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Lord Redesdale: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the cost of making cuts through redundancies and relocation of personnel will almost equal the actual savings made by way of the cuts? Therefore, where is the saving to the public purse in making such cuts?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, that is not actually true. The matter is under consideration at present. Proposals are being made but, until they are available and have been discussed, we cannot be definitive on the issue.

Lord Winston: My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the great contributions of the ODA has been to help to control the HIV/AIDS virus? By cutting its budget, we risk condemning many more millions of people to a horrible death and also overburdening the health services of poor countries which can ill afford to support the disease.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, we are attempting not to reduce such aid, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where HIV is most prevalent. It is for the British Council, which is independent, to allocate its resources as best it can to enable it to deal with the problems that exist.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, perhaps I may begin by declaring an interest as I am a member of the British Council. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will maintain their support for the ODA technical co-operation training programme? The programme has been managed successfully by the British Council since 1960. It brings significant numbers of trainees from developing countries to study in Britain where they benefit from the excellence of our institutions of learning.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, the contract for the programme is due for renewal in March 1997.

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Discussions are already taking place. It would be premature to make any announcement until the discussions have progressed further.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the British Council, together with the BBC World Service, is one of the two main ways of extending British influence throughout the world, sometimes in a fairly intangible manner but one which has a real synergy with diplomatic attempts of a more political nature? Some of us are doubtful about the cut. We hope that the matter will be looked at much more closely next year.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I understand exactly the point my noble friend makes. We would all like there not to be any cuts of any sort anywhere.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I understand the Minister's response that the budget is tight. But the track record and performance of the British Council and of the BBC World Service are quite outstanding. That is borne out by many comments of foreign observers. Might it be feasible to reconsider whether the whole aid budget should be cut so sharply, given the excellence of British aid delivery?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments about the British Council and the BBC World Service. I agree totally that those bodies have performed magnificently. However, in a time of tight budgetary restraint cuts have to be made. I certainly give no assurance that the Budget Statement of last November can be re-examined to consider increasing the amounts.

Lord Judd: My Lords, the noble Lord says that it is important to suggest from where alternative resources will come for expanding programmes. Does the noble Lord accept that we are not arguing for an expansion? We are arguing for a preservation of the programme. This vicious cut is five times as large proportionately as the cuts in the overseas development programme as a whole. When the council is doing such excellent work in the front line of education, it is exasperating to find Ministers congratulating what it is doing and then, behind the council's back, undermining its capability of undertaking the tasks they applaud.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, it is not a question of undermining the council. The council now receives over 50 per cent. of its income from its important outside work including its contracts for teaching English in different countries. It does a superb job in that field and will be increasing its efforts. We are trying terribly hard not to cut support--this is associated with the area we are discussing and comes under the same budget--to the voluntary agencies and non-governmental organisations. We are maintaining our support to those bodies and cuts have therefore to be made elsewhere.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, cannot some funds come from the Department of Trade and Industry given that the British Council contributes to the export trade figures of this country?

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Lord Chesham: My Lords, that would be a matter of trying to get money out of the Treasury not the Department of Trade and Industry. The noble Viscount will be aware that that is not an easy thing to do.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, would not the Minister agree that this is a question which comes up with depressing regularity and has done for the past 40 years? Should it not be a time when we can at last give the cultural arm of this country--the British Council--some sense of commitment and stability?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, we are fully committed to the British Council. However, as I said, it is just a question of the budget.

MRSA Infection: Control

3.24 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What they are doing to prevent the spread of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other drug-resistant strains of infections within hospitals and the community.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): My Lords, the Department of Health issued guidance to the National Health Service in September 1994 on the control of MRSA and in March 1995 on the general control of infections in hospitals. Although MRSA is an uncommon cause of infection in the community we shall shortly be issuing further guidance to health authorities and social services departments.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Will she tell the House whether she feels there are enough side wards in hospitals to cope with patients with resistant infections? Does she agree with me that the world has become small in terms of travel? Is she aware that during the summer I met an Australian girl who had travelled to Africa and then had come to London and who became ill and was taken to St. Mary's Paddington where, after many hours in the casualty department, she was admitted to a bathroom which happened to be the only place available?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, when MRSA is prevalent in a hospital it is up to the local management to deal with it. Sometimes that means having to close an entire ward in order to do so. Screening is available for travellers entering the UK. If found to be suffering from infectious diseases clearly they receive appropriate treatment and immunisation if that is necessary. With regard to beds in London and in other parts of the country, we are aware that there has been pressure through the winter on accident and emergency departments. My honourable friend the Minister for Health is taking action to address that problem.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the action that is being taken on the staffing in A&E

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departments, although welcome, does not help the situation regarding beds? Is she further aware that the high prevalence of MRSA in acute hospitals at the moment is not only a risk to individual patients but also to the capacity of those hospitals to deal with their patient workload? Further, is the Minister aware that the intense pressure on bed occupancy at the moment is not only a contributing factor to the prevalence of MRSA, but also the infection exacerbates the problem by lengthening stays and by making it difficult to discharge patients? Is there not mounting evidence that the squeeze on beds has simply gone too far?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, as I said, it is up to local trusts to deal with a situation where there is infection in a hospital. I appreciate that there has been pressure on beds, especially during the winter, and we have seen an unexplained rise in accident and emergency admissions. In addition, coupled with the incidence of influenza among staff, there has been a problem in staffing some of the wards. We are taking action on that. The noble Baroness as the chairman of a trust will be well aware of the action that is being taken.

Lady Kinloss: My Lords, can the Minister say whether there are sufficient trained nurses in control of these infections? Could she also comment on the report on Radio 4--I think it was early Tuesday morning--that the Heriot Watt University hopes it has found at least a treatment, perhaps a cure, for some of these infections and that it is contained in seaweed?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the staffing of wards is a matter for the local management. The new treatment that is being developed at the Heriot Watt University, is, of course, very interesting, but at this moment it is a little too soon to say whether it will be effective. However, we are cautiously optimistic.

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