11 December 2003

S2M-718 Public Services

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-718, in the name of David McLetchie, on the reform of public services, and three amendments to the motion.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I have been rereading Peter Ustinov's biography, "Dear Me", in which he writes that one of the greatest temptations that Alexander Solzhenitsyn faced when he was exiled to the west was the thought that he would be listened to. I will save the Tories from temptation, as listening to them is not on my agenda.

Carolyn Leckie: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: No, because I have only three minutes for my speech.

Disintermediation is the Tory policy. As the Tories say, that means developing the private sector to bring more interests to bear on the public sector, such as shareholders, proprietors and other people who have to be paid off and whose interests must be taken account of in providing public services. That is hardly in the interests of the people who receive services.

Mr Davidson rose—

Stewart Stevenson: As I have three minutes, there is no chance of interventions.

The Tories have hard questions to face as they sum up the debate, which I might encapsulate in the Colonsay-or-Corstorphine argument. If we are to have passports for teaching and health services, will the cost of providing a pupil place on Colonsay be the same as that in Corstorphine? It certainly will not be. Will the ambulance that goes to Colonsay, which is likely to be a helicopter, have the same funding as the ambulance that takes someone from Corstorphine? The Tories have fundamentally failed to link choice and value—two words that they use in their motion. Providing choice is fair enough, but it does not lead ineluctably to value.

I have a value—it is 48 guineas—because I was born before the national health service was established and I have the bill that my mother had to pay to bring me into this world. The debate continues about whether that was overpriced or underpriced but, be that as it may, there is little debate about the price of adopting the Tory philosophy.

The Tories talk much of queues. I am a mathematician—that is something of which members have heard a little lately. Is it not ironic that the mathematical theory that relates to the manipulation and management of queues is called the Monte Carlo theory? The Tories would make us subject to the dictates of the roulette wheel. Their proposals and ideas have been comprehensively rejected in the past and will be again at 5 o'clock.


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