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Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be a small help if people were advised frequently to wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating or cooking them?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that is very good advice. Many people know that, but one can never underestimate the need to put good advice across to the consumer. Overall, I believe that our regulatory regime, whether in terms of the application of pesticides, their licensing or the impact of residue that may be left on food, is very tight. However, we can never be complacent and we are ever alert to the need to make improvements, provided they are practical and proportionate.

Lord Walpole: My Lords, I want to follow on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, said, and to say what I feel is happening now. Farmers or their staff used to do the spraying themselves, and we certainly told everyone where we were going to spray and, if possible, when. The new idea that all farmers should use contractors for everything means that contractors are much sloppier, and, judging by the way they are behaving around us, do not carry out these things properly.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, clearly, the farmer must take responsibility for the work undertaken on their farm by the contractor. The good practice code is clear about the benefits of giving the kind of warnings that the noble Lord has suggested. However, we should never be complacent and must do everything we can to ensure that where notification is appropriate, it is duly given.

NHS: Emergency Medical Consultants


3 pm

Asked ByBaroness Finlay of Llandaff

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, as the noble Baroness will be aware, it is for local NHS organisations to ensure they provide the emergency care services that their local community requires. Over the past few years, considerable investment has been made in the NHS workforce and A&E services, with very positive results. I am sure that the House will want to know that the plans in place for recruitment and training mean that the number of emergency medical consultants will increase in future years.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I hope that she will be working with the College of Emergency Medicine. I must declare that my daughter is a new member of that college. Can the Minister confirm that the new healthcare resource groups, HRG4, will recognise that emergency departments are different from the as yet unproven urgent care

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centres and that the tariff will allow the expansion of consultant numbers? Does the Department of Health recognise that the quality of care, cost efficacy and clinical outcomes are better when an emergency medicine consultant is directing reception, resuscitation and care, as illustrated by the London bombings?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very good point. As I have said, plans are in place to increase the number of emergency medical consultants in future years. There are 749 emergency medical consultants working in the NHS and acute trusts who provide accident and emergency services. That equates to five consultants per trust—an ample number to provide 24/7 cover for every accident and emergency department.

I will answer the technical question that the noble Baroness asked and trust that she will understand the answer. In 2009-10—and I thank her for giving notice of that particular bit of the question—the national tariff for accident and emergency services will retain the existing tariff, currency and structure, HRG version 3.5, in recognition of issues with the cost data that would underpin HRG4 tariff for this activity. The current national tariff for A&E services recognises the differing resource usage of the high-cost standard of minor injury unit, with a higher tariff paid for the more difficult and complex services.

Lord Rea: My Lords, it is interesting to hear that the Government agree with the College of Emergency Medicine that there should be an increase in emergency medicine specialists. It advocates that there should be a minimum of one doctor trained in the speciality of emergency medicine present 24/7 in an emergency department. Will the Minister describe how she is consulting with the college on how that is to be achieved, and, in the mean time, what plans there are to augment the existing service until increased numbers come on stream?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the College of Emergency Medicine, as noble Lords will be aware, is very much the new kid on the block, having been founded in the last year. It deserves commendation and recognition for having got off to a really great start. I welcome and enjoyed reading The Way Ahead 2008-2012. Although I do not necessarily agree with all of it, it is an extremely useful document and a very important contribution to policy development nationally and service development locally. I am pleased to announce that we will be writing to the college shortly to invite it to join the newly formed urgent and emergency care board, where it will be able to help shape policy.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, after major trauma, airway problems have been shown to be associated with much higher mortality rates? Paramedics in the ambulance service have airways skills but are not allowed to intubate patients. What progress is being made to develop the specialist trauma teams in accident and emergency departments to attend the scene of major accidents, with doctors suitably trained to anaesthetise and intubate patients before transfer to hospital?

