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Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, is it possible to check, among some of the most lurid reporting on Zimbabwe, whether the statement attributed to Didimas Matasa that he would be content to see 6 million Zimbabweans die from starvation because it would make the handling of Zimbabwe's economy easier? Can that possibly be true?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, it is sometimes very difficult to verify some of the statements that come out of Zimbabwe. However, I think that everyone in this House recognises that Robert Mugabe and his regime bear the brunt of the responsibility for the humanitarian crisis. Seven million people will need supplementary feeding by March next year. That is extremely serious. The economy of Zimbabwe is imploding, and this is a matter for which it has to take responsibility. We will do all that we can with our international partners, and working with African colleagues, to ensure that this is recognised in Zimbabwe.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, who dropped the allegations against the gentleman concerned? Was it the original complainant or the authorities?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I will look into that further and write to the noble Baroness. The allegations were made in the newspapers on Sunday. I have had what information I can from our High Commission in Harare, which will look into the case in more detail. I will be happy to report further.

Patients Forums

3 p.m.

Earl Howe asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, funding decisions for the next three years will be announced shortly. I will write to the noble Earl when final decisions have been made.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he share my view that the success of the changes laid out in the recent legislation will be of the utmost importance for patients and the NHS? Given that the responsibilities of patients forums will be a good deal wider and more complex than those of

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community health councils, can the Minister confirm that substantially more staff are envisaged for patients forums than are currently employed by CHCs, and that 600 to 700 staff for some 600 patients forums will simply not be enough?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot be committed as to the numbers of staff and resources. That matter is tied into decisions on resources. I agree that the changes, including the establishment of the commission and patients forums, and the role of local authority oversight and scrutiny committees, will together result in much more powerful involvement of local people in the running of the NHS. We want to ensure that those arrangements are completed as satisfactorily as possible.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it would be highly cynical for a Minister in the other place to promise 300 offices for patients forums and then to deliver only 28?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the question is not how many offices should be provided but whether there will be access to patients forum services in every part of the National Health Service. That is surely where we should focus our energies.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the budgetary requirements must ensure that adequate training is provided for patients and their representatives to ensure maximum participation in the development of strategies and patient representation?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, yes, I do. That will be one of the responsibilities of the newly formed Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health. We want to encourage many local people to come forward for potential membership of patients forums. I accept that we need to give them all the support we can to do their job properly.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the Minister referred to "patients forum services". Are patients forums really a service, or fora, for patients?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, patients forums exist to ensure that every NHS trust and primary care trust is fully focused on meeting the needs of patients and the public. They will be composed entirely of local people with an interest in healthcare.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, given that there are so many new health bodies with complicated names, when one is dedicated to helping patients, will the Minister ensure that it will be advertised so that people know where to go and that it will be well funded?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to suggest that, for patients forums to be successful, we must ensure that patients and the

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public have ready access. The new Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health will look closely at what can be done to ensure that the public have ready access to the services of patients forums. In addition, the new patient liaison service, which many trusts are establishing in their facilities, is proving to be of great benefit to patients whose concerns, if raised immediately, can be dealt with very quickly. The new PALS service has made a very good start.

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, will the Minister ensure that, while the CHCs continue to exist, they will not be starved of funds?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there is no intention to starve current CHCs of funds. We do not yet have a precise timetable for the establishment of patients forums and the winding-up of community health councils. We stand ready to be advised by the new commission on that matter.

A400M Aircraft

3.5 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether their decision to equip only nine out of 25 of the Royal Air Force's new transport aircraft with defensive aids suites will compromise the safety of the Armed Forces.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, we decided in 2001 to equip nine of the 25 A400M aircraft with defensive aids suites, based on the different operational roles and the various threat environments in which the aircraft will operate. All A400Ms not currently planned to have defensive aids suites can easily be fitted with such systems if required, either before or after delivery. Between now and 2010, we will of course continuously review our operational roles and threat assessments.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does the recent missile attack on an Israeli plane not show just how vulnerable the A400M will be to terrorist attacks? Can the Minister give the House a firm assurance that RAF pilots' lives will not be put at risk by flying unprotected aircraft in hostile areas?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I can give the noble Lord and the House that assurance. The attack in Kenya highlights what is an evolving threat to aircraft in general. We keep that threat under constant review, as the noble Lord would expect us to do. Such incidents are taken into consideration when assessing the need for future DAS capabilities. The decision taken in 2001 was based on planning assumptions valid at the time. We are now looking into that as a matter of priority.

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As the A400M has an in-service date of 2010, there will be sufficient time to adapt its capability to the evolving threat.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, how long will it take to transfer defensive aids suites from one aircraft to another? More importantly, how much will that cost? The operation could be quite expensive.

Lord Bach: My Lords, there is no intention to move defensive aids suites from one aeroplane to another. One must realise that defensive aids suites are a package that can contain various units—they do not all contain the same ones. The average cost of a defensive aids suite is roughly 15 million per plane.

Lord Jones: My Lords, when will the first aircraft fly? Does my noble friend believe that the Germans will buy it?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I believe that the Germans will buy it. We believe that they will buy 60 rather than 73, which is why it has taken time to conclude the matter. We hope that the first flight will take place in December 2010. One of the great advantages of the A400M is that it will bring many jobs to the United Kingdom.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, the Minister said that there was "time to adapt" the other aircraft. Does that expression apply to all 16 remaining aircraft?

Lord Bach: My Lords, our order is for 25 aircraft. We will adapt them with defensive aids suites if we feel that it is necessary for the safety of their crew—that is our primary responsibility—or if the role of the A400M changes so that it is used in a much more tactical role than at present.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, was the point of the supplementary question by my noble friend Lord Astor not to illustrate the fact that the Al'Qaeda attack on the Israeli plane in Mombasa failed because it was fitted with heat deflectors? Does that not suggest that not only should all Royal Air Force aircraft have that equipment, but there is probably a case for fitting many civilian airliners with heat deflectors against such missiles, given the present threat from Al'Qaeda and similar terrorist groups?

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