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




THIRD VOLUME OF SESSION 1997--98 House of Lords

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Monday, 28th July 1997.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Sheffield.

"Farming Today": Radio 4 Review

The Earl of Kinnoull asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have received any representations from the farming community in relation to the proposal made by the BBC to move "Farming Today" from its regular slot at 6.10 a.m. each weekday.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we have received representations from the chairman of the BBC's Rural and Agricultural Affairs Advisory Committee and the president of the National Farmers Union. These bodies are among a wide number of interested parties which have been consulted by the BBC as part of the review of the Radio 4 network.

The Earl of Kinnoull: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Can he go a little further? There was a well-reported governors' meeting last Thursday, when the future of a number of Radio 4 programmes was considered. Can the noble Lord give any hope to the 1½ million listeners to this invaluable programme?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as the noble Earl rightly says, BBC governors received the proposals from Mr. James Boyle, the Controller of Radio 4, at their meeting last Thursday. They are due to announce a decision on them on Wednesday of this week. The

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governors commended Mr. Boyle on his review and agreed that the consultation exercise that he had instigated was satisfactory for the purpose.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House how much weight the Government consider should be given by the BBC to government views on such matters?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as the noble Baroness well knows, the BBC is responsible for its own programming on a day-to-day basis. It has to pay attention to planned programming. For example, under the terms of its Charter it is obliged to provide day-to-day coverage on an impartial basis on the proceedings of Parliament. But in general, under its Charter and Agreement, the BBC is responsible for its own programming.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the noble Lord believe that in making the announcement on Wednesday the BBC is adopting a typical government tactic? The announcement is so near to the parliamentary Recess that we shall not be able to enter into any discussion on the matter.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, even if the BBC had done such a dastardly thing--and I have no reason to suppose that it has--we should still have a very fruitful debate in this House on the details of programming, bearing in mind the reply that I just gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings--namely, Parliament is not responsible for day-to-day decisions about programming.

NHS and Housing: Budget Allocations

2.38 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What responses they have received from people involved in the National Health Service and in

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    housing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposals announced in the Budget Statement on 2nd July.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the Government's announcement of an extra £1.2 billion for the National Health Service has been warmly welcomed. The extra money means real terms growth of 2.35 per cent. and is proof of this Government's commitment to a well funded, high quality NHS. In addition to the extra money I have described for health, the Government have announced an additional £800 million to support housing capital spending in England. Local councils have welcomed the opportunity to begin to redress years of under-investment in housing.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that most of us are extremely grateful for the actions of the Government and the rapidity of action in these two particular areas? Is it not also the case that, within a few days of the Budget taking place, another progressive announcement was made of a decision in which I believe the noble Baroness was herself involved; namely, the clinching of a deal for 14 new hospitals, ordered under the private finance initiative, in order to get matters moving? Does not the speed with which this matter was handled--the Bill having only just passed through this House--indicate a desire on the part of the present Ministers, the noble Baroness and Mr. Milburn in another place, to expedite decisions in order to fulfil commitments in the general election manifesto?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful that my noble friend recognises the speed and promptness with which we are acting to fulfil our manifesto commitments. I am grateful to him for underlining them. He draws attention to a very important initiative. The private finance initiative Bill was signed and received Royal Assent on 15th July. Several hospitals held up for many years have gone forward to have contracts signed.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that, under the previous government, the amount of money put into the National Health Service went up by more than the amount of inflation in every one of the 18 years of government? During her reply she suggested that she was building a great or good National Health Service. Would she agree that it was a damned good National Health Service under the previous government?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: No, my Lords, I am afraid that I would not agree. This Government have inherited a record debt on health authorities and health service trusts, reaching £300 million for the current year; we have also inherited waiting lists at a record high. The amount of money to which I referred in my reply is £1 billion of new money for health services in

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England, on top of the £775 million which had been planned. It is therefore more than double the amount that was offered under the previous administration.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is rather odd to take money out of the reserve before entering the financial year for which that reserve has been set aside? As to her litany of what she considers to be the failures of the health service, does she regard the fact that more patients than ever before were treated in the health service as a failure or a success?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, we have had to take money out of the reserve for precisely the reasons I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Archer. We have inherited a debt of £300 million. We have to act quickly to prevent patients being badly treated. When the noble Lord talks about record numbers of patients being treated, he possibly refers to a rather spurious statistic of finished consultant episodes which we look forward to trying to make more accurate.

Baroness Gardner of Parks: My Lords, can the Minister tell me the position regarding the housing money that will go through local authorities? Will it be earmarked specifically for housing or, for example, might local authorities be able to use it to meet the terms of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill? That Bill will throw a heavy burden on local authorities because it removes all reference to resources available to them.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the point of this announcement is to target additional resources on housing and housing-related regeneration schemes. They must meet local priorities and be consistent with local housing strategies. Although they would be involved in regeneration, they would not include the wider kind of programmes to which the noble Baroness refers.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, in view of the Minister's strictures about the Conservative Government, may I ask her respectfully whether she would not at least agree that when we went out of office it was in much better shape than when we came in?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: Yes, my Lords, I would agree that it was in much better shape than when we came in.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest: My Lords, I welcome the prospects of a general improvement in housing. Has my noble friend received any representations from the House Our Youth Campaign 2000, which seeks to attach priority to the problems of youth homelessness? If so, will she respond positively to the objective of the campaign launched in February by her right honourable colleague, Tony Blair, to erase the scandal by the year 2000?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I well remember the launch of the youth homelessness campaign, in which I, as well as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, was involved. I hope my

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noble friend will forgive me but, since my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick had the good judgment to put the health service in front of housing--if I may put it that way--I have been asked to reply to this Question, which covers two departmental briefs. I do not know precisely the status of the youth homelessness campaign at the moment but I am sure that it is going forward successfully.

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