HC Deb 15 March 1983 vol 39 cc113-4
1. Mr. Haynes

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what evidence he has that privatising support services can produce expenditure savings.

6. Mr. Lofthouse

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what level of savings he expects to achieve as a result of encouraging the privatisation of support services to hospitals.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Norman Fowler)

There is the potential for substantial savings in some hospitals. Ministry of Defence experience with service hospitals suggests that for cleaning, savings ranging to 20 per cent. could be made.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Secretary of State aware that I have seen the reports and figures that he boasts about relating to the privatisation of services in the National Health Service? Is he further aware that the figures and reports that he puts forward at the Dispatch Box do not ring true when compared with the real figures? When will the Secretary of State and the Government move away from political dogma, let National Health Service workers get on with the job they were appointed to do, and stop suggesting that pockets in the private sector should be lined?

Mr. Fowler

It is a bit rich to be lectured by the hon. Gentleman on political dogma. I have no idea to which reports the hon. Gentleman is referring. If he is referring to the Ministry of Defence reports to which I referred in my answer, I can tell him that substantial savings have been made by contracting-out. Indeed, savings of up to 60 per cent. were made in one hospital.

Mr. Lofthouse

Will the Secretary of State consider purchasing some of the human kidneys that are being purchased by the private sector from the United States at a cost of £3,000 each—thereby continuing the policy that the rich shall live and the poor shall die—for those on National Health Service waiting lists who have no chance compared with patients in the private sector?

Mr. Fowler

We shall do everything possible to promote greater co-operation between the private sector and the National Health Service, because the Government wish to reduce NHS waiting lists.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if privatising support services means that more money will be available for patient care, that is a proper use of public money? I thought that the object of the National Health Service was to help those who are sick.

Mr. Fowler

I agree with my hon. Friend. The money that is saved can be used to provide more services for patients. I thought that that was what the welfare state and the National Health Service were all about.

Mr. Ennals

Will the Secretary of State confirm that ever since the National Health Service was established health authorities have been free to contract-out work, but it was found that tenders were inadequate or that the work carried out was unsatisfactory? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the only new item that he has introduced is to relieve contractors of paying VAT, at the taxpayers' expense? Will he do the same for the voluntary organisations?

Mr. Fowler

The activities of the voluntary organisations are not my responsibility. The rest of the right hon. Gentleman's question is wrong. Contracted-out expenditure rose from £135 million in 1980–81 to £160 million in 1981–82. Health authorities are showing confidence in contracted-out arrangements.

Mr. Michael Morris

On the question of savings as Tadworth is now to be run by a conglomerate of charities, will they be able to buy in services free of VAT?

Mr. Fowler

The position of charities is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and my hon. Friend will know his response to that.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is it not true that the Secretary of State can make his cowboy charters work only by relieving contractors of VAT and ensuring that they have the benefit of free office space, free telephones, free protective clothing and free laundry services? Has the right hon. Gentleman made any calculations of how much that will cost the health authorities?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Lady has made an extremely silly point. Her description of the public sector is ludicrous. Our first concern must be the interests of the patients. I would expect the Opposition to support, not attack, this policy if it provides more money for patient care.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake not to insist on a regional authority going ahead if the cost of a private sector contract is higher than the cost of having the work done by the NHS?

Mr. Fowler

I gave the hon. Lady that assurance last time. We shall not insist on health authorities taking on contracts that are more expensive just because they are in the private sector. However, the hon. Lady should recognise that the other side of that coin is that if the private sector can do it more cheaply, it should be allowed to do so.