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Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it would be an act of the grossest irresponsibility for an organisation as large and internationally dependent as the NHS not to make the necessary contingent planning for the possibility of the British people voting in a referendum to join the euro?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend has put the issue very well. Noble Lords frequently point out that the NHS should engage in long-term planning. The health service has simply undertaken an exercise to look at its current financial systems to see what impact a possible decision by this country to join the euro would have on it. Surely that is prudent. That foresight has not cost the National Health Service additional money.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, in the wider context of possible British membership of the euro raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, is the Minister aware that the Irish economy has seldom, if ever, been in better shape? What is the Government's view of the reprimand recently issued by the Commission and endorsed by the Council of Ministers for the recent Irish Budget?
Lord Harrison: My Lords, is it not the responsibility of the NHS to prepare regardless of whether Britain goes into the euro? Access to the single European market of health services and goods will provide an
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we clearly want an efficient and effective National Health Service. The benefit of the pre-planning exercise is that it has looked at the status of current NHS financial systems. That has been helpful in enabling trusts to work out what changes might need to be made in the future, not just in respect of the possibility of this country going into the euro but in ensuring that we have the most up-to-date financial systems possible.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, assuming that we are generous enough to let the Minister off the second aspect of the question asked by my noble friend Lady Knight about whether anybody contributed to the exercise in pursuit of a peerage, will he be good enough to tell the House how much has been spent by the National Health Service on those preparations? I am not sure that we have heard a figure.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this is the ninth time that I shall give the same answer. This is a pre-planning exercise undertaken by existing staff in NHS trusts. No additional costs have been incurred. Noble Lords opposite ask how much money is involved. No doubt they would like me to issue a questionnaire to every single trust in the country asking staff to detail how much time each of them spent on this pre-planning exercise. Only a few weeks ago the noble Earl, Lord Howe, the Opposition spokesman for the Conservative Party, attacked the Government for making too many bureaucratic demands on the health service. No doubt noble Lords will now change their minds about that.
Earl Howe: My Lords, if, as the noble Lord said, this is a limited pre-planning exercise, why did the Director of Finance, Procurement and Information at Salisbury Healthcare NHS Trust say that the changeover plan is bringing,
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that matter was raised on the previous occasion when this Question was asked in your Lordships' House. The Director of Finance at the Salisbury NHS Trust was confused about the circular that had been sent. No other trust in the country suffered that confusion. They were able to undertake the pre-planning exercise without undue bureaucracy or undue pressure. Overall, it has been a most helpful exercise in determining what steps the NHS would have to take if the country decided to enter the euro.
The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the preferred bidder letter gave Legacy preferred bidder status until today. The Government are now considering Legacy's detailed proposals on an exclusive basis.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Amswer. Does he agree that not setting a deadline initially for the exchange of contracts when giving preferred bidder status and then setting a deadline and letting it go by, which I take to be the burden of his Answer, were irresponsible acts and unlikely to achieve value for money for the taxpayer in relation to the sale of the Dome?
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, will my noble and learned friend join me in expressing pleasure at the way in which regeneration is continuing on the Greenwich peninsula, thanks, of course, to the building of the Dome in that area, and in particular in relation to the new Millennium school and the new medical centre, which are due to be opened shortly? As many people in Greenwich are obviously interested in the future of the Dome, especially those who lost their jobs when the Dome closed, can my noble and learned friend assure the House that employment is on the agenda in the negotiations which are taking place?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness in welcoming the regeneration which has taken place on the north Greenwich peninsula. A school and a medical centre have just opened. A Millennium village is in the process of being built, and I and a number of my colleagues were present when the first tenants moved into the houses that were built there. It is a very impressive development.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the preferred bidder letter specified precisely how long Legacy would be the preferred bidder. As one would expect in negotiations of this kind, once the deadline is reached, it is a matter for the Government to decide, in accordance with the process that they have set up, what is in the best public interest. They have freedom to manoeuvre in the matter.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, can my noble and learned friend tell us what the problem is with the Legacy bid? Does a draft contract exist between the two sides? If not, what is causing the serious problem in relation to the bid? How much is involved, is a deposit required, and is there to be deferred payment? Surely my noble and learned friend should tell us something about the bid.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it would be entirely wrong for me to negotiate these questions in the House of Lords. We are in the process of seeking to sell in the best public interest an asset which the Government own. The right way to do that is by the negotiation process.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the Government acknowledge that the Prison Service faces a difficult challenge in improving conditions across the estate. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons is concerned that prisoners receive appropriate attention to tackle their offending behaviour, address their health problems and increase their levels of literacy and numeracy. The service is making progress in those areas. The challenge, as ever, is to drive up the level and consistency of performance across all prisons. The Government believe that there is ample evidence from recent HMCIP reports to suggest that the performance of other prisons can be turned round.
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