News

The private finance initiative was the subject on everybody's lips at the inaugural meeting of the Scottish Parliament's health and community care committee.

Newly elected convenor Margaret Smith, the sole Liberal Democrat on the 11-member committee, asked for opinions on what it should discuss. Everybody mentioned PFI.

The only other subject which received as much attention was deciding when the next meeting of the committee should be.

This took up a quarter of the hour-long meeting as MSPs debated whether a 'family-friendly' Parliament should work in the family holiday season.

But initially it was PFI all the way. Duncan Hamilton, Scotland's youngest MSP at 25, asked whether the committee 'would be able to look at PFI retrospectively'.

Mr Hamilton is from the Scottish National Party. Retrospective investigation would open up the controversial Edinburgh Royal Infirmary development.

Ms Smith said she understood that the committee could look at PFI, but suggested that the issue of value for money might better be left to the audit and finance committees.

'We need to deliver something positive early on... rather than tackling the broad umbrella subject of PFI,' she added.

SNP member Kay Ullrich said Scotland had a 'dreadful record' on public health and that she would like to see the committee 'almost poverty- proofing legislation from other committees' to 'move the agenda forward'.

Labour member Hugh Henry said it was a 'disgrace that, going into the 21st century, the state of someone's health in Scotland is fundamentally a class issue' and the committee 'must address that'.

Conservative member Mary Scanlon, however, said PFI was 'such a big topic' that 'every committee could spend hours debating it' .

She said that she would rather 'rise to meet the challenges that are ahead of us' such as dental decay and drug abuse.

Representatives of at least nine pressure groups attended the meeting.

A Unison spokesperson felt it had 'potential if they could just get on with things', while the NHS Confederation thought the committee should 'stick to three or four subjects and do them well'.

One spectator said it was like a meeting of Glasgow city councillors - 'only worse'.