HL Deb 25 July 1994 vol 557 cc515-7

Baroness Jay of Paddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they expect to announce their decisions on the future of the Health Education Authority.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, the Government's decision will be announced once we have completed our consideration of the report of the review of the Health Education Authority carried out by Mr. John Lee and his team.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that while the delay continues much of the work of the Health Education Authority is being paralysed? I know that there are several views in the House about the nature of the work of the authority. However, does the Minister agree that it is very unfortunate that while the report remains unpublished, many very well-established organisations—for example, the Family Planning Association—are having great difficulty continuing their very important public work? Surely it is time for some kind of decision to be taken.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, we want to reach a decision as soon as possible. In the meantime, the Health Education Authority is taking forward The Health of the Nation strategy. The authority is represented on all the key area working groups and task forces and much of its activity is linked to the strategy. For example, it is running a national public education campaign on skin cancer and is taking the lead in the implementation of Health at Work in the NHS programme on behalf of the NHS executive.

Lord Rea

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Health Education Authority spends some £5 million to £6 million a year persuading people not to smoke and helping smokers to give up the habit, thus helping to achieve the aims stated by the Government in their White Paper The Health of the Nation? Would that task not be much easier if considerably more than 10 times that amount were not being spent by the tobacco industry with precisely the opposite aim in view, namely to attract people to smoking? At the next parliamentary opportunity, will the Government allow their Back-Benchers a free vote on the question of banning tobacco advertising?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the House examined that subject in great detail during consideration of the criminal justice Bill. Noble Lords made their views quite plain. The Government have set aside £12 million for a campaign to reduce smoking over the next three years.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, whatever happens to the Health Education Authority, will the Minister encourage better co-operation and communication with voluntary bodies, some of which are concerned that their views have not been taken into consideration?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. We have to work with voluntary organisations and other non-governmental organisations. Indeed, the Health Education Authority has tried to do that. It is a difficult area. We would ensure that, whatever the future holds, any new organisation with responsibility for promoting health and preventing disease follows that line.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Health Education Authority has had great success in a very wide range of areas: for instance, in bringing to public notice the risks of sunbathing; in persuading parents to get their children immunised against all the childhood diseases; in getting information to the public about the new HIV vaccine so that 92 per cent. of new-born babies have that vaccine within six weeks; and in publishing the best book on pregnancy available, possessed by eight out of 10 new mothers?

Baroness Cumberlege

Yes, my Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. I take this opportunity of thanking her and other non-executive members of the HEA for the work that they do. The HEA has had some notable successes. My noble friend has outlined some of them.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, will the Minister accept that we welcome the fact that the report is to be published? Will it be published during, or after, the Recess? Does she recall that the whole issue in relation to the HEA arose as the result of the publication of an alleged sex education booklet? A very similar publication is being advertised as "the book the Government tried to ban." Will those matters be dealt with in the report?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, over the past fortnight I have been aware of the issues surrounding job insecurity. I would wish that the HEA staff have their futures resolved as soon as possible. We shall wish to make an announcement as quickly as we can. I appreciate the implications of doing so during the Recess. However, if the right decision is to go ahead, we would want to do so. As to the sex material issued with the support of the HEA, we have had some very long and detailed debates on those issues. I do not wish to go into them again today.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that what she has said in answer to all the questions is hardly what one would call a ringing endorsement of confidence in the HEA? If the Government intend to abolish the authority, why do they not just say so?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, we review all organisations within the National Health Service from time to time. This organisation has been reviewed. The results of that review will be made known to your Lordships as soon as possible.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, if change is contemplated in the future of the HEA, will the Minister consider consultation with all the health service organisations with which she has good relations at the moment?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot help the noble Lord by telling him exactly what is in the report. All I can say is that the review has been undertaken and that we shall make the results known as soon as possible.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many people believe that the Health Education Authority has been far too busy lecturing and hectoring people over a long period of time and at great expense? If the authority is retained, will she ensure that its members are not politically correct "yes" men and women but people who are prepared to challenge some of the rubbish that it puts out?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, there has been concern, I believe, that on some controversial publications the authority was not consulted. That is what prompted the action taken by Ministers in withdrawing The Pocket Guide to Sex.

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