Prime Minister (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:10 pm on 26th June 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 3:10 pm, 26th June 2003

To ask the First Minister when he next plans to meet the Prime Minister and what issues he intends to raise. (S2F-121)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

When I next meet the Prime Minister, I will be delighted to inform him that in the first eight weeks of the second session of this young Parliament we have published, as promised, proposals for court reform and new support for witnesses and that today we have announced proposals for tackling antisocial behaviour. I will also inform him that we have reviewed our policy on school exclusions in order to support head teachers and that we have taken forward road and rail transport plans. I will further tell him that today we contributed to the reform of the European common agricultural policy and that tomorrow we will publish our plans for the reform of the national health service. I think that the Prime Minister will be very impressed.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

At least the pace of activity has increased over the past eight weeks compared to the past four years. However, my question is about one of the other proposals that was made in those four years but, unfortunately, has not come to a conclusion. What is the current position on payment of compensation to those people who, as a result of treatment on the national health service, contracted hepatitis C?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The current position is that we are discussing the matter with our colleagues in Whitehall. In the past fortnight, the Minister for Health and Community Care and I have discussed the matter with the new Secretary of State for Scotland and, over the next few weeks, the Minister for Health and Community Care intends to discuss it with the new Secretary for State for Health in the United Kingdom Cabinet.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am interested in the First Minister's answer, because it is similar to the ones that we have had before about the continuing discussions with the UK Government. In January, the Minister for Health and Community Care said that he wanted to pay compensation. At that time, the only obstacle seemed to be Westminster. Since then, we have been told that progress has been made and that meetings, top-level discussions and negotiations have taken place.

Yesterday, the Health Committee heard in a letter from the Minister for Health and Community Care that, despite all those assurances, the UK

Government has not yet responded to his key concerns and that no agreement has been reached on the issue. For the sake of clarity, will the First Minister agree to publish the legal advice, correspondence and list of meetings at ministerial and official level to which the Minister for Health and Community Care referred in his letter? That would allow the victims to see with their own eyes that the Scottish Executive is doing all that it can to secure justice for the victims of this tragedy.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

In response to the concerns that were expressed in the Parliament, the Scottish ministers expressed the view that they wished to provide assistance to those victims. However, we want to do that in the right and proper manner. That is why we have taken the right time to do it.

Mr Swinney knows that we do not publish the level of detail that he has asked for. However, we rightly take up issues of concern. It is right and proper that we seek to reach an appropriate conclusion that will stand any legal tests that could follow. We will take our time. We will do things properly. At the end of the day, I hope that we will get the right result for those who have been affected.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The First Minister says that he wants to act as quickly as possible, but that is the language that we have been getting from the Government for the past six to 10 months on the subject. The issue is not new; it has been going on for the best part of 13 or 14 years. Let me quote from the Minister for Health and Community Care's letter to the Health Committee. The minister said that, after 10 months of talks,

"Agreement has not yet been reached on the issue of devolved competence, or on social security clawback and we have not set any fixed deadline."

We have been here before on similar issues. When Westminster would not agree to the Scottish Executive's position on free personal care for the elderly, the Executive threw in the towel. I ask the First Minister for an absolute assurance that the victims of hepatitis C will not see the Government abandon them. Will the victims get the compensation that they justly deserve?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We hope that they will get the appropriate payments that can be afforded in the budgets that are available and we hope to secure that in a manner that is not open to challenge in Scotland or elsewhere. It is right and proper that we clarify the legal position. We also need to clarify that those who might benefit from the payments do not lose out as a result of money being clawed back. That is entirely responsible government. We will continue to pursue that course until a proper conclusion is reached. It would be entirely wrong for a responsible Government to raise people's expectations beyond that level until we can be certain not only that the payments will be made, but that they will be meaningful.