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The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is sometimes

mind-bogglingly silly. On the points in the first part of his question, I suggest that he refers to Sir Robin Butler's report. On his latter points, he should refer to the answer that I have several times given to his hon. Friends and which he has not yet taken in.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton): For the avoidance of doubt, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the standing committee will examine and explore the substantial sums that pass from trade unions to Labour Members year in and year out, and no doubt the substantial favours that are required in return?

The Prime Minister: That is not specifically included in the remit, and I am not sure without a careful examination of the remit whether it would fall within it. But, of course, if people wish to volunteer that, it is a matter for them.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): The Prime Minister has suggested that no records are kept of the political affiliations of quango appointees. Is he aware of the existence of the Public Appointments Unit, which has nine full-time and two part-time staff investigating the backgrounds of appointees? Is he also aware that the Public Appointments Unit registers 10 different categories of information with the Data Protection Board? In the course of the inquiry, will he ensure that the criteria used for those 10 different categories of information about prospective appointees to public office are placed in the public domain?

The Prime Minister: Let me take, for example, the question of health service appointments, as I think, from memory, that that was the one I referred to earlier. No central record is kept there of the political affiliations of the people who are appointed. On the hon. Gentleman's logic, many of the people who are invited have high-profile positions. But hundreds more do not--they just have a commitment to public service. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect. Is he really suggesting that one should engage in a series of questions to all the people

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there as to what their political affiliations might be? What is the question to be, "Are you, or have you ever been, a Conservative?"--is that the sort of society that the hon. Gentleman wants?

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West): In welcoming the Prime Minister's statement today, will he ask the Lord in Ordinary when he comes to looking at patronage and the abuse of it to examine carefully the record of the last Labour Government, and in particular the resignation honours list of one Prime Minister and the appointment of a son-in-law to the ambassador to Washington by another Labour Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister: I seem to recall that, when the last Labour Government were in power--admittedly, a long time ago--there was a great fuss about the number of Labour appointees to bodies of one sort or another, particularly those that became known as quangos. There is no doubt at all that that was certainly the case at the time. Anybody who has served on a local school governing body with a Labour-controlled education authority will know very well precisely what Labour authorities have done so frequently to Conservative Governments--

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): And Conservatives.

The Prime Minister: "And Conservatives," says the hon. Gentleman, so he concedes that that is what Labour authorities do. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman makes my point for me.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): Can the Prime Minister repeat his assurance that the inquiry will report within six months? Some of us can remember that, in October 1989, the Home Secretary and the Attorney- General came to the House and announced an inquiry into the Guildford and Woolwich cases. That inquiry was dragged out, and every conceivable excuse was used to drag it out, for the next five years, until most people had forgotten the origins of the inquiry in the first place. We do not want to see that happen in this case.

The Prime Minister: The timetable for the inquiry will not be in my hands. I have said that I hope the inquiry will be able to report, at least on the substantive part of its work, within six months, but that is a matter for Lord Nolan, the chairman, and the members of the inquiry, one of whom--a senior member--will be appointed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and another by the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Liberal party.

The timetable will not be in the hands of the Government in any sense. I have expressed the hope that it can be done within six months, and I believe that the chairman and the committee will seek to meet that target, but I can offer the hon. Gentleman no guarantees, for it is not within my control.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will accept that one of the background elements in the whole matter is the speed with which the role of Members of Parliament and the expectations of them of their constituents are changing, and the way in which the relationship between this place, the

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Government the European Union and, indeed, the public service in our country is changing. Will he at least give us the assurance that he will think very carefully about also setting up an inquiry into the best way of equipping this great House of Commons to take the country into the 21st century, in light of the way in which so much is changing so quickly?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right about the changing demands on Members of Parliament. Members who have served in the House for more than a few years will acknowledge that difficulty from their own practical experience. There is no doubt that the much greater availability of Members of Parliament and their much greater visibility through a much higher level of media interest than ever before has added to their work load, so I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend has to say. However, that is predominantly a matter for the House itself rather than specifically a matter for me, although I have much sympathy with my hon. Friend's underlying proposition.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North): Will Prime Minister confirm that the two Ministers who have resigned did so apparently on the narrow point they had not declared items in the Register of Members' Interests? Will he accept that the issue is much more serious than that? Will he therefore reject the notion that, just because something is in the Register of Members' Interests, it is all right to do it?

