Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Forsyth : I am somewhat surprised at the hon. Gentleman's account of the meeting with Lothian region.

Column 350

In common with the other Scottish health boards, Lothian has enjoyed growth in resources and is announcing a major investment programme in the hospital service at the moment. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be aware of that. It is certainly true that the region will have to reassess its priorities. That is partly because it is introducing new services and bringing in new hospitals--for example, the major building project in the constituency of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook)--and has had to change expenditure to reflect that.

Mr. Strang : Is the Minister aware that, only this morning, I was on the telephone to the Edinburgh royal infirmary about a constituent who was told in August that he would have to wait two or three months for a heart bypass operation, who was then told that he must wait an extra six or eight weeks and who was told last week that he will have to wait until February? When I spoke to the doctor this morning, he said that people are waiting 15 months for heart operations in Edinburgh. We are getting to the point at which the queue is self-limiting because people die before they can have the operation. Does the Minister accept that that is a tragic and scandalous state of affairs, and will he take action to see that something is done about it?

Mr. Forsyth : I am concerned to hear about that case. The hon. Member is right to draw attention to increasing waiting times for heart surgery, but, in fairness, he should also mention the substantial extra number of patients being given cardiac surgery and the substantial resources that we have made available for that. He knows from the statement that we made last week that we are looking into how we can expand cardiac surgery. We have provided the resources to achieve that. I remind the House of what my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) said--that industrial action in the Health Service makes the task of getting waiting lists down even harder.

Mr. Salmond : Can the Minister explain why he is so insecure in his stewardship of the Scottish Health Service that he has to arrange for planted dolly questions from English Tory Members to protect him from Scottish Members? Is not the Scottish Health Service exactly the type of subject which should prpperly be examined by a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? If the subject received such examination, does the Minister think that anyone in Scotland would regard the Health Service as safe in his hands?

Mr. Forsyth : I note the hon. Gentleman's appeal for a Scottish Affairs Select Committee. I served on the last Select Committee, which examined the hospital building programme and I am studying its findings. Members of the Scottish National party refused to serve on that Select Committee because they regarded it as a waste of time. The hon. Gentleman is in danger of being accused of having double standards. As for the accusation about planted questions, it is a sad testimony that the SNP is not interested in the progress being made to reduce waiting times for patients.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn rose--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is the only Scotsman on the Government side who has risen.

Column 351

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : I am obliged for your protection, Mr. Speaker. On matters of dress I take my orders from the Prince of Wales and give my orders to you. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Let us get on with it.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's success in the reduction of waiting lists in Scotland is just another reflection of the success of their economic policies, which have increased expenditure on the Scottish National Health Service from £1 billion in 1979 to £3,000 million in 1989? Is it not marvellous that we spend £550 on every patient in Scotland while £450 is spent on every English patient? Should not Opposition Members be proud that we have made in Scotland the best health service in the world?

Mr. Forsyth : You will forgive me, Mr. Speaker, for observing that my hon. and learned Friend was being barracked while he spelled out the record of success in the Health Service. He is right to say that expenditure in cash terms has been trebled. Expenditure on the Health Service in Scotland now represents £550 per year for every man, woman and child in Scotland. That is an increase, over and above inflation, of more than one third. That is a record to be proud of and one which none of the Opposition parties came close to approaching when they were in office.

Mr. Dewar : As the Under-Secretary of State on occasion takes an embarrassingly close interest in broadcasting, may I congratulate him on the obvious care that he has taken to get the right camera angle today? I know that he is aware of reports that one in five heart operations at the sick children's hospital in Glasgow have had to be postponed, sometimes at very short notice, even at a few minutes' notice.

The Minister has expressed his concern about that serious matter, and said that he had asked for a report to be available at the end of last week. Does he intend to publish that report? Will he give an assurance that the situation that led the consultant surgeon at the sick children's hospital to complain about financial constraints and the shortage of intensive care beds will be tackled immediately? Does he agree that such a traumatic shortage gives the lie to the often complacent attitude of the Scottish Office towards the Health Service?

