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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is it not clear that the first PFI schemes being completed involve a reduction of 30 per cent of available beds and cuts in staff numbers of up to 25 per cent? The national beds inquiry made clear that we are at least 4,000 beds short. Last year 56,000 operations were cancelled due to lack of beds. Is it not time that the Government recognised, like the Institute for Public Policy Research, that the economics of PFI schemes are extremely unsound and that they will cost the NHS more money in the future while forcing a continuing and disastrous reduction in the numbers of beds available? Or is the NHS, after the Prime Minister's recent comments, planning to fill the gap with private beds?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite wrong. Public/private partnerships enable us to combine the best of the public sector--particularly in regard to the direct delivery of clinical services--with the best of private sector skills in the management and financing of major capital projects such as the 16 new hospitals now in train. The NHS has had unhappy experience of the traditional route for capital builds going back to its foundation. Many schemes have taken years and years to bring to fruition. I am sure that many noble Lords will know of
As to beds, there are two factors to bear in mind. First, in a comparison between outline cases using the traditional capital route and the PFI route, there does not appear to be any difference in the number of beds planned. Secondly, of course we need to take notice of the national beds inquiry and to ensure that we have the flexibility to take account of the changes we need to make. We recognise that we need to increase the number of beds in this country and to use the ones we do have more effectively.
Earl Howe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if an NHS trust is unable to provide an urgent operation to a patient, there is no ideological barrier to the trust placing that patient somewhere in the private sector? If he agrees that there is no such barrier, has that message been transmitted to the chief executives of NHS trusts?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Government have made the position clear. Where the NHS requires extra provision to be made and where it is not available within the NHS it can then look to the private sector. The policy is quite clear.
Lord Brookman: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister note that many on this side of the House agree with his outline of the future in relation to the initiatives being undertaken by the Labour Government? However, will he explain in slightly more detail how he sees the delivery of these hospitals as regards timescale and issues of that nature?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the national beds inquiry is currently being consulted upon. We expect the consultation period to run to 15th May. We shall then be able to make decisions in developing a national strategy for providing NHS beds in the future. I believe that the current capital programme with the PFI and conventional funding, which is enabling us to build a record number of new hospitals, will allow us to take account of the inquiry as quickly as possible.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there are no plans to introduce a statutory scheme at the present time. First, we want to evaluate the voluntary approach under the new quality standards to see whether it results in increased take-up and improved
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. I declare an interest as vice-president of the Northumbria Tourist Board and vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tourism. Is my noble friend aware that, rather surprisingly, three-quarters of the members of the Association of British Travel Agents support a statutory scheme? Does he agree that there is a greater demand than ever on the part of consumers for visibly high standards, not only in hotels but in other aspects of holiday provision? I recognise that there are difficulties; however, could we not learn a great deal from the many countries which have operated such a scheme for many years? I remind my noble friend that this matter was included in the Labour Party manifesto at the general election.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, perhaps I may deal first with my noble friend's final point. The Labour Party manifesto stated that we would introduce new quality assurance in hotel accommodation. We did not say that it would necessarily be statutory. We went on to say in the document, Breaking New Ground, that should the voluntary approach not be a success, Labour would move towards the second step; namely, the introduction of a statutory national accommodation grading scheme.
My noble friend is right: there is consumer demand for high standards. However, it must be recognised that the announcement last autumn of consistent, unitary standards between the AA, the RAC and the English Tourism Council is a major step in that direction. The inspectors are now working to common standards to provide a common classification in England and are, in effect, acting as small business advisers, helping hotels and others to improve their own standards. The voluntary scheme, which is achieving a 50 per cent take-up, is already leading to improvement.
Lord Harrison: My Lords, should there not be a "national beds inquiry" in the tourism sector in this country? Given that tourism is the quintessential industry of the European single market, will the Government ensure appropriate consultation and co-operation with our EU partners should any registration scheme of the type described be contemplated?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, tourism registration schemes are a matter for national governments, not for the European Union. They exist in France and the Netherlands but not in other European countries. As to quality in this country, the steps that we have already announced in the Tourism Strategy are having an effect.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords. The next mayor of London, whoever that may be, will of course have responsibilities in the tourism sector. The noble Baroness is right to say that it is not just a matter of hotels, but also of guest-houses, boarding houses and self-catering accommodation. We are making progress in those areas as well.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, is it not difficult for voluntary schemes to create standards anywhere near those of a statutory scheme? The voluntary schemes operate according to different criteria; they do not have the same standards; it is difficult for customers to know which are reliable; and they are not comprehensive. Does he agree that the Automobile Association, which has had a voluntary scheme for many years, having been taken over by Centrica now seems more interested in selling gas appliances than travel services to motorists and other travellers?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not think that the Automobile Association's breakdown service has anything to do with its classification of tourist accommodation. My noble friend does not give adequate recognition to the fact that in autumn last year we introduced a unified scheme between the English Tourism Council, the Automobile Association and the RAC. They do have common standards which are known to all, and their inspectors work to common standards. I think that my noble friend is being unduly gloomy.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, the Minister speaks of standards. Standards may well be high, but so are costs, and people who want to book hotels are surely most in need of objective, rather than subjective, ratings. At present, many of the voluntary ratings leave great areas of doubt. One couple's idea of a "well-furnished" bedroom may be very different from that of another couple. Does the noble Lord agree that it is therefore not surprising, given the cost of hotel accommodation here compared, for example, with that in France and Italy, that many people who travel prefer bed-and-breakfast accommodation, which is proliferating throughout the country?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I simply do not think that the noble Viscount is right. The voluntary scheme, jointly operated by the AA, the RAC and the English Tourism Council, applies objective standards to hotel and guest-house accommodation which are comparable to those of the Nomenclature Nationale and other standards in France. The simple difference is that it is not compulsory in the same way. I do not think that it can be said that there is a single version of a statutory
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