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House of Lords

Monday, 29th July 2002.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.

King's College, London: Proposed Land Sale

Lord Chalfont asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What view they take about the proposed sale by King's College, London, of land, which is required by St Thomas's Hospital for teaching and research purposes, to a non-medical body.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, this is a matter for King's College, London as owner of the site. The Government cannot intervene in internal decisions at higher education institutions. King's College has kept Guy's and St Thomas's Hospital NHS trust and the Department of Health informed of the current position, and has yet to make a decision. King's College has been made aware of the strong opposition from the trust and from some members of the public.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I accept that this is not a matter on which the Government can intervene. However, it seems to be a matter in which the Government might have some interest. Is it true that King's College and the National Health Service trust have put together a working group which has produced a report strongly suggesting that, whatever happens to the block concerned, it should remain available to the medical community and should not be sold outside it?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, King's College is well aware of its obligations as a significant medical school and in terms of meeting targets established by the Government for the training of doctors and other health service staff. Its contribution to that work is continuing; and in no way, shape or form have we any doubts about its determination to fulfil its obligations.

Baroness Northover: My Lords—

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, could we hear the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, first?

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord. I must declare an interest as chairman of the council of King's College, London, whose members are the trustees of an exempt charity. Will the Minister reaffirm that the future of this property, block 9, is purely a decision for the council of King's

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College, London, and not for any government department? For the record, is the Minister aware that no decision has been taken by the council about the future of block 9, a piece of land opposite the Palace of Westminster? Is he further aware that members of the council have a duty, as trustees, to take a free and fair decision? Does he agree that persistent lobbying and threats are not constructive to finding a way forward?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am not aware of any threats, but I am aware of a keen public interest in the issue—so I am not surprised that there is some fairly vigorous lobbying on each side of the discussion. As the noble Baroness indicated, it is not for the Government to dictate to King's College its decisions with regard to the site. However, it should be mindful of its obligations—as it will be, as a responsible institution of higher education.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, given that London is one of the most expensive areas in terms of real estate, under what circumstances would the Government be prepared to intervene to support London's health and educational institutions—or would they always leave decisions to market forces?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is wrong to suggest that the issue is purely one of market forces. This is land which is dedicated towards aspects of public service. That is why it is under the control of a higher education institution. We are not talking about real estate which is in the free market in quite the way that the noble Baroness indicated. The question relates to a responsible body reaching a decision with regard to the site. As I have reiterated, this is not a question for government intervention.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has made it clear that media claims of a connection between the Aga Khan and himself of a kind that might influence the view of the most reverend Primate on the Aga Khan's plans for block 9 are totally without foundation? Is he further aware that I, as a member of the King's College council, have strongly argued the case for selling the site to the St Thomas's Hospital foundation, if at all possible?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I recognise what the right reverend Prelate says. When issues reach this level of public controversy, there is always a danger of people saying things completely out of turn. The allegation that the most reverend Primate would be influenced in his decision in this way is absurd. I am glad to reinforce the opportunity that the right reverend Prelate has taken to deny any such thing.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords—

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we started with a Cross-Bench Question, so I think it is the turn of this side.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, in fairness to King's College, is it not the case that its preferred solution is indeed to sell the site to St Thomas's but the problem of the trustees is that the offer from the Aga Khan Foundation is believed to be more than twice as great in money terms as that apparently forthcoming from St Thomas's? Does my noble friend accept that some sympathy should be shown to King's College in its dilemma, as the trustees clearly have a responsibility to put the estate to the best possible use, particularly given the funding problems of universities?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for describing the contours of this difficult decision with great accuracy. If there were not a genuine dilemma facing all those responsible at King's College, London, I doubt whether we would be discussing the issue in the Chamber. It is a difficult decision. I am merely reiterating the obvious fact that King's College is a proper and responsible body able to reach a proper and responsible decision.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, what safeguards are in place for the new strategic health authority to ensure that NHS and university resources are not sold for short-term gain when other NHS, university or public bodies need the land or buildings to maintain and improve their provision in the long term?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that, too, is an important question. Of course the Government need to be assured that their strategies for developing medical education and facilities are on course and are framed within a series of arrangements that can be guaranteed to deliver. I assure the noble Baroness that the schemes in hand to increase the number of doctors in training—the number has greatly accelerated over the past 18 months—are working their way through in full collaboration between higher education institutions and the appropriate health trusts.

Earl Russell: My Lords—

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is time for the next Question.

Reproductive Health

2.44 p.m.

Viscount Craigavon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in view of the present attitude of the United States administration, they will reaffirm their commitment to reproductive health as an important component of their international development policy.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, the reproductive health of the poor is a key priority for the Government. We remain firmly committed to the International Conference on Population and Development target of achieving access to reproductive health for all by 2015. We are convinced that reproductive health and rights are vital to making progress to attain the millennium development goals to combat HIV/AIDS and to lower maternal and child mortality. We would like in particular to acknowledge the important contribution that the United Nations Population Fund makes in these important areas.

Viscount Craigavon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does she agree that an example of the new American attitude occurred last week, when the President refused to sign the release of 34 million dollars, which had been agreed in full by Congress, to the highly respected United Nations Population Fund? Given the problems and difficult issues that she mentioned in her Answer, what signal does that send to the rest of the world? Can she give us some of idea of the lead that she could take—with our allies, if necessary—to combat this new American pressure, both financially and in terms of winning the argument?

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