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Hepatitis C

3. Annabelle Ewing (Perth): If she will discuss the issue of hepatitis C sufferers in Scotland at her next scheduled meeting with the First Minister. [113325]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): I expect to discuss a range of issues at my next meeting with the First Minister.

Annabelle Ewing : I thank the Scottish Secretary for her answer. Surely the key issue is whether she will fight for the right of the Scottish Parliament to pay compensation and for a 100 per cent. exemption from the benefit clawback rules. If she will not do that, will she explain to hepatitis C sufferers in Scotland why on earth Scottish taxpayers are paying £7 million for the running costs of her office?

Mrs. Liddell: I should have thought that the hon. Lady would have learned a lesson when she saw the majority in her constituency plummet: scaremongering does not work. There are serious legal and policy-based issues in relation to hepatitis C. There have been extensive discussions between the Scottish Executive and the Department for Work and Pensions, not least on whether payments should be taken into account as capital or income when someone claims income-related benefits. Those discussions could not continue because of the Scottish Parliament elections. As soon as the Minister for Health and Community Care is in place in the Scottish Parliament, those discussions will continue. The issues are not superficial and the hon. Lady should not treat them in a superficial manner.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): During the Secretary of State's next meeting with the First Minister, will she make clear this House's unequivocal opposition to proportional representation for local government?

Mrs. Liddell: As my hon. Friend is aware, those matters are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I am sure that he voted in favour of the Scotland Act 1998, which sets that out quite clearly.

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): Given the changes in public health laboratories and what might be happening both north and south of the border, can the right hon. Lady assure us that diseases like hepatitis C will be considered on a national basis and not broken up and devoluted to any part of the nation?

Mrs. Liddell: I read some strange words over the weekend, the origins of which I had never seen before, and "devoluted" falls into a similar category. I think the hon. Gentleman means devolved. However, he makes a valid point in relation not just to public health

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laboratories but to the Medical Research Council and its work, not least on diseases such as hepatitis C. There is a need for clear co-operation and clear guidelines to deal with such problems. Places like Edinburgh are world leaders in that type of research. Both the UK Government and the Scottish Executive are proud of that. We aim to ensure that such bodies are well funded and have the resources that enable them to make a proper contribution. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is very valid.

Winter Fuel Payments

4. Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): How many pensioners in Scotland will benefit from the £300 winter fuel payment for the over-80s. [113326]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): We estimate that around 200,000 pensioners in Scotland will benefit from the £100 additional payment attached to the winter fuel payment.

Mr. Savidge : All our Government's measures to help people cope with winter cold are particularly welcome in northern Scotland. Does my hon. Friend consider that those central Government policies will be valuably supplemented by the plans of the recently re-elected Labour-led Scottish Executive to extend free central heating to pensioners?

Mrs. McGuire: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The partnership of the UK-wide winter fuel payment and the implementation of local initiatives, such as the warm homes initiative, has made a difference to people in Scotland, especially pensioners, hence the Labour-led Administration in Holyrood.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): The increase in winter fuel payments for pensioners will be most welcome if they are received on time. In that regard, is the Minister aware of the complete shambles that accompanied the introduction of the working tax credit and the hardship that that caused? What assurance can she give Scottish pensioners that winter fuel payments will not suffer from the same bureaucratic incompetence and create similar hardship?

Mrs. McGuire: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that winter fuel payments are going into their sixth season, if I can put it that way. As far as I am aware, there have been no major difficulties with their distribution. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster General has addressed some of the issues in relation to the transfer to the new working tax credit.

Mr. James Wray (Glasgow, Baillieston): The March report for 2001–02 stated that there are £4.5 billion of unclaimed benefits in the UK, £500 million of which are in Scotland. Of the 11 most deprived areas in the UK, four are in Glasgow. Will the Minister approach the Chancellor to ring-fence all that unclaimed benefit so that it can be given to the poor?

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Mrs. McGuire: My hon. Friend is well aware that the Government have never hidden benefits under a bushel, but have advertised them and encouraged people to pick up their benefits. The Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions have consistently made it obvious that we want people to claim the benefits to which they are entitled. I appeal again to the 71 Members of Parliament, each of whom is considered to be a leader in their community, to ensure that as much publicity as possible is given to benefit take-up, complementing the work done by the DWP and the Treasury.


The Advocate-General was asked—


14. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): What devolution issues have been raised since 8 April. [113337]

15. Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill): What devolution issues she has dealt with since 8 April. [113338]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): Since 8 April, 39 devolution issues have been intimated to me. They concerned a range of matters including delay in criminal proceedings, solitary confinement under the prison rules, offences that involve the narration of previous convictions, the requirement on the defence to lodge notice of intention to lead sexual history evidence in trials, and the use of evidence from now-deceased witnesses.

Mr. Carmichael: The Advocate-General will be aware that in my constituency there is a great deal of interest locally in the position of udal law, particularly as it relates to ownership and control of the seabed. That has led to the establishment of a website, Has the hon. and learned Lady considered the position of udal law in relation to the seabed, and if not, will she do so, and offer appropriate advice to her Government colleagues?

The Advocate-General: I remember being taught about udal law at university, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman was. No doubt it has come in extremely useful to his constituents. He raises an important matter. Udal law has an important history in the Orkney and Shetland isles, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his legal background and training in a Scottish university, will be of great use to his constituents in that regard. With respect to the specific reservation in the Scotland Act, udal law is not reserved. I do not know whether I am pleased about that or not. In general, land law is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I enter the usual caveat: it all depends on the

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specific circumstances of the problem raised. Obviously, individual property owners must take legal advice on the extent of their own proprietorial interests.

Ann McKechin : I should be grateful if my hon. and learned Friend could explain the basis for the requirement on the defence to lodge a notice of intention to discuss sexual histories in trials.

The Advocate-General: A new requirement was introduced by the Scottish Parliament in the Sexual Offences (Procedure and Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2002. As a result of that Act, a number of devolution issues have been intimated to me. I mentioned one of them in my answer a moment ago. As yet, there has been no authoritative determination of the point that was challenged. I undertake to keep my hon. Friend advised when there is such a decision.

Human Rights

16. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): What issues relating to human rights she has considered since 8 April. [113340]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave some moments ago to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael).

Mr. Dalyell : Will my hon. and learned Friend get together with the Attorney-General and the Foreign Office lawyers to consider the legal situation of two groups of people: Iraqi diplomats like Dr. Amin, who may have done nothing wrong, and is paid by nobody, with family consequences; and those like Tariq Aziz, who may have done a great deal that is wrong, but are nevertheless entitled to some kind of trial? We had better be careful about victors' justice.

The Advocate-General: I thank my hon. Friend for his advice. The general matters that he raises are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I am sure my hon. Friend will find an appropriate opportunity to raise the matter directly. As regards meetings with the Attorney-General, my hon. Friend is aware that the matters that we discuss are generally confidential.

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