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House of Commons

Wednesday 26 October 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Cottage Hospitals

1. Mr. Bill Walker: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairman of the Tayside health board to discuss with him the future for cottage hospitals in north Tayside.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton): My noble and learned Friend the Minister of Statmet the chairman of Tayside health board, together with other health board chairmen, on 24 June 1994. The future of cottage hospitals in north Tayside was not discussed at the meeting.

Mr. Walker: Will my hon. Friend confirm that no other cottage hospital in north Tayside will suffer the death by a thousand cuts suffered by Meigle over a period of 20 years? Will he further confirm that Meigle cottage hospital will now be used as a day care facility, and that that is now in hand and agreed?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I can confirm to my hon. Friend, whose Adjournment debate on this subject I listened to, that a new community health service using Meigle will be established. The health centre will provide a full range of community and primary care services for patients requiring day care, for out-patients and for outreach services to treat and support people in their own homes. My hon. Friend asks about other community hospitals in the area. The board's proposals focus on the establishment of new community hospitals in Forfar and Montrose. In Forfar, that would allow the centralisation on one site of services currently provided at Whitehills hospital and the Forfar infirmary. In Montrose, the new hospital will replace services at the outdated Montrose infirmary. Ministers support those proposals, and have therefore asked the health board and Angus national health service trust to prepare proposals for those community hospitals. A decision will be announced once Ministers have received and considered the detailed proposals.

Madam Speaker: Order. Answers are getting very long.

Mr. Ernie Ross: Why was the closure not discussed by the Minister of State and the chairman of Tayside health board? The closure of Meigle represents the loss of yet more acute beds in Tayside, and other hospitals, such as the Dundee royal infirmary, are closing, thereby

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putting even more pressure on acute beds. What guarantee can the Secretary of State give us that the model being used by the Scottish Office will ensure that there are enough acute beds in Tayside after all these hospitals are closed?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: It will of course be a priority for the health board to ensure that there are. There has been full consultation in respect of Meigle, and the news that it will be used for health purposes will be welcome.

Convention of Scottish Local Authorities

2. Mr. Graham: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet representatives of COSLA to discuss local services.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart): My right hon. Friend and I will meet representatives of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on 11 November as part of the normal consultation on local government finance matters.

Mr. Graham: In his discussions with local authorities, will the Secretary of State raise a question that is causing incredible problems for my constituency and others in Scotland--the demand for the release of green -belt land for building? Many people are spending a fortune trying to stop the onslaught on the green belt. It is costing local authorities and local folk a fortune to pay QCs to fight their case. Surely this nonsense must be stopped and people allowed the peace of mind of knowing that the green belt is no longer under threat.

Mr. Stewart: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new slimline image. I do not believe that there is a significant difference of approach between what he has said and the position that my right hon. Friend and I take. We are vigorous defenders of the green belt.

Mr. John Marshall: When my hon. Friend meets representatives of COSLA, will he raise the question of corruption in local government? Did he see the headline in yesterday's Daily Record --scarcely a Conservative party publication--suggesting that there is to be a second inquiry into Monklands?

Mr. Stewart: Of course, I always read the Daily Record . I understand that the police are conducting two inquiries: one into allegations about taxi licences, and the other into more general allegations of corruption. I further understand that it is now in the public domain that a third inquiry is being conducted into allegations of expenses fraud in the Monklands area, but that does not involve elected councillors of Monklands district council.

Mr. Welsh: Will the Minister admit that the private financing of public water services will add between 50 to 100 per cent. to borrowing costs, which the consumer will have to meet in higher bills? Why is he replacing a low-cost, high-quality local government service with a high- cost quango system, which no one in Scotland wants?

Mr. Stewart: The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. I am aware of the allegations to which he refers, which understate the cost of finance in the public sector,

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overstate the cost of finance in the private sector and ignore the financial benefits of being protected from financial risk.

Mr. Canavan: Does the Minister agree that one of the most important local services is residential accommodation for frail, elderly people, whether it be in local authority homes or hospitals such as Lochgreen in my constituency, which is threatened with closure and where, even now, the management are stopping new admissions? Will the hon. Gentleman intervene to instruct the management of Lochgreen that they must not pre-empt the Secretary of State's decision on the matter? Will he ensure that adequate resources are given to the trust to ensure that Lochgreen remains open and is able to make the improvements necessary to modernise its facilities, so that its excellent staff can carry on their work for patients?

