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Mental Health Care

5. Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): When he last met representatives of health trusts in Scotland to discuss delivery of mental health care in Scotland. [61267]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Sam Galbraith): I meet representatives of health boards and NHS trusts regularly to discuss matters of current interest. Mental health is a top priority for the Government and we have already introduced a range of measures designed to improve services for the mentally ill. It is vital also that the legislative framework be adequate to meet developments in treatment and care, while having due regard to public safety, so we are setting

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up a committee to carry out a major review of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984, which the right hon. Bruce Millan, I am pleased to announce, has agreed to lead.

Mrs. Ewing: I welcome the Minister's comments, but does he appreciate the fact that many of us will want time to study the recommendations that may be made in the review of that Act? This important issue affects many people in Scotland. Will there be nurse-led initiatives in both acute and primary care services, which are very important for everyone; and will the review exclude compulsory treatment, which is a matter on which the Scottish Association for Mental Health, for example, has expressed concern about civil liberties? How will the review be undertaken and when will the recommendations be implemented?

Mr. Galbraith: I am grateful for the hon. Lady's welcome for the review, but she must appreciate the fact that there are two separate issues involved: the legislation under which care is carried out, and the care itself. What I have announced today is a review of the legislation. It will be carried out under the chairmanship of the right hon. Bruce Millan, and we will make further announcements about the membership and remit of the review committee. We hope that it will report in 18 months' time.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): Does my hon. Friend agree that there are almost exactly the same number of people with learning disabilities in hospitals in Scotland as there are in the whole of England and Wales? Does he further agree that, before such patients are discharged, there should be proper assessments and advocacy, in line with the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, so that we know what will happen to them? Does he, finally, agree that he has inherited a situation in which there are again more mentally ill people in Scottish prisons this Christmas, simply because the courts do not know where else to send them; and that that is incompatible with the caring attitude of the Scottish people?

Mr. Galbraith: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's comments on a subject on which he is an expert. He is correct about the figures. There is always a balance to be struck between those in the community and those who are looked after in hospitals. We have not got it right yet, but we are moving in the right direction. I can give an absolute assurance that no person with learning difficulties will leave hospital unless going into care of a very high standard that will offer decency and dignity and the opportunity to live as normal a life as possible.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): How many mental health hospitals in Scotland still have mixed-sex wards?

Mr. Galbraith: I cannot give the exact figure. The difference between Scotland's mental health services and those in the rest of the country is that we did not rush into closing all our mental health hospitals and forcing all the patients into the community. We have retained a certain number in hospitals because we think that it is right and proper to provide places of refuge

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and asylum. We will continue to do that. It is a question of getting the balance right, and we think that we are near to achieving that in Scotland.

Higher Still

6. Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): If he will make a statement on the progress of the implementation of Higher Still. [61268]

The Minister for Education, Scottish Office (Mrs. Helen Liddell): Work is proceeding to ensure that Higher Still will be introduced from August 1999. The liaison group which I announced at Scottish questions in November has now met twice to consider issues relating to the implementation of Higher Still. I hope that the contribution of and positive approach taken by all members of the group will ensure that there is no need for any further delays with Higher Still.

Mr. Connarty: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the warm commendations that accompanied the applause after her recent speech to the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland? For her handling of the Higher Still debate, she is becoming known as Scottish education's "flexible friend," although I have suggested that her approach is more firm and flexible than just flexible. Does she accept that the Educational Institute of Scotland's survey of readiness reveals that, because of the cascade training method, many classroom teachers still feel unprepared to deal with Higher Still in the classroom? Will she make it plain to local authorities in Scotland that they should use some of the vast resources that she has made available to them to train teachers directly in the classroom in preparation for Higher Still?

Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I know that he does so with some knowledge of the topic. With reference to the cascade methods used to disseminate training, it is difficult to see how cascading could be avoided entirely, given that tens of thousands of teachers and lecturers are involved in the process, but there should be only one cascade from the principal teacher to the classroom teacher.

