HL Deb 06 May 1982 vol 429 cc1262-5

3.24 p.m.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

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 what are their plans with regard to the disposal of the 170-bed hospital in the Barrowmore Village Settlement near Chester.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, this hospital will be surplus to NHS requirements following the opening of a new hospital in Chester later this year. The normal rules governing disposal of surplus NHS land would require that the property is disposed of on the open market for the highest possible price. However, we are conscious of the Barrowmore Village Settlement's historic interest in the hospital and my officials will be meeting the trustees shortly to discuss the situation.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Does the noble Lord appreciate the fact that this hospital was built by a small charity, the Barrowmore Village Trust, with help from the Order of St. John and the Red Cross and that they had it removed from them without compensation in 1948 and that now, because it is not wanted, they are being asked to buy it back at an inflated price? Does this not leave the noble Lord with an ugly taste in his mouth?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, that was a surprising finish to the supplementary question. I do not feel that I have a bad taste in the mouth nor, I hope, an ugly one. It is true that this hospital was taken over without compensation by the NHS under the 1946 Act, but this Government were not responsible for that Act which applied to a very great many hospitals, either taken from local authorities or from charities. As I have said, we are aware of the historic interest of the Barrowmore settlement in this hospital.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, is it not true that there is an agreed procedure which must be followed in matters of this kind as outlined by the noble Lord? Is it not desirable that we should keep to those procedures; for, otherwise, if we are going to make an exception in one case, we may have to make exceptions in others?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. If it is not possible for the Government to sell surplus properties after more modern hospitals have been built, that would very much inhibit the growth of the National Health Service—which we support as well as does any party.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it was the funds of the joint committee of St. John and the Red Cross and that they used their capital to rebuild and extend the hospital which was knocked down by a land mine in 1940? Is he further aware that they now need those buildings for sheltered workshops and to expand the craft employment which is now being done there in collaboration with the local authority? Would the Minister agree that the Government save a great deal of money when voluntary organisations work for the disabled and do work which otherwise the Government would have to do and to pay for?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

Yes, my Lords, I am aware of the background and the money spent by the settlement in repairing the hospital in 1943. We, too, are very much in favour of the development of this craft village. My right honourable friend has a duty to try to get the full market value for any properties which become surplus. The valuation placed on this property for use as a private hospital or an educational establishment is £500,000. It may be that we will not succeed in getting that sum. In that case we shall be pleased to have further discussions with the settlement with a view to making some concessionary arrangements.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, in view of the proposed use of these premises as sheltered workshops and for craft employment—which is a valuable public service at this time—should not that weigh heavily in the negotiations by way of effecting a considerable reduction in what is asked for in respect of this property, which was originally purchased with the charitable funds of the Barrowmore Village Settlement, with the help of the Red Cross and St. John? Surely there is room for a most generous approach to this matter?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord always has a persuasive way of making his point. I am sure that he would be the first to agree that, if this £500,000 could be obtained, it would be extremely valuable in enabling the local regional health authority to deal with many matters with which they should like to press forward for the benefit of NHS patients.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, but surely when the National Health Service took this over without compensation it was under an implied obligation to use what it took over without compensation for National Health purposes—that is, a hospital? If it ceases to do so, surely it is under a moral obligation to hand it back to somebody who will use it for health purposes as a hospital? To do otherwise is dishonest.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, the reason why the hospital is being closed—there has been virtually no local opposition to its closure—is because a larger, more modern hospital is being built in Chester at a cost of over£11 million. That is going to take over the job which is being done in this hospital and one or two other similar health activities in the area.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

But, my Lords, does not the Minister realise that while he says that the new hospital will take precedence over this one—which I accept—the Cheshire County Council and all the local people have no sympathy with the Government in their obdurate views on not being willing to give concessionary terms—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, pointed out—to this small charity? Is the Minister not aware that this charity and the Order of St. John and the Red Cross are doing enormous good to a small number of people? I find it quite extraordinary that there is no measure of compassion in the noble Lord's voice.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, the noble Lord is being rather difficult, is he not? First, he says I have a rather nasty, ugly, taste in my mouth and then that I have no compassion in my voice. I have no ugly taste in my mouth, I do not think—and I certainly feel thoroughly compassionate. I also think that there are two difficult choices to make here: one is the duty that the Secretary of State has to get the best possible price for surplus property; and, secondly, if he cannot get it—and I have said quite clearly, "if he cannot get it "—he will certainly consider making concessionary arrangements with this hospital. I cannot say more than that.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I fully appreciate the difficult position in which he is placed as I was in a similar position when I was on those Benches? My noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell pointed out that there were certain procedures to be gone through. Could the noble Lord advise the House whether those procedures have been gone through? Secondly, in view of the feeling of the House—and there is obviously a great deal of feeling—would he advise his right honourable friend of the strong feeling here and at least pass the message on to be a little more generous and understanding?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, of course my right honourable friend will read with great interest all that is being said today. I cannot obviously go any further than I have on this point.

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