asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is satisfied with the working of the Health Services Board.
The Health Services Board is an independent statutory body and is not responsible to me for the way in which it discharges its duties under the Health Services Act. I have every confidence in it.
How many pay beds have so far been phased out and how many extra beds have become available as a result to NHS patients? Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on allegations by the Socialist Medical Association that the spaces left vacant by pay beds are being turned into storerooms and laboratories?
On the second half of that question, the Act requires that every effort is made to ensure that the pay beds that are closed are used productively. An amendment to that effect was accepted in debates on the Bill. As for the number of beds phased out, as the House will know, I am responsible for the phasing out of the first 1,000. I have been in consultation with the health authorities. I have now completed that consultation, and authorisations will take effect as from 20th May, and I shall make a further announcement to the House about the matter.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that progress in phasing out pay beds from the National Health Service has not been fast enough and that until all pay beds are eliminated from it we shall never have an equitable or efficient Health Service?
I shall not go over the whole debate that we had. I think that I and all my hon. Friends recognise the wisdom of the measure that we passed through the House. Quite apart from the 1,000 pay beds that will be phased out by my decision, the board is now busy consulting about the first group of beds for which it has responsibility and it will be reporting to me in July.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is widespread and serious criticism of the way in which the board was set up and is conducting its business? Is it not clear that if it is to fulfil the requirements of the Act, it will need more time than it has at the moment?
I do not accept that there has been any such criticism. This is a very well balanced board which has got down to its job quickly. Its members asked me whether they could have a little more time to make their first report to me, and I readily agreed. In fact, I offered them more than they asked for but they said that they did not need it. I am very satisfied that the board is doing its job thoroughly, with maximum consultation.