HL Deb 28 July 1997 vol 582 cc2-5

2.38 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What responses they have received from people involved in the National Health Service and in housing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposals announced in the Budget Statement on 2nd July.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, the Government's announcement of an extra £1.2 billion for the National Health Service has been warmly welcomed. The extra money means real terms growth of 2.35 per cent. and is proof of this Government's commitment to a well funded, high quality NHS. In addition to the extra money I have described for health, the Government have announced an additional £800 million to support housing capital spending in England. Local councils have welcomed the opportunity to begin to redress years of under-investment in housing.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that most of us are extremely grateful for the actions of the Government and the rapidity of action in these two particular areas? Is it not also the case that, within a few days of the Budget taking place, another progressive announcement was made of a decision in which I believe the noble Baroness was herself involved; namely, the clinching of a deal for 14 new hospitals, ordered under the private finance initiative, in order to get matters moving? Does not the speed with which this matter was handled—the Bill having only just passed through this House—indicate a desire on the part of the present Ministers, the noble Baroness and Mr. Milburn in another place, to expedite decisions in order to fulfil commitments in the general election manifesto?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful that my noble friend recognises the speed and promptness with which we are acting to fulfil our manifesto commitments. I am grateful to him for underlining them. He draws attention to a very important initiative. The private finance initiative Bill was signed and received Royal Assent on 15th July. Several hospitals held up for many years have gone forward to have contracts signed.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that, under the previous government, the amount of money put into the National Health Service went up by more than the amount of inflation in every one of the 18 years of government? During her reply she suggested that she was building a great or good National Health Service. Would she agree that it was a damned good National Health Service under the previous government?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

No, my Lords, I am afraid that I would not agree. This Government have inherited a record debt on health authorities and health service trusts, reaching £300 million for the current year; we have also inherited waiting lists at a record high. The amount of money to which I referred in my reply is £1 billion of new money for health services in England, on top of the £775 million which had been planned. It is therefore more than double the amount that was offered under the previous administration.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is rather odd to take money out of the reserve before entering the financial year for which that reserve has been set aside? As to her litany of what she considers to be the failures of the health service, does she regard the fact that more patients than ever before were treated in the health service as a failure or a success?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, we have had to take money out of the reserve for precisely the reasons I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Archer. We have inherited a debt of £300 million. We have to act quickly to prevent patients being badly treated. When the noble Lord talks about record numbers of patients being treated, he possibly refers to a rather spurious statistic of finished consultant episodes which we look forward to trying to make more accurate.

Baroness Gardner of Parks

My Lords, can the Minister tell me the position regarding the housing money that will go through local authorities? Will it be earmarked specifically for housing or, for example, might local authorities be able to use it to meet the terms of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill? That Bill will throw a heavy burden on local authorities because it removes all reference to resources available to them.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the point of this announcement is to target additional resources on housing and housing-related regeneration schemes. They must meet local priorities and be consistent with local housing strategies. Although they would be involved in regeneration, they would not include the wider kind of programmes to which the noble Baroness refers.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, in view of the Minister's strictures about the Conservative Government, may I ask her respectfully whether she would not at least agree that when we went out of office it was in much better shape than when we came in?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

Yes, my Lords, I would agree that it was in much better shape than when we came in.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, I welcome the prospects of a general improvement in housing. Has my noble friend received any representations from the House Our Youth Campaign 2000, which seeks to attach priority to the problems of youth homelessness? If so, will she respond positively to the objective of the campaign launched in February by her right honourable colleague, Tony Blair, to erase the scandal by the year 2000?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I well remember the launch of the youth homelessness campaign, in which I, as well as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, was involved. I hope my noble friend will forgive me but, since my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick had the good judgment to put the health service in front of housing—if I may put it that way—I have been asked to reply to this Question, which covers two departmental briefs. I do not know precisely the status of the youth homelessness campaign at the moment but I am sure that it is going forward successfully.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned the debt that the Government have inherited. Is she aware that it is less than 2 per cent. of the entire budget? Would not any FTSE company be proud to have hit the budget so near?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am glad to say that the finances of the National Health Service are still in the public sector and I think that those concerns about the private market are probably irrelevant.

Noble Lords


Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the subject of the question by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is fully documented in Hansard of last week when the Housing Bill was progressed? If the noble Baroness cares to read that, she will find that a council cannot do anything it wants to with housing money under the provisions of that Bill. The position will be structured by the Government, who will keep an overall watch on it.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for making that point and for elucidating the point made by the noble Baroness. I believe that I said in my reply to her that, as I understood it, these moneys would be directed specifically towards housing and regeneration projects.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that on three separate occasions she has denied in Written Answers that the Government have any commitment to reduce the absolute level of waiting lists? Does not her criticism of our sterling performance in that regard fall rather flat as a result?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am not entirely sure to which Written Answers the noble Lord refers. I have always made clear that our manifesto commitment was to reduce the number of people waiting on elective lists for surgery by 100,000, and we certainly intend to do that within this Parliament.