Dr Julian Lewis: It is typically generous of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr Desmond Swayne) to give me the last portion of his allotted time, and I endorse everything that he has said.
Westminster Hall is rightly regarded as an arena in which confrontation should be kept to a minimum, and there is no confrontation on this issue. We have even had a meeting of minds, to judge by the Minister's reaction to my hon. Friend's doubts about the role of the private sector in raising capital for such a project. Westminster Hall is working its magic.
The Lymington Hospital is sited in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West, but the new Ampress site – just south of Boldre in my constituency and just north of Lymington in his – is virtually on the border between the two. More importantly, the Lymington Hospital, in both its present and future incarnations, has a wide catchment area covering the residents of the New Forest, the Waterside and even further afield.
My involvement in this matter goes back to spring 1995. I was minding my own business at my desk in the research department of Conservative Central Office, when the telephone rang. It was a wonderful lady, whom I later came to know well, called Pamela Combes. She was concerned even then that the Lymington Hospital was becoming a political football, and wanted my help in investigating the matter. That led to a chain of events culminating in my accession to the position of prospective Conservative candidate for one of the New Forest seats – to which I was subsequently elected. I am sure that the Minister will not hold the fact that the hospital was indirectly responsible for my becoming a Member of Parliament against it, and that it will not prejudice the prospects for its future.
The problem, even in 1995, was that there was great community concern about where the hospital should be, what the money raised with great effort by the local community should be used for, and how the partnership arrangements should be drawn up. Even the press release from the NHS Executive, when it announced that it was pulling the plug on the private finance initiative, acknowledged that the two NHS trusts to which it referred – one on the isle of Sheppey and one at Lymington – had worked hard with their private sector partners under the PFI. Mike Lager and his team have made every possible effort to get this project off the ground and to make a go of the PFI approach. That has not worked. Even the Southampton Community Health Services Trust accepts that. It thought that it had a deal ready in June, but, as its press release states:
"We were all but ready to sign. Since then the Rotch Consortium's financial figures have changed – they're now no longer affordable nor good value."
There is no dispute between the NHS Executive and the Community Health Services Trust that the scheme has not worked, but it is more than five years since I was drawn into the matter and one can imagine the effect on the morale of all concerned – those trying to build a new hospital and those manning the existing one – if the clock were turned back to the beginning and they had to start again.
This is not a matter of doctrine or ideology, nor of freeloading because, as my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West said, the community has raised enough money to buy the freehold of the land. Many people have made an emotional, professional and financial investment in the project. The PFI approach has been tried but has failed, so please do not make us return to that approach with all the time constraints involved. We need the NHS fully to fund the hospital.