This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today.
A great deal has changed for the better in the National Health Service under a Conservative Government: more resources, more doctors, more nurses, more patients treated and more success. Yes, a great deal has changed for the better under a Conservative Government.
In connection with the 40th anniversary of the National Health Service., does my right hon. Friend agree that it was a Conservative Minister of Health who, in a White Paper in 1944, introduced the basis of the Health Service; that, furthermore, it was a Labour Government who introduced prescription charges in the 1940s; and that this Government, conducting their present review, have, since 1979, increased spending on the Health Service by 39 per cent., even after inflation?
Yes, the National Health Service should be congratulated on its 40 years of achievement, the greater part of which has been conducted under a Conservative Government. Successive Conservative Governments have provided a standard of resources for the professions to deliver a standard of service undreamed of many years ago.
It will be well within your recall, Mr. Speaker, that I began this question "Is the Prime Minister aware". Dodges such as we are getting from the Tories do not count except to scar them in the eyes of the public.
Is the Prime Minister aware that Mr. Harris asked me to tell her that dependence on private provision is the worst possible system? It means the poor do not get the, treatment they need and the rich get treatment they do not need. Last year the Prime Minister wanted people to heed Mr. Harris. Will she heed him now?
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will convey to everyone who asks him the fact that the Government are entirely committed to the principle of the National Health Service—that all people should have access to the best possible medical treatment, regardless of their ability to pay. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will point out to Mr. Harris that the Conservative party's record in government is the clearest possible evidence of that commitment.
Patently, neither Mr. Harris nor others in whole areas of the medical profession will believe a word of what the Prime Minister has just said. Given the record and philosophy of her Government, is it not obvious to everyone that her intention is to create a two-tier Health Service, with a superior level for sale and an inferior level that remains free? Why does she not heed the advice of the British Medical Association, the Select Committee on Social Services and people like Mr. Harris and provide £1 billion to £1½ billion now to avert crisis this year? If she is really committed to the Health Service, will she give that money now?
Last year the right hon. Gentleman asked for an extra £2 billion, which was to sort out all the problems of the National Health Service. An extra £2 billion has been provided this year. In fact, we are dedicating more resources than any previous Government to the Health Service. The doctors know that there are more doctors and that they are better paid; the nurses know that there are more nurses and that they are better paid and the doctors and the nurses know that they look after more patients in better hospitals than ever before. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman still accepts, like his predecessors, that people are free to spend their own money as they choose. Or is he denying that now?
If the Prime Minister believes that people are free to spend their money as they choose, will she tell us why she and the Chancellor did not respond to the repeated demands from the huge majority of people in this country to spend money on the Health Service instead of giving £2½ billion to the richest people in the land? If the Prime Minister has provided that extra money for the Health Service, why does she think that it was necessary for the BMA and the Select Committee this week to call for an extra £1 billion to £1½ billion to avert a crisis? I ask her again: will she provide the money now to avert a crisis this year?
The people of this country are providing more money for the Health Service out of a growing economy. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that people have no right at all to have any money available to spend. I know that arithmetic is not the right hon. Gentleman's strong subject, but in 1978 expenditure on the National Health Service was £8 billion, whereas this year it is £23 billion. Even the right hon. Gentleman should know that that is a lot more.
Perhaps I may change the subject, Mr. Speaker. Is it not time that we tried a more imaginative and radical approach to the problems of yobbish hooliganism and drunken violence—[Interruption.] Could we not try a little pain and humiliation—the birch and perhaps a modern version of the stocks? Would not those tried and tested punishments appeal to the liberals, the wets and the worthies as being less barbaric than the failed alternative of imprisonment——
Increased sentences have been provided and are available to magistrates. Many people are now considering different forms of sentences to deal with very bad hooliganism. As part of their sentence, people should have to report to specific places under the offices of the probation service or undertake some form of community service. They should do this regularly, at weekends or at times when they might otherwise be out engaging in the hooliganism that my hon. Friend condemns. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has that very much in mind. I do not believe that the route that my hon. Friend proposes would meet with sufficient support to enable such measures to get through the House or with sufficient support from the whole country.
On the question of the Iranian Airbus disaster, would it not have been more prudent for the Prime Minister to confine her comments to expressions of regret and sympathy until the inquiry result was known? Why have the Government taken no initiative to bring the peace-keeping forces in the Gulf under the international legitimacy of the United Nations organisation?
The first sentence of the statement said that the British Government profoundly regretted the loss of life on the Iranian airliner and extended their deep sympathy to the bereaved. The statement went on to point out that this had been a tragedy for all concerned. One cannot put navies into the Gulf to defend shipping from attack by either side to the conflict without giving them the right to defend themselves. No one would do that.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great efforts that have been made to devise a form of voluntary no-fault visitors' personal accident insurance? That would have saved my constituents who were injured at Abbeystead a great deal of heartache had it been in force four years ago. When the scheme is launched this coming Monday, will my right hon. Friend read it and consider giving it her backing and encouraging its widespread use?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on everything that she, like a number of others, has done to get such a voluntary scheme launched. Proposals for a statutory scheme have been argued for a long time. A voluntary scheme is an excellent idea and certainly would have helped the people at Abbeystead. I shall look carefully at the scheme once it is published.
Is the Prime Minister aware that today there are many nurses in this building who will have listened with interest and disgust to some of her answers? They will deliver a petition to my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie), which he will present to the House. Among its demands is a call for full implementation and funding by the Government of the recommendations of the review body for Health Service staff in the current year. Does the right hon. Lady realise that those nurses are here not only on their behalf but on behalf of their patients and the people who make up the health teams? Does she realise that they have come to the House looking for the first time—I fear that it will be in vain—for a spark of humanity from her?
The nurses, doctors, dentists and allied medical professions have review bodies. Wages for other groups are negotiated through other bodies. The total cost of the review body for nurses, which is funded by the people, is some £803 million this year. I remind the hon. Gentleman, and perhaps he will remind the nurses, that the last Labour Government cut nurses' pay by 21 per cent. We have increased it by 43 per cent. in real terms. The money comes from the same place from which it always comes—people's earnings.
Will my right hon. Friend find time to congratulate Mr. Gorbachev on his political tour de force last week and on his struggle to bring Russia into the 20th century? Does she agree that until we see a real reduction in spending on defence by the Warsaw pact countries it would be unwise to relax our guard?
I gladly congratulate Mr. Gorbachev on the boldness of his vision and the resolve with which he and those who are with him are carrying it out. As far as defence is concerned, we see no evidence of any reduction in the effort to modernise the Soviet armed forces. One of the reasons why we can so readily encourage Mr. Gorbachev's effort on internal reform is that we are staunch members of NATO and we keep our own conventional and nuclear forces fully up to date.
Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to scotch rumours that she will change the basic funding method of the National Health Service? The country and the medical profession are saying that insurance and other methods will be more expensive and much less efficient. Will she give her support to a National Health Service that is free at the point of need?
Yes, I thought that I had made it perfectly clear in answer to another question that the National Health Service will continue to be available. It is financed in two ways now: the direct taxation, and the part that is conributed together with the national insurance contributions. That is a very small part of the total finance, the rest of which comes direct from taxation.