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House of Lords

Monday, 12th January 1998.

Reassembling after the Christmas Recess, the House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bradford.

NHS Trusts: Appointments

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether all vacancies arising on or before 30th November 1997 for chairmen and non-executives of NHS trusts have now been filled; what is the number of local authority members appointed in each category; and what is the longest period for any of these vacancies and for vacancies for regional chairman since the general election.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the noble Baroness asked several related questions and I must ask her and the House to forgive me if my reply is slightly longer than I would normally prefer. A total of 1,070 appointments were due to be made to National Health Service trusts by 30th November last year. Of those, 300 have still to be confirmed. The longest vacancies were for seven months. Clearly, that is more than we expected by this time. I have looked into the remaining vacancies. There are several different causes which I can detail if the noble Baroness wishes.

As the House knows, the Government are determined that membership of NHS boards should be more representative of the communities they serve. To help achieve that, every MP and local councillor was invited to nominate people to serve. I am glad to say that, as a result, of those appointed 17 chairmen and 140 non-executives declared that they took part in elections in the past five years. That will be particularly important in breaking down the barriers between health and other local social services.

In relation to regional chairmen, the chairmanship of the Northern and Yorkshire Region was vacant for four months. A careful recruitment process during that period led to the appointment of Mrs. Zahida Manzoor, an extremely able woman of Asian background with long experience in the health service. We are extremely confident that she and all the other people appointed to trust positions are the right people to develop our policy on the new NHS.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Is she aware that the interviews and all necessary documentation to replace the non-executive directors of the Royal Free, of which I was chairman until 30th November, were completed by 10th October? At least six candidates were chosen as appointable out of the 63 who applied. I emphasise that the panel was fully independent with one member from

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the Government Benches in this House serving as one of the three along with myself and an independent trust chairman. How is it therefore that those appointments still have not been made? Does the Minister think it fair that those extremely able people who were recommended for appointment should still be unappointed 13 weeks later? Also, does she think it fair that the four remaining non-executive directors should carry the heavy workload associated with a major trust hospital when they are already overworked in attempting to chair committees? It is unreasonable that the two places, which represent two out of six, should be left vacant for so long.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am second to no one, certainly not the noble Baroness, in thanking and respecting those who take on the enormous burden of being members of NHS trust boards. The noble Baroness chaired a large trust board for a long period. As she will know from long experience in the health service, the recommendations that she and other members of her panel made locally would have gone to the regional chairman. They would then come to the Department of Health. Unfortunately, it is not a region where I am specifically involved and I cannot therefore give details of the background of the appointments. As the noble Baroness will be aware, they are in the hands of the regional chairman.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I wish to congratulate the relevant Minister on appointing Professor Harnden, a former director of research at the Christie Cancer Hospital, as chairman of the South Manchester Health Trust, and for appointing Mr. Egerton, who lives in the area and who is a former councillor with distinguished local service, as chairman of the North Manchester Health Trust? We are extremely pleased with those two appointments.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those comments. As the House knows, the Government paid special attention in those cases to appointing people with local experience and a demonstrated commitment to the National Health Service.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, is it the case that those appointments were referred either in whole or in part to 10 Downing Street? If so, does the Minister agree that that is a degree of centralisation which has had an unhappy effect in leading to some boards acting illegally or, at any rate, in an inquorate manner?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I have no knowledge of any appointments being referred to 10 Downing Street. As I said in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, we divided ministerial responsibilities for the appointments by region. That is why I could not give a specific answer in relation to North Thames. As far as I am aware, no ministerial

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appointments have been recommended in that way. I can also state categorically that no boards have been inquorate.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am led to understand that one vacancy on an NHS trust has not yet been filled. I refer to the vacancy created on the appointment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to the Government in May. Is that correct?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, that is one of the appointments which is outstanding.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, the noble Baroness says that these matters are with the regional chairmen. Will she accept from me that the regional authority stated that it had passed everything on to the department in October while I was still in office and that it did not consider any delay was caused by the region?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I can only repeat what I said. Not having detailed knowledge of the individual appointments to the North Thames region, I can only express what I said originally. The process goes through the regions and then on to the Department of Health.

European Air Traffic Control System

2.44 p.m.

Lord Gainford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied that the present European air traffic control system, and in particular the controllers, can cope with the expected rise in air traffic; and whether the necessary funding is in place to secure adequate technology to cope with future demands.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, individual states are responsible for providing air traffic control services within their air space. To accommodate traffic growth, a European programme to harmonise and improve air traffic management has been adopted and centralised flow management introduced. The latter evens out the traffic flow over Europe and prevents controller overload. The 27 member states of Eurocontrol, including the UK, are expected to invest some 3 billion ecus in their air traffic systems over the next five years.

Lord Gainford: My Lords, with the leave of the House, and in advance of my Question on Wednesday, I declare an interest in that I am president of the Air Safety Group. I thank the noble Baroness for her encouraging Answer. Can she say whether any valuable lessons have been learnt following the unfortunate spate of near misses when airliners have nearly collided?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it is important that we learn from any "airprox" incidents or near misses. All

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possible steps are being taken to prevent such incidents; but human error cannot be eradicated completely. In this respect, fitting the traffic collision avoidance system in aircraft, compulsory in Europe for large passenger aircraft by 1st January 2000, will produce a valuable additional safety tool.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, can the Minister say where the necessary funding for National Air Traffic Services will come from? Will National Air Traffic Services be privatised or not; and if not, how will the funding come from the public sector borrowing requirement?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to the Front Bench, although I think it is somewhat selfless of me to do so given his long experience as a transport Minister. As far as concerns the future of National Air Traffic Services, the Government are considering a range of options for the future institutional structure. However, I should say that, whether NATS remains in the public sector or is privatised, safety will be the paramount consideration. We would not contemplate any change to NATS' status if we had any doubt over future safety standards. There is planned investment of some £800 million over the next decade. This will require a capital spend of about £100 million per annum. The department is working with the CAA and Her Majesty's Treasury to examine ways in which the CAA and NATS might be allowed a more flexible approach to raising capital than is possible at present. It is, of course, open to NATS and other public bodies to look to public/private partnerships for investment. The new Scottish air traffic control centre is being progressed in that way.

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