HC Deb 13 January 2004 vol 416 cc654-6
3. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con)

What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues about cross-border health issues. [146393]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling)

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a wide range of subjects.

Sir Nicholas Winterton

Unlike that answer, I would like to be helpful to the Government. The Secretary of State will be aware that the Labour Government supported—and many Scottish Members voted for—foundation hospitals for England, but that the Scottish Executive took a different decision. Should we not be seeking the provision of the best possible health care for all people of the United Kingdom? If foundation hospitals are supposed to provide that for the people of England, will he share with me the reason why the Scottish Executive reached a different decision and opposed foundation hospitals in Scotland?

Mr. Darling

They did so because they were entitled to take that decision. The whole point and consequence of devolution in Scotland, Wales and London is that it is open to the devolved bodies to take different decisions on devolved matters. That is a logical consequence of devolution, and it is why the Scottish Executive took that decision.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the publication of Scotland's proposed sexual health strategy? While the number of people dying from AIDS in Scotland has been dramatically reduced, is he aware that those who survive face a growing threat from resistance to anti-HIV drugs? Will he encourage Ministers in the Department of Health to consult their Scottish counterparts on that and other HIV issues, not least because the number of people diagnosed with HIV in Scotland is again approaching record levels?

Mr. Darling

My right hon. Friend is right to raise a matter in which he has long taken an interest. It took people a long time to realise how serious HIV and AIDS were, especially in Scotland. It took longer than it should have done for people to realise that action needed to be taken. I know that both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and the Scottish Executive share the same concern. The last thing that we need is to become complacent about HIV and AIDS, because they are as much a threat now as they were all those years ago.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP)

The Secretary of State will be aware that Scotland is losing four out of 10 of its newly trained medical graduates. Does he think that that figure will increase or decrease when England secures better finance and resources for foundation hospitals?

Mr. Darling

Scottish universities get a higher portion of funding per head of population than universities in England at the moment. The big issue is to ensure that we get more funding into all universities, both north and south of the border. The Government have been increasing funding. The issue in relation to student finance in England is making the system fairer and getting rid of top-up fees up front—I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is against that. We must ensure that there is adequate funding for Scotland and England over a long period. We have found over the years that other countries have done better than us. The people who oppose the legislation that we shall discuss in the House shortly must ask themselves how they would get more money into higher education. The hon. Gentleman does not have an answer for Scotland, and he certainly does not have an answer for elsewhere.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of my constituents travel to Cumbria, and Carlisle in particular, to avail themselves of both basic and specialist NHS treatment? Is it not the duty of every hon. Member to participate in debates and vote on a truly national health service for the entire UK?

Mr. Darling

We are all Members of the House and we vote as we think appropriate. I was interested by an article that appeared today inThe Scotsman. The Conservative spokesman on Scotland seems to take the same view, because I note that he voted for the Mersey Tunnels Bill. It is difficult to conceive how that legislation could possible affect Scotland. He also voted for the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill. The article reports that he said in mitigation that on occasion he may have voted in error for a matter only of concern to England". He should have looked at the short titles of those Bills, because it was clear to everyone else exactly what they referred to.