I intend to issue a circular shortly asking health authorities to seek tenders for their cleaning, catering and laundry services and to let contracts where savings can be made.
—when he talked about welcoming the intervention of the private sector in the National Health Service? When the Secretary of State had his discussions with the regional health authority chairmen, was a particular problem raised by the Trent regional health authority chairman about a private unit in the central health district? If not, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman about it? Is he aware that in the past three years the National Health Service—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading".] No, I am not reading. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for the past three years the NHS has subsidised that private unit to the tune of £180,000? Does he agree that that is so, and does he also agree—I am sure that the House will —that this is the unacceptable face of the Secretary of State for Social Services?
The hon. Gentleman might have done better if he had written out his supplementary question. If he had done so, he might have deleted some of the more foolish parts of it. The regional health authority chairmen are in favour of the policy of contracting out. I believe that all sensible people are in favour of so doing.
No one is forcing authorities to take outside contractors in place of in-house services. We are merely saying that they should make comparisons. If they find that they can get a better service from outside contractors, that will be a sensible step to take.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm — [Interruption]—that there is no truth in the report that the Government are to backtrack on the reform of VAT policy, which he so wisely announced in the previous Parliament, which will enable private contractors to compete equally with the public sector? Will he reconfirm the Government's commitment to put a stop to the little racket of COHSE and NUPE in the Health Service?
I confirm that it remains the Government's policy to have equality of treatment between the public and the private sectors. The savings that are achieved can be diverted into patient care. That is what the NHS is about and that is why we are pursuing the policy that has been outlined.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for helping me. I trust that he will forgive my inexperience. Once an hon. Member gives notice that he will seek to raise on the Adjournment the matter contained in the question, we should move on. However, I shall call the Opposition Front Bench spokesman to ask a final supplementary question before moving on to the next question.
I regard it as a service, but I believe that when sensible economies can be made in the Health Service, which means that more money can be diverted into patient care, the opportunities should be taken.