Will the Prime Minister also make it clear that the whole purpose of the inquiry is to look way beyond whether we have a Register of Members' Interests or whether people declare what is in it, to the real prospects of trying to find out how to bring back to the country the honour that the House has so long deserved?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman's first proposition was wrong, of course. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) certainly resigned because he did not delare something in the Register of Members' Interests. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) has resigned not on those grounds, but on the grounds that more allegations, as yet unsubstantiated and unexamined, have been made, and on that basis it is clearly difficult for him to continue with his present responsibilities as Ministers for Corporate Affairs. For that reason, he has left the Government. Nothing as yet has been proved against my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton. Of course there are wider concerns. It is precisely to allay them that I have set up a mechanism which I hope will, when it has reported and is operating, show beyond doubt that many of the wilder allegations and tittle-tattle that have appeared recently have no basis and are, indeed, nonsense. Once the procedures are in place, much of the feeding frenzy that we have seen from time to time over recent years and weeks will be seen to be the utter nonsense that so much of it is.

Several hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker: Order. We shall now move on to the next business.

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Former Cabinet Ministers and Public Officials (Interests)

Mr. David Winnick presented a Bill to prohibit former Cabinet Ministers, senior civil servants and senior officials of public departments and public bodies from accepting employment from a company which was privatised when they held office or which had a commercial or contractual relationship with a department or body for which or in which they exercised a relevant function: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. [Bill 164.]


Madam Speaker: With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to statutory instruments.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Weights and Measures

That the draft Weights and Measures Act 1985 (Metrication) (Amendment) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

That the draft Weights and Measures (Metrication) (Miscellaneous Goods) (Amendment) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

That the draft Units of Measurement Regulations 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

Question agreed to.

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Drug Education

4.20 pm

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to deal with drug education.

This is a wide subject, and I want to concentrate on one aspect--solvent abuse. More radical steps must be taken to save our children from solvent abuse than those proposed by the Government's Green Paper "Tackling Drugs Together". At present, it is not unlawful to sniff solvents. However, we should note that two schoolchildren die every week from solvent abuse, and many more damage themselves. Solvent-based products are cheap and available, and can be bought with pocket money. Many children graduate to soft drugs. Far too many end up in gaol after decades of drug addiction fed by crime. We must take a critical look at what is happening behind our backs. It is estimated that 750,000 of our children have tried sniffing solvents, thereby putting their lives at risk. There is not a quiet, pleasant neighbourhood in the country left untouched by children experimenting with solvents. The youngest reported was only seven years old; the youngest to die was just nine.

After road accidents, solvent abuse is the second highest unnatural cause of death among people aged 10 to 16. Even in my

constituency--leafy, pleasant and stable Sutton--the practice of solvent abuse is far more widespread than parents and teachers could ever imagine. It is not just an inner-city problem; it is a national curse affecting normal, decent families.

Indeed, it was not until I began to make inquiries among teenagers that I saw for myself the urgency of the problem. With the help of the charity Youth Awareness Programme--YAP--which is run by young people in Sutton to counter drug and solvent abuse, I have managed to get an inside view. Their experiences are backed by another charity, Re-Solv, which is a specialist in solvent abuse.

What I heard was highly disturbing. There is barely a family in Sutton where one child has not experimented with solvents. It is all too easy. Every household has at least 30 domestic products that can be turned to improper use, ranging from aerosols, such as hair sprays, to cigarette lighter refills. Worse, children have no idea how lethal they can be. The number of youngsters who die at first attempt is shocking.

Let us take the case of Jane--it is not her real name--who is aged 14. She attends a popular, well-managed local school which, on the face of it, would not have any such problems. However, Jane says otherwise. Peer group pressure is powerful, and solvent sniffing is widespread. She says, "We are doing it at the back of the class and the teachers don't notice. My first experience was with marker pens. You can get a good buzz from them."

