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Petitions

Volume 475: debated on Wednesday 14 May 2008

Petitions

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Observations

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Darfur Genocide

The Petition of Students from seven West Oxfordshire secondary schools; Bartholomew, Burford, Carterton, Chipping Norton, The Henry Box School, The Marlborough Schools and Wood Green,

Declares that genocide is taking place in Darfur, Sudan.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to move the issue of the Darfur genocide to the top of the political agenda and media spotlight, and to keep it there.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.— [Official Report, 12 March 2008, vol. 473, col. 5P]. [P000149]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs:

I utterly condemn the appalling acts of violence committed by all sides to the conflict in Darfur. The UK is at the forefront of international efforts to bring lasting peace and security to Darfur.

The UK has called on all parties to stop the violence, to allow immediate humanitarian access, to protect civilians, and to facilitate the deployment of the African Union-UN peacekeeping force (UNAMID). We continue to work closely with the UN and others to improve the humanitarian situation in Darfur.

The UK welcomed the transfer of authority, on 31 December, from the African Union force that deployed to Darfur in 2006 to the African Union/UN Hybrid force (UNAMID). The UK was instrumental in ensuring the unanimous adoption of UNSCR 1769, which mandated UNAMID in July 2007. UNAMID is operating under UN financing, logistic support and established peacekeeping procedures. UNAMID has increased daylight patrols to support women collecting firewood, and started night patrols.

The UK strongly supports the international community's efforts to monitor and improve the application of human rights in Sudan. There can be no impunity for the crimes committed in Darfur. The UK played a leading role in the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1593 in March 2005, which referred Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC issued arrest warrants on 2 May 2007 on two individuals for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

The ICC Prosecutor reported to the UN Security Council on 5 December 2007 that Sudan had not met its obligations. As a UN member, Sudan must comply with all UNSCRs. I raised this with the Sudanese Foreign Minister during his visit to London on 28 April 2008. The Sudanese authorities must co-operate unconditionally with the ICC and surrender the two individuals. The ICC has our full support for its activities.

Ultimately, peace can only be achieved through a committed political process. There is an urgent need to re-invigorate the AU-UN-led Darfur political process, and for the AU and UN to appoint,a single Chief Negotiator. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, during his visit to New York on 17 April, pressed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a single Chief Negotiator as quickly as possible, and offered to host talks in London as part of the AU-UN led process if that was considered useful by the international community and the parties to the conflict.

The UK remains committed to finding a lasting, peaceful and inclusive solution to the situation in Darfur. We will continue to play a leading role in international efforts to support work towards a peaceful future for Darfur.

Health

Hugh Sexey's Hospital

The Humble Petition of the Rt. Rev. Neville Chamberlain (Master of Hugh Sexey's Hospital) and others of like disposition,

Sheweth,

That Her Majesty's Government's plans for the re-organisation of primary care in the country, with particular reference to rural areas such as theirs, will dramatically effect the way in which General Practice is currently organised and funded, and will severely harm the services they currently receive from their excellent local surgery.

As residents of Hugh Sexey's Hospital, a remarkable retirement home, where the average age of the residents is 80+, and where every effort is made to remain self-sufficient and independent (constantly advocated as a desirable object), the loss of their local surgery would be catastrophic.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House shall call on Her Majesty's Government to reconsider its plans, and treat each differing area, urban and rural, to detailed consideration, with particular reference to the needs of vulnerable groups in each community, and not allow public money to be taken away from local NHS surgeries and given to private companies.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.—[Presented by Mr. David Heath, Official Report, 26 March 2008; Vol. 474, c. 5P .] [P000160]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Health:

My Department will bring this issue to the attention of Somerset Primary Care Trust (PCT) to ensure that such decisions are made in consultation with local stakeholders, including local patients and clinicians. PCTs are responsible for organising local health services in ways that reflect the needs of their local population.

