HEALTH secretary Alex Neil narrowly survived a vote of no confidence at Holyrood last night over his role in controversial changes to services in his own constituency.
Mr Neil was accused of an “abuse of power compounded by misinforming parliament” during a bad-tempered debate as the SNP used its majority at Holyrood to block a move to force the minister to quit.
The health secretary faced the vote of censure after it emerged he had used his ministerial powers to save two wards at Monklands Hospital in his Airdrie and Shotts constituency.
However, the first vote of no confidence in a minister at the Scottish Parliament for 13 years was defeated by a margin of 67 to 57 with all opposition parties backing the motion lodged by Labour.
Holyrood’s two independent MSPs John Finnie and Jean Urquhart, who are former SNP members, voted with the government.
Mr Neil failed to speak
during Holyrood’s debate yesterday, although his deputy Michael Matheson and Alex Salmond both spoke on his behalf.
The First Minister said the “last thing in the mind of the Labour Party in bringing this to the chamber was the welfare of the people in Lanarkshire”.
However, Labour public health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson talked about the “anger and sadness” felt over Mr Neil’s conduct in keeping open two mental health wards, which it later emerged were affected by asbestos.
Dr Simpson said the SNP minister had issued an “instruction” to NHS Lanarkshire officials to keep the wards open, before handing responsibility for the matter to Mr Matheson, citing concerns over a conflict of interest.
The Labour MSP accused Mr Neil of failing to disclose his involvement and said the health secretary had “misled parliament as a whole”.
Dr Simpson claimed the minister had ignored advice from medical experts for alternative mental health provision.
He said: “He must see that his position is untenable. He should do the decent thing and resign.”
Mr Salmond told MSPs yesterday that Mr Neil had followed the “correct processes” over the wards at Monklands Hospital.
Mr Salmond said: “This information was transparent and in the public domain, unfortunately the Labour Party, through a communications failure, failed to tell each other that they had the information. That’s the best possible reflection that you can put upon it.
“It is not the case that ministers cannot make decisions that affect their constituents. Of course they can make such decisions.”