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Public Responsibility For Social Justice

Part of Orders of the Day — Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:17 pm on 10th March 1997.

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Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton 6:17 pm, 10th March 1997

It is not on for a member of the Cabinet to call hon. Members nasty and then expect to get his way thereafter. He must sit in his place because I have the Floor. The question is, if it is good enough for Wales, why not Scotland? Perhaps the Secretary of State for Wales will answer that question in his civilised way, unlike the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The message from the Secretary of State for Scotland was about privatisation of the health service in Scotland. He is on record as saying that if clinicians want it, privatisation of clinical services will take place. Despite the fact that the Secretary of State for Health has ruled it out, the Secretary of State for Scotland says that privatisation of clinical services is on the agenda for Scotland. The agenda for a fifth Tory term in Scotland is going to strike at the heart of the NHS. The message to the people of Scotland is that is the Secretary of State for Scotland will destroy the public element of the NHS, another example of his being at odds with his Cabinet colleagues. It is not enough that he is at odds with them on E. coli; he is now at odds with them on health service privatisation.

We have come to a pretty pass when we read in the weekend papers that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has instructed his officials to write to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, about the Secretary of State for Scotland's off-the-record criticism of him last week during the row on the report on failing hygiene standards in abattoirs. The Secretary of State for Scotland ordered his staff on Thursday night to tell the press that he was "incandescent with rage" with another member of the Cabinet. Reporters to whom we have spoken gave us the names of the press representatives he sent out. One newspaper said: Said one seasoned Whitehall observer: 'It's every man for himself. And if that is the case, you can bet on Michael Forsyth being among the first on board.> There are serious questions on E. coli for the Secretary of State for Scotland. I listened carefully to his remarks. If the Scottish Office received the Swann document from the Minister of Agriculture, why did the Secretary of State not pass it on to Professor Pennington? He said in the Chamber that it was not received by a Scottish Office official but that it was received by the Scottish Office. When did the Scottish Office receive it? The Secretary of State, with a great wave and flourish, announced that he had persuaded the Prime Minister to establish a Cabinet sub-committee. By doing that, he took the issue to a national level. How many times did the sub-committee meet and what documents and papers did it request? Those questions are still pending. I hope that the Secretary of State will apologise to the people of Scotland for the inaction of his Department and his Government, and for the fact that 20 people died of E. coli in Scotland. An apology is required and so are answers on the E. coli document. The Secretary of State will not get away with it.

The debate is about public responsibility for social justice. The Government's record on social and economic injustice in Scotland is nothing short of disgraceful. Let us rehearse quickly the statistics of 18 years of Conservative Government in Scotland. One in five households of working age have no one in work. That is the direct result of Conservative policy. Since the Prime Minister took over, 1 million Scots have experienced unemployment. The number of people living on means-tested benefit has doubled since 1979. Some 85,000 Scots earn less than £2.50 an hour. That is why the Labour party argues the case for a minimum wage. There is, first, a moral case and, secondly, an economic case. I have never heard Opposition Members explain whether it is fair that a security guard earns £1 or £1.20 an hour or say what they will they do about it.