Mr. Stewart: I certainly can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that I will look into the specific constituency matter that he raises. I emphasise the Government's commitment to care in the community through the transfer of £106 million from the Department of Social Security, with an extra £55 million in 1994-95. An extra £15 million will be available under the bridging finance scheme, and for long-stay hospital patients, to whom he referred, there is an extra resource transfer of £10 million in 1993-94. The Government's general commitment to care in the community is without question.

Mr. George Robertson: Anyone who has studied the figures produced by Strathclyde regional council on the future of water services, and its view that, under the Government's preferred financing objective, water bills will rise by twice as much as they would have under local councils, will believe Strathclyde regional council, not the Government. Is the Minister willing to give a guarantee that, after quangoisation, water bills in Scotland will not explode to English levels? Why are the Government still hell-bent on going ahead with their plans, which face almost universal hostility in Scotland and which would take water out of locally elected control and place it, like so much else, in the hands of unelected appointed Government cronies?

Mr. Stewart: For the very simple reason that it will result in a much more cost-effective system. I have made it clear why I believe the Strathclyde figures to be misplaced. On the more general question, it is perfectly clear that Strathclyde regional council has more than adequate finance. I understand that it is taking out a full-page advertisement in tomorrow's edition of The Daily Telegraph . I think that that shows that Strathclyde regional council has money to burn.

Hospital Beds

3. Mr. Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the future provision of short stay and respite care hospital beds in the north-east of Scotland.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Planning of health care services to meet local needs is a matter for health boards, in discussion with local authorities and the private and voluntary sectors, as appropriate.

Mr. Bruce: I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that there is total outrage at the consultation process

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relating to the closure of Woodlands hospital, which follows the closure of the House of Daviot in Kingseat in my constituency? People are not confident that adequate long-stay and respite care beds will be provided, and people are outraged that they were not given sight of the options until after the consultation process had been completed. Those options included developing the Woodlands site in accordance with a written promise given to me three years ago by Grampian health board. If the Minister receives a reference for the closure of that hospital, will he refer it back for further consideration and proper consultation?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: In deciding whether to approve closures relating to those or, indeed, any other hospitals in Scotland, we would want to be convinced that alternative arrangements were in place for patients that were every bit as good as--and preferably better than--the previous arrangements.

Woodlands is running well below capacity as a result of developments in community care; it is proposed that it will care for fewer than 50 mentally handicapped people by early 1995. We shall bear in mind the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Mr. Robert Hughes: Is the Minister aware that the parents of the vulnerable and special patients involved are devastated by the way in which the whole matter has been handled? Does he understand that the consultation process that is currently under way is fatally flawed, because a decision has already been made? If there is to be consultation, it should involve proper discussions with the parents of the patients involved long before any final decision is made. Will the Minister give a categorical undertaking that there will be no transfer until the matter has been thoroughly aired and examined?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: As far as Scottish Office Ministers are concerned, no decision has been made. I give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that these matters will be considered thoroughly, as will his point about dissatisfaction with the consultation process.

Hospital Waiting Lists

4. Mr. Nigel Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give the most recent figures for waiting lists for operations in trust hospitals.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang): More people are being treated in NHS hospitals than ever before. In the year to June 1994, the number of out-patients treated rose by 2.6 per cent., the number of in- patients treated rose by 1.6 per cent. and the number of day cases treated rose by no less than 18.4 per cent. I am arranging for all the most recent figures for waiting lists to be sent to the hon. Member and published in the Official Report .

Mr. Griffiths: If the Government's record is so good, why are patients with chronic heart disease having to wait for up to 13 months? Why are heart pacemakers being rationed to 750 a year in Lothian? Will the Secretary of State hold an inquiry into the fact that heart patients are dying because of long waiting lists for treatment?

Mr. Lang: On 30 June this year, Edinburgh Healthcare trust had a total waiting list of nine in-patients, and no day-case patients. Waiting lists in Lothian are very short

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indeed. There has been a substantial increase of 6 per cent. in Lothian health board's budget. As for waiting lists for individual treatment, it is for each health board in Scotland to find the best and most effective way of obtaining the ever-increasing range of treatments that are now available for the health service.

Mr. Wallace: How many patients in NHS hospitals and trust hospitals in Scotland have been operated on at the Health Care International hospital in Clydebank? Does the Secretary of State accept that there is considerable public concern about the amount of public money that has been invested in that hospital, and would he welcome a National Audit Office investigation of the use of public money for the project?

