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Hepatitis C

Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2003

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3.

If she will discuss the issue of hepatitis C sufferers in Scotland at her next scheduled meeting with the First Minister. [113325]

I expect to discuss a range of issues at my next meeting with the First Minister.

I thank the Scottish Secretary for her answer. Surely the key issue is whether she will fight for the right of the Scottish Parliament to pay compensation and for a 100 per cent. exemption from the benefit clawback rules. If she will not do that, will she explain to hepatitis C sufferers in Scotland why on earth Scottish taxpayers are paying £7 million for the running costs of her office?

I should have thought that the hon. Lady would have learned a lesson when she saw the majority in her constituency plummet: scaremongering does not work. There are serious legal and policy-based issues in relation to hepatitis C. There have been extensive discussions between the Scottish Executive and the Department for Work and Pensions, not least on whether payments should be taken into account as capital or income when someone claims income-related benefits. Those discussions could not continue because of the Scottish Parliament elections. As soon as the Minister for Health and Community Care is in place in the Scottish Parliament, those discussions will continue. The issues are not superficial and the hon. Lady should not treat them in a superficial manner.

During the Secretary of State's next meeting with the First Minister, will she make clear this House's unequivocal opposition to proportional representation for local government?

As my hon. Friend is aware, those matters are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I am sure that he voted in favour of the Scotland Act 1998, which sets that out quite clearly.

Given the changes in public health laboratories and what might be happening both north and south of the border, can the right hon. Lady assure us that diseases like hepatitis C will be considered on a national basis and not broken up and devoluted to any part of the nation?

I read some strange words over the weekend, the origins of which I had never seen before, and "devoluted" falls into a similar category. I think the hon. Gentleman means devolved. However, he makes a valid point in relation not just to public health laboratories but to the Medical Research Council and its work, not least on diseases such as hepatitis C. There is a need for clear co-operation and clear guidelines to deal with such problems. Places like Edinburgh are world leaders in that type of research. Both the UK Government and the Scottish Executive are proud of that. We aim to ensure that such bodies are well funded and have the resources that enable them to make a proper contribution. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is very valid.