§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement. The business for Wednesday 16 October will now be a debate on an Opposition motion described as "The Decline of the Manufacturing Economy." Business will remain as announced for the remainder of the week.
The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee A will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 16 October to consider European Community Document No. 4315/91 relating to the safe transport of workers with reduced mobility.
§ [Wednesday 16 October European Standing Committee A Relevant European Community Document 4315191 Transport of Disabled Workers Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee HC 29-xxii(1990–91)]
§ Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)
Does the Leader of the House recognise that many people in the country as well as in the House are surprised that we have not had a statement today from the Secretary of State for Health about the Government's further proposals for creeping privatisation of the national health service? [Interruption.] As the Government are so proud of their policies, I am surprised that there is any objection from the Government Benches. May we have an assurance that we shall have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health tomorrow and that the statement will not be used on Wednesday to eat into the important Opposition debate on industry, especially when, as a result of the Government's policy failures, redundancies sadly continue to take place thick and fast in our manufacturing industrial base?
§ Mr. MacGregor
We shall respond in full on manufacturing and the issue for debate on Wednesday during that debate. The hon. Gentleman suggested that there should be a statement today. There is not a statement because there are simply no charges to respond to. I noticed that the hon. Gentleman today talked about creeping privatisation. I noticed that his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on Saturday said that the Prime Ministerdenies that the Tories intend to privatise the NHS. … His record says they would. After all, they've privatised nearly everything else''.Is not that meant to convey to everyone that, as with British Gas or the National Freight Corporation, there would be a complete sale to the private sector—which, after all, is what privatisation means? That was on Saturday. Now everyone agrees that that is a complete fabrication and that the Government have never had any intention of doing that, so by Sunday it was changed to "creeping privatisation". That is meant to refer to contracting out, charges and the other reforms designed to improve the management of the national health service and to increase the resources going directly to patient care.
It is clear that the original charge was a complete fabrication and that the Labour party can no longer even pretend to wish to put it. It is now retreating and that is why there is no need for a statement today.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. May I remind hon. Members that we have two other statements today and no fewer than 38 right hon. and hon. Members seeking to participate in the first day of the defence debate? Questions should be confined to business on Wednesday.
§ Sir Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)
Following the remarks of the shadow Leader of the House, and now that the Labour party is in the process of resiling from and withdrawing the shameless and sleazy allegations that the Government intend to privatise the health service, will my right hon. Friend provide an opportunity for the Opposition to apologise to the country and to those vulnerable members of the community who have been caused needless anxiety by the wholly unjustified and inaccurate smears made by Labour politicians? The sooner they apologise, the better.
§ Mr. MacGregor
My right hon. Friend is entirely right. He is right to say that the smears were wholly unjustified and that the Labour party is retreating from them. It is important that the Labour party is honest now with the British people on these matters. It could have had an opportunity to debate them on Wednesday during the Opposition Supply day. We shall not lose any opportunity to point out the inaccuracy of the charges on creeping privatisation that Labour Members now make as a retreat from their previous quite unjustified charges.
§ Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)
Is not the answer to the question raised by the shadow Leader of the House that, if the official Opposition were that keen on having a debate on health, they could have had it on Wednesday? The whole argument is being skewed and diverted from the real problem, which is the lack of funding that is available to the national health service. When shall we have a debate on that important subject? Could the Leader of the House also say something about the date of Prorogation?
§ Mr. MacGregor
On the second point, I hope to be able to give the date of Prorogation on Thursday when I make my business statement. On the first point, if we had had a debate on the health service—I had just made the point that the hon. Gentleman makes—we would have pointed out that funding of the health service is up by over 50 per cent. in real terms and that the purpose of the NHS reforms is to ensure that that vastly increased resource is increasingly devoted directly to patient care and that services are provided as efficiently as possible. That is where the debate should be. That is what we should like to debate, as would the Liberal Democrat party, but the Labour party is diverting attention from that precisely because it has nothing to say on these issues.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
Does my right hon. Friend agree in the light of the extraordinary comments that have emanated in the past weeks from the Opposition that their refusal to select that subject for debate on Wednesday shows an inherent weakness in their case? Will he give these Benches the earliest opportunity of a debate to expose that still further?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I should be happy for my hon. Friend and all my hon. Friends to find such opportunities in the various debates and other motions in the period ahead. I am sure that when we come to the Loyal Address, for 23 example, there will be opportunities, if the charge is still being repeated, which it may well not be, to expose the case.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We have other statements. I shall allow two further questions from each side, but please confine them to the business for this week.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Will the Leader of the House arrange immediately for the Secretary of State for Scotland to come to the House and explain why he is not following the citizens charter in relation to representations being made on defence? Is the Leader of the House aware that the Minister of State, Scottish Office has refused to meet a deputation from the north-east of Scotland to discuss Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology, on the ground that such discussions would serve no useful purpose? How can that possibly be consultation?
Secondly, will the Leader of the House guarantee that there will be no statement on television franchises on Wednesday?
§ Mr. MacGregor
Yes, I can give that guarantee, because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter for the Independent Television Commission. I shall pass on his opening comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reason why the Labour party funked asking for a debate on the health service on Wednesday, in addition to those given by him and my other right hon. Friends, is that the last time it had such a debate the Labour Benches were almost completely empty?
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Is the Leader of the House aware that the Tory record is so disastrous in so many areas that there are simply not enough Opposition Supply days to keep up with them? Is he aware that we would welcome more Supply days to discuss the appalling record on the health service and the many other sectors where the Tory Government have proven so incompetent?
§ Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that he would be failing in his duty if, in the coming week, he did not provide the opportunity for the Labour spokesman to apologise not only to the House but to the lady whose husband died and whom the Labour party used in its party political broadcast against the family's wishes, and to the doctor from Bradford who accused the Labour party of dirty tricks? Does he agree that the Labour party should apologise to the people of the country, not just to the House of Commons?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I must say that there have been many recent examples of unfair, inaccurate, false smears. Such scaremongering is absolutely not in the interests of the health service or patients. It shows the bankruptcy of ideas of the Labour party.