Mr. Lang: Any investigation of any such organisation that any official body considers it appropriate to conduct would certainly receive full co-operation from the Scottish Office and from me. I believe that the figure for which the hon. Gentleman asks is small. I see no objection, however, to giving any health board that has the necessary resources and feels the need to benefit patients on its waiting list the opportunity to do so. I think that health boards should be entitled to take advantage of such opportunities.

Mr. George Robertson: Does the Secretary of State not recognise that concern about future hospital waiting lists has a good deal to do with the scandal involving Health Care International in Clydebank? Does he not recognise that, in the light of the long-standing public concern about HCI- -which grows with every daily revelation--and his silence on the issue, until and including today, has been seen as suspicious and sinister?

What precisely has been the Secretary of State's role in the whole affair? Will he now tell the House exactly how much public money the Government have allocated to this shaky project? Is it not true that £40 million may be just the tip of a financial iceberg? What will happen to a hospital that was specifically designed solely for overseas patients, and which now threatens to swamp and damage the national health service?

Mr. Lang: The idea that a private sector health care service set up in Scotland, bringing great expertise in specialties that are not readily available around the world, should damage the interests of the health service is preposterous. The Labour party is blinded by its own ideology. It will not accept health care of any sort unless it is offered through the national health service. If health service patients are able to benefit from Health Care International, or from any other private sector hospital, and health boards decide that they can afford to use services in that way, thus shortening their waiting lists and helping patients to receive treatment, those services should be available.

Financial help of about £30 million has been offered for that inward investment project. That should be seen in the context of the fact that some 346 inward investment projects have been secured in the past five years, bringing or securing some 47,000 jobs and attracting more than

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£2.5 billion of investment to Scotland. HCI is the sort of successful initiative that is creating new enterprise, new activity and more jobs in Scotland.

Mr. Worthington: The Secretary of State should take account of the fact that in 1987, when he and his predecessor authorised the project, HCI said that

"it has been and will"--

Madam Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentlemen that it is not in order to quote during Question Time; perhaps he will paraphrase.

Mr. Worthington: I speak in words that are remarkably similar to those used by HCI, which said that it has been and will continue to be the policy of HCI not to market its services to citizens of the United Kingdom. That was its pledge, which the Secretary of State accepted. Its chief executive is now saying that he sees nothing wrong with offering its services to health boards and that it would be "bizarre", to use his word, if the west of Scotland were the only place not to receive its services. Does the Secretary of State intend to keep HCI to its pledge in 1987, and will he give an undertaking that no activity of HCI will damage any hospital in the Greater Glasgow area?

Mr. Lang: I see no likelihood of any activity of HCI damaging any health board hospital. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that patients who could be treated by HCI and whose health boards would like them to be treated by it should be denied the opportunity to have treatment earlier than they would otherwise just because of the ideological blockage of Labour Members? That would be preposterous. Labour Members should express support for an enterprise that brings 400 jobs to Clydebank and Milngavie. The hon. Gentleman welcomed the initiative when it was announced, saying that "the development is bringing much-needed employment to a jobs-starved community."

Labour Members should express the wish that the venture should succeed.

Drift Nets

5. Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received from angling organisations regarding the use of drift nets; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir Hector Monro): Various angling organisations, as well as individuals, havemade representations recently against the continuation of the salmon drift net fishery off north-east England.

Mr. Bellingham: Is my hon. Friend aware that that salmon drift net fishery is doing great harm to rural economies in Scotland, to say nothing of the damage to other marine species such as porpoises and dolphins? What representations has he made to his colleagues at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to have the nets bought out, obviously with full compensation? There are moves in the European Community to have drift netting banned. Is it not time that the United Kingdom supported those moves?

Sir Hector Monro: I note my hon. Friend's strong feelings. I have certainly received strong representations from many organisations and individuals in Scotland

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concerned about the poor salmon and sea trout returns from the east coast rivers of Scotland. The Scottish Office certainly bears those representations in mind, particularly as it banned drift netting in Scotland in 1962. It will, of course, continue to discuss the matter with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We require scientific evidence, which is provided by the National Rivers Authority. There have been discussions in Europe about banning drift netting, but the European Parliament and the Commission disagree on whether a ban should include salmon. We shall have to wait to see how that is resolved.

