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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 July, 2003, 17:55 GMT 18:55 UK
Vote raises devolution issue
By Deirdre Kelly
BBC News Online Scotland

doctor, generic
Plans for the NHS in Scotland are different from England
Scottish MPs have had a say on controversial plans to introduce foundation hospitals in England only.

The UK Government narrowly avoided defeat on the issue, with MPs voting 286 to 251 in favour of the controversial policy.

Loyal Scottish and Welsh Labour MPs helped ministers push through the proposal, although there were dissenters in the ranks as well.

The Scottish politicians - including Health Secretary John Reid - voted on proposals which will not be implemented north of the border.

The issue brought to the fore the so-called West Lothian Question where Scottish MPs are allowed to vote on matters which have no bearing north of the border.

The Scottish Executive has rejected going down the route of foundation hospitals, opting instead for an "integrated healthcare system".

'Two classes of MP'

However, the UK Government, in its Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill, outlined plans to create almost 30 foundation hospitals in England.

It is based on the idea that successful NHS hospitals will be able to raise private finance on the open market and set their own pay rates for staff.

The Scottish Labour Party said it is right that MPs north of the border, including Mr Reid, are able to vote on all issues which come before the House of Commons.

A spokesman said: "John Reid is an elected member of parliament who was chosen by Tony Blair to be health secretary.

A nurse working in an operating theatre
Unified health boards
Community health partnerships
A Scottish Health Council involving the public
A change and innovation fund to help improve services
Guarantee treatment on time
New complaints procedure for patients
Health improvement charter focusing on children, teenagers, people at work and the community

"The House of Commons does not have two classes of MPs. Members of parliament are members who debate and vote on everything that comes before parliament.

"It is quite right that all members of parliament vote on all issues."

But Scotland's only Tory MP, Peter Duncan, said he was not voting on the foundation hospitals issue because it does not apply north of the border.

He said he adopts the same approach on all similar issues.

The Scottish National Party said it voted on the issue because it believed it had implications for the Barnett Formula.

The formula was devised in the 1970s to allocate public spending for all of the regions within the UK.

'Devolution fault'

It resulted in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland receiving much higher spending levels per head than England.

SNP Westminster health spokesperson Mike Weir MP said foundation hospitals could "squeeze Scottish public spending".

He said the SNP wanted the issue debated and properly examined.

But Labour MP George Foulkes criticised the SNP for "gross hypocrisy".

Mr Foulkes said every Westminster decision could, theoretically, have some effect on the formula.

The Labour MP said the SNP had "always known" foundation hospitals could raise income.

Liberal Democrat MP John Thurso, the member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said he and his colleagues voted against the government.

He said: "We are elected as UK MPs and as long as this is the case we will vote on legislation.

"There's a fault in devolution because England has not been properly devolved - devolution is asymmetric."

Same aims

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Scottish Executive clarified the position on health policy in Scotland.

He said: "The philosophy on health is the same in England as it is in Scotland.

"But we feel that in Scotland the aims will be better achieved by integrating care and devolving down.

"We share lots of new ideas with England and we take on best practice, wherever that might come from, but in terms of this policy we have set out on a different path.

"We will certainly watch what happens in England, but currently there is no plan to look at foundation hospitals for Scotland."

Some Labour MPs rebelled when the issue was discussed on Tuesday in the House of Commons because they fear the move will create a two-tier health service.

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