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Health Trusts

10. Mr. Donohoe: What progress he has made in respect of the proposals to reduce the number of health trusts in Scotland. [12047]

Mr. Galbraith: I have made clear my intention to reduce the number of trusts in Scotland. There is, however, no pre-determined blueprint regarding the configuration of trusts in Scotland. Any major reconfiguration will need to await the publication of the White Paper on the NHS in Scotland and the outcome of Sir David Carter's review of acute services.

Mr. Donohoe: I am grateful for that reply. What savings have already been made in the trusts in Scotland since the Government were elected? Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that that efficiency drive will continue?

Mr. Galbraith: As my hon. Friend will know, at the start of the Government's term of office, we were able to announce £10 million to go towards waiting lists from efficiency savings within the structure of the NHS in

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Scotland. We are also involved in trying to ensure that major efficiencies are achieved within the trusts in relation to such issues as purchasing, accounting, personnel matters and so on. We are making significant progress and shall continue to do so. Our aim is to ensure that every penny spent in the NHS is spent wisely and for the benefit of patients.

Mrs. Ray Michie: While the Minister is conducting that exercise, will he bear it in mind that Argyll and Bute NHS trust delivers a unique and localised service to remote rural and island areas? Does he recall that, under the last Government, efforts were made to manage the service from the central belt but, when jobs were moved from Lochgilphead to Paisley, it did not work and they were all moved back? I hope that he can give an assurance that that sort of nonsense will never happen again.

Mr. Galbraith: I am very aware about, and sympathetic to, what the hon. Lady has said. We must avoid what happened last time, when there was a blueprint for the health service in the UK. There are different areas, geographies, social structures and cultures, and we shall have different solutions for those. We shall lay down the principles; it is up to local areas to determine how to implement them.

Scottish Parliament

11. Mr. Canavan: If he will make a statement about progress of the Government's plans for a Scottish Parliament. [12048]

Mr. McLeish: Our proposals to establish a Scottish Parliament will be introduced in the House as soon as possible. We are also making progress in finding a site for the Parliament. I can today announce that three design feasibility studies have been commissioned into the possible sites at Calton hill, Leith and Haymarket, and quantity surveyors have been commissioned to prepare independent costings. We have also appointed consultants to undertake a transport and environmental impact assessment of the options.

I shall provide later this afternoon further information in a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross).

Mr. Canavan: I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State on the leading part that they played in achieving a magnificent victory in the referendum campaign. Now that a Scottish Parliament is on its way, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be wrong for this Parliament to pre-empt decisions on matters that will be the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament? Therefore, will the Government refer the issue of student grants and student fees to the Scottish Parliament, which will take a more enlightened view than this place does?

Mr. McLeish: My hon. Friend will accept the notion I hope, that we must continue to govern. The Scottish Parliament will have a substantial agenda, but hard choices and decisions that have to be made now will have to be taken. This is the first time that we have been able to celebrate in the House the magnificent victory of 11 September. It is important for the Conservatives to remember that 2.44 million Scots and people living in

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Scotland voted, and that 1.77 million of them--75 per cent. or nearly three to one--voted for a Parliament. I am sure that the Opposition will take that on board.


The President of the Council was asked--

Modernisation of the House

30. Dr. Tony Wright: If she will make a statement on the future work in modernising the House. [12023]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor): Following its report on the legislative process and the Order Paper in July, the Committee will consider further voting procedures, the parliamentary calendar, the conduct of debate and the scrutiny of European documents.

Dr. Wright: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. I congratulate the Committee and my right hon. Friend on the excellent work that they have already done, which can be seen in the quality of the Order Paper before us today.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that how the House has considered legislation in the past has been nothing short of a disgrace? It has enabled party games to triumph over proper scrutiny. Whatever model of reform the Committee comes up with, whether it is Special Standing Committees or pre-legislative hearings, it must achieve the objective of improving legislative scrutiny. It may make life harder for Ministers, but it must improve the quality of what the House does.