Mr. Forsyth : I have looked into the matter fairly carefully and I understand that the use of intensive care beds at the hospital averages about 76 per cent. There are peaks at particular times of the year and there have been problems with the management of the beds. It is a matter not of resources but of the management of resources. I have asked the Department to find out the detailed position and if additional resources are required to prevent operations on children being cancelled at short notice, we shall certainly seek to provide them. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that is not acceptable for something like one in nine operations to be cancelled at short notice and we shall certainly look into that. I do not think that it would be appropriate to publish a report setting out the position in detail. Most people are concerned that the children should get their operations when they need them.

Column 352

Student Loans

11. Mr. Watson : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has any plans to shorten courses in the central institutions in Scotland to meet the impact of a student loans scheme.

Mr. Rifkind : Unemployment in Glasgow has fallen by 32 per cent. over the past three years and by over 14,000 in the last year alone--

Hon. Members : Wrong one!

Mr. Lang rose -- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Mr. Lang.

Mr. Lang : I always defer to my right hon. and learned Friend. The length of courses in the central institutions in Scotland is a matter for the institutions themselves, rather than for Ministers.

Mr. Watson : I congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland on his performance in the first Scottish Question Time this Session. The Minister to whom my question is directed must be aware that all Scottish universities and central institutions which responded to the White Paper on student loans, the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland outlined their opposition to the proposal because they realise the detrimental effect that it will have on the fourth year of study in Scotland. They are quite clear that it will have a detrimental effect on the Scottish system of education. Is the Minister really saying that they are all wrong and that, as usual, only the Government are right?

Mr. Lang : I see no evidence at all that the top-up loan system should be detrimental to the four-year degree course. Scottish students enjoying a four-year degree course are receiving grants and maintenance for four rather than three years, but not all Scottish degree courses are for four years and not all courses south of the border are shorter than four years. It is important to find the best method of financing students in higher education. I believe that top-up loans are a very useful adjunct to the fees and maintenance grants which are continuing to be paid.

Mr. Allan Stewart : Does my hon. Friend agree that international comparisons suggest that access to higher education is rather better in countries with combined grant and loan systems than it is in Britain? Does he further agree that there is no evidence that top-up loans will be a disincentive to any Scottish four-year course? By definition, those who argue that it would be a disincentive are arguing that students themselves place a very low value on the fourth year of that course. If that were the case, it would raise a major question about why the taxpayer should continue to fund them.

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have the most generous student funding arrangements of any industrialised country in the world. Most countries that have far more substantial student loan arrangements than we are contemplating also have higher student participation. In Scotland 20 per cent. of students come from south of the border. Clearly they do not regard a four-year degree course as a disadvantage.

Column 353

Mr. Worthington : We should pause for a moment and condemn the Minister of State's announcement yesterday on student grants. Increasing the grant by only 5 per cent. was a further imposition of a cut in living standards for students in Scotland. That means that there has been a cut of nearly 25 per cent. in the value of the grant since 1979. If it had been maintained at its 1979 level, it would have been worth £1,600 more over a four-year degree course. We are particularly worried about the length-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I think the House is anxious that the shadow Minister should ask a question.

Mr. Worthington : Does the Minister agree that the cut will be particularly damaging to women, single parents and low wage earners who are considering a career change, because they will have to pick up the bill for a four-year Scottish degree course? Who will make such a change when it means debts of thousands of pounds?

Mr. Lang : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. In the United States, where loans play a far greater part, women students at university are in the majority. It is important to get the balance right. We must decide whether it is fair to ask taxpayers--most of whom earn less than students will once they have graduated--to continue to bear the huge burden of higher education. It is entirely fair to ask students to bear a burden of 7 to 10 per cent. of the total cost of their education.

