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Borders Health Board

3. Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the level of additional resources to be made available to Borders health board for the year 1997-98 relative to the average level in Scotland. [12883]

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Because we have made health a priority, Borders health board received an extra £3.3 million, which is a 3.7 per cent. increase and above the national average increase of 3.5 per cent. Had we given those funds to local government, again health interests in the Borders would have received less.

Mr. Kirkwood: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but, leaving capital aside and considering recurrent and non-recurrent expenditure, does he accept that the settlement for the Borders health board region next year is the lowest of any health board region in Scotland? Is he aware that, on Monday, the Secretary of State for Scotland came to Selkirk and tried to argue that local people should thole a massive shortfall in local authority funding on the ground that he was giving increased priority to health in Scotland?

According to my figures, when we consider recurrent and non-recurrent expenditure, the increase is 2.55 per cent. That is the lowest increase in mainland Scotland. Will the Minister consider the matter, review the settlement and give a personal guarantee that, if there is any suggestion that patient care could be prejudiced in the next financial year, he will make good any shortfall and do away with this ministerial mean-mindedness with regard to public service provision in south-east Scotland?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Borders health board received an allocation above the national average. Hospital and community health services in Borders will receive some £69 million recurrent expenditure and £1 million non-recurrent expenditure next year. The £1 million is less than 2 per cent. of the hospital and community health services allocation for 1997-98, but it is important that the non-recurrent element can be used for restructuring and investments to boost services in future. We are committed to continuing all allocations to health boards by a fair population-based formula. I repeat the commitment that I have given the House: we are determined to increase spending for the NHS in real terms year by year--a commitment that has not been matched by Her Majesty's Opposition.

Mr. Gallie: Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that Borders is not the only region where increases have taken place? In south Scotland--in Ayrshire--has not expenditure on health care gone through the roof? It is well above the 50 per cent. real terms increase per head over recent times--

Madam Speaker: Order. I must caution the hon. Gentleman that we were in the Borders; I am sure that the Minister will reply appropriately about the Borders.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Just as a substantial allocation has been made for Borders, so the allocation

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throughout Scotland has been made on the basis of fairness. We will ensure that all parts of Scotland are properly catered for.

Madam Speaker: Back to the Borders with Sir David Steel.

Sir David Steel: Will the Minister take note of the fact that, when my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) visited the Borders general hospital during the Christmas recess, he found that acute beds were being blocked by elderly people who should be cared for in the community or in nursing homes? That problem is caused by the lack of financial resources both to the health board and to the local authority. It cannot be in patients' interests. Will the Minister undertake to examine the problem?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The total increase in social work grant-aided expenditure for Borders is 8.3 per cent., but if the right hon. Gentleman's recommendations for enormous increases to local government expenditure were implemented, there would be substantially less for health. We have given top priority to the NHS. That is our commitment. It will remain our commitment, and it will generally be supported by the electorate.

Electricity Interconnector

4. Mr. Home Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on his discussions with Scottish Power about the electricity interconnector with Northern Ireland. [12884]

Mr. Kynoch: My right hon. Friend is considering representations received and, once he has done so, will announce his decision.

Mr. Home Robertson: Does the Minister realise that the Secretary of State's interference in this affair could add £28 million to the project's cost and cause impossible technical problems? In short, he could scupper--he could sabotage--the whole interconnector project. Given the great importance to the economies of Scotland and Northern Ireland of establishing an interconnector between the electricity systems on each side of the Irish sea, will he stop playing local politics with this important issue and uphold the outcome of the public inquiries on each side of the Irish sea?

Mr. Kynoch: I know that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has to consider all representations made to him on the issue. This afternoon, the hon. Gentleman has once again disclosed the significant split between Labour Members, in that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) was shaking his head the whole time the hon. Gentleman was asking his question. My right hon. Friend will seriously consider all representations; when he has done, that he will make his announcement.

Mr. Beggs: Can the Minister confirm that Scottish Power took account of all representations--including those made by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes)--and that the re-routing

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has been done to appease environmentalists and to satisfy the justifiable need to protect fishing grounds? Will he accept that, if the project is not approved and the public inquiry's finding is not upheld, the Secretary of State will bear responsibility for sabotaging the link between Scotland and Northern Ireland, and for imposing a huge burden on electricity consumers in Northern Ireland? Will he therefore further consult the Department of Economic Development in Northern Ireland before making a final decision?

