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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful for the generous welcome that the noble Baroness has given to the White Paper. However, this matter must be dealt with on a national basis. If one has a genuine asylum seeker and accommodation, shelter, food and clothing are needed--in other words, the necessities of daily life--then, by definition, they are likely to be within the accommodation provided. The noble Baroness is quite right: absconders are a very difficult problem to deal with. One then has the further dilemma of using detention, which we want to avoid if we possibly can, as opposed to people coming to this country and simply departing. One of the things that we are looking at is more rigorous reporting restrictions so that a reasonable burden may be put on an asylum seeker without it becoming an unfair burden.

Lord Renton: My Lords, while I fully understand the problem and appreciate what the Government are trying to do about it, does the Minister realise that, apart from Germany and Holland--which, strangely enough, are not as over-populated as the places here to which asylum seekers come--many other countries just do not bear their fair share of dealing with the financial and social problems that arise through having a large number of asylum seekers?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord has made a perfectly legitimate point. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is determined to deal with these matters in a European and international context, rather than simply on a national basis. I revert to what I said in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. In many ways, Germany has a pretty good record in this context.

Hearing Aids: NHS and Private

3.11 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that the Government appreciate the importance of effective modern hearing aids and how vital they are to millions of people. The NHS has made progress in the past few years in providing more up-dated aids, such as high frequency and mini-aids. However, as I am sure my noble friend is aware, different people have very different requirements and demands to help deal with their hearing difficulties. It has been difficult for the NHS to establish sufficiently broad criteria for successful improvements as regards bulk purchases of any one type of new aid and making them cost-effective. We hope that this kind of assessment of new technology will become easier and improve once the National Institute for Clinical Excellence is established during the next year.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I have no personal interest to declare because I use a cochlear implant. However, despite her Answer, is my noble friend aware that the overwhelming majority of NHS patients using hearing aids--some 99 per cent.--do not have those specially adapted and improved hearing aids; indeed, they have the old-fashioned aids? They lack modern developments such as automatic adjustment, the multi-direction microphone and the reduction of background noise, all of which are important and are all embodied in private hearing aids. Therefore, bearing in mind what my noble friend said about bulk buying and the fact that it is the biggest buyer of hearing aids in the world, why can the NHS not use its strength as a bulk buyer to buy more modern hearing aids at bargain basement prices?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I appreciate my noble friend's great interest and expertise in the area. As President of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, I believe that he will be aware that it is precisely because Ministers in the Department of Health were concerned about the points that he raises that a national working group was set up last September by the NHS Executive. It is now working on the outcome of those deliberations and is to put a ministerial proposal to my honourable friends the Minister for Public Health and the Minister for community health during the next few weeks. It is to be hoped that some of the improvements that my noble friend mentioned will come out of those discussions.

Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that many of the problems with hearing aids might in some ways be ameliorated if more attention were paid to teaching people how to use them properly? Indeed, it was brought to my attention that only about 10 per cent. know that they have something called a "T" switch on their hearing aid which can help cut out background noise. Surely teaching people how to use their hearing aids properly would be a much better way of progressing if we cannot purchase the exact up-to-date equipment.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a most important point. It is the inexpert or perhaps one should say ill-informed use of some of the

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equipment which seems to lead to it not functioning in the way that it might do at its optimum. One of the issues that the NHS has to consider is the expense of specialised training for audiology departments of NHS trusts which may be providing such services. That is an extra expense which must be considered when one is looking at the upgrading of the whole service.

Earl Howe: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the RNID has found that about 3 million people who could benefit from having a hearing aid do not in fact have one? Indeed, many people lack awareness of the potential benefits of hearing aids and of their limitations. That also applies to many GPs, who consequently fail to refer people on to NHS hearing aid services. Therefore, will the Government consider how both patients and professionals might become better informed in that area?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I believe that this was one of the subjects discussed in the national working group to which I referred. As the noble Earl may be aware, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People was part of that working group. I am sure that the institute made those points very clear in the discussions with the Department of Health.