Girls are being increasingly influenced by boys, who are now being introduced into the school. They graduate from marker pens to more powerful solvents. Sniffing then takes place outside school--down a quiet lane or even at home. Jane has now become a voluntary youth worker trying to stop her friends from using drugs. Their response is discouraging. They tell her, "We know what we're doing. Sniffing doesn't do any harm."

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Richard--again, not his real name--aged 15, is trying to do the same at his school and youth club. He said, "They are all doing it, and have been experimenting for years. It is difficult to get them to listen to me."

Olivia, now 18, who attended a Roman Catholic school, told me, "I started at school on solvents before moving on to drugs. It was so easy. It began with, Let's have a go on Tipp-Ex.' I started sniffing. I had head-thumping experiences and carried on. It gave me a lift. I liked it."

Then Olivia told me how they learned to get an even better sensation by drinking alcohol at the same time--beer or cider, both of which are affordable. She added, "The truth is, none of us had any idea that by breathing aerosol cans through the sleeves of our sweaters and directly into our mouths we could freeze our lungs and die. I saw it as an easy way to get a high and as an escape from everyday problems."

My teenagers then listed the most popular products they use. After aerosol- driven products come glues, drycleaning fluids, lighter and correcting fluids, not to mention butane gas, used in cigarette lighters and refill canisters. The latter is particularly lethal, and is the single cause of the greater number of deaths.

I congratulate the Government on their proposal to educate children in primary schools on such dangers, but much more needs to be done. Industry has a major responsibility, too, and must be educated to respond. It is, after all, its dangerous substances which cause the damage. Industries should be obliged by law to put a warning label on products that could be misused. I congratulate the British Aerosol Manufacturers Association on taking a lead in issuing guidelines. They must now become statutory.

In turn, the bona fide customer needs to be educated to buy non-solvent- based products. Industry must move to non-solvent-based products wherever possible, and grants for research into substitutes should be provided. The Government must make grants available for research and development into alternative butane-free propellants. In any case, pressure and incentives should be applied to manufacturers to use pump-action cans. Why not subject dangerous aerosols to excise duty, following the principle of paying less for green petrol? The Government should consider strengthening the existing Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985 by establishing an enforcement agency. Pitifully few prosecutions have resulted so far. Retailers must be educated about solvent-based products. Only 43 per cent. of shopkeepers even know which products can be abused. Every retailer must question and refuse to sell to a child who suddenly buys half a dozen aerosol cans. At the same time, he must be suspicious if there is a sudden and unexplained request for plastic bags which are used to enhance sniffing. If in doubt, do not sell. Make it tough to buy solvent-related products. There should be a ban on all sales of butane gas lighter refills to those under 16 years old. Finally, we should strengthen the Children Act 1989, giving social workers power to take action with young people at risk from sniffing solvents.

I trust that my Bill will have support from both sides of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

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Bill ordered to be brought in by Lady Olga Maitland, Sir Malcolm Thornton, Sir David Mitchell, Mr. Neville Trotter, Mr. Michael Alison, Mr. Michael Shersby, Mr. David Hanson, Mr. David Amess, Mr. Jonathan Evans, Mr. David Porter, Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and Mr. Michael Stephen.

Drug Education

Lady Olga Maitland accordingly presented a Bill to deal with drug education: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 28 October, and to be printed. [Bill 165.]

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Opposition Day

[19th Allotted Day]

The National Health Service

Madam Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.28 pm

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South): I beg to move,

That this House shares the public alarm at the creeping privatisation of the National Health Service, accompanied as it is by lower accountability to the public, and a diversion of resources into increasing bureaucracy at the expense of patient care.

The national health service holds a unique place in the life and affections of the people of Britain. There could be no more eloquent testimony to its uniqueness and importance than the lip service paid even by the former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher--to whom the socialist principles on which the health service are based were and are anathema--or the caution shown by her successor, who claimed only a few days ago in Bournemouth that the health service will not be damaged or privatised,

"not while I live and breathe."

Fine words, which we are told express good intentions--but we, like the people of Britain, do not give that for the Prime Minister's intentions. Of concern to us is the calamitous effect of his policies, which are producing a two-tier health service with an increasing role for ability to pay, driving us stealthily but steadily towards a privatised health service with diminished public accountability for huge sums of public money, and causing an enormous increase in bureaucracy.

