To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about the future of maternity services in the rural areas of Grampian region.
May I assure the Minister that he will receive some representations in the near future? In the light of Grampian health board's proposals to close no fewer than six maternity units in the rural areas of Grampian, thus leaving no provision outside the city of Aberdeen and the town of Elgin, does the Minister accept that the position is unacceptable? These proposals have been out for consultation several times previously and public opinion has been clearly stated, but the health board is effectively ignoring it. Would it not be better if the Minister got on with the business of having elected health boards as a matter of urgency, rather than school boards which people do not want?
The health board has not even issued its consultative paper, so it is premature for the hon. Gentleman to say that people have not had a chance to make representations. There is no proposal for a closure at Elgin. The pressure on maternity facilities is at Aberdeen maternity hospital, where the board proposes to build a new 56-bed unit. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that, instead of pleading the case for facilities which have had occupancy rates of between 16 and 33 per cent.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that there is genuine anxiety on this issue, that we are dealing with people, not just numbers, and that those in rural areas deserve as much consideration as those in urban areas? Will he recognise that it is not just a question of the number of babies delivered in these areas, but of the useful post-natal and other gynaecological services required? If submissions are made to him, will he please think about the matter constructively, sensitively and sympathetically?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I assure him that the health board will consider all representations before any decisions are taken. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will consider carefully any submission that my right hon. Friend makes. It cannot make sense to maintain units that are so underutilised that the quality of health care for my right hon. Friend's constituents and others who are expecting babies in the Aberdeen areas is prejudiced.
As the maternity services in Grampian region and throughout Scotland depend largely on nurses, does the Minister think it fair that he will pay only £300 in poll tax from his £40,000 a year income, while nurses must pay £300 from their small salary?
I do not think that we can take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman or his party on nurses' pay. The Labour Government cut nurses' pay by 20 per cent. and this Government have increased it by 30 per cent. in real terms. We have also increased take-home pay by cutting taxes, which he and the Labour party have opposed at every opportunity.