HC Deb 23 March 1993 vol 221 cc757-8
11. Mr. McAvoy

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans she has to introduce charges for NHS hospital patients.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

There are no such plans.

Mr. McAvoy

The Secretary of State must be well aware that her Government briefed the media earlier this month that they were considering the introduction of charges such as those mentioned in my question. What assurance can the Secretary of State give the House that NHS charges for hospital patients will not be introduced? Or will that promise go the same way as the Prime Minister's promise not to introduce value added tax on domestic fuel?

Mrs. Bottomley

That is rich coming from the Labour party, which never comes clean on anything. No one yet knows where the Labour party stands on prescription charges. No one knows where it stands on sight charges. I have made the position quite clear. When it comes to manifestos, we remember that the Labour party said in its 1974 manifesto that it would cut spending on the health service, cut nurses' pay and cut doctors' pay. We have made our commitment to the health service clear. More patients now benefit from free prescriptions. The health service will continue to remain available to all, regardless of ability to pay.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that the rumour put about by the Labour party that NHS trust hospitals meant that those hospitals would move out of the NHS and would have to have charges was totally false? During her visit to Dorset this Friday, will she pick on any one of the hospitals in that county to visit, because she will find that every single one is an NHS trust which has no charges whatsoever in it?

Mrs. Bottomley

I look forward to my visit to Dorset. I can confirm my hon. Friend's remarks. The idea of national health service trusts opting out of the health service and charging for services is completely ridiculous. It is the case that in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, and Portugal and New Zealand people are charged for hospital care. The British health service will remain available to all, regardless of means.

Mr. Blunkett

As the much-vaunted Cabinet health committee did not meet and has not considered the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel bills and its impact on the housebound, the elderly and children, how can we possibly believe any of the words used by the Secretary of State for Health who, clearly, has no impact on, or power over, the decisions of her Cabinet colleagues? How can we believe a single pledge from the Tory party's manifesto or the promises given by Conservative Members, in view of what they have done to those most in need by the imposition of that tax on fuel bills?

Mrs. Bottomley

It is positively bizarre that the hon. Gentleman has tried to steer the conversation away from health. Clearly, it is because Opposition Members have no health policy. We have been waiting almost a year for a health statement from the Labour party. I imagine that the delay is because the home policy committee of the Labour party, chaired by Tom Sawyer, has not yet consulted its trade union members on what the health policy might be.

All that I know is that we have delivered and beaten our commitments on health. Waiting times are down and services have been developed and we will continue to do just that.