HC Deb 29 January 1964 vol 688 cc343-9
12. Dr. Dickson Mabon

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what hospitals were substantially rebuilt in 1963.

Mr. Noble

The Dundee Royal Lift Hospital and the Mackinnon Memorial Hospital at Broadford in Skye.

Dr. Mabon

May I ask the Secretary of State whether, unlike his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, he would be kind enough to venture a definition of the distinction between a substantially rebuilt hospital and a new hospital? When is a new hospital a new hospital but not a substantially rebuilt one, and when is a substantially rebuilt hospital not a new hospital?

Mr. Noble

I am always extremely nervous of making definitions, because generally they confuse the issue a good deal more. I imagine, I hope correctly, that a new hospital is one which is built where no hospital existed before.

13. Dr. Dickson Mabon

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will state the bed capacity of each new hospital built in Scotland between 1952 and 1963.

Mr. Noble

The hospitals are Vale of Leven, Alexandria, 155 beds; Victoria, Kirkcaldy, 123 beds; Gilbert Bain Memorial, Lerwick, 65 beds and Bellshill Maternity, 132 beds.

Dr. Mabon

May I ask the Secretary of State whether I am correct in assuming that the rate of starting and completing new hospitals in Scotland is one per 1,098 days, representing something substantially less than half a hosiptal bed every day since the Conservative Party came to office?

Mr. Noble

The hon. Gentleman can calculate it that way if he likes, but it is none the less true that at the moment we have under construction ten new or substantially rebuilt hospitals. Five of them are expected to be completed during this year, and another five new big hospitals will be started during this year, so perhaps at the beginning the rate was due to not enough starts before we took over rather than to our failure.

16. Mr. Willis

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland to what extent he was consulted before the recent decision was made to use oil for heating in the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and Western General Hospital; and what was the nature of his advice.

19. Mr. T. Fraser

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what consultations he had with the National Coal Board about the fuel to be used for heating installations in the new hospitals in Edinburgh; and if he will make a statement.

22. Mr. W. Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what decision has been reached concerning the type of feul to be used for the heating of the new hospitals in Edinburgh; what were the factors which determined the decision; and whether he will make a statement.

36. Mr. J. Hill

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will reconsider his decision to approve the installation of oil-fired heating appliances in the proposed new hopsitals in Edinburgh.

Mr. Noble

The regional hospital board asked for my guidance on policy before it reached a decision. I had no direct consultations with the National Coal Board. I advised the hospital board that after considering any functional factors which might affect the choice it should compare the cost of the fuels available on the basis of an annual charge, including fuel, operational and maintenance costs, together with an appropriate annual allowance for the capital cost; if the difference was more than marginal it should be regarded as pointing to a decision in favour of the lower cost installation. The board took revised offers from all the fuel interests concerned and the engineering reports then showed that the annual costs with oil would be about £10,000 less than with coal, and the board accordingly proposed that oil should be used. I have since approved the use of oil at these two hospitals and authorised the board to plan on this basis.

Mr. Willis

Did the right hon. Gentleman take into consideration the fact that he has rather wider responsibilities than merely considering the simple economic balance sheets of the hospital board? Can he tell us whether the differential price for coal, which operates against Scottish miners, played a big part in ensuring that oil came out better than coal? If so, what representations did the right hon. Gentleman make to the Minister of Power to ensure that the price of coal was such that it would have been possible to use it for this purpose and so benefit the coal industry in Scotland?

Mr. Noble

I accept the fact that my interests are wider, but an annual increase of cost of £10,000 over a period that could be as long as 60,000 years—[HON. MEMBERS: "60,000 years?"]—is a considerable sum.

With regard to the selective price increase, I am certain that the Coal Board quoted as competitive a price as it can now. The decision whether, and if so when, prices can be reduced is one for the Coal Board and not for me.

Mr. T. Fraser

Is it not the Government's policy that preferential consideration should be given to offers made by the National Coal Board where there is a question of using indigenous fuel? This is the oft-declared policy of the Government. The question is whether the selective coal price increase of 10s. a ton imposed upon Scotland just over two years ago has made it impossible for the Divisional Coal Board of Scotland to quote a price that is competitive with that of oil. Does not the right hon. Gentleman have a responsibility to consult the National Coal Board to see whether it would waive its selective coal price increase, especially in view of the fact that in Edinburgh the market for coal is being lost, although it is alongside the rich Midlothian coalfield.

Mr. Noble

It is for the Coal Board to decide what price it is prepared to quote for any particular tonnage in any particular place. If anything, the figures that I have given favour coal because, for example, they have taken no account of the fact that after 25 years the initial plant would have to be replaced, and the figures ignore the amount by which the replacement of oil plant would be cheaper than that of coal plant. I can assure the House that I do my best to help the coal industry, but it must be on the basis that the cost is only marginally above the price of others.

Mr. Hamilton

How does the right hon. Gentleman define the word "marginal"? Is he aware that the economy of Central Scotland, if not the whole of Scotland, depends basically on coal, our indigenous fuel? What has Scotland got from the oil industry that the right hon. Gentleman should give it preferential treatment? If he is arguing for the purely economic test, will he apply that same test to farms? If Scottish farms had to pass that test, virtually all of them would be shut down.

Mr. Noble

The hon. Member's last comment is neither accurate nor particularly appropriate —

Mr. Willis

It is very fair.

Mr. Noble

—but the fact remains that important as coal is—and the decision about the big new electricity station shows the amount of time and trouble that we try to take to get the right answer—we must have regard to costs both in respect of industry and in things like hospitals, because although these sums of £10,000 a year may be regarded by the hon. Member as only marginal, over a long period they involve a substantial sum.

Mr. J. Hill

On what does the Secretary of State base his argument that oil will be cheaper than coal in 60 or 1,000 years' time? I give him credit for searching for jobs for Scotland, but he is bound to agree that in this case instead of helping Scotland he is doing it a disservice. This continual nibbling away at the Coal Board's trade can only mean that the Government are prepared to run down the industry more than at the moment. With due respect to his decision, the Secretary of State should consider the question again.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must observe that the introduction to the hon. Member's question seems a little prolonged. Will he ask his question?

Mr. Noble

The hon. Member is unfair in saying that the Government have decided to run down the coal industry. That industry has made tremendous strides in the last year, as he knows very well, and it is becoming far more competitive and more productive than ever before. This should—and I am sure that it will—result in its obtaining many of these contracts in the future. But it is just as impossible for me to forecast what the price of oil will be in 60 years' time as to forecast what will be the price of coal. Therefore, the present price is the only possible basis of comparison.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am delighted to have seen the care over the expenditure of public money? Can he say what is the objection to using oil—especially if it is British-controlled oil?

Mr. Noble

There is certainly no objection to using oil. In fact, a tax of 2d. per gallon has been put on fuel oil in order to help the coal industry.

Mr. Ross

In the interests of the whole of Scotland, will the Minister enter into discussions with the Minister of Power in relation to differential price increases?

Mr. Noble

I will certainly do that.

Mr. Hamilton

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of all those answers, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter in the Adjournment debate on Wednesday next.

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