Mrs. Ray Michie: May I turn the Minister's attention from the east coast to the west coast, where, as he will know, there has been a serious decline in the numbers of salmon reaching the rivers, especially in Argyll? Does he attribute that, as many do, to the operation of the Irish net fishery off the north-west coast of Ireland, which is catching large numbers of salmon returning home to breed? If he believes that that fishery is responsible in some way, is there anything that he can do about it?

Sir Hector Monro: I note what the hon. Lady says. There has been a general condemnation of drift net fishing, whether off the north-east coast of Scotland or the Irish coast. However, any condemnation has to be balanced with scientific evidence and, as usual, we are holding discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the matter and will consider whether we should make further representations to the Irish Government.

Sir Cranley Onslow: Is my hon. Friend aware that if he would like to tell the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that the sooner the north-east drift net fishery is ended the better it will be for Scotland, he will find many hon. Members representing English constituencies willing to support him?

Sir Hector Monro: I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support. I know that that view is strongly held by many keen anglers, including himself.

Mr. Beith: Will the Minister draw to the attention of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) the scientific study commissioned by the Government, which showed that there was no evidence for the claim that the angling take of fish would be increased by ending the north-east drift net fishery, which is, in any case, being phased out? Will he direct his attention to the need to improve river quality and river flows instead of taking away the livelihoods of working fishermen?

Sir Hector Monro: I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. As he knows, the decision to phase out drift nets through a net limitation order was based on scientific evidence. That is how things stand.

Mr. Kynoch: I know that my hon. Friend is aware of the importance of salmon fishing on the River Dee to my constituency and especially to royal Deeside, but does he agree that the current critically low level of stocks was perhaps caused by, among other things, north-east drift netters? Does he accept that the reduction so far, under the phasing-out process, has come only from the smaller drift net fishermen? Will he urge the Ministry of

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Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to speed up significantly the phasing out of north-east drift nets to save the economy of royal Deeside?

Sir Hector Monro: I know that fishing on the Dee has been especially disappointing this year, and I can give my hon. Friend the facts. In 1993, the last year for which we have figures, 73,614 salmon, grilse and sea trout were taken by north-east drift nets, which must have had an impact on the east coast rivers. I am aware, too, of the importance of fishing to the economy of Scotland, in terms of tourism and other activities, and we have to bear that in mind as well as the scientific evidence.

Mr. Dalyell: Following his letter to me, reflecting his genuine concern and that of his expert advisers, can the Minister do anything to protect the turtles that are coming to Scottish waters in increasing and significant numbers?

Mr. McMaster: Answer that.

Sir Hector Monro: I am not sure what the salmon fisheries in Paisley have to say on the matter, but I am grateful to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for the point that he makes.

Concessionary Travel

6. Mr. Home Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make it his policy to encourage single tier local authorities to co -operate to provide cross-boundary concessionary travel schemes for pensioners and disabled people.

Mr. Stewart: I trust the new councils to use their discretionary powers to decide whether to act jointly to establish a concessionary travel scheme in whatever way best serves the interests of their areas.

Mr. Home Robertson: As local authority accounting rules will not allow the new city authorities in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen to subsidise concessionary travel schemes for people living in neighbouring districts, will the Minister acknowledge the immense importance of maintaining co-ordinated concessionary travel schemes to ensure the continuing mobility of pensioners and disabled people, and will he, even now, amend the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, or will he become the Minister who flings Scotland's grannies off the buses?

Mr. Stewart: I was about to be very courteous to the hon. Gentleman. I was going to remind the House that 16 years ago today he was elected at a by-election and congratulate him on his anniversary, but in the light of his unsporting comments I am not sure that I should do so.

However, the hon. Gentleman raised a perfectly genuine point. Under section 93 of the Transport Act 1985 the new local authorities will have full discretionary powers to act jointly to establish concessionary schemes in so far as they believe that that would be in the interests of their electors.

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Deprivation And Poverty

7. Mrs. Adams: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet representatives of voluntary organisations to discuss deprivation and poverty.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Issues of poverty and deprivation could be raised by a range of voluntary organisations that my right hon. Friend and I meet in the course of our ministerial duties.

