HC Deb 06 December 1978 vol 959 cc1404-6
11. Mr. Corbett

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what role he plays in an advisory or consultative capacity in the provision and maintenance of adequate hospital facilities in new towns.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Guy Barnett)

I discuss particular difficulties with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services from time to time and this Department has regular contacts with the Department of Health and Social Security about problems associated with the development of health services in new towns. These liaison arrangements are supplemented by direct contact between new town development corporations and the appropriate regional and area health authorities.

Mr. Corbett

Is my hon. Friend aware that, while this liaison is going on, new towns, including Hemel Hempstead, still do not have the bricks and mortar to provide the new acute hospital facilities which are urgently needed? Will he look at the arrangements to see whether he can persuade those responsible for the development of new towns to include hospital developments at the time of building amid all else that is new and splendid in the new towns?

Mr. Barnett

I am well aware of the situation described by my hon. Friend. As he knows, I met a deputation from the Dacorum hospital action group in September, when the argument was impressively put forward. But, as he knows, the provision of hospital facilities is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I understand that proposals for the provision of facilities in the northwest district of Hertfordshire are now under consideration by my right hon. Friend and that my hon. Friend's concern is being taken fully into account.

Mr. Michael Morris

Is it not a farce that, for instance, the new town in my constituency was set up 10 years ago and that it took 10 years to get £200,000 out of the Department? Is not there now a strong argument for looking at every new town and providing proper, adequate facilities to meet what the Secretary of State called extra resources for disadvantaged persons?

Mr. Barnett

I cannot make any comment on what may or may not have happened 10 years ago. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have given some assistance from the new towns budget to make provision for the increased population that is being received by the new town in his constituency. As I emphasised, the provision of hospital resources nationwide is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, and he has to take decisions in the light of the growth of population in different areas, including new towns.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

Does my hon. Friend agree that, given that exactly the same situation obtains in Telford new town, this is a question concerning the machinery of Government? We want better planning machinery. Does he agree that it is a waste of resources to build houses to which people cannot be attracted because facilities in the area are inadequate?

Mr. Barnett

I think that my hon. Friend is being a little unfair. I should have thought that, within the area of their responsibilities, new town development corporations do remarkably well in providing adequate facilities. It would obviously not be right for the full facilities to be provided initially, though they may be planned for the stage at which the new town development is completed. Considerations of that kind presumably influence my right hon. Friend when making decisions about the time that a new district general hospital or whatever may have been planned should begin.

Mr. Hal Miller

As a result of the television programme which the Minister saw, does he agree that the lack of health facilities is the main preoccupation of the people of Redditch? Can he tell us what has happened to the working party made up from his Department and that of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, which the then Minister of State for Health, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), told me he was establishing to remedy the problem that new towns are established without adequate health facilities, be they casualty services, health centres or hospitals, as in Redditch?

Mr. Barnett

I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer here and now, but I shall write to him on the matter that he has raised.