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Dr. Reid: That is an interesting intervention. I believed that the hon. Gentleman was pledged to a system of patient passports, as he calls themvouchers that are equal to approximately 60 per cent. of the cost of an NHS operation. That would be given to individuals at the same time as the Conservatives would cut
Dr. Reid: The hon. Gentleman mentions Finland and the Netherlands. I like the British NHS. It has served us well. The idea of eager little Tory Front-Bench spokesmen scuttling around Finland doing a little fishing and trying to pick up an NHS that is better than ours is mind-boggling. However, the Opposition plough ahead with a plan that would mean that patients, including pensioners, have to pay up to £4,000 or £6,000 for a hip operation and £1,000 to £2,000 for a cataract operation. That is their PPPpoor pensioners paying for Tory health policy.
Dr. Fox: Our politics have reached a sad state when, rather than defending his own Bill, a Minister goes off at a tangent and starts referring to utterly untrue allegations about what the Opposition have said. What we have said is perfectly clear: we have said that patients will be entitled to free care in the NHS in their own or any other hospitals when that is what they want. Only if they themselves decide to go outside the NHS will they get some of their own tax back to help themand that is something they are denied by the present Government.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the Secretary of State responds, I should point out that Third Reading debates are designed for debate of the content of Bills. Perhaps hon. Members on both sides of the House could now do just that.
Dr. Evan Harris: One part of the Bill reconfirms the existence of dental charges. Let me ask a serious question. I accept that the Secretary of State is genuinely concerned about lack of wealth being a barrier to access. Has he reflected on a report by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux which shows that charges for health care can deter people from seeking treatment? It seems that about 750,000 people in England and Wales do not obtain their prescriptions because of the cost involved. Does the Secretary of State propose to do something about that problem of access, based on lack of funds? [Interruption.]
Dr. Reid: My hon. Friend the Minister of State says that £450 million is currently being spent on subsidising prescriptions. We introduced free eye tests for pensioners as well, of course. We have done a number of things, but we are always trying to do more for pensioners.
Dr. Reid: I shall try to avoid what you describe as red herrings on the Opposition Benches, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let me return to the principles espoused by the Bill and, indeed, the national health service.
Dr. Reid: The hon. Gentleman suggests that I talk about the Bill and not about the values and principles behind it. Let me explain this to him. When we bring a Bill to the House, we do not pluck it out of the air; we do not kneel down and adore it because it has been there for 30 years. It is based on a set of principles and a set of values. The hon. Gentleman may consider the words "values" and "principles" entirely alien to his political philosophy, but they are quite important to us. If I share them with the House and he agrees with the principle, no doubt he will find himself in the same Lobby as us.
The hon. Gentleman will recognise the first principle: that the dividing line between those who support the national health service and those who oppose it lies in the belief that health care should be provided equally to those who need it, free at the point of need. That principle has been approved by the British people for 60 years, and has been supported by them ever since. I understand that changes such as the introduction of foundation trusts are often controversial, and that we must continue the discussions to carry people with us on
Our Bill proposes, in effect, a new form of local public ownership, guaranteeing equally high-quality service to patients that is free at the point of need. It has never surprised me that when we introduce such novel forms of local public ownership we encounter resistance from the Conservatives: that is entirely in keeping with their beliefs. They oppose anything that smacks of communal or public ownership. Whatever differences we have, however, I accept that my own colleagues find that difficult. I will not hide my disappointment that some of them felt the need to join the Conservatives in the Lobbies tonight, but I hope we can continue to talk it through. Because this is a new and radical form of public ownership, there will be problems that we shall have to work out; but I genuinely believe that this is one way in which we can ensure that we revitalise the NHS in a way that is in keeping with its principles, and at the same time allow local decision-makingwhich is possible and, indeed, necessaryto meet the different needs and expectations of 60 million of our fellow countrymen.
The Secretary of State has said a lot about foundation hospitals. Although I do not agree with it, I understand why someone might want foundation hospitals in both Scotland and England, but can the Secretary of State explain why some Scottish Labour Members seem to favour foundation hospitals in England but not back in Scotland? Is that not an inconsistency?
Dr. Reid: I am sure that those who voted tonightand some Scots voted against the Bill, including the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues and some on our side, as well as Scottish Liberals, although others voted for ithold the same views whether they vote here or voice their opinions in Scotland.
Of course we believe in devolution in this House. Part of the deal, which we as a Labour Government put before the people and brought to the House, was the simple proposition that all Members are equal in terms