At the outset, I pay tribute to those people who continue, despite the obstacles placed in their way by the Government's gross incompetence, to make our health service work and who strive daily to deliver high standards of patient care. I refer to the staff of the national health service. The Secretary of State, like her Government colleagues, has adopted the dishonest practice of attempting to pretend that any criticism of her or of Government policy is criticism of the health service itself or of its staff. Let us get that out of the way for a start. The staff of the health service are wonderful--the Government are appalling.

The health service remains a service with huge achievements to its credit. It is one within which public servants struggle to do the job for which they were trained, no matter how difficult the Government make it. Those achievements are maintained despite Government policy, not because of it.

The Secretary of State continues to insist that her so-called reforms are delivering the goods. I remind her of the words of the chair of the British Medical Association at its conference in July: "There is no longer one national health service."

That is despite the promises that the Government have repeatedly made to the British people. The chair continued:

"There are 100 purchasing consortia and 400 provider units, each with its own self-serving view of its best interests."

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Despite the Secretary of State's claimed confidence in the changes that she has brought about, she has been deeply reluctant to debate them in the House. The Government last initiated a health service debate in November 1991, when the right hon. Lady's predecessor was in charge. The current Secretary of State for Health, who has held that office since the last general election, has never once volunteered to discuss her relentlessly continual reforms--her permanent revolution--with right hon. and hon. Members.

Not only has there been little debate, but there has been no independent evaluation or research into the impact of Government reforms. Ministers are often pleased to quote the OECD report published earlier this year, but even they have admitted that it relies on assumptions and figures supplied by the Department of Health and can in no way be described as independent. We await with interest the Audit Commission report due next year. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State is charging ahead with further changes and initiatives well before that report appears.

Major transformation in the nation's health service is taking place without proper consideration and debate in the House, and without full and proper evaluation even of changes made so far, let alone with full prior consideration of the latest ideas being floated--the application of performance-related pay or local pay bargaining. We are also kept ignorant of the real costs.

In March 1993, we were told that the cost of changes up to that time was £1.2 billion. That was enough, had it been differently spent, to fund up to 1,000 new health centres across Britain or almost to clear the health service's waiting lists. But, since March 1993, there has been silence from the Secretary of State on the cost to the health service of this "permanent revolution". We have managed to squeeze out the news that some £37 million, in total, has been spent on minor consequences of change; such matters as logos, changing note paper and so on. Although that much smaller sum has been spent on the minor consequences of change, it is, of course, the kind of sum that the Government have found for attacking the waiting lists, which are of so much more value to patients.

The first effect of the Government's changes, whatever their cost, is the commercialisation of the health service--the slippery slope to overall privatisation--and not only that commercialisation, but the stealthy increase in private provision itself. I am aware that the Conservative party dislikes the use of the word "privatisation" in the context of the national health service, although it seems to revel it in everywhere else. I am even more aware that, in the course of the debate, some Conservative Members may chide me for daring to use the word in the light of the Prime Minister's assurance that the health service will not be privatised while he lives and breathes. Let me, for the fullness of information, quote what the chairman of the British Medical Association said last week at a meeting of the Caledonian Society. He said:

"I was delighted by the Prime Minister's assurance in his Party Conference speech that the Government is not going to privatise the NHS . . . I am, nevertheless, somewhat bewildered because the fact is that the NHS is already being privatised."

He goes on to give the example of the first privatisation of clinical support services in the Lister laboratories. That privatisation is causing serious alarm across the health service because it means the privatisation of pathology services, which are so crucial to the provision of a universal national health service.

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By the way, I would not like the House to miss the fact that this passage about privatisation--again, I am quoting the words of the head of the BMA--concluded:

"I am driven to the sad conclusion, therefore, that the Prime Minister does not know what is going on or that he is not in control of the situation."

Is the Secretary of State--I wonder--in control of the situation? If she tells us that the health service is not being privatised, she, too, will be subject to the charge that she does not know what is going on.

