HC Deb 10 July 2003 vol 408 cc1365-6
9. Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden)

What representations he has received about giving tax relief to private medical insurance payments.[124650]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown)

We estimate the Exchequer cost of full tax relief for private medical insurance to be about £1 billion— money that would be lost to the national health service.

Siobhain McDonagh

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the way to tackle waiting lists for hip and knee replacements in Mitcham and Morden is not through expensive subsidy of the private sector but by developing cutting-edge projects such as the south-west London treatment and diagnostic centre, which will open in December and, we hope, reduce waiting lists to six months?

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I know that she does a great deal in fighting for more resources for the health service in her area. It is true that, if we were to expand capacity in the private sector using policies that have been put to us, operations would cost twice as much as in the public sector. If we were to give expensive tax relief to private medical insurance, and to subsidise vouchers for private medical care, the overall cost could be in the order of £2 billion, but pensioners would still have to pay £5,000 for a hip joint operation. We consider that unfair.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

The Public Accounts Committee recently undertook detailed discussions with the Cour des Comptes in Paris on the back of a study published by the National Audit Office on international health comparisons, which showed that health care in France and Germany is far more comprehensive and effective than ours. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore adopt a third way by rejecting the ideological solutions that suggest that either a central, state-run system or an entirely privatised system is best, and follow the French and Germans in promoting new ways to encourage ordinary people to devote a greater proportion of their income to their health care?

Mr. Brown

What the hon. Gentleman, who is the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, forgets is that the French spend substantially more on health care as a whole. Even in the public sector, they spend more than is spent in the United Kingdom. It therefore seems strange that he is also putting forward the proposal that he will not support additional national health service spending here. So far as private medical insurance is concerned—[Interruption.]There seems to be a division within the Conservative party: some people will not support additional health spending, but some are now suggesting that some of their Back Benchers do support it. The shadow Chancellor said clearly today that he did not support additional health service expenditure—

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Brown

The shadow Chancellor said that very clearly today, and it will be in the Hansard record tomorrow. So far as private medical insurance and the French model of social insurance are concerned, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) also forgets that all the private medical insurance policies on offer in Britain at a rate that people might even consider exclude treatment for conditions or symptoms arising from physiological or natural causes, critical care, routine health checks, out-patient consultations and physiotherapy. In other words, people are paying substantial amounts of money for policies but not getting complete cover.