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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course Her Majesty's Government wish to see the BBC World Service remain intact and listened to as widely as it is at present. Indeed, we wish to see the World Service grow and prosper. We are spending a great deal of money on it. Its audience is at a record figure of 143 million people throughout the world and, as I said, increasing.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, can the noble Baroness give an assurance about the grant-in-aid mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont? Will it continue at a level which enables the World Service to plan ahead adequately bearing in mind the developing nature of technology in this area?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that I can give such an assurance. Of course, there are a number of different unknowns at the moment. I have referred to the review to take place later this year. The expansion in digital broadcasting must also be taken into account. But, as the House is aware, the Government are currently undertaking a comprehensive spending review of all government departments. That also affects the FCO. I am sure that that will have to be taken into account in assessing the future needs of the World Service. I assure your Lordships that this Government are fully seized of the importance of the World Service and its importance to people throughout the world as the voice of this country.

Lord Peston: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister reassure the House on the question of standards? Is there any danger that the World Service will follow Radio 4 in "dumbing down", which, I believe, is the correct technical term? Will the Government ensure that that does not happen to the

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World Service? The rest of the world at least needs to know that we try to maintain some standards in this country?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I expect noble Lords throughout the House will have their own views on the "dumbing down", as my noble friend puts it, of Radio 4. The 20 measures which were agreed by the previous Secretary of State at the FCO and by the chairman of the BBC are designed to safeguard,

    "the special character, style, ethos and quality of the World Service".

We shall see whether the working party believes that those features have been sustained when it reconvenes in the autumn.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that there will be a recording of these exchanges in "Today in Parliament" or "Yesterday in Parliament" before Mr. Birt gets down to abolishing those programmes?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, unfortunately I am not able to dictate what is broadcast on Radio 4's "Yesterday in Parliament" programme. I sometimes wish I could. I usually find that such programmes feature what the broadcasters consider to be particularly exciting or funny exchanges in this House which do not necessarily reflect the merits of the argument. If the latter were to prevail, I am sure that we would hear a great deal about this issue tomorrow.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, is the Minister aware--

Baroness David: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware--

Noble Lords: Order!

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I believe we have sufficient time to hear both the question of my noble friend Lady David and that of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. Perhaps my noble friend may go first.

Baroness David: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that Mr. Younger, who is at present in charge of the World Service, came to the Houses of Parliament last week to make himself available for questions? Indeed, a number of those who have asked questions today also put questions to Mr. Younger. I believe they received reassuring answers. I believe Mr. Younger is anxious that the funding and the freedom should continue. To judge from what my noble friend said, it seems that that will continue. Nevertheless, it would be very nice to have that reassurance.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware of that meeting. Indeed, there is a close day-to-day working relationship between the FCO and the staff of the World Service. We want that to continue

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and we want information to be readily available, not only to this House and to another place but also to the public.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the reason for the World Service being so respected and valued throughout the world is that it is accurate and impartial, unlike the BBC at home which is both inaccurate and partial?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am not in a position to comment on the editorial policy of the BBC at home. Suffice it to say that the editorial independence of the World Service is guaranteed and will continue to be so.

Private Health Insurance

2.53 p.m.

Baroness Cumberlege asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy towards private health insurance.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, private medical insurance is not a matter for government policy but of individual, personal choice. As an individual representing the Government in this House, I can say that I have complete confidence in the excellent care provided by the NHS.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that rather short Answer. However, can she say how the first part of her answer squares with the announcements made by her right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health that he intends to sack chairmen and non-executive directors of trusts and health authorities who have private health insurance? Further, can the Minister say how this Labour ideology leaves the 14,000 NHS doctors who have private health insurance? Are they also to be sacked and, if not, why not?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the Government believe that those people in positions of responsibility for the governance of the health service should indeed put their faith in the health service, as I have done. The position of individual medical practitioners who are not employed by the health service may be different.

Lord Wigoder: My Lords, as a former chairman of BUPA, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether she is aware--and I am sure she is--of the innumerable occasions over the years when the professionals, not the politicians, working in the NHS and the private sector have co-operated together extremely happily to the great benefit of patients in both sectors, which is an important consideration. Does the Minister agree that the Government would do well to promote similar co-operation in the future?

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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I believe there has been effective co-operation between the NHS and private providers of healthcare, especially in some specialised areas such as, for example, long-term mental health problems. I believe that nothing I have said detracts from that.

Lord Winston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the problems with private health insurance is that the companies concerned frequently cherry pick in that they actually insure those things which are most profitable for them? Secondly, will my noble friend also agree that such companies often renege on their agreements in advertising; for example, in one case BUPA is particularly misleading in suggesting that people can see the doctor of their choice when that is not actually true because it depends on the quality of the insurance?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for drawing those problems to the attention of your Lordships. There have been particular concerns about elderly people and their problems with long-term medical conditions which, as my noble friend said, are sometimes not covered under their health insurance. They are, therefore, most worried when they find themselves afflicted with a long-term condition which is not adequately covered.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, although the Government are ideologically opposed to private health insurance, will the Minister agree that the people who take up private health insurance are relieving the responsibility on the NHS and thereby helping resources? Would it be possible for the Minister to make an estimate of how much additional funding would be required for the NHS if private health insurance were abolished? Further, can she say how much more would that mean in terms of income tax or, indeed, in terms of other financial measures such as, for example, the abolition of dividends on pension funds?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, with respect to the noble Baroness, perhaps I may, first, correct what she said at the beginning of her supplementary question; namely, that the Government are ideologically opposed to private medical insurance. As I said in my original Answer, we regard this as a matter of individual, personal choice. As to the calculation about what may or may not be the possible implications for the NHS, some rather alarming stories have been spread over the past few weeks about the impact on the NHS of, for example, removing tax relief. Of course, any additional expenditure would be dwarfed by the £1.2 billion extra given by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget.

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