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Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point, which was recognised in the recent national confidential inquiry into patient outcomes and death. The department is in the process of recruiting a national clinical director for trauma care precisely to take on board the recommendations of that report, including those for major trauma. Local provision will have to be considered alongside that to ensure that the commission’s recommendations are taken into account and integrated into local emergency care.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in too many places the four-hour access standard is not being met? Until there are better staffing levels, would it not be more realistic to reduce the demand for access to 95 per cent rather than the proposed 98 per cent, which is unrealistic?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we do not intend to reduce those standards because the proposals are clinically led, they should aim to improve quality, we need to set a high target because patients deserve it, and we need to place demands on local healthcare services to work with all stakeholders, clinicians and doctors to focus on meeting those standards and, indeed, meeting the four-hour target.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is it not possible to bring in extra senior staff when A&E departments face immense pressure on certain days and at certain times?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we discussed this in November. Staff need to know when their pinch points occur locally and to ensure that they have adequate staff to cover them. They will be judged against that target.

Companies' Remuneration Reports Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.07 pm

A Bill to make provision about remuneration reports in public quoted company accounts and reports.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Gavron, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Bank of England (Amendment) Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.07 pm

A Bill to amend the objectives of the Bank of England in relation to monetary policy.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Saatchi, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

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Administration and Works Committee

Personal Bills Committee

Procedure Committee

Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee

Works of Art Committee

Membership Motions

3.07 pm

Moved By Lord Brabazon of Tara

Administration and Works Committee

Personal Bills Committee

Procedure Committee

16 Dec 2008 : Column 742

Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee

Works of Art Committee

Motions agreed.

Royal Mail


3.08 pm

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Lord Mandelson): My Lords, I wish to make a Statement about the Royal Mail.

This Government are firmly committed to a universal postal service; that is, the ability of the 28 million homes and businesses across the country to receive mail six days a week, with the promise that one price goes everywhere. The universal service helps to bind us together as a country. As well as its social importance, it is the means by which many companies build and operate their businesses, but it does not come free.

Last December, John Hutton invited Richard Hooper to lead a full, independent review of the postal services market. Its purpose was to look ahead to the future and to recommend the steps needed to sustain the universal service in a world where technology, consumer behaviour and the communications market are all rapidly changing. The review did not cover the post office network.

I have now received Richard Hooper’s final report. It is a serious, wide-ranging study, and makes sober reading. We are publishing it this afternoon. I am very grateful to Richard Hooper and to Dame Deirdre Hutton and Ian Smith for their work on it.

Let me set out Hooper’s analysis of the challenges facing the Royal Mail. First, there has been a revolution in communications technology over the past decade as consumers turn to e-mails, the internet and text messages.

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In this country, 60 billion text messages were sent last year. We now send 5 million fewer letters than two years ago.

Hooper is absolutely clear that the main challenge to the Royal Mail is from the impact of changes in technology and consumer choices. His estimate is that, last year, the shift of mail to these new technologies cost the company £500 million in lost profits. That is five times the impact of business lost to other postal companies in our liberalised market. The message is therefore clear; making these other companies go away is not the answer to the Royal Mail succeeding.

Royal Mail’s success matters because it is the only company capable of delivering mail to every address in the United Kingdom six days a week. As Hooper makes clear, that will be the case for the foreseeable future, so a healthy Royal Mail is vital to sustaining the universal service.

The second challenge is efficiency. Hooper reports that Royal Mail is less automated and less efficient than its western European counterparts. In modern European postal companies, 85 per cent of mail is put in walk order by machine for delivery to the individual home or business. By contrast, in Britain, in local delivery offices it is still done entirely by hand. The Royal Mail urgently needs to catch up and modernise.

The third challenge is the pension fund. Hooper warns that Royal Mail has a large, growing and volatile pension fund deficit. This is near impossible for the business to manage and is a huge demand on its revenues. Each year, on top of its regular £500-million contribution to the pension fund, the company is having to find a top-up of £280 million to plug the deficit. These payments look set to rise substantially when the fund is revalued next year.