Lord Hamilton of Dalzell: My Lords, I believe that modern hearing aids are a great deal more expensive than the old-fashioned ones. Therefore, can the Minister assure the House that it is not cost which is controlling this service?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, there are resource issues involved, as I said in response to the noble Lord who asked about the knowledge of and training for people using hearing aids. Indeed, there is a wide range of expenses as regards providing hearing assistance to many people. We are trying to achieve the most cost-effective service for a large number of people--I believe several million--who could benefit in this way. Clearly cost has to be a factor; but cost-effectiveness is the most reasonable thing to try to achieve.

City of Edinburgh (Guided Busways) Order Confirmation Bill

Read a third time, and passed.

Scotland Bill

3.16 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Sewel.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

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[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Strabolgi) in the Chair.]

Clause 30 [Scrutiny of Bills by the Scottish Executive]:

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 228:


Page 15, line 31, after ("statement") insert ("to the Parliament").

The noble and learned Lord said: In the absence of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish from the Chamber, perhaps I may say what a great pleasure it is to be able to start a Committee day promptly. I am sure that the Ministers are as determined as I am to make good progress in this fullish day that we have before us.

The first group of amendments comprises Amendments No. 228, 229 and 232. I seek to propose amendments to Clause 30 which, falling upon a similar provision in the Human Rights Bill, provides that when a member of the Scottish executive in charge of a Bill brings the legislation before the parliament he shall,


    "on or before introduction of the Bill in the Parliament, make a statement to the effect that in his view an Act of the Scottish Parliament containing the same provisions as those in the Bill would be within the legislative competence of the Parliament".

The three amendments that I propose are designed to achieve, first, that the statement is made "to the Parliament"; and, secondly--this is a very important suggestion--that the view which the member of the Scottish executive puts forward should not be his own view but that of the Scottish executive. Thirdly, Amendment No. 232 seeks to ensure that the statement should be made in two stages during the passage of the Bill. It should be made primarily during the general debate on the Bill, which is provided for in Clause 34(1)(a), and then it should be repeated during the debate on the final stages, which is provided for in Clause 34(1)(c). Quite obviously, the last amendment is designed to take account of the possibility, as one anticipates will happen with the Scottish parliament--as, indeed, happens with Bills going through this House--that not only opposition members but the minister in charge of a Bill will seek to bring forward amendments on behalf of the Scottish executive.

In my view it is important that the view which is placed before the members of the parliament is the view of the Scottish executive itself. This is because the issue as to whether or not the provisions set out in the Bill would lie or do lie within the legislative competence of the parliament is a question of law. When a Bill becomes an Act of the Scottish parliament, there are devolution issues which fall to be determined in accordance with the procedures set out in Clause 91 in Schedule 6 of the Bill. The first of these is whether an Act of the Scottish parliament or any provision of an Act of the Scottish parliament is within the legislative competence of the parliament.

So the issue is a question of law. And, with the greatest respect to those who will serve as ministers in the Scottish executive, it is not their personal view as laymen that matters, it is the view, on this important question of law, of the Scottish executive.

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Anyone who had the benefit of hearing the long Pepper v. Hart statement read into the Official Report last week by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will know that that issue is a highly complicated one. If such a statement is made to the Scottish parliament it will be open to members of the parliament to ask questions about the statement, raise queries as to whether it is entirely correct, and no doubt identify particular provisions in the Bill where there may or may not be some doubt as to whether the provision lies within the legislative competence.

It is important that the views that are being defended should be clearly identified as the views of the Scottish executive as a body. It is inconceivable that any such statement will have been made without the benefit of legal advice. One suspects that the statement will be drafted or at least revised by those lawyers who are acting for the Scottish executive, whether solicitors within the department which the first minister will no doubt establish, or people advised by the Scottish law officers and the legally qualified staff of the law officers.

If lawyers are having an input into the statement on behalf of the Scottish executive, it seems to me appropriate that it is the view of that body which should be made clear. We do not yet know what conventions will apply to the advice given by the Scottish law officers to the Scottish executive. My amendment does not require one of them to come before the parliament and defend the view on behalf of the executive. I do not seek to trespass on that area at the moment. All I seek to establish is what I believe is important; namely, that the Bill should not remain the personal view of the Minister but should reflect the view of the Scottish executive. I beg to move.


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