I recognise the anxieties of teachers about their preparedness. That is why I have made an additional £24 million available, which makes a total of £40 million for the implementation of Higher Still. A number of local authorities have made available additional in-service training days for Higher Still, and the Government are making available resources for two additional in-service training days. My hon. Friend can be confident that teachers will not be forced to implement Higher Still if they feel that they cannot do so competently.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): Why will the Minister not listen to professional teachers who are trying to tell her that the element of internal assessment in the Higher Still system will inevitably mean that employers and higher education institutions will have doubts about the validity of exam results achieved by children under the Higher Still system?

Mrs. Liddell: The hon. Lady is misinformed. The structure of assessment that will operate in Higher Still is based on existing structures of assessment. She says that

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the Government have not listened. When English teachers felt that the level of assessment was one level too far, the Government undertook to amend the system of assessment available for the teaching of English, and we are now issuing new guidelines.

The hon. Lady is far from the mark when she suggests that employers are unhappy with Higher Still. As recently as four weeks ago, the Confederation of British Industry issued a statement calling for the rapid introduction of Higher Still, because Higher Still meets the needs of employers and is a route towards ensuring that Scottish education maintains and builds on its high standards.

Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West): As flexibility seems to be the key to getting agreement between the Scottish Office and the teachers, will the Minister elaborate on the reply that she gave a moment ago about the extent to which individual schools and departments will be able to go ahead or not, depending on how well prepared for Higher Still the teachers feel?

Mrs. Liddell: The liaison group was established to take that matter into account. There have been two meetings of the liaison group so far, and I am grateful for the hard work that has been done by the group. A third meeting of the liaison group is to take place next week, and it will examine the guidelines to local authorities and the parameters within which decisions are to be taken.

Universities (English Applicants)

7. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): What is his current estimate of the number of applications to Scottish universities from English-domiciled students for the years 1999-2000; and what was the number of applications in November 1997 for the academic year 1998-99. [61269]

The Minister for Education, Scottish Office (Mrs. Helen Liddell): Seven per cent. more English students have accepted places at Scottish universities this year than did last year, which gives the lie to the scaremongering that we heard some months ago. I expect the number of English applications to Scottish higher education institutions for next year to be maintained. We want to offer as many students as possible the opportunity to qualify for higher education in Scotland.

Mr. Dalyell: Will 9 per cent. of the population continue to gain 13 per cent. of the university places? Do not universities such as Heriot-Watt, Stirling and Aberdeen depend financially on the continuation of that position?

Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend is concerned following his discussions with representatives of those universities about the level of applications this year. However, we shall not have a detailed analysis of those applications until 15 December, when the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service cut-off date applies. I shall try to find out what impact there has been on specific disciplines, and the Government are committed to monitoring the introduction of new student support arrangements, which is why the Quigley committee has been established.

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Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): What is the social profile of the students to whom the Minister referred? Will she publish the figures on 15 December so that we can determine whether the new students have rather well-off parents?

Mrs. Liddell: I am afraid that I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman, who is searching for gloom where none exists. Analysis by UCAS of the social classes of United Kingdom applicants suggests that the proportion from poorer backgrounds this year is similar to that last year. The scaremongering was all for nothing.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute): Can the Minister say how many English students have applied to the university of the highlands and islands, and, in particular, to Argyll college? She will be aware that, although the college's prospectus is out, there is no funding with which to run the college, and that has put it in jeopardy in an area that has no further education facilities. Will she and her Department do something about that immediately?

Mrs. Liddell: I am slightly ahead of the hon. Lady, because I met representatives of Argyll college last week. I recognise the difficulties in Argyll, an area with no ready access to further education. I am anxious that Argyll should benefit from the university of the highlands and islands. I cannot give the hon. Lady statistics disaggregated for applications for higher education in Argyll, but I know of the strong academic record of Argyll--particularly at Dunoon grammar school, which has sent a high proportion of hon. Members to the House--and I look forward to a solid future for Argyll. My officials are giving what assistance they can to Argyll college, because it is important to put together a sustainable business case for the college's proposals on marine education. I am anxious to give the maximum support to ensure that Dunstaffnage puts together a viable case that will provide future stability.

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