HL Deb 12 February 1981 vol 417 cc280-2

3.16 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government to what extent the proposals for fund-raising in the National Health Service as outlined in Circular HC/80/11th December 1980 conflict with assurances given during the Committee stage of the National Health Services Bill.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)

My Lords, there is no conflict. The circular HC(80)11 merely elaborates on the detailed uses of the primary power, as discussed in debates in Committee and at other stages of the Bill.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that she made a statement during the proceedings on the Bill, that the circular giving the general outlines of the Government's intentions would be readily available to Members? Is she further aware that I personally was not aware of the issue of the circular until I received a letter from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and, further, that it took two telephone calls and delay of a week before I received a copy, which was sent to me by special messenger? The other point is that I am involved with the League of Friends, as president, and there are many other active voluntary organisations, and the Government have said at all stages that the activities envisaged in the Bill would be of a comparatively minor character. How does this line up with something that was not stated at any stage, that there would be interest-free loans from the Government to help authorities; and, secondly, the use of professional organisers, all of which indicates large-scale efforts, when, at the moment, charity is doing a considerable amount of work and making efforts which are to the benefit of the health service?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords. I am sorry that the noble Lord should have had any delay in getting a copy of the circular which, of course, was sent to the appropriate health authorities. Should any noble Lord wish to have a copy, there are some available in the House today and I will certainly send one to anyone who would like a copy. On the other two points raised, there is no discrepancy between the information that was given when the Bill was debated and the circular that has been sent out. It is, I think, a rather elaborate term to talk about interest-free loans, when what is being suggested is that some members of health authorities may be willing to give their time to fund-raising activities. There will be no pressure put on anyone who does not want to do so, and health authorities may use some of their funds for this purpose, provided that they are all replaced at the end of the money-raising activity. This is, after all, what any voluntary organisation would do and it seems to us quite appropriate. Furthermore, if the noble Lord looks at the main circular he will see that the point about using professional fund-raisers occurs in the last sentence of paragraph 5, with suitable arrangements for that purpose. We see this activity as raising money at the margin of the health service, where a relatively small sum can make a lot of difference.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, will the noble Baroness now give an assurance to the House that there will be full consultation with charitable organisations? It is only at a very late stage that this has happened and there are still serious objections. There should have been consultation, but this happened only at the very last moment and there are still serious doubts about the effect of the Government's proposals on the activities of charitable organisations.

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords. I can confirm that my honourable friend in another place is discussing the effect of this with voluntary organisations. Of course, we will take account of the points that have been raised this afternoon.

Lord Lovell-Davis

My Lords, would not the noble Baroness the Minister agree that the amended guidelines should prohibit the use of public funds in the form of interest-free loans and the working time of public administrators to support private fund raising agencies, since this is a principle to which this House has objected successfully throughout the life of the modern Civil Service?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is being rather unrealistic about what will in fact happen on these occasions. Where an authority decides to use the powers now available—no authority has to use them if it does not want to—there could well be people who would like to give their services, or the authority could decide to make use of some of its money as a pump-priming exercise. Provided they keep, which they must do, to the law; that the money is put back so that there is no loss of money from public funds for this purpose, the effect of the exercise will be that extra money will be available for patients in the National Health Service. This must be a good thing. It is worth remembering that in the year 1979–80 as much as £20 million was raised from voluntary sources. It is not a new idea.

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