The Government is not trying to impose a 'polyclinic' model that would see smaller GP practices move into the health centres alongside a range of ancillary services. PCTs may wish to develop this model if it is appropriate for their area. However, what the Government is proposing nationally is the procurement of new and additional GP services, to add to and complement existing provision.

Somerset PCT, like every PCT in the country, will receive additional resources from the £250 million access fund to procure a new GP-led health centre service this year following the commitments made in Lord Darzi's interim report.

The Department of Health is currently working with PCTs and strategic health authorities to develop a communications and stakeholder engagement plan that articulates in more consistent and compelling ways the rationale for the primary care procurements, emphasises the degree of local flexibility and addresses some of the common misperceptions about centrally imposed requirements.

Nurses' Pay

The Petition of residents of the Taunton constituency and others,

Declares that the Government's refusal to backdate the pay settlement awarded to NHS nurses by the independent Pay Review Body in 2007 constitutes a broken promise to a profession that has been unfairly neglected in recent years; that the recent offer of 8% over 3 years is insufficient and vulnerable to current inflationary turmoil; and that the nurses of Taunton Deane are highly skilled and dedicated public servants who have earned a fair and rewarding pay settlement.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to increase the rate of pay for NHS nurses beyond the current settlement.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Jeremy Browne, Official Report, 28 April 2008; Vol. 475, c. 138 .] [P000178]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Health:

The Government fully recognises the important role that nurses play in patient care and ensuring they are properly remunerated for the specialist work they do.

In 2007-08 the Government made a decision - given the policy on public sector pay -to stage the Pay Review Body recommendations. However, in further discussions the NHS Staff Council reached an agreement to the following additional changes to the 2007-08 pay arrangements:

£400 for staff on pay points 1-7 with 1.5 per cent, payable from 1 April 2007 and the remainder from 1 November 2007;

2.5 per cent, and £38 for staff on pay points 8-18 with 1.5 per cent, from 1 April 2007 and the remainder from 1 November 2007;

2.5 per cent, with 1.5 per cent, payable from 1 April 2007 and with the balance from 1 November 2007 for all other staff;

funding to the equivalent of £25 per member of staff who is not required to have clinical professional registration to practice is made available by the Department of Health in 2007-08 to trusts to support training projects for that group of staff. Projects to be agreed locally in partnership with applications for funding signed off by the trust chief executive and staff side chair;

a payment of £38 a year to Agenda for Change clinical staff in bands 5-8(A) inclusive who are in professions where registration is a mandatory requirement of practice to support the payment of fees for their clinical registration from 2007 to 2010 inclusive, by when it will have been jointly reviewed; and

an agreement, without prejudice, to discuss the possibilities for a multi-year pay deal pay arrangement.

The agreed multi-year discussions have continued and the offer of just under eight per cent, across the next three years is now out to union consultation.

The deal would give staff a headline pay rise of 2.75 per cent, in the first year - the best in the public sector. For the first time, the minimum starting salary for nurses would be more than £20,000.

Structural reforms over the three years would deliver benefits not possible from a Pay Review Body award. This means that newly qualified clinicians - including nurses, midwives and physios - would receive a 20 per cent, pay increase over the course of the deal. Some staff in Band 5 would receive a 21 per cent, increase.

Experienced clinicians and other staff in non-clinical groups in Band 6 - including registered midwives and specialist therapists - would receive between a 19 per cent, and 21 per cent. increase over the three years.

The majority of staff in Bands 1 through to 4, including clinical support staff, would see an 18 or 19 per cent. increase over the course of the deal.

The Year 2 headline pay rise of 2.4 per cent. would establish a new minimum wage of £6.77 an hour - 18 per cent. higher than the statutory rate. Those on the lowest point would receive an overall pay increase of 5.7 per cent.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) have also welcomed the three-year pay agreement for nurses. Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN said:

“We have always said we would only consider signing up to a three year pay deal if it was fair and offered nurses protection against future rises in inflation. We are delighted to put the RCN's name to a proposal that does just that.