The number of private beds has risen by two thirds since 1980, while national health service beds have been reduced by a third. That is not a question only of changes in medical techniques, which, I know, is the usual excuse that the Government trot out when we talk about the reduction in the number of beds; it is a shift in the pattern of provision in which the number of national health service beds is being reduced and the number of private beds is increasing. One hundred thousand private patients are now seen in the national health service, mostly in private bed units in trust hospitals--an increase of 12 per cent. over one year. Laings review of private health care makes it plain that almost 19 per cent. of all United Kingdom hospital-based health care is now provided by private hospitals and nursing homes, whereas in 1984 only 7.5 per cent. of hospital-based health care was so provided.

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon): Does the right hon. Lady accept that the number of beds in the national health service has gone down at a rate of--roughly--10 per cent. over the past 10 years, which merely reflects different patterns of treatment and more surgery being done on a day-case basis? Is not it dangerous for her and her colleagues to put out an alarmist story about beds disappearing when, in fact, that is totally inconsistent with today's medical needs?

Mrs. Beckett: I know that the hon. Gentleman has made that intervention in previous debates and I am afraid that I think that he might --if I may say so with deep respect--have been on automatic pilot. If he had listened carefully, he would have heard me saying that my point was not simply that there had been a reduction in health service beds, because I recognise, despite the fact that we would argue with him to what extent that has been part of the problem, that there have been changes in medical care--the point that he was making. I was making a different point, not one with which he is quite so familiar, which is that while the number of national health service beds is decreasing, for whatever reason, the number of private sector beds is going up.

A survey carried out by The Observer newspaper and Denplan, a private dental scheme, shows that, in dentistry, 77 per cent. of those dentists surveyed thought that within five years they would treat no national health service patients.

I hear the Minister of State muttering, "Here we go again: we have heard that before." Yes, we have heard it before. I receive complaints at my advice bureaux--I should think that the Minister receives them at his; if not, I hope that people will listen and then turn up--from people who are very worried because they do not think that they will be able to get NHS treatment for their dental

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needs in the future. They find that very alarming and they do not like the fact that the Government are presiding over such a reduction in health service care.

Perhaps most telling of all, within the private sector the share provided by charitable hospitals has fallen from 57 per cent. to 37 per cent. since 1980, while the share provided by hospitals run for profit--run explicitly as businesses to make money--has grown from 42.5 per cent. to 63 per cent.

In August this year, Peter Griffiths, an advocate of the Government's so- called reforms--a former deputy director of the NHS executive, I believe-- was more forthcoming than some Ministers have been about the future as they see it. He made it clear that, in his view, the move by many of our existing institutions from state trust status to, in effect, the status of private health care providers was an inexorable development of existing policy.

Then there is the evidence leaked to The Sunday Times in August, and not so far refuted--although perhaps it will be refuted during the debate--that American health care companies are engaged in secret talks with the Government with the aim of taking over parts of the national health service. The Minister of State, I believe, has confirmed to The Sunday Times that several American concerns are trying to secure a foothold in Britain, and doctors and academics have already expressed the fear that the managers of the world's most expensive medical system may end up dictating the price of health treatment in Britain.

The hospitals that--it is suggested--have been targeted are the Royal Marsden in London, with its worldwide reputation for cancer treatment, and the Christie in Manchester, which is similarly famous and valued. As I have said, despite those strong rumours we have as yet heard no denial from the Government that such talks are taking place and I see no evidence that anyone is volunteering to give me such a denial today.

Across the board in the health service, we are seeing the commercialisation of a great public service. As research commissioned recently by the GMB union shows, there is no clearer evidence of that commercialisation than the composition of the trust boards appointed by, or in concert with, the Secretary of State. A study of the expertise and backgrounds of those appointed to the boards shows that they are overwhelmingly representative of Conservative interests. One third are directors of private companies--or 25 per cent. in some cases. Others are solicitors and accountants; only a tiny percentage have medical expertise, or expertise in the national health service. Moreover--as was mentioned here earlier today--66 of the trusts are chaired either by a Conservative or by someone connected with a company that has made a donation to the Conservative party. The party, and Tory front organisations, have been given nearly £2 million by companies whose directors were appointed by the Secretary of State and now sit on NHS trusts. Some trusts, for example, are tarred with the brush of a company-- Tarmac--whose interests and expertise have nothing to do with health, but are in construction and road building; although, by coincidence, it is the company which gave £413,500 to the Conservative party between 1979 and 1992.

