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Mr. Milburn: Yes. My hon. Friend's constituents will directly elect the governing body. If she thinks that the current structure of appointments from Whitehall, whether by a Minister or by an independent appointments commission, in any way, shape or form represents meaningful local accountability, I would be surprised. Like her, I am a democrat. I believe in the democratic principle. I am the first to admit that democracy is not always perfect in practice, but it is a pretty good principle.
John Mann (Bassetlaw): Is my right hon. Friend saying that when 35,500 of my constituents voted in a ballot in February, when all the non-executive directors were against what the local population wanted, those 35,500 people would be able to vote in their own directors if they disliked the way in which our hospital trust was going?
Mr. Milburn: I am well aware of the situation in my hon. Friend's constituency, and of the part that he played in that successful ballot in getting the hospital to change its mind about some of its proposals. That is a good thing, not a bad thing. If we are honest, every hon. Member knows that all too often in the national health servicethe public service to which the public are more attached than any otherthe way that local services have gone about public consultation has been shameful.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is genuinely interested in trying to promote greater local accountability, but will he reflect on the fact that there was a good deal of argument about community health councils, and a good deal of discussion of the new patient and public involvement forums, patient advice and liaison services and so on, and that there is a good deal of concern and confusion in some areas about how they are being introduced? There is concern that the Bill could add to the confusion about how independent patient monitoring vis-à-vis the foundation trust, not vis-à-vis the PCT, would work. Does he acknowledge that that concern is widely shared and needs more thought, if the Bill goes through tonight and proceeds to Committee?
Mr. Milburn: There is no reason why those detailed issues cannot be considered in Committee or on Report, but let me make one general point to my hon. Friend. Under these proposals, individual NHS patients and members of the communityand, what is more, local members of staffwill for the first time have the opportunity for which they have been clamouring for many years: they will have a say in how their local health service is run. We do not object to that principle for social services, so why should we object to it for health services?
Mr. Milburn: Obviously, the measures governing NHS foundation trusts apply only to England. The way in which the national health service is run in Wales is a matter for the Welsh Assembly, and rightly so. However, where there is patient movement, it is perfectly possible that patients from Wales who have been treated in English hospitals will have the opportunity to have a say, to vote and to exercise a democratic right. With public services, that must be a good principle, not a bad one.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): Does my right hon. Friend accept the fact that there are many of us on the Government Benches who, although we are minded to give the Bill a Second Reading, still have some concerns that need to be addressedspecifically, those involving unfair advantages in staff recruitment, the speed with which all hospitals will be brought up to foundation status, and the arrangements for democratic accountability? Will he give an undertaking that he will continue to address those concerns during the later stages of the Bill's progress?
Mr. Milburn: I give my hon. Friend that assurance. He and I have discussed this issue; he has spoken about his local area and I know that he has concerns because, rightly, he wants to ensure that if there are opportunities for NHS local services to be improved, that improvement should be available not just in some areas but in every area. Of course we will consider the proposals that are made and the discussion that takes place.
Jean Corston (Bristol, East): Can my right hon. Friend tell me what is in the Bill for the people whom I represent in Bristolan area of considerable inequality in healthwhen the United Bristol Healthcare NHS trust has no stars, and people in the south of Bristol, which forms part of my constituency, have been campaigning for at least 30 years for a community hospital? Will he confirm that the regulator will not have the power to top-slice the NHS investment budget, thus giving foundation trusts an undue share of the cake?
Mr. Milburn: On that specific point, I can give my hon. Friend an assurance, but, if she will allow me, I will come to that subject later; she has raised it before, and so have other hon. Members. She asked me what was in this for Bristol. Many of the other measures in the Bill, most notably the new Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection, will make a real difference, particularly in areas such as hers. She has often spoken to me about the problems in Bristol and the wider Avon area, and she knows that we try to put additional assistance in there, and that we shall make further assistance available, especially in areas such as hers, where some hospitals are struggling at the moment.
One of the great myths that sometimes pervade the debate about the national health service is that we have a one-tier health service today. We do not. Some hospitals are good, some are poor and some, sadly, need to improve. Each of them has a different starting point, so we need a different approach. It is perfectly reasonable to say that those who are doing reasonably well and have a track record of success have the ability to exercise freedom responsibly. Others, including some in my hon. Friend's area, need help and support and, where necessary, more intervention, including extra financial assistanceand that is what we plan to provide.
Mr. Jackson: The Government are going in the right direction, but there is some poetic justice here, in that the Secretary of State is being attacked in the same terms as the Labour party used to attack us when we were trying to free up the system. On reflection, does he not think that we should take that into account when we conduct our debates on this matter in the House? He is facing exactly the same charges about privatisation and two-tierism as we did.
Mr. Milburn: Support from the hon. Gentleman is about as welcome as myxomatosis in a rabbit hutchalthough I hope that it does not have the same deadly consequences. The fundamental difference between what happened then and what is happening now is that in the internal market there were no national standards, the resources were not going into the national health service, and there were not the means to improve every NHS hospital. That is what we have put in, and that is what the Bill continues to do. It is simply not the case that this is some sort of reinvention of the Conservative internal market. For reasons that I shall come to in a moment, this is not about more competition; it is about ensuring co-operation and raising standards across the whole NHS.
Mr. Hancock: What would the Secretary of State say to constituents of mine in the greater Portsmouth area whose hospital, despite the best efforts of the staff and the management, who are trying to turn round a failing situation, is still carrying forward an inherited deficit that is retarding patient care? What is in it for them, when they have been told that they cannot aspire to foundation status for at least five years? What assurances can the right hon. Gentleman give to the people of the Portsmouth area to give them the confidence that they ought to have in their health servicethe confidence that their resources will not be cut, but that resources will be put in to improve their situation?