Mrs. Taylor: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about the Order Paper. The changes that we have introduced have been widely welcomed throughout the House. On his main point about the importance of scrutiny of legislation, I agree that we have had insufficient scrutiny on many occasions in the past. I hope that, when we as a Government stick by our commitment to publish seven Bills in draft this year, some Committees will be able to look at those Bills in draft and enhance the quality of the legislation that follows.

Mr. Boswell: Is the President satisfied that this summer's consideration of the Finance Bill took place over a total of 12 days compared with the 77 days of consideration of the last Finance Bill, under the previous Government? If she is not satisfied, will she take steps with her colleagues to ensure that such a compressed timetable never happens again?

Mrs. Taylor: The majority of people in the House are satisfied with the scrutiny of the Finance Bill, and it certainly has not been discussed by the Modernisation Committee.

Mrs. Dunwoody: It is precisely because the previous Government played ducks and drakes with our rights in the House that it is very important that these changes should be only to the advantage of the taxpayer and the voter. Will my right hon. Friend therefore give a simple

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undertaking that no procedural change, especially in the Committee sector, will go ahead that will in any way limit the rights of the Back Bencher either to raise or to examine in some detail any number of points in legislation, or to place probing amendments on the agenda?

Mrs. Taylor: The recommendations made by the Modernisation Committee were made after discussion of papers submitted by many people in the House--for the most part, people with considerable experience on the Back Benches. I think that the recommendations that we have made do reflect the desire of Back Benchers for change in the way that we propose.

Mr. Tyler: Will the President address the question of the possible implications of recommendations of the Modernisation Committee that she chairs--a Committee on which I have the pleasure to serve--for the way in which our staff are employed in the House? They give very loyal and very efficient service to the House, but in recent months there have been notable failures in consultation, especially with the doorkeepers and, I understand, with the postal staff. Can the President give us an absolute assurance that no changes to the ways in which the House proceeds will be implemented without proper consultation with the appropriate staff?

Mrs. Taylor: Such a question would be more appropriately put to the House of Commons Commission than to myself, but I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's points are raised.

Speeches (Time Limits)

31. Mr. Pickthall: What consideration she has given to time-limiting all contributions to debates in the Chamber. [12024]

Mrs. Ann Taylor: The Standing Order gives the Chair wide discretion to impose the 10-minute limit when the number wishing to speak justifies it. I am not convinced that there is a need to limit all contributions in that way.

Mr. Pickthall: Is not one of the most infuriating experiences for any Back Bencher that of, having prepared a contribution for a debate, spending as long as several hours sitting in the Chamber waiting to deliver that contribution, only to find that the opportunity is lost because several senior colleagues, higher up the batting order, have spent 30 or 40 minutes delivering their wisdom to the House? That experience has been the lot of several hon. Members waiting to deliver their maiden speech. Does she not consider that, when many hon. Members wish to speak in a debate, a 20-minute time limit on Front Benchers and a 10-minute time limit for everyone else is reasonable, given that we would need some injury time or time added on?

Mrs. Taylor: When a 10-minute limit is imposed, it applies to all Members, be they Privy Councillors or the newest Back Benchers. I think there is concern that, on occasion, certain Members tend to speak for excessively long periods when others want to make contributions. The Modernisation Committee will consider the whole subject of the conduct of debate, and it will be for the Committee

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to consider ideas such as that which my hon. Friend has mentioned: injury time to encourage interventions or promote intervention when there is a 10-minute limit. Many people will have sympathy with him on that score, because I believe that we have all, at some time, sat through a debate without being able to participate.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am glad that the right hon. Lady made her last point. Does she agree that spontaneity is terribly important in debate and that, if Members cannot intervene, the lifeblood of debate drains away? Surely we do not want a series of Members delivering pre- prepared speeches, never giving way and not replying spontaneously to other speeches?

Mrs. Taylor: I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Interventions and spontaneity are important because they are the only thing that ever makes anyone change their mind. If that happens rarely, so be it, but at least an opportunity exists. I believe that the point that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) made about the possibility of injury time should be considered carefully, although we do not want to do anything that would allow abuses of the overall purpose of a 10-minute limit. The Committee can usefully look into that.

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