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Campbeltown to North Antrim Ferry

11. Rev. Martin Smyth: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the tourist potential for Scotland of the proposed ferry from Campbeltown to North Antrim. [38715]

Mr. Michael Forsyth: It is difficult to make a precise estimate of the benefits, but I am certain that the new ferry service will be of enormous tourism benefit to Campbeltown and the west of Scotland as a whole. I also believe that it will be of benefit to Northern Ireland and that it opens up the possibility of people doing a round trip and seeing parts of Scotland and Ireland that might otherwise be less accessible. I pay tribute to the way in which the hon. Gentleman has worked to make the project a success.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I welcome the statement by the Secretary of State. The project has gone beyond the proposal phase and should be in operation next summer. We welcome its linking of the kingdom of Dalriada and I am glad that the Secretary of State agrees that it will release Campbeltown from an experience, at times, of isolation and make it part of a through route for tourism, to our mutual benefit.

Mr. Forsyth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), who also played a part. My only regret is that it took so long to bring the matter to fruition. Those who have followed the project realise that it took so long because

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there have been serious difficulties in achieving it, but it has been worth fighting for and I am glad that it is on course to start next summer.

Mrs. Ray Michie: I, too, welcome the announcement, at long last, of the ferry service, although I am disappointed that Caledonian MacBrayne was not allowed to run it. It will nevertheless make a significant difference to Campbeltown and to the Kintyre peninsula. For how long does Sea Containers have the contract? Is the Secretary of State expecting the service eventually to run all year, so that we can build up not only a good tourist service, but a good import-export service?

Mr. Forsyth: I shall take the hon. Lady's point about CalMac head on. I spent a considerable time this summer going around islands, and in her constituency. The unique circumstances in those areas and the importance of ferry services are perfectly apparent. We must consider the support that we provide through CalMac for ferry services for the future.

It was important for the new route to be established. It was possible to achieve that with a private sector operator taking the risk, which means that CalMac's available public capital and running costs can be deployed on maintaining other services and introducing new ones. It must be the right approach to use the state nationalised service and the scarce resources available to it as wisely and as effectively as possible. That was what lay behind our thinking.

I must confess that I am not immediately au fait with all the details of the contract, but I shall write to the hon. Lady and if she has any concerns, I shall be pleased to consider them.

Mrs. Liddell: Hon. Members of all parties welcome the new ferry service, which will link two beautiful parts of the British Isles, but is not it absurd that the Secretary of State for Scotland cannot give a convincing reason why public assets have been gifted to a private company, Sea Containers, when CalMac would have been perfectly capable of running the service as it did in the past? Will the Secretary of State admit that he is so in thrall to his narrow right-wing ideology that he is prepared to gift to a private sector company public assets at the taxpayer's expense?

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Lady should take a week off to read the speeches of the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), as she is talking old Labour. She is arguing that, when a private sector operator is prepared to provide finance, purchase the ferry and take the risk on its working--even the most enthusiastic supporters have questioned its viability--we should ask the taxpayer to do it instead. That is nonsense. We should use taxpayers' resources as wisely as possible. The resources that we have for CalMac should be used to run the services that the private sector cannot run.

Dermatology Patients

13. Mr. Michael J. Martin: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many hospital beds are available in Scotland for dermatology patients. [38719]

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: At 31 March 1996, 207 beds were available and, in the year to that date,

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nearly 13,000 treatments for dermatology were carried out. That was 27 per cent. more than in the previous year.

Mr. Martin: The dermatology unit in Stobhill hospital is excellent and serves communities as far away as Falkirk, but the worry is that the beds are being taken away and it is my understanding that those requiring a bed will have to go to the Western infirmary. May I urge caution, because some of the hospital trusts, although they mean well, are trying to operate their hospitals as slick business operations, when first and foremost they should look after the interests of the patient?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I should explain to the hon. Gentleman that there have been some changes in clinical practice, including the introduction of a great deal more day care, which has been successfully introduced at Stobhill. There has been consultation. The health board is now purchasing in-patient dermatology services from the Western infirmary, where bed capacity has been increased. Glasgow is well provided with dermatology beds, having approximately four times as many in-patient dermatology beds per 100,000 of population as London. Overall, the hospital trusts are sensitive to the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Connarty: Is the Minister aware that the all-party group on skin, which is very active in the House and of which I am an office bearer, has been looking into dermatology services? I am deeply concerned that the type of in-patient provision described by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), when someone undergoes tar treatment for severe skin disorders, is the only time that they can spend among others suffering the same disease. Relaxation is very important. Day care is no substitute for the relaxation that comes from week-long stays in hospitals such as Stobhill.

The Minister seems to ignore the fact that the service provided at Stobhill is for nearly all of Scotland, not just for Glasgow. It is for people in my constituency and many others in Scotland. It is not sufficient at the moment and should be expanded, not cut down.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: If there are complaints about clinical practice, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would give me the details, which I shall investigate. There has been an increase in out-patient facilities at Stobhill. Since the date of transfer of services from Stobhill catchment area, only a handful of patients have required in-patient treatment at the Western infirmary. Out-patient treatment has increased. If there are cases of dissatisfaction with clinical decisions, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would let me know.

Stone of Destiny

14. Mr. Bill Walker: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about the future location of the Stone of Destiny; and if he will make a statement. [38720]

Mr. Michael Forsyth: I have received a number of representations on the location of the Stone of Destiny on its return to Scotland, including from my hon. Friend.

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Mr. Walker: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Can he confirm that no final decision has yet been reached and that the proposals for a kingship centre and for the stone to be located at Scone are still in the running?

Mr. Forsyth: I can confirm that no announcement has been made; I hope to make one shortly. The announcement will take full account of the representations made by my hon. Friend, in particular his proposal for a kingship centre at Scone.

Ms Roseanna Cunningham: As the other Member of Parliament representing Perthshire, may I add my voice to those who have called for the stone's ultimate return to Scone, where it of course belongs? When that great symbol of Scottish nationhood is returned, will the Secretary of State also consider the return of some of the realities of our nationhood?

Mr. Forsyth: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her representations. The important fact is that the stone will return to Scotland on the 700th anniversary of its removal. I am sure that its place in Scotland will be more permanent than the hon. Lady's place in Perthshire.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths: Will the Secretary of State admit that there is really only one place for the Stone of Destiny to rest--in the capital city of Edinburgh? Will he assure the House and the people of Scotland that, wherever the Stone of Destiny is lodged, it will be accessible to as many people as possible, and certainly to people with disabilities?

Mr. Forsyth: The criteria that need to be met for the placing of the stone were set out fully in the consultation paper. We have received a number of representations, although I am not aware that the hon. Gentleman made one. I can see that he is now doing so from a sedentary position. I promise that I will revisit the representations before making an announcement.

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