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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, on 4th June the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, was asked by my noble friend Lord Lucas whether the Government had confidence in the ITC, which was taking crucial decisions about digital terrestrial television. The Minister's response was (how shall I put it?) somewhat
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord for his welcome. I am still trying to assemble the full import of the last sentence of his Question. The answer is that the Government have full confidence in the ITC.
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Question. Currently, we do not have any plans because the state of the development of the technology is still open. I believe that it is an extremely good suggestion and it is one that we shall take seriously and comment upon at a later stage when the technology is available.
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I was unaware of it because of late I have been more inclined to watch football than rugby. However, the consumer should always have choice. If not, the competitive bidding process is not working correctly.
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply. Will the new Labour Government honour their manifesto pledge? As I understand it, the Secretary of State for Health has said that no charges are to be ruled out. Bearing in mind that yesterday the noble Baroness told us about cancer services, can she now give a commitment that no one who is dying of cancer or who has a terminal condition will have to pay for a hospital stay or a visit from his or her GP?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I can confirm that no one will have to pay for cancer treatment. Without wishing to be discourteous, I am rather surprised that after several years as a Minister in the previous government the noble Baroness accepts the truth of media speculation. The rather frenzied speculation about NHS charges for this, that and the other is just that--unfounded speculation.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the spending review will not simply take into account charges but will deal with the whole administration of the National Health Service, its priorities, how it is run, those treatments that should be given priority and those that should not and, above all, whether real progress will be made in phasing out mixed sex wards, a matter about which I, and indeed the House, which passed a Bill to outlaw such wards in the National Health Service, are concerned?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stoddart is aware of my genuine concern about, and attention to, the question of mixed sex wards. It is part of the responsibilities we shall be looking at in the comprehensive spending review. The review is about setting priorities in the medium and long term--not just the next two years--and it will consider the matters the noble Lord has raised. Its purpose is to channel resources of the public sector towards the achievement of the manifesto promises and so advance the key principles of fairness, opportunity, employment and investment that we hope the National Health Service will always represent.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I should first declare an interest as a pensioner. Does the Minister agree that such charges as are referred to in the Question would be a tax on pensioners, because it is the elderly who use the services of the National Health Service?
Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware of opinion poll evidence that 56 per cent. of those who voted Labour at the election did so expecting that increases in taxation would result, presumably agreeing with the mistaken view of Polly Toynbee: trust them, they are liars? Under those circumstances, since the Government must inevitably disappoint nearly half their voters whatever they do about taxation, do they accept the view, which I would commend to any government, that they will not rule out prudent increases in taxation when they appear to be in the national interest?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Earl, I think, is trying to take advantage of the fact that I am a newly appointed Minister, and, as in the debate on the Queen's Speech, is inviting me to speculate about the Budget and future tax arrangements, which I am sure he will understand that even someone as green as I am is unlikely to do.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, prescription charges today are 28 times more expensive than they were in 1979. Even after allowing for inflation, they are 10 times more expensive than they were in 1979.
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, would the Minister like to confirm that it was a Labour Government who first introduced the principle of prescription charges? And is it not the case that today 80 per cent. of people are exempt from paying prescription charges and only 20 per cent. have to pay, which is a reversal of the situation before the Conservative Government came in? The Minister talked also about press speculation. Will she comment on what Mr. Dobson was quoted as saying in The Times of 14th June 1997:
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, there is nothing inconsistent with what I have said and the press speculation to which the noble Baroness referred. As she raised the subject of the situation when her government took over and our government came in, what is true is the appalling state of NHS finances today. We have inherited a service which is £300 million in debt. A record number of health authorities and health trusts are in deficit; waiting lists are at record levels; and, as was
Moved, That the promoters of the Bills which were brought from the Commons in the last Parliament but had not received the Royal Assent shall, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders or practice of this House, have leave to proceed with the said Bills in the present Session and the petitions for the Bills shall be deemed to have been deposited and all Standing Orders applicable thereto shall be deemed to have been complied with;
That, if the Bills are brought from the Commons in the present Session, the agents for the Bills shall deposit in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments a declaration, signed by the agent concerned, stating that the Bill is the same in every respect as the Bill brought from the Commons in the last Parliament;
That the proceedings on such Bills shall in the present Session of Parliament be pro forma only, in regard to every stage through which the same shall have passed in the last Parliament, and that no new fees be charged to such stages.--(The Chairman of Committees.)