Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not quite agree with the noble Lord. I certainly understand the concerns in the health service and among the medical profession about the impact of the working time directive. But the horizontal amendment resulted from pressure from this and other governments to give many more years to implement the directive. So although I recognise the pressures, the horizontal amending directive has been helpful to the UK.

4 Mar 2003 : Column 701

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, contrary to what has been stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, although it may be true that the proposal for postponement has the support of the Royal College of Physicians, it does not have the support of the British Medical Association. I talked to the association this morning and have its briefing note in my hand. The BMA deals with terms and conditions. It points out that one-third of England's junior doctors work more than 56 hours a week at present and that more than half of them are outside the current new deal hours limits.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I understand the BMA's position. At the end of the day, there are two points to be made. First, requiring junior doctors to work too many hours is hardly good for patients, so the general direction in which the directive takes us is welcome. Secondly, on current hours of work, we already have the new deal agreement. My understanding is that 95 per cent of pre-registration house officers are in new deal compliant posts. Of course, further progress needs to be made with other junior doctor grades, but we should recognise that a great deal of progress has been made by the NHS in the past couple of years.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the dramatic shortening of doctors' hours in France is causing great problems?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am always deeply concerned about the difficulties of the French Government in healthcare matters. They will have to consider the issues, as we do. But when it came to seeking a horizontal amendment, the UK received support from a number of European countries which were similarly concerned about the implications.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, at the risk of being called naive by two Ministers in two days, why did the Department of Health not recognise five years ago that the working time directive would be coming into force and take steps to ensure that enough medical staff would start to be trained then so that they would be available now? That was the answer I received yesterday when I asked about engine drivers.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend is not naive. On preparing for the implementation of the directive, it is worth recalling that the Council directive was issued in November 1993. There are Members in other parts of the House who might have to answer the charge of lack of preparation. When we came into office, we set about increasing the number of medical training places with great vigour. The fact that in 2002–03 we have an intake of 5,292, compared with 3,749 in 1997–98, tells a very convincing story.

Earl Howe: My Lords, do the Government accept the general proposition that if junior doctors are to work fewer hours, we shall need commensurately more

4 Mar 2003 : Column 702

of them in the health service? If they do, has the Minister estimated how many more junior doctors are required for the health service to meet the requirements of the European working time directive?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, taking the time factor and assuming that we had to fill the time reduction currently being worked by juniors with new junior doctor appointments, a rough estimate is that between 7,000 and 10,000 new junior doctors would be required. While increasing the medical workforce is one of the ways in which we will respond to the issue, there is no doubt that the work being undertaken with the BMA and the royal colleges in reorganising out-of-hours work and shift systems, and improving and enhancing the way in which junior doctors are involved in the health service, will be key in answering this problem.

Halon Fire Extinguishers

2.57 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:>

    What plans they have to assist owners of halon fire extinguishers to dispose of them, once it is illegal to possess them.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, under the European ozone-depleting substances regulation, halon fire protection systems and fire extinguishers must be decommissioned, unless they are critical, by 31 December this year, and the halons recovered. It would be illegal to use such extinguishers after 31 December but, strictly speaking, it is not illegal to possess them. In 2001, the DTI and DEFRA issued detailed guidance on the phase-out of halon. An industry group recently sent us a proposal to assist with the decommissioning of redundant extinguishers and the recovery of halon, and we are considering it.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, will the Government get on with it? It is a very short period of time before these fire extinguishers have to be decommissioned. They are expensive to dispose of legally, very inexpensive to dispose of illegally, and, if discharged illegally, they do enormous harm to the ozone layer.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I certainly accept the noble Lord's last point. Halon is something like 10 times as damaging as CFCs, although we are dealing with smaller amounts. However, we published our guidance in 2001, well ahead of the due date. A large number of such appliances have been decommissioned. We have the technology and the facilities for dealing with the excess halon.

4 Mar 2003 : Column 703

Baroness Byford: My Lords, how many halon extinguishers does the department think are in circulation at the moment? One option is to incinerate them. How many such plants are available and, roughly geographically, where are they situated throughout the UK?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the estimate in 2001 was that about 2.5 million of the small hand-held extinguishers were around. That excludes the halon in buildings-based systems which is being decommissioned. The extinguishers can be dealt with now by incineration; shortly, a plasma arc process will be available. There are incineration plants which specialise in halon at Ellesmere Port and at Fawley, Hampshire. The plasma arc facility will be in the Teesside area.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, will the Minister initiate an exchange scheme of new, safe fire extinguishers for old ones to ensure that halon fire extinguishers are withdrawn from service on time? This should be done immediately.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as regards buildings almost everybody deals with an assessment of their fire system every year for insurance purposes. This has been going on since the directive has operated, and under guidance from the department since 2001. Therefore I do not think that any new exchange system is necessary to fulfil those obligations.

Congestion Charging

3 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of the working of the London congestion charge, they will facilitate the introduction of congestion charging in other cities.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government have facilitated the introduction of congestion charging. The Transport Act 2000 provides permissive powers for local authorities to introduce road user charging, or workplace parking levy schemes, to assist in the management of congestion. I am sure that all local authorities are looking with interest at the experience of the introduction of congestion charging in both London and Durham.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. In Answers to previous Questions, Ministers were always extremely anxious to dissociate themselves in every possible way from the congestion charge. Would he pass on my congratulations to the Mayor of London and ask when he is going rejoin the Labour Party?

On a more serious note, must not the corollary to congestion charges be better public transport? Is the Minister aware—and I do not blame him if he is not—that my train from Sussex to Victoria this morning

4 Mar 2003 : Column 704

was, as always, a quarter of an hour late? Every carriage was crowded, dirty and old. When are we going to hear from the Government about that? When are we going to see those improvements in trains and the Tube that we have been promised for so long?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Renton, looks back at the record—and I have never been accused of being a Livingstone groupie—he will see that I have always supported the principle of congestion charging. I have always expressed the view shared by the Secretary of State, that successful congestion charging, in addition to being technically successful, must have the support of the people in the city. It must also lead to improvements in public transport.

In addition to the £16 billion which is being spent on the Tube in London over the next 15 years, the Mayor of London has already introduced 300 new bus services, and provided an additional 11,000 seats in the peak hours on buses. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, had such an unhappy train journey.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page