HL Deb 02 November 1998 vol 594 cc1-3

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will publish the detailed terms of their current hospital developments being funded under the Private Finance Initiative.

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

My Lords, the Government are determined to end the secrecy and lack of information which have surrounded proposed PFI projects in the past. All National Health Service trusts are now required to publish their key Private Finance Initiative project documents, which will contain the detailed terms of the PFI scheme. NHS trusts must place these documents at specific sites locally and nationally so that they are freely accessible for viewing by the local community, patients, NHS staff and any member of the public. NHS trusts are also required to place copies of documents for schemes with a capital value of over £10 million in the Libraries of both Houses.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very positive reply, not to mention the Treasury's amazingly speedy response to my Question. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the considerable concerns about PFI: that it may be a live now, pay later solution for the taxpayer; and in particular, it may in the future lead to a squeeze on revenues and cuts in services. Will the Government's commitment to transparency extend to ensuring that in each case, where tender details are published, comparisons are given also with the cost of public sector financing so that the thin end of any very thick wedges may be seen clearly?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord but some work was going on in government even before he tabled his Question on these issues. However, the noble Lord rightly raises the issue about the proper economic appraisal of PFI projects and transparency in relation to that economic appraisal. It must be carried out by comparing on a like-by-like basis the total lifetime costs of the PFI and the public sector options. The results of that appraisal will be published with the full business case so that all can see. Ministers will approve PFI schemes only if they deliver comparable or, as is usually the case, better value for money than the public sector option.

Earl Howe

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the merits of private finance for hospital building have not always been acknowledged so warmly by her party as they are now and that until comparatively recently senior Labour spokesmen spent their whole time rubbishing the idea? Therefore, for the record, will she summarise what advantages the Government have identified in private as opposed to public financing of hospital developments?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the noble Earl, with whom I normally enjoy a very civilised relationship, tempts me to point out to him that the support of the previous government may have been large on the side of pronunciations but did not result in a single hospital being started under PFI. In our election manifesto, we said very clearly that we should break the logjam and we have done that with eight major hospital projects worth more than £0.5 billion where work has now been started on site.

However, we have made a crucial difference; that is, we have looked at and assessed the schemes put forward in terms of the health value and benefits which they bring and then have looked at the most appropriate form of financing, rather than allowing the form of financing to determine which projects reached the head of the queue, which, as I know from my own experience, was often the case in the past as regards PFI projects.

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