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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend is right to refer to the words of Mr Hammond. He was certainly less than sensitive in using the words,

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Not much sign there of inclusivity and not much encouragement to women doctors in the health service.

Earl Howe: My Lords, before anyone misattributes an argument to a member of the Opposition--a perfectly daft argument as it has been expressed, I have to say--would it not be wise to check what is the actual argument? Is the Minister aware that the issue is not whether women consultants are less efficient than men--which is an absurd suggestion--but whether, for the purposes of workforce planning, due allowance should be made for the fact that far more women consultants than men work part-time? Have the Government taken account of that?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, nevertheless, Mr Hammond could have chosen his words more wisely. On the noble Earl's substantive point, yes, we do take account in our workforce planning processes of the increasing trend among doctors of both sexes to work part-time and to take career breaks.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, is the Minister willing to set targets to increase the number of women surgeons, as proposed by Mr Barry Jackson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons? Does the Minister agree that flexible working patterns in the NHS would help male as well as female staff, their families and the service as a whole? Does he feel, as I do, that there are echoes of another century--perhaps not even the last one--in Mr Hammond's comments?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree that flexible working has to be an important human resource policy for the National Health Service as a whole, whether for doctors or any other group of NHS staff. We have made it abundantly clear to every NHS employer that we expect it to deliver flexible working. My understanding is that in September this year the president of the Royal College of Surgeons set a target for increasing the number of women in the profession from 5 per cent to 10 per cent over the next five years and to 20 per cent over the next 10 years. We very much support that proposal. I also understand that the Royal College of Physicians is reviewing the data on women in medicine to ensure that women doctors have equal opportunities in all branches of medicine--an approach that we strongly support and encourage.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, my noble friend mentioned flexible working. As the NHS is the largest employer in the country, will the Minister tell the House what progress is being made on other forms of family-friendly employment policies, such as elder care, childcare and so on, so that neither women nor men with family responsibilities will be disadvantaged?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend will know that the Government are carrying out a review on how working parents can be given more choices in balancing their responsibilities at home and at work. It includes such issues as maternity pay and

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leave, paternal leave, flexible working, skills re-entry and keeping in touch, and childcare. Nothing has been ruled out at this stage. In that context, we want the National Health Service to be a model employer. We want it to ensure appropriate support and career breaks for employees, enabling them to return to the health service and providing appropriate training and support when they are able to do so.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will the Minister address the situation of young women GPs with small children who find that the person on whom they rely for help is ill and therefore unable to attend, which means that they have to cancel surgery or take the children with them? Has the National Health Service given any thought to providing emergency help in such situations in order to free up doctors so that they can carry out their health service duties?

Lord Hunt of King Heath: My Lords, the example given by the noble Baroness is one with which women in many walks of life are familiar. Certainly, we need to ensure that the National Health Service is as flexible as possible. There are particular challenges when it comes to GP practices where there may be a small number of principals and where such an incident can cause problems. The development of personal medical services is providing much more flexibility in the way in which GPs are employed--for example, through the use of salaried GPs and other methods.

Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in these days of movement towards equality, taking time off for domestic responsibilities is likely to be more equally divided between men and women and that, therefore, the arguments about workforce planning mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, are increasingly likely to apply not to the employment of women but to the employment of people?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I could not agree more. There are undoubtedly the beginnings of an indication that male doctors, too, seek career breaks and that they sometimes seek to reduce their full-time commitment to a part-time one. Our workforce planning needs to take account of changes in terms of NHS employment and changes in society in order to make sure that the right number of people are trained. I am confident that the extra number of training places in our medical schools brought into being by this Government, and those that will be brought into being over the next few years, will take account of that and will enable us to increase the workforce.

Lord Richard: My Lords, sitting in this Chamber as one does, day in, day out, I am constantly amazed at the way in which problems have arisen on or after 1st May 1997! I wonder whether my noble friend can help me on this point. The noble Baroness opposite raised an issue about what happens to the children if one of the parents is away. No doubt when the Government came in they inherited a set of detailed proposals left

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by the party opposite on how to deal with this difficult human and industrial problem. Will my noble friend share with us the details that were left to him?

Lord Graham of Edmonton: He should be so lucky!

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the party opposite does seem to be suffering from a severe illness. It is known as collective and selective amnesia.

Biarritz Summit

3.6 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I rise to ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House a question of which I have given notice. I regret to have to do so because it shows a certain breakdown in the usual channels. However, it is on a matter that needs a wider airing in the Chamber; therefore, I crave the indulgence of the House.

As is now widely known, a summit of the European Union took place this weekend in Biarritz. It is normal at this time in the afternoon on the first sitting day after such a summit for the Government Chief Whip to rise and announce a Statement. On this occasion the Government Chief Whip has stayed firmly in his seat.

That is no surprise. Late on Friday afternoon, when we suggested that there would be a Statement today, the Government told us that there would not be. This morning we were told that the Government had had second thoughts: there would be a Statement to Parliament but it would be a written, not an oral, Statement. The Government have, therefore, accepted that Parliament should be informed about what happened in Biarritz. But what is not acceptable is that they have offered a Statement in a manner that allows for no debate and no response either from the Opposition or from the many Back-Benchers represented here this afternoon. There is no opportunity for a wider debate between now and the end of the Session because the Government's programme is so packed.

On examining recent precedents I discovered that, following interim European Council meetings over the past 18 months, there was a Statement: in March 1999, in October 1999 and in March this year. On all those occasions the Government said that the events of the summit had been a resounding success for the United Kingdom. Are we to believe that on this occasion the summit has not been a triumphant success for the United Kingdom? Does that explain the lack of a Statement on this occasion; or is it because the other place is not currently sitting? If that is the reason, is it not a disgrace that the Government cannot be bothered to come and give an oral Statement to the House of Parliament that is sitting?

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has, since this House returned at the end of September, behaved in an exemplary fashion as regards Statements. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, made a Statement on the Dome; the noble

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Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, made a Statement on the fuel crisis; and the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, has kept us regularly informed on international events. But on this crucial matter of national interest the Government seem to be rather coy. This weekend vital matters were raised on QMV, on the charter of fundamental rights and no doubt on the Middle East.

Will the noble Baroness tell us why no oral Statement has been offered this afternoon? Is this a change of policy; or is it another example of sidelining Parliament in general and this House in particular? Will she say whether the House will have an opportunity to discuss these matters before the Nice summit later this year?

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