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Diet (Health Aspects)

3. Ms Quin: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he last met his EU counterparts to discuss health aspects of diet. [27983]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Bowis): I last did so on 30 November at the Council of Health Ministers and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met them this morning.

Ms Quin: Are the Minister and the Secretary of State for Health among those who favour retaliation against the European Union because of the beef ban? Given that some countries have banned British beef for far longer than the European Union, can the Minister explain why Tory Euro-sceptics are not urging retaliation against those countries? Will the Minister tell us what specific proposals he and the Secretary of State have to get those other countries to lift their bans?

Mr. Bowis: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had a successful meeting with our European colleagues at the Council of Health Ministers this morning. They agreed with him that it is important to seek the facts and to base our decisions on those facts and the evidence, and that we should work together to improve understanding of the evidence. I think that the House would unite around that, and I hope that the hon. Lady will join us. We can then say clearly, in this country and elsewhere, that British beef is safe and British beef is best. Effective safeguards are in place and it is a pity that some of the hon. Lady's colleagues seem determined to undermine that confidence.

Dame Angela Rumbold: Does my hon. Friend agree that, far from encouraging our European partners to enter into discussions about diet, it would be much more profitable if some members of the press, the popular press and others who write articles about diet and encourage people to go on foolish diets, were to be co-ordinated and given better direction so that some of our young people do not embark on diets after dangerous dietary advice?

Mr. Bowis: My right hon. Friend is right. Within a domestic and European context we are seeking to encourage the fact that the right sort of diet is a balanced diet, preferably accompanied by adequate and moderate levels of exercise. That is something behind which the European Council of Health Ministers has united as we look for our health promotion programme, which exchanges evidence and information about good practice. We all need a sensible diet, not a faddy one.

Mr. Sheerman: Do we not have a lot to learn from our European counterparts about good and healthy diets? Even though the Secretary of State helped destabilise the market in beef, was not the response in Europe, America, Australia and elsewhere to draw their own conclusions and act along those lines very sensibly?

Mr. Bowis: There we go again. There goes a Labour Member doing precisely what the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) did when the problem started. In the House, she said that public confidence was "hanging by a thread", and she has since done nothing but try to cut that thread. The hon. Gentleman is doing the

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same. Happily, we are backed in our belief by the European Commissioner, by experts in this country, by our chief medical officer and by the facts and the evidence. If the hon. Gentleman looked at the facts and the evidence, he would be on our side on this issue and not with the hon. Member for Peckham.

New Drugs (Research)

4. Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to encourage research by British pharmaceutical companies into new drugs. [27984]

Mr. Malone: The pharmaceutical price regulation scheme encourages pharmaceutical companies to conduct research in Britain by allowing them to offset a significant part of research and development costs against the profits that they may make from sales to the national health service. The scheme is structured to balance fair prices for the NHS with reasonable returns for companies so that they can continue to develop new and improved drugs.

Mr. Lidington: Does my hon. Friend agree that the United Kingdom not only has a world-leading pharmaceutical industry but is acting as a magnet for investment by international pharmaceutical companies--an example of which he recently saw in my constituency? Will he assure the House that the Government will continue to pursue both pricing policies and general economic policies that will enable the pharmaceutical industry to continue to be a world leader, create new jobs and attract investment?

Mr. Malone: My hon. Friend is right that both factors encourage the pharmaceutical industry to expand and to achieve a great record of success. As he said, I was delighted to attend the opening of the refurbished headquarters and research base of Janssen-Cilag in his constituency. It is exactly the point that such a company is locating its facilities in Britain. We have an excellent record in the pharmaceutical industry, which is underpinned by the Government's policies.

Mr. Beggs: When the Minister next meets representatives of the British pharmaceutical companies, will he encourage them to locate research facilities in Northern Ireland, where the availability of highly qualified graduates has already contributed to the success of Ivex Pharmaceuticals, Norbrook Laboratories and, most recently, Randox Laboratories?

Mr. Malone: I shall certainly pass that on to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has direct responsibility for such matters. I would not be at all surprised if the pharmaceutical companies were already aware of exactly the hon. Gentleman's point. As part of the United Kingdom, I expect Northern Ireland to participate in our excellent environment for investment by pharmaceutical companies.

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Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Does my hon. Friend agree that Zeneca plc pharmaceuticals company, which is based in my constituency on two main sites that employ about 5,000 people, has the most outstanding record in research, development and marketing of drugs that greatly benefit the people of this country? Will he ensure that he continues to emphasise the importance of proprietary drugs, which enable such companies to conduct research and development, and will he discourage the merger and takeover mania that, at the end of the day, creates no benefits either for the companies or the thousands of people who are laid off and put out of work as a result?

Mr. Malone: I cannot give my hon. Friend a satisfactory answer to his last point. I certainly acknowledge Zeneca's contribution. I am pleased to be able to confirm that the pharmaceutical industry makes a remarkable contribution not only in his constituency, but in the constituencies of many hon. Members, and that pharmaceutical companies contribute to the excellent record in Britain. The UK represents only 3.5 per cent. of the world market, but accounts for 6 per cent. of world production and 8 per cent. of world research and development. That has not happened by accident; such success has been achieved by the sustained application of the Government's policies.

