Secretary of State for Scotland (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 7th February 2002.

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Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 2:30 pm, 7th February 2002

To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Secretary of State for Scotland and what issues he plans to raise. (S1F-01633)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The Secretary of State for Scotland and I will meet on 12 February. We will continue to discuss the important joint fight against drugs and the improvement of transport services in Scotland.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I thank the First Minister for that answer. Before he and the Secretary of State for Scotland bid au revoir to one another, I hope that they will discuss the different approaches to reform of public services that seem to be emerging north and south of the border. In England, the Prime Minister seems prepared to tackle some of the vested interests, but in Scotland, according to weekend reports, the First Minister is going in the opposite direction. He is cosying up to the unions and signing deals to block reforms in our public services in return for their bankrolling Labour's next election campaign. On that evidence, does the First Minister think that the Prime Minister would regard him as a wrecker or a reformer?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I have absolutely no doubt that the Prime Minister would regard me as a reformer and he would be absolutely right to do so. Mr McLetchie's points on these occasions are clearly an attempt to wind up political debate and that is fair enough, but we should also deal with facts in the chamber. The reality is that in Scotland we are working not just to invest in public services but to seek constant improvement to them. The Prime Minister would praise that and so should every member of the chamber who believes genuinely in public services and not just in making politically posturing points, as seems to be the case with the SNP.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

As I keep telling the First Minister at question time, over 18 years there were significant improvements in our public services, but I will not bore him with a repetition of the truth. I simply point out that the First Minister's union—the GMB—is taking out newspaper advertisements to denounce the policies of the Prime Minister. The First Minister calls himself a reformer—what reforms?

I refer the First Minister to the answers that have been given to questions that my colleague Mrs Scanlon asked recently. Will he devolve power to foundation hospitals? No. Will he grant franchises to improve the management of poorly performing hospitals? No. Will he give patients on waiting lists the option of treatment elsewhere in the European Union? No. Will he sign a concordat with the independent sector? No.

Is it not the truth of the matter that there is no programme of reform in Scotland because the First Minister's so-called Scottish solutions are just code for no change and no progress?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I am glad that Mr McLetchie finds it easier to remember which organisations I am a member of than which organisations he was a member of. [Laughter.] He is a member of a very good golf club and I am sure that we can enjoy that fact.

I want to make crystal clear the commitment, not only of this ministerial team but of the whole partnership, to improvements and reform of our public service. That improvement and reform will not take place against a backdrop of trying to move people legitimately out of our public health service into the private health service simply so that the private sector can make greater profits. It is right and proper that we set up—as we announced today that we will fund fully—a national waiting times unit that will ensure that where there is spare capacity in the private or public sector, we will take it up and put patients first. We will not put politics or profits first; we will put patients first.

That seems to me to be the overriding concern in health, just as it should be in our education service. Mr McLetchie questions my commitment to reform. The rules in Scotland for teacher discipline had been in place since 1918. This time last year, working in a genuine partnership with the teacher associations, the education managers and the local authorities to achieve a consensus, we agreed to reform those rules and to deliver action to deal with poor performance in Scotland's schools. That is the right way forward for Scotland's public services. I make no apology for pursuing reform, but doing so, where possible, on the basis of consensus and partnership.