Unemployment (Glasgow)

12. Mr. Michael J. Martin : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he will be taking to reduce unemployment in Glasgow.

Mr. Rifkind : I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman's question. Unemployment in Glasgow has fallen by more than 32 per cent. in the past three years and by more than 14,000 in the past year alone. The full range of employment and training services will continue to be available to combat unemployment in the area, and I look forward to the establishment there of a local enterprise company under our Scottish enterprise proposals.

Mr. Martin : The Minister must know that the unemployment rate in Springburn ranks about the fourth highest in the United Kingdom. He gave a complacent answer. He knows that 6,000 people are unemployed, 30 per cent. of whom have been unemployed for more than a year. Young people in almost every street in places such as Haghill, Jermison and Possil Park have not had a decent job since they left school. If the Minister will not do anything about that, he should resign.

Mr. Rifkind : Not only are we as concerned as the hon. Gentleman clearly is, but we are doing a great deal about it. More than 8,000 youngsters in Glasgow are benefiting from the youth training scheme, which will enable the majority of them to gain employment. The hon. Gentleman is normally fair, and I should have thought that he would welcome the fact that unemployment in Glasgow has fallen by more than 14,000 in the past 12 months. That includes several thousand people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. If he wishes to be balanced, he should give credit where it is due.

Column 354

Mr. Andy Stewart : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that setting up the student loans company in Glasgow will bring new job opportunities?

Mr. Rifkind : A number of initiatives have led to new employment in the Glasgow area in the public and private sectors. The fact that Glasgow is increasingly being regarded as an attractive location for work which was previously done in the south of England shows the growing effectiveness and attraction of the Scottish economy.

Mr. Sillars : Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the close relationship between the Glasgow economy and that of Lanarkshire? Is he aware of the recently published Scottish Trade Union Congress document, which showed the potentially devastating domino effect down the Clyde of any loss of steel capacity in Lanarkshire? When the Secretary of State met the chairman of British Steel on 26 October, did the charman tell him that the company was purchasing a second-hand mill from Japan and storing it at Lackenby? If not, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that we cannot trust British Steel? Will he give an assurance on behalf of the Government and not just the Scottish Office that the Government will make an unequivocal demand that if there is to be a single plate mill strategy it will go to Dalziel and Motherwell and not to Lackenby?

Mr. Rifkind : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the north of England and Scotland will be concerned to get future investment in the steel industry. I appreciate that as a member of the Scottish National party he has no interest in what happens in the rest of the United Kingdom. He will also appreciate that the visit by his party to steelworkers in the north of England was seen as a most inopportune initiative which did no good service to steelworkers in Scotland. Of course, we would welcome investment by British Steel in Scotland and, in particular, hope that it will give favourable consideration to the claims of Dalziel for a new strip mill.

Police Accommodation

13. Mr. Shersby : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the financial effect on police officers in provided accommodation arising from the recommendations of the police arbitration tribunal.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The effect on police officers would vary according to the level of the relevant community charge, the amount of the proposed force housing allowance and the rent charged for the accommodation provided.

Mr. Shersby : Is my hon. Friend aware that the rent charged for police provided accommodation can be higher than the housing allowance payable? Is he further aware that officers in Scotland will have to pay rent, the community charge, income tax and an 11 per cent. contribution towards their pensions? Is he also aware that new entrants to the force will be substantially worse off than serving officers in post on 31 March 1990? What does he think that the effect of that will be on recruitment and on the maintenance of law and order in Scotland?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My hon. Friend represents the Police Federation and I am aware of the

Column 355

factors that he mentioned. The regulations will come into effect on 22 December. They will backdate the rent allowance for Scottish police officers, which will be popular with those concerned. My hon. Friend should be aware that we have today received the

recommendations from the police negotiating board, but there is a difficulty with the police arbitration tribunal decision about officers occupying provided accommodation who would have to pay more rent than they would receive in housing allowance and that would be a less favourable position than at present. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will give urgent and careful consideration to the recommendations.

