HC Deb 27 April 1976 vol 910 cc167-9
1. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations he has received requesting him to reconsider his policy regarding the phasing out of private pay beds.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. David Ennals)

My Department has received between 1,400 and 1,500 letters supporting or opposing our policy over the past two years.

Mr. Renton

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his new appointment. Will he confirm clearly that the overwhelming majority of those representations are against the principle of separating private medical practice from the NHS? Will he tell the House how he proposes to follow up his stated intention not to be unbending about this divisive legislation?

Mr. Ennals

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. I cannot give him the assurance that he wants. Overall, about a third of the representations were in favour of the policy and about two-thirds against. I would not say that a ratio of two to one was over whelming in that sense. Many of the representations were from organisations with very large memberships, so it was not overwhelming by any means.

As regards the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, he will just have to wait. Later in the day the House will be debating the Health Services Bill. I shall then indicate my willingness to consider all sorts of questions and my willingness, provided that we do not undermine the basic principle of the Bill, not to be unbending in Committee.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome him to his new responsibilities and wish him well? In view of what he has just said, why did he give instructions that the Bill should be given a First Reading before he had even read it?

Mr. Ennals

I did not give that instruction. I read it. In fact, I did more than that, I satisfied myself that the Bill honestly fulfilled the commitment given by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), and the former Prime Minister in the House in December. Having satisfied myself, I thought that no advantage would accrue to the House or to the health service by postponing any longer the taking of action on an issue which is dealt with very clearly in this legislation.

Mr. Grocott

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the extent to which skilled and slick pressure groups are able to make representations to Government Departments in no way makes them representative of public opinion at large? Does he agree that it would be an unwise Government who based their policies on the activities of skilled pressure groups?

Mr. Ennals

I am prepared to listen to views from whatever source they come. It would be unwise for me to start picking and choosing, saying "I shall hear these views but not those". I and my hon. Friends have to decide how much weight we attach to each of the representations, but the consultation must be fair and honest.

Sir David Renton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are many people, especially women, of modest means who want to have privacy when undergoing hospital treatment and who are prepared to save for it out of their modest means as well as paying out of taxes for others to have ordinary hospital treatment? Will he bear in mind this sincere view that is held by many people?

Mr. Ennals

It is a sincerely held view, and it can be catered for by amenity beds. One of the advantages of the phasing out of pay beds will be the increased availability of amenity beds. It would be wise to let the right hon. and learned Gentleman's constituents and others know that for a quite modest fee, they may have the opportunity of privacy, provided it does not stand in the way of someone who needs the room for more urgent medical reasons.

Mr. Speaker

We shall hear more of that later in the day.