THE PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

(HANSARD)

in the first session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of

HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II

FIFTH SERIES

VOLUME DXCIV

FIFTEENTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1997--98


2 Nov 1998 : Column 1

House of Lords

Monday, 2nd November 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

Hospital Building: PFI Projects

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

2 Nov 1998 : Column 2

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

2 Nov 1998 : Column 3

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.

Quarantine and Rabies

2.40 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior asked Her Majesty's Government:

    With regard to the recent report by the Advisory Group on Quarantine, Quarantine and Rabies, whether they consider it reasonable to expect that it will take up to three years to arrange adequate facilities and administrative and operational structures for the importation of dogs and cats into the United Kingdom without the requirement to undergo quarantine for six months.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoghue): My Lords, the advisory group recommended that changes to the present system of quarantine should not be introduced until an administrative and operational infrastructure was in place and thought that it might take up to three years to do this. The Government are sympathetic to the advisory group's recommendations, but have asked for comments on the report by 31st December. The Government are in the meantime looking closely at the legal, financial and practical aspects, including the timetable, and will decide on the way forward after the public consultation has ended.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, I thank the Minister for what I hope is an encouraging reply. I am sure that he will agree that the majority of people concerned with this issue very much welcome the Kennedy Report. But does he agree that because of the long-awaited risk assessment which has been undertaken, it would be realistic to open one or two admission centres now in order to admit animals which qualify and in order to gain experience of so doing?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the noble Lord is one of the country's most distinguished experts in this field. I not only listen to what he says, but also in the past I have almost always agreed with him. We are looking at the possibility of various kinds of trials. My right honourable friend in another place, in the debate last Thursday, stated that he was looking sympathetically at a number of ways in which we may conduct trials which would assist us. However, it is possible that such an approach may delay the introduction of the new system. I am sure the noble Lord would not want that, and neither would I.

Lord St. John of Bletso: My Lords, in light of the strong recommendations in the Kennedy Report and the estimate by the RSPCA that up to 1,000 pets are being smuggled into Britain every year of which barely 100 are detected by the authorities, surely if one or two

2 Nov 1998 : Column 4

ports or airports were opened to introduce the recommendations for a passport for pets, the system could be phased in far more quickly than a three-year period.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we do not know how many pets are being smuggled into the country; there are different estimates. The noble Lord's suggestion is sensible and helpful. As my right honourable friend said, we will look at all suggestions of that kind. We are currently conducting a public consultation exercise. The Government will not announce their decisions until after that consultation has been completed. I am quite open-minded on the issue. However, I can report to the House that roughly 90 per cent. of the responses received so far have been in favour of the reforms recommended by the report.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, has the Minister received information, as I have, from the Channel Tunnel and ferry operators that they already have in place facilities to start the new procedure? Given those excellent facilities, will it be possible for the Minister to explain what are the administrative and operational structures that will take three years to put in place?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we hope it will not take three years to put the scheme in place. The possibility of the Channel Tunnel was mentioned last Thursday in another place and my right honourable friend welcomed that; he said that he would look into it. However, I should make clear to the House that the introduction of the new system is not a simple operation. It involves designating ports and airports; having in place microchip facilities for identification; and introducing laboratory facilities for vaccination, confirmation and testing. We must have the facilities to look at every animal at every place of entry and the scheme is therefore quite complex, as the report says.

The Government's position is that we cannot introduce a new system that is any less protective of the public from rabies than the old system. Whatever system is introduced must protect the public and must have been tested and proven to do so. I would not wish noble Lords to underestimate that point. Whether it should or would take three years is a matter of opinion.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that, now that it has become apparent that there is no need for quarantine in the case of an animal which has been vaccinated, there will be a greater temptation for people to smuggle in animals which have been vaccinated and that in itself is a good argument for the Government making as much speed as possible in this matter?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page