HC Deb 13 November 1979 vol 973 cc1145-7
10. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what discussions he has had with the trade unions in the Health Service whose members are affected by cuts in public expenditure; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I have regular meetings with the TUC health services committee and with other staff organisations. As regards the constraints on health spending this year, I refer the hon. Member to what I said in the Supply day debate on 24 October.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Secretary of State aware that many trade union leaders and other people are protesting about the hospital closure programme, including Lang-with Lodge, a renowned diabetic hospital near my constituency? Will he reverse the decisions that seem to have been made and keep this and other hospitals open? Or will he, and the squalid bunch on the Conservative Benches, headed by Britain's No. 1 lady terrorist, carry on with this closure programme, inflicting death and injury on those on the nation's hospital waiting list this winter?

Mr. Jenkin

I wonder whether I might respond to the hon. Gentleman by inviting him to use his considerable energies in trying to point out to his friends in the trade union movement that there is, at first sight, some apparent inconsistency between, on the one hand, their demonstrating in the streets against what they claim to be cuts against patients, and, on the other hand, picketing hospitals.

Mr. Stanbrook

Will my right hon. Friend tell the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that the hospital closure programme was instituted by the last Government.

Mr. Jenkin

I might also point out to the hon. Member for Bolsover that if he studies table 2 in the public expenditure White Paper, published a few days ago, he will find that in the health and personal social services column and in the social security column the expenditure next year provides for an increase on the expenditure this year.

Mr. Flannery

Does not the Minister realise that the cuts in the National Health Service fall most hardly—

Mr. Robert Atkins

What cuts?

Mr. Flannery

Massive cuts, of course. The hon. Member does not even know about them. Does the Minister realise that the terrible cuts in the National Health Service have the greatest effect on the patients and on the lower-paid people who work in the Health Service? Does he not realise that the way to avoid any unnecessary strikes is to give more money to these people, just as his Government have given more money to the police and to so-called defence? Does he realise that, if more money were given to the National Health Service, it would avoid anything going wrong in the coming winter?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman cannot have understood the arguments on this issue. The Government have funded the National Health Service to the tune of an additional £250 million to pay the wage increases that we inherited. That is twice as much as the amount by which we have had to ask health authorities to trim their expenditure in order to contribute to the cost of those pay increases. That is not a cut in the National Health Service by any normal standards.

Mr. Onslow

Following up what my right hon. Friend said when he slapped down the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), can he tell us what discussions he has had with the TUC about the patients in the National Health Service, and the people who would like to be patients in the NHS, who are being denied treatment because of the squalid activities of trade unions?

Mr. Jenkin

My predecessor, the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals), discussed with representatives of staff organisations in the NHS proposals for trying to establish a disputes procedure—for instance, to solve problems such as the present problem at Charing Cross hospital. That matter was referred to the Whitley Councils. The Government are entitled to ask the councils soon to come to a conclusion on a way in which we can make these damaging local disputes a thing of the past.

Mr. Moyle

Will the right hon. Gentleman stop misleading the House on the question of public expenditure, when he knows that, for example, his plans take no account of the doubling of VAT, of the increased pressure which the cuts in the social services have thrown on to the NHS, or of the roll-on of the budget additions for 1978 and 1979 for next year? Will he dissociate himself from the statement of one of his hon. Friends that the NHS has enough money and does not need any more?

Mr. Jenkin

The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The figures quoted in table 2 of the public expenditure White Paper fully recognise the impact of VAT. They fully recognise the squeeze that he, as the former Health Minister, imposed on the NHS before he left office. The fact is that spending on the NHS next year will be about 3 per cent. above the likely outturn of spending this year. By no stretch of the imagination could that be called a cut.