HC Deb 20 May 1997 vol 294 cc503-4
15. Mr. Letwin

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement about his plans for the private finance initiative in the NHS. [418]

Mr. Dobson

Five years ago, the Tory Government declared their plans to get private finance to fund hospital building projects. Five years later, however—if you will excuse the expression, Madam Speaker—not a sod has been turned and not a brick has been laid.

We have introduced a Bill in the House of Lords to clear up any doubts about NHS trusts having the legal power to enter into private finance initiative commitments. Once that is through, we hope to be able to get ahead with schemes that have been held up under the previous Government. We have inherited a queue of 59 such schemes.

Mr. Letwin

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. Will he elucidate further, for those of us inexperienced in such matters in the House, whether it is merely an oversight that clause 1(5) of the Bill to which he referred clearly permits the wholesale privatisation of all clinical services or whether it is part of the new Government's radical Thatcherite agenda?

Mr. Dobson

We have made it quite clear that we shall not have clinical services involved in PFI agreements. When the Bill comes to this House from the House of Lords, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to move an amendment to make that clear, I shall consider it carefully.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell

Will my right hon. Friend look into private finance as it affects non-clinical services? My local hospital in Wansbeck is on the verge of a deal, but those working in non-clinical services are worried about their jobs, conditions and wages. Will those services be included in the so-called sell-off?

Mr. Dobson

I must make it clear to my right hon. and hon. Friends and, indeed, to everyone that it is not a sell-off: it is a method of getting private finance to build national health service hospitals which will be run by the national health service. We shall do what we can—not just through the national health service, but through other changes in employment law—to ensure that staff are protected.

Mr. Yeo

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Secretary of State. Will he now confirm that the prospects for the private finance initiative under the new Government have been largely destroyed by the ill-conceived and probably unlawful attempts of his Treasury colleagues to impose a retrospective tax on private investors in a range of essential industries?

Mr. Dobson

If the number of merchant banks that have been knocking on our doors asking us to go ahead with the private finance initiative that the last Government delayed so much is any indication, the onset of the windfall tax has not put them off: they think that they can make some money out of it and that the national health service can benefit at the same time. One would have thought that the clowns who were in office before us would have sorted things out before now.