HC Deb 18 June 1996 vol 279 cc670-2
5. Mr. Martlew

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the progress of schemes costing over £10 million using private finance. [31698]

Mr. Dorrell

The full potential of the private finance initiative is now being realised. Since the initiative started, seven schemes valued at more than £10 million each have been approved, with a total capital value of £394 million. Another 50 schemes worth between £1 million and £10 million have been approved, with a total capital value of £130 million, and 40 schemes with an estimated capital value of £1.5 billion are currently being tested for private finance.

Mr. Martlew

The Minister will be aware that we have been waiting for a new hospital in Carlisle for more than 20 years. Is he aware that, for the past two years, the private finance initiative has delayed that hospital? There are currently 556 beds in Carlisle, but the PFI scheme will reduce that number to 274. I understand that AMEC, the only bidder for the scheme, is talking about reducing the number of beds to 400. Will the Minister give us an assurance that 474 beds will be the minimum? Can he confirm that the price of the scheme is still £43 million?

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman understates the extent to which the PFI is bringing forward the hospital. It is not 20 years since the idea was first tabled—it is almost 30 years. The Cumberland infirmary project was first tabled in 1968. It is a source of considerable pride to me that the PFI is making it possible to turn that idea, of almost 30 years standing, into a firm project for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I hoped that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that. As he knows, the project design is the subject of continuing local discussions.

Mrs. Roe

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the trade union Unison vigorously opposes any use of the private finance initiative in the national health service? Does he believe that there is a link between Unison's continuing financial support for the Labour Front Bench and their attempt to claim that on the PFI they will be able to face both ways?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend raises an important point. There is no doubt where Unison stands on this issue—the doubt rests with where the Labour Front Bench stands. The Leader of the Opposition says that the PFI is right in principle and the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) says that the PFI is a new trick to privatise the health service—both propositions cannot be the Labour party's policy.

Mr. Barron

Will the Minister confirm the number of hospitals that have been approved and have signed contracts? The people of Norwich and Swindon have consistently had their new hospitals approved, but no contracts have been signed. Earlier this year, the Minister rushed legislation through the House to try to bail out the Government's PFI initiative. Yesterday, in the Financial Times, Martin Laing of the Laing Construction Group attacked the Bill. He said that he wanted more assurances and guarantees from the Government before PFI could go ahead.

The latest row that besets the Tory ranks is Edgware hospital. The services that will be lost at Edgware hospital should be transferred to Barnett, which has been delayed for the past two years because of the PFI. When will we get some common sense in the debate? When will the Government get proper private and public partnerships that look after the interests of the British people, instead of the dogma that is floating around in the debate?

Mr. Dorrell

In order to appeal to the hon. Gentleman, I will offer a sotto voce reply. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends simply have to answer the following question: are they in favour of the PFI? Introducing all kinds of questions and red herrings will not get them off the hook. Are they in favour of the Leader of the Opposition's policy or are they in favour of the shadow health spokesman's policy? It is a simple question and the Labour Front Bench has to sort it out.