion that unless the decline in modern language learning is reversed, anglophone Britons will become one of the most monolingual peoples in the world, with severe consequences for our economy, for business competitiveness, for international reputation and mobility and for community cohesion at home.

English is one of the great world languages, and we benefit enormously from the desire and willingness to learn it on the part of so many other people-as do they-but its prevalence should not be overestimated. Only 6 per cent of the global population are native English speakers and 75 per cent speak no English at all. One telling indicator of the relative influence of English is its declining share of internet traffic. English material on the web has fallen from 51 per cent in 2000 to only 29 per cent in 2009. Over the same period, the amount of material in Chinese rose from only 5 per cent to 20 per cent.

There is much evidence that the operational language needs of employers are not being met and that this is damaging both to competitiveness and to the employability of our young people in particular. Research by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce showed that 80 per cent of English exporters were unable to conduct business in a foreign language and that 77 per cent of them reckoned they had missed or lost business because of it. By contrast, exporters who proactively use language skills, and the cultural knowledge that goes with them, achieve on average 45 per cent more sales. Research by Cardiff University's business school suggests that the UK economy could be missing out on contracts worth up to £21 billion a year because of the lack of language skills in the workforce.

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CBI surveys have highlighted the frustration of UK employers. Sixty per cent are dissatisfied with the foreign language skills of school leavers, and I should perhaps say at this point that there is plenty of evidence to show that learning a foreign language greatly reinforces literacy in English too. Over a third of UK businesses want people specifically for their language skills, but increasingly are forced to recruit overseas to meet their needs. Seventy-two per cent of UK international trade is with non-English-speaking countries, but only one in 10 of us can speak a foreign language and only 30 per cent of us say we can even understand a conversation in another language. Three times more French, German and Spanish students go on Erasmus-funded placements abroad as part of their degree than British students, giving themselves a competitive advantage in a global labour market. I hope the Minister will undertake to remind universities to inform all students, not just the linguists, how they may benefit from the Erasmus scheme.

The Foreign Office has reported complaints from some companies bringing inward investment to the UK that they have to source qualified engineers from their home markets because UK engineers do not have the relevant language skills, and a good grasp of the parent company's home language is an important skill they expect from people in technical or management jobs.

French and German are top of the list of languages that employers want but, as new markets open up in the Far East, Central Asia and Latin America, significant numbers also want Mandarin or Cantonese, Spanish, Russian and Arabic. Most employers do not require complete fluency. They want conversational ability, which will give a good impression, help to build relationships and make new contacts. Basic language competence is important for retailers, secretaries, receptionists, marketers, transport and healthcare workers and many others. Between now and 2012, when we host the Olympics, we need to be sure we can provide a multilingual service in all these areas, as well as finding 300 specialist translators and interpreters. Will the Minister give an assurance that the Government will encourage businesses to invest in language training for 2012 and beyond?

The supply of interpreters and translators brings me to another aspect of this debate that I want to raise. There is a chronic shortage of English mother-tongue interpreters and translators at the United Nations and at the European Commission and Parliament. In Brussels, meetings are having to be cancelled because no English interpretation is available. Since the last round of enlargement, demand for native English speakers has increased substantially, but 20 per cent of the Commission's English translators will retire in the next five years and recruitment is slow. In 2007, 70 more were needed but it got only 24. The picture is no better for interpreters, of whom a further 200 to 300 will be needed over the next decade. This crisis must be addressed to prevent further negative impact on the EU's work and before the reputation of the UK in supporting international institutions is undermined.

However, a crisis always brings an opportunity, part of which is the language industry. This August, the first ever study of the size of the language industry

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in the EU was published. It covers not only interpreting and translating but language teaching, language tools, subtitling and dubbing, web localisation and so on. Many other sectors, as we know, are struggling, but the language industry is in robust health, with an estimated value of €8.4 billion in 2008, which is on target to double to €16.5 billion in 2015. The report makes recommendations to help businesses to seize the opportunities to benefit from multilingual competence. SMEs, for example, are advised against assuming that localising a website into the language of a target country is sufficient to generate sales, and member states are urged to introduce compatible statistical measures to help foreign language planning.

I understand that there will, for the first time, be a question on language in the 2011 census. Will the Minister say what that question will be and how it is expected that the information will be put to good use? Will he also confirm that his department is familiar with this study and will do its utmost to ensure that British businesses and UK citizens are encouraged and enabled to benefit from their fair share of the opportunities and prosperity offered by the language industry?

There is also the important domestic issue of interpreting. Many people are being prevented from working at a level that is commensurate with their skills, and many others are being deprived of the basic human right of knowing what is happening to them when they are at their most vulnerable: in hospital, in court or in a police station. This is because the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting-the DPSI-is in jeopardy. There are about 1,000 candidates a year, and demand has never been higher. Around 50 different languages, combined with English, were on offer in 2009, ranging from the traditional languages of western Europe to the languages of the enlarged EU, such as Estonian, Lithuanian and Polish, the languages of the Indian sub-continent and those of countries that are or have been in conflict, such as Kurdish, Serbian, Pashto and Somali.

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