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Care in the Community

11. Mr. Bill Walker: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what proposals he has to increase the value for money of care in the community funds; and if he will make a statement. [12891]

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Proposals are being considered to ensure that information on the net costs to local authorities of purchasing services from the private and voluntary sectors, as well as from their in-house providers, is made available to elected representatives and to the public.

Mr. Walker: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Is he aware that the chairman of the social work committee of Perth and Kinross council has told the private sector owners that, although the inquiry into Tayside provisions showed that massive savings could be made of between £3 million and £6 million in Tayside

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and between £33 million and £66 million in Scotland as a whole, nothing will be done about it and Government directives will have no impact?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: That assertion is incorrect. In the next few weeks, the Scottish Office will publish directions on information that local authorities cannot disregard, and the inspector's report made it quite clear that the three authorities could save between £3 million and £6 million, which would mean between £33 million and £66 million nationally.

In the public interest, electors should have the right to expect their councils to ensure that they get value for money for all their services, including in-house provision, and the facts should be made public. We shall ensure that that happens.

Mr. Connarty: Is the Minister aware that Central Scotland Healthcare NHS trust, which is responsible for care in the community in Forth Valley, is proposing to do away with its care managers and to sack 28 charge nurse sisters and replace them with 18 nurse managers, who will be responsible for double the number of patients? Sisters will no longer be responsible for contact with patients in the hospitals in the Secretary of State's constituency and other constituencies in central Scotland, including mine. Will the Minister take a stand and keep the sisters in the wards? Matrons have been done away with, and now the same is to happen to sisters. Will he prevent that?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The problem is not caused by funding for community care. The increase in funding for community care is £66.5 million, taking it to about £720 million for Scotland as a whole. I shall look into the individual circumstances about which the hon. Gentleman asked, and be in touch with him in due course.

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Press Release (Madam Speaker's Statement)

3.31 pm

Madam Speaker: Yesterday, the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) raised a point of order with me and was good enough to let me have the documentation so that I might examine it. I have to say to him that I can see nothing wrong in the Labour party press release to which he referred. It is perfectly open to any hon. Member to raise a subject with the Comptroller and Auditor General, either directly or by means of a conversation with the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and to tell the media that he has done so.

On the point of substance, which is publicising the nursery voucher scheme in Scotland, I noted from the material that the hon. Gentleman sent me that the Secretary of the Cabinet has made it clear that this is legitimate at present but that once a general election has been called new advertising campaigns will in general be postponed and running campaigns will be closed. That would no doubt include the one that the hon. Gentleman referred to.


Mental Health (Joint Commissioning Consortia)

Mr. Peter Thurnham, supported by Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Archy Kirkwood and Mr. Charles Kennedy, presented a Bill to enable health and local authorities to form consortia to commission health and social care for mentally ill people and to jointly disburse the funds voted them by Parliament to provide mental health services: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Wednesday 5 March, and to be printed [Bill 97].

Town Centres (Insurance and Restoration)

Mr. Dafydd Wigley, supported by Mr. Cynog Dafis, Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones and Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, presented a Bill to provide a requirement on the owners of properties in urban areas to maintain adequate insurance cover to enable them to restore to its previous condition a building damaged by fire or other accident; to require money paid by insurance companies arising from such a claim to be used primarily for that purpose unless granted a specific derogation by the local planning authority; to authorise local authorities to make claims against the assets of the owners of such properties in the event of their failure to restore damaged buildings; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 28 February, and to be printed [Bill 98].

Constitutional Change

3.33 pm

Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside): I beg to move,

The Bill seeks to address the public concern that could be expressed if some of the constitutional proposals that are currently being discussed in the United Kingdom and the European Union were to be implemented. I make it clear at the outset that it is neither a device to maintain the status quo nor a device to frustrate Parliament.

I sincerely believe that the United Kingdom's constitution and Parliament have served the people of these islands well. Scotland and the Scottish people have been especially well served. Sometimes the arrangement is called sovereignty--the right to make one's own democratic decisions.

The constitution's great strength is that it is not cast in stone. Since 1707, it has changed to meet the needs of the times. In other words, it has evolved, and the people have accepted its evolution. Only during the past 20 or so years might some changes have occurred by default rather than consent. That is important, because consent is at the heart of the United Kingdom constitution and vital to the way in which we are governed. If Parliament deliberately or inadvertently ignores that, it does so at its peril.

The single-Member constituency is a cornerstone of the constitution. Once elected, a Member represents all the people of the constituency. Another cornerstone is the Member's right to ask questions and have them answered. That, coupled with parliamentary privilege, means that Members can, through questions, debates and motions, address problems brought to them by their constituents. All that is free to the constituent. Any change that affects those cornerstones should have the consent of the people. My Bill seeks to ensure that that will happen.

Members of Parliament have the leasehold of the constitution during their time in Parliament. They can make changes that can be reversed the following month or year if Parliament so decides. However, we cannot bind future Parliaments. That is why I say that Members have the leasehold of the constitution--or sovereignty--during their period in Parliament. The freehold of the constitution belongs to the people. I remind the House that, in the United Kingdom, we govern by consent. If Parliament wishes to make permanent constitutional change, it must have the consent of the people. Only the people can give away our grandchildren's inheritance--the constitution of the United Kingdom and Parliament.

Put simply, constitutional change embraces any transfer of power from this Parliament to other bodies in Europe, Scotland Wales, Northern Ireland or the regions of England; any change in the single-Member constituency and the way in which elections to the House are organised and structured; any change in how individuals can become peers of the realm and sit in the other place; and any reduction in the ability of this House to vote Supply, or to influence interest rates, inflation, or levels of borrowing or unemployment.

Many people propose referendums because they regard them as a means of obtaining consent before Parliament decides. The main problem with such proposals is the difficulty of framing the questions to be put to the people.

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There is also the problem of the complexity of such changes and the difficulty that that creates for public debate. My Bill would ensure that any change proposed was fully debated by Parliament, and that only after Parliament had decided, and a Bill had completed its passage through both Houses, would the matter be put to the people. That means a straight yes or no: do the electors accept or reject Parliament's proposed change?

During the passage of a constitutional Bill, the proposers--probably the Government of the day--will have to tell the millions who voted for them what Members of Parliament will or will not be able to do if the proposal becomes law. They will, quite properly, have to explain the impact of their proposals on the ability of the House to influence matters of great importance to the people. Sovereignty--or the constitution--is not a theoretical abstract matter but a living thing that impacts on everyone living in the United Kingdom. It influences tax and spending decisions, and unemployment. All that will be argued in Parliament during the passage of any Bill for constitutional change, be it for devolved assemblies in Cardiff, Edinburgh or Belfast, for European Union federal matters, or for the single currency.

My Bill is not novel. It was tested and tried during the referendum on entry to the European Economic Community. It was used again during the referendum on the Scotland Act 1978; the precedents exist.

My Bill ensures that full, frank and open debate on constitutional change is held in Parliament against the background of the knowledge that the proposals, when agreed, will be put to the people in a referendum, thus ensuring that consent will occur before sovereignty or the constitution is changed. Change by default will cease, and the risks of constitutional unrest following unwanted change will have been banished.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bill Walker, Mr. Allan Stewart, Mr. Iain Duncan Smith, Mr. Bill Cash, Sir Teddy Taylor, Mr. Andrew Hargreaves, Mr. Richard Shepherd, Mr. Jacques Arnold, Mr. Barry Field, Sir George Gardiner and Mr. David Shaw.

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