Mr. Harry Ewing : Is the Minister aware that that has been going on since April this year? I am asking my question in the interest of my constituents who are in the police force and not because I am being paid by the Police Federation. It is a simple matter to separate that part of the rent from that part of the rates given to police officers as their allowance. That would deal with the problems that have arisen for police officers who live in provided accommodation and which have been caused by the imposition of the poll tax in Scotland. I wrote to the Minister some months ago about this issue and he has had plenty of time to sort it out. It is an absolute disgrace that police officers are still suffering.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The regulations come into effect on 22 December. I am glad that Opposition Members have not prayed against them. The backdated sums will be paid out by many forces before the end of the year. Another problem about the police arbitration tribunal was that it recommended the right to buy for all police houses. In certain remote areas, such houses are not surplus to police requirements and we are duty bound to look into the implications of these matters.

New Towns

14. Mr. Ingram : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give the house waiting lists for each of the five Scottish new towns.

Mr. Lang : The numbers on house waiting lists in the five Scottish new towns are as follows :



Irvine        |915          

Glenrothes    |1,364        

Cumbernauld   |1,213        

East Kilbride |4,364        

Livingston    |746          

Mr. Ingram : Is the Minister aware that those figures represent a doubling of the waiting lists in East Kilbride and Irvine, and a lengthening of the lists in the other new towns? Does he accept that the lengthening of the lists and the failure to build sufficient houses in the new towns are his responsibility and are a direct result of Government policy for the new towns? Will he tell the House what he proposes to do to shorten the lists and to provide sufficient houses within the new towns?

Mr. Lang : I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the lists should shorten. There are 4,300 public and, more importantly, private sector houses being constructed in the

Column 356

new towns. The development corporations' funding programmes for the current year add up to some £40 million, the figure for East Kilbride being £17 million.

Self-governing Hospitals

15. Mr. Nicholas Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, if he has received any recent representations from the British Medical Association on self-governing hospitals.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : I was interested to see that the British Medical Association in Scotland is now responding more positively to the proposed self-governing hospitals or NHS trusts and has offered to help us with monitoring their success.

Mr. Bennett : Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a welcome change of heart on the part of the BMA, but is it not strange that the Labour party, which believes in devolution, does not believe in devolving powers down to the general hospitals from the health boards?

Mr. Forsyth : I think that my hon. Friend is being a little unfair. I think that the BMA is beginning to realise the opportunities that the White Paper offers for giving doctors more say in the management of hospitals and for expanding services to patients. The only consistency that my hon. Friend should look for among Labour Members is that of always being against what the Government do, whether or not it is in the interests of patients.

Steel Industry

17. Mr. Tom Clarke : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet Strathclyde regional council and district councils from Lanarkshire to discuss the implications for local government services of the future of the steel industry in Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind : I will shortly be meeting councillor McGarry of Strathclyde regional council and others concerned about the future of Ravenscraig.

Mr. Clarke : Does the Secretary of State accept that his replies to earlier questions about steel were widely at variance with the reply that I received on Thursday from his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is sitting beside him now, when she made it clear that commercial considerations alone are what matter and that the golden share will not be used by the Government in defence of steel industry jobs? Does the Secretary of State accept that if he fails to persuade the Cabinet to fight for the future of the Scottish steel industry, he has a clear duty to offer his resignation?

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman is, uncharacteristically, totally confused. The golden share to which he referred is an opportunity for the Government to be involved only if there is an attempt, through a proposed takeover of British Steel, to increase a holding in the company to more than 15 per cent. The golden share does not give the Government any power to involve themselves in the operational matters of British Steel. With regard to the other aspect of the hon. Gentleman's question, the Government share the hon. Gentleman's view that British Steel should keep to its commitment to continue steel making in Scotland at least until the mid- 1990s.

Next Section (Debates)

  Home Page