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Alex Neil faces no confidence motion at Holyrood

Alex Neil saved two wards at Monklands that were affected by asbestos. Picture: Robert Perry

Alex Neil saved two wards at Monklands that were affected by asbestos. Picture: Robert Perry

  • by ANDREW WHITAKER
 

HEALTH secretary Alex Neil is to face a motion of no confidence at Holyood today, with the main opposition parties backing a Labour move to oust the SNP minister over his handling of controversial changes to services in his own constituency.

Mr Neil will be the first Scottish minister to face a no confidence motion in 13 years and is only the third since devolution in 1999, following unsuccessful moves against Labour ministers Sam Galbraith in 2000 and Sarah Boyack in 2001.

The health secretary will be forced to account to parliament for using his ministerial powers to save two wards at Monklands Hospital in his Airdrie and Shotts constituency.

Scotland on Sunday revealed this week that two mental health wards saved by Mr Neil were affected by asbestos. Labour’s motion of censure stating the “parliament has no confidence” in the minister is now backed by the Tories and Lib Dems, with the Greens also hinting they are minded to support the move, which would force Mr Neil to quit as health secretary.

However, the SNP is almost certain to win today’s vote using its overall majority to block the motion. Mr Neil has been accused of inappropriately intervening to reverse the decision of his predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon, to remove the acute mental health beds from Monklands Hospital when he was appointed to the post by First Minister Alex Salmond in September 2012.

The health secretary intervened to keep the wards open, before handing responsibility for the matter to his deputy, Michael Matheson, citing concerns over a “conflict of interests”.

Labour’s no confidence motion, lodged by the party’s health spokesman Neil Findlay, accuses Mr Neil of a “failure to disclose his involvement in the decision”.

Mr Findlay said e-mails released under freedom of information laws are “damning” and showed how Mr Neil had acted to save wards at Monklands despite being advised against the move by medical experts at NHS Lanarkshire.

He said: “Nearly a week after these damning e-mails were released under FOI, Alex Neil’s explanation as to why he meddled in local services and then claimed he had excused himself from the decision have not been satisfactory.

“Medical experts stated that keeping Monklands wards open would result in a ‘less than optimal service’ for patients. Yet Alex Neil has been unable to provide any clear rationale or evidence for changing the decision.

“Now that it has emerged the wards he ordered to save contain asbestos, his position has been made even more difficult.

“His failure to come up with answers to the questions being asked of him mean he is not fit to be running our health service.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont last night confirmed his party would vote with Labour.

He said: “There is a simple principle here – it is not acceptable for a minister to come to the chamber and say things that he knows to be untrue.”

A Lib Dem spokeswoman said: “[We] take the matter of lying to parliament extremely seriously. Ministers in the past have gone for less.”

Scottish Green leader Patrick Harvie said: “We want to hear his explanation in the chamber, and it would have to be a highly credible defence that persuaded us not to support the motion.”

A Scottish government spokesman said: “The health secretary has acted entirely appropriately at every single stage of the process.”

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