Mr. Kynoch: As I have said, my right hon. Friend listens to all representations. I know that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have a great interest in the matter. Indeed, the Secretary of State has received a letter about it from the hon. Gentleman, and has already agreed to meet him and a small delegation of his colleagues at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Eric Clarke: Is the Minister aware that the interconnector will burn the equivalent of 600,000 tonnes of coal? Is he further aware that the coal used by Cockenzie power station comes from Monktonhall; and that Scottish Office Ministers were involved in encouraging Waverley Mining to invest in that mine? The company has spent £15 million on new machinery, so jobs in my constituency and in East Lothian will clearly be under threat if the project does not go ahead.

Mr. Kynoch: I am well aware of that. I should point out that my right hon. Friend has said that he is minded to approve the interconnector, subject to four sections of it being undergrounded. It is on that aspect that he has sought further advice from the interested parties; but the matters to which the hon. Gentleman refers are commercial. They are therefore for the companies concerned, not for my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Trimble: Perhaps the Minister will remind his right hon. Friend that the crucial question is whether the interconnector will go ahead; if the undergrounding that the Secretary of State is considering is required, it is probable that the interconnector will not go ahead. It thus comes down to considering whether the project is to go ahead. Will he remind the Secretary of State that he must, in his deliberations, rise above purely local considerations and think about the national interest? He is one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State: he must consider the national interest.

The interconnector is vital to the economy of Northern Ireland, which has to bear electricity costs 15 per cent. higher than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The interconnector might help to reduce those costs. There are therefore larger considerations to be borne in mind.

Mr. Kynoch: As I told the hon. Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs), we are well aware of the significant interest in Northern Ireland in the project, but I know that my right hon. Friend is considering all representations. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect him to reach a conclusion before giving serious consideration to all aspects. He is doing that; he will do that; and when he is ready he will make an announcement.

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Health and Community Care (Highlands)

5. Mr. Charles Kennedy: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on his funding projections for health and community care in the highlands for (a) 1996-97 and (b) 1997-98. [12885]

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Highland health board's 1997-98 initial revenue allocation is £138 million, which reflects a 5.6 per cent. increase in the board's basic allocation over 1996-97. The local authority grant-aided expenditure allowances to Highland council for its community care responsibilities are £24.5 million in the current year, rising to £26.6 million in 1997-98.

Mr. Kennedy: I thank the Minister for those figures. Will he acknowledge that, in the highlands, as elsewhere in Scotland, a mixed economy of provision, particularly in care of the elderly, will remain essential? Against a difficult financial backdrop, particularly in the local authority's social work department, a major consultation exercise is now under way, and public provision of care of the elderly faces a very uncertain future. There is uncertainty at such facilities as Urray house, in Muir of Ord, as there is at other facilities in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston).

Does the Minister realise that local authorities are being put in an impossible position trying to maintain the level of public provision for care of the elderly, because they have simply not been given adequate resources by the Scottish Office?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The settlement includes provision to increase the community care allowance by £2.1 million in the highlands, which is an 8.6 per cent. increase. I am of course aware that Highland council is currently consulting local interests as part of a comprehensive review of future arrangements for the care of elderly people in the highlands. I must repeat that, if the hon. Gentleman had his way and we were to give much more funding to local government, funding through the health service would be considerably less.

Mr. Maclennan: Against the background of Highland council contemplating closure of residential care for the elderly in at least four places and a reduction of care in others, will the Minister very carefully consider the feasibility study that the Highland health board has proposed for Sutherland? Such a study might carry the implication of closing the excellent Migdale hospital, which is providing care for the elderly and psycho-geriatric cases, and post-operative and respite care. That health service provision is absolutely necessary if there is to be close co-operation between authorities in providing care for the elderly in Sutherland.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Requests for hospital closures must be cleared by us, and we would consider any such request very carefully before giving approval. However, I shall look into the case and the feasibility study mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

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