NHS Building Projects

5. Mr. Robathan: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much has been spent on major NHS building projects over the last four years. [27985]

7. Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many major NHS building projects have been completed since 1979. [27987]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Stephen Dorrell): The total spent on major national health service building projects over the past four years is £1.36 billion. Approximately 860 major NHS building projects were completed between 1 April 1980 and 31 March 1996.

Mr. Robathan: The House must find it puzzling to compare the picture of the national health service painted by Opposition Members with the reality of capital investment in NHS hospitals over the past four years. My right hon. Friend will know about the three excellent general hospitals in Leicestershire.

Madam Speaker: Order. I have not heard a question yet.

Mr. Robathan: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, by the time that he opens yet another new project at Leicester royal infirmary on Friday, £48 million will have been invested in that constituency alone, to the benefit of all the people of Leicestershire, including my constituents and his?

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Mr. Dorrell: My hon. Friend is right. He could also have mentioned that of the more than 800 major projects completed since 1980, one was the new Glenfield hospital in his constituency. That represented a major new investment, typical of the investment boom in the NHS over the past 15 years.

Mr. Luff: Will my right hon. Friend give me his personal assurance that he will do all that he can to add a new Worcester royal infirmary to that fine record, by facilitating the signing of contracts in the autumn? Does he agree that the staff, who at the last count had reduced to only 200 the number of people waiting for more than six months, with no one waiting more than nine months, deserve the new hospital, bearing in mind the increasing decrepitude of the current buildings?

Mr. Dorrell: My hon. Friend seeks an assurance that we shall proceed with all speed with the proper assessment of the new hospital proposal in Worcester. As he knows, I am a resident of the city of Worcester, and I remember the story of the delays in the project, which goes back more than 20 years. I am pleased to have been the Minister responsible for introducing the private finance initiative, which gives my hon. Friend's constituents the best possible assurance that the objectives and ambitions widely shared in the city for many years can at last be realised.

Mr. Barry Jones: In boasting of his billions, is the right hon. Gentleman not confessing that he has been beating up and robbing the Secretary of State for Wales? Why have we not had that type of building programme in Wales? Why cannot the wonderful Deeside community hospital in my constituency be extended? That is what we want.

Mr. Dorrell: I am sure that the investment programme has been continuing throughout the health service in the United Kingdom as a whole, and that Wales, like the rest of the kingdom, will be able to benefit from the new freedom that I have introduced into the national health service through the private finance initiative, which Labour Front-Bench spokesmen opposed. The hon. Gentleman should address the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman), who is the true enemy of investment in the NHS in Wales.

Mr. Spearing: The Secretary of State refers to the advantages of the private finance initiative, but does he not know that at the Newham general hospital, where new building is expected and required, no timetable has been set for it, precisely because of the requirements of the PFI? Why should the people providing capital for those projects inevitably have at least some part in the management of the hospital?

Mr. Dorrell: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, he is barking up a familiar tree and trying to turn history on its head. He is saying that the PFI is responsible for a delay in the capital investment programme in his constituency, yet the whole history of the national health service is a history of unwarranted delays in required capital investment. It is precisely because the PFI offers escape from that discipline and control that we so much welcome it.

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Mr. Jacques Arnold: Will my right hon. Friend emphasise the fact that that excellent hospital building programme will be accelerated by the PFI? Will he, in particular, welcome the £100 million project for the new district general hospital at Darenth park in north-west Kent?

Mr. Dorrell: I can certainly confirm that the project to which my hon. Friend refers is being assessed in the context of the PFI. I share his hope that we shall be able to move the project forward. My hon. Friend--like every other hon. Member, on both sides of the House--can have the assurance that the PFI means that, where there is a demand and a need for an investment programme to proceed, it will now proceed without the distortions and constraints that have been the history of NHS capital investment for very nearly 50 years.

Mr. Barron: Is not the truth of the matter that, in the most recent budget, the Government cut capital expenditure in the NHS by 17 per cent? Is it not also true that the Secretary of State promised the House and the country that, last year, there would be one new hospital a month? Is it not true that hospitals that the country was promised years ago have still not been delivered, and that the PFI has slowed down the building of hospitals--such as that in Swindon and that which was promised on several occasions in Norwich?

At a conference in the City last month, which was attended by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), a call was made for direct agreements to be made between PFI companies and NHS purchasers. We know what plans the Government have for the new hospital in Scotland, but we and the public want to know whether the Secretary of State will tell us that no such direct contracts will be made and that there will be no privatisation of the NHS.

Mr. Dorrell: The Government have made it abundantly clear that the PFI is not about the privatisation of clinical services. The House and the country would like to know from Labour Front Benchers what their policy is on the issue. The leader of the Labour party says that the PFI is "right in principle". The shadow health spokesman says that the PFI is "a new trick" to privatise the health service. Which of those is the Labour party's attitude--can it decide?

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