Nurses can now focus on doing what matters most, delivering high quality patient care, safe in the knowledge they have some degree of security over their household finances in the coming years. An important part of the package we have negotiated is to ensure nurses are protected against future price rises so we are delighted to have won a commitment to re-open pay talks should inflation rise sharply or if there are significant changes to the labour market. This process will be overseen by the independent pay review body.

“We have long argued that fair pay and decent conditions are vital to keep experienced nurses in the profession, while attracting much needed new blood. Given the uncertain economic climate and the government's tough public sector pay policy, this package, worth 7.99 per cent over three years, is better than expected and goes some way towards bridging the gap between nurses' pay and other public sector workers. We will now be consulting our members for their views on this proposed agreement. Details of the RCN's consultation will be announced shortly.”

The Government believes we have worked successfully with the Unions towards a deal that is good for staff, the NHS and patients. This deal ensures security for NHS staff and allows them to plan for their future and the future of their families. It will help those on the lowest wages, increase the earning potential for hundreds of thousands of staff and allow quicker progression up the pay ladder.

The Government does not agree that NHS nurses have been “unfairly neglected in recent years” - Agenda for Change itself provided an additional just short of £1 billion investment in the first full year of implementation, as addressed previously in the House.

The new multi-year deal will mean in 2008-09 the majority of nurses will receive both a headline award of 2.75 per cent, if agreed by the unions, and a further pay incremental uplift of on average 3 per cent., providing a 5.75 per cent, uplift for many nursing staff.

Transport

Local Bus Services (Dorset)

The Petition of customers and residents of West Moors in the Christchurch constituency,

Declares that they deplore the decision of Wilts. and Dorset Bus Company to reschedule local bus services in such a way as to remove the direct services between West Moors and Bournemouth and Bournemouth Hospital and express their concerns that one of the justifications for the rescheduling is the requirement of the Bus Company to reduce the length of its routes to less than 31 miles so that it can use vehicles without tachographs which would otherwise be required under the Community Drivers’ Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 2007.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to reduce regulatory burdens and review the impact of the latest regulations upon local bus services.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Christopher Chope, Official Report, 28 April 2008; Vol. 475, c. 139 .] [P000180]

Observations from the Secretary of Transport:

The Government is aware that a number of bus operators have recently altered routes to remove themselves from the scope of the European drivers' hours and tachograph rules under Council Regulation EC 561/2006. This Regulation contains an EU wide derogation for vehicles used for the carriage of passengers on regular services where the route covered by the service in question does not exceed 50km.

The Regulation came into force on 11 April 2007 and replaced earlier EU legislation on this subject. The 50km threshold for regular bus services has existed since EU drivers' hours rules were first introduced. However, the Regulation introduced a new requirement for drivers of regular bus services to use a tachograph to record hours worked and tightened up weekly rest requirements. These changes were intended to reduce the risk of fatigue related road accidents involving drivers of commercial vehicles and were the outcome of extensive negotiations in Europe. At that time, the Government consulted a wide range of stakeholders on the proposals and these changes were not identified as a pressing concern.

Since the Regulations came into force, the Government has received representations from bus operators that operating services under the EU rules is unattractive commercially because of the additional costs involved. Representations have also been received from bus users that services are being curtailed or withdrawn. There is also evidence that some operators have been adopting a variety of devices to artificially split longer routes into a series of shorter ones.

Departmental officials met representatives of the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) on 17 April to discuss the concerns expressed by rural bus service operators about the burdens imposed by the EU drivers' hours rules and possible solutions within the framework of the existing legislation. Criteria have been agreed for deciding whether a route is a separate route for the purposes of the 50km threshold and this should provide greater certainty for operators who wish to continue to operate outside the EU regime. The CPT also advised that some operators of longer distance routes have accepted that the EU rules should apply and are now operating under those rules.

The Government will explore any opportunities that may arise to re-examine the issue in Europe although any proposal to change the 50km threshold would require the support of a qualified majority of other member states. Other member states may have different views and there is a risk that any review of the EU regulation could result in a greater number of local bus services being brought into the EU rules.