Mrs. Adams: Does the Minister not find it disgusting that while his party has reigned over ever-increasing poverty and deprivation, one of his colleagues appeared on "Kilroy" this week to tell us that he could not live on his parliamentary salary? Will the Minister deplore that statement, and give us a guarantee that the charity commissioners' plan to silence the campaigning voice of charities will not apply in Scotland?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I shall certainly look into the specialised point that the hon. Lady raised about the charity commissioners, but I must tell her that our record on voluntary organisations in Scotland is good. They receive about £48 million through the urban programme. Indeed, the hon. Lady's local district council, Renfrew, receives about £6.8 million, and during the last few days, on 13 October, it received a supplementary allocation for the housing revenue account and non-housing revenue account--several hundred thousand pounds altogether. That shows that her constituency has not been forgotten. With regard to the House of Commons matter that the hon. Lady mentioned, my view is that Members of Parliament are perfectly well rewarded; however, that is a matter for the House to debate in due course.

Mr. Wray: Is the Minister aware that the average adult wage in Scotland is £300 per week? Why are 36 per cent. of the Scottish work force earning less than £220 per week? Is it not a shocking state of affairs that 543,000 people, with 342,000 dependants, are on income support? That means that 885,000 people--17 per cent. of the working population--depend on income support. Are the Government considering restoring benefits for 16 and 17-year-olds?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Earnings in Scotland are higher than those in most of the rest of Britain, with the exception of the south-east. Overall disposable incomes have risen by an average of 36 per cent. since 1979. Increases have not been confined to the wealthiest; there have been increases in average income for all economic status groups and all family types. It is significant that this year housing benefit in Scotland will probably amount to more than £800 million. That is evidence of substantial funding for those who need it.

Mr. Bill Walker: When my hon. Friend meets representatives of the voluntary bodies, will he remind them that the safety net today is much better than it was in the period of real poverty and deprivation of the 1920s, 1930s and earlier, and that every pound spent with voluntary bodies is better spent, because society gets a far greater reward for that money than for money spent on, for instance, social work departments?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I confirm that there has been substantial extra help for low-income families.

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Extra help worth more than £1 billion more a year in real terms than that available in 1988 is available for low- income families with children, and the vulnerable have been protected. For example, after housing costs, the family of an unemployed person with two children is 24 per cent. better off on income support than would have been the case in 1979. The safety net is extremely important, and we regard it as such.

Mrs. Fyfe: If the Government care about children, particularly those living in poverty and deprivation, and about the need for changes in the law to safeguard them and to enshrine rights on which they should be able to rely so that they do not have their childhood taken away from them, why have the Government still not responded to our offer to assist the passage of a Children Bill, for which we have been waiting for the past 14 months, since the White Paper was published? What is the Minister waiting for?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I was a member of the Committee that considered the most recent significant Children Bill. It is a very important subject and we shall obviously consider it fully in the context of the next Session.

Scottish Enterprise

8. Dr. Reid: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the chairman and chief executive of Scottish Enterprise to discuss the Scottish economy.

Mr. Lang: I plan to meet the chairman and chief executive of Scottish Enterprise next month.

Dr. Reid: When the right hon. Gentleman meets the chairman, will he tell him how disappointed we were that Samsung did not come to Lanarkshire? More importantly, will he tell him how disturbed we are by the reports now beginning to filter out that the package that attracted Samsung to the north of England was not the reported £58 million, but £71 million, the extra £13 million given in stealth being meant to counteract our enterprise zone status and financial assistance? Does he accept that if that was done at the behest of the President of the Board of Trade, it is an absolute scandal which counteracts completely the financial assistance given by the Government, and the implicit and explicit promises of the Prime Minister? Will the right hon. Gentleman give a guarantee that he will investigate the reports if I send him the information relating to them?

Mr. Lang: I share the hon. Gentleman's disappointment that Samsung chose not to come to Scotland. Nevertheless, I am sure that he will join me in welcoming the fact that this extremely important new inward investment was won for the United Kingdom in the face of worldwide competition, because of the competitiveness of the United Kingdom's economy. It is competitive because we resist, for example, such measures as the social chapter and the minimum wage. I think that the hon. Gentleman will also agree that it is extremely satisfactory that Lanarkshire came so close to winning the Samsung project. That is a reflection of the progress that has been made in making Lanarkshire an attractive place in which to invest, just like the rest of Scotland.