Fourthly, Hooper says labour relations in the company need to improve. Levels of trust and co-operation are low. Industrial action takes place too often. A fresh start in industrial relations is badly needed.

Fifthly, there is regulation. Hooper also reports a lack of trust in the relationship between the company and the regulator. There are disagreements about basic information, and these tensions divert energy from the chief challenge of modernising the business.

Overall, Hooper’s conclusions are crystal clear. He says that the status quo is untenable. The universal service is under threat. The choice that we face is either downgrading the universal service as we manage decline, or acting now to turn things round and secure the Royal Mail’s future.

At the heart of the Hooper report are three linked recommendations. First, on the pension fund deficit, Hooper recognises that this represents a significant challenge for the company. The report recommends that, as part of a package of changes, the Government should take over responsibility for reducing substantially the pension deficit. I stress that Hooper says that this would be justified only as part of a coherent package to secure the Royal Mail’s long-term viability. Secondly—this is closely related—to improve the Royal Mail’s performance it should forge a strategic minority partnership with a postal operator with a proven record in transforming its business, working closely

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with the workforce. This, Hooper believes, would give Royal Mail the confidence, the experience and the capital to make the changes needed to improve performance and face the future. In other words, it would save the Royal Mail by investing in its future. Finally, on regulation, Hooper proposes that Ofcom should take over responsibility from Postcomm for regulating the postal market. Its primary responsibility would be to maintain the universal service in the wider context of the other changes taking place in communication markets.

My department will want to study the report in detail, as I will. I intend to respond with a full statement of our policy early next year. With backing from the Government, the Royal Mail has been improving performance in recent years, but progress has been too slow and Hooper is clear that, in the face of the challenges confronting the company, transformation must be faster and more far-reaching. The Government agree with Hooper’s analysis and the recommendations. We reject cutting back the universal service, as Hooper does. Indeed, we share the ambition for a strong universal service and strong Royal Mail. We intend to take forward the recommendations as a coherent package of measures.

We will fulfil our manifesto commitment to,

Bringing in a partner through a minority stake in the Royal Mail’s postal business will help us to deliver that goal. It will bring the Royal Mail fresh investment and new opportunities to grow in Europe and internationally, and to offer new services. It will provide a fresh impetus to modernising the Royal Mail and securing the universal service. We and the Royal Mail have already received one expression of interest from the Dutch postal company, TNT, to build such a partnership. I very much welcome this approach from an experienced postal company, just as I will welcome other expressions of interest from credible partners, should they come forward. My department will pursue this in the coming weeks.

Finally, I should comment on the Post Office, which was not part of the review’s terms of reference. The network of local post offices combines a unique set of commercial, public and social roles. In recognition of this, a partnership would not include the post office network. A healthier Royal Mail letters business will be good for the Post Office. Today’s announcement will help underpin our existing commitment to the post office network. We are providing £1.7 billion to 2011 to support a network of around 11,500 branches. We will continue to support the non-commercial network beyond that time. Noble Lords will recall the recent announcement that the Post Office card account will stay with the Post Office. We will now build on that decision to ensure a stable and sustainable network for the future.

We are determined to have a post office network offering a broad range of services throughout the country, supporting both social and financial inclusion. I am delighted that the House of Commons Select Committee on Business and Enterprise has agreed to

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undertake an inquiry into what further services the Post Office should offer. I believe that Royal Mail and the postal market can thrive in the future, provided that decisive action is taken now. Without far-reaching change, the opportunities brought by technology will become overwhelming threats. This need not be the case. I believe that there are benefits for everybody in the package of measures that we intend to take forward. It will protect the universal service for consumers. It will give Royal Mail new opportunities to modernise and develop. It offers Royal Mail’s staff a future in a modern, efficient postal operator with more secure pension arrangements. It offers the whole country a Royal Mail that we can be proud of.

I commend this Statement to the House.

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