Tarmac is well represented on the NHS trusts. Brian Baker, chairman of a trust in the west midlands, was the managing director of the company until last year; Lord

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Stafford, from another division of Tarmac, is a director of the mental health foundation of the mid-Staffordshire trust.

I must concede that Sun Alliance has an interest in people's growing insecurity about the future of our health service, and in its disintegration. Its former chief executive, a Mr. Addison, is a director of Croydon community trust. Sun Alliance has given a total of £478,000 to the Conservative party. George Kennedy, a director of Kent and Canterbury hospitals trust, was chairman of a division of Smiths Industries. It has donated more than £100,000 to the Tory party. The largest corporate donor to that party, United Biscuits, is represented on the board of the Great Ormond Street hospital for sick children by its chairman, Sir Robert Clarke.

Hon. Members who have retired from the House or from the European Parliament, or who may be active in the House of Lords, can often be assured of a place on one of the Secretary of State's NHS trusts. The beneficiaries of her patronage include Sir Timothy Raison, Sir Robert McCrindle, Lord Jenkin--a former Conservative Health Secretary--Lord Hayhoe, Baroness Cox, Maureen Hicks, Tony Favell and Lord Wade. Only yesterday, I heard that the former Member of the European Parliament for Lancashire, Central--a Mr. Michael Welsh, who presumably lost his seat as recently as June--is now to chair the Chorley and South Ribble NHS trust.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett: I shall be pleased to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Rowe: I thank the right hon. Lady. The tenor of her arguments suggests--

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley): Only a tenner? You are cheap!

Mr. Rowe: I understand the attraction of apparent illiteracy to certain hon. Members, but it is a pity that they do not understand plain English.

The right hon. Lady's argument suggests that, were she or any of her Front- Bench colleagues to lose their seats at an election, they should not be given any jobs in which their expertise and experience could conceivably be of any public value. Is that really what she means?

Mrs. Beckett: I do not intend to be drawn into that argument. Let me merely observe that I have lost my seat in the past, and no member of the Conservative Government offered me anything. The hon. Gentleman's assumption that we apply the same standards as the Government is not borne out, certainly by my experience.

The hon. Gentleman made a similar point the last time these issues were debated, and I understand from what he has said that his wife has health service expertise. I have no quarrel with people whose political persuasions are different from my own--people across the board, indeed--who have expertise, knowledge and experience that could be valuable to the health service, and who are given positions on NHS trusts. I must tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that anyone who scrutinises the information that has

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been dragged out of the Government piece by piece will not get the impression that the community, in its broadest sense, could conceivably be said to be represented.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley): If the right hon. Lady really wants more of her supporters to join NHS trusts, the best thing that she can do is say that she supports those trusts. Will she take the opportunity today to acknowledge that trusts are working and are good for patients? Will she encourage her supporters, and congratulate them on the good work that they are doing in the trusts?

Mrs. Beckett: That was an interesting intervention. I know that the Secretary of State has made that point repeatedly in the past. She knows that we oppose NHS trusts; nevertheless, while they exist we want them to work in the way that gives the best value to the community.

I am interested to note that the Secretary of State's definition of a person who is fit to serve on the boards of trusts is someone who agrees with her. That is apparent in their membership. Our information is inevitably somewhat anecdotal, because the Government do not publish proper information about the qualifications of those on the bodies concerned. However, I know of many Conservatives with years of experience, much expertise and a record of serious service to the NHS, all of whom have been swept out of sight in those bodies because their devotion to the NHS might outweigh their devotion to the Conservative party, and because they will not do precisely what the Secretary of State says.

What the right hon. Lady has said is very revealing. Yes, making the trusts broadly publicly representative will mean including members of other parties, but it should also mean including people of different shades of opinion from the Secretary of State, who tell the truth about what is happening in the NHS rather than slavishly repeating whatever she says.

The hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) has a particular interest in these matters, but the spouses of other Conservative Members have been given positions on hospital trusts. They include the husband of the Secretary of State for Education, the wife of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), the wife of the right hon. Member for Woking (Sir C. Onslow), the wife of the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) and the wife of the hon. Member for Reigate (Sir G. Gardiner). As I have said, that is just the information that is available to us now.

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