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On the figures, the hon. Gentleman knows that the regional selective assistance scheme operates on a level basis across the whole of the United Kingdom, subject to standard criteria. If he can let me have details of any components of the package offered to Samsung which differ from what has been published, I will of course give them close attention.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: Can my right hon. Friend confirm that over the summer months there was a series of historic and massive boosts to the Scottish economy from massive inward investment in the central belt and new oilfields off the west coast of Shetland? Does he agree that under a tax- raising Scottish Assembly, all of that would be put in jeopardy and at risk? A tax-raising Scottish Assembly would drive out investment, force up unemployment and create misery for every taxpayer in Scotland.

Mr. Lang: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the reasons why Scotland is so attractive to inward investors and so successful economically is precisely that it is within the United Kingdom, operating in the stable economic environment that exists right across the United Kingdom. Not only have we been extremely successful in inward investment, but we, as a Scottish nation, are now manufacturing more than ever before in our history and exporting more than ever before in our history.

Dr. Bray: Is the Secretary of State aware that the enterprise zone sites in Lanarkshire are not filling up rapidly with this inward investment? Will he not only investigate the positive discrimination about which my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) has informed the House, but examine whether there are positive measures which could be taken to get the investment flow going into the enterprise zones?

Mr. Lang: I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that last year inward investment coming to Scotland was at record levels in terms of the number of projects, the capital invested and the jobs created and protected. This year, the effort is even more successful, with Lanarkshire securing a substantial proportion. An example is the recent further expansion of Motorola at East Kilbride. I will, however, investigate further any specific points that the hon. Gentleman cares to bring to my attention.

Mr. McFall: When the Secretary of State next meets Scottish Enterprise, will he discuss with the chairman the question why that body put £4 million of public funds into one particular hospital and why Scottish Enterprise took £1.4 million in equity in the company involved? Is he willing to see a further £5.4 million poured into this black hole of a project, which is radically different from the one announced and welcomed in 1987? Is there not a question of bad judgment in this? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do about it?

Mr. Lang: The application for financial assistance was, of course, appraised in all the normal and conventional ways--and very thoroughly-- before decisions were taken. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on the fact that enterprise of all kinds carries with it a certain amount of risk. It is to the great credit of Locate in Scotland that it has brought no fewer than 346 projects to Scotland in the past five years, the vast majority of which are now successfully established, and expanding and generating extra resources. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will

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support the prospects for Health Care International and will hope that it will succeed and continue to provide employment, which is badly needed in Clydebank.

Health Boards (Finance)

9. Mr. Donohoe: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the chairmen of health boards to discuss finance.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The Minister of State meets chairmen of health boards regularly to discuss a wide range of strategic issues, including those involving finance, affecting the management of the national health service in Scotland. Next week it will take place on 4 November 1994.

Mr. Donohoe: If the Minister was at the Tory party conference and was able to stay awake during his leader's speech, he would have heard him say that the national health service was safe in his hands. Can the Minister therefore tell us why in Ayrshire most patients who go to dentists now have to pay the full price for their treatment? Will he also tell us why in Ayrshire, and in my constituency at Ravenspark geriatric hospital, patients have been transferred to the private sector, which is clearly taking them for profit? How is it possible for the Prime Minister to say that the national health service is safe in his hands?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The new trusts are perfectly free to buy in services if they are in the interests of the patients concerned, are reasonable and are of the necessary quality. There have been significant developments at South Ayrshire hospitals trust, which have been greatly in the interests of the patients. The new magnetic resonance imaging equipment is used, there is a helicopter landing pad to help with patients, a new nurse-led glaucoma clinic, lip-reading classes for patients with impaired hearing, and improved accessibility and choice for patients. With regard to charging, I shall make inquiries into the particular point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman; I will look into the exact circumstances and send him a letter on the matter. Overall, however, the range of services has widened and there have been substantial improvements carried out by the trusts.

Mr. Galbraith: When the Minister's noble Friend meets the chairmen, will he discuss again the issues of poverty and deprivation in Scotland? Does the Minister realise that the major causes of ill health in Scotland are poverty and deprivation and that it is not only the absolute levels, but the relative levels? In other words, the greater the discrepancy between rich and poor, the greater the ill health. Will the Minister discuss with the health board chairmen the Government's role in reducing the gap between rich and poor, which has grown greatly during the Government's reign?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: One effective way of being of assistance is by substantial funding of the national health service in Scotland. I can confirm that for every £100 spent in England on the national health service, £122 is spent in Scotland. Of course, health problems are considerable in areas of grave urban deprivation. That is why a record sum has been allocated

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